How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Through the cockpit windscreen, Capt. Robert Morgan saw flashes of light from the wings and engine cowling of a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 at his 12 o’clock and closing at an incredible rate. Each wink of light from the fighter’s wing root meant another 20mm cannon shell was heading directly at his B-17F Flying Fortress at over 2,300 feet per second.

Having no room to dive in the crowded formation of B-17 bombers of the 91st Bomb Group, he pitched up. The Luftwaffe fighter’s shells impacted the tail of the aircraft instead of coming straight through the windscreen.


Over the intercom Morgan heard his tail gunner, Sgt. John Quinlan, yelling that the aircraft’s tail was shot to pieces and what was left was in flames.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

It was January 23, 1943. Morgan and his nine crewmen aboard the “Memphis Belle” had just fought their way through a swarm of Luftwaffe fighters, dropped their bombs on a Nazi submarine base in the coastal city of Lorient in occupied France and were fighting to survive the return trip to the Eighth Air Force base in Bassingbourn, England. Morgan began calculating if the crew should bail out and become prisoners of war before the tail tore completely off the bomber trapping the crew in a death spiral culminating in a fiery crash.

A moment later, Quinlan reported that the fire in the tail had gone out. The “Memphis Belle” and its crew would survive the mission; the crew’s eighth and the bomber’s ninth.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

They would have to survive 17 more missions to complete the required 25 to rotate home. All would be flown during a period of World War II when the Luftwaffe was at the height of its destructive powers.

Against all odds, the “Memphis Belle” crew flew those missions, their last to once again bomb the U-boat pens at Lorient on May 17, 1943, before returning safely to England for the final time. Bottles of Champagne were uncorked and radio operator Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Hanson collapsed onto the flightline and kissed the ground.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

For the “Belle” itself, it was only mission 24 and the plane had to fly once more with an alternate crew on May 19.

The B-17 and its crew would be the first to return alive and intact to the U.S. They were welcomed as heroes and immediately embarked on a 2 ½-month, nationwide morale tour to sell war bonds. The tour was also to encourage bomber crews in training that they too could make it home. It made celebrities of both the “Belle” and its crew.

Ironically, the two and a half months of press conferences, parties and glad-handing officers and politicians was about the same amount of time during the “Belle’s” combat tour that 80 percent of the 91st Bomb Group’s B-17s and their crews were lost to German fighters and anti-aircraft fire.

“Eighty percent losses means you had breakfast with 10 men and dinner with only two of those 10,” Morgan said in an interview after the war. During the totality of the air war over Europe more than 30,000 U.S. Airmen aboard heavy bombers, like the B-17, would be killed.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(U.S. Air Force photo)

Seventy-five years to the day after that 25th mission, the Museum of the U.S. Air Force will honor the bravery of those bomber crews, some of the first Americans to take the fight to the Nazis in WWII, when they unveil for public display the largely restored B-17F, Serial No. 41-24485, “Memphis Belle” as part of a three-day celebration, May 17-19, 2018.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
Download the Museum Brochure Here

According to the museum curator in charge of the “Memphis Belle” exhibit, Jeff Duford, the weekend will include more than 160 WWII re-enactors showcasing their memorabilia, WWII-era music and vehicles, static displays of other B-17s, flyovers of WWII-era aircraft and presentations of rare archival film footage. The “Memphis Belle” will be the centerpiece of an exhibit documenting the strategic bombing campaign over Europe.

“The ‘Memphis Belle’ is an icon that represents all the heavy bomber crewmen who served and sacrificed in Europe in World War II,” Duford said, “In many ways the ‘Memphis Belle’ is the icon for the United States Air Force.

“You look at the U.S. Marines, they have this wonderful icon of the flag being raised over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima and everyone recognizes that. It symbolizes service and sacrifice and tenacity and teamwork. Well, the Air Force has that symbol too, and it’s this airplane. It demonstrates teamwork. The crews had to work together. The planes in formation had to work together. The formations had to work together with the fighter escorts.”

The service and sacrifice of the young men still leaves Duford awestruck even after working on the “Belle” project for a decade.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(U.S. Army photo)

“How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that they are probably not going to come home? And they don’t do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times – they have to do it 25 times,” said Duford. “Once they got inside the airplane, they had no place to run. There were no foxholes to be dug. The skin on those airplanes is so thin that a bullet or flak fragment would go through it like a tin can because that’s essentially what it was.

“The odds were that every 18 missions, a heavy bomber was going to be shot down. So when you think the crew had to finish 25 missions to go home, statistically it was nearly impossible. It was one-in-four odds that a heavy bomber recruit would finish their 25 missions. Those other three crew members would’ve been shot down and captured, killed or wounded so badly they couldn’t finish their tour.”

The fact the “Memphis Belle” crew survived their tour was of great value to the U.S. Army Air Forces in maintaining support for the daylight strategic bombing campaign over Europe, which was still, in fact, an experiment.

“Back then, there was no book on high altitude strategic bombing. The generals didn’t know any more than we did. They had to figure bombing strategy as we went along,” said Morgan in a book he would write after the war, “The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle”.

The B-17 was named the “Flying Fortress”, because it was bristling with .50 caliber machine guns covering every angle of attack by German fighters, save one. The theory was that all that defensive firepower would be amplified by heavy bombers flying in tight formations, called “boxes”, enabling them to protect each other from attacking fighters.

While the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters sometimes paid a price for attacking the formations, they soon developed tactics that exploited a design weakness in B-17Fs, like the “Memphis Belle”.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
German Luftwaffe models used in fighter pilot training show the fields of fire covered by the machine guns of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While twin .50 caliber machine guns in top and belly turrets and the tail and single .50 cal. gunners protected the bomber, the 12 o’clock position was covered by a lone .30 caliber machine gun – no match for the German fighters. Because the bomber formations had to fly straight and level to initiate their bombing run, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots began attacking the formations head on. The ensuing carnage was ghastly.

“The secret to the B-17 was the capability of flying in tight formations, so tight that the wings were often almost touching,” wrote Morgan. “We were able to put out an amazing amount of firepower… but, I also positively feel that was a bit of divine intervention for our crew.”

While the addition of Allied fighter escorts helped fend off some German attackers, the fact that the B-17s had to fly at 25,000 feet or lower to maintain any semblance of accuracy on target put them in the range of the deadly German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. No amount of machine guns or friendly fighters could counter the dense flak approaching targets while flying straight and level.

Bomber crews had to just grit their teeth and pray.

“They felt like they were a great crew. They were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing,” said Duford. “However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too.”

Luck, both good and bad, was also a factor in the “Belle” crew, despite not being the first crew to complete 25 missions, being the one to return to the U.S. for a bond and morale tour.

The “Belle’s” selection for the morale tour was the result of a film project about the strategic bombing campaign that was the brainchild of USAAF Gen. Hap Arnold and a Hollywood director, William Wyler, who had volunteered to serve his country in the best way he knew how.

It was hoped that a film documenting a bomber crew as they successfully completed a combat tour would calm new recruits, who were hearing stories of the carnage overseas, and assuage the doubts of the public, press and politicians that strategic bombing was a failure.

Wyler, an immigrant who was born in the Alsace region of modern-day France when it was part of the German Empire prior to World War I and who would go on to win three Best Director Academy Awards, including one for “Ben-Hur”, was commissioned as a major and headed to England with a film crew to document the fight in skies over Europe.

Wyler and his cameraman flew with B-17 combat crews and began filming missions of a B-17F of the 401st Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group named “Invasion II”. His staff also began interviewing and making publicity photographs of the crewmembers, as they drew closer to completing 25 missions.

However, on April 17, 1943, the reality of war spoiled the Hollywood ending during their 23rd mission to Bremen, Germany. Invasion II crashed after being hit by flak over Borhmen, Germany, setting the cockpit and wing on fire. The crew managed to bail out, but all became prisoners of war.

Wyler regrouped and found a plane and crew with the 324th Bomb Squadron that was also close to completing their combat tour. The “Memphis Belle”, named for Morgan’s girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tennessee, and its crew took center stage.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
The crew of the 358th Bomb Squadron Boeing B-17F ‘Hell’s Angels’ completed its 25th mission on May 13, 1943.
(U.S. Army Air Forces photo)

While the crew of “Hell’s Angels” completed their tour on May 13, 1943, four days before the “Belle”, there was no film of that plane and crew. Consequently, it was the “Belle” and its crew that would fly mission 26 back to the U.S. and receive a hero’s welcome.

Wyler’s film, “Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress”, would be released and distributed by Paramount Pictures the following year.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo)

It was a film that came with a high price tag. One of Wyler’s cinematographers, 1st Lt. Harold J. Tannenbaum, a veteran of World War I, was killed in action during the filming when the bomber he was in was shot down over France on April 16, 1943.

Until the end of the war, the “Belle” was used as a training aircraft, but instead of being torn apart for scrap like most of the other 12,700 B-17s built during the war, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, put the aircraft on display for nearly 50 years.

The historic aircraft came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in October 2005, when work began on a careful, multi-year conservation and restoration effort including corrosion treatment and the full outfitting of missing equipment.

Casey Simmons arrived shortly after the “Memphis Belle” as a restoration specialist for the museum.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

From the beginning, it was apparent that priority one in the restoration was getting it right. His first assignment was to fabricate a glycol heater that was missing from inside the left wing. No visitor to the museum would ever see it.

“I know it’s there and that’s cool because it’s going to get all the parts that it needs to be a complete aircraft,” said Simmons. “When you don’t have the part you try and find a part from another airplane or you go to the blueprints and make the part completely from scratch.”

While the museum has other B-17s in its collection, the “Memphis Belle” requires a whole other level of patience and dedication.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
(Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

“Other restoration projects are typically a general model of a certain aircraft. So it represents a lot of them. This one is a specific aircraft, so you have to get it right; exactly to the rivet,” said Simmons.

The museum specialist did not try to restore the “Belle” to how it rolled off the Boeing line, but utilized films, photos and records from its time in combat to bring the B-17F back to fighting trim, scars and all.

“There are certain damage spots on the “Memphis Belle” that were fixed over time, so we have to make sure that those show up on the aircraft the way they were,” said Simmons. “If they put five rivets in an area as opposed to the standard four that are supposed to be there, we have to get that correct… When you go through video footage, old film footage, or photographs, and you do find a little glimpse of what you’re looking for, that’s a big moment. We have to get it right for those bomber crews.”

The bravery of those bomber crews continued after all the whoopla back home died down. Even Morgan was eager to get back in the fight.

While on a morale tour stop in Wichita, Kansas, Morgan caught a glimpse of the future of strategic bombing, the still secret B-29 Superfortress. He volunteered immediately to train on the new bomber and earned command of his own squadron of B-29s that deployed to Saipan in the Pacific Theater.

On November 24, 1944, his 869th Squadron of the 497th Bomb Group was the first, other than Doolittle’s Raiders in 1942, to bomb Tokyo. He would go on to complete another 24 combat missions in the B-29 before the end of WWII. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1965 as a colonel.

While the restoration and display of the “Memphis Belle” will ensure the story of the dedication, bravery and airmanship of its 10 crewmembers that returned home safely in 1943 honors all the Airmen that fought in WWII, Duford is particularly enthusiastic that the exhibit will allow Museum of U.S. Air Force visitors to learn the story of the little known 11th crewmember of the “Memphis Belle”.

As much as any Airman, he embodied the spirit and sense of duty shared by all the heavy bomber crews.

“It’s the story of one of the waist gunners, Emerson Scott Miller,” said Duford. “You don’t see him in any of the war bond photos and you don’t see his name listed as one of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew members. He came overseas as a technician repairing the autopilot systems on B-17s. He was safe. He didn’t have to fly the missions but he decided he wanted to do more and volunteered to fly in combat. He joined the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew after they had flown about nine or 10 of their missions. So he had flown 16 of his missions when the rest of the ‘Memphis Belle’ crew completed their 25th.

“Capt. Robert Morgan really wanted Scott Miller to come back on the war bond tour, but Miller hadn’t finished his 25th mission, so he had to stay. While the ‘Belle’ crew was celebrated and famous and there were parties for them, Scott Miller was still flying in combat.”

Fittingly, Miller finished his 25th mission aboard another B-17 on July 4, 1943, but for him, there were no parades, no press conferences, no meeting movie stars and no special duties.

“We got in touch with Scott Miller’s family,” said Duford. “They donated a trunk full of artifacts, and so Scott Miller has a place in the exhibit and his story will be told… He could have just simply done his duty repairing those autopilot systems and gone home safe. But he put his life on the line and then was forgotten. Now he’s going to be remembered now and for generations to come.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened when the Nazi generals turned themselves in, 75 years ago

After the final German surrender on May 7, 1945, the Allied forces began arresting German leaders accused of war crimes, summoning some to headquarters in order to turn themselves in and sending teams to arrest those who would resist or attempt to escape.

Here’s what happened to the enemy leaders after their final surrender:


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First, many of them were placed in front of western newspaper reporters for lengthy interviews and press conferences. This included heads of the navy and army, including Fuhrer Karl Dönitz, the admiral who took control of Germany after Hitler’s suicide.

While it may seem odd to give reporters first crack at questioning the prisoners, it makes a certain kind of sense for democracies, republics, and parliamentary countries that need to reward their people for maintaining the faith through years of bloody, costly warfare.

The newspaper reports and video from the interviews were quickly distributed throughout Europe and America, and summations of the events were broadcasted to Japanese troops to make sure they know that they were all alone in resisting Allied advances.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Military police read news of the Nazi surrender. Military police would later provide the guards for the trials of Nazi leaders.

(U.S. Army)

But, the prisoners wouldn’t get to enjoy themselves in front of cameras for long. By that point, Allied troops had already liberated dozens of concentration camps and captured communications and testimony from prisoners of war showed that the German army had been complicit with the SS in the crimes.

For these and other charges, the arrested military leaders were moved to prisons, stripped of their weapons and papers, and detained.

They would all face tribunals or German courts, many of them at the famous Nuremberg Trials.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, a high-ranking officer of the Third Reich who was later charged and convicted of war crimes.

(Bundesarchiv Bild, colorized)

For instance, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, one of the top officers at the negotiations for Germany’s surrender, was later charged with a number of crimes, including supporting the use of slave labor in concentration camps and targeting civilian populations in both Russia and Norway.

His boss, Dönitz, would be charged with “planning aggressive war” and Erich Raeder, a career naval officer who led the sea branch for five years during the war, received the same charge in conjunction with his leading of unrestricted submarine warfare.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Nazi defendants during the Nuremberg trials.

(National Archives)

The Nuremberg Trials, where 24 of the accused were indicted, were controversial among the Allies, mostly because Stalin and Churchill thought criminal trials were unnecessary and simply proposed summary executions. Stalin was especially ruthless, proposing the execution of 50,000 to 100,000 staff officers.

But in the Nuremberg trials and other court proceedings, an actual system of justice was created based on the traditions of the U.S., Great Britain, France, and Russia. There was no modern history of international justice in 1945, and the western powers had to decide how to do everything, from admitting evidence to questioning witnesses.

When the trials were held, they provided something that summary executions or even trials in one country’s judiciary could: facts. As prosecutors were forced to bring up the mountains of evidence to convict these men, it created a public record of their crimes and the facts surrounding them.

Broadly, the charges at Nuremberg and similar trials were grouped into three categories. The first was crimes against peace, the second was war crimes, and the third was crimes against humanity.

Out of 24 originally indicted, 20 defendants were convicted and received sentences that ranged in severity, from 10 years in prison to death by hanging. For those sentenced to die, 10 of the sentences were conducted in a single 103-minute block by an American master sergeant.

Another defendant had been sentenced to death in absentia, while another prisoner and the former head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, killed himself with a cyanide tablet the night before his execution.

Of course, those given prison sentences or acquitted were eventually able to rejoin the civilian world, often writing memoirs of their experiences during the war and the Nuremberg process.

While they would argue at the time and in the future that the Nuremberg process was flawed, largely because it was a group of victors in a war prosecuting enemy generals for actions that weren’t crimes at the time they were committed, the success of the Nuremberg process created some accountability for World War II and provided the framework for future war crimes trials.

MIGHTY TRENDING

West backs up Ukraine as it tries to recover captured sailors

A Russian court has ordered several of the Ukrainian sailors who were captured by Russian coast-guard forces during a confrontation at sea off Crimea to be held in custody for two months.

The Nov. 27, 2018, rulings by the court in Simferopol, the capital of Russian-controlled Crimea, signaled the Kremlin’s defiance of calls by Kyiv and the West to release two dozen crew members who were seized along with three Ukrainian Navy vessels following hours of hostility at sea two days earlier.


Raising the stakes after tensions spiked when Russian coast-guard craft rammed and fired on the Ukrainian boats on Nov. 25, 2018, the court was holding custody hearings for 12 of the crewmen. A Russian official said nine others would face hearings on Nov. 28, 2018.

So far, four have been ordered held in pretrial detention — which usually means custody behind bars in a jail — until Jan. 25, 2019. Under Russian law, detention terms can be extended by courts at the request of prosecutors, and it was not immediately clear when the sailors might face trial.

Officials identified the Ukrainians as Volodymyr Varemez, the captain of a navy tugboat that was rammed by a Russian vessel, and sailors Serhiy Tsybizov, Andriy Oprysko, and Viktor Bespalchenko.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that the Ukrainians were charged with “illegal border crossing by a group of individuals acting in collusion, or by an organized group, or with the use of or the threat to use violence.”

The court hearings came hours after Western leaders, speaking on Nov. 26, 2018, condemned what they called Russia’s “outrageous” violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty as well as international maritime treaties, and called on Moscow to immediately release the detainees.

Conflicting reports have put the number of Ukrainians detained at 23 and 24. The court rulings put them in a situation similar to that of several Ukrainians, including film director Oleh Sentsov, who are being held in Russian prisons and jails for what Kyiv and Western governments say are political reasons.

In the running confrontation off Crimea on Nov. 25, 2018, a Russian coast-guard vessel rammed the Ukrainian tugboat in an initial encounter, and a few hours later the Russian vessels opened fire before special forces stormed the three Ukrainian boats. Six Ukrainians were injured.

The hostilities injected yet more animus into the badly damaged relationship between Kyiv and Moscow, which seized Crimea in March 2014 and backs armed separatists in a simmering war that has killed more than 10,300 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.

Those Russian actions, a response to the downfall of a Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was pushed from power by the pro-European protest movement known as the Euromaidan, have also severely damaged its ties with the West.

The confrontation came days before Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump ion the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.

It followed months of growing tension over the waters in and around the Kerch Strait — the narrow body of water, now spanned by a bridge from Russia to Crimea, that is the only route for ships traveling between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, where Ukraine has several ports, including Mariupol.

On Nov. 26, 2018, Ukraine declared martial law in 10 of its 27 regions — including all of those that border Russia or have coastlines — following what it called a Russian “act of aggression.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned “this aggressive Russian action,” and called on Moscow to return the vessels and crews, and abide by Ukraine’s “internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters.”

Pompeo said both sides should “exercise restraint and abide by their international obligations and commitments” and said Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, should “engage directly to resolve this situation.”

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Nov. 26, 2018, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and a “reckless Russian escalation” of its conflict with Ukraine.

Britain’s Deputy UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said Russia “wants to consolidate its illegal annexation of Crimea and annex the Sea of Azov.”

The international community will not accept this, he said, insisting that Russia “must not be allowed to rewrite history by establishing new realities on the ground.”

Martial law will come into force on Nov. 28, 2018, in 10 Ukrainian regions that Poroshenko said are the most vulnerable to “aggression from Russia,” and will be in place for 30 days.

The measure includes a partial mobilization of forces, a strengthening of Ukraine’s air defenses, and other unspecified steps “to strengthen the counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and countersabotage regime.”

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Putin expressed “serious concern” over the Ukrainian decision in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on Nov. 27, 2018.

The Russian leader also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” a statement said.

“The imposition of martial law in various regions potentially could lead to the threat of an escalation of tension in the conflict region, in the southeast” of Ukraine, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later told reporters.

Hours before the court hearings, Russian state-run TV channel Rossia-24 showed images of several of the detained Ukrainians that were apparently recorded during interrogations by Russia’s security services.

One of them parroted the version of events put forward by Russian authorities, saying, “The actions of the Ukrainian armed vessels in the Kerch Strait had a provocative character.”

One of the detained appeared to be reading his statement. Russian law enforcement agencies frequently provide state media with footage of suspects being questioned under duress.

In Kyiv, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) confirmed that a number of its officers were among those captured.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

One of them was seriously wounded after a Russian aircraft fired two missiles at the Ukrainian boats, SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak said in a statement.

Calling Russia’s capture of Ukrainian crews “unacceptable,” the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Russia to “immediately release” those detained and provide them with medical aid.

She also called on both sides to use “utmost restraint” to prevent the only live war in Europe from escalating.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia “has to understand that its actions have consequences. We will remain in contact with the Ukrainian government to underline our support.”

Unlike other U.S. officials, who vocally backed Ukraine and criticized Russia, President Trump did not name either country in a brief response to a reporter’s question about the confrontation.

“Either way, we don’t like what’s happening. And hopefully they’ll get straightened out. I know Europe is not — they are not thrilled. They are working on it, too. We are all working on it together,” Trump said.

Russia’s acting UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, accused the Ukrainian Navy of “staging an aggressive provocation,” which he claimed was aimed at drumming up public support for Poroshenko ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election in March.

“They have no hope to remain in power otherwise,” he said, while condemning Western leaders for condoning what he called their “puppets” in Kyiv.

“I want to warn you that the policy run by Kyiv in coordination with the EU and the U.S. of provoking conflict with Russia is fraught with most serious consequences,” Polyansky said.

At the outset of the UN Security Council meeting on the incident, Russia suffered a setback after it sought to discuss the clash under an agenda item that described the incident as a violation of Russia’s borders.

This was rejected in a procedural vote, with only China, Bolivia, and Kazakhstan siding with Russia. The Security Council then discussed the clash under terms laid out by Ukraine.

The naval confrontation took place as the Ukrainian vessels were approaching the Kerch Strait, the only access to the Sea of Azov.

A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters.

But Moscow has been asserting greater control since its takeover of Crimea — particularly since May 2018, when it opened a bridge linking the peninsula to Russian territory on the eastern side of the Kerch Strait.

“I have to emphasize that, according to the international law, Crimea and respective territorial waters are the Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko told the Security Council.

“Hence, there are no Russian borders in the area where the incident happened. I repeat — there are no Russian state borders around the Crimean Peninsula,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

These soldiers are headed to the World Championships

The U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program has three soldier-athletes headed to the Track and Field World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, September 2019.

“It is always amazing and satisfying for coaches and staff to witness soldier-athletes’ hard work and perseverance pay off within the WCAP program,” said Col. Sean Ryan, WCAP track and field coach.

WCAP, part of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation G9 division of U.S. Army Installation Management Command, allows top-ranked soldier-athletes to perform at the international level while also serving their nation in the military.


At the 2019 Track and Field Outdoor Championships, in Des Moines, Iowa, two soldier-athletes earned their spot for the World Championships. Staff Sgt. Hillary Bor won gold in the men’s 5,000-meter steeplechase, and Sgt. Leonard Korir won the bronze medal in the men’s 10,000-meter.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Staff Sgt. Hillary bor, center, after receiving his gold medal for the men’s 5,000-meter steeplechase at the 2019 Track and Field Outdoor Championships.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

“It was a really hard race, to be honest. It was really hot, and I kept telling myself to push it,” said Bor.

The hot race was a small homecoming for Bor who attended college at Iowa State University before joining the Army.

“When you are a crowd favorite coming in, it is a lot of pressure. In my mind I knew the fans wanted me to win, that gives you more adrenaline,” said Bor. “I have run on this track a thousand times so it feels good to win in Des Moines.”

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Sgt. Leonard Korir, far right, running during the in the men’s 10,000-meter race at the Track and Field Outdoor Championships.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

Bor secured gold after coming in second place the past two years. He attributes the Army for the reason he continues to run.

“To win and represent the U.S. Army is everything to me,” said Bor.”It is an honor to run for the Army.”

Korir, the 2016 Olympian, won third place in a rainy 10,000-meter race.

“The weather conditions during the championships replicated real world conditions our brave soldiers face every day in battle,” said Ryan. “The battle, or race in this case, does not stop due to pouring rain or extreme heat, and both Bor and Korir displayed the same resiliency taught in their military schooling.”

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Col. Sean Ryan, World Class Athlete Program Track and Field Coach, with Sgt. Leonard Korir after he won the bronze medal in the men’s 5,000-meter race at the Track and Field Outdoor Championships.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

“This is my third time making the World Championships team, and I am so happy for myself,” said Korir. “We are excited and ready to represent the U.S. Army and America.”

Second Lt. Elkanah Kibet is also headed to the World Championships to compete on the marathon team.

“The soldier-athletes have shown their determination and ‘never quit’ attitude during multiple championship races, one of the many reasons they have represented the U.S. national teams and Army internationally,” said Ryan.

The soldier-athletes are now preparing for the World Championships and the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These fighter pilots literally pushed their wingmen to safety

These fighter pilots demonstrated this commitment with unwavering loyalty and bravery.


On September 15, 1952, Air Force Capt. James Risner was escorting a flight of F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bombers on an attack on a chemical plant along the Yalu River. Flying his F-86 Sabre fighter jet, Risner engaged an attacking enemy MiG and chased it at nearly supersonic speed at ground level. Risner pursued the MiG across the Yalu River and into Chinese airspace. He landed several solid hits on the MiG with his .50-caliber machine guns which shot off the enemy jet’s canopy and set it on fire. Risner chased the MiG over a Chinese air base where it crashed into more MiGs parked on the ground. Throughout this engagement, Risner’s wingman, 1st Lt. Joseph Logan, was flying in pursuit and covering Risner’s six.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Risner poses in front of an F-86 (Photo by the United States Air Force)

As the flight headed for home, Logan’s Sabre was hit by enemy flak—fuel and hydraulic fluid gushed out of the wounded jet’s belly. Logan had only five minutes of fuel left; not enough to get him out of enemy territory. Refusing to abandon his wingman, Risner told Logan to shut his engine down and lined up behind him. He skillfully inched the upper lip of his Sabre’s air intake toward the tailpipe of Logan’s Sabre until they made contact. Despite fuel and hydraulic fluid obscuring his canopy and turbulence constantly separating the two aircraft, Risner persisted in his endeavor to push his wingman to safety.

After almost 60 miles of pushing, the two planes were finally over the ocean and in range of rescue swimmers. Logan called out to Risner, “I’ll see you at base tonight,” and bailed out of his stricken aircraft. Despite being a strong swimmer, Logan became tangled in his parachute shroud lines and tragically drowned off the coast of Cho Do Island. Having burned extra fuel to push his wingman, Risner’s Sabre ran out of fuel and he glided to a dead-stick landing at Kimpo Air Base. Over a decade later during the Vietnam War, two Air Force fighter jet crews would find themselves in a similar situation to Risner and Logan.

In 1967, Capt. Bob Pardo with Weapon System Officer 1st Lt. Steve Wayne and his wingman Capt. Earl Aman and his Weapon System Officer 1st Lt. Robert Houghton flew F-4 Phantom II fighter jets from Ubon Air Base in Thailand. On March 10, they were a part of a bombing run on a steel mill just north of Hanoi in North Vietnam. Heavy anti-aircraft fire cut through the skies, damaging both Phantom IIs. Aman and Houghton’s plane took a direct hit to the fuel tank and quickly lost most of their precious fuel. Without the range needed to make it to the KC-135 refueling tanker over Laos, Aman and Houghton would have to bail out over the unfriendly skies of North Vietnam. To prevent this, Pardo decided to push the stricken plane.

First, he had Aman jettison his drag chute so that he could insert his fighter’s nose into the drag chute compartment, much like Risner did with the tailpipe of Logan’s Sabre. However, the aerodynamic properties of the two aircraft created a suction that threatened to pull Pardo and Wayne up into Aman and Houghton’s plane. Pardo then had the idea to push the Phantom II from its tailhook. Originally designed for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, the F-4 Phantom II was equipped with a tailhook to snag arresting cables and land on aircraft carriers.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

An F-4 Phantom II’s drag chute in its compartment (Photo by David Wallace, Jr.)

With the tailhook lowered, it provided about 4 feet of standoff distance between the two planes—just enough to prevent the deadly aerodynamic interference. Pardo then maneuvered his F-4 under and behind Aman’s until the tailhook was resting on the front of his windscreen. Aman then shut down his engines as Pardo pushed to keep his wingman airborne. The stunt worked to slow the rate of descent of Aman and Houghton’s aircraft. However, every 15 to 30 seconds, the tailhook would slide off of the windscreen and Pardo would have to line back up and re-establish connection.

Pardo and Wayne were also struggling with a fire in their port-side engine, eventually having to shut it down. After 88 miles of pushing, both aircraft reached Laotian airspace at an altitude of just 6,000 feet.

Aman and Houghton ejected safely, but Pardo and Wayne had burned so much fuel that they were forced to eject just ahead of them. All but Wayne had to evade enemy forces on the ground before they were located by friendly forces and rescued. Pardo and Wayne were initially reprimanded for losing their aircraft and putting their own lives in danger. It wasn’t until 1989 that the military re-examined “Pardo’s Push”, as it came to be known, and awarded the Silver Star to both Pardo and Wayne.

Both Risner and Pardo persisted in their commitment to their comrades in arms. During the Vietnam War, Risner was shot down over North Vietnam and was imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton for seven years, four months, and 27 days. During this time, he and Navy Commander James Stockdale led the American resistance in the prison and organized the other POWs to present maximum resistance to their captors.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Risner answers questions at a press conference after he is released from captivity. (Photo by the United States Air Force)

After retiring from the Air Force, Pardo learned that Aman had developed Lou Gehrig’s disease and lost both his voice and mobility. He created the Earl Aman Foundation to raise money and buy his wingman a voice synthesizer, a motorized wheelchair, and a computer. The two men remained close friends until Aman’s death in 1998.

The bonds formed by these airmen in the crucible of aerial combat manifested in their refusal to abandon their wingmen and willingness to risk life and limb to save them. It is a commitment that is difficult to understand for people who have not experienced it firsthand, but Risner, Wayne and Pardo’s selfless actions help to demonstrate its power and magnitude.

Featured photo: Pardo’s Push (Painting by S.W. Ferguson/Retrieved from warhistoryonline.com)

Articles

Russian bombers and patrol planes carry out major probes around Japan

Heightened tensions in the East Asia region increased after Japan scrambled F-15J Eagle fighters in response to Russian military activity.


According to a report by the Daily Mail, the first incident involved a pair of Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers. Japan then scrambled the Eagles, which are locally-built versions of the F-15C Eagle in service with the United States Air Force.

The Russians later sent two pairs of maritime patrol planes. One consisted of Tu-142 “Bears,” the other were Ilyushin Il-38 “May” aircraft.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
A Russian Tu-95 Bear ‘H’ photographed from a RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert aircraft (QRA) with 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars in Scotland. (Photo by Ministry of Defense)

The actions come as the United States and Japan are planning what Reuters called a “joint show of force” in the East China Sea. The United States has sent the Nimitz-class carrier U.S. Carl Vinson (CVN 70) to the area as the tensions have risen, and Japan reportedly plans to deploy destroyers alongside the American carrier.

In March 2017, the United States and Japan conducted joint drills, and Japan sent their newest carrier, the Izumo to the South China Sea.

The Tu-95 “Bear” is Russia’s primary strategic bomber. According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, it has a range of 8,100 nautical miles without aerial refueling.

Depending on the version, it can carry up to 16 AS-15 “Kent” cruise missiles that have nuclear or conventional warheads. The plane can also carry anti-ship missiles or regular bombs.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

The Tu-142 is an antisubmarine-warfare aircraft based on the Tu-95. This plane was exported to India in the 1980s, and it served until late March 2017, when it was replaced with P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

The Il-38 is a maritime patrol aircraft that is smaller than the Tu-142. According to the Naval Institute Guide to World Military Aviation, the Il-38 has a range of 3,890 nautical miles, a top speed of 390 knots, and can carry up to 11,000 pounds of ordnance.

The Il-38 was involved in a February 2017 incident in which the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) was buzzed.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Doolittle Raid carrier found at the bottom of the pacific

The wreckage of a World War II US Navy aircraft carrier was found on the floor of the South Pacific Ocean more than 76 years after it sank.

The USS Hornet sank during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on Oct. 26, 1942, killing about 140 of its 2,200 sailors and crew members. It lay on the seabed until January 2019, when it was discovered more than 17,000 feet (5,000 meters) below the ocean’s surface.


The discovery was announced on Feb. 12, 2019 by Vulcan, a company founded by Paul Allen, the Microsoft cofounder who died in October 2018. Allen’s estate owns the RV Petrel research vessel that found the Hornet.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

An F4F Wildcat aircraft with its wings folded was discovered with the wreckage of the USS Hornet.

(Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

Robert Kraft, Vulcan’s director of subsea operations, said in a statement that the mission to find the Hornet was in honor of Allen.

“Paul Allen was particularly interested in aircraft carriers, so this was a discovery that honors his memory,” Kraft said.

He added: “We had the Hornet on our list of WWII warships that we wanted to locate because of its place in history as a capitol carrier that saw many pivotal moments in naval battles.”

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

The RV Petrel deployed its autonomous underwater vehicle in the search for the USS Hornet.

(Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

The Hornet was commissioned in October 1941, launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and played a key role in the US victory in the Battle of Midway with Japan in 1942, sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers.

But the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, one year after it was commissioned, was its last fight. On the first day, it was hit by four bombs and two torpedoes in 10 minutes. Most crew members were transferred to another ship, while others tried to repair the damage.

It was attacked again with a torpedo and two bombs, and the rest of the crew abandoned it. It sank the next morning.

Richard Nowatzki, a gunner on the ship who survived the battle, told CBS News that when enemy planes left, “we were dead in the water.”

“They used armor-piercing bombs,” he said. “Now when they come down, you hear ’em going through the decks … plink, plink, plink, plink … and then when they explode the whole ship shakes.”

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Damage on the hull of the USS Hornet.

(Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)

A 10-person crew on the 250-foot Petrel found the wreck on the first mission of its autonomous underwater vehicle by using data from national and naval archives, Vulcan said.

A 10-person crew on the 250-foot Petrel found the wreck on the first mission of its autonomous underwater vehicle by using data from national and naval archives, Vulcan said.

Featured image: Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia denies claim poisoning suspect is Russian intelligence

The Russian government and media are casting doubt on a new report claiming to reveal the true identity of a Russian man Britain accuses of the nerve-agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in southern England.

The Sept. 26, 2018 report by the investigative website Bellingcat and its Russian partner, The Insider, claims to have conclusively demonstrated that the poisoning suspect known publicly as “Ruslan Boshirov” is, in fact, a decorated colonel in the Russian military whose real name is Anatoly Chepiga.

Russia has repeatedly denied and mocked British allegations that it is responsible for the March poisoning of Skripal and his daughter with the Soviet-developed toxin Novichok in the city of Salisbury.


Earlier September 2018, Britain announced charges against the man known as Boshirov and his associate, known as “Aleksandr Petrov.”

Both men publicly acknowledged being in Salisbury at the time of the poisoning but said they had arrived as tourists — a claim that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman called “an insult to the public’s intelligence.”

British officials have not publicly confirmed the details in the Sept. 26, 2018 report by Bellingcat and The Insider, though Reuters cited two unidentified “European security sources familiar with the investigation into the Skripal poisoning as saying that they were accurate.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

A CCTV image issued by London’s Metropolitan police showing Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov at Salisbury train station.

British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson, meanwhile, said on Twitter following the report that the “true identity of one of the Salisbury suspects has been revealed to be a Russian colonel” but subsequently deleted the tweet without explanation.

Here’s a look at how Moscow has dismissed the alleged revelation of the poisoning suspect’s true identity — and how Russian media outlets have cast doubt on the new report.

‘Diverting attention’

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, suggested in a Facebook post late on Sept. 26, 2018, that the release of the report was deliberately timed to coincide with May’s address at the UN Security Council “during which she again aired accusations against Russia.”

During the address, May said Russia “recklessly deployed a nerve agent on our streets” and accused Moscow of seeking “to obfuscate through desperate fabrication” in connection with the poisoning.

“There is no proof, so an information campaign is continuing with the primary goal of diverting attention to the main question: WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY?” Zakharova wrote.

She did not provide any substantive rebuttal of details reported by Bellingcat and The Insider.

‘Typical conspiracy theory’

A senior Russian lawmaker laughed off the report with a reference to Major Pronin, a fictional Soviet-era secret agent who successfully battled spies and generated scores of popular jokes revolving around the character’s incredible counterespionage abilities.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

A handout picture taken in Salisbury of Aleksandr Petrov (right) and Ruslan Boshirov.

“It’s a typical conspiracy theory,” Frants Klintsevich of the defense committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. “You could just as easily say Ruslan Boshirov is named Major Pronin, if one recalls such a character from Soviet-era jokes.”

Klintsevich added: “What we warned about is continuing.”

“More and more details will accumulate so that the plot doesn’t get dull,” he was quoted as saying. “Interestingly, one gets the impression that the British media are working hand in glove with authorities. And that’s completely depressing.”

‘Complete nonsense’

A Russian news outlet owned by Klintsevich’s fellow lawmaker, Vitaly Bogdanov, published interviews with a retired major-general in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) who claimed documents used in the investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider could not have made their way into the public domain.

“It’s complete nonsense. How could secret documents become publicly available?” the retired officer, Aleksandr Mikhailov, told National Sluzhba Novostei (NSN).

Mikhailov said the British media “together with turncoats” will “spin tall tales” and suggested that the key piece of evidence in the report — a 15-year-old passport photo of Chepiga showing a man resembling Boshirov — could have been doctored.

‘Completely unprofessional’

NSN also published an interview with Andrei Vedyayev, a writer focusing on Russia’s security services, who said the poisoning suspects are unlikely to be officers for Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, as British authorities alleged.

The Bellingcat/Insider report said it had confirmed that Chepiga is actually a GRU colonel who was previously awarded Russia’s highest state medal: Hero of the Russian Federation.

“First of all, they don’t admit this,” Vedyayev said, referring to the interview with the two suspects on Russia’s state-funded network RT that May’s spokesman said was full of “lies and blatant fabrications.”

“Secondly, they don’t resemble [GRU officers] at all,” Vedyayev added. “From the perspective of security-service officers, if they carried out this task as has been told and described, then they acted completely unprofessionally: roaming around the city, being filmed by video cameras.”

Interpol

Other Russian media outlets published reports focusing on the fact that searching for the name “Chepiga” yields no results on the publicly available portion of Interpol’s database of “red notices.”

That appears to have first been reported by the Russian news agency Interfax and subsequently picked up by RIA Novosti and Kremlin-friendly outlets Life.ru and Ren-TV.

This is, in fact, no surprise. Interpol itself notes that most red notices — which alert police worldwide of at-large suspected criminals wanted by a particular government — “are restricted to law enforcement use only.”

“Some member countries choose to make an extract publicly available,” Interpol says on its website.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch: Famous graves at Arlington

Arlington National Cemetery holds over 300,000 United States veterans. Veterans from every US war or conflict since the Revolutionary War lie here. Founded in 1866, this cemetery is the largest and most prestigious in the nation. It is meant to honor all men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. 

The grounds are steeped in history 

The cemetery grounds, formerly Arlington House, used to be the property of George Washington’s adopted grandson and his wife. In 1831, their daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the couple lived there until Virginia ceded from the Union in 1861. A tax dispute led the federal government to reclaim the property in 1864. However, the land was later returned to Lee’s son after a lawsuit, though the government promptly repurchased it for about $150,000. This made little Lee a very rich man—the equivalent in today’s world would be roughly $4 million. 

Presidents, change-makers, and military leadership

One of the most prominent people buried there is 27th US President William Howard Taft, a man who never really wanted to be president at all. His real dream was to become a Supreme Court Justice, a goal he achieved later. No other man has ever served as President of the United States and Chief Justice on the Supreme Court. 

Change-makers

Another notable figure buried at Arlington is Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. He argued on the Brown v. Board of Education case, where the Supreme Court finally determined racial segregation to be unconstitutional once and for all. 

Presidents

JFK and Bobby Kennedy have a special, solemn place in Arlington. Above their graves, an eternal flame is lit. Jackie Kennedy was so moved when she saw the eternal flame over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that she wanted the same thing for her husband. When Jackie passed years later in 1994, her remains were placed next to her husband’s. 

Military Leaderships

David Hackworth, a colonel in the US Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, is also buried in Arlington. He was a highly decorated serviceman with tons of honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart with many oak leaf clusters attached to several. Hackworth also wrote a book that criticized how the Vietnam War was handled, for which he took some heat from the government—oops. 

Speaking of famous, one of the most famous women buried at Arlington is Admiral Grace Hopper. A leading programmer in the US Navy between 1943 and 1986, Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and one of the first to use the Harvard Mark I. She was also the inventor of one of the first linkers. Today we think of linking as such a standard computer action, but we wouldn’t have it without Hopper. 

Articles

The VA might actually be getting its act together

Trying to emerge from scandals that shook the agency to its core, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting to overhaul what officials admit was sometimes pretty bad customer service.


Quietly, since 2015, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs has built a national Veterans Experience Office.

The office’s first steps have been rolling out over 100 community veterans committees nationwide and retraining employees to be less rigid and more customer-focused.

The VA even hired professional writers to redraft the language of 1,200 official letter templates to make them more reader friendly.

“(We) had somehow gotten away from the primary mission of organizing the enterprise through the eyes of the customer,” said Joy White, who leads the office’s Pacific district, which includes California and the West Coast.

“(We did) things that made sense to us, made it easy for us as the VA,” White said. “But, in all of that, we lost the voice of the customer.”

The task at hand: How to change the culture of a massive federal agency that provides everything from medical care to monthly disability checks to funerals.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
Or her widow, Mr. President. Or her widow. (Photo: Veterans Affairs)

Some might wonder if — with what’s a famously dense bureaucracy — it can be done. Even new VA Secretary David Shulkin has said it’s a struggle to fire bad apples, including employees who watch porn on the job.

The new Veterans Experience Office’s budget this fiscal year is $55.4 million, up from $49 million last year, “to lead the My VA transformation,” according to a budget document. About 150 jobs now fall under this office’s umbrella.

Two years in, the nation’s veterans organizations are still taking a wait-and-see position.

“We’re not sure how much the VEO has improved the VA to date, but we are encouraged by this initiative and hope to see it succeed,” said Joe Plenzler, American Legion spokesman. “Any effort to improve dialogue between veterans and VA employees and administrators is time and money well spent.”

One vocal critic of the VA said the office has potential but not if it tries to just “paper over” structural issues facing the veterans agency.

“Doing things that are more feel-good measures, but actually don’t address some of the core problems of the VA, could distract from what’s needed to be done,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director at Concerned Veterans for America.

“That’s the danger I see, potentially, with this office. But I want to say there’s a lot of opportunity here. If this office is managed well and insists that they are here to improve the outcomes for veterans — and not just ‘the experience’ — they could be successful.”

Also read: The VA is set to lower copays for prescriptions

The “veterans experience” campaign started under former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, the retired Proctor Gamble chief executive brought in by President Barack Obama in mid-2014 following a national scandal over wait times for VA medical care.

McDonald installed a “chief veterans experience officer” in early 2015.

The office reports directly to the VA secretary — now Shulkin, a doctor and health-care executive who is the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Whether he will continue the “experience” campaign is an open question.

However, in April he named Lynda Davis, a former Army officer and Pentagon civilian executive with experience in personnel and suicide prevention, to head the office. She replaces a former McDonald’s executive, Tom Allin, who held the job for about two years.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
Talihina Veterans Center (Oklahona Department of Veterans Affairs)

Some of the hiring was for “human-centered design” teams. These teams, which include people from Stanford’s prestigious D School, are supposed to re-engineer VA routines that aren’t working.

They produced a “journey map” showing what VA patients experience.

It identifies “pain points” along the way, such as cancelled appointments. It also calls out “moments that matter,” such as the check-in process and whether it’s hard or easy to park.

Two early goals were to establish one consumer-oriented website and one toll-free telephone number for all VA divisions. The result was vets.gov and 1 (844) My-VA311.

The VA is now looking for inspiration from national brands famous for good service. Starbucks, Marriott, and Walgreens are on the list.

“We get the experience that we design. Historically, we haven’t put an emphasis as an organization on customer service. There was no program of record that said ‘this how we do customer service,'” White told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

“You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the country, there is something that looks and feels very familiar wherever you go.”

Also read: Starbucks donated free coffee to every US service member in Afghanistan

One change the Veterans Experience Office has led: hiring for customer-service skills, instead of just looking for people qualified for a position.

“We weren’t hiring for attitude,” said White, who said her office identified questions to insert in the VA’s interview process to draw out whether an applicant had customer service aptitude.

In a changing health-care industry, this is a bandwagon that the VA is belatedly jumping on.

Other hospital organizations have rebooted their customer experience in the past decade in response to a shift in Medicare reimbursement policy that now rewards for patient satisfaction, experts said. The power of social media is also a factor.

The Cleveland Clinic was the first major academic medical center to appoint a chief experience officer in 2007. Across the country, hospitals have built grand entrances, opened restaurants intended to draw non-patients and put flowers by bedsides.

“My sense of it is that we live in the age of the empowered consumer,” said John Romley, an economist at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer center for health policy.

“VA customers maybe have less choice in the matter, but at the same time, there’s a great deal of sensitivity in the broader population about how we treat these people in the VA system.”

The VA’s new customer service motto — Own the Moment — sounds a bit like a commercial TV jingle.

Training is rolling out across the country, including at the La Jolla VA hospital.

The premise: Each VA employee should “own” their time with a customer, the veteran, and do their best to ensure the person gets the help he or she needs.

That contrasts to the like-it-or-lump-it experience that veterans have sometimes complained about in the past.

“We’re moving away from a rules-based organization to a more of what we call a values, principle-based organization,” said Allan Castellanos, the VA employee teaching the La Jolla seminar.

“I call it more like integrated ethics, like doing the right thing for the right reason,” he said.

The employees were shown a video of VA workers going the extra mile to welcome an uncertain new veteran into a clinic.

In another, VA workers allowed the family of a dying veteran to bring his horse onto hospital grounds.

The VA is trying to emerge from bunker mentality after back-to-back national embarrassments.

First, in 2013, the backlog of disability claims rose to mountainous proportions, bringing down the wrath of Congress and the public.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
We just wanna see more vets smiling. (Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Then, in 2014, news reports revealed that VA medical workers were keeping secret lists of patients waiting for appointments to make wait-time data appear satisfactory.

All of this occurred as the VA struggled to handle a flood of new veterans coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

A few of the ideas being pursued by the Veterans Experience Office have origins in San Diego.

Officials acknowledge that what they are calling Community Veterans Experience Boards — the 152 community boards they eventually want to create nationally — came from San Diego’s longstanding example.

San Diego veterans leaders meet monthly with VA officials here in both closed-door and public sessions.

Additionally, the tragic suicide of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jeremy Sears appears to have helped spur a campaign to redraft VA correspondence to make it more user friendly.

Sears shot himself at an Oceanside gun range in 2014 after being rejected for VA disability benefits despite the cumulative effects of several combat tours.

Veterans advocates suggested that the VA rejection letter could have offered advice on where to go for counseling and other assistance, instead of just a “no.”

“That was one of the ‘pain points’ that was identified,” White said, referring to the veteran’s “journey mapping” that her office did. “There was a lot of legalese, when in fact we just want it to be simple and clean.”

They started with the Veterans Benefit Administration’s correspondence and are working their way toward the Veterans Health Administration’s appointment cards.

Veterans Experience Office officials first told the Union-Tribune that they could provide examples of the rewritten letter formats, but later said they weren’t ready yet.

The Veterans Experience Office, headquartered in Washington, now has split the country into five districts and dispatched “relationship managers” to each.

The Veterans Experience Office is now trying to finesse those moments that matter to veterans. In 2017, officials expect to roll out a veterans real-time feedback tool in 10 locations. They also plan to release a patient experience “program of record.”

“Our goal is to build trust with veterans, their family members, and survivors,” White said. “How do we do that? By bringing their voices to everything we do.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russians may be testing ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons in violation of treaty

A top U.S. military official has said that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia may be conducting low-yield nuclear testing that may be violation of a major international treaty.

Lieutenant General Robert Ashley said in a speech on May 29, 2019, that Russia could be doing tests that go “beyond what is believed necessary, beyond zero yield.”

The problem, he said, was that Russia “has not been willing to affirm” they are adhering to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.


Asked specifically whether U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded Russia was conducting such tests in violation of the treaty, Ashley, who is director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said, “They’ve not affirmed the language of zero yield.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbIgtTfPYQw
U.S. Accuses Russia Of Conducting Low-Level Nuclear Tests

www.youtube.com

“We believe they have the capability to do it, the way that they’re set up,” Ashley said during an appearance at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The Defense Intelligence Agency is the Defense Department’s main in-house intelligence organization.

There was no immediate comment by the Kremlin or the Russian Defense Ministry about the conclusions, which were first reported on May 29, 2019, by The Wall Street Journal.

But Vladimir Shamanov, chairman of the defense committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, called Ashley’s statement “irresponsible.”

“It would be impossible to make a more irresponsible statement,” Interfax quoted Shamanov as saying.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life

Vladimir Shamanov.


“These kinds of statements reveal that the professionalism of the military is systemically falling in America,” said Shamanov, a retired colonel general and a former commander of Russia’s Airborne Troops. “These words from a U.S. intelligence chief indicate that he is only an accidental person in this profession and he is in the wrong job.”

The U.S. assertion comes with several major arms-control treaties under strain, largely due to the toxic state of relations between Washington and Moscow.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s administration announced it was pulling out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement that eliminated an entire class of missiles.

Another treaty, New START, is due to expire in 2021 unless the United States and Russia agree to extend it for five years.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea has a meltdown over South Korean military drills

North Korea’s top negotiator called South Korea’s government “ignorant and incompetent” on May 17, 2018, in the latest installment of Pyongyang lashing out at the US and Seoul for essentially carrying out business as usual.

Ri Son Gwon, the North Korean negotiator, slammed South Korea for participating in military drills with the US, following up a series of statements on May 15, 2018, when Pyongyang canceled talks with Seoul and threatened to cancel a planned summit with President Donald Trump.


While North Korea commonly complains about US and South Korean military drills, which it sees as a rehearsal for invasion, the timing of the recent complaints struck many as odd.

The drills in question, called Max Thunder, have been going on since May 11, 2018. North Korea endured four solid days of the drills before saying anything about them. In fact, one day into the drills, North Korea announced it would invite foreign journalists to cover the destruction of its nuclear test site.

But on May 15, 2018, that all changed with North Korea slamming the drills and their inclusion of the US’s B-52 nuclear-capable bomber, something which regional media had reported. The Pentagon told Business Insider that the B-52s were never scheduled to take part in the drills.

How the legendary Memphis Belle was brought back to life
B-52
(Photo by Michael Weber)

Before Max Thunder, two other massive drills had taken place in April and May 2018, with hardly a peep from Pyongyang.

In past months, Kim, who reportedly said he “understands” why the drills were going on, had gone forward with peace talks without asking for them to be toned down.

Nevertheless, North Korea cited the drills as its main reason for canceling talks with South Korea.

“Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea,” Ri said, according to Reuters.

In a separate statement from North Korean media, Pyongyang said it couldn’t open up its country or work with others.

“It is a lesson shown by the past history that it would never be possible to write a new history of opening up the prospect of the country and nation even though we may sit with those without trust and confidence and without manners,” it wrote.

Kim, what are you doing?

Kim Jong Un began and led his country toward peace and diplomacy with South Korea and the US beginning in his 2018 New Years’ address. Since then, he’s put on a spectacular diplomatic offensive and made history by leaving his country for the first time since taking power to meet at least twice with China’s President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But since May 15, 2018, North Korea has begun a marked backslide towards the old rhetoric of hostilities, and it all kicked off with a meltdown over days-old military drills.

As for why North Korea may have went back to tough talking points, read here.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

Charles Norman Shay was just a young private in the 1st Infantry Division when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. He was in the first wave, landing some time around 6:30 while the German defenses were still untouched, firing artillery and machine guns into the open holds of boats as American troops attempted to land.


Charles Shay – Returning to the Beaches of Normandy 74 Years Later
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Shay was relatively lucky, landing in chest-deep water and finding small obstacles to take cover behind as he made his way to the sands. Still, that meant he had to move forward with minimal cover as German rounds and shells rained down. On the most hotly contested beaches of Normandy, entire companies were cut down before firing a shot.

Shay and the other medics on the beaches had the option of sticking to cover or trying to survive in the water, floating with just their nostrils exposed to minimize the chance that German machine guns found them.

Shay, instead, started transiting into and out of the water, grabbing wounded and drowning men and pulling them to shore where he and others could render aid. This was an extremely hazardous move. While unarmed medics rendering aid are technically protected by the Geneva Convention, another medic on the beach organized a similar effort and many of the soldiers who helped him were gunned down for their efforts.

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Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot tribal elder and World War II veteran, sits in the audience prior to a ceremony in his honor at the Charles Shay Memorial, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 5. Shay earned a Silver Star for heroic actions as a combat medic during the initial wave of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. He served with the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. (Sgt. Michael C. Roach, 19th Public Affairs Detachment)

The young medic would later receive America’s Silver Star and France’s Légion d’Honneur for his valor in Europe in World War II.

Today, Shay is a 90-something year old tribal elder of the Penobscot Tribe in Maine. There’s a memorial park on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach named for him that honors the sacrifices of American Indians who landed at Normandy.

The Allies landed 156,000 troops on D-Day across five beachheads. It was the fulfillment of a promise to the Soviet Union to open a new front against Germany as Soviet forces fought on the opposite side of Europe. Less than a year after D-Day, as the armies landed at Normandy crunched onward toward Berlin, Hitler killed himself in a bunker and German leaders sued for peace, ending the war in Europe.

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