The 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the all-time great war movies. While much of the movie is a fictional account, the premise behind Capt. Miller’s mission is based on a true story. That is the story of the Niland brothers — Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick — from Tonawanda, New York.
The two middle brothers inspiring the “Private Ryan” film, Preston and Robert, had enlisted prior to the beginning of the War. After America entered the war the oldest, Edward, and youngest, Frederick, known as Fritz to his friends, joined up in November 1942.
Edward became an enlisted pilot, with the rank of Technical Sergeant, of a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying in the Burma-India-China theatre.
Preston was commissioned into the infantry and assigned to Company C, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
Robert and Fritz both became paratroopers. Robert served with Company D, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Fritz joined Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
As fate would have it, three of the brothers found themselves preparing for the invasion of mainland Europe.
However, before the brothers could start their “Great Crusade” to liberate Europe, Edward was shot down somewhere over Burma. He was listed as Missing in Action, but this usually carried a presumption of death at the time, especially if he had fallen into the hands of the Japanese.
Then, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Robert and Fritz joined over 23,000 Allied paratroopers in cracking Fortress Europe.
Although Fritz’s unit, 3rd Battalion, 501st PIR, was supposed to be the division reserve, the misdrops meant they were thrust into action in ad hoc groups. These forces were able to secure vital causeways, bridges, and locks allowing the 4th Infantry Division, and Niland brother Preston, to exit Utah beach later that day.
This wasn’t quite what happened in Private Ryan, but the movie still draws from these events.
Elsewhere, Robert Niland had landed outside of Ste. Mere-Eglise with the rest of the 505th as part of Mission Boston. After the 3rd Battalion was able to capture the town early in the morning, the 2nd Battalion linked up with it to establish a defensive perimeter.
When a strong German counter-attack came from the south, Robert Niland and the rest of D Company’s 3rd platoon were left to guard the northern approaches to the town in a small village called Neuville.
When two companies of Germans came at their position, they fought tenaciously to hold them off to buy time for their comrades to the south. When the position became untenable, Robert Niland, along with two other paratroopers, volunteered to stay behind and cover the platoon’s retreat toward Ste. Mere-Eglise.
While manning a machine gun in the face of the German onslaught, Robert Niland was killed in action.
That very same morning, Lt. Preston Niland led his men onto the shores of Utah beach as part of the seaborne invasion of Normandy. Though casualties were relatively light for the men of the 4th Infantry Division on Utah beach, the battles beyond would be much tougher.
Despite having made if off the beaches, the men of the 4th Infantry Division still had numerous gun batteries of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall to clear. The task of capturing the Crisbecq battery, which had already sunk the destroyer USS Corry, fell to Lt. Niland and his men.
On June 7, Niland led his men against the German position. During the heavy fighting Niland fell mortally wounded. The rest of his unit was repulsed. The battery would not fall until several days later to units of the 9th Infantry Division.
The Niland brothers’ parents received all three notifications in a very short amount of time. Their only condolence was a letter from Fritz informing them that “Dad’s Spanish-American War stories are going to have to take a backseat when I get home.”
Fritz was unaware of the fate of his brothers. If only the brothers could have known that their story would turn into Saving Private Ryan, one of the most classic war films in history.
When the War Department received word of the tragedy orders were dispatched to return Fritz Niland to the United States. That task fell to the regimental Chaplin, Father Francis Sampson. Sampson located Fritz, who had been searching for his brother in the 82nd and began to paperwork to send him home.
Returning to the United States in 1944, Fritz served for the remainder of the war as an MP in New York.
Then, in May 1945, the Nilands received some rather unexpected news. Edward was found alive in a Burmese POW camp when it was liberated by British forces.
He had survived bailing out of his plane, several days in the jungle, and nearly a year as a prisoner of the Japanese. During his captivity he had lost significant weight and returned to New York at a meager 80 pounds.
The other two Niland brothers, Preston and Robert, are buried side-by-side in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
It’s been a big week for Paramount’s new film Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Deadpool’s Tim Miller. A first look was screened at CinemaCon 2019 followed by the release of official cast photos.
Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger return in their iconic roles in the film, which is produced by James Cameron and David Ellison. Dark Fate also stars Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta.
This film will take place after Terminator 2 — as if the last three films didn’t exist, which we can buy into because of time travel in the Terminator universe, but also, as Linda Hamilton put it, the last three “are very forgettable, aren’t they?” (Uhh, her words…not mine…)
Naturally, after the release of anything, the internet had some opinions. Enjoy:
Collider’s Steve “Frosty” Weintraub watched the footage at CinemaCon 2019, and speaks to Collider Video’s Dennis Tzeng about what he saw in the video above, including a play-by-play of the footage and his own excitement: “It looked epic in scale and scope. The action looks immense. It looks like everything you’ve wanted in a Terminator sequel.”
TERMINATOR footage features a fully nude Mackenzie Davis time-travel landing in Mexico City and beating the shit out of a couple of cops. This is precisely as awesome as it sounds.
Ultimately, between Miller’s passion and body of work (we can all agree that Deadpool was great, right?), the reactions all seem optimistic and positive. We’ll see if that holds out when the trailer drops.
Terminator: Dark Fate opens in theaters on Nov. 1, 2019.
Necessity is the mother of invention. If a certain need exists and the thing that satisfies such a need does not, then some endeavoring soul is bound to create it. Richard Davis embodied this mentality when he took some Kevlar and fashioned it into a lightweight vest — and his revolutionary design changed war fighting forever. With just a few slight modifications, Davis’ design became the body armor that police officers and troops wear into combat today.
You might be wondering why Davis, a pizza guy from Detroit, would need such a thing. Well, what would you do if you were tired of getting shot at while delivering pies?
You had comfort and maneuverability or mild protection from small arms and fragmentation. Your choice.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Body armor, in one form or another, has been around for as long as war itself. But when gunpowder and firearms took the place of swords and arrows on the battlefield, standard metal plates no longer did the trick — incoming rounds from muskets would pierce most metals. But as firearms shrank from the cannons of old to the rifles we know today, metal-plate armor made a comeback.
During World War II, Col. Malcolm C. Grow of the British Army created the flak vest out of nylon and manganese steel plates. It weighed 22lbs, only worked where the plates were, and wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but it was reasonably effective. This style was used until the Vietnam War.
I mean, if it works… Right?
(Photo by Michel Curi)
After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Richard Davis opened a pizzeria off 7 Mile in Detroit. One night, a delivery took him through a back alley and he was held up at gunpoint. Weeks later, another order came in for the same address (it was even the same order of two pepperoni and ham pizzas). This time, however, he came prepared with a .22 revolver hidden under the pies.
The same robbers tried the same stunt, but he was ready. A gunfight broke out. Davis took one round to the back of the leg and another grazed his temple. He managed to get four shots off at his attackers, leaving two of his three attackers wounded. In the weeks he spent recovering, his pizzeria was burnt to the ground.
He had nothing but to his name.
Meanwhile, over at DuPont Co. Labs, they had just made a breakthrough in tire technology. They were using a new, lightweight, super-strong synthetic fabric called Kevlar. It was flexible and five-times stronger than steel.
Davis got his hands on some of this new material and fashioned some of it together into a body armor vest using ballistic nylon. He called it the “Second Chance” vest and created it with the intentions of putting it in police hands.
He worked on the vests throughout the day and tried to sell his life-saving wares to police at night — with little success. He needed a bigger ploy to get their attention. His method? He gathered up the police to watch a demonstration. He was going to shoot himself in the chest — despite the fact that his vest had never been tested on a person.
The vest worked like a charm. Davis shot himself and while it hurt like hell — because, you know, the vests can’t stop inertia — that didn’t matter. His pitch was so effective it later became standard among all police in the nation. Variations on his original body armor design are used by troops to this day.
To watch the Smithsonian’s interview with Richard Davis, check out the video below.
Everyone knows “Die Hard” is the story of how a struggling New York cop made his way to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged family only to get caught up in a terrorist attack. Not everyone may be familiar with “Nothing Lasts Forever,” the book on which the movie was based.
If you haven’t read “Nothing Lasts Forever” and love the “Die Hard” series, you might be in for a real treat, like watching “Die Hard” for the first time.
The book is much like the movie, except the main character, Joe Leland, is flying to see his daughter, Leland actually knows who the lead terrorist is, and the terrorists aren’t just out to steal money. They’re trying to expose the Klaxon Corporation’s illegitimate dealings with an illegal government in South America. Leland tells the whole story to a stewardess he met on the way to LA, who is also his new girlfriend.
To not ruin the rest of the story, I’ll let you read the rest.
Joe Leland, like McClane, is a struggling NYPD cop. Unlike McClane, Leland is retired from the force and retired from the U.S. military. John Leland is a deeply disturbed ex-fighter pilot who never quite got over what happened to him in World War II and he still carries around a Browning Hi-Power pistol (even on the airplane).
As a former cop, Leland has a lot of experience with terrorists. He even attended a training seminar that discussed the work of “Little Tony” Gruber, the leader of the German terrorists taking over the Klaxon building.
Just like McClane, he escapes the initial hostage taking, exiting the company Christmas party while barefoot and armed. Joe Leland also crawls through the building’s HVAC ductwork, drops bombs down elevator shafts and takes enough damage to kill any normal human.
The producers of “Die Hard” didn’t intend for the film to be anything like the book, but it’s hard to fight awesome. Scenes like John McClane taping a gun to his back or jumping off a building with a firehose tied around his waist are just too good to pass up.
If “Die Hard” is the movie that changed action movies forever, then “Nothing Last Forever” is the book that changes action movies forever and it all started with a single disgruntled Air Force pilot.
See some of the best of John McClane in this clip from YouTube:
For nearly four decades, Al Ungerleider dedicated his life to serving his country. He was an infantry officer who saw active combat in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of brigadier general.
Ungerleider experienced a lot during his years in the military, including a landing amid the chaos on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But nothing stirred his emotions like what crossed before his eyes in the waning days of World War II. At the time, U.S., Soviet and British forces were liberating Nazi concentration camps in Europe as Germany was close to surrendering, bringing to life the horrors of Adolph Hitler’s “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish people. The liberators saw emaciated corpses piled on top of each other and skeletal camp survivors, and they could smell the stench of death.
Al Ungerleider (second row, farthest left, kneeling) landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day commanding Company L of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment of the 29th Division. This photo shows other commanders in the Third Battalion.
Army 1st Lt. Ungerleider, who died in 2011 at age 89, commanded Company I of the Third Battalion of the 115th Regiment, which separated into advance parties to scout routes and bivouac areas in central Germany. Ungerleider’s party came upon the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, the center of a vast network of forced labor camps in the Harz Mountain region. Prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau constructed large factories for the V-2 missile program and other experimental weapons.
Upon entering the camp 75 years ago on April 11, 1945, Ungerleider witnessed a level of cruelty that is “burned into my brain and my soul like nothing else in my life,” he said in a 1993 interview. “My men and I smashed through the gates and witnessed the site of dead bodies, of human beings in the worst state of degradation. There was absolute horror in what we saw. Then we asked, `What can we do to help?'”
`Literally starving to death’
Ungerleider, who was Jewish, spoke Yiddish to the survivors in the camp and grouped them together to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to mourn the dead. Prior to the liberation, the Nazis had evacuated most of the prisoners at Dora-Mittlebau to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany to hide them from allied forces. Thus, only a few hundred prisoners remained at the camp, which once held as many as 12,000 by the time the Americans arrived.
“He and his unit were totally unprepared for what they found because they had no knowledge of the concentration camps,” said Ungerleider’s son, Neil Ungerleider. “The survivors were literally starving to death.”
Neil Ungerleider explained that his father spoke with German citizens who lived in the nearby towns and villages and who claimed ignorance of the atrocities. He said to them, `Go back and bring these people food,'” Neil Ungerleider said. “He threatened to imprison them if they didn’t do it, but they did. They brought them food.”
The Americans appeared to encounter minimal resistance as they scoured the camp. At one point, Al Ungerleider and Army Pfc. Billy Melander went to a building and found 10 crematorium ovens with the doors closed. Edward Burke, the captain of a tank destroyer battalion that accompanied Ungerleider’s unit in the assault on the camp, provided an account of what happened next:
Ungerleider told Billy to bring his M1 Rifle ready to fire as he opened the doors,” Burke once said. “Doors one, two, three and four were empty. Ungerleider said as he approached door five he felt a tingle all through his body. As he opened the door, there was a German trooper with a Luger pistol aimed at them. Fortunately, Billy was faster on the trigger, and he pumped eight shots into the German as fast as he could pull the trigger.”
Nightmares from what he witnessed
Like Al Ungerleider and his unit, many Americans were unaware of the German atrocities toward the Jews. Nearly 6 million Jewish people were murdered in Nazi concentration camps from 1939 to 1945 in what is known as the Holocaust.
Neil Ungerleider said his father experienced nightmares as a result of what he witnessed at Dora-Mittlebau. “This one traumatic event stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was able to cope very well with his war experiences, except for this one thing.”
Nearly a year before liberating the camp, Al Ungerleider led 50 men from the 115th Regiment ashore at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944. They were in the second wave of U.S. troops who hit the beach in the Normandy invasion along the northern coast of France. The invasion changed the course of the war by leading to the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Germany’s control. “Being in the second wave, he didn’t experience the kind of slaughter that those who went in first did,” Neil Ungerleider said, “which doesn’t make it any less dangerous or any less heroic in terms of what he and his men did. But he did have close calls during the war.”
Al Ungerleider earned three Bronze Stars for his military service.
`He was a patriot’
Al Ungerleider was not wounded during the landing. But he suffered injuries not long after from shrapnel in France. The first wound to his arm wasn’t that serious. He was treated at a hospital in France before returning to combat. A wound to the leg was more serious. He was evacuated to England for treatment and returned to battle.
On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, Ungerleider was chosen to escort President Clinton for a wreath laying at the iconic site. Ten years later, he was one of 100 American Veterans who returned to Omaha Beach for the 60th anniversary. They received the French Legion of Honor, the oldest and highest honor in France.
In his distinguished military career, Ungerleider also commanded military bases in Korea and Vietnam. He was a three-time recipient of the Bronze Star, which is awarded to members of the military for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.
Over the years, Ungerleider remained modest about his recognition and service to his country. “He was a patriot who loved his country and did his duty,” Neil Ungerleider said. “After Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted because, as he put it, `We were all going. No one ever thought not to go.’ In his mind, he was doing nothing beyond what everyone else was doing. He never thought of himself as unique or special. The value he instilled in his children was this: Work hard, do your best and be modest about what you achieve. I cannot think of a better description of how he lived his life.”
There’s a fun fact that you can’t escape in the South: Coca-Cola used to have cocaine in it. The Coke brand is everywhere down here, and every 14-year-old will bring up the cocaine fact a couple of times a week for the first six months after they learn about it.
The fact that cocaine used to be offered in every town usually gets written off as an odd quirk of history, but it turns out the inventor had a good reason to appreciate the coca plant: He had a number of gunshot and saber wounds from the Civil War.
Coke was invented by John Stith Pemberton (the drink is named after the coca plant, not the inventor or company founder). Pemberton became a doctor at the ripe old age of 19 in 1850. He was a successful surgeon and chemist in the 1850s, but he signed up for frontline service when the Civil War broke out.
He didn’t serve as a doctor, though. He started as a first lieutenant in a cavalry unit in 1862 and climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel. He faced his fiercest fighting when Union Gen. James Wilson attacked Columbus in 1865. Pemberton suffered multiple gunshots wounds and even a saber strike to his chest.
Union Gen. James Wilson led Union troops during the Battle of Columbus.
(Brady National Photographic Art Gallery)
Pemberton would suffer for years from the wounds he took near Columbus, and he struggled against an opium addiction thanks to all the painkillers he was given. But Pemberton was, luckily, a skilled chemist and pharmacist. He moved to Atlanta after the war and developed new chemical products.
He became aware of a new European product already popular in Italy and France, wine infused with extracts from coca leaves. After a new business partnership in 1870, he was able to purchase the equipment to develop even more complex products.
And, in 1885, he made his own version of the coca-infused wines which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. One thing worth noting here, this isn’t technically cocaine in a drink. Coca leaves are a precursor to cocaine, but you have to use a solvent to extract cocaine sulfate from the leaves in order to get actual cocaine out. But Pemberton’s wine did have anesthetic effects like cocaine would.
The jump from French Wine Coca to Coca-Cola came when wine was threatened by alcohol prohibition in Atlanta and Pemberton decided to replace the sweetness from the wine with sweetness from sugar. After a few more changes to refine the taste, the product was renamed Coca-Cola and released in 1886.
It has gone through a few formula changes since, including switching fresh coca leaves out for spent coca leaves which have had the cocaine sulfate extracted. So, you know, you can’t get high from Coke anymore.
The first trailer for Avengers 4 is finally here. We’ve got a real-deal title, too: Avengers: Endgame. Captain America has shaved his beard, Tony Stark is lonely, Hawkeye is back, and it looks like Ant-Man is going to be the key to it all, just as we predicted!
Be warned this trailer is super-emotional and we’re already crying. Watch the trailer a few times, and then take a breath. Okay, you good? Let’s dig into this a little bit.
First of all, even though “Endgame” is a really boring and generic subtitle, the trailer itself is excellent, possibly more thrilling than any other Marvel trailer ever. Unlike the Captain Marvel trailers (which are fine by the way) this trailer really gives the audience what they want without actually spoiling the movie. Though if you somehow missed Infinity War, this trailer weirdly makes watching that movie slightly unnecessary because Black Widow sums up the plot of the previous installment with one line “Thanos did exactly what he said he was going to do: he wiped-out 50 percent of all living creatures.” (Side question: does this include cockroaches, rats, and pigeons? Is there a vermin-version of the Avengers who are grieving right now, too? I mean we all cried for Spider-Man, what about actual spiders?)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, this trailer is really great. Chris Evans is clearly going to give the performance of his life in this movie and its rad to see him clean-shaven, like pretty much saying to the audience that yeah, he’s back and he’s going to do whatever it takes to fix all of this stuff. The return of Hawkeye is super-dope, too, and that coda with Ant-Man pulling up in his van is great and totally teases the idea that the post-credits scene of Ant-Man and the Waspwill be the key to saving all the Avengers.
Seems like May 3, 2019, can’t get here fast enough.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
In the final hours of January 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army launched a massive offensive across South Vietnam.
The Tet Offensive failed to hold territory or spark a general uprising, but daily footage of brutal fighting broadcast into homes in the US had a profound effect on how Americans viewed the war.
Shortly after midnight on January 30, 1968, cities in South Vietnam came under simultaneous attack by North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers and Viet Cong (VC) guerrillas.
Many of the attacks were beaten back relatively quickly, some within hours, but the following days revealed that the fighting was not isolated.
Over 100 locations, including 36 of South Vietnam’s 44 provincial capitals, six of its largest cities, and dozens of towns, hamlets, and South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) and US bases faced a massive and well-coordinated attack.
The NVA and VC had launched their Tet Offensive, a brutal assault by some 84,000 soldiers and guerrillas across South Vietnam. They were told to “crack the sky” and “shake the earth” and that the offensive would be “the greatest battle ever fought in the history of our country.”
What ensued would change the course of the Vietnam War.
A plan to start an uprising
American military advisors had been on the ground in Vietnam for over a decade, but the country saw ever increasing fighting since the US directly intervened in 1965.
Contrary to statements made by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the overall US commander in Vietnam, Army Gen. William Westmoreland, there was no sign of victory in sight.
The war had entered a stalemate, and the leaders of North Vietnam, upset by the lack of progress, devised a plan that they believed would give them the decisive victory necessary to unify Vietnam under communism.
They would take the fight directly to South Vietnam’s centers of power — the cities.
The objective was to take control of the major cities, broadcast messages of revolution, and start a general uprising across the country, overwhelming American and ARVN forces and leaving the US with no choice but to withdraw.
The offensive took place during Tet, a holiday that was traditionally, but unofficially, seen as a ceasefire period, allowing ARVN soldiers to return home.
In the months before the offensive, the NVA and VC smuggled thousands of men, weapons, and tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail and into South Vietnam’s cities.
Diversion at Khe Sanh
By December, US and ARVN commanders knew something was coming. They noticed the massive increase in activity along the Ho Chi Minh trail, and captured reports showed plans for attacking cities. They also intercepted a recorded message calling on locals to rise up.
Westmoreland believed these were diversions and that the true target was Khe Sanh, a large military base just a few miles from the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.
Worried that the US could suffer a defeat like France’s disastrous loss at Dien Bien Phu 14 years earlier, Westmoreland ordered reinforcements to Khe Sanh and put its 6,000-strong Marine garrison on alert.
Sure enough, almost 20,000 NVA troops attacked Khe Sanh on January 21, starting a brutal months-long siege.
Believing this to be the main attack, the US threw a massive amount of firepower into the fight, dropping close to 100,000 tons of bombs on NVA positions. Half of the US Army’s mobile reserve was also sent into the area.
But Khe Sanh was the diversion.
A little more than a week after the fighting at Khe Sanh started, the true targets came under attack. Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital, was the biggest.
Shortly after midnight, the presidential palace came under assault, as did the airport, the city’s biggest radio station, and multiple bases, including Westmoreland’s own headquarters.
Most shocking, 19 VC commandos breached the US Embassy, engaging US troops in a six-hour long firefight before being killed or captured.
But things fell apart for the VC and NVA in Saigon. US and ARVN forces inflicted massive casualties, and operators at the radio station prevented the call for an uprising from going out.
By early February, the attackers were on the defensive, and the fighting was over by early March.
6. The boot camp could have been even more interesting.
We’re all fans of watching Gunny Hartman train those recruits — especially Gomer Pyle — in the first act of the film. With Animal Mother in the platoon, we bet that not only would he be the squad leader, but the blanket party scene would have come much sooner.
Soap wrapped in a towel is a common tool to use during a blanket party. (Image via Giphy)
5. There would have been way more sh*t talking — and we like that.
We can all say Animal Mother was a hardcore killer and has minimal social skills, especially when Marine reporters from Stars and Stripes show up.
Although he tends to fire off his mouth as often as he fires his M60. Seeing him verbally torment more of the film’s characters would be freakin’ funny to watch.
4. The film’s coverage of the Tet Offensive would have been much different.
We only see a small fraction of the bloody campaign that takes places through Joker’s lens. Once Joker and Rafterman meet up with Hotel Company 1/5, Crazy Earl tells us a quick story of how they came to Hue City and took on a massive enemy force.
We would have loved to have seen that footage through Animal Mother’s POV.
3. The film would have had a sex scene for sure.
Remember when Animal Mother c*ckblocked Eightball when that Vietnamese girl came around? Sure you do. Well, we think it would have been interesting to catch a glimpse of him and her having sex doing their taxes in the following scene.
2. More erratic shooting.
Animal Mother was known for being trigger happy and spraying rounds everywhere.
We understand that it’s not the most accurate way of discharging your weapon, but when you’re shooting that thing on full auto — it’s f*cking hard to control.
When Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Ray Drowley arrived alone at an American camp on the Solomon Islands with a gaping wound in his chest, a missing eye, and a shredded uniform, a junior officer threatened to court-martial him for abandoning his defense post.
Instead, Drowley was put on the path to history.
On Jan. 30, 1944, Drowley was a rifle squad leader with B Company, 132nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, when he displayed the bravery that would earn him the Medal of Honor.
The Americal Division arrived on Bougainville on Dec. 25, 1943, as part of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea campaigns. The division was unique in World War II as it carried a name and not a numerical designation.
It got its name from “American, New Caledonia,” the South Pacific island on which the unit was provisionally formed for defense in May 1942. Though officially known later as the 23rd Infantry Division, the Americal name remained.
A month after the unit’s arrival, Drowley was assigned a defensive role with his company as a neighboring unit launched an attack against Japanese defensive positions.
The staff sergeant witnessed three wounded soldiers from the neighboring company collapse. Intense enemy fire prevented their rescue. That’s when Drowley made a fateful decision.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Drowley “fearlessly rushed forward to carry the wounded” one-by-one to cover.
After moving two of the men to safety amid a hail of gunfire, Drowley discovered an enemy pillbox that American assault tanks had missed. The enemy fighters within were “inflicting heavy casualties upon the attacking force and…a chief obstacle to the success of the advance.”
The dire situation didn’t deter him.
Drowley directed another soldier to complete the rescue of the third wounded soldier. Meanwhile, he darted out across open terrain to one of the American tanks. Drowley climbed the turret and signaled the crew.
He exchanged his weapon for a submachine gun and rode the deck of the tank while firing toward the pillbox with tracer fire.
As the tank ambled closer to the enemy position, Drowley received a severe wound to the chest. He refused to leave his position for medical treatment, instead continuing to direct the tank’s driver to the pillbox.
He was shot again — losing his left eye — and knocked to the ground.
But Drowley remained undaunted. Despite his injuries, he continued to walk alongside the tank until it was able to open fire on the enemy pillbox and destroy it. In the process, American forces discovered another pillbox behind the first and destroyed it as well.
With his mission finally completed, Drowley returned to camp for medical treatment.
When he reached the safety of the American outpost, his platoon leader admonished him for leaving his post. But the reason he left was quickly learned, and he was eventually recommended for the nation’s highest military honor.
After receiving the accolade, he was offered a commission and a chance to speak at war rallies, but Drowley declined and eventually left the service. He lived a quiet life for the rest of his years.
In 1991, he told The Spokesman Review of Spokane, Washington, that he shied away from the title of hero.
‘What Did You Do?’
“People say, ‘What did you do to get the Medal of Honor?’ You were only doing your job,” Drowley said. “You’re fearless, all right. You’re so damned scared you’re past fearless. But you’re going to get killed if you don’t do anything.”
Along with the Medal of Honor, Drowley was also awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters and two Bronze Stars.
He was the first Americal soldier to be awarded the medal and the division’s lone recipient for action in World War II.
While recovering from his wounds at a hospital in Spokane, he met his future wife, Kathleen McAvoy. He returned to Washington after the war from his native St. Charles, Michigan. He operated a service station before working as a civilian employee at Fairchild Air Force Base. He retired in 1980.
Drowley died May 20, 1996. He was 76. He was buried at Fairmount Memorial Park in Spokane.
Imagine, as a fighter pilot, being able to see your enemy without them knowing you’re even in the area. Sounds like some newfangled stealth capability you’d expect to come stock on a fifth generation fighter, like the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II, right?
But what if I were to tell you that the US Air Force possessed such a capability as far back as the early 1970s, far before the F-22 and concepts of its ilk were even on the minds of engineers who’d eventually design them? Heck, more than half of those engineers and designers were probably still finishing off college or hadn’t yet completed grade school.
Called the APX-80, but more popularly known by its codename, “Combat Tree”, this top secret technology was first equipped on McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom IIs, the US Air Force’s primary fighter-bomber aircraft. Today, we call the system involved “Non-Cooperative Target Recognition”, after having developed it for years. Back then, Combat Tree was a next-generation game-changer which would only be equipped on a select number of F-4Ds, which would fly in hunter/killer packs with other F-4Es (Phantoms built with internal rotary cannons). The precise details of how Combat Tree worked are still classified to this very day, but we do know, to an extent, how Phantom aircrews used it.
Instead of activating the powerful radar scanner in the nose of the Phantom, weapon systems officers (WSOs) in the rear cockpit of the fighter would use Combat Tree to look around the sky for specialized transponders built into enemy aircraft flown by the Vietnamese People’s Air Force (VPAF; North Vietnam’s military aerial element). These transponders were actually designed to prevent friendly-fire incidents, where North Vietnamese ground-controlled interception (GCI) stations and surface-to-air missile (SAM) emplacements would accidentally target and hit friendly fighters in a bid to shoot down enemy American aircraft. Referred to as “IFF” transponders or (Identification Friend or Foe), these beacons would relay a code to scanners built into SAM and GCI search radar computers, allowing their crews to distinguish between their own fighters and marauding jets of the USAF, US Navy and Marine Corps.
Combat Tree would “challenge” or “interrogate” each transponder it came across, asking in return whether or not the aircraft mated to the transponder was allied or otherwise. As soon as Combat Tree ascertained the allegiance of the aircraft after receiving the automatic response from the VPAF MiG-21’s transponder (completely unbeknownst to the MiG’s pilot, mind you), it would accurately plot its quarry’s location on a display in the rear cockpit of the F-4, and open up the hunt for the pilot flying in the front seat of the Phantom. Conversely, using the Phantom’s radar would have likely tipped off enemy fighters that they were being “painted” or tracked by other aircraft in the sky, thus losing any edge of surprise that the American fighters would have previously owned. Not only did this make MiG interceptions by Phantoms “stealthier”, it also allowed F-4 pilots to engage VPAF MiG-21s at greater distances, beyond visual range (BVR).
Prior to the existence and fielding of Combat Tree, all US military fighter pilots operating in Vietnamese skies were forced to get closer to VPAF MiG fighters to gain a positive identification on enemy aircraft before attacking them. Since radar only determines whether or not there are other aircraft in the sky ahead of your own, a visual identification is required to figure out whose aircraft those are. While American F-4 Phantom IIs were much more technologically advanced, they were still less maneuverable within the parameters of a close-in dogfight than a MiG-21 or the older MiG-19, also flown by the VPAF. This led to frustratingly high loss rates for American fighters. Combat Tree exponentially enhanced the margin of safety for American pilots by allowing them to gain positive identifications without pushing them into envelopes which greatly favored North Vietnamese MiG drivers.
The North Vietnamese eventually wised up to the presence of such a technology, though, they didn’t quite know what it was or how it functioned. The VPAF’s ranking officers began noticing a sharp increase in attrition rates with their fighter forces, especially those that found themselves tangling with US Air Force fighter jets. Cells of MiG-21s were reportedly being engaged at distances never before seen during the war, and with deadly accuracy. Radio transmissions between pilots, intercepted by picket stations, were able to pinpoint the reason for the suddenly high MiG-loss rate the North Vietnamese were sustaining – their aircraft’s IFF transponders. The VPAF’s pilots were instructed, there on out, to only turn them on when absolutely necessary, but to otherwise fly without any IFF protection, making them vulnerable to their own surface-to-air missiles in addition to the threat posed by American fighters in the area of operations.
Combat Tree’s effectiveness as a device that allowed American pilots to own the first look/first shot/first kill advantage wasn’t completely diminished by this discovery, however. By the end of American involvement in Vietnam in 1975, Combat Tree had earned assists in a number of US Air Force kills against North Vietnamese aircraft. In fact, Combat Tree was was responsible for helping Air Force legends Richard “Steve” Ritchie and Charles “Chuck” DeBellevue reach ace status (achieving five confirmed kills) between May to September, 1972. Since the early 1970s, the APX-80, or at least the lessons learned from Combat tree, has likely been redeveloped and extensively modernized for use with America’s current fighter fleet. Combat Tree, in a way, can be considered the forerunner of the modern sensors you’d find today on an F-35 or the F-22, which allow the aircraft to “see” the enemy before they even enter the playing field.
Originally published on The Tactical Air Network in January 2017.
Jeremy Lee MacKenzie is an artist & filmmaker whose career began after being incarcerated as a teenager. His artwork, “Hidden Blueprints,” is a collection of wood-scrollwork cut from blueprints that were hidden in the prison system. He discovered the blueprints while serving sentences that totaled eight years, for bank robbery & drug trafficking.
He was inspired to become a filmmaker while working as a prison movie projectionist where he studied screenwriting and was released with scholarships to Champlain College. In 2015, he was awarded a screenwriting fellowship to Stowe Story Labs and that same year, won gold in the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards in LA.
In 2017, MacKenzie completed his film “Hidden Blueprints: The Story of Mikey,” and received the James Goldstone Emerging Filmmaker Award. In 2018, he was chosen for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Award and was then admitted to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to pursue his MFA on a George Lucas Scholarship.
Annenberg Media: Tell me about where you are from and your life growing up?
MacKenzie: I’m from Burlington, VT and my childhood was complicated. I had a lot of challenging things happen while growing up and I ended up in adult prison at the age of 17 for bank robbery. Looking back, it feels like it was 100 years ago, like I’ve lived in quantum time where every year contained the events of five years.
Annenberg Media: What is the most distinct memory you have of your mother and father?
MacKenzie: A positive memory I have of my mother is how she always encouraged me to be an artist and be creative. She was always very honest and encouraging if she thought I was good at something. My father encouraged storytelling and read me a lot of books growing up. He tested me on the stories to see if I was listening. He would reread me the same story and then change certain plot lines to see if I was paying attention. I would stop him and tell him, “no dad, the storyline goes like this…”
Annenberg Media: What challenges did you face at school and in the community?
MacKenzie: My parents separated after my younger sister passed away. I lived with my mother most of the time and my father during summers. When I was really young, I did well in school. At a certain point in my childhood we moved into a trailer park where we were living in poverty. A lot of the people living in that trailer park did not care much about school and were into drugs. Those became really tough years since I valued education but was now being punished for valuing academics.
At first I had to fight kids often when getting off the school bus because I was into focusing on school. My parents always tried focus my attention on education. I was very young and got sick of fighting and being an outsider, so I ended up joining the crowd. I got into drugs to succeed in that world. I often wondered if people around me who chose the drug path, went through those same bad experiences as I did.
At the age of 12 or 13, I transitioned into selling drugs and became a drug dealer. I wanted to excel in a world I was way behind in. By 14-years-old, my parents had lost full control. I had an 18-year-old stripper girlfriend living with me. I was deep into the world of drug dealing: at age 14, it was cocaine, 15, it was opiates, at 16, I was arrested for dealing heroin and at 17, I was locked up for bank robbery.
Bang, that escalated quickly! My parents were baffled at how things changed so rapidly.
Annenberg Media: Where did this lifestyle lead you?
MacKenzie: I served three sentences totaling eight years. During one of those sentences, I earned my high school diploma but was still struggling to separate from the drug world. During the course of one of my sentences, I was sent to a corporate prison in Kentucky. When I got there, I got my first college opportunity. Hazard Community College selected 20 inmates who they gave grants to start college while incarcerated.
Due to overcrowding and the mistreatment of inmates, a lot of violence was going on in the facility. It was a for-profit prison and the administration was not friendly. I had to make a choice between focusing on college or joining an uprising in the prison. A group of inmates were planning a revolt and ended up having a riot at the facility. The riot took over the facility for a night and the administration building was burned which included the education facility. The college opportunity went up in smoke. We were in lockdown for many months while they rebuilt the prison around us. This gained a lot of national media attention.
Annenberg Media: Did you have any creative outlets while incarcerated?
MacKenzie: Isolation can be a powerful tool. After the riot, while in lock down I started designing artwork. I would design blueprints for big pieces of wood-scrollwork. I had learned this wood cutting technique as a teenager from an old clock maker in prison and I taught myself how to design. I was designing on taped-together pieces of paper but we weren’t allowed to have the paper so I had to hide my blueprints until I could bring them home.
Those blueprints came to be my artwork years later. I used them as a tool for storytelling. Many of the blueprints I drew didn’t directly depict prison but told the stories of our experience on the inside through ancient themes. When I was not designing I started getting into TV and movies and I started watching this show called “Medium.” Everybody watched it. It was a way to escape from prison.
MacKenzie: My darkest moment came during my third sentence when I could no longer hide from my darkest truths and my responsibilities. I couldn’t hide the impact my actions had on my friends, family and community; I experienced a paradigm shift. I was in a segregation cell where I had more charges coming. The drug dealers who had been supplying me since I was an adolescent, who I had been protecting my whole life, were not protecting me or anyone else. The whole veil of that world came crashing down.
I realized the effect my life was having on everyone around me and the people I had protected and followed didn’t care about me anymore. I was in the segregation cell and I noticed there was a broken razor blade on the floor. “This is my out,” I thought. This was one of the few moments in my life where I contemplated suicide. But, I looked out the window and thought to myself, “No one could explain this to my dog, she’s never gonna know what happened.” I just wanted to see my dog again. She probably saved my life. Tests find a way of placing themselves in your path, especially at your darkest moments. I needed to let things play out until the end.
Annenberg Media: How was your life impacted after making the decision to stay alive?
MacKenzie: That was a very challenging period of time, but it passed. And I ended up getting a job as a prison movie projectionist. It was a makeshift movie theater with prison walls. We screened everything from the original “Star Wars” to “Casablanca” and “Chinatown.” It was a powerful experience watching “Star Wars” projected onto a prison wall.
While working as a prison movie projectionist, I started writing stories with the women’s prison. The women were relatable and had similar situations to mine. But we weren’t allowed to write to other prisons so I would send the letters to my father and he would re-address them to the women I was writing. I invited them to write a story where the women and I could insert our own characters and set them off on a journey together. I was very grateful to the women for that, as it provided a creative medium that was very valuable. It also provided companionship and helped with loneliness.
Working with the prison movie theater was a crucial time for me. All those earlier years of my father testing me on stories came back to me. I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker. I focused on screenwriting and reached out to different colleges to get the books they used in their screenwriting courses. I was no longer in a corporate prison and I made a deal with teachers to recycle prison paperwork. The education offices would print scripts on the back of the recycled paperwork I brought them. Filmmaking was like life or death- in my previous life I was going to die and this new life was the only way out. There were no other choices.
Annenberg Media: Did you plan on getting further education?
MacKenzie: I got a scholarship to go to college when I came home. The scholarship letter came from Bernie Sanders, which I still have. When I came home I realized there was all this time that I had missed. I did a lot of catching up in college.
As soon as I got to undergrad, I won gold in the Page International Screenwriting Awards for a screenplay. The award and screenplay got me connected with Julie Pacino, Al Pacino’s daughter. I began to excel and was pushed more towards directing. Julie ended up producing my film, “Hidden Blueprints.” Things began to happen much more rapidly and I ended up using “Hidden Blueprints” to apply to USC.
Back then, Ben Stiller was making his show “Escape at Dannemora” and his group reached out to have me in the show as an inmate. I have an escape on my record- at one point I tried to run away from prison- so I was not able to get security clearance to enter prison. But, I took a role as an extra on a different part of his show so I could still be apart of the production. I had this really funny moment where I was standing on set with Ben Stiller to my right and I was quietly watching him work. Then, the main actress comes out and I’m suddenly hit with this really familiar feeling: the actress was Patricia Arquette who I watched in the TV show, “Medium” years ago in that destroyed prison in Kentucky. I realize I’m standing in the middle of a show about escaping from prison starring the actress of the show we all used to watch to escape from the prison we were in. It was an interesting and affirming moment.
I sent the production staff of the show an email about it. It made me reflect on how far my arc had brought me. Within a matter of days the George Lucas Scholarship came in for USC. It gave me chills. I had projected “Star Wars” movies on a prison wall. Now I was headed to LA.
Aron Meinhardt, J. Lee MacKenzie, and Julie Pacino
Annenberg Media: Why Hollywood and why now?
MacKenzie: This is the epicenter of storytelling. I came here to fully engage in storytelling and USC helped me get here. I knew this was the path. This is the place to begin and branch off. This is a time when people from all different places and backgrounds can tell stories. I felt like I was one of those people that could have a place here.
Annenberg Media: What is it like to be a George Lucas Scholar at the School of Cinematic Arts?
MacKenzie: From where I come from, it has been extremely helpful and it has been an honor to have the opportunities I’ve had. I had the opportunity to work with some incredible people like Riley and Austin Lynch, Julie Pacino, Aron Meinhardt and many others. I got to collaborate with C. Craig Patterson who is a great friend, he is on a George Lucas Scholarship as well. I look forward to seeing who else I get to meet and work with.
Annenberg Media: What are your career and life goals?
MacKenzie: I want to direct movies. I direct films not because I love it, but because I feel compelled to. Telling stories was my only way out and it is the only pathway I see forward. I am going to continue on that path and see where it leads. It took a lot of people helping and believing in me to get this far. It didn’t start out that way. I deeply appreciate the people that helped me along the way. Wherever this path goes, I hope it is fruitful for both myself and for those that helped.
Annenberg Media: How is the coronavirus social distancing affecting you and do you have any recommendations?
MacKenzie: As I said, isolation can be a very powerful thing. I know a lot of people are stuck inside right now, for much longer than they are used to. A lot of movies are not getting made. People are scared and they are experiencing their own moments of darkness. But some of the most creative years of my life began with isolation and darkness like this. It wouldn’t surprise me if the solitude of this pandemic inspires and gives birth to a lovely period of filmmaking in its wake, the likes of which the world has perhaps never seen. I really hope to be a part of that movement and I think we will all feel fortunate when we see it happen.
Featured image shows J. Lee and Isabela Penagos—USC arts students.
It is 100 years to the day, June 26, 1918, since an obscure wood 50 miles from Paris, the Bois de Belleau, was captured by U.S. forces in a protracted battle of World War I. During those weeks the wood had become a focal point of American military hopes, an early and vital display of the American Expeditionary Force’s capability on the battlefield. The bloody encounter occupies a special place in the annals of U.S. military history. Patrick Gregory looks at what happened there and asks why the battle still stands out.
In late April 2018, a photo opportunity featuring the presidents of the United States and France and their wives planting a tree was beamed across the world. What seemed to attract as much publicity at the time was the fact that the young tree in question was removed soon after the ceremony, taken into temporary quarantine. What achieved less attention was where the sapling had come from or why — Belleau Wood.
As with most such scenes of slaughter of the First World War, the Bois de Belleau is as quiet now as it doubtless was before the fighting which erupted there in June 1918. And that fighting was brutal. What happened there was an important moment in the contribution of the United States in the First World War. It was also an important moment in the development of the U.S. Marine Corps.
(Library of Congress photo )
By May 1918 the U.S. had been a combatant in Europe for over a year; yet American troops, still arriving in France, had to date only played a supporting role. That was all going to change. American Expeditionary Force commander John Pershing had stubbornly resisted Allied efforts to co-opt his men — a regiment here, a regiment there — to add to their own ranks, remaining determined to train and assemble a fully-fledged army of his own.
The moment of truth now arrived to test those men in battle: May 28, 1918, the first full U.S.-led offensive of the war. Led by Pershing’s trusted First Division, the ‘Big Red One’ under Robert Bullard attacked at Cantigny in northern France, 20 miles from Amiens. Of limited strategic value, perhaps, but the three-day battle was a success, demonstrating that the Americans could fight. It was a shot in the arm for the AEF, a much needed psychological boost after all the months’ waiting.
However, of more immediate concern to the Allies was a new and deadly enemy offensive which had been unleashed during this time 50 miles south-east: one cutting easily through Allied lines and driving further south towards the river Marne, leaving German forces within striking distance of Paris.
On May 30 two separate American divisions, the 2nd & 3rd, were ordered into the Marne area, arriving from different directions east and west. A machine gun battalion of the latter secured the south bank of the river at the key bridgehead of Château-Thierry, as other of their number began to take up position.
But the main action of the weeks ahead would lie north-west of the town, involving men of the 2nd Division; in particular, two of their regiments, a brigade of Marines led by Pershing’s old chief of staff James Harbord. It would be their efforts to secure a woodland there that would capture headlines, helped in part by the purple prose of journalist Floyd Gibbons.
(Library of Congress photo )
Belleau Wood was barely more than a mile long and half a mile wide, yet it would cost many lives to capture and would be reported across the world. “It was perhaps a small battle in terms of World War I,” says Professor Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi, “but it was outsized in historic importance. It was the battle that meant that the U.S. had arrived.”
Yet as operations go — as brave and resolute as the troops were throughout — it was poorly planned and badly commanded, certainly in its opening phases. After adjacent areas were captured on the morning of June 6, the decision was taken to advance on the wood that afternoon from two directions, west and south. The former was led by a battalion of 5th Marines under Benjamin Berry; the southern attack undertaken by Berton Sibley’s battalion of 6th Marines, supported on their right by 23rd Infantry from the division’s other regular army brigade.
But little reconnaissance had been carried out in advance as to what to expect when they got there and only scant artillery fire was laid down beforehand. Inside, German machine gunners had taken up positions in defensive holes, behind rocky outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth. Worse, the Marines now advanced towards them in rank formation over the exposed ground outside, with Berry’s western advance particularly exposed. They were slaughtered. By nightfall 222 were dead and over 850 wounded.
Bloodied but remaining focused on the task, the men went again the next day. And the one after that. Yet little headway was made. An intense 24-hour artillery barrage was belatedly ordered, followed by yet another assault. Headway was finally made but casualties continued to mount as the German troops clung on in the farthermost reaches of the wood. The 7th Infantry from the neighboring 3rd Division was called in for some days to help lighten the load.
The fighting labored on for three weeks and in its final stages, foot by foot, hand to hand, it intensified in savagery. Artillery shells and guns now gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers,” 8-inch triangular blades set on knuckle-handles, as the Marines slashed their way through the last of their enemy. But finally word came through on the morning of June 26 from Major Maurice Shearer: “Belleau Wood now US Marine Corps entirely.”
(Library of Congress photo )
As the story goes, German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde “Devil Dogs”; and journalist Floyd Gibbons also helped, singling out one gunnery sergeant in dispatches as “Devil Dog Dan.” Either way, the name and image stuck and went on to become a celebrated symbol of the Marines.
“It was the day the U.S. Marines went from being a small force few people knew about to personifying elite status in the US. military,” says Andrew Wiest. The corps had roots dating back to the American War of Independence, but from Belleau developed much of the corps’ modern lore and myth.
More significantly, and of strategic importance, their intervention at Belleau and that of their 2nd and 3rd Division colleagues in the surrounding area on the Marne put paid to the German advance, at what was a dangerous moment in the war for the Allies.
The commander of the U.S. First Division Robert Lee Bullard subsequently declared: “The Marines didn’t win the war here. But they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”