In World War II, airborne units were really in their infancy. The Germans pioneered their use in combat, and the United States built perhaps the largest airborne force in the world, with five airborne divisions.
But these divisions had a problem. There weren’t many planes to transport them for large-scale airborne ops. Today, most transports used in airborne operations have rear ramps for loading cargo (like, jeeps and artillery). Back then, they didn’t.
The C-47 Skytrain was based on the DC-3 airliner. The C-46 Commado was also based on an airliner.
Yeah, paratroops could be dropped, but they could be scattered (thus creating the rule of the LGOPs). How would they drop the heavier equipment, and keep the crews together? The answer came with the development of gliders. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pioneered the use of them, but the U.S. and Great Britain built lots of them.
According to the National World War II Glider Pilots Association’s web site, the United States built over 13,000 CG-4A Waco gliders. Each of these gliders could carry 15 troops, or a Jeep and four paratroopers, a trailer, up to 5,000 pounds of supplies, an anti-tank gun plus operators, or a 75mm artillery piece and its crew.
About 6,500 glider pilots were trained during World War II, taking part in eight missions from Sicily to Luzon. In the 1950s, advancements in transport aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, led to the glider units being deactivated in 1952. But the gliders helped deliver firepower, troops, and supplies during World War II – when that ability was needed.
The video below shows how gliders were used during the Normandy invasion.
If Hollywood thrillers have taught us anything about relationships it’s that your wife or husband could be a spy.
Countless dramatic storylines throughout cinematic history blast the prospect of living with the enemy and never knowing the truth until it’s too late.
Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, pleaded guilty to selling U.S. secrets to the Soviets and Russia in 2001. He’s currently serving 15 life consecutive sentences — his wife claims she knew nothing about it.
If you ever suspect your spouse could in fact be a spy, check out these tips on how to prove your theory.
1. Randomly toss vegetables in the air
Most spies are great with cutlery. In 1996, we were blessed with the film The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Gina Davis who plays Samantha Caine a.k.a. Charly Baltimore a woman who learns about her mysterious past immediately after a stabbing and pinning a defenseless tomato against a custom made cabinet door.
2. Take them to a carnival
You’ve been happily married for years and you know for fact you’ve never seen your better half ever fire a pistol or a rifle, but lately you’ve been seeing a different side to them. Here’s your chance to get more evidence of her double life.
Make it a date night to the local carnival and challenge her to a shooting game.
A red flag?
3. Get them wasted
People talk more than usual after tossing back a few.
Take it from Harry Tasker played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron‘s 1994 action comedy hit True Lies — he wasn’t drunk, but the bad guys gave him some pretty good sh*t to admit his secret to his wife, who apparently never went to work with him, or an office Christmas party.
A long time.
4. Install a secret home surveillance system
We do it to watch nannies take care of our kids. … Just something to think about.
5. Learn to curse in a few different languages
Spies are known to be cultured in many global customs after having traveled the world on secret missions.
Knowing an extra language or two helps them blend into those dangerous environments.
So here’s the trick — when they least expect it, blurt out a curse word in a different language. Watch to see if your suspected spook changes his expression. If it doesn’t, try another. Your spouse will ever get the hint you’re catching on or think you’ve got Tourettes.
Movie spies are known for having some pretty bad ass suits and sunglasses. When they’re off saving the world or reporting sensitive information to foreign governments, they’ve got to do it in style.
Take notice how they remove or put on their sunglasses. If it appears they do in a dramatic fashion every time — you probably married a spy.
You’ll look super cool.
7. Go to work with them
Let’s face it, in real life — unless you know they own their business — faking a job one is the hardest things your spouse could pull off. Think about it: if they’re into espionage and all that, wouldn’t she have to take you to pick up a dead drop or recruit an agent?
Can you think of any other tells that your spouse is a spook? Comment below.
Check out these shots of jets turning pounds and pounds of fuel into speed when the pilots push the throttles into afterburner.
An F/A-18C launches off of Cat 3 with both GE F-404 motors in full burner.
An Air Force F-16 launches out of Aviano, Italy at night with it’s single GE F-110 engine in full afterburner.
An F-22 Raptor makes a high-G pass at an airshow with it’s Pratt and Whitney F-119 engines at full power.
And F-15 Eagle launches with both Pratt and Whitney F-100s in full afterburner.
An F/A-18C Hornet raises the gear and starts a left hand clearing turn off the cat with vapes streaming off of the wingtips and both GE F-404s at full blower.
They didn’t call the F-14 the ‘big fighter’ for nothing. Here a Tomcat rages down Cat 1 with it’s Pratt and Whitney TF-30s at Zone 5 (full power).
A B-1 ‘Lancer’ (better known as “The Bone” — B+one . . . get it?) turns at sunset with all four GE F-110s (same engine used on models of the F-16 and F-14) in full afterburner.
An F-111B zorches over the water with wings swept aft and Pratt and Whitney TF-30 engines at full power.
Another shot of an F-14A Tomcat on the cat in afterburner.
A MiG-25 starts its takeoff roll with both Tumansky R-15B-300s at full power.
The F-35B Lightning II isn’t designed for speed as much as forward quarter lethality and survivability; but it’s single Pratt and Whitney F-135 does create a nice burner plume in this gorgeous sunset shot.
In November 2015, a laptop-sized container of Iridium-192 disappeared from a storage facility near the Iraqi city of Basra. Iridium-192 is a highly radioactive and dangerous material used to detect flaws in metal and to treat some cancers. It’s also one of the main potential sources of radioactive material that could be used in a “dirty bomb.”
Its potential for misuse and the the location of the theft worries Iraqi officials that the material could be in the hands of ISIS (Daesh) militants. The fears sparked a nationwide hunt for the material.
A U.S. oil company, the Houston-based Weatherford, is the alleged owner of the storage facility where the material was lost, but the company denied it. The material itself is owned by a Turkish company, whom Weatherford says had control of the bunker.
“We do not own, operate or control sources or the bunker where the sources are stored,” Weatherford told Reuters. “SGS is the owner and operator of the bunker and sources and solely responsible for addressing this matter.”
The iridium isotope loses its potency relatively easily, when compared to other potential sources of radioactive material, and ir-192 cases seem to go missing much more frequently than one might expect, especially in the United States.
Iridium-192 emits high energy gamma radiation and exposure to the isotope can cause burns, radiation sickness, and death. It also exponentially increases risks of developing cancer.
Ryan Mauro, an adjunct professor at Clarion Project, a think tank that tracks terrorism, downplayed the danger to Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
“Shaping headlines is essential to ISIS’ jihad … beheadings, explosions and most brutal acts have become stale,” Mauro told Fox News. “A dirty bomb attack would be major news, regardless of how many immediate casualties occur.”
Morale patches are patches troops wear on their uniforms designed to be a funny inside joke, applicable only to their unit or military career field. They are usually worn during deployments, but the wear of morale patches is at the discretion of the unit’s commander.
The patches often (not always) make fun of a depressing, boring or otherwise specific part of the job.
These patches have been around since the military began to wear patches. They are collected and traded by people, both military and civilians, who come across them. Some are more popular than others, but they are usually a lot of fun.
The “Morale Stops Here” patch is pretty popular and is actually repeated by units the world over. It’s really funny the first time you see it.
This is an old one, a throwback to the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command days. “To forgive is not SAC policy” is widely attributed to famed SAC commander Curtis LeMay.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, CSAR stands for Combat Search And Rescue.
Having the Kool-Aid Man as your unofficial mascot is funny enough, but making his hand the lightning-shooting gauntlet in the old SAC emblem is clever.
The JSTARS (or Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System) have a descriptive patch here – as they operate out of trailers at Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar (in the military, being deployed here is also known as “doing the Deid”).
This is a U.S. Navy patch from Vietnam. The “yacht” is a junk – a historically widespread type of ship used in China and around Southeast Asia. The Tonkin Gulf is where the Vietnam War (or more specifically, the U.S. involvement in it) really ignited.
More from Vietnam. By the end of the 1960’s, the rift between those who served in Vietnam and the perception of the war back home hit its peak.
As the Cold War intensified and the threat of nuclear war seemed more and more unavoidable, the young enlisted and officers whose role in the annihilation of Earth’s population probably felt more than a little stressed.
The tradition continued, well into Desert Storm. If you have morale patches that make others laugh or are highly prized, please post in the comments.
A major strategic think-tank suggested that assuring US victory in a space war requires the military to develop a network of small satellites capable of rapidly replacing destroyed space assets.
During a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that took place on June 22nd, military experts and space industry representatives suggested the US invest in the technology to launch swarms of small satellites into orbit as an insurance policy for larger military satellites in the event of a conflict in space.
Developing the capacity to rapidly launch small and cheap satellites would create a “layer of resiliency,” preventing any disruption to space assets by quickly replacing any destroyed satellites.
The current network of large US military and intelligence satellites provide a major war-winning advantage over other countries, but “was really built in an uncontested environment,” Steve Nixon, vice president for strategic development for the satellite firm Stratolaunch, told SpaceNews. “It’s no longer resilient to threats and probably cannot operate through a contested military environment.”
The military relies on a network of Global Positioning System satellites to provide precision navigation, communications, weather monitoring, and to find intelligence assets. But those satellites could be vulnerable to Chinese and Russian weapons, according to General John Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command.
“We believe that for just one percent of what we spend on national security space, you could add this layer, both in terms of satellites and launch systems,” Nixon said. “One percent is your insurance or deterrent capability that preserves the rest of your architecture. It seems like a really good deal.”
Nixon’s company is developing technology to launch satellites into space from small aircraft, which could be done much more rapidly than a full rocket launch.
A map of currently tracked satellite objects. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
China successfully destroyed one of its own satellites in 2007 and likely tested a ground-based missile launch system to destroy orbiting objects in 2013.
“Despite world interest in avoiding militarization of space, potential adversaries have identified the use of space as an advantage for US military forces, and are actively fielding systems to deny our use of space in a conflict,” Hyten wrote in a white paper published in July.
The Trump administration seems interested in maintaining space dominance. The Air Force requested $7.75 billion, a 20 percent increase, in their space budget from last year. The service could spend upwards of $10 billion on space operations from combined public and classified budgets last year, according to The Air Force Times.
China’s construction of a military outpost in Djibouti is just the first of what will likely be an ongoing expansion in friendly foreign ports around the world to support distant deployments, a new Pentagon report concludes, predicting that Pakistan may be another potential location.
The annual assessment of China’s military might also notes that while China has not seized much new land to create more man-made islands, it has substantially built up the reefs with extended runways and other military facilities. It has also increased patrols and law enforcement to protect them.
The Djibouti base construction is near Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base in the Horn of Africa nation. But American military leaders have said they don’t see it as a threat that will interfere with U.S. operations there.
“China most likely will seek to establish additional military bases in countries with which it has a longstanding friendly relationship and similar strategic interests, such as Pakistan, and in which there is a precedent for hosting foreign militaries,” the Pentagon report said. “This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces.”
The military expansion ties into a broader Chinese initiative to build a “new Silk Road” of ports, railways and roads to expand trade across an arc of countries through Asia, Africa and Europe. Countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan welcome it as a path out of poverty.
But India and others would be unhappy with additional Chinese development in Pakistan, particularly anything linked to the military.
China has cited anti-piracy patrolling as one of the reasons for developing what it calls a naval logistics center in Djibouti. Construction began in February 2016. Beijing has said the facility will help the army and navy participate in United Nations peacekeeping operations and provide humanitarian assistance.
But the expanded presence around the world would align with China’s growing economic interests and would help it project military power further from its borders.
The report cautioned, however, that China’s efforts to build more bases “may be constrained by the willingness of countries to support” the presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army in one of their ports.
Unlike previous reports, the new assessment doesn’t document a lot of new island creation by China in the East and China Seas. Last year’s report said China had reclaimed 3,200 acres of land in the southeastern South China Sea.
Instead, the new report focuses on the military build-up on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
It said that as of late last year, China was building 24 fighter-sized hangars, fixed-weapons positions, barracks, administration buildings, and communication facilities on each of the three largest outposts — Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs. Each has runways that are at least 8,800 feet long.
Once complete, the report said China will be able to house up to three regiments of fighters in the Spratly Islands.
China has also built up infrastructure on the four smaller outposts, including land-based guns and communications facilities.
The report added that, “China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.”
Team Red, White Blue kicked off the Old Glory Relay 2016 on 9-11. Sixty-two teams of runners, walkers, and cyclists will carry the American flag across 10 states for 4,216 miles, starting in Seattle, WA and ending in Tampa, FL.
With the support of the presenting sponsor, Microsoft, along with other partners, Amazon, Westfield and Starbucks, the relay will be following a route through Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles through the end of the month. The relay then turns east, through Phoenix, Tucson and San Antonio before crossing the South through the Florida Panhandle to Tampa.
Team Red, White Blue’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity, and the Old Glory Relay is one of the cornerstones of their efforts.
The military has very talented photographers in its ranks, and they constantly attempt to capture what life as a service member is like during training and at war. This is the best of what they shot this week:
Soldiers and United States Air Force Airmen unload an AH-64 Apache helicopter, for the soon to be activated 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, from a C-5 Galaxy at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, Aug. 20, 2015. TheU.S. Army Alaska battalion will receive a total of 24 Apaches by April 2016.
Soldiers, assigned to 2nd “Black Jack” Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, secure a landing zone after exiting UH-60 Black Hawks, from 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Official Page), during a training exercise at Rodriguez Live Fire Range, Republic of Korea, Aug. 20, 2015.
A Soldier, assigned to the The 75th Ranger Regiment, conducts a simulated assault during Exercise Swift Response 15 at JMRC, in Hohenfels, Germany, Aug. 23, 2015. Swift Response 15 is aUnited States Army Europe – USAREUR-led, combined airborne training event with participation from more than 4,800 service members from 11 NATO nations.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 20, 2015) Sailors receive cargo in hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) during an underway replenishment with the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187). The John C. Stennis Strike Group is undergoing a composite training unit exercise and joint task force exercise, the final step in certifying to deploy.
ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 26, 2015) An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Sea Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 delivers cargo from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8) to the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a vertical replenishment.
PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Aug. 24, 2015) Chief Utilitiesman Philip Anderton, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3, musters his platoon as his daughter hugs him before departing on a scheduled deployment to the Pacific region. NMCB-3 will support construction operations throughout the U.S. Pacific Fleet, sustain interoperability with regional governments, and provide fleet construction support.
INDIAN OCEAN (Aug. 25, 2015) Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Alyssa Wynn fires the forward .50-caliber machine gun during a surface warfare live-fire exercise aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96).
Lance Cpl. Noah Soliz fires his M240-B medium machine gun during a live-fire squad attack course August 22, 2015, during Exercise Crocodile Strike at Mount Bundey Training Area, Northern Territory, Australia.
Marines assigned 1st Marine Division, run along hills during the Dark Horse Ajax Challenge aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 20, 2015. The eight-mile course tested the Marines’ and Sailors’ endurance and leadership skills with trials spread across the San Mateo area.
Lance Cpl. Riley Remoket, with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, fills a water bull at a water distribution site during typhoon relief efforts in Saipan, Aug. 19, 2015. The Marines and sailors of the 31st MEU were redirected to Saipan after the island was struck by Typhoon Soudelor Aug. 2-3.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone meets Lt. Gen. Timothy M. Ray, 3rd Air Force commander and 17th Expeditionary Air Force commander, upon his arrival to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 24. 2015. Stone, along with childhood friends, Aleksander Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, were recently honored by French President François Hollande for subduing an armed gunman when he entered their train carrying an assault rifle, a handgun and a box cutter.
An F-22A Raptor from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., flies over the Nevada Test and Training Range during Red Flag 15-3 at Nellis AFB, Nev., July 31, 2015.
Maj. Jason Curtis, Thunderbird 5, and Capt. Nicholas Eberling, Thunderbird 6, fly back from Minden, Nev., Aug. 25, 2015.
Paratroopers assigned to 1st Battalion (Airborne), 501st Infantry Regiment descend after jumping out of a C-130 Hercules, assigned to the 374th Wing from Yokota Air Base, Japan, over the Malemute drop zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 24, 2015.
Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay is preparing for heavy weather this weekend. The coastal forecast is calling for 10-15 ft swells and winds up to 45 knots on Saturday. The Coast Guard defines heavy weather as seas greater than 8ft and winds greater than 30 knots.
Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay has two 47 foot motor life boats. These boats have the ability to roll over and return to the upright position in 8-12 seconds.
Fear is not in John Nixon’s dictionary. Nor should it be. An elderly man, Nixon, who fought in the Korean War, had no reservations about stepping in to stop five armed punks from mugging a young woman in the Kentish Town area of London — despite being 88 years old.
There’s no age limit on bravery, and the old Korean War vet has had plenty of reason to be brave over the years.
Nixon was interviewed by the London Evening Standard after intervening in the attack. He told the newspaper that he saw five young men attacking a young woman, trying to rob her of her purse and ripping at her clothing.
He shouted at the men to leave her alone, in an attempt to divert their attention away from the screaming woman. His plan worked. They quickly switched their sights onto the old man and the girl ran off, still screaming.
A mural welcomes visitors to Kentish Town. Photo by Danny Lines on Unsplash. “But they turned on me, saying ‘We’ll take your money instead,’ and I said ‘No you don’t,’” Nixon told the newspaper. “Kids this age are full of bravado, you see, they weren’t expecting a surprise.”
The surprise was that over the years Nixon had seen a lot worse than five hooligans harassing one young girl. He was trained as a special operator at Commando Training Depot Achnacarry in Scotland’s West Highlands. The setting was particularly brutal for trainees, given the severe weather in the area. Those conditions would serve him well.
He was later shipped off to fight communists during the 1950-53 Korean War as a commando. He also served in British Commando units in Egypt, occupied Germany, and the greater Middle East. After he left the British military, he joined Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) as a bodyguard in Nigeria.
He couldn’t have survived those kinds of environments and the dangers he faced there without the hardcore training he picked up as a young man in the 1940s.
That training “kicked in” Jan. 27, 2018, when one of five attackers came at Nixon, who took down the attacker with a single karate chop to the back of the man’s head. The blow knocked the punk down to the ground, half-dazed and half-conscious. Then one of the muggers pulled a knife on the old man.
“It was more of a pocketknife,” Nixon said. “He wasn’t trained.”
Nixon, a widower with an adult daughter, was only interested in helping the vulnerable young woman. He didn’t think of his own safety. He’d been shot in the leg long before this encounter on a London street, and even a bite from a venomous snake couldn’t kill the old man.
“The venom lay dormant in my spine for years,” he said. “I’ve been near death so many times that situation just doesn’t worry me.”
When the knife-wielding assailant came after him, Nixon attempted to defend himself and took a number of stab wounds to his arms. He was bleeding profusely but told reporters his wounds were shallow.
A local resident finally witnessed the altercation, shouted at the men, and called the police. By the time cops arrived on the scene, the attackers had fled. Nixon was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for his still-bleeding wounds. His only other injury came from where his hand met the back of that criminal’s skull. Five harsh lessons were learned that day.
The hoodlums were never arrested for the crime, and the female victim of the attack was never identified.
“I hope she is okay,” Nixon told the Evening Standard.
Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.
As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.
When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.
“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.
While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.
“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”
Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.
Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.
“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.
During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.
His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”
A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.
The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.
At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.
It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.
“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”
Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.
The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.
The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.
Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.
“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”
While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.
Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.
They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.
“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”
As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.
About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.
With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.
“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”
Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.
“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”
The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.
While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.
“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”
When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.
Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.
The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.
A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.
“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.
Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.
When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.
“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”
A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.
“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”
May Day was a big deal in East Germany. As a matter of fact, it was a big deal in all of the Communist Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War era. It was, after all, a day for celebrating workers around the world. Since Communist countries were supposed to be a worker’s paradise, it stands to reason they would take a day off from shooting dissenters and waiting in lines to watch a few parades.
And those parades were
It was because everyone was preparing for May Day that Wolfgang Engels was able to escape from East Germany.
The wall began construction in 1961.
Engels was born in 1943 in Düsseldorf, Germany (what would have been West Germany just a few years later), but his Communist mother took him to East Germany after the end of World War II. As a young man, he was drafted into the Army of the new German Democratic Republic, what we know as East Germany.
The young soldier was a believer in the new ideology as a young man. He called his upbringing “thorough” and “socialist” and noted his mother even worked for the Stasi. It wasn’t until much later in his service that someone managed to convince him that things were not all they were made out to be.
But one of his first assignments as a newly-minted East German was to help build the Berlin Wall.
A Soviet-built East German BTR-152, like the one Wolfgang Engels drove through the Berlin Wall.
He soon felt terrible about what the wall became. Not just the barrier between the Iron Curtain and Freedom, but a symbol of the ideological struggle of the Cold War — and he was on the wrong side. The GDR was not the Germany he thought he knew.
After two years, the pressure was getting to him. Suddenly, well before his defection, he was accused of trying to cross the border illegally. He and two friends were looking for a concert in a cafe near the border wall. The group was found and unable to explain, to the guards’ satisfaction, what they were doing and so they were manhandled and mistreated. It drove the reality of East Germany home to him.
In reality, the thought of crossing the wall hadn’t occurred to him until his East German superiors put the idea in his head. But attempting to flee came with a stiff fine, two years’ jail time, and maybe even a bullet to the head. Still he remained determined — and even asked random passersby to come with him, but no one took him up on the offer.
His plan to escape was simple enough. He would steal an armored personnel carrier, drive to the most famous wall in the world (at the time at least), and then drive right through it. That’s exactly what he did, but it was nice of him to stop a couple of times and ask if anyone wanted to come.
The armored personnel carrier came from the preparations being made for the upcoming May Day parade. It was a BTR-152. A six wheeled, Soviet-built vehicle whose top could open upward, luckily for Wolfgang Engels. When the workmen went off to lunch, Engels started up his new vehicle, garnering little notice in a military-run city.
He had roughly 100 meters — the length of a football field — to gather enough velocity to crash through a single layer of cinder blocks less than ten feet high. Unfortunately, Engels’ APC didn’t fully penetrate the Berlin Wall and he was soon stuck in his vehicle — and stuck in the wall. East German border guards began to open fire on the BTR-152 and Wolfgang Engels. He decided it was time to book it.
He left the relative safety of the vehicle and tried to climb away. Ensnared in barbed wire, he was shot at close range while attempting to flee. Twice — once in the back and once in the hand. The second bullet tore through his body, in then out.
Luckily for him, West German police officers from a nearby watchtower fired back at the Eastern border guards, providing much-needed cover and time for Engels. But really, it was time enough for a group of revelers at a nearby bar to come out and help pull him out of the wire and into the freedom of the West. They formed a human ladder, freed him from the wire, and brought him over. They carried his unconscious body back to the bar, closing up the blinds.
“I came to on top of the counter,” he says. “When I turned my head and saw all the Western brands of liquor on the shelf, I knew that I had made it.”
He ordered a cognac.
Wolfgang Engels was sent by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he recovered from a collapsed lung for three weeks.
He wouldn’t see his mother again until 1990, after the fall of the wall. He learned the East Germans were planning to abduct him and charge him with desertion before the wall fell. As for the soldier who shot him, Engels is just grateful he didn’t turn his AK-47 on automatic.