These are the real brothers behind 'Saving Private Ryan' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY MOVIES

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

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.


 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

 

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.

Because of the tragedy of the Sullivan brothers aboard the USS Juneau earlier that year, the brothers were split up and sent to different units around the Army.

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.

 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
U.S. Army paratroopers are dropped near Grave, Netherlands while livestock graze near gliders that landed earlier. This was the beginning of Operation Market Garden during World War II, which resulted in heavy Allied losses. (Photo source unknown)

 

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.

 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
U.S. Soldiers of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, move out over the seawall on Utah Beach after coming ashore. Other troops are resting behind the concrete wall. (Army Signal Corps photo)

 

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.

 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
One on the 210mm gun of the German Crisbecq Battery in Normandy, not far away from Utah Beach. (U.S. Army photo)

 

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.

Also read: 10 brothers who received the Medal of Honor

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.

 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
The Preston and Robert Niland rest side by side in Normand American Cemetery. (Photos via Wikipedia user Nilington)

 

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.

MIGHTY MOVIES

10 Questions with Tom Skerritt: Hollywood icon and US Air Force veteran

You may know Tom Skerritt for his iconic roles (Viper in Top Gun, anyone?) or his tell-tale mustache. But did you know he is an Air Force veteran? WATM had the opportunity to sit down with this Hollywood legend to learn more about his childhood, his work ethic and his time in service. Here are 10 questions with the unbeatable Tom Skerritt: 

  1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?

My parents suffered through the Depression and lost quite a bit through it. I was born toward the end of the Depression and we had hard times and lived in Detroit. Detroit was a depression ridden city; I didn’t know the differences as a kid. I thought it was how life is. My school had creative programs where we were in public schools growing up. We had dance, shop, painting and similar programs. One Saturday morning a month, a school bus would take us to creative venues and I remember getting off the bus in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. The first thing I see is Rodin’s The Thinker in front of the museum. I was about 7 or 8 years old then and am thinking, “naked guy, sitting on the toilet without the sports section.” We go into the museum and see a bronze plaque with a Shakespeare phrase, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” It stands as a distinct memory because the teacher had us write these things down, so it sticks with me. I then remember seeing a painting at the museum by Diego Rivera that was just so powerful. I had not seen anything like that so full of opinion, feeling, talent and genius.

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The Detroit Institute of Arts with Rodin’s The Thinker in front. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
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Rodin’s The Thinker in front of the DIA. Photo credit dia.org.

The next time was a Saturday morning where they took us to a rehearsal for a concert to be done that night. We were setting in the hall and out comes this guest conductor. He was Arturo Toscanini, who was a great conductor of the 20th century. He was very old and physically in bad shape. He was dressed in white and his hair was shooting off in every direction like Albert Einstein. He looked like a white angel. He raised the baton and physically he became thirty years old. He straightened out and came alive like a ballerina conducting this orchestra. The sound of it was unbelievable and he was yelling at them in Italian throughout the rehearsal. These two moments compelled me by knowing there was another world out there beyond the common neighborhood I grew up in. It stayed with me — to know there is something more to this life than the Depression. 

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The Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo credit dia.org.
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Diego Rivera’s artwork Detroit Industry, South Wall in the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
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Arturo Toscanini. Photo credit wikipedia.com.
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Toscanini conducting an orchestra. Photo credit gramophone.co.uk.
  1. What made you want to join the Air Force and what was your experience like?

My father instructed me to get a trade after high school and nothing really registered to me, so I enlisted in the Air Force. I knew I needed direction and discipline. I needed something to accept as progress. I thought I could learn to fly… what did I know at 17? My older brother was a P-51 Mustang pilot in WWII so there was a dream there to do something bigger. I was very proud of my older brother where he was more like a father than my father could be. The Air Force gave me a purpose.  I learned so much about the country by just being in the Air Force. It is a wonderful frame of reference that informs my intelligence and how I look at life. 

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A P-51 Mustang utilized by US forces in WWII. Photo credit nationalinterest.org.

The Air Force was about me taking in where I was. My duty station was the Bergstrom Air Force Base, which is now closed. I got a lot out of living close to Austin, Texas. They offered me a promotion if I re-enlisted where I decided I needed an education and should use the GI Bill. The military made me feel like I needed to have that college education. I didn’t get to fly, but I sure tried. I didn’t know the math or anything towards flying. I didn’t have a frame of reference of what was required to be a pilot. 

After service for four years in the Air Force I used the GI Bill to go to UCLA. At that time UCLA was affordable where it was about $150 a year to study there. The GI Bill basically helped me pay the rent. I could go over to the West LA VA center for anything else I needed. LA in the 1960’s was laid back, easy and was nice then. I look back at LA with a great favor and what it gave me from going to school, learning to write, act and direct and the career I have. It makes me so damn appreciative of all it. The military was good for me and hope I was good for it.

I went to the university and studied English. The previous experiences with creative endeavors pushed more towards doing something creative. My other older brother used to play music for me as well when we were growing up, especially when our parents were out. My brother introduced me to classical music and jazz like Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday. The exuberance my brother exhibited when listening to the music and speaking of it left an indelible impression on me. I saw Citizen Kane growing up and was so impressed with it I decided I am going to write and direct that movie. I set the bar high.  

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Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt in Top Gun. Photo credit fighterjetsworld.com.

I thought of having to understand writing and how it is to be an actor. So, I decided to take courses in acting and it would help me get through my shy phase. I was doing some local theater outside of UCLA to work with professional actors. Everything was about the challenge and going after it. After I got hired on a small film, I came out wanting to know how it was all put together, the sets, the actors and the writing. During this time, two people I became friends with were Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack.  

I found the quotes on leadership by John Wooden, a UCLA coach and professor at the time, to be so life giving, especially with how he influenced the players. He gave his guys a way of looking at things that they wouldn’t consider as athletes. I think the small things that your brain picks up across life sticks with you, which he taught the players. Wooden had a great philosophy approach to doing what you got to do. Whether it was passing a ball to another player where you just pass the damn thing or bigger in life. Wooden would instruct in such a way that was a lot more than just passing a ball. 

While at UCLA, I became friends with a neighbor who was a TV director where he hired me to do a couple acting jobs and TV work. I was mentored by him in film making, editing them and how he looked at the business. One day he calls up and says, ‘I have a movie to direct’. That movie turned out to be M*A*S*H and the director was Robert Altman. The studio initially hated the film where they weren’t going to release it. Altman got the critics to review it and they went berserk. Mentorship was a day to day thing from those in the industry where it was very important to me and my career. 

When I had completed M*A*S*H, an up and coming director named Hal Ashby connected with me. I started mentoring with him for about three years, so I was being mentored by Ashby and Altman at the same time. These guys invited me to see their work and wanted to be friends. I was then hired to do movies in Italy for over four years. 

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UCLA in the mid-20th century. Photo credit Amazon.com.
  1. What are you most proud of from your service in the USAF?

My service in the Air Force… I was a classification specialist at Bergstrom. If there was a motor vehicle airman in some air base in Italy, I would have to select them to be sent to Korea or wherever off the base. It was not what I wanted to have, but it was okay. 

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A Bergstrom AFB display of their aircraft. Photo credit fortwiki.com.
  1. What values have you carried over from the Air Force back into the civilian world? 

Focus and discipline with a better sense of who I was. 

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The Bergstrom AFB Twelfth Air Force HQ in the mid-1960s. Photo credit af12.acc.af.mil.
  1. What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?

I don’t have one other than a lesson from childhood — an old man told us young kids to “just keep moving.” Every day I am writing, and people ask me why I work so hard. I am busy working on Triple Squirrels where we are collecting a lot of documentaries that have been on shelves for years. All of this stuff is still related to film. We are covering artists doing unique things in the Pacific North West from great fishing rivers from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean or some guy who claims he saw the sasquatch which is a legendary character in the forest. The man filmed it and it looks like a moose and not the sasquatch where the man was so serious about the event. Five guys up in Bellingham all had that common purpose, let’s put a motorcycle together that can break the land speed record. Unfortunately, the motor blew out on the motorcycle while running it at the salt flats before it could break the record. 

It is all wonderful, entertaining stuff such as glass workers like Dale Chihuly, one of the great glass artists in the world lives up here. It’s guys doing imaginative stuff. I keep going back to that and the imagination is such a gift to us human beings and sets us apart from all the other animals. It makes us curious and gives us the highs and lows that we have emotionally. It gives us the questions we have where it is all driven by our imaginative experience. The Air Force is the same thing with imagining to fly and being able to fly. I had a little bit of that experience in Top Gun, which made me feel like I was the real thing. 

All of these things of being an actor and writer and director where I look back on all of it and say, “Holy shit man, did you really cover some territory where you have some advantages that you could employ to give to other people?” There is one thing from the service such as having the back of the other person and you are looking out for them. That was one of the big things I loved about the military. In the military, you have the training to be aware of other people for their benefit and your own. Not always the same in the civilian world 

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
A screenshot of the Triple Squirrels website. Photo credit triplesquirrels.com.
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A picture of Dale Chihuly with his artwork The Sun in London Berkeley Square in 2014 . Photo credit news.artnet.com
  1. What are your most favorite projects to have worked on?

I was fortunate to have worked with Ashby, Altman and then into The Turning Point which starred Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine. All of these extraordinary people that I worked with where how could I pick out one favorite from M*A*S*H to Alien with Ridley Scott? Alton, Ashby and Ridley Scott were new when I worked with them. I met Tony Scott on the set of Alien, which led me to being involved in Top Gun. Being in films with just wonderful people from craft and how they approached life itself and how they applied it to the work they did. M*A*S*H was the best time I ever had in anything where I knew we had something and no one else did except, Altman and I. I just knew he was going to do something remarkable with all of the shooting he was doing. Alien was done about seven to eight years after M*A*S*H where those two films are in the top twenty-five films of the 20th century. So, I wanted to work to the level of Citizen Kane…*Tom laughs.

My getting close to Citizen Kane is being in two of the top films of the 20th century and then Top Gun and A River Runs Through It. All quite different with different approaches as an actor to each one of them. Doing interesting real people in every one of them where you had to make it real. It is hard to pick one out.

You bring all your past experiences into the roles you do in the future. My whole sense about life itself its how much of the good and not so good that you ingest and reject. All of it is there. This goes back to the Shakespeare quote from earlier, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” The creative process I began and later on understood what that meant. You have to have thinking processes based on what your imagination has to draw upon. I understand this through writing and looking back. I understand that everything leads to the next day, everything I got from life, the military, which has given me this discipline to write every day, it has given me a sense that words have value. That is not something you are conscious of, it is just who you are and part of who you are.  

For me having been in a situation to the military and bringing it to a role, you’re damn right it is still with me. I appreciate it and still do. I still have my gig line and can remember my serial number 16401805!  Why would I remember these things if they didn’t have something meaningful for me? You know about your posture as well from the military. 

Doing “Picket Fences” in the 90s for four years and getting sixteen Emmys over four years for best show, actor, writer and that sort of stuff. To be in that environment, especially high end, you get spoiled in it and I admit that. It is an unusual career for a person that wants to be a writer and director. I did some directing on David E. Kelly’s TV shows such as “Picket Fences” and “Big Little Lies”. Kelley was another mentor of mine which he makes about the best TV can get. 

What I am trying to give people through Triple Squirrels is the enjoyment of their own imagination. I ought to try and fish, or try to mess around with some glass, or get some scrap metal and make a motorcycle. You feel better about yourself when you feel there is something you might be able to do that makes you feel good. Life is largely a stew with salt, pepper and onions where you come up with this extraordinary stew of life. 

I am trying to share a lot about life where I have been working with young filmmakers to get in touch with themselves. They want to make a movie like someone else where you make your own movie based on who you are and what comes out of that. 

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Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt and Donald Sutherland in MAS*H. Photo credit IMDB.com.
  1. Can you share about some of your experiences working on “Gunsmoke”, “The FBI”, “Bonanza”, “The Virginian”, “Combat!”, “12 O’Clock High”, “Pickett Fences” and then on M*A*S*H, Alien, The Dead Zone, Top Gun, A River Runs Through It, Tears of the Sun and the like?

A great sense of gratitude and appreciation and good fortune to be able to do all of that. I don’t think many people in the business I am in have not had that overreaching of two or three decades of extraordinary projects. Stage acting is quite different than TV and motion pictures. Each one has a different approach to it. TV is always geared for twelve-minute segments before going to commercial. You have an unreal behavioral pattern in TV more so than film or stage or real life. In TV you have to get the answers real quick, respond real quick and draw that gun and shoot a guy. In film you want to resolve the issue more without the shooting.  Let’s get down to see what we really want to work out here. On stage it becomes never getting around to shoot each other it is about getting to understand each other. Your honest engagement of that story in resolving our difference of opinion in theater, film is different and in TV you are working towards a commercial. TV lacks the grace of film and the courage stage has. 

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Skerritt in the tv show “Combat!”. Photo credit twitter.com.
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Tom in the tv show “12 O’Clock High”. Photo credit

For Top Gun I read the script where I didn’t know who the director was at the time. I thought it was really solid and then heard that Tony Scott was going to direct it. I heard about the film like having heard about Ridley doing Alien. I read the Alien script and thought it was solid where they had only been to me, so Ridley was not attached to it that early on. Top Gun was already going to be done with the budget and good producers. I knew nothing else and then found out Tony was going to direct. It came together and then met Tom Cruise in the office to meet with Tony and with the producers. Tom was out in the waiting area with me. I had seen Tom act in Risky Business and thought he was a good young actor. I said to him, “you are a pretty good actor, where did you come up with that juice?” Tom responded, “By watching guys like you, Sir.” I thought, “Wow, a young gentleman that appreciated his opportunity in Top Gun.” He was not egomaniacal the way some actors can be in the movie business where it is all about me. For me I am always learning so I never felt that way where Top Gun is that type of thing where Tony is teaching me as well. 

I get it from Ridley on Alien and then from Tony where they were both similar. They were both soccer players and believe in getting into rhythms as athletes and musicians do. All of these rhythms come into what we do. I felt very strong about Tony and for one of the few times really pushed to get into the film. Some of the producers felt I was too lethargic or casual and not military enough. I had been in the military so I could pull that one off going back with the gig line on and pack into that presence you had when you were in the service. 

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Tom with James Woods, Jodie Foster, and Geoffrey Blake in Contact. Photo credit Pinterest.

Once I got the role, I met the actual Top Gun commander. I used him as he was a thoughtful guy. I think the producers wanted someone who would be barking at the guys and getting on them all the time. I didn’t think the officer had to be someone shouting at other people. You just look them in the eye and say, “Why would do such a dumb thing as that? What accounts for that behavior you pulled off out there because you didn’t pull it off that’s why you are in this office right now?” 

The reality of our life informs us in how we perform and that’s really all I could do in getting that role. To work with Tony, that script and then Tom Cruise pulled it all together. I was very sure about that film being very successful before I got into it. The instincts come back to me from going back into the Air Force where they never leave you. It becomes all things if you are conscious of them or not. They do lead our behavior patterns and how we pursue our life we have to live. I am delighted to have the life I have even with all of the not so good. 

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Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt in Top Gun. Photo credit IMDB.com.
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Dylan McDermott, Julia Roberts and Tom Skerritt in Steel Magnolia. Photo credit Pinterest.com.
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Tom Skerritt with the cast from Alien. Photo credit IMBD.com.
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Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt in A River Runs Through It. Photo credit NY Times.
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Skerritt with the cast of “Picket Fences”. Photo credit imdb.com.
  1. What leadership lessons in life and from the USAF have helped you most in your career?

Self worth and the will to do more. I don’t feel all that I need to do and all that I can do. There is a lot to learn still. When you have that in your life it is a big purpose. 

When I started hearing about veterans coming home from the Middle East with severe PTSD during the 2000s, I felt responsibility for them. I was not in a position to do it for them when it pulled on me. I was able to level out through setting up a writing program for them. In some way this is all a gift where you just fully appreciate the best you can give. We, through the Red Badge Program, took veterans down to Ft. Lewis-McChord AFB to teach those guys coming back how to utilize PTSD experience in terms of telling a story. Usually the bad stuff of what happened took place when under extreme stress. We had teachers come in to teach them how to tell their story and the best way they possibly can. It has to do with these dealing with their own feelings and being able to express that. 

The best way for me to relate to veterans is from some of my own PTS experiences. During the 60s and 70s as a young father and husband I had to deal with some intense family issues, many times dealing with the safety of my children. I was on 24/7 surveillance and did not always know when and who to trust. It was a tough time for me personally, but a good time for me professionally where acting was this cathartic release for me. Things did get better for me and my family thankfully.

We had musicians come in to play music for them so they could write lyrics to the music. The veterans came out of their feeling so much better about themselves. I had veterans come up to me and tell me, “I was ready to do myself in. You saved my life.”  We had it for about seven or eight years where it was a hot news item with so many veterans committing suicide. We had to teach the veterans off base at the University of Washington-Tacoma branch because the military was not consistent with us since we were some soft, fluffy thing. The military was keeping veterans from coming at times, which stood in the way of what we were doing.  We were able to set up a community away from the military where they can feel comfortable in that environment without being evaluated. I gave the veterans my stories and they gave me theirs where we could trust each other. That’s really what they got. Most often they said, “I could trust myself; I got a trust of people and I felt like I could be true.” That sounds simple, but it’s not simple. 

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Skerritt speaking to a group of veterans about The Red Badge Project. Photo credit the Eastoregonian.com.
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Tom Skerritt supporting veteran hiring through The Red Badge Project. Photo credit Army.mil.
  1. How do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?

The Hollywood arena has changed so much where I don’t know how it works anymore. Most of the films I was involved had a good story line. It was always about the story first. Hollywood has gotten so much into nine-digit budget films in the summer being a financial resource. Once you get to there its like saying, “I know it all.” They would make their own audience, age 17-39, from the early 90s on with every generation that came along they would replicate the same special effects, same story line just realigned to where they lost touch with the good stories they could tell. The screenplays became soft from then on and once they are soft there is nothing shocking about it. When you make films that have a lot to do with shooting and killing, some of it may be comedy, but it is the most influential of mediums, so you must be responsible. We have a responsibility to do the best we possibly can for the audience. It’s not the right approach to have aggressive, hostile and angry films like how to blow some up. Whatever it may be, and it does influence impressionable young minds. It does influence some kids in high schools killing other students. It does influence people. 

The concern with studios and blockbuster ran out about six summers ago. All of those films had a sense of darkness and fear in them. We are running downhill where people are not reacting the same way they used to be scared. It is the same in so many ways that you have seen before. Once the reaction is gone you don’t return to the movies where less tickets have been sold the last six summers. Studios realized how in debt they were and always relied on big blockbusters to bring revenue back to the studios. When the revenue falls out you still have a lot of bills to pay. We are in a pit now in the lion’s den with movies. Hollywood will make some crafty films but will not be making as many as before.

  1. What are you most proud of in life and your career?

I don’t think that way, where I am just grateful to have done so many projects. It has been extraordinary where working in Europe and Italy for three or four years and seeing ruins of great civilizations and the Renaissance buildings. Finding that only culture can come from conflict and resolution. We are in the deepest conflict here in America right now. We should be concerned about where we are going. What am I most proud of? I don’t know how to answer that because I have had a lot of good fortune. I am proud of what I can say to you and proud to have the capabilities and the wife I have and the children that I have. I know what they have had to go through with me, and they are still with me and we have that love. I have this wonderful woman, Julia where we have been together for 25 years. I have to tell you I appreciate her beyond words in a way that I could not if I hadn’t had all of these other life experiences, I related to you. That is the first time I ever said that. I have this woman I have now. I am also proud to have been in the US military. 

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Tom with Julie. Photo credit Pinterest.com.
Articles

Sixty years ago the world got its first look at an AK-47

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
The dapper young Hungarian revolutionary named József Tibor Fejes holding a captured AK-47 in what is believed to be the first widely distributed photo of the weapon. (Public domain photo.)


Sixty years ago the weapon that became a symbol of Cold War guerrillas and current day insurgents made its debut in a most unlikely way.

The AK-47, arguably the most widely used assault rifle in the world, first appeared in the hands of both Communist troops and Hungarian revolutionaries during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The revolution against the nation’s communist government began on October 23 but was ruthlessly crushed by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops by Nov. 10.

In particular, one photo from the revolution gained worldwide attention – and it is arguably the first time the Kalashnikov entered the public consciousness.

C.J. Chivers, former Marine Corps infantry captain and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote in his book The Gun that nobody knows which Hungarian revolutionary first picked up a captured AK-47.

But a LIFE Magazine photographer snapped a picture of József Tibor Fejes – “22-years-old, fresh-faced, sharp-eyed, purposeful, and seemingly unafraid” – whose costume as an insurgent always included a bowler hat. “The Man in the Bowler Hat” was also hefting an AK-47, making Fejes the first known revolutionary carrying what became widely known as a revolutionary’s weapon.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
Fejes with other revolutionaries, still wearing his bowler and carrying a captured AK-47. (Public domain photo.)

“The AK-47 was destined to become a symbol of resistance fighters almost everywhere, a weapon with innumerable spokesmen,” Chivers wrote. “Fejes had nonchalantly assumed the requisite pose and begun to flesh out this historical role. He did so before Fidel Castro, before Yasir Arafat, before Idi Amin. He was years ahead of the flag of Zimbabwe, which would expropriate the AK-47 as a symbol. He was ahead of Shamil Basayev and Osama bin Laden, who would convert the product of an atheist state into a sign of unsparing jihad. József Tibor Fejes was the first of the world’s Kalashnikov-toting characters, a member of a pantheon’s inaugural class.”

Although the Soviet Union had first publically acknowledged the rifle’s existence in 1949, firearms experts and military intelligence analysts in the West knew little about the weapon.

In fact, it was not until 1956 that the Army’s Technical Intelligence Office issued a classified report about the AK-47 – a report that mistakenly labeled the rifle a submachine gun and led to Pentagon brass dismissing the effectiveness of the weapon.

Eventually, the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and a host of Soviet satellites and licensees manufactured more than 100 million AK-47s. First encountered by U.S. fighting men during the Vietnam War, the robust construction of the weapon and its reliability soon made believers out of Americans who faced it in the hands of their enemies.

To this day, U.S. soldiers and Marines continue to face adversaries armed with some version of the Kalashnikov.

As for József Tibor Fejes, his fate was sealed. Charged with the execution of a State Security Forces officer by gunning him down in the streets of Budapest, a Hungarian court found Fejes guilty and sentenced him to death.

Despite an appeal, authorities hanged Fejes on April 9, 1959, his punishment for what the court said was an attempt to overthrow the Hungarian people’s republic, the murder of a police officer, and the theft of state property – namely an AK-47 assault rifle.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What does the World Health Organization actually do?

World War II changed everything. The need for unity against evil and international peace was a concept the world was craving, even with the failing of the League of Nations to prevent World War II. President Franklin D Roosevelt saw the extreme need for the leadership of the United States and created the concept of the United Nations. Although he died before their first meeting, it would come to pass in 1945. At the first meeting, diplomats recognized the need for a global health initiative.

The World Health Organization was born.


These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

World Health Day is celebrated every year as the anniversary that the WHO came into existence, which was April 7th, 1948. The WHO was formed with the firm belief that every human being deserves high standards of health and that it is an inherent right. The original constitution gave them the responsibility of tackling international diseases, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The history of the WHO’s service to the human race is rich. Since its creation, the world has changed and evolved. The WHO’s constitution has been amended forty-nine times to adapt these changes. The WHO has guided the world through things like discovery of antibiotics and life saving vaccines for polio and the measles. They would go on to develop the Expanded Programme on Immunizations to bring vaccines to children worldwide and save countless lives.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Their smallpox vaccine campaign eliminated the deadly virus from this earth. They were also behind the saving of 37 million lives with their initiative on the detection and treatment of tuberculosis. In 2003 they developed the global treaty to tackle tobacco, which according to the WHO website, has killed 7.2 million. This is more people than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. In 2012 the WHO developed a plan to target things like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They would continue to focus on overall health, eventually outlaying their recommendation for global health coverage in 2018.

The impact that the WHO has on the world is unmeasurable. They remain committed to responding to health emergencies, elimination of communicable diseases, making medication accessible, training health care professionals, and prioritizing the health of everyone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane story of a Russian aircrew’s daring escape from a Taliban prison

In August, 1995, a series of events occurred that would just seem implausible today. A Taliban MiG fighter intercepted a Russian Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD, forcing it to land at Kandahar International Airport in the middle of a nationwide Civil War. The crew and its passengers were taken prisoner by the Taliban. They were held for a year while the Russian government tried to negotiate their release with the help of a U.S. senator

The 1990s were a crazy time. Even with our post-9/11 goggles off, it seems inconceivable that any number of the above could happen – just try to imagine these crazy things:

  • A Taliban MiG fighter
  • Forcing a Russian plane to land
  • Russian government negotiating
  • A U.S. Senator helping Russia

It’s all true, of course. In 1994, the Taliban exploded out of Kandahar and, by the time of this incident, controlled much of the country south of Kabul. When the Airstan plane was flying over, the Taliban were still deadlocked against the Afghan government of the time, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.

It must have been an awkward ask for Rabbani, who spent years fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, only to ask them for weapons in trying to keep it away from other Afghans.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
TFW you lose Afghanistan and have to ask for help from the people you took it from.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Even Jiffy Lube makes you keep the keys on the dashboard, guys.

The Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD was carrying a load of 30 tons of weapons from Albania bound for the legitimate Afghan government when it was intercepted by a Taliban MiG-21. It was an old fighter, even in the 1990s, but was still enough to bring down the Ilyushin II.

Upon landing, the crew of seven was taken into custody by the Taliban — but the story doesn’t end there. As negotiations between the Russians and the terrorist group began to stall, American Senator Hank Brown stepped in to facilitate the talks, not only buying the Russians time, but also the crew. It didn’t hurt that the Taliban wanted some of their people freed in exchange for their prisoners.

For over a year, the Russian aircrew prepared for their daring escape. Brown managed to get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian Airstan crew maintain their captured aircraft to ensure it was in working order when the time to take off finally came. Brown visited the crew and let them know they would be maintaining it.

But not only did the crew perform its routine maintenance, they also slowly but surely prepared it for their flight home. They finally got their big chance one day, just over a year after being captured. When half of the Taliban who regularly guarded them left the group to attend evening prayers, the crew tricked the others into leaving their weapons outside the plane.

They overpowered the remaining three guards and started the engines.

By the time the Taliban noticed the plane was getting ready for take off, it was already taxiing down the runway. They tried to block their takeoff using a fire truck, but to no avail, the Russians were airborne well ahead of the truck’s position on the runway. The Taliban missed catching the escaping Russians by a mere three to five seconds.

The crew had done the impossible and the Taliban were not able to scramble intercepting aircraft in time to catch them.


They left Taliban airspace as fast as possible and set course for the UAE. By the time they landed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was waiting by the phone to congratulate them. They made it home to Russia shortly after. The crew is said to celebrate their escape from the terrible event like a second birthday. The Taliban are brutal to prisoners, and the crew of the Airstan Ilyushin Il considered the entire country a prisoner of the terror group.

“My heart really goes out to these people. I’ve seen what a poverty-stricken and miserable standard of living they have. They’re still fighting because they’ve nothing left to lose,” a member of the crew told the BBC.

Their daring escape was the subject of a Russian film, Kandagar, in 2010.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How World War I chemical weapons led to a cancer treatment

The grisliest images in the history of warfare are often related to chemical weapons. Images of soldiers and civilians alike blinded and/or covered in blisters highlight the barbarity of chemical weapon attacks and nowhere was this more apparent than during World War I. But even the most terrible wounds of the Great War had a silver lining: doctors were able to find the first effective treatment for an equally horrible disease.

Beware: some of the images of mustard gas can be disturbing.


These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

No joke.

The history of cancer treatment was as slow a progression as the disease often is. Cancer is a disease older than humanity itself, as even dinosaurs suffered from it. From the earliest days of recorded medical history, doctors have come up with a variety of bizarre treatments for it. Ground coral, lead, and even the lungs of foxes were used as treatment for the disease. Only in the 1800s did surgeons start recommending the removal of cancer tissue if possible.

Even then, the surgeries were often harsh, brutal, and without anesthetics. Then came World War I and the many, many new and innovative ways to kill and be killed on the battlefields.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Back then, no one knew it was part one of two.

Mustard gas is a blister agent that can cause blindness as well as burning and blistering skin and internal organs. Mustard blisters in the throat can seal the airway, making the victim unable to breathe. The agent can also cause pneumonia-like symptoms in the lungs, causing a painful death by slow drowning. The worst part for battlefield medicine was that the effects of mustard gas could often not be fully developed for hours, filling up first aid tents and treatment wards.

Even if it didn’t kill its victims quickly, they could feel the effects of the mustard gas attack for the rest of their lives, as the gas scars their physical body as well as their mind. And remember that World War I troops only had gas masks; there was no full body chem warfare suit during World War I.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Nurses treating World War I troops in the field.

After the war, mustard gas was studied extensively so that militaries could better utilize it on the battlefields and protect their troops against it. In the process of doing that, doctors noticed the bodies of men killed by the gas had lower white blood cell counts. This created enough interest for doctors to take a deeper look. By World War II, researchers were looking into the marrow of the deceased doughboys, where they made an important discovery: the mustard altered cell development in the bone marrow.

Cancer researchers used this information for their own devices. They isolated nitrogen mustard from the deadly gas mix and used the new substance on cancerous lymph notes and found that it would actually shrink cancers.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Doctors isolating nitrogen mustard.

The discovery led to a whole new generation of targeted cancer treatments that were much less barbaric and seemingly random than the centuries of treatments that came before. These chemicals targeted cells that divided at a faster rate than other cells, and eventually chemotherapy.

“Normal fast-reproducing cells usually resume production after chemotherapy is finished, but cancer cells, which have weaker DNA, tend not to.” said Dr. Toni Storm-Dickerson, a breast surgical oncologist. “Chemotherapy has really changed the system of how we fight disease.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

First combat vets of the Korean War are honored by South Korean cities

“When they stopped us on the road, they lined us up, they set up machine guns across from us and I thought this is the end,” recalled former U.S. Army Cpl. Raymond Mullin, who served as a medic with Task Force Smith, the first U.S. Army ground maneuver unit to enter combat in the Korean War.


The city of Osan hosted its 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony, July 6, 2018, at the city’s UN Forces First Battle Memorial, to honor the bravery and sacrifices made by the members of the task force. Attendees included: Republic of Korea Lt. Gen. Yoon Seung Kook, who was a captain when he served as ROK liaison officer to TF Smith, former U.S. Army Cpl. William Coe, a radio operator, and Mullin. Among the distinguished guests in attendance were: ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-Jin; U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational chief of staff, Eighth Army; Governor of Gyeonggi Province Lee Jae-myung; and Mayor of Osan City Kwak Sang-wook.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Richard Salazar shares photos of his father, and Task Force Smith member, Sgt. Richard Salazar, Sr., with Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-wook at the 68th TF Smith Memorial ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Mullin spent 37 months as a prisoner of war, one of 82 captured by North Korean forces in the first day of the first battle involving a U.S. unit sent to Korea under a United Nations mandate. Mullin was emblematic of those selected to fill the ranks of TF Smith, young and lacking combat experience. He had been at Camp Wood, Japan, for just 10 days working at a clinical laboratory when he arrived in Korea, July 1, 1950. Like most of the nearly 500 soldiers arriving from Japan, Mullin said he had no combat training since Basic Training.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Political, military and civic leaders, veterans of the Korean War, soldiers and guests, honor the flags of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. during the playing of the two nations’ national anthems at the 68th TF Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The Korean War began June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded and occupied the capital city of Seoul. The UN, led by the U.S., mustered a makeshift unit of soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Japan-based 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, and a battery from the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. The task force, named after its commander, Lt. Col. Charles B. Smith, left Japan on the morning of July 1, 1950.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

The UN Forces First Battle Memorial served as the setting for the 68th anniversary of the first battle of the war involving U.S. Soldiers.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Upon their arrival, TF Smith was given the mission to take up positions to delay the North’s advance as far north as possible. Smith decided two hills overlooking a major north-south highway in Osan, provided an ideal position to carry out their mission. That is where they dug in, July 4.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony,

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The following morning, a North Korean force, about 5,000 strong, led by Soviet-made tanks, were soon observed rumbling toward Osan. TF Smith opened fire, initially with artillery, followed by anti-tank rockets. Although they were able to hold their lines for nearly three hours, it soon became apparent TF Smith lacked the necessary firepower to survive against the heavily armed formation in front of them.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Brigadier Gen. Andrew Juknelis, operational Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, addresses attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

Outflanked and severely low on ammunition, Smith ordered his men to fall back to a second defensive line at Pyongtaek and Cheonan to join other units of the 24th Inf. Div. Only a little more than fifty percent of the task force safely made it to friendly lines. In what is now known as the Battle of Osan, TF Smith suffered 60 dead, 21 wounded and 82 captured, 32 of whom died in captivity. According to official accounts, the casualty counts for the North Koreans were estimated at 42 dead, 85 wounded. Ultimately, though, the North Koreans were delayed approximately seven hours.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

U.S. Army Corporals Raymond Mellin and William Coe, members of Task Force Smith, acknowledge attendees of the 68th Task Force Smith Memorial Ceremony.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

In his remarks to attendees, Juknelis highlighted the bravery of TF Smith against overwhelming odds.

“Outnumbered nearly 10 to 1, and equipped with antiquated weapons left over from World War II, TF Smith valiantly held their position in the face of an overwhelming force,” Juknelis said. “TF Smith’s dedication to duty and country in the face of such overwhelming odds laid the foundation of service and courage that enabled the Republic of Korea-US alliance to ultimately reclaim this side of the peninsula for South Korea.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Osan City Mayor Kwak Sang-Wook places a flower at the Task Force Smith Memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

One U.S. Army unit currently stationed at nearby Suwon Air Base attended the ceremony as a leader development opportunity to learn about the important history of TF Smith and its heroic stand against the invading forces from the North. For one soldier, learning about the Korean War while serving in Korea, is very personal. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Korean War as ROK soldiers.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Cpl. William Coe, a veteran of the Korean War and a member of Task Force Smith, places a flower at the TF Smith memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

“This event means a lot to me,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Yi Jae, a Korean-American who serves as a vehicle mechanic with F Company, 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade. “I feel like I am continuing their service, their legacy, their sacrifices.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Lt. Col. Jeff Slown and Command Sgt. Major Wilfredo Suarez, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade deputy commander and command sergeant major, respectively, approach the Task Force Smith memorial with a flower.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

The ceremony concluded with attendees placing white flowers at the base of the UN Forces First Battle Memorial to pay respect to the members of TF Smith for their sacrifices. The City of Osan is preparing to build a Peace Park encompassing the memorial and will serve as a place for visitors to discover the history of the site, as well as quietly reflect on the sacrifices made there. Completion of the park is scheduled for July 2019, and it is part of the city’s firm intention to never forget the soldiers who came to South Korea willing to lay down their lives in its defense.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Lt. Col. Matthew Walker and Command Sgt. Major Gene Harding, commander and command sergeant major, respectively, of 6th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 35th ADA Brigade, places flowers at the Task Force Smith Memorial.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot)

“How could we even imagine the noblest sacrifice of those who came to an unknown land to fight without adequate combat equipment,” said ROK Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Pi Woo-jin. “Without the sacrifice and contributions of the UN Forces, such as Task Force Smith, today’s Republic of Korea, with its miraculous industrialization and remarkable democratization, would never exist. We will never forget their sacrifices.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Watch as WATM goes in-depth with the Marine creator of the ‘Zombie Fallout’ series

Mark Tufo wrote Zombie Fallout, a nine-book series that follows Marine Corps veteran and family man Mike Talbot as he tries to keep his family safe in a world overrun by zombies.


Like the character Talbot, Tufo served in the Marine Corps before returning to civilian life, starting a family, and adopting an English bulldog. The similarities end when Talbot’s neighborhood is taken over by flesh-eating and brain-hunting zombies, forcing him and his family to fight their way out.

Now, Talbot and his family might be getting their own TV series. Brad Thomas, a television producer and fan of the series, has teamed up with Tufo to bring the zombie epic to the masses. WATM got to spend a day with them and some military veteran fans on the set as the crew filmed a teaser for the show.

WATM’s Weston Scott interviewed Mark Tufo on the set of the music video teaser (and in full zombie wardrobe). Mark speaks about his writing process and the inspirations behind his main characters, and the transition between the Marine Corps and drawing from those experiences to become an author.

You can also check out the music video teaser for Zombie Fallout.

Articles

The truth about Daylight Savings Time (and it ain’t because of farming)

A common misconception is that Daylight Savings Time exists so the farming industry could have more evening hours, but in fact, agriculture has long opposed DST (and for awhile there, they were successful at overturning the practice and returning the United States to “God’s Time”).


DST as we know it was actually instituted in the U.S. in 1918 to support war-fighting efforts, and we were late to the game; the German Empire and Austria-Hungary began DST in 1916, and one by one other countries began to follow suit. It was generally abandoned after WWI, but reinstated during WWII.

Once the war was over, there was no uniformity throughout the U.S. as to whether or not states would adopt DST permanently. It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress legislated DST for 48 states through the Uniform Time Act.

Arizona (save for the Navajo Indian Reservation) does not observe DST because extending daylight hours during summer increases energy consumption; people want the AC on when they’re active. Hawaii also opted out of the Uniform Time Act; because of Hawaii’s latitude, there isn’t much of a difference in the length of days throughout the year anyway.

Check out the video for a quick look at the history of DST in the United States:

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Medal of Honor action ever caught on video

The video is a grainy, far-off view of the battlefield of Takur Ghar, Afghanistan. It came from the ISR feed of a nearby Predator drone monitoring the 2002 operation designed to surround and destroy a large al-Qaeda force in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan, called Anaconda. At Takur Ghar, things did not go well for the combined Coalition force of seven Navy SEALs, 20 Army Rangers, and three Air Force Airmen. In what is best described as a pyrrhic win, the battle cost the lives of three Rangers, a SEAL, a pararescueman, a special forces aviator, and a combat controller, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

It was after a special ops team was inserted via Chinook that Chapman’s heroism was captured by the drone.


During the initial insertion into the area, one of the Chinooks was hit by a massive barrage of enemy machine gun and RPG fire, forcing it to leave the area immediately. During its expedite escape, Navy SEAL PO1 Neil Roberts fell out of the open hatch of the helicopter, falling 10 feet into the snow below. Razor 04 (one of the Chinook helicopters) returned to the peak with its team of special operators to rescue Roberts. It too was forced away from the area, but not before the operators could get off the helicopter.

In the video above, you can see one of the disembarking troops split off from the main group. That’s Tech. Sgt. Chapman running straight into al-Qaeda machine gun positions in the dark. The operators have split up into two-man bounding teams, and Chapman is wounded while advancing on one of the enemy positions to protect their movement. Chapman is stopped only temporarily and starts fighting again almost immediately.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

By this time, the operators have called for a quick reaction force from the 75th Ranger Regiment at Bagram Air Base, and two of the SEALs are also wounded. The teams call for extraction and another Chinook, Razor 01, is inbound before getting lit up again by enemy RPG fire. Chapman attempts to protect the helicopter and his fellow operators but is killed in action. But the story doesn’t end there. The operator force and the two QRF teams of Rangers had their own ordeal in getting to the battlefield (which is another story in itself). All told, the battle lasted until the Americans were extracted at 2000 that evening, some 18 hours after their first contact with the enemy.

Chapman was awarded the Air Force Cross in 2003 for the action depicted in the video, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2018. Whether Chapman was still alive when the SEALs departed the area has come under dispute due to evidence found by investigators during the Medal of Honor investigation. The airman’s mother believes everything on the ridge that night went as Chapman would have wanted – his teammates escaping the line of fire to fight another day, even if it cost him his own life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did you know these military facts about Alcatraz?

On March 21, 1963, Alcatraz or “The Rock” closed its doors forever. Although modern society may know its name because of famous residents like Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulgar, there is a rich history beyond that. Long before the daring escapes of mobsters, it was actually used by the United States Military as a fortified defense. It would also become the Army’s first long-term prison.


Discovered in 1775 and mapped by Spanish explorers, Alcatraz wouldn’t come under the ownership of the United States until after the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848. Two years later an Army and Navy joint commission recommended that it be a part of a triangle of defense for the bay of San Francisco. It was then that President Fillmore signed an executive order reserving it for public purposes. That purpose was a military prison.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Captain Joseph Stewart and Company H of the U.S. Artillery took command over Alcatraz. It would go on to house Army personnel who had violated rules and regulations. Two years after the Civil War began, a confederate ship was seized and its entire crew imprisoned on Alcatraz. As prisoners continued coming, more prison structures were built.

Prison construction continued, eventually covering up the original coastal fortification that was built in the 19th century. Alcatraz was officially designated as the Pacific Branch military prison in 1907 and was renamed “Pacific Branch, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks” in 1915. It was considered the place soldiers would go for punishment and to undergo “retraining.”

Army prisoners would go on to build almost all of the buildings on the island. The last soldiers departed Alcatraz in 1933 when it became the property of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It would undergo some modernization and improvements before it opened its doors in 1934. A few months later, Al Capone would help make Alcatraz forever infamous.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

The new federal prison became home to America’s criminal population that was deemed too difficult or dangerous to be anywhere else. It would house a total of 1576 men and there were 14 known attempts at escape. Alcatraz officially closed its doors on March 21, 1963, after it was decided it was just too costly to maintain.

Today, over a million tourists visit Alcatraz every year walking the halls and grounds of one of the most infamous prisons in history, many not knowing it was built by soldiers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Celebrating the last Doolittle Raider

(Editor’s Note – To commemorate the 78th anniversary of a legendary mission, the following is an updated repost of a story with retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders originally published October 3, 2016 and before his death April 9, 2019, he was 103.)

Standing proudly in front of a B-25 Mitchell on display for a recent airshow in the central Texas town of Burnet, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole slowly walked up to the antique bomber and clutched one of its propeller blades.

The last surviving Doolittle Raider, who had just marked his 101st birthday a few days before, smiled as he reminisced in the shadow of the bomber — a link to his storied past.


Solo Mission

vimeo.com

“When we got the B-25, it was a kick in the butt,” he later said, adding that he first flew the B-18 Bolo out of flight school. “It was fast and very maneuverable, with a good, steady bombing platform. You could fly it all over.”

Seventy-plus years ago, he co-piloted a similar bomber alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a pivotal mission April 18, 1942, that helped turn the tide for the allies in the Pacific theater of World War II.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

A U.S. Army Air Force B-25B Mitchell medium bomber, one of sixteen involved in the mission, takes off from the flight deck of the USS Hornet for an air raid on the Japanese Home Islands on April 18, 1942.

U.S. Air Force

As the final member of the famed 80-man Army Air Forces unit, Cole was chosen to announce the name of the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve never flown in any of the modern bombers so it’s pretty hard to realize how all of the improvements have meant to aviation,” he said at the Sept. 10 airshow. “All I can say is that the B-25 was like having a Ford Model T, (and now pilots are) getting into a Mustang.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. Cole is the last surviving member of the “Doolittle Raid” crews, having celebrated his 101st birthday.

U.S. Air Force

Last of the Raiders

Following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle developed a plan to retaliate with a daring air raid on Japan. Without escort fighters, he and the other crewmembers flew 16 modified Army B-25s off an aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, for a one-way trip that had the makings of a suicide mission. The plan called for the aircraft, which were incapable of landing back on the aircraft carrier, to bomb industrial and military targets in five cities on the Japanese home islands and then continue on to friendly airfields in China.

Forced to launch 10 hours earlier than planned, due to the task force being spotted by a Japanese patrol boat, many aircrews later had to bail out of their fuel-parched aircraft after dropping their bomb loads. Doolittle’s crew, including Cole, parachuted into China and linked up with Chinese guerillas operating behind Japanese lines who helped them escape.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, stands in front of a refurbished U.S. Navy B-25 Mitchell displayed at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

“The main memory I have was when my parachute opened,” Cole said of the mission. “But that was part of the job. I’d rather be sitting here than worried about a parachute jump.”

Being alone to tell the Raiders’ story these days has been something of a paradox for Cole.

“You can’t help but be happy that you’re here but on the other side of the coin you also wish that the people who were with you were here too,” he said. “But you know that that’s not possible so you have to live with it.”

The average age of the Raiders during the mission was 22, while Cole was a 26-year-old lieutenant, according to his daughter, Cindy Cole Chal.

“Dad was older on the raid,” she said. “Nobody thought that Dad would be the last one, even though he’s been in excellent health.”

Former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher was the second to last living Raider before he died at the age of 94. He was buried with full military honors June 27 in Montana.

As a 20-year-old gunner in Flight Crew No. 7, then-Cpl. Thatcher saved his four other crewmembers when their B-25 crash-landed into the sea near the Chinese coast after it bombed Japanese factories in Tokyo. He pulled them to safety on the surrounding beach and applied life-saving medical treatment, despite having injuries himself. He later earned the Silver Star for his actions.

Meanwhile, Cole parachuted into rainy weather at night and landed in a tree located on precarious terrain.

“I was fortunate in that I never touched the ground. My parachute drifted over a tall pine tree and caught on top leaving me about 10 feet off the ground,” he recounted in a 1973 letter posted on the official Doolittle Raider website. “At daybreak I was able to see that the terrain was very rough and had I tried to look around at night; probably would have fallen down a very steep hill.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

In a photograph found after Japan’s surrender in 1945, Lt. Robert L. Hite, copilot of crew 16, is led blindfolded from a Japanese transport aircraft after his B-25 crash landed in a China after bombing Nagoya on the the “Doolittle Raid” on Japan and he was captured. He was imprisoned for 40 months, but survived the war.

U.S. Air Force

Once the sun rose, Cole walked westward and the next day he found an outpost belonging to the Chinese guerillas, the letter states.

On April 18, 2015, Cole and Thatcher were presented the Congressional Gold Medal for the Raiders’ efforts, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.

In his speech, a playful Cole couldn’t resist a touch of humor.

“Tonight’s affair couldn’t have been planned more accurately,” Cole said. “As I remember, the mission was over, it was Saturday night on the 18th of April and about this time David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”

Also at the ceremony, Thatcher spoke candidly as he gave advice to today’s Airmen.

“Be prepared for anything you run into — we weren’t,” he said. “Learn everything you possibly can, and be good at it.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Lt. Col. Dick Cole, a Doolittle Raider, smiles while looking out of a B-25 aircraft April 20, 2013, on the Destin Airport, Fla. The B-25 is the aircraft he co-piloted during the Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. David Salanitri

Turning point

Seven Raiders died during the mission: three were killed in action while another three were captured and executed and one died of disease in captivity.

The bombing runs did little damage but the mission rekindled the morale of the American people and struck fear into the Japanese with aircraft reaching their homeland.

“Knowing that we did the mission and did it like it was supposed to be done, we felt pretty good about it,” Cole said.

In response, the Japanese maneuvered their forces from around Australia and India to the Central Pacific, and sent two aircraft carriers to Alaska.

“The Japanese thought we were going to make more visits. But we didn’t have any equipment to do it and we had no plans for it,” Cole said. “For some reason they moved two carriers to Alaska, thinking that’s where we came from. When they did that, it evened up the number of carriers we had available for Midway.”

The Battle of Midway proved to be a major turning point in the war. Believing their Central Pacific flank to be vulnerable because of the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese launched an invasion force to secure the isolated atoll of Midway to establish a base and airfield. Unaware that U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken their naval codes and knew the date and location of the impending attack, the Japanese sailed directly into an ambush set by three U.S. carriers.

When the smoke cleared, U.S. Navy dive-bombers had sunk four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all members of the six-carrier force that had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more than 3,000 men, including many experienced combat pilots. The U.S. lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown, and about 300 men. The Japanese remained on the defensive for the rest of the war.

“When the time came for the Battle of Midway, the (U.S.) Navy was able to win and that started the Japanese on the downhill,” he said.

‘Single-engine time’

Nowadays, Cole has shifted his focus away from the twin-engine bomber to his tractor and lawnmower. He refuses to let his age stand in the way of his daily chores. So when not traveling for events, he tends to his acreage in Comfort, Texas, about an hour’s drive northwest from San Antonio.

“People ask me if I’m getting any flying time and I say, ‘Well, I’m getting a lot of single-engine time with the lawnmower,” he said, chuckling.

To keep the memory of Doolittle and the rest of the Raiders alive, he helps sell his book, “Dick Cole’s War,” which documents not only the Doolittle Raid, but his service after that mission with the First Air Commandos in Burma. Proceeds from the book go into a scholarship fund in Doolittle’s name for students in the aviation field.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, holds a coin that has a coveted picture with his mother from 1942. The personally coveted coin was created to celebrate his 100th birthday last year. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community of Burnet, Texas as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Cahl estimates her father has put in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sales of books and signed lithograph prints into the fund to honor Doolittle, who died in 1993.

“All the time when I was flying with Colonel Doolittle, I was in awe over the fact that I was sitting next to him,” Cole said. “He put the word ‘team’ in the forefront of the English language.”

Now the sole survivor, Cole wants no part being the poster child for the historic mission.

“You did the mission. You did what you were supposed to do,” he said. “The people who were involved are all passing (away) and that’s the way it ends.

“I didn’t think any of the Raiders wanted to be singled out. We just wanted to be part of the big picture.”

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, smiles as he honors the U.S. flag during the singing of the national anthem at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.

U.S. Air Force // Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

These are the real brothers behind ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)