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Four-legged Military Hero – MWD Lucca

During the long war in Iraq and Afghanistan, coalition forces relied on thousands of military working dogs to help keep them safe by detecting explosives, finding illegal drugs, searching for missing comrades, or targeting enemy combatants. Dozen died in the line of duty. Others struggle with wounds and post-traumatic stress. Many have earned recognition for heroism. Among the heroes is Lucca, a highly skilled German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix trained to sniff out explosives and protect the combat Marines and Special Forces she served.

Lucca and her military dog handler Marine Staff Sgt. Chris Willingham were together on two combat tours in Iraq. Later Lucca would have an Afghanistan tour with her new dog handler, Marine Corporal Juan Rodriguez.

According to the Military Working Dog Team Support Association, Inc. website (, Lucca is among the most legendary military working dogs. Through almost six years of military service, Lucca went on more than 400 missions and has 40 confirmed finds of explosives, saving countless lives. Her list of accomplishments is long: two IEDs, one car bomb, countless caches of homemade explosives, concealed AK-47s with magazines. She has also found Dsh-Ks, which are vehicle mounted .50 caliber Soviet guns. These were hidden along the Tigris River. She also found deadly Dsh-K rounds buried in a cemetery tomb. Her finds led to the arrest of numerous insurgents.

Beginning in 2006, Willingham trained and handled Lucca and in 2008 the pair deployed on their first Iraqi tour. For that tour and another one in Iraq, they spend countless hours searching for IEDs or improvised explosive devices considered the top killers of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On missions where Lucca sniffed out explosives, she worked off-leash at long distances from Willingham. Her job was to alert on the explosives beforehand and have them rendered harmless so the troops could move on.

Once she finds the smell she is looking for she will lie down, stare at the scent and communicate the find to Willingham. This action was repeated dozens of time and saved the lives of service members and civilians. As Willingham put it, “Your lives are literally in each other’s hands.”

With Lucca’s training and instincts combined with Willingham’s knowledge on how best to employ her, they were highly successful and became so sought-after that platoons frequently requested the team by name.

Upon returning from his second tour in Iraq in December 2010, Willingham received orders to Marine Security Guard School. Before he left, he was able to select the handler to take over as Lucca’s handler. Willingham selected Cpl. Juan Rodriguez – a Marine he sensed had the right personality and skills to make a great team with Lucca.

In March 2012, close to Luca’s six-year anniversary as a Marine, she and Rodriguez were walking point in direct support of a Special Operations unit in Nahri Saraj District, in southern Afghanistan

They were about four hours into the patrol when Lucca located an IED, her second of the day. When she moved closer to the secondary device it exploded. Rodriguez, hearing Lucca squealing and screaming in pain, ran forward to give her first aid and a tourniquet, which saved her life. He then called in a Medevac and continually petted and spoke quietly and reassuringly in an attempt to keep her calm.

Waiting for the Medevac was agonizing for both Rodriguez and Lucca. She had suffered burns to her neck and torso and her front left paw was blown off making it necessary for her leg to be amputated. Fortunately, no member of the patrol was hurt.

After her injury, Lucca returned to Camp Pendleton where she was rehabilitated and in just 10 days, was back up and walking and in less than a month, she was running around on her three legs just as she had done when she had all four legs. It was obvious she had the same spirit, same personality as before the injury.

Once she was cleared to retire from the Marine Corps, Lucca was flown from San Diego to Chicago and then to Helsinki to be reunited with Willingham who was serving at the U.S. Embassy. Her flight was paid by the carrier, American Airlines, which also bumped her up to business class. When asked by a reporter at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Rodriguez – ever the Marine – did not elaborate on what saying goodbye will be like. “It will be hard,” he acknowledged. “But seeing Lucca bounce off to a safe home will ease the farewell.”

Nonplused by all the strangers petting her at O’Hare’s Terminal 3, Lucca worked away at a treat inside the treasured red toy she carried and kept close to her trainer. Rodriguez looked at his partner with love.

“She’s back to normal,” he said. “She hasn’t skipped a beat.”

Lucca now lives in southern California with Gunny Sgt. Willingham and his family and in a recent interview, Willingham credits Lucca with saving his life twice on deployments.
“We’ve got a lot of loyalty between us. We’ve been together for two deployments now and she saved my life a couple of times, so I’ve definitely got a tight bond with this dog,” he said while affectionately, scratching and petting Lucca who was enjoying every second of the loving attention. She also enjoys the occasional visits by Juan Rodriguez. And she even has her own Facebook page.


S1c Alan Hale, Jr US Coast Guard (Served 1942-1945)

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S1c Alan Hale, Jr US Coast Guard (Served 1942-1945)
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Short Bio: Best remembered as “The Skipper” on “Gilligan’s Island”, Hale was born in Los Angeles in 1921. His father was character actor Rufus Edward McKahan who used the stage name of Alan Hale, Sr. (1892–1950), and his mother was silent film actress, Gretchen Hartman (1897-1979). Appearing in over 235 films, his father had a successful screen career both as a leading man in silent films and as a supporting actor in sound movies.

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CCM Robert D. Chandler U.S. Air Force (Ret.) (1966-2005)

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CCM Robert D. Chandler

U.S. Air Force (Ret.)


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When I was a young boy, on rainy days I would sit and look at my dad’s military photos and dream about the future and what it would be like to be in the United States Military. My dad served in the U. S. Army and the US Army Air Corps. Before that he had served in the CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corp). On Saturday nights, my dad, brother and I would shine our shoes for church on Sunday, and my dad would press our trousers with a sharp crease like he did while he was serving in the military. He taught us close order drill with a broom stick when we were 9 years old and 10 years old.

By the time I finished High School and had 57 hours of college, the Vietnam War was in full force. My buddy, Gary Lane, and I decided to enlist into the USAF in January 1966. We were set to ship out to Lackland AFB in February but an outbreak of meningitis kept us from enlisting until March 9, 1966. A hit tune by Barry Sadler called the Green Berets was playing on the radio, young men were joining the military left and right and I did not want to miss my chance of being in uniform so I joined the USAF as planned.

My dad said he would hate to see me leave home, but I would become a man and learn more in the USAF than in College. He was right!


After Basic Training at Lackland AFB in March – April 1966, I went to Shepard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas for Basic Air Craft Loadmaster Training. I attended technical school there and learned all about C-124 cargo planes. Upon graduation from Tech School in July 1966, I got orders to reportto the 36th Troop Carrier Squadron at Langley AFB, Virginia. After more ground training, I took my first flight on a C-130E on August 24, 1966.

In October 1966, I was sent to the 37th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Langley and was promoted to A2C. I started airdrop training and by January 1967 I was Combat Ready on the C-130E. I loved flying and my career field and volunteered for every mission. My first cross country was in October 1966 to Lajes Field, Azores. The flight back to Langley took 9 hours because of headwinds all the way home.

In November 1968 I was transferred to the 38th Airlift Squadron and about a few weeks later received order to report to Fairchild AFB, Washington for Combat Survival Training and after that report to the 774th TAS at Clark Field, Philippines.

I arrived at Clark Air Base on February 3, 1969 and went on my first mission to South Vietnam a week later. I rotated in and out of Vietnam until March 1970 and I got out of the USAF and returned to West Virginia.

In September 1971, I joined the West Virginia Air National Guard and became an Aircraft Loadmaster on C-119 cargo planes. In 1975, I graduated from the NCO Academy at Knoxville, Tennessee in May and went to work for the West Virginia Air National Guard as a full-time Technician as an Aircraft Loadmaster. Our unit got C-130s in November 1975 and I thought I had died and went to heaven. I was going to live at home and do the same job I loved in the regular Air Force.

I flew with the 130th Airlift Squadron from 1971 until 25 January 2001. I had become the first Command Chief of the 130th Airlift Wing in August 1996 and to become a State Command Chief, I had to hang up my wings. It was a difficult decision but I was selected to become the State Command Chief of West Virginia and finished my flying career with 11, 1407 hours of flying time. I was truly blessed, having traveled to 77 countries and all 50 states and territories.


I participated in Combat Operations from February 1969 until March 1970 while flying missions on C-130B aircraft out of Clark AB, Philippines. We flew from the DMZ at Dong Ha in the north, to the Mekong Delta in the south and everything in between. We airlifted cannon barrels for artillery pieces, food, ammo, passengers, and body bags of young Americans. We also airdropped 10,000 pound bombs in an operation called Commando Vault. We airdropped Blu-82s to make helicopter landing zones. Photo of a Blue-82 loaded for a mission.

In 1991 we flew combat missions in the Persian Gulf War. After the war had ended, we flew a mission over the battle fields and airdropped 37,000 pounds of clothing to a prisoner of war camp on the border of Kuwait and Iraq. The tracks were still fresh in the sand as we flew to our Drop Zone.

During the War in Bosnia, we flew supply missions to our forces on the ground.

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No View Like It


The aircraft carrier George Washington leads a formation during a passing exercise with

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships on Tuesday. George Washington

is preparing to deploy around South America as a part of Southern Seas 2015.

MC3 Paul Archer/Navy


The Heroic Battle of Iwo Jima

Japan’s ambition as a world power began in the late 1800s but lacking in raw materials (oil, iron and rubber) necessary to make it a reality, it seized material-rich colonies and islands. Insuring they kept what they seized, Japan established naval and army bases throughout the Pacific. Following long-standing complaints from the United States about their laying claims on territories that did not belong to them, Japan’s military leaders unwisely decided to attack America, beginning with the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the naval officer tasked with planning and carrying out the attack, said “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” His insightful prophecy became a horrible reality for Japan.

As the Americans prepared to take the offensive in 1942, military planners realized it would be impossible to recapture every Japanese-held island in the Pacific so a strategy of “island hopping” was created. This allowed Allied forces to bypass heavily fortified, sizable Japanese garrisons and instead concentrate its limited resources on strategically important islands that were not well defended but capable of supporting the drive to the main island of Japan.

By early 1945, American forces had re-taken a sweeping number of islands held by the Japanese.  For all its gains, however, two small Japanese homeland islands – Iwo Jima and Okinawa – remained critical to a successful invasion of Japan. Capturing these two heavily defended islands would give American forces vital staging areas and airfields within bombing range of Japan.

Iwo Jima was attacked first. After 10 weeks of relentless bombing from carrier-based planes and medium bombers – the heaviest up to that point in the war – it was thought the island defenses would be in ruins. That was not to be. The island commander, Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, prepared his defenses it depth, having constructed a vast array of interlocking fortified positions connected by a large network of underground tunnel and caves providing cover from naval fire and aerial bombs.

At 2 a.m. on February 19, 1945, as the Marine landing force lay off shore, U.S. ships and aircraft delivered pre-landing fires but like earlier ship and aerial bombardments, it proved largely ineffective due to the nature of the Japanese defenses.

The next morning, at 8:59 a.m., the first landings began as the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Marine Divisions came ashore.

Early resistance was minimal. This proved to be only a trick to draw the exposed Marines onto the beaches. It was then that determined Japanese defenders, led by Kuribayashi, opened up from their concealed mountain defenses.

Against these defenses, the Marine now had to advance. Subject to relentless gunfire and shelling from Japanese artillery, they moved by the inch not the mile.  It took four days to advance 1,000 yard, scale Mt. Suribachi and plant the flag captured in Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph. But Marines still had to root out Japanese defenses stretched across the four-mile long island. Even as American planes dropped bombs and napalm on Japanese concrete bunkers, they clung tenaciously to their positions forcing the Americans to roust them out bunker by bunker. Following a final Japanese assault during March 25-26, Iwo Jima was secured after 36 days of brutal combat.

But victory came at a heavy price. At the battle’s conclusion, 6,281 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese were killed. Twenty-two marines and five sailors received the Medal of Honor for their actions on Iwo Jima – the most bestowed for any campaign. Admiral Nimitz remarked, “Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Next came Okinawa where the Japanese had more than three times the force than what had been committed to Iwo Jima. The American paid an even greater price for Okinawa: 12,000 Allied dead and another 38,000 wounded. But the Japanese lost more than 100,000 men and an island critical to the defense of Japan. The end of the battle left little doubt that the end of the war was near.

Although the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa were the most deadly and significant in the approach toward Japan, it was the battle of Iwo Jima that earned a place in American lore with the publication of Rosenthal’s iconic photograph showing the U.S. flag being raised on the fourth day of the battle. The photograph was extremely popular, being reprinted in thousands of publications. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography that same year and ultimately came to be regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of war.

But that flag raising was not the first. A 40-man combat patrol climbed Mt. Suribachi to attack and capture the mountaintop and raise the American flag to signal that the volcanic mountain was captured. The photograph of that flag raising by five Marines was shot by Photographer Staff Sgt. Louis R. Lowery. But the flag was too small to be seen easily from the nearby landing beaches on Iwo Jima, so a second, larger replacement flag with a longer and heavier pipe was planted hours later by five Marines and a Navy medical corpsman, resulting in the famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal.

According to Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and a specialist in 20th century European history, Rosenthal’s photo became the more popular of the two because of how he captured the moment but also transcended it with its diagonal back-leaning position contrasting with the forward motion of the soldiers: “They seem to rise out of the ash and other detritus of the battlefield, and there is already something sculptural in their massed bodies, in their muscular legs and arms that strain to hoist up the heavy pole. The leg of the lead bearer crosses the flagpole, adding a further sense of solidity,” she wrote about the photograph. She also wrote that there is something deeply reassuring about this photograph in its display of strength and teamwork and its communication of a push forward to victory. “The fact we cannot see their faces also works to lift the image out of its original context, lending it a universal quality,” she added.

On July 2, 1945, while marines, soldiers and sailors rested, trained, and prepared for the expected invasion of mainland Japan, the first atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico. An alternative to invasion was now a definite possibility. The morning of August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima. Three days later, Nagasaki suffered a similar fate.

No mainland invasion would take place; the fighting and the war was over.


1st Lt Dan Rowan US Army Air Corps (1941-1945)

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1st Lt Dan Rowan

US Army Air Corps

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Short Bio: During World War II, Rowan served as a fighter pilot in the United States Army Air Forces. He flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters and shot down two Japanese aircraft before he was downed and seriously wounded over New Guinea. His military decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart.

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Cpl Douglas G Kirk U.S. Marine Corps (1967-1969)

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Cpl Douglas G Kirk

U.S. Marine Corps


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The Dress Blues!

I also loved the image of “First to Fight.” The Navy turned me down due to poor grades in high school but the Marines took me in 1967 right after high school.

I’m so glad they did.


Combat Engineer attached to Fox 3/5 for most of my tour Dec 21, 1967 to June 21, 1968. I was medically retired from service June 21, 1969 due to the extent of my combat wounds.

I spent 12 months in the hospital. First at Phu Bai 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Marine Division then DaNang for 1 day, then Yokosuka Naval Hospital for a month or so. Then Wright-Patterson AF base Hospital where they had a nerve graft surgery team that worked on putting my left arm back together. Then the rest of the year at Philly Naval hospital where they did therapy and finally my med board.

I was medically retired June 17, 1969 with 100% disability. I’m on the right in this picture.


Hue City was the big one. Being attached to Fox 2/5 during the Battle of Hue was a life changing experience. We were dropped in by Chinooks on day 2 and lost many of our marines trying to get from the choppers to MACV. We fought in and around Hue for 41 days. Sometimes day and night. G Co 2/5 and H Co 2/5 were on the modern side of the Perfume River. One night we stayed at the Ohio University branch campus. I slept in a dental chair! What a strange event. Being a Combat engineer I spent most of my time blowing up bunkers, buildings and blowing up bridges. Even blew up a bank. The carnage was incredible. Even before we arrived there were bodies everywhere. American, Vietnamese, civilian and animals everywhere. I hear estimates that we killed some 6,000 NVA. I’ll never forget Hue. This is my squad. Rated R for Violence. Read at your own risk!

My combat experience and how I dealt with it probably was not much different than many others.

I was only in Nam a couple of days when a South Vietnamese soldier tripped a booby trap and was killed. The first time I had never seen someone die. He was not dismembered and there was little blood and the experience seemed eerily surreal. I was a Combat Engineer and a demolitions expert and mines and booby traps were my specialty. I felt as though if I had been where this man was I could have prevented his death.

A couple of days later we were mine sweeping a dirt road between a place called An Hoa and a fire-base called An Loc when we found that a large hole (50 feet in diameter) had been blown in the middle of this road. Loose dirt was everywhere and the V.C. (Viet Cong) had a bad habit of doing this and planting mines in the loose dirt because they were harder to detect. We had the infantrymen set up a defensive perimeter and my partner Clyde Dillenberg and I began to probe for mines. Laying on our stomach to reduce our profile to explosions we would carefully push our bayonets into the loose soil, feeling for solid resistance while being gentle enough to avoid setting off any mines.

Clyde and I were carefully and systematically clearing a path through this area when the lieutenant walked by me. I thought; what is he doing? He knelt down just a few feet in front of me and began to probe. I looked up just as he pressed his bayonet into the ground and BOOM. The explosion knocked me backwards. I landed on my back about 25 feet back into the crater. As I looked up I saw the LT’s body flying through the air above me. He must have been at least 20 feet high. He landed about 15 or 20 feet further up the road from where the explosion took place. Pieces of his flesh and bone and blood were all over me.

Everyone said that he must have seen something because he suddenly walked purposefully directly to the spot where he knelt down and started probing.

I immediately began probing again to clear path to him so we could get him medical attention. When we had secured an area safe for the medical corpsman to come up to him the sight we found could only be described as unthinkable. Here was a man I knew with one leg ripped off taking with it the hip exposing his intestines. The other leg was blown off above the ankle and shredded flesh hung in ribbons from the exposed bone to the knee. The arm he was probing with was gone to just below the shoulder again exposing the bone from above the elbow to the armpit. The other arm was blown off rather cleanly around mid-forearm.

We found him face down and rolled him over to expose the most horrifying sight I have ever experienced. His forehead and cheeks had gaping holes in them and both eyes were gone. The rest of his face was intact. The rest of his torso was mostly intact. Immediately assuming he was dead I informed the Doc (Medical Corpsman) that there was no need to hurry because he was dead. Just then he (the LT) groaned. It was chilling.

Then he began to talk. I was both horrified and saddened to think this man was still alive in the condition he was in. Doc called in a medical evacuation and we cleared the rest of the area of mines so a chopper could land and pick up the LT.

There was little we could do but watch and listen to this hunk of mutilated flesh talk asking for help. He could neither see nor hear us talking to him but he kept calling out to us to help him. I began to wish for his death so he would stop talking. We picked him up by the limb fragments and put him on a stretcher and loaded him on the helicopter. He died three days later. I was 19. New Year’s Day, 1968.

There were to be many other days and many other horrors for the next 6 months.

I chose to share this experience as a part of my journey back from 40 years of healing. I was mortally wounded that day but not by mortars, mines or bullets. The wounds to my mind started that day and continued to become more and more severe over the next six months. I was wounded by enemy mortar fire in late June and medically evacuated ultimately back home and medically retired.

From the time I was evacuated until more than 10 years later the severity of the mental wounds began to show up in increasingly more bazaar and violent ways.

In 1979, I found the true beginnings of healing from my mental prison. My wife and I had always made it our practice to attend Church regularly but it had little effect on my mental state until one summer morning when I met some folks who were involved in the same business we were in and they began to talk about their faith in ways I had never heard.

They talked of being “Born Again” and of an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. As they spoke I realized that I had been desiring a deeper faith and felt drawn to the Jesus they spoke of. They prayed with me and I invited Jesus into every area of my life. Healing emotionally began immediately.

Although dramatic changes began that day the changes took several months to reach a level where I knew I was truly free.

I still have some spells where I get emotional and uncomfortable when spending a lot of time thinking about those months in Vietnam. The hate, bitterness and anger are long gone. The violent incidents, long gone as well, the headaches loss of reality and flashbacks, also gone.

I have functioned as a whole man for many years. Although my physical scars remain and somewhat limit my mobility, I am free indeed.

My hope is that by sharing this bit of my life here with my Brothers that maybe one of you will find some healing as I have.

A difficult journey starts with one step. Start today.

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Military Facts and Legends: First WW II Aircraft Crew to Reach 25 Missions

In 1917 and 1918, the United States government issued Liberty Bonds to raise money for our involvement in World War I. By the summer of 1940 when it appeared the United States would be drawn into World War II, bonds again were being sold as a way to remove money from circulation as well as reduce inflation. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 the bonds became known at War Bonds.

To promote selling the War Bonds, rallies were held throughout the country with famous celebrities, usually Hollywood film stars, sports personalities and war heroes such as John Basilone and Audie Murphy. Famous American artists, including Norman Rockwell, created a series of illustrations that became the centerpiece of war bond advertising.

Although the U.S. Army Air Force sent its individual war heroes to War Bond rallies, it preferred sending 10-man heavy bombers crews. That because the American public knew heavy bomber crews faced death on every mission with only one in four chance of actually completing their tour of duty; that’s an average life expectancy of only eight weeks. So dangerous was flying heavy bomber combat missions, the USAAF had a policy that when an aircrew wrapped up 25 missions it was deemed to have “completed their tour of duty.” The War Department would then bring the bomber and its crew home to conduct nationwide promotional tours to sell war bonds to help fund the war effort.

According to decades of World War II aviation history, the crew of the “Memphis Belle” became the first B-17F Flying Fortress crew to complete 25 missions following a strike against Kiel, Germany. She and her crew were promptly sent home to the United States to join the War Bond selling tours.

A 1944 documentary film was produced detailing its exploits and in 1990, a Hollywood feature film entitled the “Memphis Belle” perpetuated its glory for decades. Problem was, the “Memphis Belle was not the first heavy bomber to survive 25 combat missions. Nor was she the second. She was the third.

The first to complete 25 combat mission was the crew of B-24 Liberator named “Hot Stuff” dropping bombs on Naples, Italy on February 7, 1943 – three-and-a-half months before “Memphis Belle” flew her 25th mission. “Hot Stuff” and her crew went on to fly five additional missions before she and her crew were recalled to the United States, where they were scheduled to go on a War Bonds Tour.

In early May, 1943 as the crew prepared for their flight to the States for their War Bonds publicity tour, they got a call from the office of Lt. General Frank M. Andrews, Commander of the European Theater of Operations, asking if he could hitch a ride back to the States. Andrews, an experienced, instrument-rated pilot, bumped the normal co-pilot off the plane and flew in his place. Also aboard were Andrews’ staff and four clergymen. Five other crewmen were bumped to make room for Andrews and his entourage.

The first refueling stop before heading out over the Atlantic was scheduled for Prestwick, Scotland, but the crew decided to fly directly to their second refueling stop at Reykjavik, Iceland. Closing in of Reykjavik they ran into snow squalls, low clouds and rain. After several landing attempts, “Hot Stuff” crashed into the side of 1,600-foot-tall Mount Fagradalsfjall, near Grindavik, Iceland. Upon impact, the aircraft disintegrated except for the tail gunner’s turret which remained relatively intact. Of the 15 aboard, 14 died. Miraculously the injured tail-gunner, Sgt. George Eisel, survived the crash. Because his leg got tangled up in heavy wreckage, he couldn’t move. Twenty-four hours later he was rescued and the bodies recovered.

In 1945 Camp Springs Air Base in Prince Georges County, Maryland was renamed Andrews Field in Gen. Andrews honor. It has since been renamed Joint Base Andrews.

The “Hot Stuff” and her crew were soon forgotten.

“Hell’s Angels” a B-17F Flying Fortress became the first 8th Air Force B-17 to complete 25 combat missions in June 1943. At the end of their tour, the crew of “Hell’s Angels” signed on for a second tour and continued to fly, going on to fly 48 missions, without ever turning back from their assigned target. The aircraft was returned to the states on January 20, 1944 for it’s own publicity tour.

Since 1943 Word War II aviation history considered the “Memphis Belle” as the first heavy bomber to reach the 25-mission mark. Eye witnesses and early documents tell a different story:

“Hot Stuff” was the first B-24 crew and the first heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions on February 7, 1943.

“Hell’s Angels” was the first B-17 crew to complete 25 combat missions on May 13, 1943.

Coming it third place was the “Memphis Belle,” which completed 25 combat missions on May 19, 1943. (Photo is a jubilant “Memphis Belle” crew following their 25-mission)

So why did the U.S. Army Air Force promote the “Memphis Belle” as the first heavy bomber to fly 25 combat missions?

According to Warbird News, our government was anxious to report uplifting and inspiring stories of the war that would capture the American public’s imagination. For the USAAF it was heavy bombers crews that successfully reached 25 combat mission in defiance of actuarial norms. Because the “Memphis Belle” hit that momentous milestone without a crewman’s death made her the likely candidate to be first to return home for a War Bond tour.

Americans, for better or worse are conditioned to respond to a happy ending, especially when it goes against all probability.


Major Lex Barker US Army (1941-1945)

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Major Lex Barker

US Army


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Short Bio:Disowned by his family for his choice of an acting career, he worked in a steel mill and studied engineering at night. In February 1941, nearly a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Barker left his fledgling acting career and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a Private. The 6’3″ 208-pound soldier rose to the rank of major during the war. He was wounded the leg in action fighting in Salerno and in the head in Sicily.

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CDR F. Hugh Magee US Navy (Ret) (1952-1974)

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CDR F. Hugh Magee

US Navy (Ret)


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I was most influenced to join the Navy by my father. Although he was 36 years old with 5 children between 11 & 2, he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. After Boot Camp in Sampson NY, he was assigned to GM “A” School in Biloxi MS. Then assigned to the Armed Guard as a GM3, reported to the merchant ship SS Art Young home-ported at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in NY, as a member of the 5″ 38 gun crew.

Dad served on Art Young making multiple round trips between Brooklyn & Hull, England delivering badly need supplies to England, until the war ended in 1945. We grew up in Fairfield, CT only 60 miles from Brooklyn, so Dad got home to visit whenever the ship was in port loading.

Just before the war ended, his ship was in port and he had to return for a duty day, so he asked me if I would like to go back with him and spend the night aboard. I was 11 at the time and I was thrilled. Had a great time, except I nearly got sick after his shipmates plied me with Hershey bars, which were in short supply for civilians, but plentiful in the military.

I told him on the way home that I wanted to join the Navy when I was old enough, make it my career and maybe some day retire as a CPO. Well, I never made Chief, but I did manage 22 years and what a ride it was!


I joined the Inactive Reserve in Feb 1952 while still in High School. After graduation, I did boot camp at NTC Bainbridge, MD, In Jan 1954, I started ET “A” School at NTC Great Lakes, IL, graduating in Dec designated ETSN (R).

Then I headed to Sub School at NSB NewLondon, CT graduating in Feb. 1955. Assigned then to the WWII diesel Sub USS CAVALLA (SSK-244). In Jul 1956, transferred to sub USS BARRACUDA (SSK-1) undergoing overhaul in NSY Philadelphia, PA, while awaiting orders to Flight Training.

As an ET-2 (SS), reported to Pensacola and started Pre-Flight as a NAVCAD in Oct 1956. Primary flight training at Saufley, Whiting & Barin Fields Jan to Dec 1957. Advanced Jet Training NAAS Chase Field, TX Jan to Jul 1958.

Wings & Commissiond ENS 3 Jul 1958.

Reported to my first Squadron VF-94 at NAS Alameda, CA in Aug 1958.

Transferred to VA-55 at NAS Miramar, CA in Mar 1961. In Sep 1962, transferred to VA-125 at NAS Lemoore, CA.

Reported to VA-146 also at Lemoore, in Sep 1965, then transferred to VA-44 at NAS Cecil Field, FL in Jan 1968.

*Photo: Congratulated by USS CONSTELLATION CO, CAPT T. J. Walker upon making the 5,000th arrested landing aboard CVA-64. Aug ’62
Jan 1970 reported to USS MIDWAY (CVA-41) for my Ships Company tour, then in Jul 1972, reported to Staff COMLATWINGPAC at NAS Lemoore, CA.

Retired from active service at Lemoore on Aug 1, 1974.


Yes, I took part in the early years of Operation ROLLING THUNDER as an A-4C Skyhawk Attack Pilot in VA-146.

We flew combat missions from USS RANGER (CVA-61) Jan-Aug 1966 and USS CONSTELLATION (CVA-64) Apr-Nov 1967. I ended up with a total of 247 combat missions, of which 200+ were over North Vietnam.

As Ordnance Officer then Weapons Dept. Head on USS MIDWAY (CVA-41), made 2 combat deployments in 1971-72. On the 1972 cruise, the USS MIDWAY/CVW-5 team were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) for our participation in Operation LINEBACKER II, which brought the air war to an end, and the POWs back home in Mar 1973.

I would have to say that the multi-division coordinated strikes (Alpha Strikes) we flew in 1966-67, were the most significant. They were conducted in the Northern Provinces of NVN, where the air defenses were the heaviest, and our aircraft/aircrew losses and casualties the greatest.

*Photo: A photo of a painting of “Busy Bee 604” as she was configured when shot down on 25 June, 1966. Painted by commission in 1985.

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