In this latest episode of Vets Get Real, WATM talks to a group of veterans about the ups and downs of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the important lessons they learned from transitioning out of the military.
And be sure to keep an eye out for other episodes of Vets Get Real where WATM hosts discussions with vets on topics ranging from relationships to recruiters.
Editor’s note: If you have questions that you’d like to see Vets Get Real about, please leave a comment below.
GatGatCat asks: Is cooking grenades and pulling the pins with your teeth something people really do or just something in games?
We’ve all seen it — the protagonist of a film whips out a hand grenade, dashingly yanks the pin with his teeth as his hair flows in the wind, counts one-potato, two-potato, three and hucks it at nearby teeming hoards of enemy swarming on his location. But is this actually a thing in real life?
First thing’s first, yes, if you have hair, it is possible for it to flow in the wind… As for the grenade part, the generally recommended proper technique is — “proper grip, thumb to clip, twist pull pin, strike a pose, yell frag out, hit the dirt”.
On the first step of “proper grip” it is particularly important to make sure to NEVER adjust your grip on the lever (called “milking”) once the pin is pulled. Doing so may let up enough on said lever to allow the striker to do its thing to the percussion cap, which in turn creates a spark, thereby causing a slow burn of the fuse materials lasting approximately 2-6 seconds for most types of grenade, after which the main charge will ignite, sending shrapnel in all directions. So should you adjust your grip, you could potentially have a really bad time, even should you re-squeeze the lever after. Such a thing has caused the deaths of many a soldier, for example thought to have been the cause of the death of Specialist David G Rubic who had an M67 grenade explode in his hand as he was about to throw it during a training exercise.
As you can see from these steps, at no point is taking your sweet time getting rid of the grenade after you release the lever, called “cooking”, mentioned. Nevertheless, cooking the grenade is not without its virtues, with the general idea to minimise the window of opportunity the enemy has to react to said grenade — potentially throwing it back or diving for cover.
That said, while in film throwing the grenade back is a common trope, this is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off in real life. Consider that when the grenade is thrown, it is likely going to be in the air or bouncing around on the ground for a couple seconds in most scenarios, and thus about the only chance of someone actually picking it up and throwing it back successfully is if they Omar Vizquel’d it and caught it in the air and immediately hucked it back. But even then, whether it would get back to the thrower before exploding is anybody’s guess — quite literally given, if you were paying attention, that rather variable estimate of 2-6 seconds from lever release to explosion, depending on model of grenade.
For example, the US Army’s own field manual on the use of grenades and pyrotechnic signals states the fuse time tends to vary by as much as 2 whole seconds with, for example, the M67 grenade then having an estimated “3-5 second delay fuze”. So counting one-potato, two-potato potentially only gives you one potato to go through the throwing motion, then take cover. And if you happen to be on the 3 potato end of things to boom, that grenade is going to be extremely close to your position when it sings the song of its people.
It’s at this point we should point out that in many common grenade designs the potential lethal area is approximately 15-30 metres (50-100 feet), with the risk of injury from shrapnel extending to a couple hundred metres with some types of grenades. As you can imagine from this, potentially under one-potato just isn’t a good enough safety margin in most scenarios.
For this reason, both the US Army and the Marines Corp strongly advise against cooking grenades with the latter referring to it as the “least preferred technique” to throw a grenade. As for the most preferred technique, to quote the Marine Corps manual on Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain:
The preferred technique involves throwing the grenade hard enough that it bounces or skips around, making it difficult to pick up. The hard-throw, skip/bounce technique may be used by Marines in training and combat.
That said, there are edge cases where cooking a grenade may be beneficial where the reward outweighs the risks and potentially environmental factors make it a safer prospect. As such, the same manual notes that cooking a grenade is a technique that can be used “as appropriate” based on the discretion of an individual Marine, but should never be used during training. Likewise, the US Army notes in its field manual on the use of grenades that the act of cooking off grenades should be reserved for a combat environment only.
As for situations where cooking a grenade is deemed potentially appropriate, the most common are clearing rooms and bunkers where there are nice thick barriers between you and the impending blast. (Although, it’s always worth pointing out that while many a Hollywood hero has taken cover on one side of a drywall wall, this isn’t exactly an awesome barrier and shrapnel and bullets easily go through the gypsum and paper. Likewise as a brief aside, any such hero ever trapped in a room in many homes and buildings can quite easily just smash a hole in the drywall to escape if they so chose. It’s not that difficult. Just make sure not to try to punch or kick through the part with a 2×4 behind it…)
In any event, beyond urban environments, hitting very close enemies behind heavy cover is another common scenario cited in field manuals we consulted for cooking a grenade.
As for the amount of time it is advised to cook a grenade before throwing it, every official source we consulted notes that 2 seconds is the absolute maximum amount of time a soldier is advised to hold onto a live grenade before throwing it, with emphasis on MAXIMUM.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
All this said, technology has improved this situation in some newer designs of grenades that use electronic timer components, rather than unpredictable burning fuses. In these grenades, you can be absolutely sure that from the moment you release the lever, you have exactly the amount of time the designers intended, making cooking these grenades a much safer prospect in the right circumstances. Further, there are also new grenade designs coming out with position sensors as an added safety mechanism, via ensuring they cannot detonate unless the sensor detects the grenade has been thrown first.
But to sum up on the matter of cooking grenades, soldiers can and do, though rarely, “cook” grenades to minimise the time an enemy has to react to them, although doing so isn’t advised and requires, to quote a book literally titled Grenades, “great confidence in the manufacturer’s quality control”. And, of course, similarly a soldier with balls or ovaries of solid steel and compatriots who are extremely trusting of their ability to count potatoes accurately — when literally a one second margin of error may be the difference between you dying or not, a sloppy seconds counter is not to be trusted.
Now on to the matter of pulling a pin with your teeth… While designs of grenades differ, from accounts of various soldiers familiar with a variety of grenades, as well as looking at the manufacturers’ stated pull power needed — it would seem trying to pull a grenade pin with your teeth is a great way to put your dentist’s kids through college.
For example, the relatively common M67 grenade takes about 3-5 kg (about 7 to 11 pounds) of force to pull free stock. The Russian F1 grenade takes about 8 kg (17 pounds) of pull power to get the pin out. Or as one soldier, referring to the Singapore SFG87 grenade, notes, “The pin was actually partially wrapped around the spoon(handle) of the grenade and was extremely stiff. You had to literally twist and yank the pin out, which made your fingers red and hurt a little.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)
Even without bent pins, to illustrate just how hard it can be to pull these pins in some cases, we have this account from Eleven Charlie One Papa by James Mallen. In it, he states,
[The] new guy had entered the hooch and hung up his gear, apparently from the canvas web gearing of his LBG but actually hanging on the pull pin of an HE fragmentation grenade, and then decided to go off somewhere. Worse still, the guy had not bent the cotter pin of the grenade over, so that at any moment…the gear would fall, the pin would be pulled out, the grenades’ primer would ignite, and give seconds later everyone in the hooch at the time would be killed or horribly wounded.I had a mini heart attack and turned immediately to jump out but a soldier behind me was blocking my way, whereupon I mostly violently pushed him out of the way, up the stairs and outside, to escape a quick and violent end… I learned that the guy who was responsible for it would return soon. I decided that he would have to take care of it… After about ten minutes that soldier … returned…He went back down, seemingly unconcerned, and rearranged his LBG so that it was hanging by the suspender strap instead of the pull-pin of a hand grenade….
Going back to bent pins, while many grenades don’t come stock with the pins bent, this is a common practice done by soldiers the world over anyway, making it even more difficult to pull the pin. The primary purpose behind this is to ensure that the pin doesn’t accidentally get pulled when you’d rather it not, like catching on a stray tree branch as you’re trotting through the jungle, or even in combat when you might be hitting the deck or scrambling around haphazardly with little thought to your grenade pins.
Illustrating this, in Eleven Charlie One Papa, Mallen states, “I pointed out to him that the grenade cotter pin wasn’t even bent over and he said that he was completely unaware that he should have them bent over. So for the last week or so we had been humping the bush with this guy whose grenades could have easily been set off by having the pin catch in a big thorn or spike. I guess it was our fault for not telling the guy things like that, things that were never taught in basic or advanced infantry training back in the states.”
This practice, although widely utilised by soldiers is sometimes discouraged by some in the military precisely because it makes it extremely difficult to pull the pin if one doesn’t first take the time to bend the metal back. This not only makes the grenade potentially take a little longer to be deployed in a pinch, but is also thought to contribute to soldiers unintentionally milking the grenade directly after the pin has finally been pulled with extreme force. This is what is speculated to have happened in the aforementioned death of Specialist David G Rubic, as noted by Colonel Raymond Mason who was in charge of figuring out what went wrong. In the investigation, it was discovered that Rubic had, according to witnesses, both previously bent the pin and been holding the lever down at the time it exploded in his hand.
(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Dengrier Baez)
Of course, if one throws the grenade immediately upon pin removal, whether you milk the grenade or not makes little difference — with it only being extra risky if you choose to hold onto it for some number of potatos. On top of this, regardless of what superiors say, many soldiers are unwilling to entrust their and their compatriots’ lives to a mere 3-8 kg worth of pull force, which a tree branch or the like while jogging can potentially exert.
That said, a tree branch is not your teeth and whether bending the pins or not, as Sergeant Osman Sipahi of the Turkish Armed forces states, you can pull the pin this way, “but there is a high probability of you fucking up your teeth. It’s the same as biting the top of a beer bottle off; it’s doable but not recommended.”
Or as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Quigley, author of Passage Through A Hell of Fire And Ice, sums up: “The business in the movies of the guy grabbing the grenade ring in his teeth and pulling out the pin is a load; it does not happen unless he is prepared to throw out a few teeth with it as well. We have all commented how we would like to get some of those Hollywood grenades that allow you to bite off the pin, throw the grenade a few hundred yards, and never miss your target, going off with the blast effect of a 500-pound bomb…”
Any article on the discussion of grenade usage would be remiss in not answering the additional question often posed of whether you can put the pin back in after you’ve pulled it and still have it be safe to let go of the lever — the answer is yes, but this must be done VERY carefully, as letting up even a little on the lever before the pin is fully-re-inserted can cause the striker to do its thing, potentially without you knowing it, as illustrated in the death of one Alexander Chechik of Russia. Mr. Chechik decided it would be a good idea to pull the pin on a grenade he had, take a picture, then send it to his friends. The last text he ever received was from a friend stating, “Listen, don’t f*** around… Where are you?” Not responding, reportedly Chechik attempted to put the pin back in, but unsuccessfully. The grenade ultimately exploded in his hand, killing him instantly, while also no doubt making him a strong candidate for a Darwin award.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski)
Next up, as occasionally happens to all of us, if you happen to find a grenade thrown at you or drop the one you’re holding with the pin already pulled, if no readily available cover is nearby the general recommendation is to lay flat on the ground with, assuming you remembered to wear your Kevlar helmet like a good soldier, your head towards the grenade. These helmets are designed to be an effective barrier against such shrapnel. This position also ensures minimal odds of any shrapnel hitting you in the first place via reducing the cross section of you exposed to the grenade’s blast.
Now, you might at this point be thinking as you have your shrapnel proof Kevlar helmet, why not just put it on the the grenade? Genius, right? Well, no. While these helmets can take a barrage of quite a bit of high speed shrapnel, they cannot contain the full force of the blast of a typical grenade, as was tragically proven by Medal of Honor winner, Jason Dunham. In his case, not trusting his helmet to contain the blast, he also put his body on top of the helmet to make sure nobody else would be hurt by the dropped grenade. He did not survive, but those around him did.
In yet another case of a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, but this time with a reasonably happy ending, we have the case of Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter. On November 21, 2010 while in Afghanistan, a grenade was thrown into his sandbagged position. Rather than run, he used his own body to shield the other soldier with him from the blast. Miraculously, though severely injured, Carpenter lived and was awarded the Medal of Honor in June of 2014.
In a similar case, during a battle on Feb. 20, 1945, one Jack H Lewis and his comrades were advancing toward a Japanese airstrip near Mount Suribachi. Taking cover in a trench under heavy fire, Jack realized they were only feet away from enemy soldiers in a neighboring trench. He managed to shoot two of the soldiers before two live grenades landed in his trench. Thinking quickly, Jack threw himself on the first grenade, shoving it into volcanic ash and used his body and rifle to shield the others with him from the pending blast. When another grenade appeared directly after the first, he reached out and pulled it under himself as well. His body took the brunt of the two blasts and the massive amount of shrapnel. His companions were all saved, but his injuries were so serious they thought he had died. Only after a second company moved through did anyone realize he was somehow still alive. Jack endured nearly two dozen surgeries and extensive therapy and convalescence. Despite the surgeries, over 200 pieces of shrapnel remained in his body for the rest of his life which lasted an additional six decades. He died at the ripe old age of 80, on June 5, 2008 from leukemia.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
It’s December now, and as we stare down the barrel of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa… um… Boxing Day… and probably others (the only holiday I care about it National Waffle Day), we can finally look forward to holiday leave.
We spend time with family, drink in that one bar in our hometown that everyone we’ve ever known goes to, and open up the new fighting season in the war on Christmas.
Now matter how stressful the holiday season can get, you know who has your back? Memes. Veterans will make memes until they run out of jokes to tell. Did you see how much fun they had with the sky dick?
Oh man, anyway… here are the best memes of the week, created by your veteran social media community.
There have been calls to award a Nobel Peace Prize to everyone involved with ending the Korean War, including President Donald Trump. Given that the award has a broad selection process, it’s much more competitive than you’d think and the specifics about the process are often kept secret for fifty years.
Any person, group, or organization can be nominated after doing, in accordance to Alfred Nobel’s will, “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” The only officially recognized nominators include heads of state, former Nobel Peace Prize laureates, and current or former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Any submissions must be done begin in September and the absolute cut-off is February 1st. Between the beginning of February and the end of March, the list is combed through and a short list is prepared for April.
In 2018, there were 328 candidates and each of the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee usually pick five nominees. Because of the secrecy around the process, the Nobel Committee combs through the maybe twenty-five candidates until September.
(United States Agency for International Development)
In October, the voting between the members begins and the winner is chosen. The decision is final and there are no appeals. Hence the secrecy. No one can be upset that they weren’t picked if they didn’t know they got that far. Once the voting has finished, it’s announced to the world who the winner for that year will be.
Then comes the big day on December 10th. The new laureate receives their shiny golden award, a diploma, and a monetary prize. The prize money in 2017 was 9 million Swedish Kronas, which is $1,028,655 US Dollars. The prize money is often donated to which ever cause the recipient championed.
Captain Edward Rickenbacker was one of the few American fighter pilots to earn the title “Ace of Aces,” given by the press for his 26 kills in World War I. He is arguably one of the most decorated service members to ever live.
But before he was a decorated hero, Rickenbacker was a professional race car driver who almost wasn’t allowed to fly.
The United States has started bringing home troops from Syria as it moves to a new phase in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, the White House says.
The militant’s “territorial caliphate” had been defeated, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Dec. 19, 2018, amid media reports saying that the United States was preparing to withdraw all its troops from Syria.
“These victories over [the IS group] in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” Sanders said.
Earlier, President Donald Trump tweeted the IS group had been defeated in Syria and that was his “only reason for being there.”
There are currently around 2,000 American troops in Syria, many of them special operations forces working with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias battling the IS group.
Most U.S. soldiers are based in northeastern Syria, where they had been helping to rid the area of IS fighters, but pockets of militants still remain.
CNN quoted a defense official as saying on Dec. 19, 2018, that the planning was for a “full” and “rapid” pullout.
And CBS said it was told that the White House ordered the Pentagon to “begin planning for an immediate withdrawal.”
The coalition has “liberated” the IS-held territory, but the campaign against the group “is not over,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.
“For force protection and operational security reasons we will not provide further details. We will continue working with our partners and allies to defeat ISIS wherever it operates,” White said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria creates prospects for a political settlement of the conflict there, according to the TASS news agency.
Marines fire an 81mm mortar during training in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Hajin, Syria, Aug. 4, 2018. The training is a portion of the building partner capacity mission, which aims to enhance the capabilities of Coalition partner forces fighting ISIS in northeast Syria.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook)
Russia has repeatedly asserted that U.S. forces have no right to be in Syria because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has not approved their presence.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said a decision by Trump to withdraw troops from Syria at this time would be “a mistake” and a “big win” for the IS group, Assad, and its allies — Russia and Iran.
Both Moscow and Tehran have given Assad crucial support throughout the Syrian conflict, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011 and has left more than 400,000 people dead, displaced millions, and devastated many historical sites across the country.
In 2014, IS fighters seized large swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive and proclaimed a so-called Islamic “caliphate.”
IS militants have lost virtually all the territory they once controlled in Iraq, but still carry out sporadic attacks.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to take stock of the war and the prospects of drawing some elements of the Taliban into peace talks with the Afghan government.
The March 13, 2018, visit, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns, comes as the United States is putting new resources into the more than 16-year-old war.
Before landing in the Afghan capital, Mattis told reporters that the United States was picking up signs of interest from groups of Taliban fighters in exploring the possibility of talks to end the violence, adding that the signs date back several months.
“There is interest that we’ve picked up from the Taliban side,” Mattis said. “We’ve had some groups of Taliban — small groups — who have either started to come over or expressed an interest in talking.”
As part of its new regional strategy announced in August 2017, Washington has stepped up assistance to the Afghan military in a bid to break the stalemate and force the militants to the negotiating table.
During a meeting with Mattis, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the new strategy allowed Kabul to extend its peace offer to the Taliban without doing so from a position of weakness.
“It has been a game changer because it has forced every actor to re-examine their assumptions,” Ghani said.
Ghani offers incentives
On Feb. 28, 2018, Ghani offered to allow the Taliban to establish itself as a political party and said he would work to remove sanctions on the militant group, among other incentives, if it joined the government in peace negotiations.
In return, the militants would have to recognize the Kabul government and respect the rule of law.
But the Taliban has so far ruled out direct talks with the Western-backed government, which they say is illegitimate.
The group has insisted it would only negotiate with the United States, which it calls a “foreign occupying force.” The Taliban also says that NATO forces must withdraw before negotiations can begin.
Asked whether the United States would be willing to directly talk with the Taliban, Mattis reiterated the U.S. position that the talks should be led by Kabul.
“We want the Afghans to lead and provide the substance to the reconciliation effort,” he said.
The Afghan government and the Taliban held peace talks in 2015, but they broke down almost immediately.
As part of its new strategy for Afghanistan, the United States has boosted the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by at least 3,500, to a total of more than 14,000, and stepped up air strikes in the country.
Mattis told reporters that the goal is to convince the Taliban militants that they cannot win, which would hopefully push them toward reconciliation.
“We do look toward a victory in Afghanistan,” he said. “Not a military victory — the victory will be a political reconciliation.”
Taliban fighters control large parts of the country, and thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians are being killed every year.
In a report published late on March 12, 2018, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that more than 30,000 people have been displaced since the beginning of the year due to continued conflict in Afghanistan.
The Mi-24 Hind had a reputation as a cinematic bad guy in “Rambo III” and the original 1980s Cold War flick “Red Dawn.”
Helping the Mujahidin kill it was the focus of 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.” But how much do you really know about this so-called “flying tank?”
Let’s take a good look at this deadly bird. According to GlobalSecurity.org, this helicopter can carry a lot of firepower, including 57mm and 80mm rockets, anti-tank missiles, and deadly machine guns or cannon. But it also can carry a standard Russian infantry section – eight fully-armed troops.
So, it’s really not a flying tank. It’s a flying infantry fighting vehicle.
There really isn’t a similar American – or Western – helicopter. The UH-1 and UH-60s were standard troop carries, but don’t really have the firepower of the Hind. The AH-64 Apache and AH-1 Cobra have a lot of firepower, but can’t really carry troops (yeah, we know the Brits did that one time – and it was [very] crazy!).
While the Mi-24 got its villainous cinematic reputation thanks to 1984’s “Red Dawn,” and the 1988 movie “Rambo III,” its first action was in the Ogaden War – an obscure conflict that took place from 1977-1978. After the Somali invasion of Ethiopia, the Air Combat Information Group noted that as many as 16 Mi-24s were delivered to the Ethiopians by the Soviets.
It has taken part in over 30 conflicts since then.
The Hind was to Afghanistan what the Huey was to Vietnam: an icon of the conflict. GlobalSecurity.org reported that as many as 300 Mi-24s were in Afghanistan.
In the Russian war movie “The Ninth Company,” the Mi-24 gets a more heroic turn than it did in Red Dawn or Rambo III.
At least 2,300 have already been built, and versions of the Mi-24 are still in production, according to the Russian Helicopters website. This cinematic aviation bad boy will surely be around for many years to come.
A former Army officer has been running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain since 2007 — all while filming a documentary on the event which was released last month.
Each year in July, Pamplona hosts a fiesta that brings together approximately one million people for a massive party, but most people know the city for just one reason: the crazy event that sees people running as bulls chase them from behind.
Dennis Clancey, a West Point-educated Army officer who served in the Iraq War, wanted to document the run, while trying to understand why some people risk their lives in this way each year.
“This is beyond me just asking them what it is like to run,” Clancey told The Chicago Sun-Times. “The film is an accurate stamp of what it means to be a runner. The experienced runners are running out of a sense of obligation. They run in part to protect other runners. If someone falls, you do what you can to distract the bulls and protect your fellow runners.”
Clancey self-funded his documentary — called “Chasing Red” — from 2007 to 2011, until he met a fellow filmmaker who helped him put together a trailer for the project. The trailer helped generate interest in the project, and led to a successful backing on Kickstarter that helped raise nearly $23,000.
“It’s a character-driven documentary following eight runners,” Clancey told Outside Magazine. “They each have their own goals and aspirations and we follow them in their pursuits of those dreams.”
Just like many memers, I woke up to nothing exciting this morning. Not a single person out of the millions who clicked “going” on the “Storm Area 51, The Can’t Stop All of Us” raid did a damn thing. I expected nothing and yet I’m still disappointed.
No one Naruto ran onto the compound. No one got to test their new alien weaponry. And no alien cheeks were clapped. The music festival that was supposed to take its place didn’t even go anywhere because no one thought to do even the slightest amount of logistics.
Well. I think we all kind of saw this coming. Anyways, here are some memes.
(Meme via Call for Fire)
(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)
(Meme via The Army’s Fckups)
(Meme via The Salty Soldier)
(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)
(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)
Anyone else notice that kids these days have much cooler toys than we did, but all they’ll ever do is just play on the iPad their parents gave them?
I feel rather insulted that we just got the dinky ass Nerf guns and a handful of Legos and they don’t even appreciate this bad boy.
John Glenn may be one of the United States Marine Corps’ most epic alums. And that’s saying a lot (he’s in good company).
In his 95 years on planet Earth — and his time off the planet — Glenn racked up accomplishment after accomplishment, feat after feat, do after derring-do.
It’s no wonder the U.S. and the world hail the Ohioan as a legend. He was a decorated war hero, astronaut, and senator — but he was so much more.
Here are a few interesting things you may not have known about the first American to orbit the Earth.
1. The documentary about his life was nominated for an Oscar.
The 1963 short film “The John Glenn Story” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. That was before he was elected to the Senate.
His life was already so epic it warranted its own movie, and even then, he was far from finished.
2. He and his wife were married for 73 years.
Glenn and his wife, Anna, were married in April 1943. They had two children and two grandchildren. Anna had a severe speech impediment and he protected her from the media because of it.
3. He was also the first man to eat in space.
The first meal in space was applesauce. And it was a big deal because scientists thought humans might not be able to digest in zero gravity. He also ate pureed beef and vegetables. Other famous space feats include being the oldest man in space (age 77) and the first man to carry a knife (a 9-inch blade in a leather sheath).
4. His Korean War wingman was also famous.
Glenn flew several missions with “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,” baseball hero Ted Williams. Williams flew half of his 39 combat mission over North Korea with Glenn.
Glenn called Williams “one of the best pilots I ever knew.”
5. Bill Clinton sent two emails as President: One was to John Glenn.
The internet as we know it was in its infancy during the Clinton Administration, yet as President, Bill Clinton sent two: one to U.S. troops in the Adriatic, and the other to Glenn, then 77 years old and in orbit around the Earth.
6. Glenn was almost an excuse to invade Cuba.
Operation “Dirty Trick” was planned if Glenn’s capsule crashed back to Earth. The Pentagon reportedly wanted to blame any mishap on Cuban electronic interference, and use his death as an excuse to invade Cuba.
7. Glenn’s Marine Corps nickname was “Magnet Ass.”
He flew a F9F Panther jet interceptor on 63 combat missions, twice returning with over 250 holes in his aircraft. His aircrews all thought he somehow attracted flak.
8. John Glenn was the last surviving Mercury 7 astronaut.
The next to last one died in 2013. Also, the five sons of Jeff Tracy in the kids show “Thunderbirds” were named after the first five American astronauts into space through the Mercury project: Scott Carpenter, Virgil Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and John Glenn.
9. President John F. Kennedy barred Glenn from further space flights.
Glenn found out by reading Richard Reeves’ biography of President Kennedy decades later.
When I frequented my Marine Corps recruiting office from 1999 until I enlisted in 2003, Staff Sgt. Molina used to welcome me with a familiar, “Ey devil,” and Staff Sgt. Ciccarreli would echo with “Eyyyyyyy.” Vintage recruiting posters were sprinkled among more modern propaganda. The message they consistently reinforced was that the Corps’ values—especially service above self—are timeless.
In one of the old posters, a strong, black Marine standing tall in his dress blue uniform with gold jump wings stared back at me. I couldn’t tell whether he was grinning or scowling—welcoming a potential recruit or warning me. Scrawled in bold typeface across the bottom third of the poster were the words “Ask a Marine.” My reaction was visceral. Where do I sign?
The iconic Marine recruitment ad campaign featuring Capers. He was the first black man to be featured in such a campaign.
The man in the poster was James Capers Jr., a now retired major whose 23-year career was defined by breaking barriers and blazing a path of excellence in the Marine Corps special operations community. Capers recently published “Faith Through the Storm: Memoirs of James Capers, Jr.,” and the book is a powerful portrait of an extraordinary life.
As the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina, Capers had to flee the Jim Crow South for Baltimore after his father committed some petty offense, which he feared might get him lynched. Capers describes his flight in the back of an old pickup driven by a white person as a sort of “Underground Railroad.” His trip to Baltimore is reminiscent of Frederick Douglass’ escape north because not much had changed for black people in the South since 1830.
We get a vivid picture of Capers’ early years and family life in Baltimore before he joins the Marine Corps. In the Marines, Capers finds an organization where men are judged by their actions, and he excels. He polishes his boots, cleans his weapons and learns what he can from the old salts, who mostly respect his effort. Early on, Capers commits himself to a standard of excellence that distinguishes him above his peers. That struggle is a consistent theme throughout his career.
When applying for special operations swim qualification, an instructor cites pseudo-science to explain that black people can’t swim. Capers has to beg to be let into the class. When a white student fails the test required to graduate, Capers pleads with the cadre to allow the student to swim it again. Then he swims with the Marine, motivating him to muster up the fortitude and faith in himself to pass.
At one point, Capers can’t find an apartment in Baltimore even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed and was promoted to end housing discrimination based on race. While assigned the temporary lowly duty of a barracks NCO, a white Marine flicks a cigarette butt at Capers—already trained as an elite Force Reconnaissance Marine—and tells him to pick it up. The slight weighs heavily on Capers until he tracks the Marine down and does something about it.
As Vietnam approaches, Capers is eager to get in the fight. A seasoned veteran of more than 10 years, he volunteers to return to special operations, and in the spring of 1966, he deploys with 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company.
Capers (bottom right) with his Marine Corps 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Vietnam.
The section about Capers’ Vietnam tour is harrowing and crushing. He survives and thrives as a warrior and leader through several months of brutal combat in the jungle. Eventually, he receives a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant and becomes the first black officer in Marine special operations. By the heart-pounding final mission in Vietnam, I couldn’t help but feel like the book is a 400-page summary of action for a Medal of Honor.
Heart is the book’s central theme. Its most moving parts focus on overcoming adversity and heartbreak. In one chapter, Capers leads his men through two minefields to avoid the enemy. His inspiring leadership carries them through alive against all odds.
Characters frequently appear only briefly enough to become attached to before they die. Capers recalls fondly an old black first sergeant who had fought on Iwo Jima in World War II and saved Capers from some trouble. He dies in Vietnam.
In another scene, a Marine hollers a cadence on a medevac transport out of Vietnam to raise the spirits of wounded Marines who join the sing-song before the Marine dies somewhere along the way.
These wrenching memories reminded me of returning to the recruiting office after my first combat deployment and asking Staff Sgt. Alvarado whatever happened to Staff Sgt. Molina, whose son had fallen under my supervision when I was an assistant karate instructor before I enlisted. Alvarado’s eyes looked to the ground, “You didn’t hear?” I’d seen enough death on my deployment to suddenly know without having to be told, and a mental image of his cherub-faced child still tugs my heart because that kid had an especially wonderful dad.
The death surrounding Capers takes its toll on him, and though he is a hard charger and maybe the best Marine in Vietnam, he is not a machine. His pain is complicated. The book’s strength is in Capers’ brutal honesty about his emotional state, which deteriorates as the death toll mounts and the misuse of his recon team by new out-of-touch officers costs more than he can bear.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. James Capers II.
(Photo by Ethan E. Rocke)
This memoir may not break into the mainstream like a Matterhorn or Jarhead because it’s steeped in Marine culture that may not translate to readers outside of those bounds. It deserves a mini-series due to its dramatic story arc and relevance regarding the unique historical experience of a black U.S. Marine who is able to achieve in the Marine Corps what most likely would not have been accessible to him in the society of his time.
“Faith Through the Storm” should be required reading for Marine infantry officers. It’s the perfect book for The Commandant’s Professional Reading List. This book ultimately adds another dimension to one of the Corps’ most famous recruiting posters.