'Ask a Marine': The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.

In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?


‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.

The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.

As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.

We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.

When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.

At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.

As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.

The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.

Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.

Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.

In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.

These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.

The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.

(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)

This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.

“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The legal argument for Willie Pete as a weapon

White phosphorous, often known by the nickname “Willie Pete,” is possibly one of the oddest and most controversial weapons on military frontlines, including in American units. Its use as a chemical weapon is banned, but its use as an incendiary weapon is simply limited, and use as a signaling device is fine.


Recent use of phosphorous weapons in Israel has brought this weird dynamic back to the forefront. And the U.S. came under fire for using phosphorous rounds in Iraq. So, what’s going on? And is everyone involved now a war criminal?

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

U.S. Air Force drops a white phosphorous bomb on a Viet Cong position in 1966.

(U.S. Air Force)

First, let’s look at why some weapons are illegal, especially chemical weapons. Chemical weapons work by interrupting human processes, some via very gruesome means. Mustard gas causes extreme respiratory irritation, sometimes to the point that those hit by it will develop fatal lung infections. Sarin gas can cause muscle convulsions, paralysis, and respiratory arrest. Both can permanently disfigure people.

In other words, gruesome ways to be wounded or killed.

As a chemical weapon, phosphorous can be released as a gas that is breathed in by the enemy, burning the insides of their lungs and killing them by cooking them from the inside out. Or, it can be introduced into enemy water supplies to poison them. It’s illegal to use phosphorous in either of these ways.

But phosphorous is a peculiar beast because, while there are no legally accepted military uses for sarin or mustard gas, there are accepted uses of white phosphorous, because it can also burn people externally or its white smoke can be used to screen troop movements or mark battlefield locations.

The chemical burns at about 86 degrees Fahrenheit. And, when burning, phosphorous emits 5,000 degrees of heat. So, it can spontaneously combust on a warm day, and it can easily sustain its own reaction once it gets going. If it’s cold outside, then even a small charge in an artillery shell can ignite the reaction.

Once it’s burning, phosphorous emits clouds of thick smoke. For infantry and other maneuver troops attacking an enemy position, that means phosphorous smoke can block the view of defenders trying to kill them. This use of phosphorous is completely legal. It can also be used to mark enemy positions which, again, is completely legal.

(In fact, the 1980 treaty limiting incendiary weapon use specifically does not include weapons used predominantly for marking targets or screening movement.)

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

Shells from M777A2 155mm Howitzer cannons rain white phosphorous on a target during a four-day, live-fire exercise following the conclusion of Talisman Saber 13 in Australia on Aug 3, 2013.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.)

But if you release still-burning phosphorous into the air and get that onto people, then it’s extremely dangerous. Phosphorous, again, will continue burning as long as it’s exposed to oxygen and above 86 degrees. So, if a chunk lands on a person’s shoulder, it will stay above 86 degrees and will keep releasing 5,000 degrees of heat until it runs out of fuel or is drowned in water or mud.

But even drowning phosphorous won’t work long-term in human skin, because it will re-ignite from the body heat the moment the water stops flowing. So, in Vietnam, American troops learned to cut the chunks of phosphorous out with knives if any friendlies were hit.

This use of phosphorous is legal, as long as the shooter takes “care” to prevent exposing civilians to the weapon.

And this is the thing that some groups will point to as insane. If it’s illegal to use it as a chemical weapon, how can you use the chemical as a weapon without it being a chemical weapon?

Well, first, everything is a chemical, and pretty much all weapons that aren’t iron or stone rely on chemical reactions of some kind. Bombs are explosive chemical reactions. Napalm and other incendiary weapons rely on chemical reactions that release a lot of heat, burning the flesh of enemy troops. It’s not a chemical reaction that is banned, or the release of heat. Chemical weapon laws really only apply to those weapons which directly interact with the target’s cells.

But heating the cells up, as you would with napalm, is legal.

And that’s how white phosphorous, as an incendiary weapon, works. It’s stored safely encased, then fired against an enemy, exposing it to the air and igniting it in the process. Once the burning phosphorous hits enemy troops, it sears them. A World War II test of phosphorous smoke screens found that, when fired against mock German defenders, the smoke screen would kill or seriously wound 40 percent of the defenders before the U.S. infantry arrived to fight them.

War Dept Film Bulletin 55 White Phosphorus VS High Explosive 1943 (full)

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War Dept Film Bulletin 55 White Phosphorus VS High Explosive 1943 (full)

And that’s why, as long as the weapon is legal in any context, there will be an incentive for commanders to use it. Without overhead cover, 40 percent of the defenders could be knocked out by the smoke screen. By the smoke screen. High explosive mortar rounds used in the same World War II test generated only 24 percent casualties.

Remember, the point of war is to force an enemy into submission to achieve some political goal. It’s gruesome, but it always includes humans killing humans, and explosions and burning are accepted methods of killing each other in war.

And so, the question that will confront investigators looking into Israel’s actions will be, “How was the weapon used? And did it cause undue damage to civilians?” Those are the same questions they would have to look at if a bomb was dropped on a church or hospital.

Was this a valid military act, or maybe a valid act that went awry? Or was a commander deliberately harming civilians?

MIGHTY TRENDING

The sailor from the iconic V-J Day in Times Square picture has died

On August 14th, 1945, as news of the Allied victory over Imperial Japan reached the United States, Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt immortalized an unlikely pair in a photograph which has come to represent the jubilation and relief Americans felt upon the conclusion of the Second World War.

The picture features a sailor planting a kiss on a very surprised dental assistant in the middle of Times Square, New York City, while onlookers smile, laugh, and walk by. On February 17th, one George Mendonsa — widely believed to be the sailor in that image — passed away at the age of 95.


Mendonsa was preceded in death by his paramour in the image, Greta Zimmer Friedman, who died in 2016 of age-related health complications.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

Alfred Eisenstaedt signing a print of his V-J Day in Times Square picture.

(Wikimedia Commons photograph by William Waterway Marks)

For years, the identities of the two kissers were unknown, with a number of men and women stepping forward to lay claim to their part in what soon turned into one of the most famous and iconic photographs of all time. Friedman herself did not see the picture until the 1960s, when she came across it in book of Eisenstaedt’s works.

After contacting Life Magazine with her account of what went down that balmy August day in New York, it became apparent that she was undoubtedly the female participant in the picture, though Life only got back to her in 1980 to confirm. It was just around that same time that Life brought along George Mendonsa, who claimed to be the sailor.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

V-J Day in Times Square.

(Wikimedia Commons photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt)

Though, according to Friedman, the kiss happened quickly and was a complete surprise to her, she recognized Mendonsa and held that he was the celebrating smoocher from that day, celebrating the end of the war.

Mendonsa served on a destroyer as a helmsman and was, at the time, on shore leave from the USS The Sullivans dreading yet another wartime deployment overseas. As such, the young sailor was with his fiancee (yes, you read that right) taking in shows on Broadway and partying it up before he was due to ship out again.

The news of the war ending was obviously a major relief to the sailor who, living up to the drinking reputation of sailors worldwide, was already sporting an alcohol-induced buzz by early afternoon. He apparently couldn’t help himself amidst the throngs of euphoric New Yorkers and pulled the first woman he saw into a quick kiss.

As it turned out, the first woman he saw was a young dental assistant named Greta, who was told to close the dental clinic and go home to celebrate when news broke about the Japanese surrender in the Pacific Theater.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

Greta Friedman and George Mendonsa as the guests of honor at a 4th of July parade in 2009.

George’s then-fiancee, Rita Petrie, is visible in the picture standing there with a laugh watching her sailor’s antics. She must have been greatly caught up in the celebration, as she later recalled, because it didn’t register on her mind that her man had just swapped spit with another woman right in front of her.

Either that, or Rita was in a very forgiving mood, as she spent the next 70 years blissfully married to the love of her life — George Mendonsa — who later joined the family business and became a fisherman in Rhode Island.

Friedman let on that she and Mendonsa maintained a cordial relationship due to their bond as the kissing couple from the V-J Day in Times Square picture, exchanging cards throughout the years before she died in 2016.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first POW captured by the U.S. was at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was meant to be supported by five midget submarines. These submersibles were less than 80 feet long, crewed by two men, and carried just two torpedoes. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki was the commander of midget submarine HA-19. The midget sub, also crewed by Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, piggybacked across the Pacific on the Japanese submarine I-24. However, while none of the midget submarines at Pearl Harbor were successful in the attacks, HA-19 suffered a particularly bad streak of luck.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
Ensign Sakamaki’s naval photo

Before the midget sub even launched, there was an issue. A short distance from Pearl Harbor, the crew discovered that one of the torpedoes had been crushed during the trans-Pacific voyage. Although a replacement torpedo was loaded, the trouble continued. During final checks, Sakamaki found that the sub’s gyro had failed. Despite his best efforts, Inagaki was unable to repair it. This meant that the two men would have to navigate by memory and come up to periscope depth to check their progress intermittently. This would increase their risk of being spotted as they entered the harbor.

When HA-19 finally launched, the sub nosedived and almost ended its journey then and there. After adjusting their ballast, Sakamaki and Inagaki righted their vessel and headed for the harbor…or so they thought. Navigating from memory, they ended up sailing adjacent to the harbor entrance and back out into open water. The nosedive and navigational error cost them hours. When they finally reached the harbor entrance, they found it guarded by a blockade of U.S. destroyers. Sakamaki decided to run the gauntlet and force their way into the harbor.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
HA-19 washed ashore the day after the attack (U.S. Navy)

USS Ward (DD-139) had already sunk one midget sub that had attempted to enter the harbor earlier. Upon sighting HA-19, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges that knocked Sakamaki and Inagaki unconscious. By the time they came to, the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor was underway. HA-19 made a second run for the harbor entrance but ran aground on a coral reef. This time, USS Helm (DD-388) spotted the midget sub and engaged it with her deck gun. Although HA-19 was freed by the shelling, its hull was compromised. Seawater mixed with the sub’s batteries and caused gas to leak from them. Fighting the gas leak and electrical shocks, Sakamaki and Inagaki also had to continuously adjust their ballast to account for the incoming seawater.

The two Japanese sailors then discovered that their torpedo housing was damaged and couldn’t fire. They devised a bold plan to ram the nearest ship, climb on board, and fight to the death on deck. After stripping down to their suicide outfits of their underwear, undershirts, and headbands, the two men sailed for the harbor entrance one last time. They were spotted and hit by more depth charges. This time, the sub’s steering was damaged. Both men were knocked unconscious again and HA-19 drifted at the mercy of the currents.

When Sakamaki and Inagaki awoke, HA-19 was completely disabled and had run aground again. They lit the fuse on the sub’s scuttling charge and swam for shore. Inagaki drowned during his escape and his body was recovered a few days later. Sakamaki, weary and wounded, almost met the same fate as he floundered towards land.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
POW #1 (U.S. War Department)

Two soldiers from Bellows Field, Lt. P. C. Plybon and Sgt. D. M. Auki spotted Sakamaki in the water. At first, they thought that the nearly nude Japanese sailor was a sea turtle coming ashore. When they saw his arms flailing though, they knew it was a person and rushed to help. At this point, Sakamaki realized that the scuttling charge had not gone off, but was too exhausted to swim back to the sub. Instead, he continued to the beach. Auki quickly realized that Sakamaki was Japanese and took him prisoner. Sakamaki became Prisoner of War Number 1 for the United States in WWII.

Upon his capture, Sakamaki’s only request was that he be allowed to commit suicide to make up for the shame of not dying in battle. Naturally, this request was denied and he was held for the entirety of the war. HA-19 was recovered and used on a war bond tour before it was placed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX. After the war, Sakamaki was returned to Japan. He got married and worked for Toyota for most of his life. Sakamaki was reunited with HA-19 in 1991 when he accepted an invitation to speak at the National Museum of the Pacific War. He passed away in 1999.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
Sakamaki visits HA-19 (National Museum of the Pacific War)

MIGHTY MOVIES

VET Tv’s ‘A Grunt’s Life’ will be a cult-classic among troops and vets

It’s hard to find a good military film that truly encapsulates the spirit of the military. There’s a huge pile of duds. You know the ones I’m referring to. Then you have your epics like Saving Private Ryan, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Bridge over the River Kwai. They’re expertly crafted, but they still lack that personal flair. Platoon comes close, and it earned all four of its Oscars because director Oliver Stone served in Vietnam – but it’s toned down for a wider audience.

Then you have VET Tv’s Kickstarter-funded film A Grunt’s Life. What it lacks in not having a widespread cinema release, it easily makes up in authenticity. And holy f*ck… It’s really f*cking good.


With that authenticity, it paints a more accurate picture of the post 9/11 wars than any other film. Warts and all. That being said…

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

There’s also plenty of fantasies about killing the buddy-f*cking commanding officer. You’ll learn to empathize with the platoon leader throughout the film.

(VetTV)

First thing’s first. A Grunt’s Life is not intended for family-friendly movie night. In fact, it’s a film that you kind of have to explain to your civilian friends/family before it shatters any previously held misconceptions about the military. Keep very much in mind that this film is basically what would happen if all of the deployment smoke pit conversations came to life and played out like we joked they would.

The film opens on the protagonist, Lt. Vince Murphy jacking off in the middle of a firefight and debating whether to join in or finish. A feeling anyone who’s ever been stuck on a Patrol Base could tell you is all too real. Even keeping an eye out on the background extras throughout the film, you’ll also almost always see them jerking it on guard duty. You’ll see plenty of dicks, but that’s kind of how deployments are…

There are also plenty of moments in the film that would be war crimes if committed in real life. Obviously, the filmmakers are not advocating them and even address them as being horrific with the characters entertaining the idea being called out as being horrific pieces of sh*t. But, well, that comes with the dark comedy that troops in the same grueling conditions adapt to.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

This film was done so well that you can’t even tell A Grunt’s Life was actually 185 times cheaper to make than Jarhead 2.

(VetTV)

One thing that I can’t stress enough about this film is the level of effort and quality that went into it. And it shows!

The production design is just as sh*tty as I remembered Afghanistan, and the little details in the costuming are spot on. The script is solid for a satisfying arc. The acting perfectly portrays real grunts (probably because much of the cast are vets.) The camera work is gorgeous, even if what’s on camera is absolutely disgusting. You can tell that everyone involved in the project poured their hearts into this film.

The film is crude. It’s so f*cking dark at times. I feel like a monster for laughing at moments that would make my family terrified. I f*cking love this film. It’s not going to see much play with a wider audience. Amazon banned it, the Department of Defense isn’t affiliated with it, and the only way to view it is on Vimeo at this link here.

And that’s alright. This film isn’t made for everyone. It’s made by vets, for vets. Time will tell that this film is going to endure and be a beloved classic among troops and veterans for years to come.

I give it 5.56 Stars.

You can watch the trailer below.

Articles

This was reportedly the youngest US serviceman killed in Vietnam

While most teenagers in the 1960s were worried about who they were going to take to the high school dance, Pfc. Dan Bullock was serving in Marine Corps and fighting against the communist guerilla army in North Vietnam.


At the age of 12, Bullock’s mother passed away forcing him and his sister to pack their North Carolina belongings and move up north to New York where they lived with their father and his new wife in Brooklyn.

But due to an unhappy home life, Bullock set his sights on joining the Marine Corps.

Related: Once upon a time, this ‘little kid’ was a lethal Vietnam War fighter

As other young men in those days decided to flee toward Canada to dodge the draft, Bullock decided to adjust the date on his birth certificate from Dec. 21, 1953 to Dec. 21, 1949, so he could enlist in the Marine Corps.

His newly revised birth certificate convinced Marine recruiters enough to let him join the Corps at the ripe age of 14.

In May of 1969, and within six months after graduating boot camp, Bullock arrived in Vietnam ready to fight with his platoon. He would be killed a month later.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
Dan Bullock wearing his dress blue uniform. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

On June 7, 1969, Bullock suffered significant wounds from an enemy satchel charge while serving in the Quang Nam Province and passed away shortly after, making Pfc. Bullock the youngest American to lose his life in the multi-year skirmish.

But it wasn’t until reporters visited Bullock’s family home when they discovered the tragic news of Bullock’s exact age — he was only 15.

Also Read: 5 key pieces of military technology developed by the US to fight the Vietnam War

Pfc. Dan Bullock’s memory can be honored on Panel 23W, Row 96 of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial.

Articles

The ‘Fork-tailed devil’ terrified Japanese pilots

Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.


Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.

While the XP-38 was a radical design, the Army adopted it anyway because they needed its power and speed to compete with new German and British designs. And it packed a lot of punch with four .50-cal. machine guns and a single 20 mm cannon, all crammed into the nose.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. It had four .50-cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon in its nose. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.

But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.

The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
The last known photograph of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto before he was killed by American P-38s. (Photo: Public Domain)

The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.

A kill team of four P-38s flew with 12 others to an intercept point, dropped their tanks, and attacked the two bombers and six fighters of Yamamoto’s flight and escort. Two Americans had to peal off when their drop tanks failed to disconnect, but the other 14 successfully downed both bombers and the Zeros bugged out. One P-38 was lost in the battle and Yamamoto was killed along with his deputy.

America’s top-scoring fighter ace of all time, Maj. Richard Bong, achieved all of his 40 aerial victories in P-38s and the number two ace, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., achieved most of his 38 kills in the P-38.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, America’s second-highest fighter Ace of all time. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.

In Europe, the plane that dominated over the Pacific became a major liability for pilots because it wasn’t designed to withstand the extreme cold of Europe’s winter air at 20,000 feet and higher, especially in the particularly bitter 1943-1944 winter.

Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.

He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.

And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.

Luckily, the debut of the P-51 gave a viable alternative to the P-38. It didn’t suffer from the cold-weather problems of the P-38 and had comparable or better speed, range, and maneuverability at most altitudes while being easier for rookies to fly. It’s only major shortcoming against the P-38 was that it had only one engine and it was more susceptible to damage than either of the Lightning’s two.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These historical sidearms of the US military perfectly show its evolution

A good sidearm is the ultimate plan B. You don’t want to have to use it, but if you do have to — it better work. They’re kind of the last line of defense for American freedom and they’ve come a long way in 240-plus years.

The sidearm has gone from a smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, single shot to SIG Sauer’s new, modular, 59-round monster which is also customizable for every user. No matter what your opinion of them might be, if they’ve ever kept you in the fight for even a minute longer, then they did their job.

These are most important sidearms the U.S. military has adopted over the last couple hundred years.


‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

1. Harper’s Ferry Model 1805

This was the first pistol ever made by a U.S. national armory. It was a flintlock pistol that lasted well into the Mexican War – but not for any particular reason besides apathy. They were heavy and tended to misfire. The Military Police Corps insignia still bears crossed 1805s to this day.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

I think we missed our chance for the Chuck Norris-Clint Eastwood movie about the 1847 Walker…

2. Colt M1847 Walker

Welcome to the dawn of a new era. This was the first mass-produced revolver and, at an astonishing 15 inches long, it was able to make its way down south in time to win the Mexican War. The “Walker” in its name comes from the Texas Ranger who helped design the .44-caliber weapon (no, it was not Chuck Norris).

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

“Colt: Now explosion free.”

3. Colt M1848 Dragoon

The 1847 held a lot of black powder, so when they exploded (as they sometimes did), it turned people off to the idea of buying another Colt firearm, which was bad for business. The 1848 revolver didn’t require so much powder — for a .44-caliber pistol, anyway. This weapon lived on all the way through the Civil War.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

4. Colt M1860 Army

This is a more powerful, updated version of a similar model Colt made for the U.S. Navy. It was widespread in the American Civil War by anyone who carried a sidearm (and by many who weren’t supposed to).

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

5. Remington New Model

Colt’s weapons production factory burned down in 1864 and the Army was still in the middle of fighting the Civil War, so they had to turn somewhere. Meanwhile, Remington’s sidearms had became more accurate without sacrificing the stopping power needed to tame the American frontier.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

6. Colt M1873 Single Action Army

Remington had a good run, but when it comes time to win the west, you need an American classic. And what could be more classic than a name that’s still known over 100 years later? We’re talking, of course, about the Colt .45. It was the standard-issue sidearm until 1892 and “The Peacemaker” also became synonymous with cowboys. This sidearm was commonly seen well into the 20th Century.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

7. Colt M1892 Double Action Army-Navy

This was Colt’s first double-action sidearm with a swing-out cylinder made for the U.S. military. The caliber was reduced to a .38, which was fine in most cases, but it famously was unable to stop charging Filipino freedom fighters, even with multiple shots, even at close range.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

8. Colt M1911

The legend. This weapon is more than 100 years old and is still used by Army and Navy special operators. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. Easily one of the most common firearms in the world to this day, this bad boy fought in almost every conflict from World War I to today.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

9. Beretta M9

The Beretta had a troubled history. From the ammunition pressure to slide failure injuries to a lack of confidence in the weapon’s performance and stopping power, the M9 was generally not accepted as one of the premiere firearms in American history. It had the lowest approval rating of any weapon used by troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The M1911 is a tough act to follow.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Few geniuses are recognized in their time and for better or for worse, Napoleon Bonaparte was one of those geniuses. “The Little Corporal” was loathed by European royalty as he upended royal houses across the continent, winning victory after stunning victory.

At its height, Napoleon’s French Empire controlled most of Europe, either directly or indirectly, placing his relatives and other rulers on various thrones as client states. This control extended to much of North and South America as well. 

To do this, he trounced every army, great power and coalition sent his way, stepping over formerly mighty nations, like Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Spain. To defeat him, the Sixth Coalition formed and decided on the grand strategy of not fighting him. 

Napoleon was successful on the battlefields of Europe for many reasons. He didn’t promote officers because of their family lineage, he promoted them because they were good at what they did. 

napoleon
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries (Public Domain)

Personally, he was successful for many reasons. First and foremost, he was fast. He could mobilize his well-organized armies much faster than other powers at the time, and once engaged, was able to quickly analyze battlefield situations. When his opponents made mistakes, his organization allowed him to exploit those errors quickly as well. This made him very aggressive on the battlefield, forcing his opponents to be on the defensive. 

He also was well-versed in historical fighting, from antiquity to the present. He read the works and histories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gusatvus Adolphus and Frederick the Great. He used these histories and applied their lessons to the warfare of the time. 

He did not follow the accepted practices of other powers and generals. Napoleon’s goal was the complete destruction of the enemy’s main force in a short time. He would outmaneuver his opponents to force them into a decisive battle where he had the advantage. Once his enemy was defeated, he would pursue the enemy force and destroy it completely. 

There were three main strategies to the emperor’s battlefield successes: the envelopment, the central position, and the frontal assault. Napoleon’s favorite was the envelopment, where his forces attempted to get behind the enemy formation and force them either to retreat or fight while surrounded. The central position was the classic “divide and conquer,” where he would keep a Corps between two enemy formations and defeat each one individually. 

If those two formations couldn’t work, he would use a frontal assault. Like the name implies, Napoleon would concentrate on the enemy’s center, with artillery support. When the enemy was weakened, he would send his reserves in to break the enemy line. The last required perfect timing and all could only be done with an army as mobile as Napoleon’s. 

There’s a reason Carl Von Clausewitz, who literally wrote the book on war, called Napoleon Bonaparte “The God of War.” 

To defeat the military genius, the coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and smaller German nations met at Trachtenberg in 1813, to discuss their strategy. They agreed that no one was willing to risk their armies against Napoleon directly. Instead, they decided on another plan.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
The Battle of Marengo was Napoleon’s first great victory as head of state. (Public Domain)

SInce he had already handed the Coalition defeats at  Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden, Coalition forces would not engage the emperor’s army. They would instead attack the armies led by his Marshals. In the meantime, they would form a numerically superior force that even Napoleon could not beat. 

The plan culminated in the Coalition victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. The goal of creating a large force came to fruition at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as Napoleon’s 177,000-strong army faced a Coalition Army of more than 250,000. In the largest battle Europe had ever seen up to that point (and wouldn’t see again until World War I), the Coalition finally handed Napoleon the decisive defeat they needed. 

The French were forced out of Germany as a number of German states switched sides against them. The next year, the Coalition invaded France and forced the emperor’s abdication and first exile to the island of Elba.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A drunk guy stole an armored carrier then promptly crashed it

A drunken man was detained after stealing an armored personnel carrier and crashing it into a supermarket in northwestern Russia on Jan. 10, police said.


Police said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the man stole the tank-like vehicle on caterpillar tracks from a military driving school in the city of Apatity in the far northern region of Murmansk.

Related: That time a drunk Richard Nixon tried to nuke North Korea

The school teaches driving skills to future army conscripts, but the vehicle had been stripped of weapons, police said.

On a joyride through Apatity, the man driving the armored vehicle badly damaged a parked car before careening through the supermarket window, police said.

After the crash, the man climbed out of the vehicle’s hatch and walked into the aisles of the supermarket before being detained, the police said.

After detaining the man, officials said police determined that he was drunk.

Local news website Hibinform reported that the man also attempted to steal a bottle of wine from the supermarket just before his arrest.

MIGHTY TRENDING

‘Moscow continues to weaponize space’ — US Military condemns Russia’s latest anti-satellite missile test

Space is no longer the battlefield of the future — it’s already a contested “warfighting domain,” within which the US, Russia, and China are all jockeying for advantage.

Russia recently tested another Earth-launched anti-satellite missile, US Space Command reported on Wednesday, underscoring what US officials say is Moscow’s continued militarization of space — one factor that spurred the US to create a dedicated Space Force in 2019.

“Russia has made space a warfighting domain by testing space-based and ground-based weapons intended to target and destroy satellites,” said US Army Gen. James Dickinson, US Space Command commander, in a release. “This fact is inconsistent with Moscow’s public claims that Russia seeks to prevent conflict in space.”

While Moscow has publicly declared that it opposes the weaponization of space, this week’s launch marked Russia’s third anti-satellite test this year, using a so-called direct-ascent anti-satellite missile (DA-ASAT).

“Russia publicly claims it is working to prevent the transformation of outer space into a battlefield, yet at the same time Moscow continues to weaponize space by developing and fielding on-orbit and ground-based capabilities that seek to exploit U.S. reliance on space-based systems,” Dickinson said. “Russia’s persistent testing of these systems demonstrates threats to U.S. and allied space systems are rapidly advancing.”

As recently as April, Russia has previously tested direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles. This type of weapon launches from Earth to destroy low-Earth-orbit satellites with a kinetic warhead — meaning that the weapon’s destructive capacity depends on its velocity at impact rather than an explosive charge.

The danger of testing such a weapon on an orbital target, US military officials say, is that once a target satellite is destroyed, even in testing, it can create an orbiting debris field that could potentially damage other satellites — or, even worse, such a debris field could pose a mortal danger to manned spacecraft.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
The Soyuz TMA-04M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on May 15, 2012, carrying Expedition 31 Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka, NASA flight engineer Joseph Acaba, and flight engineer Sergei Revin to the International Space Station. Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia Commons.

Russia is also developing “co-orbital,” space-based kinetic weapon systems, which can be launched from satellites already in orbit. Russia has reportedly tested this type of anti-satellite weapon in both 2017 and 2020.

According to a Space Force statement, on July 15 a Russian satellite released an object that moved “in proximity” to another Russian satellite. Based on the object’s trajectory, Space Force officials said it was likely a weapon rather than an inspection satellite, as Moscow claimed. That test was “another example that the threats to U.S. and Allied space systems are real, serious and increasing,” the Space Force said in a release at the time.

“This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk,” said Gen. John Raymond, then commander of US Space Command and current US Space Force chief of space operations, in the release.

Russia is also testing an anti-satellite laser weapon, the US military says. And according to some scientific journal reports, Russia may be resurrecting some Soviet-era anti-satellite missile programs, particularly one missile known as Kontakt, which was meant to be fired from a MiG-31D fighter.

Whereas the Soviet-era Kontakt system comprised a kinetic weapon intended to literally smash into US satellites to destroy them, the contemporary Russian program will likely carry a payload of micro “interceptor” satellites that can effectively ambush enemy satellites (a concept not unlike that of atmospheric “drone swarms”).

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command airmen from the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, Oct. 21, 2015. US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley.

Created in 2019, the US Space Force is the US military’s first new branch in more than 70 years. The Space Force falls under the purview of the Department of the Air Force — a relationship roughly analogous to that of the Marine Corps’ falling under the Department of the Navy.

“I would simply say we are building the United States Space Force to protect the free and benevolent use of that ultimate frontier, the ultimate high ground — space,” Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett said during a Nov. 16 speech.

Protecting America’s satellites is a vital national security interest, upon which much of our modern world depends. Thus, with America’s contemporary adversaries, such as China and Russia, developing their own novel military capacities in space, US military leaders say it’s important to field a military branch solely devoted to waging war in this increasingly contested combat domain.

Underscoring Beijing’s increased interest in its space program, China successfully launched an unmanned probe bound for Mars in June. And on Thursday, a Chinese probe returned to Earth after recovering rock samples from the surface of the moon.

“The establishment of U.S. Space Command as the nation’s unified combatant command for space and U.S. Space Force as the primary branch of the U.S. Armed Forces that presents space combat and combat support capabilities to U.S. Space Command could not have been timelier,” said Dickinson, the commander of US Space Command, in Wednesday’s release. “We stand ready and committed to deter aggression and defend our Nation and our allies from hostile acts in space.”

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the Strait of Hormuz is so important, in just 10 minutes

There’s a single waterway in the world that pops up in the news every year or so and, right now, is popping up every week or more: The Strait of Hormuz. When I was deployed with Army Central, we received a brief from senior leaders that was all about the importance of this single strip of water. If you’re still a little fuzzy on how Iran can pressure the rest of the world through such a small bit of water, here’s a great primer.


Why the US and Iran are fighting over this tiny waterway

www.youtube.com

The video above is from Vox. We’re going to highlight some details below, but you can understand the broad strokes just by watching that for 9.5 minutes.

The most important thing to understand is that one of the things that makes the strait so important is how small it is. There simply isn’t another economical way to ship most of the oil out of the gulf region, and the strait is so small that even a small navy like Iran’s can inflict serious pain.

It’s sort of like the “Hot Gates” from the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae. But America is Xerxes and Iran gets to play King Leonidas.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters

A map shows the network of oil pipelines that carries gas and oil from Russia to the rest of Europe.

(Samuel Bailey, CC BY 3.0)

And oil is, even more than most other commodities, a resource that is extremely price sensitive and the markets are so fluid (no pun intended) that reducing supply anywhere increases price everywhere. Oil coming through the strait is destined for markets around the world, especially the Pacific and Europe.

So, take Europe for a moment. Now, it can get oil from a lot of places. Rigs in the North Sea provide plenty of energy, and pipelines from Russia pump fuel as far west as Germany, Italy, and even England. But all of those markets count on the Russian oil, the North Sea oil, and oil from the Strait of Hormuz. If the oil from the gulf is threatened in the strait, then buyers start competing harder for Russian and North Sea oil and that drives up prices quickly.

And that drives up the price of everything. Petroleum drives cars, heating oil warms homes, lubricants are needed for everything from vehicles to ice cream makers to door hinges. An interruption of oil in the strait threatens 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, making everything more expensive and risking thousands of homes going cold.

But why is Iran willing to do this? After all, they are risking a new war by attacking tankers flagged by gulf and European countries.

Well, Iran needs sanctions relief, and right now that’s primarily a problem between them and the U.S. Sure, Europe has a longer trading relationship with Iran, and it has protested losing access to Iranian markets and oil during periods of American-led sanctions. But Europe has proven time and again that in a power struggle between the U.S. and Iran, Europe is willing to step aside.

Targeting oil in the strait allows Iran to spread the pain to other countries. Europe is forced off the sidelines as its access to energy markets is thrown into disarray. China, India, Japan, and South Korea are all top-five oil importers, and America—at number two—is the final member of the big 5. All of them feel the crunch when oil prices climb.

But there’s, obviously, a big risk for Iran. While China and Russia might side with Iran if only to counter American power, the rest of the world could easily decide that it’s easier to back the U.S. in a power play against Iran than to endure Iranian agitation.

Articles

These kids volunteered to fight in the trenches in WWI

In this day and age, allowing a minor to enlist in the military and be sent off to war is practically impossible — especially with our modern tracking systems.


But at the start of the 20th century, an accurate method of recording individual troop movement hadn’t been invented; thousands of soldiers would eventually go missing through the course of the war, many of whom were actually children.

After WWI reared its ugly head, military recruiters were paid bonuses for every man they enlisted. Countless young men, many of them orphans or just seeking adventure, would simply lie about their ages to join up.

The recruiters saw dollars signs and looked past any age issues as they wrote the coercible young boy’s names down, signing them up on the spot. Many feared the thought of going off to war but thought they would look weak if they didn’t take part with their friends — the ultimate peer pressure.

Related: Here are the five finalists competing to design the World War I Memorial

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These young boys swear in to join the fight. (Source: The Great War/ YouTube/ Screenshot)

The idea was extremely controversial at the time, but it didn’t stop the boys from volunteering as they showed up to the local recruiting offices in droves. It’s estimated that 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army alone.

Once they signed up, they were sent through some basic infantry training then whisked off the front lines.

‘Ask a Marine’: The inspiring story of the first black man on recruitment posters
This young boy mans his post. (Source: The Great War /YouTube /Screenshot)

Most famously was John Condon, an Irishman who is believed to have been the youngest combatant killed; at the age of 14, he died during a mustard gas attack in Belgium while serving in the third battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment.

Also Read: Here’s proof that every group of military buddies mirrors the kids from the movie ‘The Sandlot’

Typically, when a soldier was “confirmed” killed in the war, his family would receive word by telegram of the passing — if the proper forms were filled out, which in too many cases they weren’t.

The military has improved in this aspect. Today, an officer and a chaplain would show up on the families’ doorstep to deliver the dreadful news.

Fun fact: The word infantry derives from Italian word “infanteria” which means “youth, foot soldier.” That is all.

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