These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.


These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.

Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.

Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.

My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”

The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.

Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.

I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.

But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.

But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.

And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.

As Amy said the night before the funeral:

I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?

But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.

Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.

Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.

Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.

“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.

(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.

Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.

Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:

They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.

Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”

Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.

Articles

7 craziest commando missions of World War II

World War II was an exciting time for special operations and commandos. The advent of airborne operations gave them a whole new angle of approach, and the sheer scale of the war guaranteed that they’d have plenty of chances to use their skills.


But even accounting for those things, operators on both sides of the war distinguished themselves with daring missions.

Here are eight of the craziest:

1. A costly canoe raid against German ships

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
(Photo: Royal Marines Museum)

The “Cockleshell Heroes” were a group of British Royal Marines assigned the task of launching from a submarine and canoeing miles up the River Gironde to place limpet mines against the hull of German ships. The mission hit problems almost immediately as canoes were lost to tide and river obstacles.

Only two of the original five made it to the Bordeaux-Bassens docks. The four men who crewed the canoes placed mines on a few ships, which damaged some commercial vessels. While the material damage was limited, it boosted British morale and forced the Germans to devote more resources to defense in a way similar to the U.S. Army Air Force’s Doolittle Raid.

2. The failed attempt to kill Erwin Rommel

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
(Photo: German Federal Archives)

Operation Flipper had the lofty goal of crippling an Italian headquarters and intelligence office as well as killing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. The mission was beset by bad weather and the assault force that hit the German officer’s headquarters was smaller than planned.

Still, the British commandos broke into the headquarters building only to learn that Rommel had been delayed in Rome by his own weather problems. Only two raiders survived, but even Rommel admitted that it was a “brilliant operation.” He had the senior officer, British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes, killed and buried with full honors and photos sent to the family.

3. Norwegian resistance destroys Germany’s nuclear stockpile, twice

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
(Photo: Public Domain)

A first attempt on the Norsk Hydro Plant, where radioactive heavy water was processed and stored, failed but the survivors and their reinforcements hit the plant on Feb. 28, 1943, despite suffering from starvation and exhaustion. They were able to blow the storage facilities, setting German nuclear research back by at least months.

Months later, a new stockpile of German heavy water was being transported on a ferry when the Norwegian Resistance attacked once again, sinking the ferry and ending Germany’s last best chance at a nuclear reactor or bomb. One man, Knut Haukelid, participated in both raids.

4. German paratroopers take the world’s strongest fort

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
Fort Eben-Emael was arguably the world’s strongest fortress in May 1940, but it fell to 85 German paratroopers with the right plan. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

In 1940, the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael was arguably the world’s strongest fort. Constructed from 1932-1935, it was heavily armed and guarded by upwards of 800 soldiers. But Germany had to destroy or negate it to get the blitzkrieg into Belgium.

They did it in a single morning with 85 paratroopers. The men landed on the fort in gliders and quickly took hold of large sections of it, destroying or capturing the guns aimed at the countryside. When the rest of the German army arrived, the remaining defenders surrendered.

5. Benito Mussolini is rescued from a mountaintop retreat by German paratroopers

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
(Photo: Bundesarchiv)

In July 1943, Italian defeats turned the country against Benito Mussolini and he was exiled to a series of locations. A German commander was able to track the dictator to Gran Sasso, a mountaintop ski resort accessible only by cable car or glider. At 6,300 feet, it was too high even for an airborne assault.

German Capt. Otto Skorzeny led the glider assault. The paratroopers brought along an Italian general in the hopes that he would prevent a shootout. It worked. The Italian guards decided not to fight when the gliders crashed into the mountains and the paratroopers stormed out. Skorzeny and Mussolini departed on a small, high-altitude plane.

6. British commandos steal a German radar station

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
(Photo: Royal Air Force Squadron Leader A.E. Hill)

The insane plan for Operation Biting called for five groups of British paras to land in German-occupied France, capture a German radar station, and then make off with key pieces of the technology. The men landed under cover of darkness and quickly captured the building. They even managed to grab two technicians with intimate knowledge of the advanced German radar.

Paratroopers who missed their drop zone arrived late to destroy a German pillbox, a situation that almost ended with the withdrawing commandos being killed. Luckily, the men arrived in time to destroy the pillbox as it swept fire on the other commandos. The British escaped with their prize.

7. The British turn an entire ship into a bomb

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
The HMS Campbeltown sits on the lip of the Normandie dock after crashing into it. (Photo: German army archives)

Dubbed the “Greatest Raid of Them All,” the St. Nazaire Raid targeted the only German-held dry dock for heavy ships on the Atlantic that was accessible without passing German defenses. But the dry dock was heavily armed and far upriver.

The British sent a small flotilla of vessels led by the converted HMS Campbeltown. Sixteen were small motorboats, twelve of which were destroyed without reaching shore. But the Campbeltown managed to ram the gates of the dry dock. The Germans captured 215 of the 600 attackers and killed 169 more, but explosives hidden in the Campbeltown exploded the next morning, crippling the facilities.

Articles

This Pearl Harbor survivor was buried in the ship he escaped from

In the early hours of Dec. 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and launching President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.


Well into the attack, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.

Due to the events of that traumatic day, 1,177 Sailors and Marines lost their lives, but the numbers of those men buried at the historic site continue to increase.

Also read: 4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
The USS Arizona memorial as it exists today in Hawaii. (Source: History)

Master Chief Raymond Haerry (ret), served as a Boatswain’s Mate on the Arizona as it was bombed by enemy forces in the pacific fleet, which threw him from the ship and caused him to land in the oil and fire covered water.

Haerry had to swim his way to Ford Island — then got right back into the fight by firing back at the enemy. He was just 19 years old.

75 years after the attack, Haerry returned; his ashes were laid to rest inside the sunken ship’s hull, rejoining approximately 900 of his brothers. More than 100 people gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial for the symbolic funeral in his honor — a ceremony only offered to those who survived the deadly attack.

The retired Master Chief became the 42nd survivor to be placed at the site out of the 335 men who survived.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRYTQdgJZvU
(Global News, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Their first battle: Patton leads America’s first car attack

The man who would construct American armored units in France in World War I and lead combined arms units, with armor at the forefront, in World War II got his start leading cavalrymen and cars in Mexico. In fact, he probably led the first American motor-vehicle attack.


These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Pancho Villa, 5, Gen. John J. Pershing, 7, and Lt. George S. Patton Jr., 8, at a border conference in Texas in 1914.

(Public domain)

The boy who would be Gen. George S. Patton Jr. was born into wealth and privilege in California, but he was a rough-and-ready youth who wanted to be like his grandfather and great-uncle who had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

He attended West Point, became an Army officer, designed a saber for enlisted cavalrymen, and pursued battlefield command. When Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing was sent to Mexico to capture raiders under Pancho Villa, Patton came along.

Patton was on staff, so his chances of frontline service were a bit limited in the short term. But he made his own opportunities. And in Mexico, he did so in May 1916.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

U.S. Army soldiers on the Punitive Expedition in 1916.

(U.S. Department of Defense)

Patton led a foraging expedition of about a dozen men in three Dodge Touring Cars. Their job was just to buy food for the American soldiers, but one of the interpreters, himself a former bandit, recognized a man at one of the stops. Patton knew that a senior member of Villa’s gang was supposed to be hiding nearby, and so he began a search of nearby farms.

At San Miguelito, the men noticed someone running inside a home and Patton ordered six to cover the front of the house and sent two against the southern wall. Three riders tried to escape, and they rode right at Patton who shot two of their horses as the third attempted to flee. Several soldiers took shots at him and managed to knock him off his horse.

That third rider was Julio Gardenas, a senior leader of Pancho Villa’s gang. The first two riders were dead, and Gardenas was killed when he feigned surrender and then reached for his pistol. Patton ordered a withdrawal when the Americans spotted a large group of riders headed to the farm. They strapped the bodies to the hoods of the cars and went back to camp.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

An Associated Press report from the 1916 engagement. Historians are fairly certain that this initial report got the date and total number of U.S. participants wrong, believing the engagement actually took place on May 14 and involved 10 Americans.

(Newspapers.com, public domain)

It was a small, short engagement, but it boded well for the young cavalry officer. He had made a name for himself with Pershing, America’s greatest military mind at the time. He had also gotten into newspapers across the U.S. He was his typical, brash self when he wrote to his wife about the incident:

You are probably wondering if my conscience hurts me for killing a man [at home in front of his family]. It does not.

Patton’s bold leadership in Mexico set the stage for even greater responsibility a few short years later.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Lt. col. George S. Patton Jr., standing in front of a French Renault tank in the summer of 1918, just two years after he led a motor-vehicle charge in Mexico against bandits.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

When America joined World War I, Pershing was placed in command of the American Expeditionary Force.

Patton, interested in France and Britain’s new tanks, wrote a letter to Pershing asking to have his name considered for a slot if America stood up its own tank corps. He pointed out that he had cavalry experience, experience leading machine gunners, and, you know, was the only American officer known to have led a motorized car attack.

Pershing agreed, and on Nov. 10, 1917, Patton became the first American soldier assigned to tank warfare. He stood up the light tank school for the AEF and eventually led America’s first tank units into combat.

MIGHTY TRENDING

New engravings on the USMC War Memorial honor Iraq and Afghanistan Marines

On Nov. 22, the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, and the United States Marine Corps dedicated new engravings on the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial to include the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.


The names and dates of principal U.S. Marine Corps campaigns and battles are engraved at the base of the Marine Corps War Memorial as well as the Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” which means “always faithful” in Latin. The memorial also features the phrase, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” a quote from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in honor of the Marines’ action on Iwo Jima. While the statue depicts a famous photograph of a flag-raising on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.

“As the Deputy Commander of Special Forces in Iraq and retired Navy SEAL, I saw the commitment, patriotism, and fortitude that American servicemembers and their families display while serving our country. It’s a great honor to be a part of memorializing the Marines of the Global War on Terror,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Our warriors who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan see more frequent deployments as our nation has been at sustained combat for longer than in any previous point in our nation’s history. The Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are warriors in the field and leaders in the community, I salute them and am grateful for their service.”

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
As part of an ongoing restoration project, Iraq and Afghanistan have been added to the engravings on the base of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA. (Photo courtesy of US National Park Service)

President Trump has proclaimed November National Veterans and Military Family month. The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service recognize veterans and their families by caring for the battlefields, monuments, and memorials like the U.S.Marine Corps War Memorial that honors those who have served and who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

“These engravings represent the 1,481 Marines to date who gave all, as well as their surviving families and a Corps who will never forget them. The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial is a living tribute to warriors. It is a sacred place that symbolizes our commitment to our nation and to each other,” Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller said.

Related: The USMC War Memorial is about to get a $5 million facelift

Made possible by a $5.37 million donation by businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, the rehabilitation project also included cleaning and waxing the memorial, brazing bronze seams, and re-gilding letters and inscriptions on the sculpture base. Over the past four months, every inch of the 32-foot-tall statues of Marines raising the flag was examined. Holes, cracks, and seams on the bronze sculpture were brazed to prevent water damage.

“Today we’re simply adding two words to the Marine Corps memorial – Afghanistan and Iraq – but what they stand for is historic and should make every American pause and give thanks for the sacrifices of life and limb that our armed forces have made to protect our freedoms. It is the greatest of privileges to be able to honor our troops and military by helping to restore this iconic memorial,” David M. Rubenstein said.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
As part of an ongoing restoration project, Iraq and Afghanistan have been added to the engravings on the base of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA. (Photo courtesy of US National Park Service)

Rubenstein’s donation, announced in April 2015, was a leadership gift to the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks.

“Mr. Rubenstein’s commitment to America’s national parks is as inspiring as it is generous,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation. “We are extraordinarily grateful for his transformative gift to honor the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. Marines represented by this iconic memorial, an image imprinted in the collective memory of our nation.”

The next phase of the project will replace lighting, landscaping, and specially designed educational displays about the significance and importance of the memorial. The project is expected to be completed by fall 2018.

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways for military spouses to keep their own identity

Marrying someone in the military comes with a lot of “stuff.” Some of that stuff is so beautiful – like watching your service member put on their uniform and promising to protect this country – that it takes your breath away. Being married to a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Guardsman or Coastie is something that will absolutely enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams. But attached to the beautiful things are some harder parts of the military spouse life.


Walking through the journey of a military spouse comes with challenges. You will be faced with increased responsibilities and continual life changes. From learning the military lingo, acronyms, the ins and outs of Tricare, or managing an overseas PCS, the “opportunities” to learn are endless. But out of all the things to understand and navigate in military life, the most important thing to learn is how to not lose something really, really, important: yourself.

Much of this loss of identity comes initially due to the level of pride felt for your husband or wife’s service to the county. It is a life-changing and awe-inspiring thing to be a part of. Being involved as a military advocate or volunteering your time is an honorable thing, as long as you are doing it for the right reasons. It isn’t altogether uncommon for military spouses to completely lose their voice and sense of self. They get stuck behind their service member’s uniform. The key thing to remember is that you aren’t the one wearing it. They are.

Many military spouses stop going to school, working, or striving toward whatever their dreams were before they said: “I do.” Pair that with deployments and the stress of managing life alone can lead to depression, isolation, and unhappiness. A 2019 study found that 7% of female military spouses meet the criteria for depression, as compared to only 3% of females in the general population. That same study also showed higher rates of addiction to alcohol and binge drinking for military spouses.

For many military spouses, it is hard to recognize who they were before they married their service member. It’s much easier to press pause on your own life and wait for the mission to be complete. But when you do this, you miss so many of life’s opportunities in the process. With this loss of identity comes resentment, which can lead to divorce. The divorced military spouse has a new set of challenges, typically with children to support, no education, and a sparse resume. Now, these spouses have lost something they gave absolutely everything to: their military spouse title. Don’t let this be you.

Your service member will be working toward continual advancement in rank during their military career. You should also be living a life of purpose, intentionality, and advancing in your own growth right along with them. You only get one life, go live it!

Here are 6 ways for military spouses to keep their own identities:

Have the goal conversation before you get married

Be raw and honest with your service member. Lay out your goals for your future and plan for them together. All of them. It is advisable that you write them down and post them somewhere visible – this will be an accountability reminder for both of you.

Prepare to get creative

The military is going to change the path to your goals. Probably more than once, and yeah, it really sucks. Embrace the suck and have a plan b, c, and d. Your goals are worth it. You are worth it.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Don’t ever stop learning

This is the number one mistake military spouses make. If you are in school when you meet your service member, don’t you dare stop going. Also, see above.

Swallow your pride and use the resources

As a military spouse, you will have so much support; say yes to all of the things.

  • Military spouse scholarships are everywhere to help you pay for schooling. Don’t be too proud to apply.
  • Career counseling and resume building assistance will be available to you. Go make your appointment.
These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talk during the kickoff of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

Mingle

Network with other military spouses who are in your wheelhouse. They get it and will help you navigate your journey more successfully. This is one of the military life’s most beautiful blessings; that instant connection with the military community. Life is better with MilSpouse besties.

Want to be a stay at home parent or military spouse? Do it right.

If being in this role makes your heart sing – go for it! Do what sets your soul on fire; do not settle or give up your own personal dreams for your future. If being a stay at home parent or spouse is your jam, go all in. Make sure you own that choice, and you are making yourself happy. No one, not even your uniformed service member, can do that for you.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What Chinese veterans of Korea think about their war

The Korean War is strange anomaly in the history of American wars, especially of the 20th Century. So much consideration is reserved for wars and the people who fought them in today’s culture that it makes the term “the forgotten war” seem like an impossibility. But that’s what we face with Korean War veterans.

Theirs is a very insular generation of veterans. Those who don’t share an experience in World War II or Vietnam because they only fought in Korea, they can only find an ever-dwindling number of fellow Korean War veterans.


Because of this, they have a very detailed memory and analysis of not just their part in the war, but of the entire war itself, so conversations tend to be lively between them. And, if you have a question, you will find a thoughtful answer. They’ve discussed every aspect of the war quite a bit.

Related: ‘Anyone trying to kill me, I’m going to kill them’

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

Some Korean War veterans, like the “Chosin Few” seen here, form alumni groups of single battles.

So it makes sense that whenever I talk to Korean War veterans, there’s one thing they all say they want to do: talk to veterans who were fighting on the other side of the fiercest battles. Whenever old adversaries get together, the talk generally comes to heal the emotional wounds of both parties, whether it’s between Americans and Germans, Japanese, or Vietnamese counterparts.

“They were fighting under the same orders I had,” Marine Corps veteran Joe Owen said when he told me about North Korean troops just days before his death in 2015. Owen was a lieutenant at the Chosin Reservoir. “They were out to kill me, as I was out to kill them… I respect them. I’d love to sit down with one of them and bullshit with them about what they were doing at such and such a time, especially if they were in the same battle as I was.”

But Korean War veterans will likely never get this experience.

North Korea is called the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. It is extremely difficult to get in as an outsider, especially as a U.S. military veteran. North Korea did not fare well during the Korean War. Despite its early success, the North was pretty much ravaged and bombed away for three years and today’s North Koreans remember the war very differently than the rest of the world. An American Korean War veteran visiting the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang would either have to be extremely diplomatic or agree to a vow of silence as he walked through.

Chinese veterans of the war are a different matter. China is a much more open, and relatively progressive country. The Chinese People’s Volunteer Army sent upwards of a million Chinese to North Korea during the war, with many of the surviving veterans still alive, like Zhang Yuzeng. Zhang told Voice of America News that even though the two were allies, North Koreans generally acted independently and the two forces couldn’t understand each other.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
“There were few [North Koreans],” he said. “[They were] badly equipped and were not as good at fighting…”The North Korean army would go first and we followed; we stopped where they stopped.”

To the Chinese fighters, they were protecting their country from American Imperialism, a protection they firmly believed was necessary. CNN interviewed a Chinese veteran of Korea at his retirement home in Henan Province. He proudly wears his Chinese Army dress uniform. He told CNN it was necessary to help the Korean people during the war.

“The people of Korea were suffering,” Duan said.”Seeing the people of Korea farming the land and being killed by enemy planes … what were they to do if they could not farm? The planes would just come and bomb them to death. We had to help protect the people of Korea.”

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

A United States Marine stands guard over captured North Koreans just after the Inchon Landing.

Now Read: 8 parting thoughts from one of the Marine Corps’ ‘Chosin Few’

Zhang Kuiyuan joined the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army at age 18 and was sent to Korea. He drove a supply truck to the front lines and also mentioned the lack of cooperation. They were not even to speak to or form relationships with the locals.

“We didn’t have many contacts with the North Koreans unless we were cooperating in the same hills,” he said. Duan Keke remarked that North Korean people today probably have no idea what sacrifices were made by the Chinese fighting man on their behalf, since they were not allowed to communicate on a personal level. He laments that the Koreans only know what their government wants them to know.

What the Chinese and American Korean War veterans have in common is that their war, decades old, remains “forgotten” – especially by the youth of their respective countries.

“Young people? Of course they don’t know,” says You Jie Xiang, a former infantry soldier who was assigned to guard American POWs. “These wars took place decades ago. All the young people have no idea.”

Like Joe Owen, the salty former lieutenant who commanded Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, these Chinese veterans harbor no ill will toward their former adversaries. They call Americans a “peaceful people” who “did not want a war in Korea.”

“War is death,” the old Chinese vets agree, nodding to each other.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

The Marines want a missile to chase down moving ships in the South China Sea and other contested waterways

The US Marine Corps says it needs ground-launched missiles that can seek out and eliminate enemy ships sailing in contested waterways.


“Part of the homework that the Navy and Marine Corps have done over the past six months is how we think we’re going to need to operate in the future as an integrated naval force,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

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“That means the Marine Corps assumes a role which we have not had in the past 20 years, which is how do we contribute to sea control and sea denial,” he added.

The Marines have practiced striking stationary ships from land and sea with missiles launched from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, but now the service wants to take it a step further and hit ships on the move.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant for Combat Development and Integration, said the Corps wants a system with an active seeker that can chase down a moving ship, something it doesn’t currently have.

“We have to have a system that can go after that,” Smith told lawmakers. “That is what matters in a contested environment in the South China Sea or in the [Indo-Pacific Command] area.”

Changing the calculus of an adversary

The Marines are currently looking at the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), which has a range of roughly 750 nautical miles, as a Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missile (GBASM) solution.

Smith said the service will test fire the system in June.

The NSM is “capable of sea-skimming, high-g maneuverability, and the ability to engage targets from the side, rather than top-down,” according to written testimony submitted to the HASC.

The missile is already deployed aboard Navy littoral combat ships, one of which deployed to the Pacific with the missile last year.

The NSM would be fired from a mobile launch platform based on an unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle called the Remotely Operated Ground Unit for Expeditionary Fires, or ROGUE-Fires, vehicle. The missile and the vehicle together are the Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), the testimony says.

The GBASM and ROGUE-Fires vehicle are “rapid prototyping and development initiatives” for the Corps, according to documents submitted as part of the service’s 2021 budget proposal.

Both have proven successful in war games and simulations, Berger said Thursday.

“Game-changer is probably an over-the-top characterization, but it definitely changes the calculus of an adversary,” Berger said.

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US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey conducts a Tomahawk missile flight test in the western Pacific, August 17, 2018.

US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Devin M. Langer

Range beyond restrictions

The fiscal year 2021 budget proposal included a request for 48 Tomahawk missiles, likely the maritime variant, which appears to be first for the Corps.

“What we need is long-range precision fires for a small unit, a series of units that can, from ship or from shore, hold an adversary’s naval force at risk. That missile is going to help us do that,” Berger told the SASC.

The Navy is pursuing a number of long-range anti-ship missiles, among them the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, a maritime variant of the land-attack cruise missile with an active seeker to track moving ships.

Berger said the Tomahawk “could be the answer or could be the first step toward a longer-term answer five, six, seven years from now.”

With the collapse last year of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — which banned ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 km and 5,000 km (310 miles and 3,100 miles) — after the US withdrew in response to alleged Russian violations, the Marine Corps has more freedom when it comes to ground-launched missiles.

Asked if the request for Tomahawks was a result of the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Berger said he “would assume so” but “hadn’t linked the two together.”

“We just knew we need a long-range precision fires beyond the range that we were restricted to before,” he added.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY FIT

5 of the best shoulder exercises you should be doing in the gym

Nobody wants to be the weakest troop in their unit. Some people are naturally gifted with the ability to put on layers on muscle quickly, while others spend hours in the gym to grow a single fiber.


However, natural ability aside, many newbies who go to the gym don’t know how to properly lift a weight or how many reps they should be doing in each set.

In general, certain muscle groups are easier to bulk up than others. One common problem area is the shoulders. Considered a weak joint, properly developing definition in the shoulder is best done by emphasizing form over heft.

There are a lot of advanced exercises in the workout vault, but beginners can get away with doing a few of these basic weighted movements to get those healthy-looking shoulders.

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Seated overhead dumbbell press

The exercise allows you to use all three of your shoulder muscles at once. As an added bonus, this compound movement also works out your triceps. Sit down, grab some weights you’re comfy with and settle into a position with the weights lifted to about your ears, elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Then, push up.

Make sure that you don’t lock your elbows out at the top of the rep. That’s bad for your joints and we want to avoid injury. So, always keep a slight bend in your elbow. After the rep, don’t use gravity to lower the weights. Instead, use your shoulder muscles to slowly lower the weight back to the original position.

Cool? Now go and do eight to twelve more, followed up by two to three more sets.

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Plate press out

This one doesn’t requires a barbell, just a weighted plate heavy enough to challenge you. All you need to do is grab onto a weighted plate, usually gripping around 9 and 3 o’clock, and hold it close to your chest. Then, extend your arms out parallel to the deck and slowly bring it back in.

Cool? Now go and do eight to twelve more and follow it up with two to three additional sets.

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Lateral raises

For a lateral raise, you’re not going to need a lot of weight, so don’t use this movement to impress any girls or guys at the gym. Begin by sitting or standing up straight whiling holding a workable weight in each hand down by your sides (near your hips). Once you’re ready to start the rep, raise your hands up and away from your body to each side until your arms are parallel and lower slowly.

You’ll want to do two to three sets of eight to twelve.

Easy day!

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Shoulder shrugs

You know when your first sergeant gives a lousy order and you shrug your shoulders out of silent, out-of-sight protest? It’s the same thing, but this time you have a manageable weight in your hands.

Cool? Now go and do eight to twelve more of those f*ckers and follow it up with two to three more sets.

Moving on!

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Rear delt flys

Now it’s time to bend over and work the rear shoulder muscles, also known as your posterior deltoids. While using those same manageable weights, start in a static position, kick the weight back by rotating your thumbs downward like you’re pouring Patron into a shot glass, then slowly return to the starting position.

Got it? Good. Now go and do eight to twelve more, followed up by another two-to-three sets.

Remember, control and form are everything while trying to build muscle.

MIGHTY TRENDING

See these Afghan Black Hawks fly their first mission

The Afghan Air Force has been making major changes in its inventory lately. Once a user of primarily Russian aircraft, the Afghans are switching to American systems — and they’re buying a lot of them.

At present, the Afghan National Air Force is operating four Mi-25 Hind attack helicopters, 40 Mi-8/Mi-17 Hip transport helicopters, 12 A-29 Super Tucanos, 10 UH-1H Iroquois utility helicopters, 24 MD530 attack helicopters, and four UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters. This is already a varied force, with more on the way.


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An Afghan Air Force member inspects a UH-60 Black Hawk as air crews prepare for their first Afghan-led operational mission on this aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)

The Afghan Air Force has 154 MD530s on order along with 155 UH-60As. This gives them a lot of rotary-wing capability for taking on the Taliban and is a level of force the country hasn’t seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. What few planes and helicopters remained flyable after Soviet support evaporated with the end of the Cold War were taken out by the United States of America. Rebuilding that lost capability has been a long process.

The UH-60A, the baseline version of the highly versatile H-60 airframe, has a crew of three and can haul 11 troops or up to 8,000 pounds of cargo. It entered service in 1979 and has been used internationally ever since. By comparison, the Mi-8/Mi-17 entered service in 1967, has a crew of three, and can hold 26 passengers or up to 8,800 pounds of cargo.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

A graduate from UH-60 Mission Qualification Training proudly holds his certificate of training at a graduation ceremony the day before the Afghan Air Force launched its first operational mission with the UH-60A Blckhawk.

(U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Erin Recanzone)

One step on that long road to restoring a national force was recently taken when three Afghan Air Force UH-60s took part in a mission to support provincial elections in Afghanistan. The mission took place the day after Mission Qualification Training for the Afghan personnel.

The United States has been fighting the Taliban for almost 17 years, but this mission is a clear sign that the Afghan government is starting to bring more power to the fight.

Watch the Afghan Black Hawks leave for their first mission in the video below.

MIGHTY CULTURE

What a federal air marshal has to say about travel safety

When preparing to travel, we typically think of how to artfully pack our suitcase to make it past TSA regulations. We’re often annoyed by the inconvenience of security measures, while trying to navigate busy and sometimes unfamiliar airports. Unfortunately, most don’t see the bigger picture. In the wake of September 11, stricter screening procedures were put in place to help deter violence in airports and on aircrafts. Although this has arguably increased safety while in transit, it has left some people feeling helpless once they arrive at their final destination.

Believe it or not, most Americans rely on others for their personal safety. Whether it’s the TSA, military, law enforcement, or private security, in the wake of an emergency, people commonly look to them as the sole providers of protection and safety. But we can’t count on others for an instant, effective response. This is even more of a concern when traveling in an unknown area, state, or country that prevents you from carrying a firearm or a handheld weapon.


Former federal air marshal Richard A. St. Pierre suggests that personal safety and accountability is always having an entrance and exit plan whether it’s at home, the airport, a restaurant, or a foreign country. There are measures you can take to maintain your personal safety in spite of restrictions imposed by your travel. But first, we’ll review some statistics and events that’ll hopefully help you understand why it’s important to be more prepared when traveling.

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In January 2013, Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old Staten Island mother and wife, was killed while traveling in Turkey. During an interview, her killer stated that after drinking alcohol and sniffing paint thinner he stumbled upon Sierra, who was walking alone. He told authorities that he attempted to kiss her and she resisted, striking him with her cell phone. Then, he dragged her into an alcove, where she attempted to fight him off for approximately 30 minutes. Some would conclude that traveling alone in Istanbul, Turkey, simply isn’t safe. But what about the incidents that happen in our backyard? On Oct. 1, 2017, at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival held in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire on concertgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 and injuring more than 400. Our goal isn’t to talk about what the victims might’ve done, but to acknowledge that evil exists and prepare ourselves to combat it as best we can.

Studies show that, as of 2013, the average response time for law enforcement nationwide is 11 to 18 minutes. Conversely, a commonly cited statistic is that the average gunfight lasts three seconds, while a shooting incident lasts approximately 12.5 minutes. These statistics suggest that, on average, we may not be able to rely on others for help when we most need it, and we’re ultimately responsible for our own safety. With these numbers at our disposal it may be hard to understand why daily habits of preparedness aren’t more common compared to other “universal” safety rituals, like installing smoke detectors in our homes in case of a fire, wearing seatbelts while driving in case of an accident, and locking our doors to deter theft. Still, the average American neglects daily practices focusing on personal protection.

Here are some recommended steps that you can take to increase your awareness and safety before, during, and after traveling.

Before travel

The first step in protecting ourselves, or loved ones at home or on the road is having a plan. Whether it includes carrying a firearm or an edged weapon, being proficient in hand-to-hand combat, or simply being able to remain calm, think, react, and communicate appropriately. It’s important to identify a survival resource and train it consistently, helping to develop an ingrained mental pathway for our safety habits.

If you’re traveling domestically, carrying a firearm once you arrive at your destination may be an option, but first you must research the firearms and carry laws of that locality. Does it have reciprocity with your home state? If not, what are the local licensing laws? If flying with a firearm or handheld weapon, you should check with both TSA and the airline to ensure you follow proper procedures to do so. For international travel, you don’t have this option.

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Prior to travel, research your destination. If flying into an airport or arriving in a train station, look into the various modes of transportation within the area and how to access them. For example, is public transportation a practical option and known to be safe? To get an idea about crime trends throughout the transiting area, check out the free crime reporting website Spotcrime.com. It’s light on details, but it’ll give you an idea of what areas have high instances of crime.

If you’re using taxi or car services, identify reputable companies and pick-up locations ahead of time and know whether or not they’re regulated in that area. In the U.S., taxi services are regulated and have set prices in each state; they generally offer two to three different price brackets for daytime, nighttime, and peak hours. Furthermore, most taxis are outfitted with security cameras and GPS locators. If traveling internationally, not all cabs are regulated. If using a cab, you’re better off calling for one rather than hailing one. When the cab arrives, look for numbers and labeling on the outside. On the inside, look for a meter, radio, and badge. Know where you’re going and be aware of local currency conversions.

Other popular transportation options are ride-sharing services, such as Uber, UberX, or Lyft. Most ride-share services have come under regulation — the respective state and territory governments have set varying requirements on drivers before they’re eligible for work. Uber drivers are generally required to hold a state-based driver authority (much like a taxi driver), which usually involves a criminal history and medical check as well as providing proof of insurance. Aside from regulations most ride-share services have a number of different parameters in place to ensure passengers safety to include:

  • No Anonymity: Passengers are given a driver’s name, photo, vehicle information, and contact number. The trip is also kept on record.
  • GPS Tracking: Once your driver accepts you request, your trip is tracked via GPS on your phone and the driver’s phone. You also have the ability to share your ride with your friends or family so they can keep track of your ride.
  • Rating System: Drivers are anonymously reviewed by passengers on a scale of 1 to 5. Drivers may have their accounts deactivated if they consistently receive low ratings.

Make sure to note any neighborhoods or areas plagued with high crime and avoid them if possible. Crimereports.com is a great way to search crime data by region, address, zip code, or law enforcement agency.

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Having a plan and knowing where you’re going will reduce any unnecessary loitering that could reveal to predators that you’re unfamiliar with the area.

If staying in a hotel, try to find a known, reputable brand. Most hotel chains have a rewards program and website to book reservations through, which often include a star rating system. When making your reservation, request a room off of the ground floor. Higher floors help prevent someone from walking in off the street and easily gaining access to your room. Once your reservation is made, record the hotel’s address and contact information, and store it somewhere that you can easily access once you arrive. Fumbling through your personal belongings creates distractions and opportunities for human predators.

If you’ve booked your travel accommodations through an online hospitality service that rents private residences like Airbnb or VRBO, knowing the area becomes even more important. Is the area of the rental safe? Is it accessible to public transportation? Will it be owner-occupied while you’re renting? Is there parking available at or near the rental, if renting a car or driving to your destination? Always know whom you’re renting from by reading previous renter reviews and renting from a verified source.

During travel

Don’t advertise solo travel or that you’re a tourist. Always move with confidence even if you feel unsure. Don’t be flashy with clothing or accessories. If traveling internationally, be sure to know local customs and dress accordingly. Be aware of cultural etiquette for the areas you’ll be visiting, whether in or out of the United States. Remember that anything you say or do in public can be overheard or observed. Like the World War II saying “loose lips sink ships,” gabbing openly about your plans, where you’re staying, or how excited you are to finally get out on your own could inadvertently put you at risk if you happen to be amongst the wrong crowd. Do your best to favor well-lit areas with lots of public traffic. If you plan to drink alcoholic beverages, know your limits, don’t leave drinks unattended, and don’t accept drinks from strangers. The importance of selecting a reputable car services applies doubly when you’re tipsy. We know of several people who’ve been mugged or worse because they had one too many and assumed that once they got in a cab everything would be fine.

The loose lips rule applies to hotel staff equally as anyone else. Have just one keycard made for your room, to help prevent misplacing or losing track of keys. When in your room, make sure to lock the door and utilize any additional security locks. Note that not all hotel doors have supplemental security features, so consider travelling with a rubber or tactical doorstop with which you can chock the door from the inside to make it harder for someone to force access. If there’s a safe in the room, always keep identification papers and high-dollar items locked up. If an in-room safe isn’t available, the front desk may have a safe deposit box. When leaving your room, place the do not disturb card on the outside of the door and leave the radio or TV on. This will make your room appear occupied, especially when traveling alone.

Prior to checking out of the hotel, double-check the safe for personal items. Do a full sweep of your hotel room to ensure you don’t leave any personal affects behind. Make sure not to leave anything in the trash that could be used to identify you, such as old boarding tickets, receipts, mail, or agendas. Although most hotels have stopped attaching personal information to room keys, turn in or take hotel keys with you.

Again, if you’re staying at a private residence that you booked through an online hospitality service, preparedness is paramount to your safety. Communicate through the site you book through, set expectations with your host for your visit ahead of time, and don’t leave personal items behind.

Try to remain especially alert at the airport or in any major transportation hub. Hundreds of thousands of people transit through these various networks on a daily basis from all over the world, making it a target-rich environment. As always, maintain accountability for your personal items and never leave them unattended. If you forget this last part, the incessant loudspeaker announcements in most major airports will no doubt remind you.

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(ControlRisks.com)

After travel

Even after travelling, safety is paramount. Once home, check your luggage to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind. Also, run periodic checks of your bank accounts and credit card statements to make sure none of your accounts were compromised. It’s also a good practice to occasionally check your credit statement for fraudulent activity.

Maintain awareness in all senses of the word. Just because you safely made it back to the comforts of your own home doesn’t mean that risks are no longer present. We often become complacent in our daily routines, and it’s just as important for us to maintain vigilance while conducting daily activities. Whether you’re traveling to and from work, to another state, across the country, or internationally, personal accountability and preparedness are the two most important factors to ensure that you and your loved ones don’t become victims.

Do:
  • Online research of crime reports in the area you intend to stay.
  • Lock sensitive items up in a hotel safe and copies of identification on your person.
  • Call for a taxi from an accredited company or ride-sharing service rather than hailing one.
  • Periodically check your bank and credit card statements to watch for any fraudulent activity.
Don’t:
  • Leave drinks unattended or accept any from strangers.
  • Travel alone, especially in unfamiliar areas.
  • Post information on social media regarding your whereabouts and status abroad until after you return home.
  • Leave receipts, boarding passes, and other information that can be used to identify you behind in hotel rooms.

Hana L. Bilodeau has over 15 years of law enforcement experience, serving both locally and federally. Most recently, she spent time with the Federal Air Marshal Service covering multiple domestic and international missions. Hana has a wealth of knowledge in a number of different defensive modalities to include her present role as a full-time firearms instructor for SIG SAUER Academy. Hana is also a per diem deputy with the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office, allowing her to stay current with the law enforcement culture.

This article originally appeared on Recoilweb. Follow @RecoilMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Canada’s WWII plan to build an aircraft carrier made of ice

When we think of crazy military schemes, we probably think of the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. From nuclear-tipped kamikaze pilots to a base on the moon to secret listening cats, the two superpowers came up with a lot of unconventional ideas for fighting World War III.


These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
If outfitting cats to be radio transmitters is crazy, then I don’t want to be sane.

 

So no one would blame you if you thought the idea of a silly military scheme from Canada was a little far-fetched. The U.S.’ northern neighbors are very rational, logical, and don’t feel the need to project global military power.

During World War II, however, everyone was looking for the edge that could end the war in their favor. And since Canada was such an integral part of the British Empire, she was willing to put some ideas to the test…like, say an aircraft carrier made of ice in the mountains of Alberta.

Only it wasn’t so crazy.

Project Habakkuk was the British effort to make unsinkable, non-melting landing strips made of Pykrete — a slurry of ice and sawdust. Pykrete (named for the inventor, Geoffrey Pyke) floated in water and would help keep the ice from melting during the summer months. Upon hearing about this, one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s scientific advisors made his way to Churchill’s bath and tossed a piece in.

 

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
You know you’re the boss when you make people meet you in the bathtub. And they show up.

It floated in the bath water and the wheels of invention began to turn. Churchill long had an idea for protecting British shipping but couldn’t spare the steel. Pykrete was an excellent material for his new endeavor.

British fighters patrolling for U-Boats in the North Atlantic were limited in the time they could loiter in the air above shipping lanes. If the Allies could create unsinkable floating refueling stations throughout the area, the planes could land, refuel, and continue the mission. More shipping would undoubtedly get through to England. The idea was first floated on Canada’s Patricia Lake in 1943.

A 1,000-ton, 1:50 scale model was constructed on the Canadian lake to keep the material frozen while keeping the idea away from Nazi spies and saboteurs. The project was dubbed “Habakkuk,” and would be a ship 2000 feet long and 100 feet thick. The actual ship needed 26 electric motors and a 15-story rudder to support its massive 7,000 mile operational range.

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An artist’s concept drawing of Habakkuk.

Unfortunately, despite the success of keeping the Pykrete ship frozen throughout the Canadian summer and the material standing the test of being rebuilt, the cost of actually building the size necessary to fit the plan was just too high.

The British abandoned the 60-foot long model, where parts of its construction (the non-ice parts) can be found on the bottom of Patricia Lake to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bloodiest day in British military history

World War I is not the bloodiest war in the history of war, but rapid advances in technology as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics resulted in possibly the bloodiest day in British military history when the nation lost almost 20,000 troops on July 1, 1916.


The roots of the bloodshed of July 1 date back before the war even started as the Gatling Gun gave way to true machine guns, originally known as “gunpowder engines,” and advances in mortars, artillery, and even the standard rifle made soldiers of all types much more lethal.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
Members of the British Border Regiment rest in dugouts during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)

But, importantly, many of these breakthroughs favored static defenses. Soldiers could march forward with machine guns, but they would struggle to quickly emplace them and get them into operation. Defenders, meanwhile, could build fortifications around their machine guns and mow down enemy forces with near impunity.

After the war started in 1914, Germany managed to quickly move into France before getting bogged down in a line that eventually stretched across Europe. A German attack at Verdun in early 1916 became a black hole for French troops. The attack was designed to bleed France dry and force it out of the war.

The Germans expected Britain to launch its own attack against German lines to relieve the pressure from France. And Britain did have a plan for an attack, but it would prove to be a failure.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
General Sir Sam Hughes watches a British attack at the Battle of the Somme, October 1917.
(BiblioArchives, CC BY 2.0)

A joint British-Franco assault was scheduled for the summer. The main thrust was to come along a narrow stretch of the River Somme and the first day would see approximately 100,000 British troops rushing German lines in what was hoped to be a quick advance.

The date was eventually set for July 1, 1916, and the British initiated a massive artillery bombardment for a week before the assault. But the Germans were able to move most of their troops into fortifications in the trenches, and relatively few troops were lost in the week before the British attacked.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
Staged film frame from The Battle of the Somme, a propaganda film that was likely filmed before the battle.
(Imperial War Museum)
 

When the artillery suddenly stopped on the morning of July 1, German machine gunners moved back to their positions and looked up to see thousands of British troops marching towards them.

The machine gunners opened up, artillery spotters started calling for fires, hell rained down on British troops.

The day wore on, and British troops kept marching across. Entire units took losses of 90 percent, basically wiping them out. British forces took 60 percent casualties wounded, missing, and killed. Approximately 19,240 of which were fatalities. They had taken three square miles territory.

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book
Soldiers with the Royal Irish Rifles sit in a communication trench on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since France suffered 190,000 casualties during the fight in the Somme, even that is a dubious success.

But the battle wasn’t over. While small changes in tactics and the later introduction of the tank reduced the number of casualties that Britain took, the battle would wage on for five months and the combatants eventually inflicted over 1,000,000 casualties on one another.

While Britain failed to take most of its planned objectives despite throwing hundreds of thousands of men into the grinder, one part was successful. German forces were forced to move some artillery and troops from the attack on Verdun to the Somme, relieving pressure on the French defenders.

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