Seventy-five years ago in Bastogne, Belgium, German soldiers captured American Pfc. Marold Peterson of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. Peterson escaped from the work camp where we was held prisoner, only to be captured again and killed by Hitler Youth.
Sgt. Travis Paice, the great-grandson of Peterson, said it is surreal to be in Bastogne where Peterson lived his last moments.
“Maybe he was standing right where I stood,” Paice, a soldier with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said.
Paice is one soldier with family ties to the World War II Battle of the Bulge who participated in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies and parade. Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, is another.
US infantrymen crouch in a snow-filled ditch, taking shelter from a German artillery barrage during the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads in the Krinkelter woods, December 14, 1944.
(Pfc. James F. Clancy, US Army Signal Corps)
Jones’ great-uncle Ed Jones was a Sherman tanker with the 10th Armored Division during World War II. While Jones is unsure of his great-uncle’s rank, he heard stories growing up about his service from his father and uncle. During the Battle of the Bulge, three of Ed Jones’ tanks took extreme damage.
On his last time evacuating a Sherman tank, he took shrapnel from a German stick grenade in his leg and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was missing for about four months until a Canadian HAM radio operator intercepted a message from the Germans including the locations of POWs from both American and Allied forces.
“It’s amazing to feel like I am walking in his footsteps,” said Jones of walking through the streets where his great uncle served. “To see Bastogne and where he was is a sobering feeling.”
On December 14, 2019, American and Belgian soldiers, along with members of the Bastogne community and World War II veterans, marched in a parade through the town center. Guests of honor, including Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmes, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the US Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz threw walnuts from the balcony of the Bastogne City Center into the crowd.
The nut throwing, or “Jet de Noix,” commemorates Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s famous response of “Nuts” when petitioned by the Germans to surrender.
Anthony C. McAuliffe, left, and then-Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard II at Bastogne.
(US War Department)
Both Jones and Paice said they felt a great sense of pride knowing their unit has lineage to World War II and the Battle of the Bulge.
Paice had the opportunity to fly his great grandfather’s flag at the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne. He plans on gifting the flag to his grandfather, who is also a veteran.
Before arriving in Bastogne, Paice was given documents by the Army which provided an account of his great grandfather’s capture. He brought these documents with him as a reminder of what his family had endured. While Paice said the documents do not go into much detail, it is just enough to be harrowing.
“I never knew him, and my grandfather never knew him, but to get, somewhat, a little bit of closure was a little surreal,” Paice said.
Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, center, meets reenactors at a community event at the Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, December 14, 2019.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Erica Earl)
Paice said the most emotional part of his great grandfather’s history is knowing that American soldiers liberated the prisoner camp Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb, the day after he was killed in his effort to escape.
According to Army documents, soldiers in that prison were starved, with many men weighing only between 70 and 80 pounds when they were rescued.
As soldiers lined up to prepare for the parade, there was a mixture of snow, rain and harsh winds as temperatures dropped, but participants acknowledged that was nothing compared to what Soldiers who had gone before them endured.
Jones said if he could say something to his great uncle, it would be “thank you.”
“Thank you for paving the way for us and giving everything for our values, our freedoms and our allies’ freedoms,” Jones said in heartfelt appreciation to both is late great uncle and veterans of World War II.
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.
President Donald Trump called off airstrikes last minute against Iran, but the reprieve is likely only temporary from a clash that has brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.
Iran’s economy is sputtering under mounting US sanctions that it’s called “economic war” and said it will start enriching uranium and increasing its stockpile beyond the limits set by the nuclear treaty, which the Trump administration walked away from a little over a year ago.
Experts largely believe Iran’s military and its proxy forces, which Tehran supplies and trains, will continue to seek confrontations against the US and its allies across the region due to the sanctions that are damaging Iran’s economy.
“The enemy (Iran) believes it’s acting defensively in light of economic strangulation, which it views as an act of war,” Brett McGurk, the former special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, wrote on Twitter. “That doesn’t justify its acts but makes deterrence via one-off strikes harder perhaps counter-productive.”
Last week, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which the US has blamed on Iran. The incident prompted anxiety from the UN and US allies, who’ve all preached restraint.
Iran has denied striking the tankers, in the face of a US military video showing what appears to be an Iranian patrol boat retrieving an unexploded limpet mine, and claims the downing of the US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone came after warnings it had entered Iranian airspace.
The Iranian attacks aim to raise the political costs of Trump’s maximum pressure strategy against Iran, and Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute previously told INSIDER she expected Iran to “up the ante” against the US, even by kidnapping Americans in the region.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly told Iran that the US will respond with military force if Iran kills any Americans, and so it is unclear how the US would respond to a kidnapping.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Photo by Mark Taylor)
With the US taking no action against Iran for the drone attack other than condemnation, and possibly added sanctions, many experts think Iran has little reason to abandon its attacks.
“Unfortunately it sends a dangerous signal to Iran,” Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy wrote on Twitter. “US aversion to escalation doesn’t deter Tehran from escalating. And they have every incentive to continue until they get what they want: sanctions relief.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Ned Price, former senior director of the National Security Council under President Obama, told INSIDER.
Jon Wolfsthal, who served as the nuclear expert for the National Security Council under the Obama administration, told INSIDER, “Conflict between Iran and US can erupt at any time.”
Wolfsthal said he’s not aware of any new guidance given to military officials to “de-engage or avoid possible actions that could lead to provocations.”
“In fact, I expect drones are flying the same course today,” Wolfsthal added.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a diplomatic resolution to hostilities remains elusive.
Trump warned Iran of the impending, and ultimately halted, military strike via Oman on June 20, 2019, Reuters reported. The president also extended yet another offer to hold talks with Tehran.
Dozens of US states have reported mysterious seeds showing up in packages from China and are warning citizens not to plant them because they could be an invasive species.
The US Department of Agriculture said Tuesday that it was investigating the unsolicited packages of seeds reported by at least 27 states and urged anyone who receives them to contact local agricultural officials.
“Please hold onto the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until someone from your State department of agriculture or APHIS contacts you with further instructions,” the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a press release. “Do not plant seeds from unknown origins.”
The agency also said the packages were likely a “brushing scam,” in which consumers are sent packages and a company then forges positive reviews of the products.
But they could also quickly become an ecological disaster.
“An invasive plant species might not sound threatening, but these small invaders could destroy Texas agriculture,” Sid Miller, Texas’ agriculture commissioner, said in a press release.
And scientists agree — that’s why the USDA has such strict rules on importing plants and other organic materials.
“The reason that people are concerned is — especially if the seed is the seed of a similar crop that is grown for income and food, or food for animals — that there may be plant pathogens or insects that are harbored in the seed,” Carolee Bull, a professor with Penn State’s Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology program, told The New York Times.
There you are, happily performing a police call through the training areas and thinking about how great it will be to get off at 1600 when you all are done, just like first sergeant promised. Then, you see something that dooms your whole night.
A single Marine sits in a pile of crayon wrappers and empty Rip It cans. Looks like a lack of Marine oversight just became your problem. Here’s what you do next:
The hat will look like these ones.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Rodriguez)
First, look for a Marine sergeant
Hopefully, the Devil Dog has a devil master (or whatever they call themselves) nearby who can police him up and bundle him out of there. Marine sergeants can be quickly identified by the loud string of profanities, like an Army sergeant but with a strangely rigid hat on. They will likely punctuate their profanities with, “OORAH!”
Too much running around in the woods, too much beer, not enough showering.
(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Antonio Rubio)
Don’t touch it
If you can’t find a Marine sergeant, then, for the love of god, don’t touch the boot. It’s not that the sergeants won’t accept it after it gets some Army on it, it’s that you don’t want to get any Marine on you. Sure, Marines are famous for some of their grooming standards, like haircuts, but there are only so many pull-ups you can do with beer sweating out of your pores before becoming a walking Petri dish.
You can let it pick its own, but remind it that Army MREs have no crayons whatsoever.
(U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Scott L. Eberle)
Feed it (MREs, not DFAC)
The easiest thing to do with a lost Marine is get it some food while you’re waiting for some embarrassed platoon leader to show up. Don’t give it DFAC food or it’ll spend all day complaining about how bad the food is in their chow halls and kennels. Give it MREs — the older the better. If you have ones with Charms, give them those, but expect them to throw the Charms away and then tell you how cursed they are.
No, it doesn’t matter that the boot is too young to have possibly been deployed, let alone deployed with Charms. They have all seen Generation Kill, just like all soldiers have seen Black Hawk Down and all sailors have seen Down Periscope.
Don’t worry. They won’t drown. They’re super good with water.
(U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Scott Thompson)
Throw it into a pool or small lake — NOT AN OCEAN!
If the Marine has been with you for more than an hour or two, then it probably needs a swim or its pelt will dry out. The trick here is to find a small body of water, nothing larger than a large lake.
If you throw it into an ocean or sea, it will likely try to swim out and find the “fleet.” No one is entirely sure, but the fleet is likely the original Marine spawning grounds. More research is required. But Marines who attempt to swim to the fleet will nearly always drown.
Yeah, these’ll make some booms. The machine gun .50-cals are good as well.
(U.S. Army Spc. Andrew McNeil)
Give it something loud to play with
You can ask the Marine what type it is; artillery, infantry, water purification specialist, etc. Regardless of their answer, know that all Marines like loud noises. If there are any rifle, machine gun, or howitzer ranges going on, that’s ideal. Just dig the Marine a small hole just behind the firing line and let it lounge there. Hearing protection is recommended but not required.
They like being in the cages. It reminds them of home.
(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Santamaria)
If it has to stay overnight, build a turducken of cages
If night’s about to fall and there’s still no one there to claim the Marine, you’re gonna have to house it overnight. If your base has a veterinarian unit or working dog kennels, that’s fine. If not, you might have to house it in the barracks. If you do so, you need to have two locks between the Marine and any alcohol. Get a supply cage or dog kennel (large) if need be.
The other Devil Dogs will be happy to see it.
(U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jessica Quezada)
If all else fails, ship it back to the nearest Marine base
It’ll probably whine about whether or not it’s a Hollywood Marine or whatever, but address it to whicever Marine installation is closest. Just pack it up with some dip and cigarettes and its mouth will be too busy to complain for a few hours. Don’t worry, you can’t put too much in there. Their tolerance is too high for a lethal dose.
And they’ll be happier back on the Marine farms. They like to be with their own kind.
Imagine one day you’re sitting along the coast of Northern England, taking a rest from farming in a bog, fishing, or whatever it was ancient villagers did up there back then. Chances are good you had a hard day of farming or catching fish and the end of the day was a welcome respite, even though you knew you’d probably have to go right back out and do the same thing the next day. But maybe you wouldn’t, because Viking raiders were going to burn everything you love and there’s nothing you could do about it.
That got real dark, real fast. Just like a Viking raid.
“It’s a special operation because we steal the gold and it becomes ours.”
They were like today’s special operators
Viking raids usually consisted of a small number of ships and limited manpower, headed for a very specific, small objective. They weren’t out to capture towns or topple governments, they wanted food, booty, women, plunder, gold… you get the idea. The effectiveness of their raids hinged very much on their ability to surprise the opposition. They would move just over the coastal horizon, with their sails drawn down to mask their approach. Once inland, they would hit hard and fast, leaving before reinforcements could be brought to bear.
There should be about 4,000 more arrows in this painting.
They weren’t trying to sink ships.
You can’t sell or reuse a sunken ship, after all. Though Viking naval combat was not very common, it happened. And like their land attacks, Viking longboats would swarm a target to overwhelm it, or they would attempt to ram the enemy in the open sea. Rather than have a distant naval battle, Vikings threw that doctrine out, preferring to move in close and kill the enemy crew with archers, hidden behind a hastily constructed shield wall.
Pictured: all the f*cks the Vikings gave for military doctrine.
In an age where tight formations and discipline in combat were all the rage, it was unlikely anyone expected a Viking horde to ambush their army as it marched through the woods. But here they were. Vikings used to lie in wait in the wooded areas along the roadsides, in order to get the drop on an enemy unit.
Shield Walls help.
Adapting to the battle quickly.
Even the best plan can get tossed out the window once the sh*t hits the fan. The Vikings weren’t perfect and would occasionally get their asses handed to them. On the occasion where that occurred, they adapted to the situation as quickly as they could. Once confronted by real opposition, raiders would take on infantry formations, especially the wedge, with berserks at the tip of the spear. They would then drive this into an enemy formation, negating the enemy’s use of their archers or other ranged weapons.
A book is a terrible defensive weapon.
Nothing was sacred. Sometimes literally.
These days, we talk about military norms that we all hold to be true – doctrine – as if it came from the gods themselves. Well, the Vikings didn’t care much for your gods or your doctrine and pretty much flaunted both. They shook off the sacrilege of sacking religious sites because religious sites are where the best loot was kept. They shook off the doctrine of combat formations, fighting seasons, and times to do battle because that’s when you were expecting them and it’s so much easier to surprise you.
“Reach out and crush someone.”
They wanted to get in close.
Many, many weapons of the middle ages were ranged weapons, designed to get into action at a distance and keep the enemy from smashing your squishy skull in. The longer one army could pummel another with arrows and boulders, the less likely their infantry or cavalry would die fighting. The Vikings, on the other hand, like the up-close-and-personal touch of smashing in your squishy skull and designed their battle tactics to get all up in your face, scare the crap out of you, and either kill you or make you run away.
Ballistic missile defense has become a growing concern. Russia has been modernizing not only its strategic forces, but has also deployed the Iskander tactical ballistic system. China has the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile. The need clearly exists for new assets to stop these missiles — or at least lessen the virtual attrition they would inflict.
Huntington Ingalls Industries has a solution — but this solution comes from a surprising basis. The company, which builds everything from Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to amphibious assault ships, has proposed using the hull of the San Antonio-class landing platform dock amphibious ship to mount.
The design is still a concept — there’s a lot of options in terms of what radars to use, and how the exact weapons fit would work. The model shows at the SeaAirSpace Expo 2017 featured 96 cells in the Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, or the equivalent of a Burke-class destroyer. That’s a low-end version, though. A handout provided says the system can hold as many as 288 cells. This is 225 percent of the capacity of a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and 300 percent of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s capacity.
Of course, the Mk41 can hold a number of missiles, including the RIM-66 SM-2, the RIM-174 SM-6, the RIM-161 SM-3 — all of which can knock down ballistic missiles. For local defense, a quad-pack RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile is an option. The Mk 41 also can launch the RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROC and the BGM-109 Tomahawk. In other words, this ballistic missile defense ship can do more than just play defense — it can provide a hell of an offensive punch as well.
The handout also notes other armament options, including a rail gun, two Mk 46 chain guns, advanced radars, launchers for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and .50-caliber machine guns. Yes, even in a super-modern missile-defense vessel, Ma Deuce still has a place in the armament suite. No matter how you look at it, that is a lot of firepower.
The propulsion options include the diesel powerplants used on the San Antonio, providing a top speed of 22 knots. Using an integrated power system similar to that on the destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) would get a top speed of about 29 knots, according to a Huntinton Ingals representative at the expo.
The ship is still just a concept, but with President Trump proposing a 350-ship Navy, that concept could be a very awesome reality.
With things starting to look up on the peninsula, it’s hard to believe that, in 2014, we were sitting around waiting to see what, exactly, was going to be the straw to break the Korean camel’s back reignite the (technically still-ongoing) Korean War. Thankfully, the North was wise enough to know not to f*ck with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. Regardless, we kept training for the worst.
We don’t have to tell you it’s cold on the Korean peninsula; you can read about that elsewhere. No, what you’re here for is to know what it was like for a Marine to be sitting three miles from the Korean Demilitarized Zone for a month and a half.
We took the training more seriously at the time.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
Scary at first…
Yeah, it was. At the time, of course, we continuously called NK’s bluff because they did bark a lot for decades following the Armistice, but they’re enough of a loose cannon that some of us didn’t want to get complacent. It was better to assume that they were going to do something and we would be the first on the scene.
We went on a DMZ tour and found out just how close it actually was.
(Photo courtesy of the author)
Of course, we didn’t realize how close we were to the DMZ until North Korea launched a few missiles. My company had been out on a range, police calling in the middle of the night when we noticed a couple of shooting stars streak across the sky. It was a beautiful site. That is, until we went back to base and saw that they were definitely missiles…
It didn’t help that the base didn’t have any ammunition for the first couple of weeks. We were basically sitting ducks, and if North Korea had known any better, it could have been huntin’ season.
The biggest training challenge was the temperature.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Caleb T. Maher)
…then it was boring…
After the edge wore off, we became super bored. It didn’t help that we were on a base that was small enough for you to be able to throw a rock from one end and hit some POG working on a Humvee on the other. The training itself wasn’t bad. It was all easy stuff. But it was the heavy amount of downtime that really threw us for a loop.
Seriously, so much Friends.
External hard drives containing anything from games to movies to adult entertainment were passed around the platoon. Cigarettes, smoked all the way to the butt, were deposited into the butt can at least five times per day (more when the temperature was above 50 degrees). In fact, we probably broke the record for how many times you can watch Friends from beginning to end in a single week.
The ROK Marines were honestly pretty cool.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Ryan Mains)
…until the ROK Marines showed up.
It was a major snoozefest up until the Republic of Korea Marine Corps showed up. Then it quickly turned into a dog-and-pony show on top of the snooze fest. Then, training became much more frequent, so it quelled our boredom. We ended up forgetting that North Korea existed during that time, you know, except when our Battalion Commander reminded us during every formation.
My platoon before a major training op that was called off because the range was set on fire.
All in all, training next to North Korea was hyped up beyond what it actually was. There was a lot of anxious excitement at first and then it was just, “what show are we watching today?” For a first deployment, I definitely expected a lot more, but, thankfully, it wasn’t any more exciting than it was because, you know, fighting in the cold would suck.
So, that’s what it’s like to train next to North Korea.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a welcomed appearance at the 1st Marine Raider Battalion Ball and delivered a sobering speech that took many US Marines by surprise Nov. 3.
The 1st Marine Raider Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, California, is comprised of elite Marines under the command of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC), the Marine Corps’ expeditionary force that typically operates in austere conditions.
Musk was invited to the event as a guest of honor because the Raiders wanted an “equally innovative” keynote speaker to honor the battalion on its birthday, a former Marine Raider commander who asked not to be named, told Business Insider. Around 400 people attended, including World War II veterans and Gold Star family members, the Marine Raider said.
Much like the secrecy of the Marine Raiders’ operations, Musk’s appearance at the event was closed to the press and kept low-key in order to “avoid a media frenzy,” the Marine Raider said.
Like other branches of the military, formal military events are steeped in deep tradition. The Marine Corps, however, pride themselves in being a distinct group from the other branches, and their customs were reportedly noticed by Musk.
“You can tell he was a little nervous,” said Joe Musselman, the CEO of The Honor Foundation. “He was walking alongside the commanding officer of the 1st Raider Marine Battalion. You have this polished officer who’s walking in step to very traditional music.”
Musselman was invited to the event as the CEO of an organization that supports veterans.
As the Marine Raiders brought out a celebratory cake, the commanding officer of the battalion reportedly drew a sword.
“Elon kind of stepped back like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on. Why did you draw your sword at me,'” Musselman said.
The officer proceeded to serve Musk with the first piece of cake, using his sword to set it onto Musk’s plate.
“That’s intimidating for any person,” Musselman said. “A Marine Raider just served [Musk] a piece of cake off his sword. I don’t know if that was necessary in the scripts or the notes for Elon to review beforehand.”
‘The whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop.’
As the guest of honor, Musk reportedly delivered the opening statement that appeared to make an impact to the group of elite Marines.
“I will never forget it; it set the tone for his entire talk,” Musselman said. “He said, ‘I wanted to come and speak to this group,’ and I get the chills even saying it, ‘Because whenever there’s danger in the world, you all are the first to go and die.”
Musk continued to say he had a great amount of respect for their service to the country, according to Musselman.
“And the whole room, you could’ve heard a pin drop,” Musselman said. “When he said that, the way he said it, it wasn’t prepared, there was no script. He was genuinely looking up in the air to find the words to say ‘Thank you for doing this for our country.'”
Following the speech, Musk offered some lessons he’s learned throughout his career in the Silicon Valley. One particular lesson he reportedly said was to always question authority — a trait that could be seen as counterintuitive to the military’s doctrine of strict obedience.
One Marine was said to have made light of the discrepancy, shouting, “You’re in the wrong room for that, sir,” and drew a few laughs.
Musk went on to discuss his companies’ involvement in the veteran community and emphasized Silicon Valley’s need for leadership and talent from veterans.
“It was quite a treat for us to have Mr. Musk,” the former Marine Raider commander said, “He [recognized] Marines and sailors would be one of the first ones in harms way.”
MARSOC, a relatively new command compared to other special operations groups, was founded in 2006 to integrate Marines into the special operations community. Although media coverage of the special operations forces have largely centered on Navy SEALS and Green Berets, MARSOC Raiders have proven itself as a capable special operations force and screens its applicants as rigorously as other branches — with around 120 applicants graduating from its individual training course each year.
Every time a new Hollywood blockbuster comes out about the military, veterans and active duty service members get defensive — and for good reason.
The military is very detail-oriented and the veteran community can spot every mistake in technique, procedure, or uniform wear. It pains us watching films that can’t even get the amount of flags on our uniform correct.
As much of a master craftsman as Stanley Kubrick was when creating films, he’s not without his flaws. For instance, that scene in Full Metal Jacket when Joker is doing pull-ups and then Private Pyle gets hell for not being able to do one.
But Gunny Hartman should have been on Joker’s ass just as much since none of his should have counted (although it could be argued that it was a character choice by late, great R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine Corps Drill Instructor and Hollywood’s truest bad ass, just so he could f*ck with Pyle sooner.)
The film doesn’t exactly shine the best light on the reality of the Vietnam War, but at least in Full Metal Jacket, the uniforms are on point. According to the original Title 10, Chapter 45 section 772 line (f), actors may wear armed forces uniforms as long as it does not intend to discredit that armed force, and in 1970 that condition was removed altogether.
Back in 1967, Daniel Jay Schacht put on a theatrical street performance in protest of the Vietnam War. He and two other actors put on a skit where he “shot” the others with squirt-guns filled with red liquid. It was highly disrespectful but he did manage to get the uniform correct. After being sentenced with a $250 fine and six months in prison, he brought it up to the Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.
It was ruled that, as distasteful as it was, his performance was protected under the First Amendment. The Vietnam War protester inadvertently helped troops by taking away any excuse to not get our uniforms right in film, television, and theatrical performances. Now there is no gray area. Hollywood has no excuse to not get the uniforms right.
So what gives? There are far more films that try to portray troops as righteous as Superman, but have them pop their collar.
The reason films like Full Metal Jacket, Forrest Gump, American Sniper, and Thank You For Your Service get it right is because they handle the military with respect. The producers, director, and costume designers listen when the military advisor speaks. They hire costume designers like Keith Denny who have handled military films before to do it right.
Military advisors have been gaining more and more respect in the industry. Because without them, well, the film turns into a drinking game for troops and vets — and they do not hold back their vitriol.
The American experience in Vietnam was a long and painful one for the nation. For those against the war, it appeared to be a meat grinder for draftees, unfairly targeting the poor, the uneducated, and minorities. For those in favor of the war and those who served in the military at the time, the American public and media were (and still are) misled about what happened during the war and so feel betrayed by many at home (Jane Fonda is the enduring symbol of the cultural schism).
Jane Fonda (via Dutch National Archives)
The facts not in dispute by either side are just as harrowing: Over 20 years, more than 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and more than 150,000 wounded, not to mention the emotional toll the war took on American culture. The war ended the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson and left a lasting impression on Richard Nixon’s. It was the backbone to the most tumultuous period in American history since before the Civil War one century prior.
The other facts are not so clear. We are at the fifty year mark for the start of the war, so soon more and more government documents from the period will be declassified. We will learn a great deal about this time in American history. Right now, however, the misinformation, cover-ups, and confusion about Vietnam still pervade our national consciousness. Right now, we can only look back at the war and take stock of what we know was real and what was B.S. from day one.
1. The U.S. first got involved in Vietnam in 1954
Sort of. The official line is the United States sent only supplies and advisors before 1965. Looking back before the fall of French Indochina, Vietnam’s colonial name, the end of World War II saw a briefly independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam under President Ho Chi Minh. Minh even gave a nod to the visiting American OSS agents by paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence in his own Independence speech: “All men are created equal. The Creator has given us certain inviolable rights, the right to life, the right to be free, and the right to achieve happiness.”
Almost as soon as Minh realized the Western allies were going to restore French rule, Chinese advisors and Soviet equipment began to flow to North Vietnamese guerillas. After the Vietnamese Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp handed the French their asses at Dien Bien Phu, the French left and Vietnam would be split in two. In 1954, an insurgency sprang up, but was quelled by the government of the new South Vietnam, led by Ngô Dình Diem. Unfortunately Diem was as dictatorial as Ho Chi Minh and as Catholic as the Spanish Inquisition.
2. U.S. and South Vietnamese Presidents were shot in 1963, and this would be significant
They were also both Catholic, but that’s where the similarities end. This also may be the death of coherent containment strategy in the country. Diem was shot in an armored personnel carrier on November 2, 1963. At the time, there were 16,000 U.S. advisors in Vietnam. President Kennedy was said to be shocked at the news. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said he “had never seen the President more upset.” Both men knew the U.S. government was responsible “to some degree.”
The Pentagon Papers leak explicitly stated the U.S. clandestinely maintained contact with Diem over-throwers and the U.S. government gave the generals in Vietnam the green light to start planning a coup. Twenty days later, Kennedy would himself be shot in the back of a vehicle.
3. Kennedy wanted to get the U.S. military out of Vietnam but couldn’t figure out how
President Kennedy was a fervent believer in the policy of containment and believed in the Domino Theory, but not so much as to wage unending war with the Communists in Vietnam. During his Presidency, he and McNamara actively pursued a way to leave Vietnam, while still maintaining their commitment to a free South through financial support and training. Kennedy wanted all U.S. personnel out by the end of 1965.
Many people refute this theory using a quote Kennedy gave Walter Cronkite: “These people who say we ought to withdraw from Vietnam are totally wrong, because if we withdrew from Vietnam, the communists would control… all of Southeast Asia… then India, Burma would be next.” The only problem with this quote is while Kennedy was in office, there was no open warfare in Vietnam and U.S. involvement was limited. Their strategy was to bring the North to heel using strategic bombing and limited ground attacks. Recordings between Kennedy and McNamara were since released to attest to their efforts in getting out of Vietnam.
4. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident only sort of happened.
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident is the catalyst for the escalation of American action in Vietnam. It refers to two incidents in August 1964. On August 2, the destroyer USS Maddox was shelled by NVA torpedo boats. The Maddoxresponded by firing over 280 rounds in return. There was no official response from the Johnson Administration.
The pressure mounted however, with members of the military, both in and out of uniform, implying Johnson was a coward. On August 4th the second incident was said to have happened, but Secretary McNamara admitted in Errol Morris’ 2003 documentary The Fog of War the second attack never occurred. The Pentagon Papers even implied the Maddox fired first in an effort to keep the Communists a certain distance away.
The resulting Gulf of Tonkin resolution passed by the U.S. Congress allowed Johnson to deploy conventional (ground) U.S. troops and operate in a state of open but undeclared war against North Vietnam.
5. The U.S. didn’t lose the war on the ground
But we didn’t win every battle, either. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) can’t be faulted for lack of dedication, patriotism, or leadership. NVA Gen. Võ Nguyên Giáp orchestrated successive defeats of the Japanese and the French. Even Death had a hard time finishing off Giáp – he lived to 102. It also can’t be faulted for a lack of organization. The NVA was a professional fighting force, organized under Soviet guidance. The VC were forced to use inferior equipment because the Chinese would swipe the good weapons and replace them with cheap Chinese knockoffs.
Outmanned and outgunned, the NVA was beaten by U.S. troops in nearly every major battle. The myth of the U.S. never losing a single battle inexplicably persists (unless you were stationed at Fire Support Base Ripcord, outnumbered 10-to-1 for 23 days in 1970). Not as improbable, no U.S. unit ever surrendered in Vietnam.
Despite initial victories, the infamous Tet Offensive was a major defeat for the Communists. It resulted in the death of some 45,000 NVA troops and the decimation of Viet Cong elements in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive succeeded on only one front: the media (more on that later). Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, two years after the Paris Peace Accords and after the American military left Vietnam. The last American troops departed in their entirety on March 29, 1973.
6. The M-16 sucked so hard, U.S. troops preferred the AK-47
Gen. William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, replaced the M-14 rifle with the new M-16 as the standard issue infantry rifle in the middle of 1966. There was no fanfare. The first generation of the M-16 rifle was an awful mess with a tendency to experience a “failure to extract” jam in the middle of a firefight. They sucked so hard, the Army was hammered by Congress in 1967 for delivering such a terrible rifle system and then failing to properly train troops to use it.
So what to do? Pick up the enemy’s weapon. We already talked about why the AK-47 is so widely used. It’s better than dying for lack of shooting back. In Vietnam, an underground market developed among troops who didn’t trust their M-16. “Q: Why are you carrying that rifle, Gunny?” “A: Because it works.”
7. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) — aka South Vietnam — wasn’t all bad
The ARVN troops get mixed reviews from the Americans who fought with them. Most judge ARVN units on their leadership, which was definitely mixed. In the end, the South Vietnamese ran out of fuel, ammunition and other supplies because of a lack of support from the U.S. Congress in 1975, while the North Vietnamese were very well supplied by China and the Soviet Union.
8. The North Vietnamese Air Force was actually a pretty worthy adversary
Vietnam-era pilot and Hanoi Hilton POW was once asked on a Reddit AMA how good the NVAF fighter pilots were. His response: “The got me, didn’t they?” This is anecdotal evidence, but more exists. The Navy’s Top Gun strike fighter tactics school was founded to respond to the loss rate of 1 aircraft for every thousand sorties during Operation Rolling Thunder, a lot considering the combined 1.8 million sorties flown over Vietnam.
At war’s end, the top ace in North Vietnam had nine kills, compared to the U.S.’ top ace, who had six. The U.S. could only boast three aces (ace status requires at least five air-to-air kills), while the NVAF boasted 17.
9. It wasn’t only the U.S. and South Vietnam
Australia and New Zealand also fought in Vietnam, but the largest contingent of anti-Communist forces came from South Korea. Korean President Syngman Rhee wanted to send troops to help the Vietnamese as early as 1954. More than 300,000 Korean troops would fight in Vietnam, inflicting more than 41,000 casualties, while massacring almost 5,000 Vietnamese civilians.
10. The draft didn’t unfairly target the working class or minorities
The demographics of troops deployed to Vietnam were close to a reflection of the demographics of the U.S. at the time. 88.4% of troops deployed to Vietnam were Caucasian, 10.6% were African-American and 1% were of other races. The 1970 census estimated the African-American population of the U.S. at 11%.
A wounded soldier is helped to a waiting helicopter by two of his comrades near Near Tay Ninh, South Vietnam, November 1966 (Stars Stripes)
76% of those who served did come from working-class backgrounds but this was a time when most troops had at least a high school education, compared with enlisted men of wars past, among whom only half held a high school diploma. Wealthier families could enroll in college for a draft deferement, but even so …
11. A majority of the men who fought in Vietnam weren’t drafted — they volunteered
More than three-quarters of the men who fought in Vietnam volunteered to join the military. Of the roughly 8.7 million troops who served in the military between 1965 and 1973, only 1.8 million were drafted. 2.7 million of those in the military fought in Vietnam at this time. Only 25% of that 2.7 million were drafted and only 30% of the combat deaths in the war were draftees.
12. The war was not exclusively a jungle war
At the start, the South and allied forces were fighting Viet Cong insurgents in the jungle, but as time wore on, the battles became more set piece, complete with tanks and artillery. For example in 1972, the NVA Eastertide Offensive was the largest land movement since the Chinese entered the Korean War, crossing the Yalu river. The Eastertide Offensive was a planned, coordinated three-pronged invasion of the South, consisting of 12 divisions.
13. The Vietnam War was only sort of lost in the American media
The most famous quote attributed to President Johnson (aside from “Frank, are you trying to F–k me?” and “I do not seek and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as President”) is “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Whether or not he actually said this is only important to fans of Walter Cronkite, who was then considered the most trusted man in America.
Until 1968, much of the American media was widely a mouthpiece for American policy and not one newspaper suggested disengagement from Vietnam. But things would get worse. A 1965 Gallup poll showed only 28% of Americans were against the war, 37% in 1967, 50% in 1968, 58% in 1969, In 1971, Gallup stopped asking. The 1968 Tet Offensive is what led Cronkite to see the war as “unwinnable.” Veterans of Vietnam widely attribute the success of the Tet Offensive as a success only in the media. The media they’re referring to is Walter Cronkite.
Yet, it’s not that cut and dry. A 1986 analysis of the media and Vietnam found the reporting of the Tet Offensive actually rallied American media to the Vietnam War effort. The Tet Offensive was a defining moment in public trust of the government reports on the progress of the war. Americans had no idea the VC were capable of infiltrating allied installations the way they did and many were unaware of the extent of the brutality and tactics of the war, but the Tet Offensive allowed American television cameras to record the bombing of cities and the execution of prisoners of war.
The tide of public opinion turned “for complex social and political reasons” and the media began to reflect that, according to the Los Angeles Times. “In short, the media did not lead the swing in public opinion; they followed it.”
New York Times White House correspondent Tom Wicker remarked: “We had not yet been taught to question the President.” Maybe the turn in public opinion had more to do with fatigue surrounding almost a decade of body counts and draft lotteries.
14. Richard Nixon ended the war — but invaded Cambodia first
President Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy involved a gradual drawdown of U.S. troops, and a bolstering of ARVN forces with modern equipment, technology, and the training to use it. It also involved plans to help garner support for the Saigon government in the provinces and strengthen the government’s political positions.
In 1970, he authorized incursions into Cambodia and massive bombings of Cambodia and Laos to keep pressure on the North while Vietnamization began. This prompted massive public protests in the United States. As U.S. troop numbers dwindled (69,000 in 1972), NVA attacks like the 1972 Eastertide Offensive showed the overall weakness of ARVN troops.
15. Vietnam Veterans are not mostly crazy, homeless, drug users
There is no difference in drug usage between Vietnam Veterans and non-Vietnam Veterans of the same age group. 97% of Vietnam vets hold honorable discharges and 85% of Vietnam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life. The unemployment rate for Vietnam vets was only 4.8% in 1987, compared to the 6.2% rate for the rest of America.
16. The Communists do not still hold POW/MIAs
Many cite “evader signals’ on satellite imagery of Vietnam as evidence of the continued imprisonment of American prisoners of war (POW). If POWs were still held in 1973, it is very likely they are long since dead. Those hypothetical withheld POWs who did not die of old age would never be repatriated to the U.S.
More than 600 MIA suddenly found in Hanoi would be very difficult to explain. The fact is, North Vietnam had no reason to continue to hold American captives. The Americans would not return and the North violated the Paris Accords anyway.
17. Today, most Vietnamese people see the U.S. very favorably
An amended executive order gave the Defense Department the authority to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots to address a personnel shortage.
The Air Force says it doesn’t currently intend to recall those pilots however.
The Air Force says it doesn’t plan to use new authority granted by an amended executive order to recall retired pilots to correct an ongoing personnel shortage.
“The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said on Oct. 22. “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”
A Pentagon spokesman said on Oct. 20 that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis requested the move.
Mattis was expected to delegate to the Air Force secretary the authority to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years.
The Air Force is currently about 1,500 pilots shy of the 20,300 it is mandated to have. About 1,000 of those absent are fighter pilots. Some officials have deemed the shortage a “quiet crisis.”
Under current law, the Air Force was limited to recalling 25 pilots; the executive order temporarily lifts that cap.
The Air Force has already pursued a number of new policies to retain current pilots and train new ones. In August, the service announced that it would welcome back up to 25 retired pilots who elected to return to fill “critical-rated staff positions” so active-duty pilots could continue in their current assignments.
The number of military personnel who have been hospitalized has jumped from four to 26 in the past week, doubling from 12 on Friday. Hospitalizations among civilian employees, dependents, and contractors have also increased.
Among US troops, 34 service members have recovered. Across DoD, a total of 42 people have recovered from the virus. There have been no deaths among military or civilian personnel, but the coronavirus has killed a dependent and a contractor.
While the Department of Defense is releasing daily coronavirus figures, Military Times reported that it has opted not to further disclose granular details that the department says could potentially give adversaries an advantage.
She is “currently a poolee,” Marine Capt. Adam Flores told the Beaufort Gazette, “and will begin recruit training in the near future.” Opha Mae will be the 21st such mascot, but her starting date is currently unknown.
She will eventually take over duties, which include attending ceremonies and graduations, from Cpl. Legend, who is in poor health, the Beaufort Gazette said.