Marines sit in an AAV-7 Amphibious Assault Vehicle dock aboard the dock landing ship
Rushmore off the coast of San Diego
Adolf Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945. Germany’s war to advance its empire across Europe and beyond was coming to an end. A unique story, however, has emerged just days after Hitler committed suicide in a book by Stephen Harding called ‘The Last Battle’.
As most of Germany and German-occupied territory became overrun with Allied or Red Army troops advancing to Berlin, three US tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the US 12th Armored Division were making their way through Austria towards Schloss Itter. The castle was, and still is, a medieval castle built in the 1200s and sits high on a hilltop near the small village of Itter in Austria’s North Tyrol region.
The Nazis had been holding many important French prisoners at Castle Itter, and the Allies had planned the operation to liberate the castle and its prisoners. Among them were ex-French prime ministers Paul Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former French commanders-in-chief Generals Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, the dailybeast.com reports.
In addition, Jean Borotra, a former tennis champion, and Francois de La Rocque, both of whom were part of the Vichy France government, and notoriously pro-Nazi, had been imprisoned at the castle. Harding explains the complicated politics of the time, and that while they had been part of the pro-Nazi government, they had also supported the Allies via the French resistance, which explains why they had been taken prisoner.
Michel Clemenceau was one of the French officials held prisoner at the castle. Michel was the son of Georges Clemenceau, a leading politician during World War One. As World War Two went on, Michel had become more and more vocal about his dislike and criticism for Marshal Petain who was Chief of State of Vichy France (which occupied France between 1940 and 1944). Even though Michel was in his seventies, he had been captured and imprisoned at the castle by the Gestapo in 1943.
Castle Itter was not just a prison for important French officials, Harding’s book reveals that the Germans took prisoners from concentration camps to work at the castle. They were known as “number prisoners” since under the Nazi’s, they were not allowed to use their birth names but were instead allocated numbers for identification.
US Captain John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Junior was leading his Battalion and three tanks to liberate the castle, but little did they know that tanks and troops from the still fighting 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division were also heading there to take hold of the castle and kill the French prisoners.
After Captain Lee’s Battalion arrived, they secured the castle and remained there along with the liberated French prisoners, the castle’s workers and the Wehrmacht German Army soldiers who had been charged with defending the castle. Given the Nazi’s demise, they put up little resistance to the incoming American troops.
Harding says that the first they knew of the SS attack was when Captain Lee was awoken at 4am by the sound of M1 Garands rifle shots. The SS was making its initial attack on the castle. Karabiner 98 Kurz rifles were then heard by their loud cracks, followed by .30-caliber machine guns sending rounds shooting around the castle. Captain Lee could hear that the gunfire was coming from the castle’s gate house. He made his way to one of the castle’s gates that led onto a terrace and courtyard, where he was immediately under fire from an MG-42 machine gun.
Meanwhile inside the castle, everyone took up arms to defend themselves. The American soldiers fought the SS side by side with the Wehrmacht German Army soldiers, the French prisoners, their wives and partners, and the workers. Everyone, no matter what their beliefs or political agenda, came together to fight back and hold the castle
Captain Lee was a strong tactical leader, thinking quickly to work out how they would fight off the enemy. Meanwhile, Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl was also central to the fight. Major Gangl actually died in the battle at the castle and the book is the first time his story has been told in English, outside of Austria and Germany, as a key figure in anti-Nazism.
Michel Clemenceau showed fearless courage in the face of the SS’s attack, following in his father’s footsteps. Even as the Allies’ bullets and shells were nearly finished, their tanks were wrecked, and the SS advanced from all angles around the castle. Michel continued to fire his gun as much as he could at the enemy.
Just in time, as the SS put their tanks in front of the castle’s main gate to break through it, shots and tank gunfire could be heard from the nearby Itter village. It was American troops and Austrian resistance heading for the castle as back up.
According to reports at the time, once the final SS troops had been conquered, Captain Lee approached one of the Allied tank commanders and asked what had been keeping them.
The battle at Castle Itter demonstrates the continued fight that the Allies battled even as Hitler was dead and the German mass troops had been defeated. Harding’s book puts this into context of the Nazi’s desperation to push back the Allied advance into Germany and Austria. He says that while some surrendered seeing the inevitable, other German soldiers would not give up, with some fighting even happening after the German Government officially relinquished power to the Allies.
Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend a private viewing of a spectacularly documentary by Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. Before seeing the film, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about the last days of Vietnam but I was totally wrong. Specifically, I had no idea there was no organized plan for the evacuation of Saigon of Americans or their South Vietnamese allies.
That there was no detailed plan was the fault of late U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin who refused for months to admit that Saigon would likely fall to the fast-encroaching North Vietnamese Army. It wasn’t until the 11th hour before preparations for the safe transport of those who remained in the city was put into place. But by orders of the White House, only American military and civilians and their families would be evacuated.
In the minds of many diplomats and soldiers this was the ultimate betrayal. They knew anyone who helped the Americans in even the smallest way faced execution. And that’s to say nothing of the South Vietnamese military officers, the Vietnamese wives and girlfriends of Americans and all of these people’s extended families.
Faced with the reality of certain imprisonment and possible death of their South Vietnamese allies, American diplomats and soldiers confronted a moral quandary: obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens, or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, heroes emerged as a small handful of Americans took matters into their own hands.
The principal figure to organize the clandestine evacuation of as many South Vietnamese Army members as possible under the circumstances was then U.S. Army Capt. Stuart Herrington, the film’s principal talking head. Another evidently courageous figure interviewed in the documentary is former Department of Defense official Richard Armitage, who conspired with South Vietnamese Navy Capt. Kiem Do to ship some 30,000 refugees out of the country. (We ran the heroic story of the USS Kirk in a previous Dispatches.)
A few days ago I came across a review of the film by LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan. While his reviews of films do not always fit with mine, I read it with great care. When I finished I realized he got it right; he totally understood the message Rory Kennedy was showing us in her fascinating documentary. Below is what he wrote:
‘Last Days in Vietnam’ Movie review by Kenneth Turan
Sometimes the stories we think we know, the stories where we don’t want to hear another word, turn out to be the most involving of all, the ones we in fact know the least about. So it is with “Last Days in Vietnam.”
Not an examination of why we were in Vietnam or whether we should have been there in the first place, this altogether splendid documentary, directed by Rory Kennedy, is instead a thrilling and dramatic narrative of what happened in-country as the wheels started to fall off of America’s involvement.
Filled with compelling first-person stories both heroic and heartbreaking, “Last Days” details a complete debacle that brought out the best in all kinds of people. It is also the best work yet by Kennedy, the film her entire career has pointed her toward.
Kennedy is a veteran nonfiction filmmaker with either director or producer credits on some 25 docs, and her output has gotten increasingly impressive. Her last film, “Ethel,” a portrait of her mother, Ethel Kennedy, was one of her best; before that, she directed the excellent, Emmy-winning “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.”
Kennedy has put it all together with “Last Days.” She has the clout to get the right people on film, from 91-year-old Henry Kissinger to Marine pilots and U.S. Embassy guards, and she has honed her instincts about what a great story is and how best to present it on-screen.
Using expertly selected newsreel footage and fine visual effects by Doug Whitney to supplement her interviews, Kennedy and screenwriters Mark Bailey & Keven McAlester tell a series of interlocking tales about resourceful people who “ignored the rules and followed their hearts” when they could – as well as what happened when they couldn’t.
Lt Buddy Ebsen
US Coast Guard
Short Bio: Best remembered as “Jed Clampett” on TVs “The Beverly Hillbillies” Ebsen was accepted and commissioned a Lieutenant (jg) in the Coast Guard. He served on the Navy frigate USS Pocatello, a weather ship that served on Station Able.
Sgt Dennis Schoen
US Air Force
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
Graduating from high school in 1966 and shortly married to my high school sweetheart, Uncle Sam came calling and said “I need you young man”. Remember the draft and being classified 1-A? Well I do very well.
I had two cousins in the Air Force and one was home on leave. He recommended the Air Force and suggested I go see the recruiter. As a matter of fact he took me. The very nice Master Sergeant said he had his quota for that month. I said OK and headed for the door but my cousin being a bit more forceful ask very nicely if he would go ahead and give me the test just in case. He agreed to that request. I took the test, one like I had never taken before. I didn’t even know what an aptitude test was.
Well I waited for the grade in the hall way with my new wife and cousin. The big door swings open and this very nice Sergeant comes out and says he has worked out a deal and I have to leave in 24 hours. Imagine the scene, my cousin jumping up and down saying yes, yes, yes and my new bride clamped around my neck crying saying no, no, no. It was tough. It was also one of the moments in my life that brought on changes. This one in my opinion was a positive one.
My marriage, well it survived and it has now been 45 years to a great lady.
So to answer what influenced my decision to join is not a patriotic one. But my service was one of the best things to happen to me. I loved it and found out what it meant to be a patriot and today at 64 years old I would do it all over again and die for God and country.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I was put in Aircraft Electronics and sent to school in Boloxi, MS. Anybody sent to that base for school will remember Ally Hall. Basic Electronics was all new to me. I graduated from a very small high school with approximately 35 in my graduating class. To say it was just the basics is a mild way to put it. I was home sick and not doing very well in school. I will never forget the Dean, or what ever he was called, calling me in his office. Now I can’t repeat the words he used but he made his point to this country boy. It was either get with the program or he promised me a snow suit and an M16 to use while I marched around whatever was in Alaska. I made a deal with him, if he would help me get my wife down to Keesler, I would make the grade. He did his part and I did mine. I even was selected for an extension class and graduated with Honors. I went on to work with wonderful people at Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC. I helped to maintain the inertia navigation systems and the forward looking radar on the RF4 Phantom. I had a wonderful mentor by the name of Donald Culver. He taught me plenty and looked out for every aspect of my OJT. I later crossed trained in to a new career field. It was not my choice, I was given orders to do so. It was a new system that used laser for recon and we (7 of us) were to work with company techs to test and help develop the reliability of this new idea. The testing took place in South East Asia. Not my choice either but I took a lot away with me when it was over. Not material things but things of the mind and heart.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I did not participate directly in combat but those Pilots that would come back from missions and if you had to debrief them on system operations and the quality was not at its best, I felt sick. These guys risk it all to test this thing and it was our job to give them the best possible. I along with my partner did most of the alignments on the system because we worked nights and that is when all the flying was done and also the set ups. It was rewarding to see those Pilots look at results and feel good about what they had brought back that could give quality intel to commanders in the field. After a year we and the systems were rotated back Stateside.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Shaw AFB – because that is where I learned more about myself than any other time in my life. As I mentioned before, I had a great mentor there who would teach and then let me do as he walked away. He later told me that it was hard to walk away but there would come a day when he would not be around to walk away and it would be just me. Well shortly after getting my 5 level he takes off on leave and here I am all alone on night shift and just praying nothing breaks. No such luck.
About 2am I get a call from the boys on the hill that a bird was due to take off but the pilot could not get the INS to line up. Without it he would get up in the air and not know where he was at. Here I was without my main man and the big guy on the hill was calling. I felt like I was one big nerve that was shaking to a Jerry Lee Lewis rock song. So I grab my little tool bag and headed out to the aircraft. The crew chief was already there and had the power supply running, what a noise that thing made. It’s probably one of the reasons I can’t hear good today. I climbed the ladder, sat down in the seat and said a little prayer. I believe it was pretty short, something like “God help me”! I ran diagnostics and double checked. It was the computer and to fix it, I had to have the ejection seat pulled.
I go up to the man on the hill and give him my diagnosis and the first thing he said to me was “are you sure”? Don always said never let them make you doubt. I said with a very positive “Yes I am”. To make a long story short, the crew chief pulled the seat, I pulled the computer and took it to the shop and sure enough it was faulty. Not having enough time to repair it, I grabbed one off the shelf checked it out, it was good and put it in the bird and sign off the red X with my new 5 level.
Guess what, that Phantom took off a little late but worked like a champ. That night I realized that the Air Force had provided me with what I needed to do my job. My trainer was not there to walk away, he was gone and it was just me. I had never been one with much confidence and that was another stepping stone on my way of building some.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
I said before, I did not join the Air Force because I was looking for any adventure or experience to make memories. But it was something in my life that I will never forget or regret. It made me grow as a man and taught me to appreciate what WE all have as Americans. We live in the greatest nation to ever be on the face of this planet. The memory that I think of a lot is not one that makes me smile or want to brag about something that I accomplished.
It was one when I was coming home from SEA. I was preparing to board a transport aircraft to fly to Japan. It was a row of caskets being loaded on the same craft that was starting my journey home on. I can’t tell you one thought that I was having at that moment but I can tell you I felt like crying. I don’t know who they were or what they did. I only know I was coming home to see my wife and little 18 month old son. That picture is seared in my brain.
What they and thousand of others gave up for the rest of us. That is the particular memory that stands out and we need to never forget those then and these young folks that are joining with the ones I saw that day. God Bless our troops. All of them. They are the best.
Members of the Air Force Reserve 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron work during a training flight on a C-17 cargo plane out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., on Wednesday. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units support nearly nine out of 10 aeromedical evacuation missions.
The decommissioned supercarrier Ranger is headed to the scrapyard unless a Southern California organization can convince the Navy to spare it in the next few weeks.
Ranger, which “Top Gun” fans will remember for its on-screen cameo, was sold to International Shipbreaking late last year after a previous effort to turn the ship into a museum failed, according to a Dec. 22 release from Naval Sea Systems Command.
In early January, California-based Top Gun Super Carrier of Long Beach Inc., launched an online petition and social media campaign to save the Ranger.
“If you think about what we can bring to it, an economic boon to the city of Long Beach, it’s a no-brainer,” project manager Mike Shanahan, a career hospital architect, told Navy Times in a Jan. 13 phone interview.
Ranger was decommissioned in July 1993 after more than 35 years of service. It completed 22 Western Pacific deployments, earning 13 battle stars during the Vietnam War and supporting Operation Desert Storm.
In 2004, the Navy took it off of the list for potential reactivation, designating it for preservation in return for a donation.
Top Gun Super Carrier stood up in September 2014 after the Navy rejected a plan from the USS Ranger Foundation, which had tried to save the ship during its eight-year period on donation hold.
“Unfortunately, we are not able to keep ships in storage forever, and so we had no choice but to move forward with this contract [to scrap the ship],” said Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.
Though Shanahan said his organization has gathered $14 million in pledges, a full-fledged plan hasn’t been presented.
“Though we would have preferred for the ship to be converted into a museum or memorial, during the eight years it was available, no group was able to pull together the necessary funding to make that happen,” Johnson said.
Despite the pledged money and support from the Port of Long Beach, which would provide the berthing space, the plan isn’t sufficient to alter the Navy’s course right now.
Shanahan envisions a multi-use space in Long Beach’s harbor, with museum and display space as well as an event venue, commercial dining space and, maybe one day, clinical space to treat veterans.
“And suddenly, you’ve got this economic engine in the form of a ship, and you’ve managed to save it not only from a historical perspective, but from a destination perspective,” Shanahan said.
That plan is still preliminary, though. For now, the Save the Ranger campaign is asking for time.
Shanahan said the organization will put up $200,000 to cover the cost of keeping the Ranger in Bremerton, Washington, another year, while leaders of the group firm up the plans.
Unfortunately, that approach isn’t legal, Johnson said.
“We cannot take private funding for inherently military purposes, so it’s not accurate when the group says it can raise funds to keep the ship on donation hold,” he said.
In light of that, it’s likely that Ranger will begin its trip down to Brownsville, Texas, for dismantling in late January or early February.
America’s entrance into World War II back in 1941 triggered the golden age of pinups, pictures of smiling women in a range of clothing-challenged situations. The racy photos adorned lonely servicemen’s lockers, the walls of barracks, and even the sides of planes. For the first time in its history, the US military unofficially sanctioned this kind of art: pinup pictures, magazines and calendars were shipped and distributed among the troops, often at government expense, in order to “raise morale” and remind the young men what they were fighting for.
The heyday of the pinup was the 1940s and 50s, but pinup art is still around. To this day, pinup fans emulate the classic style in fashion, merchandise, photography, and even tattoos.
Rita Hayworth’s famous pose in a black negligee quickly made its way across the Atlantic in 1941, as troops brought the picture with them on the way to war. It ended up as the second most popular pinup picture in all of World War II. Hayworth, whose two brothers both fought in the conflict, didn’t just pose for pictures: she also was involved in selling war bonds, and appeared in USO shows.
Hayworth’s famous strawberry-blonde hair was actually an act: her real hair was jet black, but she dyed it red and even altered her hairline after she became concerned about being typecast in ‘Hispanic’ roles.
Back in the 1940s, the studio system still ruled Hollywood, and actors and actresses were usually contracted exclusively to particular studios. Ava Gardner was an ‘MGM girl’, discovered by the studio at age 18 after a photograph was spotted by talent scouts. A surprised Gardner quickly relocated to Hollywood.
Her early pinup work was typical for the time, involving shots of her on the beach or in bathing suits. Later in her career, Gardner became famous as a siren and a femme fatale, and switched to a less ‘innocent’ image, posing in heels and long black dresses. Gardner married Frank Sinatra in 1951 and although the marriage lasted only six years, she later said that he had been the love of her life.
As well as pinup photos, the US Army Air Force also unofficially permitted ‘nose art’, drawings of scantily-clad women on the fuselage of bombers and fighter planes, as a way of boosting pilot morale. Artists, often servicemen themselves, drew their inspiration from men’s magazines, popular actresses, and real-life models.
Unlike many pinups, bomber girls weren’t just about pictures of attractive women: the female figures were often regarded as mascots or lucky talismans that would ensure the plane’s safe return home. Sociologists have linked airplane nose art to the carved figureheads once found on the bows of ships, which superstitious sailors regarded as a type of good luck charm. The art form saw a resurgence in the US military during the first Gulf War, but was officially banned in 1992 after complaints from feminist groups.
Pinup drawings were not just limited to planes: many of the most popular pinups of the time were produced by commercial artists. ‘Elvgren girls’ was the nickname given to pinups drawn by artist Gil Elvgren. He began his focus on pinup art in 1937, but his long career also involved advertisements for Coca-Cola and General Electric.
Elvgren was well-known for painting his pinup subjects in imaginative situations: water skiing, climbing trees, doing yard work, even skeet shooting. Many pictures featured a young woman in a situation that accidentally revealed her stocking tops and garters. Rather than overtly titillating imagery, Elvgren seemed to go more for personality and even humor.
Outside of pinup shoots, Veronica Lake was also a popular film noir actress. She was born with the slightly less glamorous last name of ‘Ockelman’, but a smart producer changed it to ‘Lake’ to evoke her blue eyes. Lake was famous for her blonde, wavy ‘peekaboo’ hairstyle, the bangs of which covered her right eye.
In the 1940s, women across America sacrificed half of their peripheral vision in order to imitate this hairstyle. Lake’s acting was praised by critics, but she gained a reputation for being difficult to work with, and her career didn’t last past the end of the decade.
One of only a few female pinup artists in a male-dominated field, Zoe Mozert had the advantage of being able to use herself as a model, something the male artists presumably never did. In fact, Mozert paid her way through art school in the 1920s by modeling, and would later often pose using a camera or a mirror to compose her paintings.
As well as pinups, Mozert produced hundreds of novel covers, calendars, advertisements and movie posters during her career.
Jane Russell was nicknamed the “sweater girl” after the garment that best emphasized her two most famous assets. In fact her debut film, “The Outlaw”, was almost pulled by censors who were concerned about the amount of cleavage she showed. Comedian Bob Hope once joked about how difficult it was to describe Jane Russell without moving your hands, a reference to her hourglass figure. Russell’s most famous set of pinup shots shows her lying relaxed in a pile of hay, holding a revolver.
Despite her detractors, Russell had a long and successful acting career, and was later best known for her part alongside Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Probably the most popular pinup artist of the era, Alberto Vargas was already a successful magazine and poster artist when he signed a contract with Esquire magazine to produce monthly pinup art in 1940. He worked with Esquire for five years, during which time millions of magazines were sent free to World War II troops. Vargas received piles of fan mail from servicemen, often with requests to paint ‘mascot’ girls, which he is said to have never turned down.
Unlike Gil Elvgren’s pinup work, Vargas’ female figures were always shown on a featureless plain white background. While Vargas Girls were clothed for the most part, their very thinly-veiled eroticism made Vargas and Esquire magazine the target of censors later in the war.
Bettie Page rose to pinup fame only during the 1950s, later than the other models on this list. Although her entire modeling career lasted only seven years, she’s probably the most enduringly popular and recognizable pinup model today. Her distinctive bangs (a photographer thought them up to hide her high forehead) are still copied by young women. According to her fans, Page’s unique appeal lies in her natural smile and joyful appearance. Instead of pouting, she made sexiness seem fun.
After her retirement from modeling, her work lay forgotten for decades but resurged in the 1980s. Since then, public-domain images of Page have found their way onto merchandise, comics, and posters. A Seattle homeowner even painted a two-story version of Page on the side of his house she is cleverly covered up by the building’s eaves). Shortly after her death in 2008, Reason magazine called her pinup work “one of America’s most enduring brands.”
The prize for the most popular piece of pinup art during WWII went to Betty Grable, who posed in a white bathing suit and high heels, looking over her shoulder. Betty’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox, provided five million copies of this iconic picture to distribute to troops. And her success outlasted the conflict: after the war, Grable became not only the top female box office draw, but the most highly paid woman in America, earning about $300,000 a year.
Betty’s legs, prominently featured in her famous photograph, were famously insured by her studio at a million dollars each and that’s in 1940 dollars. Whether this was actually considered a wise investment, or was simply a publicity move by her studio, is still up for debate.
Cpl Joseph A. Francis
U.S. Marine Corps
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I was born and raised on an Indian Reservation for the first 14 years of my life. I was in an orphanage for the first 4 years of it because my mother had tuberculosis. It was the scourge of a lot of Indians back in the 20’s 30’s and into the 40’s. A lot of our people fell ill and died from that dreaded illness as there was no known cure for it. Anyone who fell ill from it had to be quarantined over a period of several years for it to run it’s course. That’s the way it was.
In the later years of my young life I was shipped off to an Indian Residential School because that is were you were suppose to go to be indoctrinated into what was called an assimilation program that would put you back into a civil society. Severe corporal punishment was the order of the day. It was mandated by the department of Indian Affairs and the Government of Canada that we be sent there. The residential school would go on to be to be one of governments darkest hours in the brutal mistreatment of the Indian children that lasted over a period of 50 + years. Canada would go on to pay out billions in restitution for the pain and suffering it had caused.
My wife of 38 years Martha Francis also spent all of 7 years at the Residential School as well as my mother and my three sisters.
While we had the feeling of being held hostage to the Residential School there was a blessing of a whole litany of reading material that could be accessed. My favorites were history and geography which allowed me to expand out into the open world. It gave me an opportunity to touch bases with some of the places that our elder veterans had been to while they were overseas fighting the wars.
There were many veterans on our reserve who served in WWI, WWII and Korean War. They would talk of their experiences for hours. I also use to read a lot of comic books I found which were quite useful in enhancing your reading skills. The ones about war caught my attention particularly the ones about the Marine Corps because of the documented exploits of the Marines in Island campaigns of WW II. It was there I first heard of the Indian Ira Hayes who was involved in the flag raising on Iwo Jima. It was these kind of exploits dreams are made of and that I too would return from war one day and talk to the children of my tribe of how important it was for them to follow the path of their Elders to realize their dreams. From that point I wanted to be a Marine and I made a solemn promise that I would become one.
The photo to the right is my great-grandfather. A WWI vet and fellow grunt.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
My time in the Marine Corps, though only two years, had to be the two most exciting years of my life. Some low points but a lot of high points. I got to see a lot of the world and experience a little bit of everything.
Yes I did get to see combat. It’s somewhat hard to give an accurate analysis of jungle warfare. You’re shooting at the jungle and the jungle is firing back at you with bad intentions. With a lot of automatic fire all over the place it was hard to pick a target when you don’t really see one. Once in a while you would get lucky but for the most part your fighting on Charlie’s terms. After all it was his back yard. Charlie was not in the habit of leaving his war dead behind. He would take them with him so you would not know how many of his people you might have killed. Combat operations therefore lasted anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months.
I was with F-Co, 2nd Bn, 26th Marines. We conducted operations all over the I-Corps area. Mostly up in the DMZ. One operation that stood out was Operation Hickory which, though only lasting ten days, it was ten days of pure hell. Our battalion was ambushed by a regiment of NVA. 1-9 and 2-9 plus 2-4 were also on that one as we transcended into Operation Cimmeron but not before loosing half of our battalion as wounded and KIA’S. A lot of good men were lost. Faces and names stay with you long after the last shot has been fired on any operation.
An Army honor guard carries the casket of Maj. Peyton S. Mathis Jr., at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala., on Thursday. Mathis died when the airplane he piloted crashed on Guadalcanal in 1944. His remains were recently identified. He was to be buried in Montgomery Saturday Jan 10th.