How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Thomas H. Begay didn’t want to be a radio operator. In fact, up until he graduated from bootcamp, he thought he was going to become an aerial gunner for the Marine Corps during World War II.

“They sent me to a confidential area,” he said. “I walked in and there’s a whole bunch of Navajo.”

His previous MOS didn’t matter. Begay would attend code talking school.

The Navajo language had become the basis of a new code, and they were going to train to become code talkers. It was hard to see it then, but Begay and his fellow Navajo would help turn the tides of war and save countless lives.


An unbreakable code

The Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was successfully used during World War I. But the Marine Corps needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.

Thomas H. Begay recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima

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Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.

But just because a person understood Navajo didn’t mean they could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.

Here is an example:

Navajo Code: DIBEH, AH-NAH, A-SHIN, BE, AH-DEEL-TAHI, D-AH, NA-AS-TSO-SI, THAN-ZIE, TLO-CHIN

Translation: SHEEP, EYES, NOSE, DEER, BLOW UP, TEA, MOUSE, TURKEY, ONION

Deciphered Code: SEND DEMOLITION TEAM TO …

In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.

Peter MacDonald Sr. recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima

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Begay did well in training and picked up the code quickly. A month after arriving at code talking school, he was given orders to his new unit and sent overseas.

“They told us we were going to Tokyo,” he said with a chuckle. “In February, we were told we’re supposed to land on Iwo Jima.”

On Feb. 19, 1945, at 0900 hours, Begay landed on the north side of the island with the 5th Marine Division. One code talker had already been killed during the first wave of attacks, and five more would be injured by the time the fighting stopped. In the face of machine gun fire and mortar rounds, Begay and his fellow Navajo Code Talkers continued to relay messages that were vital to the eventual victory on the island.

In all, nearly 800 coded messages were sent during the assault on Iwo Jima. There were zero mistakes.

“I was protected by the Marines,” Begay said. “They were protecting us; we were protecting them. I was lucky. But some didn’t get lucky – like those who got killed on the beach.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

Articles

This Air Force officer and his son bonded on Civil War battlefields

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online


Music from a fife and drums rang in the ears of a father and son as they sat around the campfire. Brian E. Withrow and his 14-year-old son, Josh, talked with fellow re-enactors, also clad in Union blue, the night before their first re-enactment at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Now and then, the discussion turned to times on the battlefield when the re-enactor could almost feel as if he was actually walking in the boots of a Civil War Soldier.

Fifteen years later, the Withrow duo are back in camp at the same Virginia battlefield, except the son is now a 29-year-old re-enactment veteran, and the father plays a commanding general’s assistant chief of staff . What hasn’t changed is their shared love of history, and the one thing that has kept them returning to re-enactment battlefields is the search for those special times when they feel almost transported back in time. They call those times “Civil War moments.”

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

“An example was at the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, and we were doing the battle through the cornfield,” said Brian, a retired lieutenant colonel and munitions officer. “It was early morning, still dark, with just the glimpses of light coming up. There was a mist over the field. The artillery was firing, and I could see the blasts from their muzzles.

“In front of me, the very first wave of federal soldiers was given the command to go into the cornfield. For that brief moment, there were no telephone poles, no vehicles. There was just the cannon fire and musketry fire with one of the just-right conditions and glimpses that give you that moment of, ‘Wow! That must have been what it was like.'”

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

An interest in U.S. history from his youth led Brian to consider the re-enactment hobby when he was stationed at the Pentagon in 1997, with the numerous Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia. Josh shared the love of history, so the two attended re-enactments together as spectators until his father asked him if he would like to try the hobby with him. They watched the 136th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia in 1999, and after talking to re-enactors in the 3rd U.S. Infantry, Company B, they decided to join the unit.

Josh was still two years away from his 16th birthday, so he wasn’t able to carry a weapon at their first re-enactment at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park later that year, but as it turned out, he was right where the action was. In the Battle of Cedar Creek in the fall of 1864, forces led by Gen. Jubal Early over-ran federal forces, although Union Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan later made his famous ride to lead a rout of the Confederates, which helped the Union crush the resistance in the Shenandoah.

“I was too young to carry a gun, and I didn’t have any shoes that would fit me, so I had to stay in the tent while my dad went to take the field,” Josh said. “But, of course, the battle came to me. I was sitting there inside the tent, while there were two rows of infantry firing at each other around me, and it’s lighting up with the gunpowder. It was so dark outside, and all you could see were the flashes of the muzzles of the guns. It was just one of the coolest things I’d ever seen, and we were thinking, ‘We are going to keep on doing this.'”

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

Brian’s interest in re-enacting began with a question about his ancestors’ role in the Civil War. Through his research and participation in re-enactments, he was able to correct what the family believed about an ancestor who fought and died in the war. For years, the family’s oral history showed that George Dugan, a private in the 10th Illinois Infantry, died in a Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia. By the time he’d participated in the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, Brian had learned he actually died in action there, a fact he didn’t know when he attended the same battle as a private 10 years earlier.

“I now have a personal connection,” Brian said. “Not only had he died there, but fortunately for my family line, he had a son who ended up being my great great-grandfather.”

A glance at the uniforms in a closet in the family home in Stafford, Virginia, shows the variety of ranks Brian portrays in his hobby. He plays the role of Union Soldiers, as well as those from the Revolutionary War, from the ranks of private all the way up to the commanding general of the Union Army. After he retired from the Air Force, Brian let his beard grow, which coupled with the cigar he often has in his mouth in camp, gives him a resemblance to a U.S. history legend, Gen. (and former President) Ulysses S. Grant.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

While on the board of directors that created the Stafford Civil War Park, Brian portrayed a colonel in the 55th Ohio Infantry at the grand opening in 2013, and spectators saw the beard and cigar and mistook him for Grant. The mistaken identity kept happening at subsequent reenactments and historical events, even to the point where Confederate re-enactment forces “captured” him, thinking they’d caught the overall Union commander. He was eventually asked to portray Grant for the 150th anniversary re-enactments in 2011 and 2012.  Brian impersonates the famous general for the Civil War Impressionists Association in annual events at the National Mall in Washington and at numerous Civil War historic sites.

“I’m still a private in Company K of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, so I still go out and do events as an infantry private,” Brian said. “Then again, I can put on three stars, and I can be the commanding general. I can play a private or the general-in-chief with equal enthusiasm.”

When he began the hobby, Brian had no interest in portraying an officer. He was still on active duty, and he wanted to experience a taste of a Union private’s daily life. However, after his Air Force retirement six years ago, he had an opportunity to join the Army of the Potomac headquarters staff as a guidon bearer for the command officer, which was appealing to him because of his love for horses, and in the past year he’s served as the commander’s assistant chief of staff.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

The night before the re-enactment at Cedar Creek, Brian was also promoted to brigadier general and will transition into the role of the staff’s commanding officer.

Serving as an officer in a Civil War re-enactment unit is obviously completely different from an active-duty career. For example, there is no Uniform Code of Military Justice to keep them bound to the unit or to commander’s orders. Still, Brian has found common ground between the two. Safety, self-aid and buddy care, and survival training, as well as his logistics knowledge from a career in munitions, have all come into play at different times in the field. Also, Soldiers in the 19th century operated on a code that wasn’t too different from the Air Force Core Values.

“From my research, I can’t say that they had what they called core values,” he said. “But clearly, in particular, the Soldiers who had been trained formally through the military academies during that time period, had a value system based on personal honor and morality. I think those attributes defined what it meant ideally to be a good Soldier then, and those traditions from our early American military experience are what evolved into what we call our core values now.”

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee | Airman Online

For just a few days, re-enactors like the Withrows not only try to help re-create historic battles, but also get a taste of the living experiences Soldiers on both sides endured in the Civil War. Along with the bonding experiences when they swap war stories and glimpses of their lives with fellow re-enactors, they also sometimes experience some harsh conditions. They faced below freezing weather at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in April, and there was the other extreme, where they faced temperatures above 100 degrees with elevated humidity at the 150th Battle of First Manassas in July 2011.

“We got just a little taste of some of the environmental conditions these Soldiers went through,” Brian said. “The difference was we came out and may experience some of those conditions for a weekend. That gives you an appreciation for the fact that these guys did this week on end, month on end, on forced marches of 10 to 15 miles, summertime and wintertime. Again, we get this little glimpse, just a little taste of what they may have experienced.”

These days, it is difficult for both father and son to make every battle as they were able to do when Josh was younger. He’s not able to attend most re-enactments because of his schedule as a legislative affairs manager for Freedom Works in Washington. Since his father retired, his schedule as a government employee at Fort Belvoir also keeps him busy. But their love of the hobby remains as strong as it was around that campfire 15 years ago. Hearing the fife and drums still sounds sweet to their ears.

MIGHTY TRENDING

3 reasons it’s hard to tell how violent the ‘most violent’ cities in the world are

The most recent ranking of the world’s most violent cities by the Mexican research group Security, Justice, and Peace again drew attention to Latin America, home to 42 of the 50 cities on the list.

Latin America is indeed the most violent region, accounting for about 8% of the global population but tallying roughly one-third of the world’s intentional homicides.

While homicide is not the only kind of violent crime, it is generally considered the best measure of it.


“Of all the different types of crime, homicide is probably the easiest to track because there’s nothing more biologically evident than a dead body,” Robert Muggah, the research director at Brazil’s Igarapé Institute and an expert on crime and crime prevention, told Business Insider.

In most places, there are also legal procedures that authorities are supposed to follow when dealing with homicides.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Robert Muggah, the research director at Brazil’s Igarapé Institute and an expert on crime and crime prevention.

(YouTube)

“So unlike, say, assault or robbery or sexual violence or domestic abuse, homicide is one of those variables that across time and space is relatively straightforward to capture,” Muggah said, adding that researchers can draw on a panoply of sources — law enforcement, public-health agencies, nongovernmental groups, the press, and the public — to tabulate and track homicides over time.

But, as Latin America illustrates, there are a number of recurrent challenges that arise when collecting homicide data that complicate efforts to make comparisons and compile rankings.

Where did it happen?

“Are we looking at national data, state data, city data, and if we are looking at city data, in this case, how are we defining a city?” Muggah said.

A city’s geographic limits can be defined in a number of ways. The UN has three: the city proper, delineated by administrative boundaries; the urban agglomeration, comprising a contiguous urban area; and the metropolitan area, the boundaries of which are based on social or economic connections.

The populations of each of those areas can vary enormously, as can the number of homicides.

“It turns out cities are surprisingly difficult to define. There is no unified or uniform definition of a city, and this has been a source of some consternation for geographers for over a century,” Muggah said.

The Igarapé Institute eschews homicide rankings but does maintain a Homicide Monitor that compiles data on killings, using the urban-agglomeration definition for cities, Muggah said.

The Mexican group adheres to some set of criteria, requiring minimum population of 300,000 people and excluding places with active conflicts, such as Ukraine or Syria.

But the group says in its methodology that whenever possible it includes all the municipalities that it assesses as part of a city — “localities that form a unique urban system, clearly distinguishable from others, independent of the geographic-administrative divisions inside the countries.”

Muggah and his colleagues noted issues with this method in relation to the 2015 ranking, which found Caracas, Venezuela, to be the most violent city. That year, others also said the group based its tally on the homicide total for the metropolitan area of Cali, in southwest Colombia, and, in their view, overstated the number of homicides.

The group’s ranking for 2018, its most recent, put Tijuana, Mexico, at the top of the list, with a homicide rate of 138.26 per 100,000.

Tijuana has seen a precipitous rise in deadly violence, but the city’s public-security secretary disputed its rank, citing the inclusion of the nearby city of Rosarito, Mexico, in the homicide count and the failure to account for Tijuana’s migrant population.

Security, Justice, and Peace rejected the criticism, saying that it based its population count on official numbers and that excluding Rosarito would have actually raised the homicide rate. (Though it did not say why it assessed Tijuana’s metropolitan area and not those of other cities.)

What’s a homicide?

“It turns out there are many kinds of homicide,” Muggah said. “We have homicide that’s intentional. We have homicide that’s unintentional, which we also call manslaughter. We have homicide committed by police, which sometimes isn’t included in the formal homicide statistics.”

Mexico has experienced an alarming increase in homicides, setting records in 2017 and 2018.

Mexico’s official crime data includes two categories for homicide: “homicidio doloso,” which refers to intentional homicides, and “homicidio culposo,” which refers to manslaughter or unintentional homicides.

The most recent tallies for intentional homicides in Mexico in 2017 and 2018 are 28,868 and 33,369, respectively. The totals for all homicides are 46,640 in 2017 and 50,373 in 2018.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Missing persons in Mexico.

While official government tabulations distinguish between unintentional and intentional homicides as they are legally defined in those countries, counts by nongovernmental groups, the media, and the public can elide that distinction, grouping different kinds of lethal violence together.

“And that matters,” Muggah said, “because in some countries, including Mexico and Brazil, when you include police lethality, police killings, which fall under a different category, that can actually significantly augment the overall count.”

In many cases, Muggah added, “those deaths are not what you describe as illegal.”

In 2017, Brazil had 63,880 homicides — 175 killings a day — up 3% from 2016 and a record. (Homicides were trending downward through the first nine months of 2018, but full-year data for 2018 is not yet available.)

In 2017, there was also an increase in the number of people killed by Brazil’s police, rising 20% from 2016 to 5,144 people, or 14 a day. Authorities in Rio de Janeiro state have attracted special scrutiny for their lethality, drawing accusations of extrajudicial executions.

Not only where and how you measure, but also when?

Even when homicide data for a full calendar year is available — which is not always the case; Security, Justice, and Peace list in some cases extrapolates from partial-year data — it may change over time.

“In many cases, there are outstanding trials and judicial processes that are ongoing to determine … what in fact that lethal outcome was, and that can take months. It can take years,” Muggah said. “Typically though, there’s a delay when governments produce data to issue this information because they’re still dealing with many of the legalities around sorting out homicide.”

Full-year 2017 crime data for Mexico, released in January 2018, put the number of homicide victims at 29,168.

The most recent data for that year, updated in March 2019, indicates there were 28,868 homicide victims. (The Mexican government changed its methodology at the beginning of 2018 and updated previous tallies to reflect that.)

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Police on the street in the high crime area of Iztapalapa, Mexico City.

There are also 26,000 unidentified bodies in Mexico’s forensic system, and the government estimates that more than 40,000 people are missing. Hidden graves full of unidentified bodies are frequently found all around Mexico.

All of that — coupled with issues such as a lack of prosecution and suspicions about officials manipulating crime data — means Mexico’s homicide totals are subject to change for the foreseeable future.

“In many countries, Latin America, in particular, there are huge impunity rates and a great gap in processing some of these cases, precisely because of the volume but also the lack of capacity to go through all of these cases, and so there’s a reason” for a delay, Muggah said.

It’s necessary to reflect on violence and trends in crime, but, Muggah added, “the challenge is that many governments are operating at different speeds.”

Relaying on data for only part of a year, or drawing on only certain sources that are readily available can often “unintentionally bias our sample,” Muggah said.

Know what you don’t know.

A challenge for “all of us who are in the business of monitoring and tracking and building systems to better understand criminality is that there are many places or instances where crime, including lethal violence, is not particularly well reported, or if it is reported it’s reported very badly,” Muggah said.

Latin American countries release crime data fairly regularly, but closer examination reveals “great gaps in the data,” especially in parts of Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil, Muggah said.

“There’ll be reports that … don’t accurately capture the cause of death, and therefore you get misattribution. There’ll be a situation where they just can’t store the bodies because there’s insufficient space, and so you get undercounts,” he said. “There’ll be places where the governments themselves, police in particular, have no incentive to report on lethal violence and therefore will skew the figures.”

Outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, a 36-member group that includes most of North America and Europe, available information about crime is also lacking, Muggah said.

“If you go to Africa, with the exception of a few countries, it’s … a knowledge gap around homicide,” he added. That’s also the case in parts of Asia, “where governments just don’t want to report overall statistics on crime, citing it as a national-security issue.”

Incentivizing cities.

In the methodology included in its most recent report, Security, Justice, and Peace said that it compiles the ranking with the objective of “calling attention to violence in cities, particularly in Latin America, so that the leaders are pressured to fulfill their duty to protect the governed to guarantee their right to public security.”

“What we are also looking for is that no one … wants their city or cities to appear in this ranking, and that if their city or cities are [on it] already, they make the maximum effort so they leave it as soon as possible,” the group added.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Brazilian Federal Highway Police.

There are positive and negative potential effects of inclusion on such a list, Muggah said.

“One hopes that as a positive outcome, [inclusion] would incentivize city leaders, business leaders in cities, civic activists, and common citizens to be alert to the many risks that are there and also to seek and strive to find ways to get themselves off that list,” he said.

Stigmatizing cities.

But there can be negative consequences. Reducing a complicated issue such as personal security to a single metric risks sensationalizing the problem and can skew public perceptions, potentially empowering leaders who push hardline punitive responses, Muggah said.

In some cases, it can “stigmatize cities,” Muggah said, affecting foreign and domestic investment, credit ratings, and business decisions. It can also have a particular effect on local economies, especially for tourism, on which many parts of Latin America rely.

“The hope is that by shining a light … on these challenges that somehow this will provoke” a constructive response from the city, its residents, and its leaders, rallying them around a common goal, such as reducing insecurity and getting off that list, Muggah said.

“It’s not clear yet if that in fact has ever happened, whether these lists have contributed positively to social change, and that might be asking too much of a list,” Muggah said.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Army Veteran recalls his time as POW during Vietnam

On Dec. 8, 2020, U.S. Army Veteran David Harker will celebrate his 75th birthday. He may recognize the accomplishment while on his daily five mile walk, or by taking a drive in his 47-year-old car – a 1973 Corvette he’s owned since it was given to him by classmates when he returned from Vietnam after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war.

A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, Harker is the third of seven children. He was an athlete in high school and received his associate’s degree from Bluefield College before transferring to Virginia Tech in 1966. By 1967, however, his fortunes had changed.


David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.

Drafted

“I was doing my junior year at Virginia Tech and my grades were low, so I had to take a quarter off in 1967 and during that time, because I wasn’t a full-time student, I had to let the government know. They got me,” he said.

When the draft notice came, Harker’s father, an electrical engineer took the news hard.

“My dad was really upset. He had worked for a power company during World War II and so was exempt from the draft,” Harker recalled. “I didn’t think about the possibility of being killed. My dad’s supervisor said he could get me in the National Guard, but I thought that would be shirking my responsibility. I was called on to serve my country and that’s what I was going to do.”

After basic and advanced infantry training, Harker was approached and offered an opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School.

“I was interested in flying helicopters, but they said I’d have to extend for another year or two, so I said, ‘no, I’ll do my two and go home’.”

Heading to Vietnam

The trip to Vietnam brought Harker through Hawaii, and Guam, before landing in Vietnam Nov. 15, 1967. The recollection of arrival is still fresh even 53 years later.

“There were men on the airstrip who had finished their year and were going to take the plane we had arrived on back home. So, they open the door and it was such a rude awakening when the door opened. The oppressive heat – and I’m sure Vietnam Vets will tell you – the country had a smell of its own.”

The soldiers on their way home watched them deplane and Harker heard them say, ‘there’s my replacement.’

“They wished us well,” Harker said.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

David Harker stands next to the 1973 Corvette he received.

Although trained on a vehicle-mounted recoilless rifle, Harker was made an infantryman upon arrival in-country and reassigned from the 9th Infantry Division to the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. Six weeks later, he was a POW.

“I was in the 3rd of the 21st in an area of operations at Que Son,” Harker said. “We operated out of a fire base, with one company pulling security while the other three were out doing search and destroy missions. While out, we’d move about 1,000 meters a day and get resupplied every fourth day with c-rations if the helicopters could get through.”

As a 22 year old, Harker was among the older men in his unit. His commanding officer, Capt. Roland Belcher, told the company while they were enjoying in-country RR at brigade headquarters in Chu Lai, that he was proud of the work they were doing.

“Captain Belcher had been in a province southwest of Saigon where we were providing security for elections,” Harker said. “He said it meant a lot to him that we were able to do that – to make sure those people could go to the polls and not get hurt. I remember that because he died in the rice paddies when we were ambushed.”

Harker’s first sergeant, nicknamed Top, was a 41-year old Veteran of World War II and Korea who had earned a Silver Star before joining the company.

“After the ambush, he was the ranking person and he held us together.”

Capture

Harker and his company were on patrol when they broke contact with the enemy in a creek bed. The North Vietnamese unloaded on the unit and killed two men. As the most forward man, Harker was pinned down.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die.’ Top is behind me telling me to switch to auto and fire. They tried to get behind us and eventually I hear a Vietnamese voice and do a 90 degree and within arm’s reach at the top of this creek bank is an NVA soldier with a pith helmet and Top is there with no helmet. There’s a guy with a rifle telling me to get up. The NVA are stripping everything off us – anything they can use. I tried to bury my M-16 in the creek bed but I think they got it.”

After being taken, Harker was left with a soldier with a sidearm who walked in front of him, leading him away from the creek.

“I thought it was odd he was in front of me and I had been taught that you always try to escape. Next thing I know my hand is over his mouth and I have his arm at his side. I know I have to kill him and do it silently, but his bayonet won’t come out of the scabbard, and by that time my hand has come off his mouth and he’s yelling bloody murder. Before I could get his .45, he stabs me in the side with his bayonet. By that time there are a bunch of rifles pointing at me. I’m surprised they didn’t just shoot me, but they took some commo wire and duck-winged me that night.”

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

A newspaper clipping from the time shows support from his hometown.

Of the 15 men who entered the rice paddy that evening, only four made it out. More men would join Harker in his prison in the Trung Son Mountain Range where he would spend the first three years of captivity. By Harker’s estimation only about 150 U.S. soldiers were captured in South Vietnam – most of whom were taken during the Tet Offensive.

Harker’s first prison was in Quang Nam Province, a difficult, mountainous country that made food scarce and meant deplorable living conditions for the POWs.

“We buried nine Americans there,” Harker said. “That’s how horrific our living conditions were. We had very little to eat so people died from starvation, infectious diseases – malaria was rampant – dysentery. Between September of 1968 and Jan. 4, 1969, we buried six, including the youngest person we had there, a 19-year-old Marine.

“That first year of adjustment to jungle life was really hard on us. You didn’t know what to do. At first you looked out for yourself, but as time went on, you got more altruistic – you realize, it’s not about me, but about the guy next door and you realize you had to take care of each other. We came together really well in that respect.”

During the Vietnam War only one American doctor was ever taken prisoner. Hal Kushner, who grew up in Danville, Virginia, was injured in a helicopter crash in late November. By Dec. 4, North Vietnamese forces found him and marched him toward the camp where he found, according to a speech he gave in February 2018, “four of the saddest looking American creatures I had ever seen in my life.”

“They wouldn’t let him practice medicine,” Harker said of Kushner. “We couldn’t call him doc, but he was a big source of information and help to us. He led the way and showed us how to nurse and take care of men, and that became our goal – to make people in their last hours and days as comfortable as possible – it was our mission, and he was a big inspiration to us.”

In the mountains the men had to forage for food, mostly the manioc root, also known as kasava root.

“There wasn’t a place to grow food, so most of our calories came from manioc,” Harker said. “We were under a 1-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, and the guards would trade manioc and so we would put baskets on our backs and go back and forth over miles of mountain trails carrying 70-80 pounds of root. It’s amazing to think that we could even do it, but we did what we had to do. The little bit of rice they gave us as a ration wasn’t enough to keep a bird flying, so the roots kept us going.”

The guards of Trung Son didn’t physically abuse their prisoners. They didn’t need to.

“We were separated from civilization in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t communicate; had no food, and no medical attention – that’s torture enough for an individual. We were interrogated when we were captured,” Harker said, “but we knew the Code of Conduct and so we’d give that information. But they’d have a guy with a lantern and they’re asking for information about your unit, it’s size, and I just kept repeating. They didn’t pursue it much. They wanted to get us away from the battlefield but a few days later they did it again. When you have a rifle and you’re in front of the enemy, it’s different. But if they put a blindfold on you and all you can hear is round being chambered – that’s different too. In the north they beat pilots and used a lot of torture techniques.”

Moving day

On Feb. 1, 1971 there were a dozen men still alive in the mountains and they were taken in groups of six to begin their march north up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Harker watched battalions of Vietnamese troops heading south during the 60-day march, as they ground out 10 to 15 miles a day. During the journey an interpreter would give them extra rice.

“He was a military guy who had fought in Laos as a 17-year old in the early 1960s, and he looked out for us. I think he understood the condition – there was a common situation and appreciation among soldiers.”

“We’d get to a camp every day where we got hot white rice – better than we had at the mountain camp. The next morning they’d put a ball of rice on a banana leaf and we’d carry that with us for lunch as we moved. Eventually we were put on a train, in a box car, and taken to Hanoi, to Plantation Garden, an old French plantation with bars in the walls. We were kept in a 15×17 warehouse – six of us on a wooden pallet. Unlike the mountain camp we couldn’t roam around, and the boredom would overtake you and the heat was oppressive, but we had plenty to eat compared to the south. We also had better medical care there as they had a doctor to attend to us.”

In October of 1972 the Vietnamese allowed prisoners to be outside together for the first time since they arrived, and it looked like the war might be over.

“We had a communication system where we’d put a note on the lid of the waste bucket, or use the tap code, and we had to do that because we were only allowed out of our cell for about an hour a day, and never more than one cell was let out at a time. So, when they let everyone out, and then gave us reading material, they knew it was over. Or they thought it was, because before you know it, the doors are all slammed shut again.”

Soon after, Linebacker II started. From Dec. 18-29, 1972, the U.S. Air Force conducted an operation called Linebacker II, a ‘maximum effort’ campaign to destroy targets using B-52 heavy bombers that dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on more than 30 targets.

“B-52s bombed all night long after talks broke down. The SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) shot down a bunch of planes on the third night, after they figured out the flight patterns, and one night they pulled up a deuce and a half and told us to crawl in the back. We thought we were being taken to China.”

Harker would spend his last three months as a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton.

Repatriation

Half a world away, in Paris, a peace accord was signed January 27, 1973, and soon after Harker and other American POWs heard the news they had longed to hear.

“We were ecstatic,” Harker said. “We’d hear doors open and activity and they came and said, ‘you’re going, and you’re going, and you’re going’ dividing us up into groups that would be repatriated. They gave us western clothing and a travel bag and when they pulled us out of a holding cell wearing our red-striped pajamas we were given the clothes. By noon, nothing had happened. They gave us food and told us the peace agreement was broken – and we were right back down in the depths of despair. But a few days later we got out.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

A newspaper clipping shows when David Harker returned home.

“I remember saluting an Air Force general who was sitting with a North Vietnamese officer, and when we saluted, we had been officially repatriated. On the plane home, the pilot told us when we had entered international airspace and there was a great cheer.”

The cheers continued when they landed in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Andrews AFB, Maryland. From Maryland, Harker went to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania where he went through medical treatment and rehabilitation, and he was reunited with his family.

“It was different,” Harker said. “I had brothers who were married, and children had been born, but it was exciting coming home. A private airline flew me and my father back and the local TV station had sent a reporter who interviewed me all the way back. There must have been 10,000 people at the Lynchburg airport when we arrived – I had no idea there would be that welcome and response – my big extended family – the high school band was there. It was a long journey and I was glad to be home and for them to be there for me meant so much. I was led to a blue 1973 Corvette and handed the keys. A group of school mates had gotten together and sold bumper stickers for a dollar each to buy me a car and they handed me the keys and a check for id=”listicle-2647726394″,100.”

Being home with his family, Harker said he learned how much anxiety and frustration and worry his parents went through while he was captive.

“Every POW gets a casualty assistance officer whose job it is to let the family know when they hear something – anything – about their son,” Harker said. “My family never heard anything from their CAO. It wasn’t until 1969, when three prisoners were released that they knew I was alive. My parents found out that a couple of those who were released were at Fort Jackson, and so they went there and got onto base and met with them and heard from them that I was alive. That’s all the knew for five years. So they became involved in the National League of Families who organized and tried to have some involvement with North Vietnam to get information about prisoners and try to make the process more transparent as far as information was concerned.”

Life after war

After he returned from Vietnam, Harker took some time off, but eventually returned to Blacksburg and finished his business degree from Virginia Tech in 1976 and found his way to work as a probation and parole officer. In 1977 he married Linda, his high school sweetheart whom he had dated since 1962.

His family now includes his two children, Megan and husband Mike, and Adam and his wife Anza. David and Linda also enjoy their grandchildren: 13-year old Emily, 11-year old Ethan, and 6-year old Eli, children of Megan; and Adam’s 23-month old daughter Ava.

While Harker is open to discussing his time in Vietnam to serve as an education for younger people, he said it was a part of his life that he’s put behind him.

“Kush and I talk about that all the time – we’re not professional POWs. By the grace of God and the help of other men, we made it out. We all serve our country one way or another. This country is what we love. My life has been a real blessing since then, and the staff at the VA hospital, what they do is marvelous, and I appreciate each one of them. I know they have a heart for those Veterans, or they wouldn’t work there,” Harker said. “I love the Veterans, too, and appreciate their service, and institutions like the VA are a great service to our country.”

In the early 2010s Harker had the Corvette he received in 1973 – the car he and his youngest brother Louie drove across the country after his return – restored. He still drives it today.

“I think of all the love behind it every time I drive it.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

What changes when drug cartels are listed as foreign terrorists

Earlier in 2019, President Trump wanted to send U.S. troops into Mexico to assist the Mexican government in fighting drug cartel violence. But even after the brutal killing of an American family in Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declined Trump’s offer to accept American troops inside Mexico. Trump wanted to “wipe them off the face of the Earth,” saying we just needed a “call from your great new President.” But that call never came.


In order to expand the range of options for American intervention, Trump is looking into designating the cartels as a foreign terrorist organization, a move he says will come in the next 90 days.

“They will be designated,” Trump said in the interview. “I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days. You know, designation is not that easy. You have to go through a process and we’re well into that process.”

That process means the cartels acting like a foreign terrorist organization, specifically meeting certain criteria set by the State Department. The organization must be foreign, have the capability to engage in terrorist activities, and present a threat to U.S. national security.

Under the ‘terrorist activity defined, they meet the criteria for being engaged in hijacking and sabotage conveyances, detaining/murder/injuring an individual or a government organization to keep them from doing any act as a condition for the release of an individual,” Lenny DePaul, Chief Inspector/Commander of the U. S. Marshal Service, told Fox News.

The groups are also guilty of targeted assassinations, using explosives to threaten and destroy government institutions, and posing a danger to individuals and property.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Once designated a foreign terrorist organization, cartel members would no longer be able to enter the United States, Americans would no longer be able to do business with these groups, their sub-organizations, or legitimate organizations with ties to the cartels. This includes doing business with any known member of any cartel. Domestic law enforcement would also be able to prosecute gang members and drug dealers using anti-terrorism laws. An estimated 80 percent of weapons used by cartels come from the United States, and the violence is only getting worse.

Since 2006, some 250,000 people have been killed in cartel infighting. The reason? The Mexican Government under President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in an effort to end drug and gun violence. It began with 6,500 troops sent to Michoacán state and ended with 45,000 being sent in. By the end of Calderon’s term, 120,000 Mexicans were dead due to cartel-related violence. Since the escalation of violence, the cartels have turned into full-on insurgent groups.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

(Drug Enforcement Agency)

The cartels have begun to hire mercenaries and recruit paramilitary forces to protect their trade routes and territories. They use insurgent tactics and propaganda methods to intimidate journalists and influence the Mexican populace. When their public relations campaigns have little effect, they all turn to violence and targeted killings.

But Mexico is pushing back against the United States.

“Our problems will be solved by Mexicans,” President Andres Manuel Lopez said a press conference. “We don’t want any interference from any foreign country.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is the agenda for Mattis’ Indo-Asia-Pacific tour

Strengthening ties with allies, increasing defense capabilities in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and discussions about the threat of North Korea are among the topics Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will contend with on his trip to the region, he told reporters traveling with him yesterday.


The secretary arrived in the Philippines on Oct. 23. He laid out his agenda for the trip during an in-flight news conference.

Mattis will meet with Philippine officials before taking part in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations defense ministerial set for Oct. 23-25. That meeting is at the former Clark Air Base.

“One of the first things I’m going to do when I get there is commend the Philippine military for liberating Marawi from the terrorists,” he told reporters. “It was a very tough fight, as you know, in southern Mindanao. And I think the Philippine military sends a very strong message to the terrorists.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines battled forces allied under the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Marawi. Coalition forces helped the Philippine troops with intelligence, advice and logistic support. While small pockets of terrorists remain, the government declared the city liberated Oct. 17.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Marawi, Phillipines, sits on the northern bank of Lake Lanao. The tiny country is surrounded by the Phillipine, South China, Sulu, and Celebes Seas, and the Pacific Ocean to the east. (image Chrisgel Ryan Cruz)

ASEAN

The association has been in existence for almost 50 years and is a force promoting peace and stability in the region. It is a forum for the nations to discuss issues among themselves and hash out ways to cooperate that brings prosperity to the region, Mattis said. The meeting also marks 40 years of friendship and cooperation between ASEAN and the United States.

“ASEAN provides an international venue, giving voice to those who want relations between states to be based on respect, not on predatory economics or on the size of militaries,” he said. “ASEAN nations have demonstrated that they can listen to one another, they identify opportunities to increase defense cooperation for their own security and seek shared solutions to shared concerns. The U.S. remains unambiguously committed to supporting ASEAN.”

The secretary will take advantage of his time at the meeting to visit with his regional counterparts, he said. In addition to meeting Philippine counterparts, Mattis is scheduled to meet with representatives of Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

He will also hold trilateral talks with Japanese and South Korean defense officials.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Signalman Seaman Adrian Delaney practices his semaphore aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) during an at-sea training evolution with the Royal Thai Navy tank landing ship Her Thai MajestyÕs Ship (HTMS) Prathong (LST 715) during the Thailand phase of exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT). (U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 3rd Class Alicia T. Boatwright.)

North Korea

Mattis said the regional disturbances created by North Korea will be on the agenda at ASEAN. He said will also emphasize the shared values the nations of the alliance have, the territorial sovereignty of the nations and the need for “freedom of navigation through historically international waters and fair and reciprocal trade.”

Related: This is why Mattis isn’t losing sleep over threats from North Korea

At the conclusion of the meeting, Mattis will lead the official U.S. delegation to the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in October 2016. The royal cremation rite ends the period of mourning for the country — one of America’s treaty allies in the region. “He was understandably beloved by his people and a proponent of our strong Thailand-United States relationship,” the defense secretary said.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

After the ASEAN meeting ends, Mattis will move on to Seoul, where he and South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo will co-chair the 49th annual Security Consultative Meeting. “There, we will underscore our ironclad commitment to each other,” Mattis said.

North Korea is a threat to the region and globally, defense officials have said. Two unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions have isolated the state from the rest of the world. The U.N. acted after North Korea detonated nuclear devices and flew an intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan. During his meetings in South Korea, the secretary said he will discuss reinforcing diplomatic efforts to return to a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

The defense leaders will also discuss “how we are going to maintain peace by keeping our militaries alert while our diplomats — Japanese, South Korean and U.S. — work with all nations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is the Army’s new ‘360 Invictus’ attack helicopter

Bell has unveiled its proposed single-rotor design for the U.S. Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), a cutting-edge helicopter that may be optionally manned.

The ‘360 Invictus’ helicopter will be loaded with a 20 mm cannon and integrated munitions launcher able to carry Hellfire missiles or rockets. It will be able to adapt for future weapons integration in order to fight in urban environments, according to Bell.

Bell showcased its design to reporters at its facilities in Arlington, Virginia on Oct. 1, 2019.


“The Army realized that they absolutely do need a smaller aircraft that’s … able to operate in urban canyons as well as out in mixed terrain,” said Jeffrey Schloesser, executive vice president for strategic pursuits at Bell.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Bell ‘360 Invictus’ rendering.

(Bell)

Schloesser said the 360 Invictus has high-cruise speeds, long-range capabilities and advanced maneuverability, all intended to help it dominate a future battlespace.

“We have a solution that can accomplish those missions, but it’s also the lowest-risk, and therefore probably the lowest-cost aircraft, to be able to accomplish [that],” Schloesser said.

Keith Flail, vice president of advanced vertical lift systems, said the agile helicopter’s first flight is expected in the fall of 2022. It should be able to fly at speeds greater than 180 knots true airspeed, or more than 200 miles per hour; the aircraft will also have a supplemental power unit that can boost the aircraft’s speed in flight.

Loosely based on Bell’s 525 Relentless rotor system, the fly-by-wire computer flight control helicopter will be made in partnership with Collins Aerospace which will deliver a new avionics hardware and software suite. “[Collins] also has the ability to integrate capabilities with the MOSA, or modular open system architecture, onto the aircraft,” Flail said.

Some observers at Oct. 1, 2019’s event remarked how the streamlined, lightweight fuselage design of the 360 Invictus resembled the body of a shark, particularly the vertical canted ducted tail rotor, designed for optimized lift and propulsion.

“As we’re in the wind tunnel, as we’re looking at performance, as we’re looking at drag, everything on the aircraft, we’re very confident that we have a good story on … that design target,” Flail said.

In April 2019, the Army awarded Bell, a subsidiary of Textron, the contract to begin prototype and design work; but the company must compete against four other firms before the service downselects its options to move forward with its future helicopter.

They are: AVX Aircraft Co. partnered with L3Harris Technologies; Boeing Co.; Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky; and Karem Aircraft.

Currently, the Army is developing FARA and the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) along with other airframes as part of its larger Future Vertical Lift initiative, or FVL.

FVL, the Army’s third modernization priority, is intended to field a new generation of helicopters before 2030.

Flail said that Bell will have a full-scale model of its FARA design, which fits inside a C-17 Globemaster III for transport as well as a 40-foot CONEX box, at the annual Association of the U.S. Army show later this month.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how America prepared for chemical warfare in World War II

One of the biggest threats that never materialized in World War II was the Axis using chemical weapons on the battlefield. This possibility constantly haunted the minds of Allied planners. After all, Germany had widely used chlorine gas, phosgene, and mustard gas on Allied troops in the trench warfare that defined World War I.


As a result, Allied troops were thoroughly trained on what to do in the event of a Nazi gas attacks. However, while the Nazis discovered tabun and sarin, a pair of lethal nerve agents, neither of them were used against Allied troops. The Nazis did make some limited use of chemical weapons in fighting around the Black Sea in 1941, but never used them on a wide scale in combat.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

A number of drums holding chemical weapons are stashed in this shelter. The Allies never used chemical weapons, but did maintain stocks in case they needed to retaliate.

(Imperial War Museum)

One of the big reasons they didn’t use it on a wide scale against the Allies was because there was a good chance that they’d respond in kind. In essence, it was deterrence that prevented poison gas from being used against troops. Instead, it was used against concentration camp prisoners. Adolf Hitler, a World War I veteran who had survived chemical attacks himself, ordered the withdrawal or destruction of chemical weapons after reverses in Italy and the Battle of Stalingrad.

Perhaps the worst damage inflicted on American troops with chemical weapons came when the merchant ship John Harvey, which carried mustard gas for use if the Germans had crossed the chemical threshold, was sunk. The gas was released and caused over 600 casualties, of whom 69 died. Many of the losses were due to the fact that medical personnel weren’t told about the presence of the gas.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

The ruthlessness of the Nazis led the Allies to thoroughly prepare for chemical weapons attacks.

(Imperial War Museum)

Allied troops were also trained in procedures to protect themselves from chemical weapons. The technology you’ll see in the video below isn’t quite up to today’s MOPP suits, but some of the stuff is still informative and, unfortunately, relevant. After all, chlorine gas and sarin have been used in Syria recently.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFvsridvwL8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY TRENDING

Feeling stressed? Here’s how to use CBD to relax

CBD is an emerging drug derived from the cannabis plant for its ability to reduce anxiety without “getting you high.” As federal restrictions relax, scientists continue to study CBD for its medicinal properties and companies continue to find great ways to administer it.

But does it actually work? 

The short answer is: it sure seems to.

A recent preclinical study strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies are limited due to past federal restrictions, but so far the anecdotal evidence looks convincing.

What is CBD?

Cannabis (most commonly known as marijuana) has three major components: cannabinoids, terpenoids and flavonoids. The two major components of marijuana cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While THC has a psychoactive effect, doctors and scientists have been able to procure CBD by itself, which is non-psychoactive (in other words, it won’t get you “high”) and has many promising medicinal properties that treat symptoms of chronic pain or anxiety.

woman taking cbd oil

In a survey conducted in 2017, 40% of cannabis users reportedly found CBD to be more effective than prescribed anti-anxiety medications. It should be noted that CBD can reduce the symptoms of anxiety, but like any medication, it should be used along with practical methods to treat the sources of anxiety (such as therapy, wellness and fitness programs).

How to use CBD

There are many ways to enjoy CBD — and many different doses. Because it does not produce a psychoactive effect, you may be able to use a small dose of a tincture under your tongue for quick relief without compromising your concentration or if you have work you want to accomplish. 

Maybe it’s the end of the work day and you want to relax for the evening. A CBD bath bomb can give you a larger dose absorbed by the skin at a slower rate for a dreamy evening. A CBD lotion can be part of your morning routine to calm your muscles and start your day off right.

CBD is an emerging medicinal offering with many different possible applications: liquids, capsules, edibles and topicals. Each one will result in a different experience. Furthermore, the strength of the dose is measured by miligrams and should be experimented with slowly (for example, I enjoy beverages with 10-25mg of CBD, but my evening bath bomb might have 100-200mg). 

Overall, if you are seeking a way to help manage anxiety, talk with your health care provider about whether it’s safe to try CBD (remember, it is a drug — it can affect other medications you are taking), and then begin to experiment with different applications and doses slowly. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happens when rocket and missile launches go wrong

These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.


Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.

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A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.

Other failed launches, however, have not had such fortunate endings. For instance, a test of a Soviet SS-7 Saddler intercontinental ballistic missile in 1960 killed the then-chief marshal of the artillery for the Soviet Army, Mitrofan Nedelin, and at least 100 other people. In 1996, a Chinese Long March rocket crashed down in a village, with some estimates claiming as many as 500 people were killed.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.

(United States Congress)

Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.

The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.

Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOl4Jzfm6YU

www.youtube.com

Articles

Signs point to North Korean role in global cyber attack

Cybersecurity firms have found clues that last weekend’s global “ransomware” attack, which infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries, could be linked to North Korea.


The security companies Sympantec and Kaspersky Lab said on May 15 that portions of the “WannaCry” ransomware used in the attacks have the same code as malware previously distributed by Lazarus, a group behind the 2014 Sony hack blamed on North Korea.

“This is the best clue we have seen to date as to the origins of WannaCry,” Kaspersky researchers said.

But it’s possible the code was simply copied from the Lazarus malware without any other direct connection, the companies said.

Symantec said the similarities between WannaCry and Lazarus tools “so far only represent weak connections. We are continuing to investigate for stronger connections.”

Israeli security firm Intezer Labs said it agreed that North Korea might be behind the attack.

Vital Systems Paralyzed

The WannaCry virus over the weekend paralyzed vital computer systems around the world that run factories, banks, government agencies, and transport systems in some 150 countries.

The virus mainly hit computers running older versions of Microsoft Windows software that had not been recently updated.

But by May 15, the fast-spreading extortion scheme was waning. The only new outbreaks reported were in China, where traffic police and schools said they had been targeted, but there were no major disruptions.

The link to North Korea found by the security firms will be closely followed by law-enforcement agencies around the world, including Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s homeland security adviser said on May 15 that both foreign nations and cybercriminals were possible culprits.

Symantec and Kaspersky said they need to study the code more and asked for others to help with the analysis. Hackers reuse code from other operations at times, so even copied lines fall well short of proof.

U.S. and European security officials told the Reuters news agency that it was still too early to say who might be behind the attacks, but they did not rule out North Korea as a suspect.

The Lazarus hackers, acting for impoverished North Korea, have been more brazen in pursuit of financial gain than some other hackers, and have been blamed for the theft of $81 million from a Bangladesh bank.

‘Highly Destabilizing’

Moreover, North Korea might have motives to launch such a large-scale, global attack as its economy is crumbling under some of the stiffest-ever UN economic sanctions imposed over its repeated testing of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles.

The United Nations Security Council on May 15 condemned Pyongyang’s latest missile test the previous day, and vowed to take further measures, including possible new sanctions, in response to its “highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance” of existing prohibitions against such tests.

Whoever is responsible, the perpetrators of the massive weekend attacks have raised very little money thus far — less than $70,000 from users looking to regain access to their computers, according to Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.

Some private sector cybersecurity experts do not believe the motive of the attacks was primarily to make money, given the apparently meager revenues that were raised by the unprecedented large operation. They said that wreaking havoc likely was the primary goal.

The countries most affected by WannaCry were Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine, and India, according to Czech security firm Avast.

Bossert denied charges by Russian President Vladimir Putin and others that the attacks originated in the United States, and came from a hacking tool developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) that was later leaked online.

“This was not a tool developed by the NSA to hold ransom data. This was a tool developed by culpable parties, potentially criminals or foreign nation-states, that were put together in such a way as to deliver phishing e-mails, put it into embedded documents, and cause infection, encryption, and locking,” Bossert said.

British media were hailing as a hero a 22-year-old computer security expert who appeared to have helped stop the attack from spreading by discovering a “kill switch” — an Internet address which halted the virus when activated.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

MIGHTY CULTURE

VA cures 100,000 vets from Hepatitis C

VA will soon mark 100,000 veterans cured of hepatitis C. This is exciting news and puts VA on track to eliminate hepatitis C in all eligible veterans enrolled in VA care who are willing and able to be treated.

Building on this success, VA takes on another important issue during Hepatitis Awareness Month: making sure all veterans experiencing homelessness are vaccinated for hepatitis A.

Recently, there have been multiple large outbreaks of hepatitis A among people who are homeless and people who use injection drugs across the U.S. Currently, there is a large outbreak in Tennessee and Kentucky that has affected well over 5,000 people across the two states with 60 deaths reported thus far.


Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, advising that all individuals experiencing homelessness be vaccinated against hepatitis A.

Given that individuals experiencing homelessness may also be at increased risk of exposure to hepatitis B, VA recommends vaccination for those with risk factors against both hepatitis A and B, as appropriate.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

3D illustration of the Liver.

During Hepatitis Awareness Month, the HIV, Hepatitis, and Related Conditions Programs, the Homeless Programs, and the National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention are collaborating to raise awareness on this issue.

We are collaborating with leadership and frontline providers to ensure all identified veterans who are homeless, non-immune and unvaccinated for hepatitis A and those at risk of HBV exposure are offered vaccination, as appropriate, at their next VA appointment.

Veterans who are interested in either hepatitis A or B vaccination may ask their VA provider for more information.

Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19) is a great reminder to check in with your provider about hepatitis C testing and treatment as well.

Learn more about hepatitis on the VA’s Viral Hepatitis website.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is why Trump wants a massive military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue

President Donald Trump’s trip to France for the country’s Bastille Day parade in July left a big impression. So big, in fact, that he wants to replicate the experience back home.


As Trump met with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump gushed about seeing France’s military might on display in the streets of Paris during his visit. And he told reporters that he is looking into the possibility of having the parade down the streets of Washington on Independence Day to show the US’s “military strength.”

“I was your guest at Bastille Day, and it was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” Trump told Macron, who sat next to him. “It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and the spirit of France.”

“To large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July Fourth in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Trump said.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
US President Trump watches the French National Day Parade. Photo from White House Flickr.

The comments prompted laughter from Macron and other officials sitting around them. The leaders were meeting in New York ahead of the United Nations General Assembly. But it isn’t the first time that Trump has talked about wanting a military parade in the streets of Washington.

Before the inauguration, Trump officials inquired with the Pentagon about having armored vehicles participate in his inauguration parade, according to documents obtained by the HuffPost. And he told The Washington Post in January that he hoped that during his tenure, the US’s military might would be on display.

“Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country,” Trump said in the January interview. “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military.”

“That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, DC, for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military,” he added.

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima
Photo from US Coast Guard.

Though Trump is deeply unpopular in France, he was invited for the 100th Bastille Day ceremony in Paris by Macron in an effort to strengthen the relationship between the two countries and its new leaders. The lengthy parade seemed to thrill the president, who has long held a fascination with military might.

On Sept. 18, seated next to Macron, he boasted about the levels of US military spending in his first term. And he said that his goal would be to “try to top” what France did.

“I think we’re looking forward to doing that,” Trump said. “I’m speaking with General Kelly and with all of the people involved, and we’ll see if we can do it this year,” he added, referring to his Chief of Staff John Kelly.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about plans to hold such a parade.

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