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Military Myths & Legends: “Go For Broke”

By LtCol Mike Christy – Together We Served Dispatches

Immediately after Japan’s December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and other American bases in the Pacific, the United States declared war on Japan. Several days later Nazi German and Italy declared war on the U.S., embroiling the world into World War II.

The war heightened American prejudice against German Americans and Italian Americans but the racism directed against Japanese Americans was particularly vicious. The calculated response culminated in the forced removal and unconstitutional incarceration of 120,000 residents of Japanese ancestry, including the complete elimination of communities and individuals from the entire West Coast of the United States. This racism was precipitated by the attack on Pearl Harbor but it had deep antecedents in the nearly half-century of legal, social, and economic policies directed against Asians in general within the United States.

As the war progressed, however, more American units were needed to successfully fight the Axis powers. One such unit was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), organized on March 23, 1943, after more than a year during which Americans of Japanese descent were declared enemy aliens, 4-C, by the U.S. War Department. It had taken all that time plus several key events to convince the Roosevelt Administration that these men should be allowed to enter combat for their country.

Eventually, the 442nd, bolstered by the combat-hardened 100th Infantry Battalion, initially made up almost entirely of Japanese Americans from Hawaii already in Italy fighting the Germans, became the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. The 4,000 men who initially made up the unit in April 1943 had to be replaced nearly 2.5 times. In total, about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts. The unit was awarded eight Presidential Unit Citations (five earned in one month).Twenty-one of its members were awarded Medals of Honor. Its motto was “Go for Broke”.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is best known for rescuing the “the Lost Battalion” in the Vosges Mountains. The 442nd and the 141st Texas Regiment were both part of the 36th Division under the command of Maj. Gen. John Dahlquist. They were fighting in Eastern France, near the German border.

The 442nd had just finished 10 brutal days of fighting to liberate the French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine. Finally, on October 23, 1944, the Nisei got clean, dry clothes, hot food and rest. Glorious rest. But not for long.

Gen. Dahlquist had another trapped unit that needed rescuing. Dahlquist had ordered the 141st Texas Regiment to advance four miles beyond friendly forces. The Texans warned that they would get cut off, but they pushed on as ordered. Naturally, the Germans surrounded them. In fact, 6,000 fresh German troops moved into the area. Der Fuhrer’s orders were to hold the area. No surrender. No retreat.

More than 200 Texans, known as the “Lost Battalion” were stranded on a ridge. They were low on food, water and ammo – just like the men in the 100th at Biffontaine. However, the Texans were not rescued by their own men in the 141st, or by other white soldiers in the 143rd Regiment. Dahlquist ordered the Nisei soldiers to save them.

Once again, on October 25, after less than two days rest and already short of men, the Nisei trudged through the dark and the cold rain. The stranded Texans were about four miles from friendly forces. But, it was more like nine miles – because the hills were steep, the ravines and fields were littered with mines, and the few roads that crossed the terrain were narrow, sodden logging trails bristling with German roadblocks. By early afternoon on October 27, the Nisei were moving toward the narrow ridge that held the besieged Texans.

On the right flank, the 100th chased the Germans across a gully toward the next hill. But it was a trap, and the Germans blasted the Nisei with an hour-long artillery barrage. The shelling wounded 20 Nisei, but the 100th held its ground.

In the center, on the narrow ridge K Company hit a series of three heavily entrenched barriers. By evening, the 100th and 3rd Battalions had gained only a few hundred yards, but they had managed to take 70 German prisoners.

That same night, 2nd Battalion Commander Lt. Co. James Hanley, led E and F Companies to circle behind the enemy troops around a nearby hill – Hill 617. Meanwhile, 2nd Battalion’s G Company spread itself thin to simulate a battalion. At dawn, G Company attached frontally, while E and F Companies attacked Hill 6l17 and 61 Germans prisoners.

By October 29, the Lost Battalion’s situation was desperate. Isolated for six days the Texans had beaten back five enemy assaults. Deaths and casualties mounted, yet they couldn’t evacuate the bodies. They pooled their meager supplies of food and ammo and risked German sniper fire to get water. The Allies tried to send supplies. First they shot shells filled with chocolate, but the shelling caused casualties. A few days later the Allies dropped supplies by parachute, but most of the packages landed in German-occupied positions.

The 522nd Field Artillery Battalion’s accurate fire hit the Germans without harming the trapped Texans or the Nisei rescuers. Often the tall trees and steep slopes made it impossible to adjust artillery fire properly. The terrain made tank travel almost impossible, too.

The American GIs had to fight with what they could carry; bazookas, grenades, BARs, machine guns, Tommy guns, pistols, and rifles and bayonets.

By October 29, the Nisei had fought for five days, but hadn’t made much progress against the heavily entrenched Germans. 3rd Battalion’s I and K companies were on a narrow, exposed ridge. With a steep drop on the left and right, the men had no choice but to go straight up the middle. I Company Private Barney Hajiro was pinned down on the ridge. He saw enemy machine guns kill eight and wounded 21 of his buddies. Then suddenly, a few men, including Hajiro decided to “Go for broke.” He charged up the ridge, shooting his BAR and running 100 yards under fire. He single-handedly destroyed two machine gun nests and killed two enemy snipers. His brave actions spurred his comrades to rally and boldly attack. Hajiro was awarded a Medal of Honor. (Hajiro was awarded the DSC, but in June 2000 it was upgraded to MOH.)

The same day, October 29, Private George Sakato of 2nd Battalion’s E Company led a charge that rescued his pinned squad and destroyed a German stronghold. He earned a DSC, which was upgraded to Medal of Honor in June 2000.

Finally, on October 30, after six days of desperate combat, the 442nd broke through to the “Lost Battalion.” The Nisei infantry in B, I, and K Companies were the first to arrive, but the entire 442nd had helped. Forward observers from the 522nd fought along with the infantry. Members of the antitank units carried the wounded and braved enemy fire. Clerks, cooks and Nisei from the 232nd Combat Engineer Company joined in combat.

Many were wounded or killed by mines, sniper fire, heavy artillery, and spraying shrapnel. More than 25 of K Company’s wounded were treated by medic, Technician Fifth Grade James Okubo. Okubo was the only medic to earn a Medal of Honor (Silver Star upgrade), but many other medics braved enemy fire and saved countless lives.

The men of the Lost Battalion and their rescuers exchanged happy greetings, but it was a short celebration. After the successful rescue, after 16 days of almost non-stop combat – the worst the 100th/442nd had ever experience – after losing many of their buddies and officers they expected to be relieved. Instead, Gen. Dahlquist ordered the men to keep pushing and securing the forest for nine more days.

On November 7, near the village of La Houssiere, Private First Class Joe Nishimoto, an acting squad leader in G Company broke a three-day stalemate against German forces. He destroyed a machine gun nest and with his hand grenade, and killed the German crew of another nest with his Tommy gun. Nishimoto was later killed in action. He received a DSC, which was upgraded to Medal of Honor in June 2000, posthumously.

November 17 when the 442nd was finally relieved, the dead and the wounded outnumbered the living. The 442nd ended up at less than half its usual strength. K Company, which started out with 186 men had 17 left. I Company started out with 185. At the end, there were only 8.

During the six days the 442nd fought to rescue the Lost Battalion, 54 men were killed and many, many more were wounded and sent to hospitals. During the entire Vosges Campaign, 34 days of almost non-stop combat – liberating Bruyeres and Biffontaine, rescuing the 211 Texans, and nine more days of driving the Germans through the forest – the 442nd’s total casualties were 216 men dead and more than 856 wounded.

When Division commander Dahlquist ordered the 442nd to assemble for a recognition ceremony, he scolded a 442nd Colonel. “You disobeyed my orders. I told you to have the whole regiment.” The teary-eyed Colonel looked him in the eye and reportedly said, “General, this is the regiment, the rest are either dead or in the hospital.”

To the U.S. Army, the rescue of the Lost Battalion became one of the top 10 battles in its history. But to many, questions still remain. Why did the General order the 141st to advance nine miles beyond reasonable support, and without protection in the rear? Did Dahlquist use the Nisei more ruthlessly than the other American troops?

Gen. Dahlquist was so much disliked as a person that Lieutenant Colonel Singles, an officer of the 442nd, ran into Dahlquist a few years later and was not willing to shake his hand.

“After returning the salute, General Dahlquist offered his right hand saying, “Let bygones be bygones. It’s all water under the bridge, isn’t it?” Lt. Col. Singles maintained his salute, ignoring the General’s extended hand. Although he rendered proper military protocol by maintaining his salute, he could not forget what many considered the General’s blatant waste of Japanese-American soldiers.

“Comrades who are slain
In our charge on the ridge
Have not died in vain
But forged through heroism a bridge
For all Japanese Americans to cross
This was I Company’s fate.
To prevail with heavy loss
And then there were eight.”
-Lloyd Tsukano

Video of 442nd in action:


Ens Johnny Carson US Navy (Served 1943-1946)

View the military service of Tonight Show Host:

johnny-carsonEns Johnny Carson

US Navy

(Served 1943-1946)

View his service history on


Short Bio: He enlisted as a Seaman Apprentice and later received a commission.
He served as OIC of decoding messages on the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific.


Maj Dale T. Armstrong U.S. Marine Corps (1983-1995)

Read the service reflections of US Marine:

profile2Maj Dale T. Armstrong

U.S. Marine Corps

(Served 1983-1995)

Shadow Box:


Several things really. I grew up on our family farm outside a tiny hamlet in central Pennsylvania (Lockport, near Lewistown, PA). My brothers and I played “soldier” all the time, and “cowboys & Indians” of course; and we had toy guns. Later we had the real thing; went hunting on our
413 acres. Then I heard all the stories growing up, essentially all of my uncles served in the military during WWII: Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and my mother’s oldest brother, John Hite, was killed in Aachen, Germany by a sniper, on the tail end of the Battle of the Bulge. My dad’s younger brother was in Korea for two years during that War; my father himself was in Army Air Corps ROTC at Penn State during WWII, and desperately wanted to be a pilot, until an accident on his summer construction job almost severed his left arm completely, and they 4F’d him out of the ROTC.

Later, when my father worked for USAID, and we spent six years in Nigeria in the 1960’s and 4 years in Cairo, Egypt during the late 1970’s, I got to meet and hang out with the Marines in the Embassies. Of course I was impressed with the uniforms! I was hanging out at the Marine House in the AmEmb Cairo, telling the Marines I was friends with that I was going to finish up college and “enlist” in the Corps to be just like them. They just all laughed at me and told me I was crazy, that I was going to college and that I could be an “Officer”, and that I should not “enlist”. I was that naive about the Corps/Military at the time, and I didn’t know that.

I returned back to the family farm, and went to Penn State as my father had before me, to finish my degree. I was walking home one day to my apartment from class, and got lost in State College, and walked by the Recruiting Office by mistake. There was this Gunny on the front steps in his Blue “D’s” I think. He saw me, and said “Hey, do you like to climb?” That was a weird “sales” line; but I said “Yes”, and he said “Can I have 30 minutes of your time? I just smiled to myself and said “Sure”. I smiled because I was thinking, there’s no way this guy can get me to sign up. Thirty minutes later, I was signed up for OCS, and never looked back!

When I got home to my apartment, I called my parents on the phone, and I told my Mom, “Hey Mom, I think I just signed up for the Marine Corps!”, and she started crying! All she could think of was her brother!


I went to OCS at Quantico; the combined 10 week course called PLC, in June – August 1982. I had officially signed up with a PEB of 21st of October, 1981. Two weeks after I started OCS, my OSO from Penn State came down to visit me and one other
Penn State guy in the same Platoon as me, and he said “What do you think?” I said without hesitation “I love it Sir, sign me up for TBS, I’m ready now!”

After OCS, I went back and finished up my degree at Penn State, and then it was off to F TBS, in May ’83. I chose Infantry, and after TBS, I went right into IOC at Quantico, from Dec ’83 until Apr ’84, I think.

I received orders to 2nd MarDiv, 8th Marines. I was to go to 2/8, but they were still out in Beirut after the Grenada Op; so I hung out at 8th Marines as the S-2 “Zulu” for awhile; got TAD’d over to 2nd Marines for a month as a fill-in Plt Cmdr, did an exercise/deployment to Guantanamo Bay with them; then back to 8th Marines when 2/8 came back from Beirut, commanded by then LtCol Ray Smith, and picked up 3rd Plt in G Co., 2/8. We did a Med Deployment, during the TWA hijacking into Beirut in ’85, and we did a number of weeks in MODLOC off Beirut, thinking we were going in, but it never materialized, and we went back to CLNC. I had been promoted to1stLt on the “pump”, and when we got back to CLNC, I transferred over to E. Co., and became the Weapons Plt Cmdr.

A short while later, word circulated that they were forming up a LAV Battalion over at French Creek, and they asked for “volunteers”. I thought about it for awhile, and decided to volunteer. I was transferred over to 2nd LAV Bn, and picked up 1st Plt, C Co. After a deployment to Fort McCoy, WI for cold weather training with them. I was chosen to be the Bn S3-A. Then, our Battalion Commander, an amazing Officer named (then) LtCol Andrew Finlayson showed extreme special trust & confidence in me, and picked me to become the CO of A Co, 2nd LAV Bn, while passing over a handful of more senior Lt’s & even a couple of Capt’s on the Bn Staff. I took A Co back to Fort McCoy, and then over to Norway for the Cold Winter/Alpine Warrior exercises, and when I got back, LtCol Finlayson helped me get augmented into the Regular Marine Corps. But, I was no longer “Infantry/LAV”, I was now an “Intelligence” Officer…so, I became the S-2 of 2nd LAV Bn, the 4th different type of billet I held in the Bn in 3 years! Plt Cmdr, S-3A, Co Cmdr & Bn S-2!

Shortly after that, 2nd Mar Div said they needed an Intel Officer out in the Arabian Gulf to augment COMIDEASTFOR during the “Earnest Will” tanker war ongoing with the Iranians. I was initially attached to the then-standing up SPMATF 2-88 as the S-2A, but when the total end strength was arbitrarily cut because someone in DC told President Reagan that a SPMAGTF had no more that 300 Marines in it, they cut all the “extraneous” personnel, sent me back to Division, and they turned around and sent me out to the same place anyhow. This time, as a member of the J-2 staff on board the USS Coronado/COMIDEASTFOR. I was there six months.

My parents at this time were in AmEmb Khartoum, Sudan; so I flew down and spent a week with them. Then later, my older brother got killed in a car accident back in Pennsylvania, so I flew home for a week for the funeral. When I got back to COMIDEASTFOR, I finished up my six months, and returned to 2nd MarDiv just long enough to pick up my orders to FOSIF, Rota, Spain. I arrived in Rota in September 1988.I spent three years there. During that time I was augmented to the CJTFME Provide Comfort in Incirlik, Turkey, handling the Kurdish situation in Northern Iraq. I went down to Zakho, Iraq, to visit the 24th MEU, then commanded by Col Jim Jones, and was briefly asked to augment them as the 24th MEU S-2A. I returned back to Rota, Spain, just in time to pick up my new orders to AWS in Quantico, VA. I finished AWS in May ’92, and was ordered to 9th Marines at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. After six months as the S2-A & then the S-2 of 9th Marines, I was transferred to 12th Marines down at Camp Foster, and served there until August ’94, also as the Regimental S-2. I left active duty in August, ’94, and returned home to the US just in time for HQMC to ask me to come back on active duty as a Reservist, and work in the J-2, DIA as a Intel Doctrine writer for six months of ADSW. I was promoted to Major in the Reserves at the very end of that six months, left active duty again, and that was the end.

They sent me my Major’s Commission in the mail! I never had a promotion ceremony; never “pinned” it on; never bought a pair of gold oak leaves to wear on a uniform, and never wore a Major/Field Grade Officer Uniform or owned one of any type. So technically, somewhere I’m listed as a “Major”, but psychologically, I still consider myself a Captain, and I’m happy with that. I got to do things in my brief career that will always stay with me.

Most Lt’s were lucky to get one Platoon to lead. I had four! Two Infantry Platoons, a Weapons Platoon, and a LAV Platoon. Again, Company grade Officers back then, were lucky to get a Company, and then, only when they made Captain! I got a Company to command while only a mid-level 1st Lt, and I took them on a major overseas exercise. I then became an Intel Officer, and was awarded the LOM as a Captain. Finally, I was the S-2 of two separate Regiments as a Captain, which is normally a Major’s billet, so I can be proud of those highlights in my career.


The “short answer” is no, I did not participate in any “Combat Operations”; but several of the others. Technically, somewhere in the bowels of HQMC or Kansas City, it might say I participated in “combat operations”, as I received “Combat Pay” twice in my career, and one of my FITREP’s
even says “This is a Combat Fitness Report”. But to tell the truth, to claim “combat experience” for myself is an insult to all those fine Marines who have faithfully served their Country & Corps in REAL Combat; especially over the past 12 years+ since 9/11 in Iraq & Afghanistan & elsewhere. My respect and admiration for all those fine young Marines, and all our fine Men & Women in uniform, who’ve put up with family separations, deprivations, hardship, deployments, combat, wounds & worse; knows no bounds.

I cried for days watching the march to Baghdad back in 2003 on TV, wishing I could be there to share that hardship with them. I’ve read other “Reflections” pages, and I see these young Marines now, who’ve done 3, 4, 5 tours in Iraq, and maybe that many in Afghanistan! They have 2, 3 Purple Hearts, and I’ve even read about one Marine who has 8 or 9 Purple Hearts! That’s just crazy! Because even though I never had a similar experience, I do have a small hint of what it took to earn that. My respect, admiration, and pride in these outstanding individuals is just boundless. I make sure any time I see a young Marine, Soldier, Sailor, Airman anywhere in uniform, that I walk up to them and shake their hands and thank them for their service!

When I was at COMIDEASTFOR, we had the “USS Vincennes”/Iranian Airbus/Praying Mantis Operation, and that’s where the “combat” FITREP came in; but the truth is, I was aboard the Flagship, the USS Coronado 200+ miles from any real combat, and the ship actually never even left the port of Manama during the whole event! So, the only danger I was in, was of over-eating. When I went into Zakho, Iraq, with first the CJTFME, and then 24th MEU at the tail end of the Gulf War, it was technically a “permissive” environment, and we had more Marines/Soldiers hurt in accidents than anything. We were not awarded a CAR (and correctly so), and got the HSM instead, so I think that pretty well sums up my Non-combat “combat” experience.

Basically, I got into the Fleet right after Grenada/Beirut, so I missed that, I was stymied in FOSIF, Rota during the Gulf War, despite my wishes otherwise, and I was out before the whole cycle of Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., even began!

My experiences in Northern Iraq/Zakho were the most significant to me and life-alerting in a way, even though it was a “permissive environment”; I got to see what Saddam had done to the Kurds! It was Genocide; pure and simple; and though it’s not a popular thing to say these days, I will always support the Invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam in 2003 as the correct thing to have been done!


I consider myself extremely lucky to have had two absolutely amazing overseas tours. My three years at the FOSIF in Rota, Spain, was not only an amazing professional experience, but a tremendous personal/cultural experience as well. Spain is just a crazily amazing country. I remember one of my fellow IntelOfficers, then Major Ric Raftery came out to visit us in Rota in early ’91. He had been the senior Marine Intel Officer at FOSIF Rota a few years before, and was now the 24th MEU S-2.

Anyway, we went out to lunch with some of the Navy Officers, and we were sitting on top of this small mesa in one of the small Andalusian “Los Pueblos Blancos” (White Towns) named Vejer de la Frontera, chilling out, drinking sangria and eating the amazing Spanish food. About six weeks or so later, we were sitting on opposite cots in an old Iraqi Army base in Zakho, Iraq, eating MRE’s, looking at each other and just laughing going “Man, how long ago was it we were just eating Garlic Chicken in Verjer. Ric was also the S-2 for the 24th MEU in Zakho.

Then, later on, I was in Okinawa for two years, and that again, was just an amazing experience. Okinawa will always be special to me for another reason as well; its where I met my future wife, and the mother of my three amazing girls, and our “late life” special blessing, our son! As a “2a” -type experience, I will say that my six weeks or so in Zakho was also amazing. Since we were not getting shot at by the Iraqis, I had time to roam around and gather Intel, and I can say, without trying to rub it in on all the fine Marines who had to fight in the “sandbox” down south, that northern Iraq is truly beautiful; stark mountain peaks, waterfalls, wheat fields, and picturesque Kurdish towns and villages hanging on cliff edges over vast valleys below. Well, at least the few Kurdish villages & towns that Saddam had not bulldozed to the ground and wiped out all the inhabitants!

I enjoyed them all in some manner; can’t really say I have a “least favorite”! I didn’t enjoy Korea that much; but was only there for three weeks; it sure was freaking cold though, no doubt about it!


I don’t want to sound cliche, but frankly I enjoyed almost the whole thing, start to finish, from my first day in OCS, to almost my last day in Okinawa! I loved the Marine Corps. I still do, even though I haven’t worn a uniform in almost 20+ years.
I always will.

A Major I knew in Okinawa explained it to me one day, in a way that I’ll never forget: “Dale, remember we love the Corps, but she doesn’t love you back!” I found out the hard way that was true! Doesn’t matter though, I still love the Corps; still love the time I spent in the Corps (most of it!), and will always do so They can’t take that away from me, no matter what.

And it is the personal memories that make it live on; the bad/hard times fade with age, and you remember & smile when you think about the good times and the good things you accomplished.

The camaraderie is the hardest to replace, and it’s what everyone recalls fondly, years later.

My Platoon in OCS; 2nd Plt, A Co; PLC Combined Course the summer of 1982, won the Drill Competition. I think there were 52 or 53 of us in the end; we were locked and cocked and tight! We moved and reacted as a single unit, and we won that competition going away! I don’t think anything will ever replace that feeling! Our amazing Platoon Sergeant, SSgt Thomas Frush, set that as our goal from day one, his previous Platoons had won a couple of other times, and he was amazing; he put us on a ten week course that took us to that plateau, and we got there; he was a maestro!


No, I did not receive any awards for Valor, and I never had the opportunity to find out. But one cannot second guess that aspect of your career; one never knows or can predict how they’d react under fire. You can think you’re the bravest person in the world, but
the minute that first round zinged by your ear, you may just not be all that brave after all!

MajGen Wayne Rollins said something to my TBS class once, when he was still a LtCol and head of Tactics Instruction at TBS. He was watching us LT’s do an exercise out in the field at Quantico, and afterwards, the junior instructors were yelling at us for not having been crawling low enough when the “enemy” was firing at us. He said: “Don’t worry about telling them to get low, when they’re in combat and the first real rounds zip over their head, they’ll get so low the buttons on their utility blouse will get in the way!” That was from an Officer who had been there, and been in it, Vietnam; where he earned a Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star & two Purple Hearts! He knew the deal!


I guess if someone were to look at my record, they’d think that I’d reply that I was most proud of my Legion of Merit Medal, which I received in 1992, as a Captain; which you have to admit, is kind of unusual. I was involved in a “CI Op”
while in the FOSIF, that was tailored to support CENTCOM during the Gulf War. Someone, somewhere, decided that it was successful, and purportedly contributed to CENTCOM’s success in the Gulf War in some extremely miniscule way, and I was awarded the LOM later on while I was back at AWS after my FOSIF tour.

But frankly, I’m most proud of the three medals I didn’t receive! When I went to leave 2nd LAV Bn, the Bn CO recommended me for a Navy Achievement Medal, because I had been there for 3+ years, and as mentioned before, I had been a Plt Cmdr, the S-3A, a Co.CO as a 1stLt, and then the Bn S-2. Company Grade Officers back then just didn’t get “End of Tour Awards”; so I was honored. As I was checking out, the Major XO, who was a very strange individual anyway, casually said to me: “Hey Armstrong, the Colonel said you deserve a NAM for what you did here, but since you’re headed out to COMIDEASTFOR and will probably get a bunch of Joint Medals out there, I’m going to make sure you never get your NAM, regardless of what the Colonel says!” I was shocked, and couldn’t believe that anyone would actually do that, and be so petty. It was the first of my extremely painful experiences dealing with medals in the rest of my career. But the XO was right, I never got the NAM, he back-doored the Colonel, and cashiered it! I stopped by the LAV S-1 section a year or so later, when I was in CLNC on a TAD/visit, and mentioned to the S-1, “Hey, where’s my NAM”, and he just said, “Dale, I tried to let the Colonel know what the XO did to you, but he threatened to give me a bad FITREP if I told, so I had to let it go!”. In what I can only describe as “karma”, a short while later, that particular Major/XO was forced out of the Corps for being involved in a Jeep/LAV stolen parts trafficking ring on/off the Base! That one still burns, to tell the truth, because of that as a result, I never did end up getting an Award from the Marine Corps.

Later, when I was in the FOSIF, and during the Gulf War, we were providing Intel support to SIXTHFLT. Me and the other Marines in FOSIF tried to get reassigned to CENTCOM, to get in on the action, but HQMC said we were in “critical” Intel billets in support of SIXTHFLT & theater Marines, and we couldn’t leave. So, I busted my butt, 24/7, for months, handling probably 95% of the Intel support to the deployed forces in the AOR concerning the Geopolitical NorthAfrican/Levant Intel support by myself. One day, my boss, a Navy Officer, came to me and said “Dale, you’ve done just an incredible job with this, and the CO asked for Award submissions, and I nominated you for a NAM; and you’ll get it because you deserve it!”. Additionally, the year prior, I had been nominated and won the Command “Intel Analyst of the Year” award, and was awarded a NAM for that, so this was my second NAM nomination within a year in that command. Regardless, about a week later, I was called into the FOSIF CO’s office, and he proceeded to tell me that “you do deserve the NAM, you’ve done about 95% of the Intel support by yourself, and done a great job of it, but, you have TOO many medals now, and we need to give one to someone else!” He also added: “I can’t have one Officer looking like a Christmas Tree!” I found out later that the CO was put up to this by the XO, a Navy Officer also, who did not “like” me. They gave the NAM to a Navy Officer, a great guy, an outstanding Intel Officer and a close friend of mine as well, who bewilderingly came back after they basically snagged him one day, and pinned the NAM on him, and asked me: “Why did they just give me your NAM?” The exact same question that my Intel Marines came and asked me after they saw that Officer receive the NAM. I could only say “The CO made a decision”. In another, in this case sadly unfortunate example of “karma” that I took no delight in, for despite what the XO manipulated him into doing, that CO was a kind, decent man; he committed suicide some years later.

Months later, I was sent out to Zakho, Iraq as mentioned above, and spent six weeks wandering around the place with a GySgt for a driver, collection Intel, meeting with the Peshmerga, documenting Saddam’s campaign of extermination against the Kurds, and collecting over 2 tons of Iraqi Military documents to ship back to Washington DC/the DIA. I was told later on that I was nominated for a JSAM, but when it got up to CINCUSNAVEUR from the CJTFME, as FOSIF Rota fell under CINCUSNAVEUR in London, someone up there heard about my pending LOM due to the completely unrelated “CI Op” that I had done the previous year, got mad that an “O-3” Marine was getting a LOM, and they cashiered that JSAM medal as well!

So, in reality, I’m proudest of the three medals that I never received and will never wear; I earned them, or so a lot of people thought, but “politics” killed them all! They were not awarded to me because it was determined I didn’t merit them, they were not awarded because someone in a position of power, each time, decided that they were jealous of me! That’s something that should not happen in our Corps, and our Military! Which was really a shock to me, because I still was naive enough to believe that if you did well, you’d be rewarded for it. And, I was happy for people that received medals, because I didn’t know that sometimes the system was unjust. And since I was happy and proud of other people when they were rewarded, I foolishly assumed they’d be happy for me!

I’ve read in other Marine’s “Reflections” pages, that the whole issue “medals” is still controversial, and I’m not the only person who was ever caught up in all this nonsense, as that is exactly what it is. Because our Corps should be better than this, our Corps should not be unjust, and petty, and punish people that did something for the benefit of our Country & Corps, and yet, end up being treated as one of the “enemy”. I knew people when I was in, who literally, begged the people senior to them to give them an award for something, anything, especially the dreaded “end of tour award”. I knew many, many instances of Officers senior to me, writing or submitting their own awards! And, I knew people, peers of mine, who talked endlessly of getting an award, and that they’d do anything to stand out, get noticed, and get nominated for an award. I can state unequivocally that I never did any of those things, and I professionally despised those that did.

My LOM, I have mixed feelings about. I thought I did a “good” thing! I mean, how many Marine Corps Captains have ever gotten an LOM? But, less than six months after I received it, I went to Okinawa, and ran into a Colonel who didn’t have one, and he was my boss! He let everyone know that he’d show me, the Capt with the LOM, and he sure did! He “fired” me from my job, transferred me to another Regiment, and gave me a career-ending FITREP. Even the Regt SgtMaj came up to me as I was leaving and said “Sir, you’re one of the finest young officers I’ve ever known, and you are highly respected by the Regt SNCO’s, I have no idea why the CO is doing this to you, but it makes me glad I’m an enlisted man and not an officer, and I don’t have to put up with this political bullshit!” He shook my hand and turned around and walked away. When I went in to see the S-1, to check out, a 1stLt, he was handing me my transfer orders, and he looked at me and just shook his head. I said what’s wrong, and he said to me “I’ve never seen this Colonel treat anyone like he’s treating you, I don’t understand it, you are a good guy!” All I could say was “I’m getting that a lot right now!” As for the CO, he later made LtGen, so I guess he was “right” and I was wrong! I left the Corps 18 months later, because that’s what he wanted, and that’s what he engineered. Truthfully, as crazy as it sounds, my career in the Marine Corps came to an end, because the very man that was supposed to be my boss, my leader, my CO, my “mentor”, was jealous of my medal! Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I confess, I was bitter about the way it ended for a long time (but not about the rest, the good times, the Marines, etc.), but hindsight has brought some small modicum of wisdom over the issue. It wasn’t the “Corps” that did it to me, it wasn’t that honorable “institution”; it was one or two petty individuals in certain places in certain times, that intersected with me, and allowed that most base aspect of human nature, jealousy, drive their actions. I can put my head down on my pillow at night, knowing that I never did that to another fellow Marine; but I do wonder how they sleep at night?

My father taught me never to toot my own horn; so when all this crap was happening to me, I never stood up for myself, I kept foolishly believing that if I just worked harder, and did the right thing, that the “system” would take care of me! That didn’t work out that way.

A few years ago, I decided I was going to finally stick up for myself, and even though I had been awarded a LOM, that I was going to go back and get those medals that had been taken away from me! I mean, just like my career, I had a crazy run; between ’86 – ’92, a span of 6 years, I was awarded 4 personal awards, including a LOM as an 0-3, I was written up for 3 others, that jealous XO’s mainly, cashiered, and I was strongly considered for 2 others, that I was told in each case I probably should’ve gotten, and there was the probability of a 10th one as well. 3 were Marine, 3 were Navy & 4 Joint… baseball, .400 is pretty good.

So I decided a few years ago, that despite the LOM, and despite the wars and all the people who’ve served & sacrificed for real and never even gotten any medals; I was going to go back, and file petitions for as many of them as I could. The CO of 2nd LAV Bn at that time, Col L.C Gound, USMC (Ret), was a good and honorable man, who I knew didn’t know what the XO had done, and probably would’ve rectified it if I had looked him up, and told him. But, as with everything, I procrastinated out of guilt, and finally when I got the courage to Google his name a few months ago, and begin the process, I found out that Col L. C. Gound, a Marine Corps Hero from Vietnam, had passed away last year at the young age of 73; that kind of took the wind out of my sails; because the disgraced XO would never admit to having done what he did; and there is no one else that knew about it, except maybe the Adjutant. I’ve kind of given up on the Navy & Joint ones; no one involved from those days/times has enough integrity or honor to admit what they did, and rectify it; especially the former XO of the FOSIF!

I’ll also add this: IF I had it to do all over again; I’d turn down EVERY single medal I was ever nominated/written up for! I sincerely would! If I had been smart enough to do that in the beginning, I’d probably be a retired Colonel right now. The grief I had to bear, for a bit of colored ribbon, has not been worth it; not one iota!

As a postscript, I’d like to say I’m also very proud of the fact that while in Zakho, Iraq, the Recon Plt Cmdr & his Marines inducted me “honorarily” into the Recon Marines for something I did; hazing me, soaking me with water, then duck-taping me to a pole and giving me a nail file to free myself with. They also made me up a “Honorary” Recon Marine Plaque on an MRE case sleeve; which I still have & cherish. One of my prouder Marine Corps moments, and no one tried to take that one away from me!


I served with, and for, many outstanding Marines. MajGen Ray Smith; MajGen Wayne Rollins; Col J.J. Kispert; General Johnston; Col Tony Gain; Col Andrew Finlayson; General Jim Jones; Lt Gen Mike Byron; MGen David Bice; Col Joe Streitz; Col Chris Gunther; Col Tommy Tyrrell; Col Phil Smith; Col Walt
Ford; Col George Bristol (he’s the Marine who instituted the Marine Corps Martial Arts program! George and I were in the same TBS Plt, and then in the same Basic Intel Officer’s Course) Capt Marc Luoma (USN); Capt Eileen Mackrell (USN); LtCol Ric Raftery; Capt Ray Cross (USN); Admiral Tony Less; Col L.C. Gound; Col Steve Hanson; Col Kyle Watrous; Col Eric Walters; LtCol Ray Leach; Major Mike Camstra; Major Mike Ettore; Major Terry Slatic; Sgt. Maj Len Koontz; etc.; and the many fine Marines that served me: Sgt Delgado; Sgt Martin; SgtMaj Jackson; Sgt John “Bo”; Sgt Nelson Torres; Sgt Watson; Sgt Boyce to name but a few. And, seven of my peers have made General, I found out some time ago (doesn’t say much about me, does it?) I was in OCS with MajGen Lew Craparotta; and I was in AWS with MajGen Mike Dana & BGen Dan Yoo. TBS & AWS MGen Richard Simcock; TBS with MGen Robert Hedelund. There’s two more, but I can’t remember their names right now!

But there are two Marines who stand out to me, for different reasons. One that will always epitomized the “Corps” to me, from the first time I saw him, to the last time I saw him, was SSGT, and later WO, Thomas Frush, who was my PltSgt in 2nd Plt, A Co., when I was at OCS! What an amazing, all around, squared away Marine.! And because of him, our Plt won the Drill Competition in OCS that year! Solely because of him. Don’t get me wrong, he WAS an “ass” a lot of the time, because he was doing his job! But he was ALL “Marine”! I only saw him once, after OCS; when I was at TBS, I was out running a trail one late Friday night by myself, and he comes jogging by! I stopped and said “SSGT Frush?” He stopped running, turned around, looked at me and said “It’s Warrant Officer now, Sir!”, and kept on running! Last I ever saw of him was his back! He was a hell of a Marine!

The second is Major Terry Slatic. Terry and I were LT’s together in 2/8, then l moved to 2nd LAV Bn and he came over there as well. When I became the CO of A Co, he was one of my Plt Cmdrs, and he did a great job. But Terry got a little disillusioned with the Corps, and got out as a Lt. Eighteen years later! During the height of the Iraq War, Terry, this time disillusioned with the way the Iraq War was being portrayed in the press, and the way the Marine Corps was also getting bad publicity, knocked himself in shape, and re-applied for his Commission! He got thru all the hurdles, paperwork, red tape, as well as physical requirements, and was re-commissioned a Captain in the United States Marine Corps after an 18 year gap! He was told by HQMC that he was the oldest Captain in the Corps, and he also set the record for “broken service”! After that, Terry deployed to Fallujah, Iraq for a tour, and the next year did a tour in Afghanistan. It’s an amazing story, and he has my complete, utmost & total respect & admiration for it.


Col Phil Smith, USMC (Ret); will always stand out to me. When I went into 2/8 in ’84 after they got back from Granada/Beirut, Phil was a Plt Co in G Co. Phil had been a GySgt (Sel) when he graduated from Texas A&M, and he was like a grandpa
when all of us new, hot-shot LTs got into the Bn. We were room-mates on the 85 float to the Med, and later on, it seemed that wherever I went in the Corps, there was always someone who knew Phil! Phil should’ve been a General, but retired a few years ago as a Colonel. Sometimes the Corps misses one I guess. I learned from Phil; the most important thing (not surprising, considering his background!): The MOST important thing you can do as an Officer, is take care of your MARINES! That’s it, that’s what it’s all about. Other than your primary mission as a Marine: “Close with and Destroy the Enemy” or “Accomplish the Mission”; there is no other single more important duty of a Marine Officer. Phil lived and breathed it, every single second he was an Officer. I’m not saying I was anywhere as good as him at it; but I did learn that from him, and I did try to emulate him after I learned it. I can say with humility, I had some small success with it though.

A couple of other good friends stand out too; Col Kyle Watrous, who was a peer & friend from my days in 2nd LAV’s; Maj Mike Camstra, from AWS & Okinawa, who became one of my best friends from all of my Corps days; Capt Paul Tiede, from 9th Marines in Okinawa; and Col Stephen McNulty, from my days in G/2/8; are all good people, Good Officers, Good Marines, one and all; and it was an honor to have them as Brothers-in-Arms! I’m a better person for having known them, and they made me a better Marine.

I could list many more, and may update this space later, but that’s the main one now; and via Together We Served, LinkedIn & Facebook; I’m now connected to dozens of my former Marines and peers & even seniors, that I want to be in contact with.


Most former Marines I talk to always say “It was the funny, or good times, that made it all worthwhile”. I second that emotion! The one story that always makes me laugh, at myself actually, happened when I was in TBS during the Fall of ’83. We were doing
our Long-Range Patrolling Tactics Package, and we were being instructed by a Captain Anderson, one of the few black Officers on the TBS staff at the time. Really good Officer, great Marine, and he knew his stuff, and was very impressive in his uniform and everything.

Anyway, I was out “patrolling” with my fellow LTs in our “Squad”. I was in the Recon element in the front of the main body, and there was about 3 other LTs who were in the recon fire team ahead of me, then me, then the main body behind me. We were out in those infernal Quantico woods, it was a sunny day, around noon, and it was very cool. I was coming down a steep slope, staying in contact with the LT in front of me, and I saw there was a good sized stream up ahead. As I got closer, I saw the LT ahead of me was crossing the stream, but he was very clever! He had found a tree which had fallen across the stream, and he just walked across it, staying completely dry of course! I got down to the stream, and I just knew it was cold, and I didn’t feel like getting wet or getting my M-16 wet, so I decided to follow suit, and I started across the log; which was only about 8 inches in diameter, and as soon as I started across, it started shaking like crazy, and I was wondering how my buddy had actually crossed the darn thing without falling off! I was about half way across, concentrating like crazy, trying not to fall in, and not drop my rifle when I heard this stentorian voice right behind me, to my right, shout “FREEZE Lieutenant!”.

I know, I was in TBS, and not in OCS, I was a commissioned 2nd Lt, not a “candidate”, but there was still enough of the “Candidate” in me that I immediately tried to come to the position of Attention, as I recognized Captain Anderson’s voice! I stayed upright on the log, at some semblance of “attention” for about 3 seconds, and then slowly tiled to my left, and started to fall into the stream! First though in my brain: DON’T GET YOUR RIFLE WET!” So, I opened my legs, and tried to drop down onto the log into a sitting position. I had been a wrestler in high school, and it flashed through my mind that I could actually drop down onto the log this way, straddle it, figure-4 it, and lock my legs underneath, and avoid falling into the stream, stay dry, and also keep my M-16 in hand! As soon as I started to fall towards the log, I had another flash thought go thru my brain: if I did this, I would land squarely on the log on my “family jewels”, and crush them to smithereens! So, halfway down, I kind of threw myself to the left, and still tied to wrap my legs around the log, but this time, with my right thigh as the center of gravity!. I actually accomplished it somehow, and grabbed onto the log, and wrapped my legs around it tight, and sat there for about 2 seconds. And because I was now about six inches out of the vertical, and leaning to the left, I, in slow motion, rotated to the left, and turned upside down, still gripping the log between my thighs. Only now, my head, shoulders, and upper torso were under water, as the stream level was only about 18 inches below the log! So here I am, hanging upside down under this darn log, head, upper body & my M-16 now in the water, and I’m trying not to panic, and decide what to do next, because everything had gone wrong.

My M-16 was wet, I KNEW Captain Anderson was watching, and I figured by now, probably most of my Plt! So, I did the only thing I could do, I let go of the log with my legs, and sank head first to the bottom of the stream! And my helmet, with my head in it, wedged in between two rocks on the bottom of the stream, and my feet were sticking up out of the water! Now I was in real trouble, because I could not free myself, without letting go of my rifle in the stream, and using my hands! I’m gulping water too by this point, and I opened my eyes, watched where I dropped my rifle, pushed up from the bottom of the stream/rocks with my hands, fortunately got my helmet (with my head still in it!) out of the rocks, reached down and grabbed my rifle, and started to surface! It then flashed through my mind, that I had to be “tactical” as I came out of the water, so I s…l…o….w…l…y let my helmet break the water, then my eyes, then I looked around s…l…o…w…l…y…stood up, and exited the stream on the far side, trying desperately to act “tactical”, also act as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and also desperately trying to retain even a minuscule shred of my dignity & professional reputation in front of my peers, but ultimately knowing I was failing! My fellow LTs in the Advance Recon element on the far side of the stream, were literally rolling on the bank laughing; I think one guy even peed himself. Back on the other bank Captain Anderson was just standing there, hands on his hips, staring at me! He finally said something to the effect of “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”; turned around and walked away shaking his head, and I never saw him again; ever!

Wish it was the cellphone-with-camera-age back then, I bet a video of that would go viral on the Internet within hours!


Well, I gravitated naturally to the Intel field; though I took a few detours. I tried private business for awhile, as a small business owner, and that didn’t work out. I then got into the Technology Recruiting field for about ten years. I did it, had some small success at
it, but didn’t really enjoy it. My first love has always been Intel Analysis, and with my background, over 35 years of experience now in the Middle East; I have worked for most of the past seven years doing North African/Middle Eastern/Levant/SE Asian OSINT analysis; with an emphasis on Islamic Fundamentalism, Jihadism, the Qutbiyyah, Salafiyyah, Sufism, etc. I’ve written a ton of Theological research papers on what drives the Salafi-Jihadis, something I’ve been research/writing on for more than 35 years; most of which I was able to get to a limited audience inside the Beltway over the past 20+ years; I even had a contract up until 7 years ago, to provide this type of insight to this “audience”. But we had a change in the Oval Office 7 years ago, and shortly afterwards, I was informed that my “opinions” were no longer needed, and since that time, I’ve gone to the Internet with a few articles; at; but my stuff is more in-depth, detailed, and exhaustive than they want to put up there on a daily basis, so right now, I just keep up with my research, and write for my own edification. Maybe another change in Administration, and we can get back to focusing on the real threat; I’m ready if called! That was the second time in 13 years that I was told that my “opinions” on the Salafi-Jihadis were not wanted in the Oval Office/IC; the first was in June ’95, when I told a gathering of the IC down at FBI School in Quantico, what was coming with the Salafis! I was told my opinions were not valued in the Oval Office! I left the IC shortly afterwards! That attitude worked out real well for us, didn’t it?

In fact, as this section is being updated, the horrific attacks on Paris are unfolding, it’s just painful to watch, and humiliating to know that I I can add so much to this fight, but that we lack even the courage to admit that we are in a fight. We are NOT in a fight with a “group” or “terrorists” or an acronym (ISIS, IS, ISIL, AQ, or whatever!); we are in a much more difficult fight with a THEOLOGY! Until we admit THAT, we’re just pissing up a waterfall! It’s called Category Error: when you cannot even correctly define the problem, you cannot come up with correct solution! Political Correctness has now migrated down from the Oval Office to infect our very own Chain-of-Command from the DOD/Pentagon/Senior Officer Corps. When you have 0-6’s and above, saying that non-existent Climate Change is our single greatest National Security Threat, I know that we’re in severe trouble! I always end that discussion with: “Do you know they have found Dinosaur Fossils down in Antarctica” (A Fact, by the way, they even evolved HUGE eyes due to the low light levels, which proves they lived there for millions of years!) “So what Humans caused the Climate Change that turned Antarctica into a Hothouse for Dinosaur evolution for tens of millions of years! That ends the discussion every single time!


You know, basically none. I was in MCROA for awhile, but let that lapse. I haven’t joined the Legion, the VFW, or anything like that. So, no basic benefits for me! Right now, I think TWS is the only thing I belong to as of right now. Maybe I’ll join some later. I live in an isolated little rural town now, and we don’t have much of a veteran’s infrastructure around here, to tell the truth.


Well of course it has in some ways, impacted every single day of my life since I left for OCS back in June of 1982. When I look back on my career, and the way it ended, and why it ended, I think of my father. He passed away sixyears ago at the age of almost 89, thinking I was a failure. A failure because I got passed over for Major in the Regular Corps, because of the imbroglio over my LOM. He couldn’t understand how I had been awarded so many medals for doing such a good job in such a short time, and still get passed over and have to get out.

But actually I attribute all that success, as shortlived as it was to him! Because he taught me one simple thing in life I always remembered, and which I always tried to live up to: “Do the best job you can, all the time, regardless of the job, and you’ll be successful”. He was right; that’s how I approached my time in the Corps, and that’s how I approach life nowadays if I can. In fact, my father’s approach, without him having ever served in the Corps, was a “Corps-like” approach, if you think about it., and that has always influenced me.

I’ve been out of the Corps, effectively since April 1995. That’s 20+ years! I only served a bit less than 12 years; so I’ve been out way longer than I actually served; and in fact; it still impacts my life on a daily basis; unfortunately, most of it negative. I never recovered personally or professionally from the whole LOM-fiasco; and the negative ramifications of it impact me to even this day; some seriously. I’ve lost family, friends, peers & even jobs over it; heck, a whole career, because of it.

Hence, it wouldn’t be complete without thanking the two women in my life; my mother Lois Armstrong, and my wife Marlyn; without whose unwavering support from both, I would’ve never made it through the past difficult 20+ years!


I’m not egotistical enough to assume that I can give any Marines currently serving cogent, relevant advice! In the 20 years that I’ve been out, the whole landscape has changed; what with the two wars, the sequestration issue, changes in policy, tactics, promotions, etc. I guess I just basically can
say only things that sound kinda trite, but nonetheless are true: “Do your best; have fun; love your country & love your Corps”; but…and most important, because I did not do this: Have a plan B, just in case!!

That said, I will relate one thing that a wise General said to me once. It was then MGen Ray Smith. We were at a Mess Night in Okinawa, in 1994; it was several months before I got out of the Corps. After the meal, we were all sitting around the long table in the O’Club at Camp Foster, and MGen Smith was talking informally to a bunch of us Junior Officers. He said one thing that up until then, I had never heard anyone say before, when he was addressing a question someone asked him about what, in his experience was the difference between the Marine Corps and the other services. He said simply: “The Marine Corps is an Institution! We don’t run the Corps as a business, or a corporation, or a company; we are an institution. And, you do you know what an institution is, verses a business, or a corporation, or a company? An institution has history, and traditions, and rules, and values, and honor, and integrity, and culture!”

That was the most impressive thing I ever heard anyone say about the special, unique nature of the Marine Corps, and I’ve never forgotten it.


Love it, ever since a friend of mine invited me to join. It’s the “Facebook” of the Corps; and it’s a great tool. I appreciate it being there, and I’ve managed to connect with a few old Devil Dogs I served with. It’s also made me reflect back on everything; good & bad; motivated me to write my Reflections, and tell my story.

We used to say in TBS/IOC, when things were getting tough; “They can kill us, but they can’t eat us!” Just one of those ironic, nonsensical humor things to break the tension; of course, sometimes, we also reversed the saying a bit too, if we were really in a bad mood, but you get the idea.

Anyway, TWS has challenged me to confront my demons, and hopefully, it will be a positive experience going forward.


Profiles in Courage: The Defiant One: Robin Olds

By LtCol Mike Christy

Together We Served Dispatches

Fighter pilots used to say that there was a glass case in the Pentagon building to the precise dimension of then-Colonel Robin Olds, who would be frozen in time and displayed wearing his tank-less flight suit, crashed fore and aft cap, gloves, and torso harness with .38 pistol and survival knife. Beside the case was a fire ax beneath a sign reading: “In case of war, break glass.”It was something of an exaggeration, but it contained an element of truth: Robin Olds was built for war. And he was born to fly. It was imprinted in his genes. Born July 14, 1922 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Robin Olds was the son of then-Capt. (later Maj. Gen.) Robert Olds and his wife Eloise, who died when Robin was four. The oldest of four, Olds spent the majority of his childhood at Langley Field, Virginia where his father was stationed as an aide to Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell. In 1925 when he was only three, he accompanied his father to Mitchell’s famed court-martial. Dressed in a child-size air service uniform, he watched his father testify on Mitchell’s behalf. Five years later, young Robin flew for the first time when his father took him up in an open-cockpit biplane.

Deciding on a military career at the age of 12, Olds attended Hampton High School in Hampton Virginia where he became a standout football player. Declining a series of football scholarships, he elected to take a year of study at Millard Preparatory School in 1939 prior to applying to West Point. Learning of the outbreak of World War II while at Millard, he attempted to leave school and enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

This was blocked by his father who forced him to stay at Millard. Completing the course of study, Olds was accepted to West Point in July 1940 and played for the renowned coach Red Blaik, compiling so stellar a record as a tackle on both offense and defense that in 1985 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Selecting service in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Olds completed his primary flight training in the summer of 1942 at the Spartan School of Aviation in Tulsa, Oklahoma.Returning north, he passed through advanced training at Stewart Field in New York. Receiving his wings from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Olds graduated from West Point on June 1, 1943 after completing the academy’s accelerated wartime curriculum. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, he received an assignment to report to the West Coast for training on P-38 Lightnings. This done, Olds was posted to the 479th Fighter Group’s 434th Fighter Squadron with orders for Britain.

Arriving in Britain in May 1944, Olds’ squadron quickly entered combat as part of the Allied air offensive prior to the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Dubbing his P-38J aircraft the “Scat II” (every fighter he flew in combat was named “Scat” and numbered sequentially), Olds worked closely with his crew chief to learn about aircraft maintenance. Promoted to Captain on July 24, on a low-level mission over Montmirail, he spotted two bogeys far in front of him, heading to his right, about 200 feet off the deck.

He pulled behind the two FW-190’s and at 400 yards behind the trailing plane, he fired a six-second burst, hitting the left wing and then pulling his gunfire onto the fuselage. Big pieces flew off, flame and smoke poured out, and the airplane rolled off to the right. Turning his attention to the second plane, he did not see the first one hit the ground. As the second plane pulled a full 360 turn, Olds stayed with him. From dead astern, he fired a five-second burst and observed many hits. The Focke Wulf zoomed up and the pilot bailed out.

On August 25, during an escort mission to Wismar, Germany, Olds shot down three Messerschmitt Bf 109s to become the squadron’s first ace, making him the last P-38 ace of the Eighth Air Force and the last in the European Theater of Operations. He also claimed three more unofficial kills that could not be verified by witnesses.

In mid-September, the 434th began converting to the P-51 Mustang. This required some adjustment on Olds’ part as the single-engine Mustang handled differently than the twin-engine Lightning.

After downing a Bf 109 over Berlin on Oct. 6, Olds completed his initial combat tour in November and was given two months leave in the United States. Returning to Europe in January 1945, he was promoted to Major the following month on February 9, and received his seventh aerial victory the same day, using his P-51D’s new K-14 gunsight to calculate the deflection and hit a Bf-109 at 450 yards over Magdeburg with his first burst, a result that surprised even Maj. Olds. He closed in and fired twice more, with his third burst sending the Messerschmitt down in flames. Five days later, on February 14, he claimed three more kills but only received credit for two with the other listed as a “probable.”

On March 25, less than two years out of West Point and at only 22 years of age, Maj. Olds received command of the 434th. He never forgot it. Decades later he said, “As a Major I was responsible for feeding and housing my men, training my men, and rewarding or punishing them. As a Colonel I had to check with some general for permission to visit the latrine.”

Unlike many pilots who regarded airplanes as tools, Olds could be sentimental about his machines. Near the end of the war he was one of six P-51 pilots who attacked a German airdrome and found himself the lone survivor. He nursed his crippled Mustang back to base but found that it stalled at 175 mph, rolling violently. But as he said, “Scat VI had taken me through a lot and I was damned if I was going to give up on her.”

Somehow he got the bird on the runway and kept it in one piece.

Olds was a team player as long as the team wanted to play. When the leaders were only interested in suiting up, he exercised some initiative. In other words, he went freelancing. In his first two dogfights he was alone with his wingman, having left formation to hunt on his own. As he wryly noted long afterward, “When I shot down my first two airplanes I was relieved to see that they had black crosses on their wings.”

Olds used to say that the two best things about World War II were London and Col. Zemke. When the 479th’s first commander was shot down in August 1944, Hub Zemke moved over from the fabled 56th Fighter Group and rejuvenated the Mighty Eighth’s last fighter outfit. Not that Olds needed any rejuvenating, but the group had plodded along in pedestrian fashion.

In a few weeks Zemke turned things around, and added to Robin’s already formidable determination to succeed as a shooter and a leader. The group converted to P-51s in September but on October 30, 1944, while flying in unforecasted turbulence, the wing of Zemke’s P-51 was torn off. Zemke was forced to bail out over enemy territory and was captured. He was liberated when the war with Germany ended.

Olds had made ace in both the P-38 and P-51, probably the only pilot ever to do so. Postwar after VE-Day, he returned to the States and reverted to his permanent rank: a 23-year-old Captain.

With the end of the war in Europe in May, Olds’ tally stood at 12 kills as well as 11.5 destroyed on the ground. Returning to the US, Olds was assigned to West Point to serve as an assistant football coach to Earl “Red” Blaik.

Olds’ time at West Point proved brief as many older officers resented his rapid rise in rank during the war. In February 1946, Olds obtained a transfer to the 412th Fighter Group at March Field, California, and trained on the P-80 Shooting Star. Through the remainder of the year, he flew as part of a jet demonstration team with Lt. Col. John C. “Pappy” Herbst.

In 1946, while based at March Field, Olds met Hollywood actress (and “pin-up girl”) Ella Raines on a blind date in Palm Springs. They married in Beverly Hills on February 6, 1947, and had two daughters, Christina and Susan, and a son, Robert Ernest, who was stillborn in 1958. Most of their 29-year marriage, marked by frequent extended separations and difficult homecomings, was turbulent because of a clash of lifestyles, particularly her refusal to ever live in government housing on base. Olds and Ella Raines separated in 1975 and divorced in 1976. Olds then married Abigail Morgan Sellers Barnett in January 1978, and they divorced after fifteen years of marriage.

Ella Raines died in May 30, 1988 Sherman Oaks, California from throat cancer. She was 67.

Seen as a rising star, Olds was selected for a U.S. Air Force-Royal Air Force exchange program in 1948. Traveling to Britain, he commanded No. 1 Squadron at RAF Tangmere and flew the Gloster Meteor. With the end of this assignment in late 1949, Olds became the operations officer for the F-86 Sabre-equipped 94th Fighter Squadron at March Field in California.

Olds next was given command of the Air Defense Command’s 71st Fighter Squadron based at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. He remained in this role for much of the Korean War despite repeated requests for combat duty. Increasingly unhappy with the U.S. Air Force, despite promotions to Lieutenant Colonel (1951) and Colonel (1953), he debated retiring but was talked out of it by his friend Maj. Gen. Frederic H. Smith, Jr. Shifting to Smith’s Eastern Air Defense Command, Olds languished in several staff assignments until receiving an assignment to the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Wing at Landstuhl Air Base, Germany in 1955. Remaining abroad for three years, he later oversaw the Weapons Proficiency Center at Wheelus Air Base, Libya.

Made Deputy Chief, Air Defense Division at the Pentagon in 1958, Olds produced as series of prophetic papers calling for improved air-to-air combat training and the increased production of conventional munitions. After assisting in generating the funding for the classified SR-71 Blackbird program, Olds attended the National War College in 1962-1963. Following graduation, he commanded the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at RAF Bentwaters. During this time, he brought over former Tuskegee Airman Col. Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. to Britain to serve on his staff. Olds left the 81st in 1965 after forming an aerial demonstration team without command authorization.

After brief service at Shaw AFB in South Carolina, Olds was given command of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base. He knew from his own sources that all was not well in the 8th TFW and resolved to see it from the perspective of the FNG (the “freaking” new guy).

He went through the normal in-processing routine like any other newbie, paid close attention and spoke little. By the time he reached the front office, he reckoned that he knew all he needed to. He began cleaning house.

First he cut loose the deadwood, the ticket punchers and careerists who had “sniveled some counters “- missions that counted toward completion of a tour when in fact they had not gone north. Then he began learning the way the Wolfpack did business so he could improve upon it. He stood before the F-4C Phantom crews and said, “I’m going to start here by flying Green Sixteen (tail-end Charlie) and you guys are going to teach me how. But teach me fast and teach me good, because I’m a quick learner.”

Sitting in the audience was Capt. Ralph Wetterhahn, a future MiG killer. Like so many other pilots and WSOs, he was energized by the new CO’s press-on attitude. Years later, Wetterhahn compared Olds’ arrival with that of Brig. Gen. Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) in Twelve O’clock High.

The old ways were not only out, they were deceased. A new regime had arisen, and the Wolfpack began showing results. Olds ruled over a fiefdom like a feudal baron, enjoying the excitement of the hunt by day and discussing the great game with his men at arms by night.

Under Olds’ predecessor, who seldom flew combat, the 8th had eked out a meager kill-loss ratio. Like the rest of the Air Force, it had barely broken even with Hanoi’s MiGs, peaking at a 2-1 exchange rate. Under Olds, the Wolfpack shot to the top of the Southeast Asia league, bagging 18 MiGs, and when he left, the wing’s kill ratio stood at 4-1.

The free-wheeling environment at Ubon fueled morale, and the Wolfpack’s was stratospheric. Dedicated consumers of booze and red meat, they reveled in the warrior ethic. In contrast, todays sedate, sober young professionals are superbly educated, highly competent, and terrified that they might say something that somebody would find objectionable. Olds did not want to live in that world.

And he didn’t.

Increasing concerned about F-105 Thunderchief losses to North Vietnamese MiGs during bombing missions, Olds designed “Operation Bolo” in late 1966. This called for 8th TFW F-4s to mimic F-105 operations in an effort to draw enemy aircraft into combat. Implemented in January 1967, the operation saw American aircraft down seven MiG-21s, with Olds shooting down one. The MiG losses were the highest suffered in one day by the North Vietnamese during the war. A stunning success, Operation Bolo effectively eliminated the MiG threat for most of the spring of 1967. After bagging another MiG-21 on May 4, Olds shot down two MiG-17s on the 20th to raise his total to 16, including the four MiGs over Vietnam.

Over the next few months, Olds continued to personally lead his men into combat. In an effort to raise morale in the 8th TFW, he began growing a famed handlebar mustache. Copied by his men, they referred to them as “bulletproof mustaches.” During this time, he avoided shooting down a fifth MiG as he had been alerted that should he become an ace over Vietnam, he would be relieved of command and brought home to conduct publicity events for the Air Force. On August 11, Olds conducted a strike on the Paul Doumer Bridge in Hanoi. For his performance, he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Upon return to the U.S., Olds was acclaimed as America’s top gun of the war to date, a record he retained for the next five years. But he was contemptuous of the Air Force’s attitude toward air combat, exclaiming, “The best flying job in the world is a MiG-21 pilot at Phuc Yen. Hell, if I was one of them I’d have got 50 of us!”

Despite his MiG-killing fame, he was perhaps proudest of the strike against North Vietnam’s best-defended target: Thai Nguyen steel mill. In an ultra-low-level attack, leaving rooster tails on the paddies behind them, Olds and two wingmen put their bombs on target. He considered it a dangerously wasteful effort, as the mill had been hit repeatedly, but its smoke stacks had remained standing. What he valued most was the courage and skill of his aircrews.

Leaving the 8th TFW in September 1967, Olds was made Commandant of Cadets at the US Air Force Academy. Promoted to brigadier general on June 1, 1968, he worked to restore pride in the school after a large cheating scandal had blackened its reputation. In February 1971, Olds became director of aerospace safety in the Office of the Inspector General. That fall, he was sent back to Southeast Asia to report on the combat readiness of USAF units in the region. While there, he toured bases and flew several unauthorized combat missions.

He found what he feared: most Air Force fighter crews “couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.” Commander John Nichols, a Navy MiG killer brought to Udorn, Thailand to teach dog fighting to the Air Force blue suits, saw Olds taxi his F-4 into the chocks after a practice mission. “The canopy came open, followed by General Olds’ helmet in a high, lofting arc. He was not happy.” But his report and analysis were not well received, and his recommendations were ignored.

When Operation Linebacker began in May 1972, American fighter jets returned to the offense in the skies over North Vietnam for the first time in nearly four years. Navy and Marine Corps fighters, reaping the benefits of their TOPGUN program, immediately enjoyed considerable success with a 12:1 kill-loss ratio. In contrast, by June, as Olds had predicted, the Air Force’s fighter community was struggling with a nearly 1:1 kill-loss ratio.

To the new Inspector General, Lt. Gen. Ernest C. Hardin, Jr., Olds offered to take a voluntary reduction in rank to Colonel so he could return to operational command and straighten out the situation. Olds decided to leave the Air Force when the offer was refused (he was offered another inspection tour instead) and he retired on June 1, 1973. With 17 career victories (thirteen in WW II plus four in Vietnam) when the triple ace died, he was America’s third-ranking living ace. His 259 total combat missions included 107 in World War II and 152 in Southeast Asia, 105 of those over North Vietnam. Scat XXVII (F-4C-24-MC 64-0829), the plane he flew for his four MiG kills, was retired from operational service and placed on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, with the four red MiG stars representing his four MiG kills in Vietnam painted on the splitter vane of the intake.

Retiring to Steamboat Springs, CO, he became active in public affairs. Enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2001, Olds later died on June 14, 2007. His ashes were interred at the US Air Force Academy.

Far too many military personnel, policemen, and politicians mouth their oath of office as a rote exercise. Not Robin Olds. He thought about the words, absorbed, them, and passed them along. In addressing newly commissioned officers he said, “The airman swears that he will obey the orders of the officers appointed over him. Do you realize what responsibilities that puts on your shoulders? Your orders have to be legal and proper. Think about it, before you give one. But think about how to protect and defend the Constitution. Because do you know what that is? That is by, for, and of The People. It is not the President; it is not the Speaker of the House; nor the Leader of the Senate. It is the People of the United States; who, hopefully in their wisdom will guide their forces properly.”

Olds had been writing a memoir for several years prior to his death. Says F-4 pilot and novelist Mark Berent, “It was well written, as you’d expect from Robin, but it wasn’t really about him. It was more about people he knew.”

Another Air Force officer who read part of the text said that it began as an ethereal discussion with the ghost of Robin’s father. Robert Olds had asked his son the status of the U.S. Air Force and got a detailed debriefing on what’s wrong with the service. It was a long list.

When he died on June 14, not quite 85, Olds left the work incomplete. The fact that his book remains unfinished represents a major loss to aviation literature.

Gen. Robin Olds once said his magnificent mustache represented his defiance. This defiance grew into the modern-day practice called “Mustache March” in the U.S. Air Force, in which Airmen of all ranks grow their mustaches out of regulations for the entire month of March in defiance of AF hair grooming standards.


S/Sgt Desi Arnaz US Army (Served 1942-1945)

View the military service of Musician/Actor/Producer:

desiS/Sgt Desi Arnaz

US Army

(Served 1942-1945)

View his Service Profile on at

Short Bio: Cuban-American actor, musician, and innovative television producer, best remembered for the hugely popular television sitcom “I Love Lucy”, which he produced and in which he portrayed ‘Ricky Ricardo.’


MKC Robert L. Harris U.S. Coast Guard (Ret) (1973-1996)

Read the service reflections of US Coast Guardsman

profile1MKC Robert L. Harris

U.S. Coast Guard (Ret)

(Served 1973-1996)

Shadow Box:


My father was a WWII Navy Veteran, and had also done a four year hitch in the Army after the war. He was military through and through, and it was like having your very own Drill Instructor 24/7. His most famous speech was get ready to get out on your
own when you graduate from High School. I always thought of joining the Navy after high school, but he surprised me and talked me into joining the Coast Guard instead. He said he remembered seeing Coast Guard ships during the invasion of Saipan and Tinian during World War II and it must have left an impression. My mother had a first cousin named Sonny Vieth who was the Chief Engineer of the CGC White Alder, and died when it was hit by a large ship on the Mississippi River and sunk near NOLA. I graduated in 1973 and the Viet Nam War was still lingering on. The draft had mostly came to an end by then, but it was still some what hard to get in to the Coast Guard since many went there trying to stay out of the war. Lucky for me I attended a Vocational High School in Louisville an graduated as a Certified Auto Mechanic. The Coast Guard was in need of Snipes at the time, and scoring high on the old Naval Battery test, they gave me my opportunity.


The Coast Guard recruited me in on the delayed enlistment program upon graduation of High School in June of 1973, and I entered boot camp on January of 1974. I spent a tour in Kodiak, AK. where I worked in the Fuel Division of Public Works. We had just takenover the base from the Navy and it was still the original old WWII barracks, which was full of roaches, and in dire need of repairs. The Coast Guard did not waste anytime fixing the place up. I really never joined thinking of making it a career, and like most 18 year old knuckleheads I spent my time in the club drinking, and in trouble for not complying with regulations. In September 1975 I was lucky to still be on the “A” school list and was sent to MK School. After school I received orders to MSO Providence, RI., and was married to my first Wife enroute.

I departed active duty in 1978 and worked as a Diesel Mechanic in the Louisville, KY. area. After approximately two years of making a comeback as a civilian my second child, and oldest son was born. He arrived about two months premature weighing in at a whopping 2lbs,11ozs. He spent about two months in a Premature Care Ward in the hospital, and came home healthy with no problems. My part of the hospital and doctor bills exceeded far more than my wife and I could afford so the house went first, and the cars next. When that didn’t please them they came after our wages at work, so I knew I had to make some changes. I stopped one day after work at the Coast Guard Recruiting Office and was informed that only a minimal amount of money could be taken from my pay. Plus they offered me to come back in at the same rank I left, and a 95-ft. Patrol Boat in Hawaii. I later met with the wife, who was ready to get the hell out of there, and probably had everything we owned packed by nightfall. We both enjoyed the remaining 16-years being in the Coast Guard, and we raised three children. When my daughter, the oldest started High School she informed me that it would be great for her to possibly stay put until she graduates. My daughter who has always had my back, and could pluck them heart strings, made my mind up that it was time to settle down. The Coast Guard helped too when I made E8 and offered me three picks of duty stations in my “least area of desire”, New York City. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have a problem with New York, it’s just not where I wanted my three teen age kids. I turned down the advancement and put in my letter of retirement immediately.


I never participated in combat, but have experienced a lot of Law Enforcement boarding’s while attached to three WPB’s and a SAR Station. The one Operation I remember being close to anything resembling a military operation would be while I was the Chief Engineering Officer of the USCGC Chincoteague homeported then in Mobile, AL. We were conducting boarding’s in the southern Gulf of Mexico when we came upon an 800-foot freighter flying a Cuban flag. Most of the crew including myself were watching an old WWII Navy movie with John Wayne. About the same time during a General Quarter alarms were sounding in the movie our own General Alarm sounded. It was weird, I was like what the hell is going on. Little did we know the old man wasn’t tired yet, and had come across this Cuban Freighter. As he got close, the freighter changed course, and came towards us as if trying to ram our vessel. The Skipper managed to get us out of “harms way” and a long night was fixing to get a lot longer. We shadowed the boat throughout most of the night trying to get the freighters captain to stop the vessel but it kept it’s speed and direction towards the port of Tampico, Mexico. We were at battle stations most of the night until the someone in Washington DC. wanted the freighter disabled. It was still dark when the 20-MM Machine gun began firing at the freighters stern to attempt disabling the steering system. The freighters Captain then moved his crew to the Engine Room to stop us from firing into that area of the ship. After it became light we picked up two contacts on the radar which were confirmed to be Mexican Patrol Boats enroute to our position. I remember instructing the Engineering staff to position themselves between the Main Engines if we were fired upon. Wasn’t minutes and two Navy Jets from Key West buzzed us and must have let the Mexicans know they were about to bite off more than they could chew because they turned and headed back. The Freighter made it to Tampico but had to be dry docked to repair some leaks, and fire damage from the tracer rounds. We stayed on position for another 24-hours, but were running out of food and fuel so we were instructed to return to homeport. The incident made the news, and the film we took was on “Good Morning America”. Castro was mad as hell to say the least but whatever it was carrying is probably still a mystery.


My time at USCG Station Destin, FL. was my favorite. I had just made MK1 and it was my first time running the Engineering Department. I worked for, and with some great Coastie’s which included BMCM Marty Dobrin who was my favorite. He was an old River Rat who taught us a lot with his “Hillbilly Philosophy”. My least favorite was the USCGC Harris in Honolulu. Let me tell you, it’s difficult having the same last name as your boat. Everybody, I mean from the Admiral on down had jokes. I had just returned from taking the USCGC Cape Corwin from Honolulu to Baltimore, and thought my tour there was done. I was ready to come back to CONUS, but the Coast Guard replaced the Corwin with an 82-footer from Guam and started another tour in paradise for me. It wasn’t all that bad because a lot of my shipmates from the Corwin came with me.


This would have to be the trip on a 95-foot Patrol Boat from Honolulu, HI. to the CG Yards in Baltimore, MD. in 1981. The CGC Cape Corwin’s Hollywood career as “Hawaii Five-O’s” boat had long since come to an end around 1980. I had just reenlisted after getting outof the Guard 2-years earlier. The old boat had seen it’s day, and was in pretty bad shape, with five cofferdams in the hull. The closest parts store was another decommissioned 95-footer in a California museum. This was my first real sea duty and the experience probably molded me into the person I am today. 10,000 miles, 20 to 25 foot sea’s in the Pacific, and a couple weeks of the Mariel Boatlift later, we had plenty of stories and memories to bring back. We kept her running and floating for almost three month’s, and there was a lot of talk around the 14th District that we would not get there at all. We conducted Operations off El Salvador, and hit the tail end of the Mariel Boatlift when the 95-footer in Key West hit a 210 and made her a 92-footer. We showed the Hawaiian flag in Long Beach, CA., San Deigo, Coasta Rica, Panama, Grand Camen Island, Key West, and Charleston, SC. During the last couple days in Charleston we painted the Engine Room before turning her over in Baltimore. I got to see her again on the return trip, when the boat stopped for fuel and provisions in Honolulu, on her way to Guam. This crew too had their share of memories and stories of a “Trip To Far”.


I received two CG Commendation Medals, and the Achievement medal during my last three duty stations. I always took a lot of pride in my Engineering Department and emphasized with doing the best job possible. I wasn’t the best dressed Chief in the Guard because I loved working as a Snipe, with the department. I’ve been real lucky to have had some of our best working for me, so all it took was for the Chief to roll up his sleeves, and whatever the casualty was, the boy’s and I were going to fix it. Every medal, ribbon, or stripe that I’ve been awarded was because of team effort. I knew I had the most to loose or to gain from being in charge of Engineering, but Coastie’s are well known for making their bosses look really good. I’ve seen them work for several days with just a couple hours of sleep, little to eat, and bust with pride when the job was over. Yes, I received some medals, but the experiences and the memories of the people working with me, will always be the most rewarding.


The Coast Guard Achievement Medal that I received while serving as Chief Engineer aboard the USCGC Chincoteague was my proudest moment. It was my first Cutter as head of the Engineering Department, and one of the first as a Plankowner of a new 110′ Island Class Cutter. My Engineering staffand I watched her be built at Bollinger Shipyard, which probably helped with making us a great team. There was a great deal of pride to be the Cutters first crew, and the first 110′ ft WPB in the Gulf of Mexico. We were always training, preparing, and on call. I remember a lot of underway time, and always getting moved from one OPCON to another around the Gulf Coast. We had our share of Engine Room casualties, but we always always managed to work out the “bugs”, and keep up with the crazy schedule. I was also the CEA, and the Commanding Officers link between the enlisted personnel. He hardly ever left the boat when we pulled into port so I would help out keeping tabs on the crew, and making sure everybody made it safely back to the boat. It was probably the most demanding part of my life, damn sure put some grey hair on my head, but it gave me the confidence, and experience I needed for a successful career.


I would have to say that while at SAR Station Destin, FL., BMCM Martin Dobrin had the most beneficial impact on my career. BMCM Dobrin was from West Virginia, and answered most questions with his old “Hillbilly Philosophy”. He took me from just being a hard working Engineer to a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer. My professionalism as a Coastie changed the day he took over the unit. He always was there for his people, and everyone loved working for him. He guided me through my advancement to Chief, and made me feel like I had truly reached a new level in my life. He taught me how to be proud of who I am, and how to manage my department above expectations. He also taught me that no matter what life throws at you, we have to push on, and continue to do the job we have been assigned, to the best of our ability. When I was transferred to the USCG Cutter Cimmaron in the old Second District I heard stories from his career on the rivers that only confirmed his Professionalism and Dedication.


I have had friends in the Coast Guard that have been more like brothers and sisters than just Shipmates. It was a different world in the Coast Guard, people get close being crammed into small living spaces aboard ships, watching out for each others back, and being there to help during the bad personal times. I’ve been there for the birth of their children to the deaths of their parents, and they have been there for me. My three children still refer to past Coastie’s as “Uncle” or “Aunt” when they are remembered, and I can say the love for them has not changed. I haven’t stayed in contact with them as I should have but I still get Christmas cards and emails with pictures that show up unexpectedly. After twenty years I cannot name but just a small list of them in this post. I cannot post names without possibly hurting someone else’s feelings, so I won’t provide any names.


Coast Guard Day picnic at USCG Station Destin about 1986. We had just built a large gazebo on the beach behind the Station. Everyone including family, local Sheriff’s and Marine Patrol were there. Day was just coming to an end when one of our Bos’nmates, a six-foot five biker dude shows up skiing down the beach in his birthday suit. Wasn’t to funny for the wives who were still there, and they began scooping up the kids and going home. For a Coastie with a belly full of beer, it was hilarious. The Master Chief scrambled the 41 footer and ran him down which only made it even funnier. Needless to say he came back to a world of trouble, but I remember the Master Chief couldn’t keep a straight face. He got the usual 3/14/48, but kept his rank, and gave one he’ll of a show that nobody will forget.


I retired in September 1996 and began working for a rolled type steel mill as a parts department manager. The place was scary and very hazardous so I took another job as a Facility Manager of a Rail Car repair facility which repaired and conducted maintenance on CSX Railroad cars. In 1999 I was offered a job managing a Healthcare company’s Data Center, and have been there since.


The Data Center where I currently work in reminds me of managing an Engine Room aboard a Cutter. Machinery is different but the routine maintenance and repair works much the same. Having an Engineering background in air conditioning, electrical distribution, and management got my foot in the door, and the continued training I received in my current position has allowed me to continue being an effective member of my Data Center Operations Team over the last seventeen years.


Take advantage of any and all types of Commercial or Military training you can get. Life is full of changes, and when opportunities come along you will have that edge, and experience that will make you stand out.


Reading the many articles provided by Coast Guard Veteran’s brings back many good memories. I also love reading WWII history this site offers. I haven’t communicated with as many friends a I hoped to, but the site is fairly new and that may change.


The White Mouse

By LtCol Mike Christy Together We Served Dispatches

Nancy Wake was the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of WWII, and the Gestapo’s most-wanted person with a five million-franc bounty on her head. They code-named her “The White Mouse” because of her ability to elude capture. When war broke out she was a young woman married to a wealthy Frenchman living a life of luxury in cosmopolitan Marseilles. She became a saboteur, organizer and Resistance fighter who led an army of 7,000 Maquis troops in guerrilla warfare to sabotage the Nazis. Her story is one of daring, courage and optimism in the face of impossible odds.

Born on the windy heights of Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand on August 30, 1912, Nancy was the youngest of the six children of Charles Augustus and Ella Rosieur Wake. According to her biographer, Peter Fitzsimons, Nancy’s mother Ella, “came from an interesting ethnic mix, her genetic pool bubbling with material from the Huguenots, the French Protestants who had famously fled France so they could pursue their religion freely, and Maori, as her [Nancy’s] English great-grandmother had been a Maori maiden by the name of Pourewa.”

Pourewa had been the first of her race to marry a white man, Englishman Charles Cossell, on October 26, 1836. Fitzsimons wrote that according to legend, “…the great Maori chieftain, Hone Heke, had loved Pourewa himself and had sworn death to them both, but had been killed in the Maori Wars before fulfilling his threat. In sum, Ella’s people went a long, long way back in New Zealand, and physically she was like the land itself, rustically beautiful.”

However, Nancy’s father, Charles, was an English thoroughbred: a tall, handsome, easy-going man who exuded charm and warmth, always nattily attired, an outgoing, carefree “Dapper Dan” without a worry in the world. He was also a journalist and editor who worked for a Wellington newspaper.

When Nancy was 20 months old, her parents moved the family to Sydney, Australia. There, Nancy grew up chafing under the restrictive confines of genteel society. She was much younger than her brothers and sisters, a strongly independent loner with a good imagination. She was also a rebel, turning her back on her mother’s strict religious beliefs.

Nancy was raised without affection by her embittered mother after her father had abandoned them. In an interview, she said she adored her father. “He was very good-looking. But he was a bastard. He went to New Zealand to make a movie about the Maoris, and he never came back. He sold our house from under us and we were kicked out.”

Growing up in poverty, she ran away from home at 16 and went to work as a nurse in Sydney. When an aunt in New Zealand left her $300 in her will, she used it to travel toLondon and then to Europe, where she lived in Paris working as a freelance newspaper journalist during the day and then swinging with a cosmopolitan set of independent and carefree young people at the hottest Parisian nightclubs after dark. It was a glamorous life of parties and travel, and she lived it to the fullest.

In 1930s Europe she witnessed the rise of Hitler, Nazism and anti-Semitism. In Vienna she saw horrific Dantesque scenes: Jews chained to massive wheels, rolled around the streets, and whipped by Nazi storm troopers in a city square. The sight fed an early determination to work against the Nazis and eventually led to her courageous role in the French resistance, leading her to later recount her thought on that day, “I don’t know what I’ll do about it, but if I can do anything one day, I’ll do it.”

In 1939 Nancy married a handsome and wealthy French millionaire industrialist, Henri Fiocca, in Marseilles “He was the love of my life,” she said. Together they had a charmed and sophisticated life of travel, dinner parties,champagne and caviar, residing in a luxury apartment on a hill overlooking Marseilles and its harbor.

Six months after they married, Germany invaded France. Slowly but surely Nancy drew herself into the fight. In 1940 she crossed the line between observation and action, and joined the embryonic Resistance movement as a courier, smuggling messages and food to underground groups in Southern France. She bought an ambulance and during the invasion of Belgium, used it to help refugees fleeing the German advance. She then used a truck to help ferry British, Aussie, and New Zealand soldiers to the evacuation points at Dunkirk after it became painfully obvious that France would be flooded with Nazis. Refusing to leave France, she stayed behind and watched in horror as Hitler seized Paris. She immediately started making plans to do whatever she could to “get the Kraut bastards out of France and send them back to Bavaria in body bags.”

Being the beautiful wife of a wealthy businessman, she had an ability to travel that few others could contemplate, let alone accomplish. She obtained false papers that allowed her to stay and work in the Vichy zone in occupied France, and became deeply involved in helping to spirit a thousand or more escaped prisoners of war and downed Allied fliers out of France through to Spain.

Working out of a safe house she’d purchased outside Marseilles, Wake spent the first three years of the war recovering downed pilots, getting them fake papers, fabricated identification cards, new clothes, and false identities, and then ferrying them across the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain by sneaking them in trucks, bribing guards with huge stacks of cash, and doing whatever the hell she needed to do to get these pilots back to Britain safely. Her operation became such a major pain in Germany’s ass that they put a five million-franc reward out on her head, and known only by her nickname “The White Mouse,” Wake at one point was on the top of the Gestapo’s Most Wanted List.

In 1943, the Germans started to figure out who “The White Mouse” really was, and they then, in their typical German Gestapo way, decided the best thing to do would be to capture her, line her up against a brick wall, and shoot her in the back of the skull. Luckily British spymasters intercepted the Gestapo communication ordering her arrest, and were able to relay the message to Wake before the Nazis knocked on her front door. Wake ran for it, made a break for the Pyrenees, and then, despite leaping from a moving train to evade them, she was shot at and captured by the Germans and hauled off to the local Gestapo police station.

They tortured her for four days. She gave them nothing. Not even her real name. They let her go.

In an interview with a London newspaper, Wake said, “Henri said ‘You have to leave’, and I remember going out the door saying I’d do some shopping, that I’d be back soon. And I left and I never saw him again.” Later he was captured, tortured and executed by the Nazis.

Escape was not easy. She made six attempts to get out of France by crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. On one of these attempts she was captured by the French Milice (Vichy militia) in Toulouse and interrogated for four days. She held out, refusing to give the Milice any information, and with the help of the legendary “Scarlet Pimpernel of WWII,” Patrick O’Leary, tricked her captors into releasing her.

Finally, Wake got across the Pyrenees and from there to Britain. She was on safer ground, but had no news of her husband, who worked separately.

Wake, then 31, became one of 39 women and 430 men in the French Section of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) which worked with local resistance groups to sabotage the Germans in the occupied territories. She was trained at a British Ministry of Defense camp in Scotland in survival skills, silent killing, codes and radio operation, night parachuting, plastic explosives, Sten guns, rifles, pistols and grenades. She and the other women recruited by the SOE were officially assigned to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and the true nature of their work remained a closely guarded secret until after the war.

In late April 1944, Nancy Wake and another SOE operative, Maj. John Farmer, were parachuted into the Auvergne region in central France with orders to locate and organize the bands of Maquis, establish ammunition and arms caches from the nightly parachute drops, and arrange wireless communication with England. Their mission was to organize the Resistance in preparation for the D-Day invasion. The Resistance movement’s principal objective was to weaken the German army for a major attack by allied troops. Their targets were German installations, convoys and troops. When dropped over Auvergne, Wake’s parachute became stuck in a tree. Her agent said he hoped all trees could bear such beautiful fruit.

There were 22,000 German troops in the area and initially 3-4,000 Maquis. These numbers were bolstered to 7,000 with the assistance of a spy in the American Military Intelligence organization (OSS), Lt. Rene Guiraud, along with Wake’s recruitment work. Wake led these men in guerrilla warfare, inflicting severe damage on German troops and facilities. She collected and distributed weapons and ensured that her radio operatives maintained contact with the SOE in Britain.

At the head of a group of dedicated, gun-toting Frenchmen, Nancy Wake spent most of 1944 – both before and after D-Day – leading daring guerrilla attacks on Nazi supply depots, rail stations, and communications facilities deep behind enemy lines. She sabotaged factories, raided depots, cut train tracks, and performed countless espionage and sabotage missions against the enemy. In one raid she killed a Nazi with her bare hands before he raised an alarm. In another attack she and some Maquis fighters rolled up to the local Gestapo headquarters in Montlucon, France, shot the place up, lobbed some grenades, and killed 38 members of the Reich’s notorious secret police. When enemy spies were captured, Wake was the one who interrogated them and determined whether they would live or die. When supply drops were parachuted behind enemy lines by Allied transport planes,Wake was the one who received the coordinates, made sure guys were there to pick up the gear, and distributed it to the men. One time, when her cell was attacked by over 10,000 Germans from the 2nd SS Panzer Division, Wake’s radio was destroyed when the truck she was driving was strafed by a Nazi dive-bomber – she responded by stealing a bicycle, cycling 500 km through several German checkpoints to replace codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid. Without these there would be no fresh orders or drops of weapons and supplies. Of all the amazing things she did during the war, Nancy believes this marathon ride was the most useful. She covered the distance in 71 hours, cycling through countryside and mountains almost non-stop. Her focus was rock steady to the end of her epic journey, when she wept in pain and relief.

On yet another occasion, Wake took command of a battle after her section leader died, then coordinated a strategic withdrawal that got her men out of a hardcore shootout with SS storm troopers without taking any further casualties.

It was an extremely tough assignment: a near-sleepless life on the move, often hiding in the forests, traveling from group to group to train Maquis, motivate, plan and co-ordinate. She organized parachute drops that occurred four times a week to replenish arms and ammunition. There were numerous violent engagements with the Germans. The countryside was wracked with hostage taking, executions, burnings and reprisals.

No sector gave the Reich more cause for fury than Nancy’s – the Auvergne, the Fortress of France. Methodically the SS laid its plans and prepared to obliterate the group, whose stronghold was the plateau above Chaudes-Aiguwes. Troops were massed in towns all around the plateau, with artillery, mortars, aircraft and mobile guns. In June, 1944, 22,000 SS troops made their move on the 7,000 Maquis. Through bitter battle and then escape, Nancy and her army had cause to be satisfied: 1,400 German troops lay dead on the plateau, along with only 100 of their own men.

Nancy continued her war: she personally led a raid on Gestapo headquarters in Montucon, and killed a sentry with her bare hands to keep him from alerting the guard during a raid on a German gun factory. She had to shoot her way out of roadblocks and execute a German female spy.

On June 6, 1944, D-Day, allied troops began to force the German army out of France. On August 25, 1944, Paris was liberated and Wake led her troops into Vichy to celebrate. However her joy at the liberation of Paris was mixed with a tragedy she had secretly anticipated: in Vichy she learned that her beloved husband Henri was dead. A year after Nancy had left France in 1943, the Germans had captured Henri, tortured and executed him, because he refused to give them any information about the whereabouts of his wife.

Within a year Germany was defeated. 375 of the 469 SOE operatives in the French Section survived the war. Twelve of the 39 women operatives were killed by the Germans and three who returned had survived imprisonment and torture at Ravensbruck concentration camp. In all 600,000 French people were killed during World War II, 240,000 of them in prisons and concentration camps.

Wake continued to work with the SOE after the war, working at the British Air Ministry in the Intelligence Department. In 1960 she married a former prisoner of war, Englishman John Forward, and returned to Australia to live.

After the war her achievements were heralded by medals and awards: the George Medal from Britain for her leadership and bravery under fire, the Resistance Medal, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre with two bronze palms and a silver star from France, and the Medal of Freedom from America. She was made a member of the Order of Australia, and New Zealand named a street after her.

However, for many years she was never awarded a medal by the Australian government. When the Australian Returned Services League recommended that Wake be awarded a medal, they were turned down. The Sydney Morning Herald (April 28th, 2000) surmised that she was turned down for a medal because she was born in New Zealand and was considered a New Zealand citizen. In 1994 she refused to donate her medals to the Museum of Australia and proclaimed to the New Zealand Press Association in Sydney (Evening Post, April 30, 1994) that she was still a New Zealander and reminded the press that she had kept her New Zealand passport, despite her 80 year absence from the country.

In 2004 Nancy Wake was, at long last, awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2006 Nancy received the NZ Returned Services Association’s highest honor, the RSA Badge in Gold, as well as life membership for her work with the French resistance during the war.

Wake’s dramatic life story and her feisty, courageous personality made her the ideal subject for documentaries and dramatizations. She tells her own story with interviews, reconstructions, stills and film footage in the video “Nancy Wake – Code Name: The White Mouse.”

In 1987 a television mini-series was made about her life.

Nancy Wake’s comrade Henri Tardivat perhaps best characterized the guerrilla chieftain:

“She is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.”

After making the final move back to England, Wake become a resident at the Stafford Hotel which had been a British and American forces club during the war. The hotel’s owners welcomed her warmly, absorbing most of the costs of her stay – helped occasionally by anonymous donations. Despite enjoying her residence at the hotel, Nancy Wake moved to the Star and Garter forces retirement home in 2003.

Nancy Wake passed away on August 7, 2011 at the retirement home where she had lived the last eight years of her life. Right up to her death, she remained assertive about what would happen to her body: “I want to be cremated, and I want my ashes to be scattered over the mountains where I fought with the resistance. That will be good enough for me”.

She lived to be 98 years old.


Sgt Art Buchwald US Marine Corps (Served 1942-1945)

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buchwaldSgt Art Buchwald

US Marine Corps

(Served 1942-1945)

View his Service Profile on at

Short Bio: In 1942, Buchwald ran away to join the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17 and served in World War II. Buchwald, who came to love the armed forces, served in the Pacific theater until 1945. He was discharged in Los Angeles with the rank of Sergeant. With a New York State veteran’s bonus of $250 in hand, he followed an urge to sample the expatriate life and bought a one-way ticket to Paris to study French on the GI Bill.


SSgt Edward E. Zesch U.S. Army Air Force (Served 1944-1946)

Read the service reflections of US Army Air Force Veteran

profileSSgt Edward E. Zesch

U.S. Army Air Force


Shadow Box:


I have always been fascinated with aviation. As a small boy I sent the tops of Horlichs Chocolate Malted Milk containers away for information on famous aviators like Roscoe Turner or pictures of airplanes. Tacked many of these on the walls of my room. I enjoyed reading books about WWI aviators. In high school I pursued a technical curriculum which included a course in meteorology and the theory of flight.

On occasion, I would ride my bicycle to a nearby small airfield and watch small planes take off and land. One of the pilots there, seeing my interest in the planes asked if I would like to go up with him in his plane (Funk). Of course I said yes. As we flew along he let me have the controls and instructed me to apply some rudder in a climb to counter engine torque. That was my first airplane ride and further sparked my enthusiasm for flying. From that time on I wanted to join the Air Force as soon as I was old enough to do so.


I enlisted in USAAF as an Aviation Cadet Candidate in February 1944. As I was only 17, I didn’t enter active service until June 1944 when I was 18. With the aviation cadet program phasing down, elected to take aerial gunnery training. Received aerial gunnery wings from Las Vegas AAF Flexible Gunnery School, NV October 1944.

Completed combat air crew training as B-17 Flying Fortress waist gunner at Alexandria AAF, LA in Spring 1945. With air crew, ferried new B-17G from Savannah, GA to England arriving April 1945 and assigned to 8th AF, 34th BG, 7th BS in Mendlesham.

Flew as member of B- 17 back up crew on navigational practice flights, coastal patrols, and food drops in Holland. Battles and Campaigns: Rhineland. Decorations and Citations: Aerial Gunners Silver Wings, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, European-African Theater Ribbon with 1 Bronze Battle Star, American Theater Ribbon and Presidential Unit Citation.

Returned to US June 1945. Honorably discharged June 1946 with rank of Staff Sergeant after assignments at Sioux Falls, SD, Albuquerque, NM, Sheppard Field, TX, and Boca Raton, FL. Enlisted in USAF Reserve for three years.

I decided not to make the Air Force a career because I wanted to get married, raise a family, further my education, purchase a home and lay down roots.


As stated previously, I participated in Operation Manna/Chowhound (see Because it was a humanitarian effort, I felt good that I had a hand in saving the Dutch people from starving. After the war I came in contact with several Dutch people who were present in Holland when our B-17s dropped their rations. These folks were still very emotional with tears in their eyes as we talked about the food drops.


My fondest memories are of the AAF base at Alexandria, LA and at our 8th AF, 34 BG, 7th BS in Mendlesham, England. At Alexandria is where our B-17 aircrew came together. We were very young and thought of ourselves as brothers. Also I had fond memories of my Mom who came down from her home town of Chicago to see me and the crew before we left for overseas.

In England, our crew lived in a Quonset Hut with another crew. Despite the war, we had some good times at the base as well as on our sight seeing in London when we got leave.

Least favorite was at AAF Sheppard Field, Wichita Falls, TX where I took my basic training. The marches, camp outs were not a whole lot of fun. The drinking water tasted and smelled terrible. I think it was called egg water.


The camaraderie of our air crew and dedication that each crew member had toward their assignment I recall most. Each of us had a separate and distinct personality, yet when it came to doing our jobs, we did so.


My gunners silver wings and medals (see previous write up) I appreciate very much. While in the service and courting my wife to be, I presented her with my wings. While I was away on assignment she would polish them frequently. Since then, we gave the wings to our youngest daughter (Flight Attendant for Delta Airlines) who gave them to her daughter. She wears them on her apparel every once in awhile.

As an aside, my wife, before we were married, folded bandages for the Red Cross during WWII. She did this every Monday in the basement of her church.


I still have my AF uniform and some of my flying equipment (helmet, goggles, oxygen mask, headset, throat mike). In addition, I am avid collector of aviation items. I have a number of B-17 models as well as miniature models of WWI and WWII airplanes. Most of my miniatures are from Hobby Town. Recently I received a B-17 model with a clock and temperature indicator from our daughter Linda. Our daughter Julie and my nephew Steve presented me with a large model of a B-17G from the National WWII Museum Gift Shop.


My pilot (John Hopper) was a skilled pilot and good friend. During our B-17 aircrew training in the States, he landed us safely after one of our engines caught fire. In another incident we were flying at night over the Italian Alps when a supercharger on one of our engines failed. As a result, we dropped down so that we were in danger of slamming into the mountains. We were ordered to snap on our chutes as we may have to bail out. Looking out the left waist window at those moon- lit snow covered peaks, jumping out didn’t seem the right thing to do! However, our pilot demonstrated his skill again and maneuvered us out of danger and back to our base.


My B-17 aircrew is most remembered. They are as follows:

John Hopper, Pilot
John Smethills, Copilot
Dan Staley, Navigator
Dwight Miller, Bombardier/Chin Turret Gunner
Tom Burson, Flight Engineer/Top Turret Gunner
Roy Cahill, Radio Operator
Earl Zesch, Left Waist Gunner
Bob Lillie, Armorer/Right Waist Gunner
Bill Williamson, Ball Turret Gunner
Ken O’Connor, Tail Gunner

We met at AAF Base at Lincoln, Nebraska where aircrews were formed in 1945.

After the war I remained in contact with Hopper, Smethills, Staley, Williamson and Lillie. The rest I was unable to locate.

We were together until returning to the USA where we separated.

As far as I can ascertain, all have passed away.


a.”Washing” (very carefully) my green gabardine flight suit in 100 octane aviation gasoline.

b. Practicing my golf swing on the “inside driving range” (you would drive the ball from a wrestling mat into a deployed parachute which acted as a backstop; all inside a storage building).

c. Reading a notice on the squadron bulletin board calling for enlisted personnel volunteers to enroll in the U.S. Army Infantry Officer Candidate School. The Army was running short of Infantry 2nd Lieutenants (no known takers).

d. Visiting (on our bikes) local farmers in search of fresh eggs (we were weary of powdered eggs). One farmer invited us in, built a fire in his fireplace and made tea before providing a few eggs. He related how his farm had been strafed by German planes.

e. Making toast on our Quonset hut armor plate stove. Bread was laid directly on the cleaned top of the hot stove. We then spread some canned cherries (sent by one of my crew member’s mom) on the toast.

f. Bringing your laundry to a local lady that lived in a thatched-roof house with her two children. On one occasion she invited us to stay for lunch which consisted of bread in warm milk (milk toast).

g. Playing ping-pong at the rec building where the Red Cross representatives meted out replacement ping pong balls as though they were made of gold!

h. Listening to the disc jockey, Sgt. ? (don’t recall his name) play those great ’40’s tunes.

i. Enjoying (???) that wonderful chow at the mess hall. Repast such as corned beef served with a nice hot portion of stewed tomatoes mixed with bread, accompanied by a mug of chicory coffee, was especially memorable.

j. Exchanging my cigarette ration coupons for candy ration coupons with those that smoked. (I didn’t smoke, but loved candy bars!!)

k. Purchasing a pair of salt and pepper shakers from a ground technician who made them from 50 cal brass shells. After removing the powder and armor piercing components, the metal tips were drilled with small holes. Bases were drilled out to allow mounting screws. The shells were mounted on small six sided, beveled plexiglass bases fashioned from damaged B-17 plexiglass.

l. 35 cent haircuts from English barber who came on base.


After serving in the military I received my BSEE degree from the University of Illinois and worked in the aerospace field for Douglas Aircraft, TRW and Martin Marietta in the USA, England and Italy. I retired in 1987.


Member Mighty Eighth Air Force Historical Society
Charter Member National WWII Memorial
Charter Member National WWII Museum
Member RAF Mendlesham Airfield Association
Member History Channel Club
Founding Member American Air Museum in Duxford, England
Founding Sponsor National Museum US Army

All keep me apprised of events and information related to the military and aviation field.


Serving in the military taught me discipline and respect for my superiors.


Dedicate yourself to learning the most from your assignment and do your best to carry out your responsibility.


TWS is a great way to document and preserve your military history. I have referred my TWS Shadow Box to my immediate family and close friends. I continue to add to my portion of the TWS web site. I thank those that created TWS and those that keep it going.


Sketching Her Way Across Europe: The Elizabeth Black Story

By LtCol Mike Christy

Together We Served “Dispatches”

In 2010, John Black and his wife Kay of Germantown, Tennessee received an unexpected surprise at their doorstep: a footlocker, which had been stored and unexamined for decades in a family member’s garage in California. Inside they found his mother’s footlocker filled with a 100 images of her sketches, photographs, scrapbooks, news clippings, and other memorabilia. “I remember these. Thank heavens they’re still around,” he thought to himself. “The sheer volume of it was overwhelming. It took us awhile to sort through it all.”

Although he and his brother knew some things about their mother during her World War II experience, the discovery of her work launched him on a journey to meet this remarkable woman who had been his mother and to share her story in the widest, most dramatic way possible.

Eventually arriving at WQED Multimedia in her hometown of Pittsburgh he found what he had been hoping for: people who shared his vision on what a great documentary his mother’s story would make. The project was immediately assigned to Emmy Award-winning team of writer/producer David Solomon and photographer/editor Paul Ruggieri. The award winning documentary, “Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black” premiered November 2013.

The one-hour documentary explored Miss Black’s lost art career, features interviews with elderly veterans who encountered the artist on the battlefield, and captures memorable scenes of amazed and appreciative families finally receiving portraits that never arrived during the war.

Frank and Eva Clark were surprised when John Black and WQED staff visited their home to present them with a long-lost portrait of Frank sketched in 1944, while he served with the Army in France.

“It’s a nice gift, a really nice gift,” Clark, 92, said. “I’ve got four girls, and they all wanted one. They are fighting over it,” he said “They really enjoy the way it looks. It looks just like me.”

Clark remembered Elizabeth Black as “real nice to get along with. She took a lot of time with you.” It lifted the spirits of the men, he said.

When contacted, Betty Koppel Houston said it was about a year after her father, Leo Koppel, had been deployed with the Army that her worried family received a portrait of him from the Red Cross. He was sketched on leave in Holland after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. “It was exciting to see the portrait when it came home. I was 7 when he went away. I was Daddy’s girl. I missed my father,” she said.

Her mother hung the portrait on the wall in the living room of their residence. Houston now has it on the wall in her home. “It means the world to me,” she said. “It’s a good likeness.”

Leo Koppel autographed it to his wife: “To Betty, Love + Kisses, your loving husband, Leo.”

John Black, who praised the manner in which Solomon tells his mother’s story, said, “The most-poignant take-away for him from all the memorabilia probably is the letters written to his mother from family members after they received a sketch.”

In some cases, because of slow wartime mail, the loved one had been killed. But a family member, usually a wife, mother or sibling, still wrote a thank-you letter to a stranger who had given the family a wonderful gift. Other letter-writers pleaded for more information about their loved one. Black said, “They wrote, ‘You have seen him. How is he? Where is he now? It’s been so long since we heard from him. We are so worried.”

Born in 1912, Elizabeth Black descended from a paternal grandfather John Wesley Black, founder of a weekly newspaper called The Pittsburgh Bulletin. Her father, John Wesley Black Jr., also worked for that publication.

At a very young age, Elizabeth showed a remarkable talent as an up-and-coming artist in 1930s Pittsburgh. Following recognition at Carrick and Peabody high schools and taking classes at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, she won a scholarship to the city’s Ad-Art Studio School, took classes at Carnegie Tech and studied at the prestigious Art Students League of New York.

Prominent Pittsburgh families including the Mellons, Craigs and Shaws asked her to sketch portraits of their children and other family members. She painted murals for the Point Breeze Presbyterian Church. Her crowning achievement was her selection in 1940 to paint 25 larger-than-life portraits of literary greats such as Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Emily Dickinson. It was no easy task. She stood for hours on a ladder, day-after-day carefully painting each stroke of each portrait into recesses near the ceiling of a great room in the Carnegie Library in the city’s North Side neighborhood. Unfortunately, the paintings disappeared during a 1960s renovation.

At the height of World War II, Elizabeth left her promising art career behind and joined the American Red Cross. Following three weeks of screening and training in Washington, D.C., she boarded a ship for England in summer 1943. At age 31, she was stationed in London at a Red Cross Club as part of the Clubmobile brigades – women who drove to field camps in retrofitted buses or trucks throughout Europe providing doughnuts, coffee and a smiling face to war-weary troops.

Hoping to be more than a hostess, she sought permission from the American Red Cross and the U.S. military to use her abilities to sketch Soldiers and send the portraits to worried families in the United States. In a seven-page business plan written on onion-skin paper she laid out her idea, what she would need in the way of art supplies to carry it out and how it would all work to include that camps hold lotteries to determine who would set for her. The American Red Cross accepted her proposal.

In less than a year, Elizabeth sketched her way across England, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg visiting camps and boosting the morale of American Soldiers and capturing hundreds of young faces with deft strokes of charcoal.

When she finished whosever portrait she was working on, she asked her subjects to sign their portraits and write their hometown addresses. The large sketches, dated and signed, often containing endearments to loved ones back home, were mailed to parents, wives and siblings.

Often her sketches reached families months after they were mailed due to the agonizing slow nature of wartime delivery. Some were never arrived at all. In some cases, the subject had died before the portrait got to the family. They would write a letter saying, “Thank you so much. We will cherish this forever. He was killed a month ago.”

Regardless of where she was drawing a portrait, curious onlookers gathered around, grateful for the chance to talk or even flirt with the blue-eyed, brunette portrait artist. Some wrote heartfelt notes of appreciation in a notebook she carried with her at all times.

On Oct. 21, 1944, a staff sergeant from Los Angeles wrote, “My best wishes to the finest personality I have ever met and sincerely an artist to scetch (sic) a mug like mine. Thanks a million!” A poem from a Brooklyn Soldier ended, “Never will I forget that friendly gal/who made me smile, thank you pal.”

During a visit to Cherbourg, France, in 1944, the artist met Julian Black, a Navy commander from Chattanooga, Tenn. They joked about their shared last name, and he wrote a popular song lyric in her notebook, “I’ll be seeing you.”

After an intense courtship, they married during the 1944 Christmas holidays at the American Chapel in Paris. Family legend has it that they were the first American couple to do so there since D-Day.

When the war ended, the couple sailed for America in June 1945 and settled first in Staunton, Va., moving three years later to Waynesboro, then a town of 11,000 people located 20 miles southeast of Charlottesville.

Elizabeth had two sons and helped her attorney husband Julian with his soft-drink business he had entered with a college classmate. After he husband died from a heart attack in 1956, Elizabeth sold the business back to her late husband’s friend and waited for her sons to grow up. In 1963, she packed up the family car and moved to Berkeley, Calif. She chose Berkeley because it was a college town and had a bohemian reputation of being a good place for artists and musicians. She resumed portrait work but on a far lesser scale than her successful Pittsburgh years.

Later she moved to Portland, Ore., where at the age of 71, she died from a heart attack in October 1983.

Producer/writer David Solomon said, “The story of Elizabeth Black is a reminder of how just one person can make a huge difference.” “She provided a moment of brightness for hundreds of troops in battle, and gave hundreds of families’ peace of mind when it was desperately needed.” The undertaking has been one of the most-memorable and satisfying in his career he added.

If you are interested in seeing the entire hour of “Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black,” please go to the following site. It will be well worth your time.

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