The Navy’s top civilian leader told reporters Jan. 11 that while he respects the career and leadership abilities of President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, he thinks Congress should take a hard line on its mandate to keep civilians in charge of the nation’s defense.
Outgoing Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Congress had a good reason to require former military leaders be out of uniform for at least seven years before they may take the top leadership positions at the Pentagon — including the roles of secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense — adding that the time out of uniform had recently been reduced from 10 years.
Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon, former Marine Gen. James Mattis, retired from the Corps in 2013 after 44 years in the military. His appointment would require a waiver from Congress to skirt the seven-year mandate.
“I have worked very closely with Jim Mattis almost the whole time [in office] and I have an enormous amount of respect for him,” Mabus told defense reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C. “I think that civilian control of the military is one of the bedrocks of our democracy and there was a reason that was put in place.”
Top lawmakers in the Senate held a meeting with experts on military affairs Jan. 10 to debate the restriction, with many arguing the rule should be kept in place but that Mattis’ experience and intellect warrant a one-time waiver.
“I would hesitate to ever say … that there is any indication that dangerous times require a general,” said Kathleen Hicks, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t think that’s the issue. I think dangerous times require experience and commitment … which I think Gen. Mattis can bring.”
So far one member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has spoken against granting a waiver. New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has said she’d oppose a waiver and hasn’t “seen the case for why it is so urgently necessary.”
Former Army Gen. George Marshall is the only Pentagon leader to be granted a waiver under the 10-year rule, and he served only one year during the hight of the Korean war.
“It was done for George Marshall but it shouldn’t be done very often,” outgoing SecNav Mabus said. “So I think [Congress] is right to raise that issue.”
“This is nothing to say about Jim Mattis, I think he was a great Marine and a great general officer and a great CoCom,” he added.
Mattis is set for a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 12. Both chambers are expected to vote on a service waiver before Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20.
In November 2018, the Camp Fire decimated the rural town of Paradise, California, becoming the state’s most destructive and deadliest wildfire ever. The windswept wildfire razed more than 14,000 residences, and at least 86 people were killed.
While Sacramento District’s official involvement following the Camp Fire has been minimal, that hasn’t prevented district employees from getting involved.
Joanne Goodsell was recently hired as a Cultural Resources Specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She is also an archaeologist, and wanted to find a way to use her skill-set to help victims of the fire. She would have been motivated to help regardless of where the fire took place, but this one hit home — literally. Goodsell grew up in Paradise.
“It was personal. I had wanted to do something to help, but there’s not much you really can do outside of donating. But sometimes you want to help firsthand, to find a way to do more,” said Goodsell.
She did donate money, but was still looking to find how she could do more. That’s when she came across a Facebook post leading her to a group called the Institute for Canine Forensics.
The ICF, in coordination with two Northern California archaeological consulting firms, was asking for archaeologists to come out and help with the unfortunate task of trying to find people’s ashes; not of those who perished in the fires, but the ashes (also called cremains) of previously deceased and cremated loved ones that were now intermingled with the ashes and debris of their burned out homes.
“A friend had posted a link where the ICF was asking for archaeologists to help with the recovery efforts,” said Goodsell. “So I got in contact with them and found this was a good fit for my skill set as an archaeologist.”
Goodsell’s involvement soon inspired other archaeologists in her section at the Corps to volunteer as well. Joe Griffin, Chief of the Cultural, Recreational, and Social Assessment Section soon got involved, as did archaeologists Hope Schear and Geneva Kraus.
Finding ashes among ashes would seem an impossible task, but the ICF brought in dogs that are specifically trained to locate human cremains. After a client has requested service, an ICF handler speaks to the client to determine the approximate location of the cremains and what kind of container they were in. The dogs then sniff through the debris field and either sit or lay down when they find a scent. From there it’s up to the teams of archaeologists.
Nature’s chemical reactions also provide some help in the archaeologists’ searches. First, the texture of the human ashes are different from ashes of say, burned drywall or wood. Second, when the cremains burn a second time, they turn a different color than the typical gray or white ash surrounding them, making them easier to see.
Dressed in protective clothing, the archaeologists would determine a search area, set up a perimeter and begin excavating down to ground level, removing layers of ash and debris as they worked toward where they believed the cremains to be.
Most often, they eventually found the cremains on the ground, surrounded or mixed in with other ash and debris. Original ceramic containers almost never survived the fire, and metal urns melted. It was helpful that sometimes the searchers also found the original metal medallion that stays with a cremated body, making recognition of the human ashes a bit easier.
“One set of cremains were in a fireproof safe, and even it burned, but we still found some cremains in there,” said Goodsell. “Our highest recovery rates were often for cremains that were in the original containers and had been sitting on the floor of a closet.”
The loss of a loved one’s ashes can add a sense of guilt to the already heavy burden of losing a home, especially for those who had yet to fulfill a promise to spread a loved one’s cremains as requested in person or in a will. Fortunately, Goodsell said they had close to a 70 percent success rate in recovering and returning entire cremains and medallions.
The job of searching for cremains at the Camp Fire is finished, at least for now, but Goodsell hopes that in the near future cremains recovery will become standard operating procedure following wildfire disasters.
“This is not going to be the last time this is needed,” said Goodsell. “Finding and returning the cremains means a great deal to these family members. Even if it was a small, token amount, people were very, very grateful.”
John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, a former US senator, and former Marine aviator who saw combat in World War II and Korea, has died at 95.
Glenn is known for a number of accolades throughout his life of service, from the military to the astronaut program and eventually, into politics. So it’s worth looking back on his entry into politics, when he first ran for office against an incumbent named Howard Metzenbaum.
In 1974, Glenn’s military record offered an opening for criticism by his opponent, who was mindful of Americans’ anti-war fervor during the Vietnam War. Metzenbaum began calling him “Col. Glenn” to highlight his time in the Marine Corps, and later told him that he “had never met a payroll,” which Glenn perceived as being told that his military record and service with NASA didn’t qualify as “having held a job.”
His response during the debate was remarkable, and at the end of it, he received more than 20 seconds of sustained applause, according to PBS. Here’s what he said:
“I spent 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I lived through two wars. I flew 149 missions. I was in the space program. It wasn’t my checkbook, it was my life that was on the line.
You go with me as I did out to a veterans’ hospital and look those men with their mangled bodies in the eye and tell them that they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother and you look her in the eye and you tell her that her son did not hold a job. You go to Arlington National Cemetery — where I have more friends than I’d like to remember — and you think about this nation, and you tell me that those people didn’t have a job.
I tell you, Howard Metzenbaum, you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men, some men, who held a job. And they required a dedication to purpose, a love of country, and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself.
And their self-sacrifice is what has made this nation possible.
I have held a job, Howard.”
Glenn went on to defeat Metzenbaum in the primary and win the general election. He served in the Senate from 1974 to 1999. His speech was also used to motivate a group of US Marines before they went into combat in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2010.
He pretended to be blind so that he could receive benefits. But the Reno County man was spotted driving his car in Wichita, and on Sept. 6 he was sentenced in federal court.
Billy J. Alumbaugh, 62, of Turon, was sentenced to three years of probation and must also repay $70,000 in benefits he received, US Attorney Tom Beall said in a prepared statement. Alumbaugh pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government. His ex-wife, Debra Alumbaugh, 58, pleaded guilty to concealing the crime.
In his plea, Alumbaugh admitted he falsely represented to the Veterans Administration that he was blind and home-bound in order to receive monthly pension benefits. In truth, he was able to drive and engage in other routine life activities without assistance.
His wife accompanied him to medical visits during which they pretended he was blind and depended on her for help. Alumbaugh, who served in the US Army from 1973 to 1976, received the supplemental assistance from 2009 to 2016, according to the federal indictment that charged him.
Billy Alumbaugh was seen with his ex-wife arriving at the VA hospital in Wichita last October, according to the indictment. Debra Alumbaugh was seen driving the car and she went on to help Billy Alumbaugh out of the car and into the complex.
After the appointment, they left in the vehicle with Debra Alumbaugh behind the wheel. After she drove for a few blocks, she pulled over and they switched seats, according to the indictment.
During the bloody and costly Argonne Offensive, American forces had to fight for three weeks and suffer 100,000 casualties to reach the objectives that were planned for the first day of fighting. One of those objectives was a large, well-defended hill that Douglas MacArthur was ordered to either capture or spend 5,000 lives in the failure. MacArthur promised his name would be on the list if he failed.
MacArthur was a brigadier general at the time, recently passed over for promotion and in command of the 84th Infantry Brigade, and he and his men had already fought viciously from Sep. 26, 1918, to early October. MacArthur had led some of their attacks, including a daring nighttime raid, from the front, earning him nominations for what would become his sixth and seventh Silver Stars.
But the 84th was moved up to a division at Côte de Châtillon. It’s a large hill that dominates the surrounding terrain, and MacArthur assessed that it was the center of German fortifications in the area. He carefully laid his plans for attack and, as he was finishing up, his new corps commander visited him in his tent.
Maj. Gen. Charles P. Summerall and MacArthur were old friends and shared a cup of coffee. When he was done, Summerall stood to leave and told MacArthur, “Give me Châtillon, MacArthur, or turn in a list of 5,000 casualties.”
It was a surprising order, but it highlighted the dire straits the American Expeditionary Force was in. Their first offensive in the Meuse the month before had gone very well, but America still had to prove itself to its allies. And Germany was close to winning the war before America entered it. Russia had fallen out of the war in 1917, and the French people were weary after over four years of fighting on their soil.
France could still fall, Germany could still win, and America would be seen as weak and exploited even if Germany lost the war without a significant American victory. Summerall and the other senior generals were willing to do nearly anything to prove that America was a real power on the world stage and to punish Germany for sinking U.S. ships.
But MacArthur was no slouch either. Remember, in less than a month of fighting before this meeting, he had earned himself nominations for two more Silver Stars. Though he would later be embarrassed by the drama of his response, what he said to Summerall at the time was, “All right, general. We’ll take it, or my name will head the list.”
To paraphrase, “I will come back with that hill or on it.” On October 14, MacArthur began his attack with “my Alabama cotton growers on my left, my Iowa farmers on my right,” as he referred to the National Guard forces under his command. The 83rd Infantry Brigade, made up mostly of New York and Ohio units, fought bravely beside the 84th.
…little units of our men crawled and sneaked and side-slipped forward from one bit of cover to another. Death, cold and remorseless, whistled and sang its way through our ranks. But like the arms of a giant pincer my Alabama and Iowa National Guardsmen closed in from both sides. Officers fell and sergeants leaped to command. Companies dwindled to platoons and corporals took over.”
Côte de Châtillon fell to American hands late on October 16, MacArthur had led from the front, and he would later receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his great courage “in rallying broken lines and in reforming attacks, thereby making victory possible.”
The Germans counterattacked, ferociously, but MacArthur and his men held on, and the hills nearby quickly fell to American forces. The 42nd Infantry Division, of which the 83rd and 84th were part, would be temporarily relieved from front line duty on October 18. The two brigades had suffered 3,000 casualties taking the hill.
The Air Force is looking at possible plans to retire the F-15C/D Eagle as early as the mid-2020s, officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
While the decision would mean divesting an entire aircraft class, officials said the F-15 capability would be replaced by the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a potential cost-saving measure that would allow pilots to train on fewer platforms.
Air National Guard Director Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice said the Air Force as a total force is in “deep discussions” and will further assess the F-15 inventory next year.
“The F-15C [has] served our nation well, as have its pilots for decades. And it was our air superiority fighter; now F-22 has taken that role,” said Maj. Gen. Scott D. West, director of current operations and deputy chief of staff for operations for the service at the Pentagon.
Air Force officials were testifying before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness on Capitol Hill.
“We do have capacity in the F-16C community to recapitalize that radar to serve the same function as the F-15 has done and thereby reduce the different systems that we have to sustain and operate, so that makes it more efficient,” West said about the effort to minimize the number of systems pilots operate.
Taking questions from reporters after the hearing, Rice elaborated, “It’s a bigger picture. There’s a balance between capability and capacity — capacity being, do we have … 1,900 to 2,000 fighters in our inventory? But at the same time, we also look at capability. Does it have all the right radar on it [at] the right time? Certainly, an F-15 right now is a very capable platform … [but] as we move into maintaining our capacity and keeping our capability, we have to address those needs.”
Rice said “planning choices” for the F-15C within the 2019 budget started last fall.
The F-15 is all-weather, tactical fighter; the now-retired F-15A made its maiden flight in 1972. The single-seat F-15C and two-seat F-15D models entered the Air Force inventory beginning in 1979, and have been in almost every theater across the globe, according to the service.
American F-15s are stationed at overseas bases such as RAF Lakenheath, England, and Kadena Air Base, Japan. A deployment of F-15s moved across Europe last summer as a deterrent for Russia during Operation Atlantic Resolve, and F-15E Strike Eagles have been used throughout the air war against the Islamic State.
Rice said planned F-15 upgrades will be fulfilled. However, the Air Force may want to look at the next block of upgrades to save on future sustainment and operational costs, he said.
Rep. Martha McSally, a former Air Force pilot and advocate for the A-10 Thunderbolt, questioned the choice to scrap the F-15 — a capable fighter, “the best in air-to-air” as a fourth-generation aircraft.
“The F-16 kind of fills in those gaps, [but] comparing the capabilities side-by-side we have to be careful through that analysis,” the Arizona Republican said. “But I realize the funding challenges that you have as you go through this decision process — but it doesn’t bring the same capability.”
Rice said he believes the Air Force is getting beyond comparing aircraft platforms “especially in the digital age” when looking at the platforms as systems and “how they integrate is as important and, in the future, will be even more important than the platform itself,” he said.
The Air Force wants more manpower, more maintenance, more pilots to ramp up readiness and sustain the force for a high-end fight with a near-peer adversary.
West, Rice and Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of the Air Force Reserve, testified they need pilots to sustain each part the force: at least 800 for the Guard; 300 for the Reserve; and nearly 1,500 — including 700 fighter pilots — for the active-duty component.
When asked if retiring the F-15 is a good idea amid a push to ramp up pilot — especially fighter pilot — production in the next few years, Rice said, “That’s true that is a challenge, because it’s not just capability-capacity, it’s all sorts of things. The readiness, the training, the people, the equipment. They all have to be at the right balance.
“So as we look at potentially doing a ‘what if’ drill [with the F-15 retirement] … over a certain period of time, ‘How much will that hurt? How much do we have to fill in the gap? Where do we go to gain that capability back at the right time, in the right place?’ ” he said.
It will be about “fitting into a system of systems,” Rice said.
Photos released this week by Agence France-Presse feature American special operations troops wearing the patches of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, are part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who are rapidly advancing toward the de facto ISIS capital at Raqqa.
While friendly forces’ proximity to Raqqa should delight those fighting against ISIS, one ally is not at all pleased with the photos. The Turkish government sees the YPG as the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is an internationally-recognized terrorist organization and has been fighting the Turkish government for independence since 1984.
While the United States recognizes the PKK as a terror group, it disputes Turkey’s claim that the YPG is a Syrian extension. Still, Tukish President Erdoğan was probably surprised to see photos of U.S. forces wearing the YPG insignia. The U.S. spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve wrote it off as esprit de corps:
.@MarcShlikoff US Special operators will often wear patched from their partner forces as a sign of #partnership#TalkOIR
After Action Report | World of Tanks from WATM on Vimeo.
World of Tanks” has a simple premise: Get into a tank and go kill stuff. And yes, it’s as fun as it sounds.
The game starts off with a tutorial level that gives the absolute basics of tank driving in World of Tanks before allowing players to fight bots for practice. After that, players are thrown into the deep end with other players.
And that’s when it gets really fun. After all, “World of Tanks” is a multiplayer game, and the best parts happen when fighting in the massive 15-on-15 tank battles. Playing in random groups gives you the chance to drop right into the action. But players can set up platoons with friends so that they can go into the battle and fight as a team.
Fighting as a team is very valuable considering the game has 120 million players worldwide, some of whom have been gaining experience since the game launched five years ago.
These teams are built around a mix of tank types. Players can drive light, medium, and heavy tanks as well as tank destroyers and self-propelled guns.
No matter which tank type you try driving, you get the feeling that you’re moving out in a true, multi-ton weapon of war, driving over trees and through buildings in battle.
But, you learn that the enemy is just as strong as you the first time a medium or heavy tank starts pounding on your hull with anti-tank rounds or an SPG hits you with artillery through your soft top armor.
Each kind of tank has its own strengths and weaknesses, and “World of Tanks” does a good job making them feel unique while teaching players how to tactically use each tank on its own and in a platoon.
Tactics are very important in “World of Tanks.” The game’s physics discourage firing from slopes down onto the enemy, a big no-no in real tank combat as well.
Each vehicle has specific weak points that players learn to protect. Players also have to quickly learn to fire from behind cover and to use concealment when maneuvering.
Juggling all of this can be hectic but is exciting in matches, especially when the enemy missteps and you’re able to blast them away with a shot in the rear armor.
To make your mission a little easier, the game lets you recruit and train crew members, allowing for faster reloads or better tank handling in combat. Players can also upgrade their tanks. Researching a new gun may give a semi-automatic capability or buying a new engine will get a tank around the battlefield faster. The eight research trees are split by nationality and each country’s armor strategy feels unique.
With all eight tech trees combined, the game features 450 tanks complete with their own handling, armor, and weapons characteristics as well as notes about their history and development.
Historical accuracy is important to “World of Tanks,” and the tanks and weapons are carefully created to match their real-world counterparts. The game does take some liberties with the historical accuracy, though, tweaking some weapons and stats to keep the game balanced and fun.
Basically, everything is kept true to history unless one tank starts being able to run roughshod over everyone else. When that happens, the designers make a few small changes to rebalance the game.
While 15-on-15 tank battles are the default, the game does have other modes like Clan Stronghold or Global Map, where clans of tankers fight each other for resources.
Wargaming.net is even bringing Football Mode back for a short time to celebrate Euro 2016. Basically, it’s soccer with tanks:
The game is free to play, but the premium version allows players to more quickly upgrade their tanks. Players can also opt to buy awesome, premium tanks in one-time transactions.
The UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) will hand down its verdict on Nov. 22 in the five-year war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic.
Mladic’s trial is the last at the ICTY, which was established at The Hague in 1993 to prosecute crimes committed in the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. He is accused of 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
General Ratko Mladić during UN-mediated talks at Sarajevo airport in 1993. (Image Wiki)
Mladic, 75, is charged with ordering artillery attacks on civilians in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and for organizing the summary execution of some 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, one of the more shocking events of the bloody Bosnian war.
Prosecutors say Mladic’s soldiers pushed past Dutch UN peacekeepers before separating the males for execution and putting the elderly, women, and children on buses and trucks to Bosniak-controlled territory.
In 2007, the ICTY that ruled the massacre was genocide carried out by Bosnian Serb forces.
Israel’s military launched a barrage of missile strikes on Iranian targets based in Syria early May 10, 2018, a massive retaliation in an ongoing conflict between the two bitter enemies.
The Israeli Defense Forces claimed fighter jets took down “dozens” of Iranian military targets in Syria overnight on May 10, 2018. The IDF spokeman’s unit told Israel’s Channel 10 News more than 50 targets were hit.
The IDF included an animated video of how the military act unfolded, featuring footage reportedly from the strike.
“This Iranian aggression is another proof of the intentions behind the establishment of the Iranian regime in Syria and the threat it poses to Israel and regional stability,” it said.
The IDF said it would “not allow the Iranian threat to establish itself in Syria” and that it would hold the Assad regime accountable for the escalation of violence within its borders.
The official IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, told Channel 10 that Israeli airstrikes had hit Iranian intelligence facilities, logistic headquarters, observation posts, weapon-storage facilities, and a vehicle used to launch rockets into Israeli territory.
Manelis said the strike was the largest attack carried out by Israeli in Syria since the two signed an agreement following the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
It is also the first time Israel directly pointed blame at Iran for firing into Israeli territory.
Israel claimed that the Iranian strikes on its territory caused no injuries or damage. It said four missiles had been intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket-defense system while others fell into Syrian territory.
Manelis told Haaretz, “We were prepared and we sum up this night as a success despite the fact that it is still not over.”
He said Israel was not seeking escalation but that its forces were “prepared for any scenario.” He added that Israel “hit hard at Iranian infrastructure” that it claims Iran has been building up for over a year.
Manelis posted a photo on his personal Facebook account, illustrating Israel’s airstrikes at several locations in Syria, including several near Israel’s capital of Damascus.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported, “The Syrian air defenses are confronting a new wave of Israeli aggression rockets and downing them one after the other.”
SANA also posted video of what it reported to be Syrian air defenses shooting down Israeli missiles.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on Kabul International Airport Wednesday morning targeting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who was making an unscheduled visit to Afghanistan.
Mattis had left the airport by the time the attack started, NBC News reports, and no casualties have been reported.
The airport said two missiles were fired toward the airport at around 11:00 a.m. local time, and the U.S. embassy warns that the attack may still be ongoing.
“At 11.36 am two missiles were fired on Kabul International Airport from Deh Sabz district, damaging the air force hangers and destroying one helicopter and damaging three other helicopters, but there were no casualties,” airport chief Yaqub Rassouli said according to USA Today.
While ISIS also claimed responsibility for the attack, that doesn’t necessarily mean the group had any involvement in carrying out the attack.
“We fired six rockets and planned to hit the plane of U.S. secretary of defense and other U.S. and NATO military officials,” one Taliban commander told NBC News. “We were told by our insiders that some losses were caused to their installations but we are not sure about James Mattis.”
NBC spoke with two unidentified Taliban commanders, who claimed that their inside sources who work security at the Kabul airport tipped them off to Mattis’s visit.
Mattis was holding a press conference away from the airport at the time of the attack, and told reporters that Afghan forces would strongly oppose the action.
“If in fact there was an attack … his is a classic statement to what Taliban are up to,” Mattis said. “If in fact this is what they have done, they will find Afghan security forces against them.”
Dos Equis’ old ads featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” were supposed to be hilarious and ridiculous at the same time. But it left many thinking of people they knew who really might fit that man’s mold. I would like to submit the argument in favor of 81-year-old Army veteran, actor, and musician Kris Kristofferson.
You might know him from his acting work – most recently portraying the most hardcore President of all time, Andrew Jackson, on the History Channel miniseries Texas Rising. Or maybe you know him as “Whistler” from the Blade movies. Older folks know him as the songwriter behind Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and as a country music performer in his own right. In 2003, he was presented with the “Veteran of the Year” Award at the 8th Annual American Veterans Awards.
While his father wanted him to continue the family’s military tradition, even he would have to admit that Kris has a pretty great resume. But there are a lot of music stars turned movie stars. It’s what he did before achieving stardom that makes him The Most Interesting Man in the World.
He was a Golden Gloves boxer.
The Golden Gloves meant that Kristofferson was a talented amateur boxer. But to add to his tough-as-nails persona, he also was skilled at rugby and track, and was even featured in Sports Illustrated for his natural talent playing American football.
He had two hobbies that just let him punch people in the face.
He was a Rhodes Scholar.
While studying literature at Pomona College in California, he was selected for a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Merton College. While there, he continued boxing, performing at the highest levels. Remember: there’s no shame in getting knocked out by Kris Kristofferson. It doesn’t matter if he’s 18-years-old or 81-years-old.
Kristofferson goes Airborne.
He earned a Ranger tab.
The younger Kristofferson was the son of an Army Air Forces officer who went into the service himself as an officer. He was a helicopter pilot who also finished Ranger training and Airborne school. He opted to get out of the Army in lieu of taking an assignment to teach at West Point.
He moonlighted as a janitor… while working on oil rigs.
Kristofferson would sit on oil rigs, flying workers around in Louisiana one week. Then the next week he would moonlight as a janitor in Nashville recording studios so he could drop demo tapes on unsuspecting country music artists like June and Johnny Cash.
In one interview, he recommended having patience if you’re pursuing a career as an artist. Sweeping floors at age 30 might not seem glamorous for a former Army Ranger officer, but ask Kris Kristofferson if it was worth it.
Unfortunately his boozing is what led to him no longer working the controls of helicopters.
All that and he fought forest fires.
One of Kristofferson’s most often-offered pieces of advice is writing from your own experience. As if football, rugby, being an Airborne Ranger, and working on oil rigs weren’t manly enough, he also worked in construction and fought wild fires in Alaska.
When most Americans think of the World War II battle for Iwo Jima – if they think of it at all, 75 years later – they think of one image: Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point.
That moment, captured in black and white by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and as a color film by Marine Sergeant William Genaust, is powerful, embodying the spirit of the Marine Corps.
But these pictures are far from the only images of the bloodiest fight in the Marines’ history. A larger library of film, and the men captured on them, is similarly emotionally affecting. It can even bring Americans alive today closer to a war that ended in the middle of the last century.
Take for instance, just one scene: Two Marines kneel with a dog before a grave marker. It is in the final frames of a film documenting the dedication of one of the three cemeteries on the island. Those two Marines are among hundreds present to remember the more than 6,000 Americans killed on the island in over a month of fighting. The sequence is intentionally framed by the cinematographer, who was clearly looking for the right image to end the roll of film in his camera.
I came across this film clip in my work as a curator of a collection of motion picture films shot by Marine Corps photographers from World War II through the 1970s. In a partnership between the History Division of the Marine Corps and the University of South Carolina, where I work, we are digitizing these films, seeking to provide direct public access to the video and expand historical understanding of the Marine Corps’ role in society.
Over the past two years of scanning, I have come to realize that our work also enables a more powerful relationship with the past by fostering individual connections with videos, something that the digitizing of the large quantity of footage makes possible.
The campaign within the battle
Iwo Jima, an island in the western Pacific less than 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, was considered a key potential stepping stone toward an invasion of Japan itself.
During the battle to take the island from the Japanese, more than 70,000 Marines and attached Army and Navy personnel set foot on Iwo Jima. That included combat soldiers, but also medical corpsmen, chaplains, service and supply soldiers and others. More than 6,800 Americans were killed on the island and on ships and landing craft aiding in the attack; more than 19,200 were wounded.
More than 50 Marine combat cameramen operated across the eight square miles of Iwo Jima during the battle, which stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945. Many shot still images, but at least 26 shot motion pictures. Three of these Marine cinematographers were killed in action.
Even before the battle began, Marine Corps leaders knew they wanted a comprehensive visual account of the battle. Beyond a historical record, combat photography from Iwo Jima would assist in planning and training for the invasion of the Japanese main islands. Some Marine cameramen were assigned to the front lines of individual units, and others to specific activities, like engineering and medical operations.
Most of the cameramen on Iwo Jima used 100-foot film reels that could capture about two and a half minutes of film. Sgt. Genaust, who shot the color sequence atop Suribachi, shot at least 25 reels – just over an hour of film – before he was killed, roughly halfway through the campaign.
Other cameramen who survived the entire battle produced significantly more. Sgt. Francis Cockrell was assigned to document the work of the 5th Division’s medical activities. Shooting at least 89 reels, he probably produced almost four hours of film.
Sgt. Louis L. Louft fought with the 13th Marines, an artillery regiment; his more than 100 film reels likely resulted in more than four hours of content. Landing on the beach with engineers of the 4th Division on Feb. 25, 1945, Pfc. Angelo S. Abramo compiled over three hours of material in the month of fighting he witnessed.
Even taking a conservative average of an hour of film from each of the 26 combat cameramen, that suggests there was at least 24 hours of unique film from the battle. Many surviving elements of this record are now part of the film library of the Marine Corps History Division, which we’re working with. The remainder are cataloged by the National Archives and Records Administration.
While military historians visiting the History Division in the past have used this large library, the bulk of its films have not been readily available to the public, something that mass digitization is finally making possible.
For many decades, the visual records made by Marines have been seen by the public only piecemeal, often with selected portions used as mere stock footage in films, documentaries and news programs, chosen because a shot has action, not because of the historical context of the imagery.
Even when they are used responsibly by documentary filmmakers, the editing and selection of scenes imposes the filmmaker’s interpretation on the images. As a historian and archivist, though, I believe it is important for people to directly engage with historical sources of all types, including the films from Iwo Jima.
The ‘highest and purest’ form
After the battle, the Americans buried their dead in temporary cemeteries, awaiting transportation back to the U.S. The film segment just before the graveside scene shows a service honoring the Americans of all backgrounds who had bled and died together.
At that service, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, the Marines’ first-ever Jewish chaplain, gave a eulogy that has become one of the Marine Corps’ most treasured texts. Noting the diversity of the dead, Gittelsohn said, “Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor … together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color.”
After the dedication ceremonies, Marines walked the 5th Division cemetery, looking for familiar names. The photographers were there, and one recorded the footage of the two Marines – names not known – and the dog, at a grave with only the number 322 as a visible marking.
The image stood out. The two Marines looking directly at the camera seemed to reach across the decades to compel a response. Researchers at the History Division identified the Marine beneath marker 322 as Pfc. Ernest Langbeen from Chicago. It felt appropriate and important to add his name to the online description for that film, so I did.
I then located members of the Langbeen family, and told them that this part of their family’s history existed in the History Division’s collections and was now preserved and available online after more than seven decades.
Speaking with the family, I learned more about the Marine in grave 322. One of the two Marines in the picture may well be his best friend from before the war, a friend who joined the Corps with him. They asked to serve together and were assigned to the same unit, the 13th Regiment.
Now, family members who never knew this Marine have a new connection to their history and the country’s history. More connections will come for others. The digital archive we’re building will make it easier for researchers and the public at large to explore the military and personal history in each frame of every film.
The visual library of more than 80 online videos from Iwo Jima carries in it countless Pfc. Langbeens, ordinary Americans whose lives were disrupted by a global war. Each film holds traces of lives cut short or otherwise irrevocably altered.
The films are a reminder that, 75 years after World War II, all Americans remain tied to Iwo Jima, as well as battlegrounds across the world like Monte Cassino, Peleliu, Bataan and Colleville-sur-mer. Americans may find their relatives in this footage, or they may not. But what they will find is evidence of the sacrifices made by those fighting on their behalf, sacrifices that connect each and every American to the battle of Iwo Jima.