This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.

As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.


When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.

“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
upper right, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, sits with team members during a recovery mission in Papua New Guinea in 1978.

While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.

“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”

Vietnam veteran

Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.

Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.

“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.

During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.

His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”

A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Johnie Webb holds a stainless steel bracelet given to him by the father of a Soldier whose remains were found by the agency.

The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.

At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.

It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.

“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”

Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.

The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Johnie Webb points to a photo of him published in a book on U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations after the war inside his office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 13, 2018.


The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.

Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.

“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”

North Korea

While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.

Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.

They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.

“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”

As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.

About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.

“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.

With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Johnie Webb stands next to then-President Bill Clinton during his visit to an excavation site.


“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.

McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.

“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”

Family advocate

Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.

“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”

The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.

While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.

“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”

When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Johnie Webb consoles a grieving family member.


Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.

The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.

A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.

“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.

Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.

When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.

“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”

A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.

“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”

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

Articles

Air Force wants to 3D-print ‘Baby MOABs’

The next “Mother of All Bombs” will probably be smaller, leaner and lighter but will still pack a punch.


It’s what scientists and engineers at the Air Force Research Lab are working on as part of their next-generation munition concept.

Part of the Advanced Ordnance Technologies program, the bomb could be structured to be lighter by using 3D-printed reconstructed loads within the bomb instead of in the casing — plus distributed blast yields, said Dr. John Corley, the core technical competency lead for ordnance sciences at AFRL.

“We’ve been working on printing [munitions] for the past five to 10 years,” Corley said Thursday during a Defense Department Lab day in the Pentagon courtyard.

Corley and colleagues were showcasing a prototype one-seventh the scale of a bomb the lab is working on (not pictured), along with various fuse technologies.

One of the key enablers to prototyping the bomb is through 3D printing. “Right now, most of your penetrator munitions have two-inch case walls,” Corley said, which actually prohibits a larger blast and creates more debris.

Related: Here is the video of MOAB’s combat debut

Instead, the lab has begun printing casing prototypes — with steel — that moves the load from the case to within the bomb itself (the vertical loads look very similar to a DNA double helix within the bomb).

Furthermore, the lab is using distributed embedded fusing in the bomb “so not only do we have all these other features we’re relocating the fireset for the bomb into the explosive, so you can distribute that around different places [with]in the bomb to improve survivability,” Corley said.

In current penetrating munitions, the ways in which the fuse is hardwired to the case is limiting, Corley said. By separating the fuse from the case could make the bomb more flexible of when it hits and how it hits.

The fuse prototypes are also being 3D printed at this time.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
The guided bomb unit-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb prototype is shown moments before impact. The detonation created a mushroom cloud that could be seen 20 miles away. | US Air Force photo

The next step for the advanced future bomb will be to incorporate these various “selectable effects,” as Corley called them.

“In a selectable effects, on any given day you might want it to be the same weapon to give you a small blast footprint, or a large blast footprint, and right now we can control this …height of burst,” he said.

The burst height controls the range of damage. The succeeding shockwave — just like the 21,600-pound, GPS-guided GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB, uses to penetrate its target — could very well be controlled to be smaller or larger depending on which selectable effect is used.

Thus, how much or how little yield the bomb exerts could be determined for whatever the mission may be — so for once, size (of the actual bomb) doesn’t matter.

Looking past MOAB-style bombs, Corley also noted the military aircraft of today are becoming smaller, so weapons too need to adapt — and, of course, fit.

“Workhorse munitions for us are 500 pound and 2,000 pound munitions, but we’d like to get to a 100 pound munition for instance that has the same output as a 500 pound bomb,” he said.

Corley said whether the Air Force will make the bombs in-house — much like the MOAB — is still to be determined. Tail kits on bombs, for example, are more likely to be constructed by defense industry companies than the bombs themselves, which “the government owns,” he said.

Physical bombs being worked on through the AOT program are still a “few years off” because most are still in the concept stage, Corley said.

 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Russia swears a cloud of radioactive pollution is not a nuclear accident

Russia’s meteorological service has indicated that it measured “extremely high” concentrations of the radioactive isotope ruthenium-106 (Ru-106) in the southern Urals in late September, but then contradicted itself and accused environmental-protection organizations of raising a false alarm in order to attract more funding.


The conflicting statements from Rosgidromet on November 21 came weeks after reports of a radioactive cloud drifting westward from Russia first appeared in Europe, a delay that government critics said was reminiscent of the Soviet government’s initial silence about the Chernobyl nuclear-power-plant disaster in 1986.

The French nuclear-safety agency said on November 9 that a cloud of radioactive pollution detected over Europe in the last week of September probably came from a facility — such as a nuclear-fuel-treatment site or center for radioactive medicine — in Russia or Kazakhstan. Neither of the two former Soviet republics has acknowledged any accident.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Irradiated Soviet military equipment lies dormant near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In one report on its website, Rosgidromet — the state agency that monitors air and water pollution — said that it measured a concentration of Ru-106 at nearly 986 times normal levels at the Argayash weather station in the Chelyabinsk region in late September and early October. A table that was part of the report referred to that as “extremely high contamination.”

At the Novogorny meteorological station, in the same region in the southern Urals, levels were 440 times those of the previous month, the report said.

separate statement posted later, however, said that Ru-106 levels qualifying as “extremely high contamination” had not been detected.

It said, using bold type for emphasis, that concentrations of Ru-106 were “several times lower” than the “permissible” level.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
(Photo: Russian Ministry of Defence)

It also said that the reason levels were hundreds of times higher than in the previous monitoring periods was that Ru-106 had been “absent” from the earlier findings.

Rosgidromet said that the fact that it found “even negligible concentrations of radioactive isotopes” was evidence of the “high effectiveness” of its monitoring methods.

It asserted that the “heightened attention” paid to the Ru-106 levels by “certain environmental-protection organizations” was an effort to “increase their importance in the eyes of society” at a time when “their budgets for the next year are being drafted.”

Environmental activist group Greenpeace said in a statement that it will petition the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office to open an inquiry into “possible concealment of a radiation accident” and check whether public health was sufficiently protected.

Speaking to journalists, Rosgidromet chief Maksim Yakovenko said that the levels of Ru-106 recorded in Russia posed no danger to human health as they are “hundreds of thousands of times lower than the allowed maximum.”

Yakovenko added that Rosgidromet did not try to find the source of the increased radiation “because in Romania the level of the wastes concentration was 1.5-2 times higher than in Russia, and in Poland and Ukraine it was the same.”

Also Read: This is one of the creepiest military hardware graveyards in the world

The Russian monitoring agency did not point to any specific potential source of the pollution.

The Argayash station is about 30 kilometers from the Mayak nuclear facility, which reprocesses nuclear fuel and produces radioactive material for industrial and research purposes.

The Mayak plant, which is under the umbrella of Russia’s nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, said that the contamination “has nothing to do” with its activities and that it had not produced Ru-106 for years.

In 1957, the facility was the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, and nearby residents say the government is still paying little attention to their plight 60 years later.

Rosatom said there were no radiation leaks from its facilities that could increase the level of the radioactive isotope in the atmosphere.

Yevgeny Savchenko, the Chelyabinsk region’s minister of public security, said that the regional administration received no official information about dangerous levels of radiation in September.

“When the media got hysterical about some accident and cloud of ruthenium-106, we asked for explanations” from Rosgidromet and Rosatom, Savchenko wrote on Facebook.

The November 9 report from France’s Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) said that ruthenium-106 had been detected in France between September 27 and October 13. Several other nuclear-safety institutes in Europe had measured high levels of the radioactive nuclide.

The IRSN statement said it could not accurately locate the release of Ru-106 but, based on weather patterns, it most likely originated south of the Ural Mountains, between the Urals and the Volga River.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
The Ural Mountains, which stretch through Russia into Kazakhstan, likely contain the location of the Ru-106 leak. (Image WATM)

This could indicate Russia or possibly Kazakhstan as the site of the origin of the cloud, IRSN Director Jean-Marc Peres said.

IRSN ruled out an accident in a nuclear reactor, saying it was likely a leak at a nuclear-fuel-treatment site or center for radioactive medicine.

Ruthenium-106 does not occur naturally. It is a product of splitting atoms in a reactor, and is also used in medical treatments.

In mid-October in response to the earliest European reports about the radioactive cloud, Rosatom issued a statement quoted by Russian media outlets as saying that “in samples tested from September 25 to October 7, including in the southern Urals, no trace of ruthenium-106 was found, except in St. Petersburg.”

Rosatom later said in response to the French agency’s report that “radiation around all facilities of Russian nuclear infrastructure are within the norm and are at the level of background radiation.”

Articles

5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world

Before the tank entered the lexicon of military history, there was horse cavalry.


The horse, like the modern day tank, provided support to the infantry and artillery. However, while every kingdom, like every modern nation today, has some sort of mobile land support designed to punch holes through enemy lines, only a handful of nations have the best trained. So here we take a look at 5 epic cavalry formations of the ancient world.

1. The Numidians (light cavalry)

The Numidians were from what is now Algeria and were known for their cavalry abilities.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
The Numidian cavalry of the ancient world. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Hannibal used these Numidian cavalrymen during the Second Punic War. So what made the Numidian cavalry so darn good?

The Numidians saw many battles during Hannibal’s campaign in Roman Italy. The Greek historian Polybius, describes the Numidian warriors as light cavalry armed with missile weapons (javelins). The Battle of Cannae 216 BCE, showcased their abilities.

What made the Numidian cavalry so effective at Cannae is that unlike the Spaniard and Celtic cavalries that also accompanied Hannibal, the Spaniard and Celtic horsemen were heavy cavalries that fought en masse, much like the Roman cavalry. The Numidians, being light cavalry, fought in a much looser formation and because of this, they harassed the Roman cavalry with complicated tactics before disengaging.

And while the Celtic and Spaniard cavalries had the Roman cavalry fixed, the Numidians went from harassment to providing shock support once the Roman cavalry turned their back. This caused the Roman cavalry to flee once the Numidians made contact and understood that if they do not make a break for it, they would be enveloped and decimated.

2. The Scythians (light cavalry)

The Scythians may not be the original inventors of asymmetrical warfare, but one could argue that they perfected it.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Scythians were ancient nomadic horse warriors who were first mentioned by the Assyrians during the reign of Sargon II (reigned 722 – 705 BCE). What made these horsemen so powerful was that they were raised in the saddle and were typically armed with a distinctive composite bow.

The Scythian bow is unique and revered throughout the ancient world by kings, historians, and a philosopher. King Esarhaddon of Assyria had a Cimmerian bow, the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus were equipped with their bows and arrows, and even Hercules’ Greek portrait displays him armed with a Scythian bow. The Greek philosopher Plato said,

The customs of the Scythians proves our error; for they not only hold the bow from them with the left hand and draw the arrow to them with their right, but use either hand for both purposes.

When one examines the Scythian lifestyle, one can easily gain an understanding of the type of warfare necessarily carried on against more sedentary (non-migratory) people, like those in Mesopotamia. The Scythian took a guerilla approach to warfare as their method, using small bands to conduct military operations. Herodotus mentions their method of warfare when King Darius of Persia campaigned against them.

It is thus with me, Persian: I have never fled for fear of any man, nor do I now flee from you; this that I have done is no new thing or other than my practice in peace. But as to the reason why I do not straightway fight with you, this too I will tell you. For we Scythians have no towns or planted lands, that we might meet you the sooner in battle, fearing lest the one be taken or the other wasted. But if nothing will serve you but fighting straightway, we have the graves of our fathers; come, find these and essay to destroy them; then shall you know whether we will fight you for those graves or no. Till then we will not join battle unless we think it good.

The description indicates that the Scythians against whom Darius was warring had no center of gravity. King Darius’ military campaign into Scythia (modern Ukraine) went for nothing. As he could not catch them, the Scythians burnt their own their fields, destroyed Persian supplies, and harassed his forces with hit and run tactics.

In the end, Darius turned his large army around and headed home before it was annihilated.

3. The Parthians (light cavalry)

The Parthian horsemen are much like the Scythians.

The Parthians also known as the Parni/Aparni, originated from eastern Iran and like the Scythians, wore light attire, carried a composite bow and a sidearm — possibly a sword or a dagger. What made the Parthian horse archers so powerful was their ability to hit and run, and this was demonstrated at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
(Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The Roman general Crassus led his Roman legions into the desert wilderness thinking they were going to face a pussycat. Instead, they found themselves face-to-face with an equal foe. Once Crassus gave the order to form a square, the Parthian horse archers saw an opportunity. They showered the Romans with raining death.

The average Parthian horse archer, with a quiver of 30 arrows, loosed between eight to ten arrows a minute at Carrhae. It would take almost three minutes to exhaust his arsenal before needing to be resupplied. The amount of Parthian horse archers at the battle is estimated at 10,000. Now, if all 10,000 fired away for 20 minutes, the amount of arrows fired by an individual horse archer would have been between 160-200 arrows. Take 10,000 and the amount of arrows fired upon the Roman soldiers are estimated to have been an astounding 1.6-2 million arrows in a 20-minute timeframe.

The Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch describes the devastation brought upon the Roman legions.

In the convulsion and agony of their pain they writhed as the arrows struck them; the men broke them off in their wounds and then lacerated and disfigured their own bodies by trying to tear out by main force the barbed arrow heads that had pierced through their veins and muscles.

Romans could do little, for if they break formation they are dead, if they stand still they are dead but have a chance. Only nightfall saved them. While the Parthian horse archers showered the Romans with death, the Parthian cataphract was the hammer.

4. The Parthian Cataphract (heavy armored cavalry)

When it comes to heavy cavalry in the ancient world, the Parthian cataphract takes the lead.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Parthian heavy armored cataphract. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The word cataphract comes from the Greek Kataphraktos means “completely enclosed.” The origins of the cataphract may not have started with the Parthians but with the Massagetae, who also inhabited portions of Eastern Iran three centuries before the arrival of the Parthians. If you want more info on this, click “here.”

The Parthian cataphract in many ways looked like the medieval knights of Europe. What made them so effective on the field of battle was that the rider and horse were covered in armor. The rider would carry a lance, sword, and presumably a bow.

At the Battle of Carrhae, the cataphract would charge into Roman lines once the legions locked shields to protect themselves from the arrows. According to Plutarch, the cataphracts would hit the lines with such a force that “many (Romans) perished hemmed in by the horsemen. Others were knocked over by the pikes or were carried off transfixed.”

This hit and run attack would go on for some time until the Roman broke and fled.

5. Late Roman Equites Cataphractarii and Sassanid Clibanarii (very heavily armored cavalry)

It may be an understatement to say that Equites cataphractarii were heavy cavalry as they were indeed the heaviest of the bunch.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Equites cataphractarii were Roman. What is known about them is that they were designed to combat the best the east (Sassanid Empire) had to offer, which were the Clibanarii. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus describes the Equites cataphractarii:

among them were the full-armoured cavalry (whom they called clibanarii or cataphracti equites ), all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men. Thin circles of iron plates, fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covered their limbs; so that whichever way they had to move their members, their garment fitted, so skilfully were the joinings made

The Clibanarii were Sassanid. However, the Sassanids also used this term to describe the Equites cataphractarii. The description provided by Ammianus Marcellinus about the Clibanarii goes as follows:

Moreover, all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skilfully fitted to their heads, that, since their entire bodies were plated with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings fitted to the circle of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath. Of these some, who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would think them held fast by clamps of bronze.

The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather.

So who had the best cavalry in the ancient world? Well, the answer to that question is the various nomads who dotted the Eurasian Steppe, Central Asia, and the Iranian plateau. These various nomads are the ones who not only perfected horse archery and heavy cavalry, they also brought civilization the chariot.

However, horse archers and heavy cavalry — no matter the kingdom — would come to an end once the gunpowder age arrived. Eventually new tactics took the rider off his mount and placed him into a tank.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The Oscars forgot R. Lee Ermey in this years Memoriam

Marine Corps veteran and beloved character actor R. Lee Ermey was missing from the “In Memoriam” segment of the 2019 Academy Awards telecast.

Ermey, who passed away in April 2018, is best remembered for his role as Gunny Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “Full Metal Jacket,” a legendary performance that should have made him a lock to be included in the video segment.

Ermey also played memorable roles in “Se7en,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The X-Files,” “Toy Story 2” and that 2003 remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” He also hosted the TV shows “Mail Call” and “Lock ‘N Load With R. Lee Ermey.”


Other Hollywood legends left out of the tribute include Verne Troyer (Mini-me in the “Austin Powers” movies); the incredible Dick Miller (best known for playing a WWII vet in the “Gremlins” movies); Danny Leiner (director of the classics “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?”); Carol Channing (Oscar-nominated for her role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”); Sondra Locke (Oscar-nominated for her role in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”); and the director Stanley Donen (“Charade,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and the unfortunate 80s sex comedy “Blame It on Rio.”).

We can all take a moment to remember Ermey with the “Left from Right” clip from “Full Metal Jacket.” RIP, Gunny.

Left from Right | Full Metal Jacket

www.youtube.com

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Everything you need to know about the Air Force’s navy

Anyone who’s been hip to military media for the past few years probably knows the second largest air force in the world is the U.S. Navy’s air forces. What people may not know about is the old fleet of United States ships floating around out there with the prefix USAF instead of USS.

The U.S. Air Force has its own navy – but no, it is not the second largest navy in the world. The U.S. Navy isn’t even the second largest, by the way. More on that some other time.


This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
“Bigger” doesn’t translate into “better” by any means.

 

Now, does the Air Force field anything that could actually rival the naval forces of another country? No, of course not. The Air Force Navy is a very specific fleet with very specific missions. For example the USAF Rising Star is the air service’s lone tugboat, used for the two months of the year that ships near Greenland’s Thule Air Force Base can access the port there – 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Thule is the northernmost deepwater port in the world.

The tugboat is needed during the critical summer resupply period on Greenland, aligning huge cargo ships, moving tankers into position, and helping pump fuel to the base. It also pushed icebergs away from the area in which these big ships operate.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
The USAF Rising Star tugboat.

 

The rest of the USAF’s current fleet operates in the Gulf of Mexico out of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Tyndall is home to the 82d Aerial Targets Squadron, a unit that still flies the F-4E Phantom fighter plane. Only these converted F-4s have a special mission. Flying in groups of three, one acts as a chase plane and another two, unmanned drone planes flying with advanced countermeasures. These two are actually converted into drones and destined to be full-scale aerial targets for the Air Force. That’s where the ships of the USAF “Tyndall Navy” come in.

Tyndall’s three 120-foot drone recovery vessels are used in the Gulf of Mexico to recover the wrecks and assorted bits and pieces from the waters below the Air Force’s “Combat Archer” aerial target practice training area. At its peak, the USAF had a dozen or so ships in the water, each with a designated role in supporting Air Force operations. At one point, the Air Force had so many ships, the Coast Guard might have been envious.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis designed a crazy, one-man, spherical tank

During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or “wonder weapons” (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning “spherical tank”). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.

What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.


Powered by a single cylinder, two-stroke engine, Kugelpanzer has a slit in the front (presumably a driver’s view port), and a small arm and wheel in the rear (perhaps for stability and/or maneuvering). Its hull is only 5 mm (.2 in.) thick, and it isn’t fully clear what type of metal comprises its armor (no metal samples are currently allowed to be taken from it).

Popular theories of its purpose include reconnaissance, as a mobile observation post for managing artillery fire, and as a cable-laying vehicle; however, there is little evidence to support any of these hypotheses, since there has never been any documentation found that explains the vehicle or its design.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

The Kugelpanzer.

Given the dearth of evidence, as you would expect, speculation is rampant, and one intriguing theory even posits that it was commissioned by the Japanese as part of their kamikaze strategy of suicide missions.

By August 1944, the ailing Japanese military had been at war in the Pacific for 7 long years, beginning with the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. During this period, rather than being captured, and wanting to get in one last lick, some Japanese pilots had begun the practice of crashing their mostly disabled planes into enemy positions (and killing themselves in the process).

Through most of the Pacific War, this was an informal, voluntary act; however, as the war was winding down, the desperate Japanese command (who were running out of qualified pilots and whose aircraft at this point in the war were outdated) decided that they would get the most out of their unskilled personnel and obsolete machinery by incorporating planned suicide missions into their battle strategies. As such, in the fall of 1944, Japanese forces began a series of kamikaze strikes. (Click here for more on the origin of the kamikaze and how pilots were chosen for this duty.)

In addition to improvised devices, such as simply strapping bombs onto existing aircraft, the Japanese military began manufacturing specialized equipment. These included the aircraft Ohka (“cherry blossom”), as well as suicide boats, such as Shinyo (“sea quake”). Even tiny submarines were made, including a modified torpedo named Kaiten (“returning to heaven,”) and Kairyu (“sea dragon”), a two-manned craft.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

A Japanese Ohka Model 11 replica at the Yasukuni ShrineYūshūkan war museum.

Given this mindset of many Japanese military leaders, it has been theorized by some that the Kugelpanzer was a part of this plan, with a few key points often put forth to support this theory. First, like all of the other suicide machines, it was small and designed to be operated with a limited (1-2 man) crew; second, it wasn’t equipped with any apparent offensive weaponry, though it has been speculated that it was meant to have a machine gun mounted in the front; and third, its hull was rather flimsy (5 mm thick) when compared to that of other armored vehicles, but on par with that of at least one other suicide craft.

For instance, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, said to be the “most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II,” had 26 mm thick armor on the sides of the turret and 33 mm thick armor on its gun shield. On the other hand, the Long Lance torpedo from which the Kaiten manned torpedo was developed had a comparably thin shell at 3.2 mm (.13 in.) thick – much closer to the width of the Kugelpanzer outer housing, than the strong armor of the Type 97 tank.

For further reference, the thickness of a common World War II helmet (the M1) was at .035 to .037 inches (just under 1 mm), sufficient to (at least sometimes) stop a .45 caliber bullet. So, essentially, the 5 mm thick walls of the tank would have been sturdy enough to relatively reliably stop many types of enemy bullets from getting in, but thin enough to give way easily from a blast within, to do maximum damage. At least, so this particularly theory goes.

Whatever its intended use, the Kugelpanzer certainly has gone down as one of the more unique weapons developed during WWII.

Bonus Facts:

  • The aforementioned Japanese one manned torpedo-like submarines called kaitens were just modified torpedoes that allowed the person inside to control them. They also featured a self destruct mechanism if the person failed in their mission. This was necessary as there was no way for the person inside to get out of the torpedo once sealed in. Early models did include a mechanism to escape once the torpedo was aimed correctly, but not a single soldier seems to have ever used this feature, so it was quickly abandoned. Each person who died as a kaiten pilot would earn their family ¥10000 (about 0 today). Kaitens were ultimately not very successful primary because they could not be deployed very deeply and were stored on the outside of the submarines. This isn’t so much a problem for the kaitens as it was for the submarines carrying them who would have to stay very near the surface. This resulted in an average of about eight submarines carrying kaitens being destroyed for every two ships destroyed by the kaitens. Each kaiten was about 50 feet long; could reach a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour; and contained a warhead at the nose.
  • The Japanese were not alone in making suicide attacks a part of their 20th century battle strategy. During the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese soldiers of the “Dare to Die Corps” effectively detonated suicide bombs at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938), the Defense of the Sihang Warehouse (1937) and the Battle of Shanghai (1937).

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This insane anti-aircraft gun chased the Israelis out of the sky

The Israeli Air Force has long been dominant over the skies of the Middle East. They have superb pilots and they use their planes very well. There was a time, however, when that dominance was challenged – and it was arguably Israel’s darkest hour.


In 1973, Israel stood triumphant in the Middle East. For a quarter-century, it had fended off efforts to wipe it off the map. But on Yom Kippur, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an attack. To protect their armored forces, the Egyptian-Syrian forces used a combination of two Soviet-designed systems: The SA-6 “Gainful” surface-to-air missile and the ZSU-23-4 “Shilka.”

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Recognition graphic of a ZSU-23-4. (U.S. Army)

The latter system was truly deadly, considering Israeli tactics. Radar-guided and with four 23mm cannon capable of firing as many as 1,000 rounds per minute, the ZSU-23-4 was able to hit targets almost two miles away. Many Israeli pilots in A-4 Skyhawks, Mirage IIIs, Neshers, and F-4 Phantoms soon found out the hard way that flying low to avoid surface-to-air missiles was hazardous. In one strike, six aircraft were lost taking out a missile battery.

The Israelis eventually came up with workarounds to defeat the SA-6/ZSU-23 combo, but they needed aircraft replacements from the United States, due to losing roughly 100 aircraft. The Israelis would learn their lesson, and in 1982, Syrian forces found themselves on the wrong end of a turkey shoot.

Having proven itself in combat, the ZSU-23-4 was widely exported. As of 2014, 39 countries use this system to provide tactical air defense for their forces. Russia has since replaced the ZSU-23 in front-line units with the 2S6 Tunguska and the Pantsir gun-missile combo systems but this mobile gun will forever be known for the time it almost chased one of the best air forces in the world from the skies over a battlefield.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zEcPEIzekM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY CULTURE

Marines may get new tropical uniform in time for summer heat

The Marine Corps is preparing to select a maker for the service’s new tropical uniform for hot and humid climates.

The Marine Corps Tropical Combat Uniform is a rapid-dry, breathable uniform to be worn for prolonged periods in wet, jungle environments as an alternative to the current Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and the Marine Corps Combat Boot. This month, Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC), published a request for proposals to industry to manufacture the uniforms, with plans to get them into troops’ hands by the final quarter of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.


“This new tropical uniform allows Marines to be more comfortable and less fatigued while focusing on the mission at hand,” Lou Curcio, MCSC’s tropical uniform project officer, said in the release.

The tropical uniform effort is a result of the U.S. military’s increased emphasis on the Pacific region in an effort to prepare for a potential war with China. The Army finalized the design for its Improved Hot Weather Combat Uniform last year.

The trousers and blouse of the new uniform will be made of the same 50/50 cotton-nylon blend as the Marine Corps Combat Utility Uniform and features the same camouflage pattern, the release states. The fabric will also be treated with permethrin to provide protection from insects.

The difference is in the weave and weight, resulting in a lighter material that dries more quickly, according to the release.

Hundreds of Marines participated in various user evaluations from June to September 2017 to assess the fit and durability of a prototype tropical uniform that’s designed to dry faster and keep Marines cooler in warm climates, the release adds.

“Many Marines said the [uniform] feels like pajamas, appreciating how lightweight it is,” Curcio in the release. “They also noted how quickly the uniform dries upon getting wet.”

The boots, awarded on a separate contract, are also lightweight, with self-cleaning soles to improve mobility in a tropical environment, the release states. They are more than a pound lighter than the current Marine Corps boot.

Marine Corps Systems Command awarded two contracts in August for up to 140,000 total pairs of tropical boots, according to Monique Randolph, spokeswoman for MCSC.

One contract worth up to .1 million went to Atlantic Diving Supply Inc., for up to 70,000 pairs of Rocky brand tropical boots, and a contract worth up to .7 million went to Provengo LLC for up to 70,000 pairs of Danner brand tropical boots, Randolph said.

The Corps plans to purchase 70,000 sets of the new tropical uniforms to support the fleet training or operating in tropical climates, the release states, adding that the MCSC procured more than 10,000 sets of blouses and trousers under a manufacturing and development effort.

Based on January 2020 market research and responses to a November 2019 request for information, the Marine Corps estimates it should see a potential cost reduction of up to 60% per uniform, the release adds.

“[The tropical uniform] will bring many advantages during training and combat in tropical environments,” Curcio said in the release. “For all the sacrifices and challenges they endure, Marines deserve a uniform like this one.”

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

Articles

3 heroes who gave all for their friends at Saipan

When American forces stormed ashore at Saipan on June 15, 1944, they knew they were in for a fight. Saipan was strategically important to both the Americans and the Japanese. It is the largest island in the Marianas chain and close enough to the Japanese mainland for American B-29’s to launch bombing missions.


Though it is often overshadowed by other battles, the battle of Saipan was the most costly operation for the Americans in the Pacific up to that point. 31,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island from some 71,000 Americans of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
Army reinforcements arrive in Saipan, June/July 1944. (U.S. Army photo)

Through June and into July, American forces made slow but steady progress across the island. Brutal fighting occurred in places that earned names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.”

By July 6, the situation was desperate for the Japanese. With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, there was no hope of rescue or reinforcement for the remaining defenders on Saipan.

Gen. Saito, the Japanese commander on Saipan, ordered all remaining defenders, wounded or not, and even civilians on the island to conduct a massive banzai charge against the American positions. “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops,” Saito said. “It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than to be captured.”     

Saito would not join his troops in the attack, though. After transmitting an apology to Tokyo for his failure, he committed ritual suicide.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
The aftermath of a banzai charge on Guadalcanal, 1942. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

At 0445 on July 7, 1944, a human wave of Japanese soldiers descended on the positions of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division. It was the largest banzai charge of the Pacific war.

Leading the way were soldiers carrying a massive red flag, followed by sword-wielding officers and the rest of the infantry. Behind them came the wounded and what civilians decided to join the attack. There was an insufficient number of rifles for all, so many wounded came with bamboo spears, rocks, or anything else they hoped could do damage.

As some 4,000 Japanese swarmed over the American lines, intense close quarters combat broke out.

Leading the 1st Battalion was Lt. Col. William O’Brien. Since the first days his unit had landed on Saipan, he had shown his bravery and skill as a commander. O’Brien had personally led several assaults to reduce Japanese strongpoints while continually exposing himself to enemy fire.

When the Japanese came at the 1st Battalion that morning, O’Brien was once again in the thick of the fighting and leading from the front.

As the enemy swept over his lines, O’Brien steadfastly held his ground and rallied his men. Like a modern-day Call of Duty character, he dual-wielded two .45 caliber pistols and shouted encouragement to his men as he blasted the onrushing attackers.

As the attack continued, O’Brien received a painful wound to his shoulder but refused to quit. When his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he picked up a discarded rifle and continued to fight. When he again ran out of ammunition, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and poured fire into the advancing Japanese.

O’Brien was last seen alive surrounded by sword-wielding Japanese, blasting the .50 caliber machine gun and yelling at his men, “Don’t give them a damn inch!”

Elsewhere on the 1st Battalion line, one Thomas Baker, a private in A Company, was also giving the Japanese hell. Like O’Brien, from the early days of his unit’s involvement on Saipan he had exhibited tremendous bravery in fighting the Japanese.

As the Japanese rushed his position, Baker delivered deadly fire with his rifle. When he was wounded he refused to be evacuated and continued to fight on. With his ammunition exhausted, Baker turned his rifle into club and desperately fought off the Japanese attackers until his weapon was battered beyond use.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
U.S. Marines take cover as Japanese snipers attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

At this point, a fellow soldier withdrew him from the line, but in carrying him from the field was himself wounded. Baker refused to be taken any further due to the risk to his friends. He made a simple last request — to be left propped against a tree, facing the Japanese, with a .45 pistol with eight shots.

When friendly forces retook the position in the following days, they discovered Baker’s body, just as they had left it, with eight dead Japanese laying in front of him — each killed with a single shot from his .45.

Further down the line from the 1st Battalion, the 2nd Battalion was having problems of its own. Japanese forces had breached the perimeter and were attacking the battalion aid station just behind the front lines.

Seeing Japanese soldiers bayoneting wounded Americans, the battalion surgeon, Capt. Benjamin Salomon, sprang into action. Salomon, a former infantry soldier and the regimental dental officer, had volunteered to take the original battalion surgeon’s place when he had been wounded. Letting his former infantry training take over, Salomon began to fight back.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years
U.S. Marines secure their first hold on the beach of Saipan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

As Japanese continued to infiltrate his aid station, Salomon, with the help of wounded soldiers, expertly dispatched them until he realized the situation was untenable. Ordering the wounded to make their way back to the regimental aid station, Salomon joined the defenses and manned a machine gun.

Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his body riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, with scores of Japanese dead in front of his position. It was later determined that he had been wounded over 20 times and had moved the machine gun four times in order to get a clear field of fire around the bodies before he was overcome.

The battle for Saipan would be declared over two days later. Afterwards, O’Brien, Baker, and Salomon would all be awarded the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Massive carrier demonstration seem aimed at Russia and China

The US Navy carried out two high-profile aircraft-carrier training events in key waters that send messages to China and Russia, the US’s two main competitors and the only countries close to matching the US’s military might.

The US Navy’s Ronald Regan Carrier Strike Group joined Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Escort Flotilla 4 Battle Group to conduct joint military exercises in the hotly contested South China Sea on Aug. 31, 2018, the Navy said.

Japan sent the Kaga, a small aircraft carrier technically classified as a destroyer, along with guided-missile destroyers to train with the US’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, the Reagan.


The training advanced the US and Japan’s vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” a key part of US strategy to prevent Beijing from tightening its grip on the region by further militarizing the South China Sea.

But beyond just teaching US and Japanese carriers how to fight together, Washington sent Beijing a message that it won’t be pushed out of the South China Sea and that if a fight comes, it won’t stand alone.

China, which illegally annexed about 90% of the South China Sea and has sought to unilaterally dictate who can use the resource-rich waterway that sees trillions of dollars in annual trade, has struggled to make allies in the region. The US has moved to counter China’s attempts at hegemony by deepening ties with Australia, Japan, and India.

On top of that, the US just showed for the first time ever that it can update its supercarriers with a stealth aircraft perfect for taking out island fortresses like Beijing’s South China Sea holdings: the F-35C.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

An F-35C conducting a catapult takeoff from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

(Lockheed Martin photo by Andrew McMurtrie)

Russia checked by the 2nd Fleet

Half a world away, the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Harry S. Truman carriers did joint training including the F-35C for the first time. But the exercise most likely had an additional audience in mind: Russia.

The US recently decided to bring back the Second Fleet, a Navy command that countered the threat from the Soviet Union and was stood down in 2011 when it seemed as if the Russia threat had waned.

As Russia’s navy increasingly menaces the US and looks to assert itself as a powerful navy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the US has again found the need to defend its home waters of the near Atlantic.

Russia, which has only one inactive, shoddy aircraft carrier, cannot hope to compete with the US’s multiple carriers and advanced aircraft.

The US has recently reshuffled its schedule of aircraft-carrier deployments to have more ships present to keep the pressure on Russia and China. New US national defense and strategy documents from President Donald Trump’s administration outline a decided shift in US focus from a post-Cold War mentality — when the US’s enemies were small, lightly armed cells of terrorists hidden in hills — to a full-on competition among world powers, as it was in the world wars.

Russia and China have taken notice, with Russian ships exercising in the Mediterranean — waters they wouldn’t have normally reached before Russia’s incursion into Syria in 2015 — and Chinese ships challenging the right of US ships and planes to pass through international spaces.

Also in 2015, the US suspended “freedom of navigation” patrols, its main way of checking Chinese ambition in the South China Sea.

But now the Navy is taking those challenges seriously.

“We are the best Navy in the world, and given the complex and competitive environment we are in, we can’t take anything for granted or settle for the status quo,” Rear Adm. John Wade, the commander of the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group, said in a Navy press release.

With a renewed mission and the world’s first carrier-launched stealth aircraft, the US has sent a clear signal to its main military rivals that US Navy power is back and on the move.

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

MIGHTY SURVIVAL

Russia joins China in search for vaccine as virus outbreak spreads

Russia says it has received the genome of the coronavirus from China and is working jointly with its neighbor to develop a vaccine against the illness as the number of deaths and confirmed cases continues to jump.

Chinese authorities said on January 29 that there are 5,974 confirmed cases nationwide in the country, from which 132 people have died.

Another 9,239 suspected cases of the respiratory illness are being monitored, the government’s National Health Commission said on January 29.


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Dozens of cases have been confirmed outside mainland China as well, including in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and elsewhere in Asia, prompting Russia, which has no confirmed cases, to join the race to stop the illness.

“Russian and Chinese experts have begun developing a vaccine,” the Russian consulate in China’s Guangzhou Province said in a statement on its website.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it believes China is able to contain the coronavirus, but mounting concern over the jump in cases has prompted hundreds of foreign nationals to leave the provincial capital, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

The total number of confirmed cases now surpasses that of SARS, another respiratory illness that killed more than 600 people worldwide in 2002-2003.

Symptoms of the new kind of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Authorities have sealed off access to 17 cities in Hubei Province, where the pathogen is believed to have originated and was first reported in December.

Australia plans to quarantine its 600 returning citizens for two weeks on Christmas Island, some 2,000 kilometers from the mainland.

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The European Union as well as countries including the United States, Japan, and South Korea are also repatriating their nationals.

British Airways has suspended bookings on its website for direct flights from London to Beijing and Shanghai until March.

The World Health Organization has recognized the outbreak as a national emergency but stopped short of declaring it an international one.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why these engineers burn their battalion colors every year

A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.

Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.

While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.

As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.


This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.

(U.S. National Archives)

This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.

The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.

It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.

In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.

Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.

The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.

Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.

To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.

And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.

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