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Posts from the ‘Amazing Military Stories’ Category


Band of Brothers

By LtCol Mike Christy-TogetherWeServed Dispatches

Once the long line of passengers ahead of me finished fumbling with stowing their carry-on luggage in the overhead bins and taking their seats, I at least reached my aisle seat near the center of the plane. I sat down, buckled in and exchanged “hellos” with the young man sitting in the center seat next to me. I then closed my eyes in preparation for my normal routine of falling asleep even before the plane leaves the ground. This day was different, however. I was too excited to sleep.

Forty-two years ago, I had met some exceptional young men. We were all part of a rifle company humping the jungles of Vietnam, including two months during the Cambodia incursion in 1970. Now, in a matter of hours, I would be seeing 18 of them at a reunion in Myrtle Beach, S.C. I knew they would have aged, but in my mind’s eye, they are still the brave young warriors who did their duty in a nasty war they didn’t totally understand. And through it all, bonded together as brothers, placing their lives in each other’s hands. I was proud to be one of them.

When the plane reached cruising altitude and the pilot finished welcoming us aboard, I began a conversation with the young man. His name was Jason, an engineer from Atlanta, who was heading home following a business trip to Los Angeles. When he asked me where I was going, I told him about meeting up with some men I served with in Vietnam. “We read about Vietnam in high school,” he said, “but I didn’t learn much. There were only four or five paragraphs about it in our history book.” That amazed me. How could a 10-year war that changed the United States in so many ways rate less than half a dozen paragraphs? I decided to tell Jason as much about the hows and whys of the war as best I understood them and what I observed from my ringside seat.

When I finished, Jason wanted to know how the men felt about the war. “They didn’t want to be there,” I answered. “They were a long way from home in a hot, dangerous place full of bad smells, bugs, and snakes. Every step they took, they didn’t know if it would be their last. Yet in spite of all the uncertainty, the camaraderie we built among each other is what kept most of us going. We had each other’s back.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a pretty flight attendant asking us what we’d like to drink. I got some water and Jason got a coke. Sipping our drinks, we both fell into silence. Soon Jason closed his eye, perhaps contemplating what he had just learned about the Vietnam War from an eyewitness. I stared ahead, lost in thought about the reunion and how it would not have happened without a website exclusively for veterans. is an exclusive website where former, retired and active duty men and women reconnect and bond. It’s also a place where I met some really great people.

The first time I signed on, I was surprised how easy it was to navigate and within a couple of hours, I found six old army buddies. When someone becomes a member there are encouraged to fill out their profile page with as much personal information about their military and personal history. There are places for unit assignments, awards, schools attended and military and personal photos. To capitalize on this powerful search capacity, I filled out my profile on both the Marine Corps and Army site as completely as possible.

I had joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 1956, then joined the Army as an infantry second lieutenant in 1966 during the height of Vietnam War. Following a year of selected training, I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in 1967. My first four-month was on A-Team 102 Tien Phouc along the Song Tran River southwest of Na Trang for four months. The remainder of my tour was with Project Delta, a special operations units running small reconnaissance teams deep in enemy-held territory. Today the unit is known as Delta Force.

My second tour began in 1969 when I was a rifle company commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). In May 1970, we operated for two months in Cambodia. I retired a Lieutenant Colonel in 1984 and jumped into a career as a writer and documentary filmmaker.

With my entire military career uploaded on both my Marine Corps and Army profiles, it wasn’t long before I begin getting messages from old Army buddies, most of whom I served with in Vietnam.

After months of exchanging emails and messages over the TWS message center with Vietnam comrades, the idea of holding a reunion began to take shape. There was a lot of enthusiasm and the beginning of some planning. The final shove, however, came from somewhere else.

One day, I got a TWS message from an unknown veteran. He wrote he had been a member of our company when it arrived in Vietnam in 1965 and for the past eight years, the original members had been meeting for reunions every two years. He wanted to open up the next reunion to be held in Myrtle Beach to all veterans from all years who served in the company. I wrote back we would be there and got busy getting the word out.

Reflecting on how it all came about, I was struck by the versatility of TWS. It not only brings together long-lost friends, it’s a national archive where millions of stories and photos are posted, and with each, a lasting legacy of America’s military heritage.

Whenever I get the chance, I like to search for photos and stories posted by vets who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It never fails to amaze me the detail some of the veterans have posted. It is better than a history book because it’s personal and because of these living, breathing “scrapbooks” come straight from the gut and the heart. The postings by friends and relatives honoring the men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice are the ones that get me the most.

Somewhere in my mental praising of why I love Together We Served, I’d fallen asleep. The next thing I felt was the plane leveling off and the pilot telling us we would be landing in 15 minutes. The head flight attendant got on the horn with some gate numbers for some connecting flights and thanked us for flying their airline.

The plane landed at the Atlanta and parked at a gate. Walking off the plane I said goodbye to Jason and headed for the gate my flight to Myrtle Beach would depart. Two hours later the commuter plane landed. I called the hotel where I would be staying and where the reunion was being held. In a matter of minutes, a van picked me up.

The excitement and anticipation was growing inside as I realized that within minutes, I would be coming face-to-face with some of my combat buddies after more than four decades. They understood better than anyone else about what Vietnam meant because they were there, they shared in the experience too. No doubt Shakespeare had us in mind when he wrote in Henry V, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

This article appeared in the April 2013 Vietnam magazine


Military Myths and Legends: Women of the Vietnam War

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches

It has been estimated that as many as 11,000 women served in Vietnam or in other locations, but over 90% served as nurses. Some served as nurses in evacuation hospitals, MASH units and aboard hospital ships. Others worked in support roles in military information offices, headquarters, service clubs, and various other clerical, medical, and personnel positions. Servicewomen in Vietnam experienced many of the same hardships as their male counterparts and served bravely in dangerous situations. Many were awarded personal citations.

Non-military women also served important roles. They provided entertainment and support to the troops through the USO, the American Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations. Women working as civilian nurses for USAID (US Agency for International Development) participated in one of the most famous humanitarian operations of the war, Operation Babylift, which brought thousands of Vietnamese orphans to the U.S. for adoption. Additionally, many women reported the war for news and media agencies.

Combat Nurses
Combat nurses worked twelve-hour shifts six days a week and when a mass casualty incident occurred, like a major battle, those twelve-hour shifts could easily turn into twenty-four to thirty-six-hour shifts. Nurses also volunteered their time in the communities around them, often going to the local orphanages or hospitals to offer the civilians their medical services or to teach classes on basic hygiene, first aid or even English. Nurses also had to deal with numerous emotions: stress from a number of patients they had to serve, anger at seeing young men so horribly wounded and guilt at not being able to save all of the wounded men or make them whole again.

Despite the long hours and sometimes horrifying wounds these women had to face, many nurses found their service rewarding. They were able to serve their country and save and comfort the wounded men in their facilities. During the Vietnam War 98% of the men who were wounded and made it to the hospital survived. Nurses witnessed some truly miraculous events such as men recovering from their wounds or acts of true selflessness that are common during combat situations, and many nurses made close friends with their fellow co-workers some of whom still keep in contact into the present day.

Eight U.S. of these heroic nurses died in Vietnam; six were killed, two died of illnesses. Each dedicated themselves to taking care of the wounded and dying.

See their faces and remember their names. These are their stories.

Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham, Chief Nurse at 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa. A native of Efland N.C., she suffered a stroke in August 1968 and was evacuated to Japan where she died four days later. She was a veteran of both WW II and Korea. She was 52.
View her shadow box on TogetherWeServed: LtCol Annie Ruth Graham

First Lieutenant Sharon Anne Lane died from shrapnel wounds when the 312th Evacuation Hospital at Chu Lai was hit by rockets on June 8, 1969. From Canton, OH, she was a month short of her 26th birthday. She was posthumously awarded the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Bronze Star for Heroism. In 1970, the recovery room at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver, where Lt. Lane had been assigned before going to Vietnam, was dedicated in her honor. She was 26 years old.

In 1973, Aultman Hospital in Canton, OH, where Lane had attended nursing school, erected a bronze statue of Lane. The names of 110 local servicemen killed in Vietnam are on the base of the statue.
View here service shadow box on TogetherWeServed: 1stLt Sharon Ann Lane

2nd Lt. Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba (L) of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, and 2nd Lt. Elizabeth Ann Jones of Allendale, South Carolina. Both were the first military women killed in the Vietnam War. Both were assigned to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. On February 18, 1966, they were on an administrative flight to Dalat aboard a helicopter from the 197th Assault Helicopter Company, 145th Combat Aviation Battalion, when the aircraft struck a high-tension transmission line over a river in the vicinity of Bien Hoa. They died along with five other passengers in a helicopter crash including Jones’ fiance. Both were 22 years old.

They are honored on Panel 5E, Row 46 and Panel 5E, Row 47 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

View their shadow boxes on TogetherWeServed: 2nd Lt.Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba
2nd Lt Elizabeth Ann Jones Read more »


Profile in Courage – Dakota Meyer

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches

Sergeant Dakota L. Meyer is a United States Marine Corps veteran, the recipient of the Medal of Honor and the New York Times best-selling co-author of ‘Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War.’ He is also an entrepreneur, having founded a successful construction company in Kentucky.

Meyer earned his Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Ganjgal in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He is the first living Marine to have received the medal in 38 years and one of the youngest. Humble and soft-spoken, Meyer insists that he is not a hero and that any Marine would have done the same thing he did in battle.

Born June 26, 1988, and raised in Columbia, Kentucky, he is the son of Felicia Gilliam and Michael Meyer. In 2006, after graduation from Green County High School, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at a recruiting station in Louisville, Kentucky and completed basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Meyer deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007 as a scout sniper with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. On his second deployment to Afghanistan with the U.S. Marine/U.S. Army ETT (Embedded Training Team) 2-8, he gained national attention for his heroic actions.

On September 8, 2009, ETT 2-8 led TF (Task Force) Chosin, a combined group of Afghan Army and National Police forces led by a

small team of American advisors and trainers, on a patrol operation near Ganjgal village on their way to meet with village elders. TF Chosin had only 3 months earlier closed down a mountainous border smuggling route between Pakistan and Afghanistan, earning additional ire from the Taliban, who controlled the smuggling routes.

During TF Chosin’ s mission planning, it was made clear that no dedicated close air support would be available for the mission but commanders promised artillery support from nearby forward bases. They were promised, however, that helicopter support could be redirected from an operation in a neighboring valley within five minutes. Available intelligence indicated that Taliban fighters were aware of the mission and were setting up ambush positions within Ganjgal village with a forward force of at least 20 fighters.

Just after dawn, after inserting into the valley and approaching Ganjgal, TF Chosin came under heavy machine gun, small arms and RPG fire from at least 100 entrenched Taliban fighters, far more than indicated by intelligence reports. Coalition forces soon found itself pinned down in a deadly three-sided ambush. Initial calls for artillery support were rejected by the command post due to new rules of engagement put in place by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in an effort to reduce civilian casualties. Both an Army artillery NCO and an Air Force Joint terminal attack controller took immediate action to provide the ambushed coalition forces with fire support but were overruled by the command post. ETT 2-8 informed the command post that they were not near the village but were again denied fire support. Calls for emergency helicopter support were also denied because adjacent helicopter assets were tied up and taking fire in support of another operation.

The coalition forces were taking increasing fire and could observe women and children shuttling fresh ammunition to Taliban fighting positions. Within 30 minutes of making contact, the ETT request the command post to provide an artillery barrage of smoke canisters to cover their withdraw. Told that no standard smoke was available, the team requested white phosphorus rounds be used instead to screen their retreat.Nearly an hour later, the white phosphorus rounds landed and the coalition forces retreated under heavy fire a short distance before being pinned once again. By this time, three U.S. Marines, their Navy Corpsman, their Afghan interpreter and several Afghan soldiers had been killed. Taliban snipers were moving into flanking positions when helicopter support finally arrived and began to attack Taliban positions. This arrival allowed the wounded to be pulled out and for three Marines to fight their way back up the hill to retrieve fallen comrades. It was nearly nine hours, including 6 continuous hours of fighting, from initial contact until coalition forces were able to totally disengage from the firefight.


The position occupied by the three dead Marines and the Navy Corpsman had been overrun by the enemy, who stripped the bodies of their gear and weapons. The bodies were recovered after their comrades, including Meyer, braved enemy fire to return to the location.


Read more »


CMSgt Katherine Burcio-Marple US Air Force (Ret) (Served 1969-1995)



By Completing Your Reflections!
 Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Profile Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.

Start Today

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force?

2017-05-14_15-50-52As Memorial Day approaches I can’t help but reflect on why I joined the Air Force. My father was my hero, he serviced in the Army Air Force during World War II. I grew-up listening to his “war stories” and seeing how proud he was to service his country. He taught me that there was no greater honor than to defend and even give your life for our country. I decided that I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and service my country. Little did I realize what an adventure it would be!

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

2017-05-14_15-51-58When I joined I wanted to fight and defend my country. I wanted to go to Vietnam to do this, but that never happened. I would go to CBPO once a week and try to volunteer to go. Week after week they would tell me I was wasting their time and mine and to stop coming over. I felt that I needed to fight side by side with the guys to feel like I truly contributed to defending my country.

My chance came 21 years later. I was deployed to Desert Storm. I was so excited to think I would finally be able to actually serve my country just like the men. That excitement quickly turned to sadness once I met the brave B-52 crew members that I would be sending off on missions. I suddenly realized that they may not all come back! I watched and listened to them joke and brag about who was the better pilot or how they were looking forward to getting into the fight. I envied them, they were so brave. But when the time came and they were off to war I didn’t want any of them to go.

I had so many mixed feelings that I had a hard time functioning in my job. I questioned why we were fighting and after 21 years did I make a huge mistake! I knew I had to get a reality check or I would fall apart even more. So I called the one person I knew who fought in a war, lost close friends and survived! I called my dad. He listened to me talk about my feelings, fears, and doubts than in his soft matter-of-fact way said, “There is nothing good about war, but someone has to fight, someone has to die, someone gets to come home, but no one really wins. You chose to be one of them, now do your job.” That was my dad’s way of telling me to stop whining and get my butt in gear. That was all I needed to get my act together and realize I had a job to do. I got through it, along with my crews and we all came home safe and sound.

This was one of the many memories that I had in my long and wonderful Air Force career.

From your entire service, including combat, describe the personal memories which have impacted you most?

The one memory that stood out throughout my career was when I reported in to my first duty station.

I arrived at Travis AFB feeling like I finally made it. I finally can do a job that meant something for my country. I will be treated equal and like an adult. I was dressed in my blues and ready to face the challenges. But the challenges I had to face that day totally took me by surprise. When I reported in at the orderly room, the Sergeant told me I needed to go to the WAF Squadron first.

I got to the WAF squadron and I was told I needed to go to CBPO first.

When I got to CBPO they told me to sit and wait until my name got called. Everyone seemed to be treating me like I was a bother to them all! I sat for two hours and waited. Finally an Airman called me in and took some information, then sent me to the Wing Administration office to get assigned a job.

Luckily the Wing building was across the street. When I reported to the Sergeant in the Admin office the Sergeant told me that he called around and no one wanted a WAF! He said there were two more offices he could try, but he wasn’t sure if they would take me either.

He took me to the first office and asked a Major if he wanted me. The Major took a long look and asked me my age. He commented that I looked like I was 12 years old! He then reached in his pocket, took out some money, and handed it to me. He patted me on the head, told me to go to the bowling alley and get an ice cream. He asked me to come back in an hour and they would figure out what to do with me. I left feeling like a reject.

It was true, no one wanted a WAF because all we do is find a guy, get married, and get out. They felt like they were wasting their time training us!

When I got to the bowling alley I called my mom. I asked her to come get me because no one wanted me. I explained what happened and I wanted to come home! My mom told me to get tough, go back to that office and tell that Major I was there to work and serve my country. I was not to leave until they gave me a job!

So I when back to the office, found the Major and said, “My mother told me to tell you to give me a job and I am not to leave until you do!” Everyone in that office busted out laughing and the Major said he thought he had the perfect job for me. He took me down to the training office and handed me over to them. He wished them luck and left. I wondered what he meant by that!

The Colonel took me into his office and told me he would give me a chance to prove myself. For the next three years, I had to prove myself over and over again, but I did!

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or any other memorabilia, please describe those which are the most meaningful to you and why?

The one badge that stood out the most to me was my Marksman badge. I am an anti-gun person and always have been. When I got orders for Korea I had to qualify on the M16. At first I refused to take the training but was told I could not go to Korea without the training. I wanted the assignment, so I decided to take the training under protest!

When I got to the training I felt completely out of place. I knew the instructor could tell I knew nothing about guns. The first thing they asked us to do is to take the magazine out of the desk we were sitting at. I opened the desk and was looking for a Field and Stream magazine or something like that. I pulled out a big metal object and told the instructor there was no magazine in the desk, just some metal thing. He asked me why I was there at the training and if this was a joke! I told him I had to qualify on the gun to go to Korea. He quickly corrected me on the term “gun”; he told me it was a rifle! He also informed me that the metal thing I was holding is the magazine. He asked me if I was afraid of messing up my manicure! After that, it was downhill!

He continued to make jokes about me to the other students and gave me a hard time. By the time we got out to the firing range, I was angry and determined to prove him wrong about me. I fired expert the first time and the instructor did not think I did it. For some reason he thought someone else fired into my target. This was impossible to do, but he could not believe I could fire that well. He made me do it again with him standing by me. I fired expert again. After that he eased off me and changed his attitude. I left there feeling like I really accomplished something. Not that I fired expert, but I proved women, even petite ones, could do as well as men in one more area.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

There are so many individuals that stood out and made a big impact on me. But there was only one that gave me the challenge to continue past my first enlistment, CMSgt Sizemore.

2017-05-14_15-55-44My career started at Travis AFB and 26 years later ended there! I will never forget CMSgt Sizemore at 22 AF. As an Airman, I worked in the Flight Training at the 60th MAW. One of my duties was to compile the Aircrew data from the squadrons and send it to the Chief every Friday. On one of those Fridays, I was having a very bad day and was not sure if I wanted to stay in the Air Force. I went over to the Chief’s office to give him the Aircrew Training Report and he noticed I was upset. He sat me down and said, “I am sure that one day you will be sitting in my chair, at this desk, doing my job..” I left his office knowing that I had to accomplish this goal that he set for me. And I did!!! My last assignment in the Air Force was with 15AF. The unit got reassigned to Travis AFB from March AFB. I was assigned to the Director of Training office and one of my duties was to collect Aircrew Training information on the units and build a briefing for the General. The same type of job CMSgt Sizemore had. When we arrived at Travis I went into my new office, which was the same office the Chief was in 23 years earlier. In fact, I think it was the same chair and desk he sat in!

Can you recount a particular incident from your service which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

One incident that I often think about and it still makes me laugh happened during my first enlistment. My roommate and I entered our dorm room in the “Best Dorm Room” contest. My mother made red, white and blue bedding for our bunks, and curtains for our windows. We painted our walls red, white and blue and put little American Flags on our lockers. But we had our one big wall that we painted blue that looked empty. It needed something to dress it up. We couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

2017-05-14_15-57-12On Sunday we went to Mass on base, all of the sudden it came to us, we can “borrow” the big American Flag in the Chapel and hang it on our wall! We decided to pray and ask if it would be alright. We both decided since the idea came to us in church, it must be OK! Later that day we “borrowed” the flag.

On the day of the judging, we were so excited. We figured we had to win because of how patriotic our room was. We got 2nd place! Another room, that was painted and decorated in black and red, beat us! We were in shock!

We both got called into our WAF Commanders office the next day. We thought it was to get our award for our room. But that wasn’t why! The First Sergeant and the Base Chaplin were with the Commander in her office. When we saw all three of them, we knew what it was about. We were asked where we got the American Flag. I calmly replied that we “borrowed” it from the Chapel and that we asked God and He gave us permission.

What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

2017-05-14_15-59-12My last year in the Air Force I had to decide what to do with the rest of my life. I decided I wanted to be a Correctional Officer or a teacher. I applied for both. I went through the hiring process for both and waited. My dad told me to take the first one that offered me a job. I knew he did not want me to be a Correctional Officer. That was the job I really wanted. The teaching job came through first, so I took it. I became an AFJROTC Instructor at Hemet High School in California. It was as if I never left the Air Force. I still wore my uniform, had to answer to an Officer and taught young people.

I taught at Hemet for 1 year, then transferred to Canyon Springs High School. I was there for 5 years. After 6 years of teaching in a High School setting, I decided I needed a change. I got my multiple subjects teaching credentials, and I changed to teaching Elementary students. I was hired to teach 2nd grade at Monterey Elementary in San Bernardino, California. I have been there ever since. I also taught 4th, 5th, and now I am teaching 6th grade there. I enjoy teaching and I’m glad I took my dad’s advice.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career?

My life had been influenced by the military long before I joined the Air Force. My father filled my head with all his stories about the Army Air Corps, and I dreamed of following in his footsteps. I decided at an early age I would prepare myself for the military. I read all I could find about the military services. I went to sleep dreaming about being in the military. Plus I went to a Catholic School, which is almost like being in the military!

After joining the Air Force I learned more about self-discipline, respect for life, ethics, and the importance of camaraderie. I try to live my life governed by these four acts. Without them, I would not have reached my goals to date. Without them, I would not be the person I am.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?

The advice I would give to those that are still serving is to never lose focus on the MISSION. The MISSION is to protect and defend our country and all that it stands for. This is a huge responsibility for anyone to do, but only a chosen few can do it well. Be one of those few and stay focused. There is no greater honor than to serve your country by dedicating yourself to the MISSION.

In what ways has helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with. has allowed me to find old “war buddies” that I thought I’d never hear from again. It has given me the opportunity to reconnect and share my life with dear friends that were a big part of my life in the military. This may not have happened if not for


The Bizarre Battle of Los Angeles

In the early morning hours of February 25, 1942, the city of Los Angeles found itself in the grip of a mass panic. Spurred on by reports of a Japanese air raid, local military units sounded warning sirens, ordered a mass blackout and lit up the sky with machine gun fire and over 1,400 anti-aircraft shells. The so-called “Battle of Los Angeles” would eventually drag on for several terrifying hours, yet when the guns finally fell silent, no evidence of an enemy attack was found. Military brass chalked the false alarm up to “jittery nerves” caused by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but it remains one of the most mysterious chapters of World War II.

b1In the frantic weeks that followed the Pearl Harbor attack, many Americans believed that enemy raids on the continental United States were imminent. On December 9, 1941, unsubstantiated reports of approaching aircraft had caused a minor invasion panic in New York City and sent stock prices tumbling. On the West Coast, inexperienced pilots, and radar men had mistaken fishing boats, logs and even whales for Japanese warships and submarines. Tensions were high, and they only grew after U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson warned that American cities should be prepared to accept “occasional blows” from enemy forces. Just a few days later on February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and hurled over a dozen artillery shells at an oil field and refinery. While the attack inflicted no casualties and caused only minor damage, it marked the first time that the mainland United States had been bombed during World War II.

The day after the oil field raid, paranoia and itchy trigger fingers combined to produce one of the most unusual home front incidents of the war. It began on the evening of February 24, 1942, when naval intelligence instructed units on the California coast to steel themselves for a potential Japanese attack. All remained calm for the next few hours, but shortly after 2 a.m. on February 25, military radar picked up what appeared to be an enemy contact some 120 miles west of Los Angeles. Air raid sirens sounded and a citywide blackout was put into effect. Within minutes, troops had manned anti-aircraft guns and begun sweeping the skies with searchlights.

b2It was just after 3 a.m. when the shooting started. Following reports of an unidentified object in the skies, troops in Santa Monica unleashed a barrage of anti-aircraft and .50 caliber machine gun fire. Before long, many of the city’s other coastal defense weapons had joined in. “Powerful searchlights from countless stations stabbed the sky with brilliant probing fingers,” the Los Angeles Times wrote, “while anti-aircraft batteries dotted the heavens with beautiful if sinister, orange bursts of shrapnel.” Chaos reigned over the next several minutes. It appeared that Los Angeles was under attack, yet many of those who looked skyward saw nothing but smoke and the glare of the ack-ack fire. “Imagination could have easily disclosed many shapes in the sky in the midst of that weird symphony of noise and color,” Coastal Artillery Corps Colonel John G. Murphy later wrote. “But cold detachment disclosed no planes of any type in the sky – friendly or enemy.”

b3For others, however, the threat appeared to be very real. Reports poured in from across the city describing Japanese aircraft flying in formation, bombs falling and enemy paratroopers. There was even a claim of a Japanese plane crash landing in the streets of Hollywood. “I could barely see the planes, but they were up there all right,” a coastal artilleryman named Charles Patrick later wrote in a letter. “I could see six planes, and shells were bursting all around them. Naturally, all of us fellows were anxious to get our two cents’ worth in and, when the command came, everybody cheered like a son of a gun.” The barrage eventually continued for over an hour. By the time a final “all-clear” order was given later that morning, Los Angeles’ artillery batteries had pumped over 1,400 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition into the sky.

It was only in the light of day that the American military units made a puzzling discovery: there appeared to have been no enemy attack. “Although reports were conflicting and every effort is being made to ascertain the facts, it is clear that no bombs were dropped and no planes were shot down,” read a statement from the Army’s Western Defense Command.

Ironically, the only damage during the “battle” had come from friendly fire. Anti-aircraft shrapnel rained down across the city, shattering windows and ripping through buildings. One dud careened into a Long Beach golf course, and several residents had their homes partially destroyed by 3-inch artillery shells. While there were no serious injuries from the shootout, it was reported that at least five people had died as a result of heart attacks and car accidents that occurred during the extended blackout. In a preview of the hysteria that would soon accompany the Japanese internment, authorities also arrested some 20 Japanese-Americans for allegedly trying to signal the nonexistent aircraft.

b4Over the next few days, government and media outlets issued contradictory reports on what later became known as the “Battle of Los Angeles.” Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox dismissed the firefight as a false alarm brought on by “jittery nerves,” but Secretary of War Henry Stimson echoed Army brass in saying that at least 15 planes had buzzed the city. He even advanced the provocative theory that the phantom fighters might have been commercial aircraft “operated by enemy agents” hoping to strike fear into the public. Stimson later backpedaled his claims, but there was still the matter of the thousands of military personnel and civilians who claimed to have seen aircraft in the skies over L.A. According to an editorial in the New York Times, some eyewitnesses had spied “a big floating object resembling a balloon,” while others had spotted anywhere from one plane to several dozen. “The more the whole incident of the early morning of Feb. 25 in the Los Angeles district is examined,” the article read, “the more incredible it becomes.”

b5What caused the shootout over Los Angeles? The Japanese military later claimed it had never flown aircraft over the city during World War II, providing fuel for a host of bizarre theories involving government conspiracies and visits by flying saucers and extraterrestrials.Still, the most logical explanation for the firefight is that trigger-happy servicemen and rudimentary radar systems combined to produce a false alarm. In 1983, the Office of Air Force History outlined the events of the L.A. air raid and noted that meteorological balloons had been released prior to the barrage to help determine wind conditions. Their lights and silver color could have been what first triggered the alerts. Once the shooting began, the disorienting combination of searchlights, smoke and anti-aircraft flak might have led gunners to believe they were firing on enemy planes even though none were actually present.

While it’s likely that the Battle of Los Angeles was only a mirage, it was still a chilling reminder of the vulnerability that many Americans felt at the beginning of World War II. The Japanese would later hatch several schemes to attack the American mainland – including launching over 9,000 explosives-laden “fire balloons” – yet none of them ever produced the level of mass hysteria that accompanied the phantom shootout over Los Angeles. Even at the time, many journalists noted that it was fitting that the incident had taken place in the home of the film industry. In an article from March 1942, the New York Times wrote that as the “world’s preeminent fabricator of make-believe,” Hollywood appeared to have played host to a battle that was “just another illusion.”

Newsreel of the incident:


Remains of Marine shot down during Vietnam War heading home after 48 years

A Marine radar intercept officer missing nearly 48 years after he was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War has been accounted for after his remains were found last year, the Bergen Record reports.

The remains of Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William (Billy) Ryan, of Bogota, N.J. (left in photo) were identified through DNA tests conducted by the Defense Pow/MIA Accounting Agency at the Pentagon, the paper reported Friday.

Ryan’s plane crashed on a combat mission in southern Laos near the Vietnam border on May 11, 1969, the day before his son’s first birthday.

“I always knew my dad died in the crash, and that’s what my mom told me,” Michael Ryan, 48 told the paper. “What she didn’t tell me is that part of her held out hope that maybe she’d see his face again.”

His aircraft was pulling out of a bombing run when it was hit by enemy fire. The pilot bailed out and was rescued.

Ryan was also shot down in 1968 over the Gulf of Tonkin but he survived that crash.

According to the Record, military investigators went to the Laos crash site in 1990 and found his plane seat.

Investigators visited the site on six other occasions from May 2012 to January 2016 to look for remains.

A lab identified the remains as Ryan’s and notified Michael last month.
The next day Ryan’s widow Judith was diagnosed with stage-4 stomach cancer.

“I don’t know, it’s strange to me,” Michael told the paper. “We’ve waited 48 years for this. And now I’m looking up at God and saying, ‘Can you give this woman a week to celebrate?'”

Billy Ryan will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on May 10, the eve of the crash anniversary.

Much more about Ryan and his family can be found at the site below:


MSCS Steven Karoly US Navy (Ret) (Served 1970-1999)



By Completing Your Reflections!
 Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Profile Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life.

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Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Navy?

2017-05-14_14-44-16As long as I can remember I wanted to join the Navy upon graduation from high school. Both my father and his older brother served in World War II. Dad enlisted in 1943 as an Apprentice Seaman in the Navy V-12a program. After graduation from Navy college, he entered aviator training as an Aviation Cadet in the V-5 program and earned his wings and commission as an Ensign, USNR, in December 1945. My uncle deployed to Africa and Italy with the 329th Bomb Squadron, 485th Bomb Group, as a waist gunner in the B-24 bomber. My uncle’s aircraft went down over Bulgaria in June 1944 and he spent 90 days as a POW. And during junior high school, my mother’s sister’s husband deployed to Vietnam as an advisor in Vietnamese river gunboats.

While neither family had long traditions of military service to the country, the quiet influence of those that served motivated me to enlist in the Navy delayed entry program in April 1970. Foothill High School, Bakersfield, California, buddy Jim Anderson enlisted at the same time (though not in the buddy program). We signed our respective yearbooks as “(Name), SR, USNR”! Jim ultimately asked to go to boot camp early, while I waited until Labor Day weekend 1970. (As an aside, never report to boot camp on a holiday weekend. You learn firsthand of the Navy’s “hurry up and wait” culture!)

Company 369, under the capable leadership of MMC Barr, was a great boot camp company. Chief Barr appointed me as a Recruit Petty Officer Second Class and Second Squad Leader in the first week of boot camp. I was one of three squad leaders that retained his position for the 11-week boot camp. (The other three were replaced at one point or another.)

My early goal was to join the US Navy Seabees. However, the Navy had different plans. As the Vietnam War was winding down under President Nixon’s Vietnamization program, the Navy needed a smaller construction force. With battalions being decommissioned and the resulting overmanning in Seabee ratings, the boot camp classifier said that I couldn’t request Engineering Aid (EA) Class A School. EA seemed to be a worthwhile course as my father was a civil engineer and I had worked the summer of 1969 on a survey crew pulling rear chain.

The classifier would only let me volunteer for general duty in the Seabees. I also requested the following Class A Schools on my dream sheet: Commissaryman (CS), Quartermaster (QM), Aerographer’s Mate (AG) and Photographic Intelligenceman (PT). The Navy obliged by sending me to Commissaryman/Steward Class A School in January 1971. Since I already had an interest in cooking, I accepted the Navy’s wisdom and never looked back. The culinary arts have been my life’s work on active duty, in the reserves and in my civilian career.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

I have never seen my active duty career and subsequent reserve career as spectacular or impressive. I answered the call by enlisting in the Navy during one our country’s most unpopular wars. Even th2017-05-14_14-46-12ough she signed for me as a 17-year-old, I knew that my mother had reservations about my enlistment during a period of war. I later learned that I first walked while dad was performing his two weeks active duty at NAS Oakland with VS-873 in the summer of 1953. This with the fact that I was the oldest and first to leave home added to her trepidation. I think this motivated dad to cut his Naval Reserve career short in 1956.

Despite rumors that CS/SD “A” School Class 7124 was being shipped en-masse to Vietnam upon graduation, American involvement in the war was winding down. There was little chance (for the moment) that I would deploy to a war zone. I later comforted mom in this regard, at least until my battalion, NMCB-17, was being trained for mobilization to Operation Desert Storm in the winter of 1991.

I served eight and one-half years on active duty, from September 1970 to February 1979. Looking back, I should’ve remained on active duty to complete my 20 years. I did enlist in the US Naval Reserve and served until May 1999, retiring a Senior Chief Mess Management Specialist (MSCS). Looking back at my twentieth year, my enlistment would’ve been extended due to Operations Dessert Shield and Dessert Storm had I remained on active duty. Of course, my life would’ve taken a different track and I wouldn’t have met my lovely wife, Debbie, in 1979.

Attack Squadron 127 at NAS Lemoore was my first duty station out of Class A school. For someone who’d “joined the Navy to see the world,” I’d landed on shore duty in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley–sandwiched between my boyhood homes of Fresno and Bakersfield. It took a special request chit to get me to sea. I figured why be in the Navy if you don’t go to sea? After all, that’s what makes the Navy stand out from the Army and the Air Force.

The Navy obliged in May 1972 and ordered me to the USS Cocopa (ATF-101). I met the fleet tug at NAVSTA Guam after 10 days in transit (I flew over the ship one-hour west of Hawaii). The next three years were spent cruising between Da Nang, Subic Bay and San Diego on the Cocopa and the USS Stein (DE-1065). A brief visit to the Indian Ocean in the winter of 1975 convinced me that world politics was shifting fleet operations to less exotic ports of call. So, I shipped over for foreign duty.

My reward for shipping over was a tour in the Philippines at the sprawling Seabee-built air base at Cubi Point. Then sixteen short months later, I again landed at a state-side naval air station, this time NAS Kingsville, Texas. Two years and a few college classes later, I was back in San Diego on the USS Robison (DDG-12). By this time, my experience at Georgia Military College (they had a contract with the Navy in Texas) and the quiet influence of my parents convinced me to get out and return to school.

Six days before my discharge, the Navy advanced me to MS1, a move that surprised me. Previously in 1974, I had to extend my enlistment to accept the rate of CS2 on the USS Stein. (The Commissaryman (CS) rating was merged with the Steward (SD) rating to form the Mess Management Specialist (MS) rating in January 1975.) As it turned out, the Navy had relaxed the requirement that you have one year remaining on your enlistment to accept advancement to PO2 or PO1.

The day after my discharge in late February 1979, I enlisted in the Naval Reserve at the Naval Reserve Center, Bakersfield, California, and was assigned to Detachment 0717, Reserve Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 17. As a Headquarters Company Seabee, I frequently drilled at the battalion Permanent Drill Site at NCBC Port Hueneme.

I count two duty stations as my favorite, one for active duty and other in the reserves. The first was the USS Cocopa. As a shall ship, I prepared the whole meal each day. Unlike the NAS Lemoore operations galley, where I grilled endless quantities of chicken fried steak on the flat top griddle, you got to know all 70 members of the fleet tug’s crew. Among those were the tall, lanky EM3 that only ate scrambled eggs. Or the EN2, complete with biker beard, that consumed massive quantities of food during storms, when the rest of the crew avoided the chow line.

NMCB-17 was my favorite reserve duty station. I had never experienced a unit with such great morale and dedication to the mission as I did during our three-week pre-mobilization active duty for Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. The Seabees of “The Desert Battalion” were pumped, ready to accept deployment orders to anywhere the Navy needed us. Battalion leadership was listening to returning active and reserve S4 (Supply Officer), S4A (Assistant SupO), S4C (Supply LCPO) and S4G (Galley LCPO).

As the second senior Seabee in the Supply Department (The S3C, SKCS Bill Tinsley, was senior to me), I prepared the General Mess for duty in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. Had we been deployed, I would have had many challenges. Foremost was the fact that my Assistant Leading Chief MS, MSC Bob Voigt, was also the Battalion Mortar Platoon Commander. And the General Mess was undermanned in junior MS3s and MSSNs. Thankfully, my galley leadership was in place (MS1s and MS2s). I would’ve been able to absorb SNs and SAs and train then to be Seabee cooks and bakers. In the end, NMCB-17’s deployment orders to the Seabee deployment camp, Camp Covington, Guam, were canceled after the ground war ended.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which were the most significant to you and, if life-changing, in what way.

I have never involved in any direct combat during my eight and one-half years active duty and twenty years reserve duty. My first WestPac cruise on the USS Cocopa (AFT-12017-05-14_14-48-0101) was the closest that I came. In the summer of 1972, the Cocopa deployed the Subic Bay Naval Base and the Seventh Fleet area of operations. During the eight-month cruise, the tug only served some 40 days in the territorial waters of Vietnam, including one three-week period as “duty tow and salvage” in Da Nang Harbor and off China Beach. The closest we came to “combat” was the observation of tracers and star shells along the coast as the Cocopa cruised out to sea each evening at dusk.

The Cocopa was a working ship. I’ve told my kids and grandkids, “We went to war to work.” Our task was to tow disabled ships, craft, and barges. With divers on board, the ship could assist with minor repair and salvage operation. The Cocopa spent 10 days in June 1972 searching for the wreckage of a C-130E from the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing off Makung P’eng-hu Island, Republic of China (Taiwan) in the Strait of Formosa. Our divers located the wreckage on June 8. During this mission, I savored some of the best watermelons I’ve ever tasted, brought to the ship by Chinese UDT sailors.

Several years later, while assigned as the Night Galley Watch Captain at the NAS Cubi Point General Mess, I had the opportunity to feed the Marines (possibly of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines) that boarded the SS Mayaguez, which had been seized by the Khmer Rouge in the wake of the Vietnam War. As I supervised midrats, a large group of Marines entered the mess decks to eat. I asked a Marine with his right arm in a sling where they were from. The Marine explained their role in the rescue of the Mayaguez. He then reached into the sling and pulled out his Purple Heart.

I realize this event pales in comparison to the experiences of those of others. Yet it came at the moment when NavSta Subic Bay and NAS Cubi Point were ramping up to care for the Vietnamese escaping the country as the NVA overran Saigon. For the next several months, the cooks of the NAS galley shifted into working 12 on/12 off to feed the refugees. The NavSta galley prepared the daily meal for the refugee camp on Grande Island while we cooked tons of rice and assembled flight meals for their transit to camps on Guam.

From your entire service, including combat, describe the personal memories which have impacted you most?

I’ve often wondered if our collective memories of our time in the services sweeten with age. In2017-05-14_14-49-23 July 1972, the USS Cocopa departed Naval Station Subic Bay and slammed directly into Typhoon Susan as she entered the South China Sea. The ensuing ride was one of the roughest I’ve ever encountered on any of my three the ships. At one point I honestly thought it would’ve been easier to jump into the sea than to endure the storm. I never want to experience a typhoon of that magnitude again.

Yet, I look back on the Cocopa with much fondness. I now talk about the typhoon as if it was a rite of passage, one that every fleet tug sailor had to endure, much like crossing the Equator or going through CPO initiation. If I have any regret of my time on the ship, it’s that I sought orders to the USS Stein so I could return to the Philippines. Of course, had I not returned to the Western Pacific in the spring and summer of 1973, my life would’ve taken a much different course.

This experience, and many, many others, have taught me how to endure the trials and tribulations in life. While they are unpleasant at the moment (and that may be an understatement when talking about typhoons), these events teach you to patiently endure to the conclusion of the matter. The help you develop a steady character, one that prompts you to place your faith in God.

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or any other memorabilia, please describe those which are the most meaningful to you and why?

Since I don’t have any combat awards, the most meaningful would have to be my Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, three Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medals and the Air Force Achievement Medal. The remainder qualifies as 2017-05-14_14-50-50“gedunk” medals, meaning you were in the right place at the right time to earn them. Heck, one was awarded the National Defense Service Medal upon graduation from boot camp. I guess it’s DOD’s “participation award.” We always honor those awards that were righteously earned above the others.

The most interesting award was the Air Force Achievement Medal. While I never served in the U.S. Air Force, the medal was awarded to myself and 47 other Seabees of Detachment 0402, NMCB-2, for the construction of a 880′ railroad spur and 240′ loading dock on McClellan Air Force Base in 1982 and 1983. I was assigned as the Detachment Career Counselor at the time. In order to complete my task, I held tailgate counseling sessions at the job site during drill weekends. I helped with the project when time allowed and drove a number of railroad spikes. Today, I’m a Maintenance of Way volunteer for the El Dorado Western Railroad in my home county.

The most memorable is a Certificate of Appreciation from Cmdr. M.D. Langohor, SC, USNR, Logistics Officer of the Third Naval Construction Brigade Headquarters Det. in NCBC Port Hueneme, Calif. I was the Logistics Training Chief and Food Service Chief for the brigade at the time. My file contains many letters of achievement and commendation, too many to mention. Many were for recognition of one accomplishment or another, including the field exercise when I was Acting Supply Officer in 1993. But this one stands out because it represents hundreds of hours of hard work to develop and lead the Seabee Field Messing Course in Port Hueneme in 1995.

Seabee field messing was my passion in the Seabees. As the senior Pacific Fleet Seabee MS, it was my responsibility to train the cooks in the operation of the M-59 Field Range and the General Mess when deployed to the field. The certificate reads: “MSCS Steven C. Karoly, USNR, who successfully participated in providing a course of instruction on ‘Seabee Field Messing’ covering operation and maintenance of the M59 Field Range, immersion heaters, menu planning and food production, field rations, site selection, mess layout, tent setup and field sanitation to Mess Management Specialists of the THIRD Naval Construction Brigade.” The shining moment of this accomplishment was bringing the Navy Food Management Team, San Diego, on board as an active participant in the training.

I later received my Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal from Rear Admiral Thomas A. Dames, CEC, USN, Commander, Third NCB, for my assignment as the Brigade Logistics Training Chief, which included work on the Seabee Field Messing Course. But it’s that simple recognition from my supply officer that means the most to me today.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

With 29 years of service to my credit, it’s difficult to pinpoint more than couple individuals and their respective impact on my life. When I think about it, those in a l2017-05-14_14-52-12eadership position over me had the most impact on my life. Several come to mind:

**Chief Barr, my boot camp Company Commander, who took a chance and elevated me to Recruit Petty Officer Second Class and Second Squad Leader of Company 369.

**The HT1 on the USS Cocopa who convinced me to take the CS3 exam when I wanted to skip it. Yes, you could describe his tactics as “strong arm,” but that’s what this hard-headed Seaman needed at the time.

**CS1 George Rooney, Leading CS of the Cocopa, for his hands-on approach to leadership in the galley.

**MSC Oscar Ray, Leading Chief MS of the USS Stein for his dedication to excellence and hands-on approach to leadership in the galley. We thought Chief Ray was over the top when he wanted to make sandwiches with shaved meat for battle feeding! Yet, it’s these examples that stick in your mind and help direct your career.

**PNCM Jimmy Garcia, Detachment OIC of NMCB-2 Det. 0402 in Sacramento, Calif., for showing me that a non-Seabee rating can lead a bunch of Seabees.

**MSC Bob Voigt, Leading Chief MS of NMCB-17 in 1986-87, for his leadership in General Mess operations at Camp Shelby, Miss., when I was his Training and Records Chief. I’ve never seemed more grace from one man when I put on my star in 1989 and became the Leading Chief MS.

What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? 

After my honorable discharge from active duty in February 1979, I continued my Navy career as a reservist with three Seabee units (NMCB-2, NMCB-17 and Third NCB). I entered Bakersfield College in September of that year (where I met2017-05-14_14-53-57 my lovely wife Debbie), married and transferred to University of California, Davis, where I completed a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics in June 1984.

A short career in hospital food service led to a 22-year career with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I retired in August 2008 after working in three prisons and at headquarters. My last leadership position was the Food Manager for Folsom State Prison. (My desk was located 20 feet from Dining Room One, where Johnny Cash performed on January 13, 1968.) I closed my career with the State of California as an Associate Budget Analyst with Correctional Health Care Services in Sacramento.

Following my career, I realized a lifelong dream to work in summer camps. In the summer of 2009, I was the head cook for Deer Crossing Camp at Loon Lake in Eldorado National Forest. My service in the Seabee certainly helped me with this short job (the season was only 10-weeks long). In addition to cooking for 65 campers and staff, I was responsible for testing water quality, lighting off the generators and teaching English to my Mongolian assistant cook. My only regret was that the need for year-round work precluded my return in 2010.

After a very short job with a local casino (just 50 shifts), I landed a position as the House Chef for the Female Residential Multi-Service Center in Sacramento, California. It was the perfect job for this retired Senior Chief and correctional food manager. I was able to help mold the lives of several women in the program. As the only male on staff (other than the maintenance guy, who came in and of the house), I built a reputation as the “house dad.” I assisted the women with work skills as they rotated through the kitchen for their weekly chores.

Unfortunately, I was once again on the job market when the facility closed in March 2013. However, with two retirements (my Navy Reserve retirement started in 2012), I was able to focus on summer work and devote the rest of the year to volunteer work with the El Dorado Western Railroad, a program of the El Dorado County Historical Museum in Placerville, California.

Since April 2013 I have been the Executive Chef and Food Service Manager for Oakland Feather River Camp in Quincy, California (more about this job below). Except for a couple short periods, I have continuously worked as a cook and chef for the last 45 years. Looking back, I would have it no other way. It seems every time I tried to leave the galley, I missed it so much that I did everything to return. I can see no other career, both in the Navy and outside, for me.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career?

As the chef at Oakland Feather River Camp, Quincy, California, I practice deckplate leadership. One aspect of leadership that differentiates a chef (or Chief Petty Officer) from a Food Service Manager (m2017-05-14_14-55-10y official title at the camp!) is the chef is constantly moving about the kitchen, leading the cooks and ensuring meal quality for campers. Following my practice as a Chief Petty Officer, “visible leaders who set the tone, know the mission, know their people and develop their people beyond their own expectations as a team and as individuals” (

The stereotypical FSM “leads” from the office, where his day is relegated to paperwork, orders, and schedules. I do all those things and cook and lead my crew into excellence six days per week (yes, I do take one day off to recharge and rest!).

Many of these skills were learned in the Navy, both from active duty, where I served as Galley Watch Captain at every ship and shore command until advancement to Chief, and reserve duty, where I honed my leadership ability as the Leading Chief MS of NMCB-17 and later as Logistics Training Chief and Food Service Chief for N4, Third Naval Construction Brigade in Port Hueneme.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Navy?

To those that desire a career in Navy food service as a Culinary Specialist (CS), I’d say learn, learn, learn. Take every opportunity to learn everything you can about your chosen rating, even beyond the scope of Navy food service. Today I would seek assignment to the CPO Mess or the Wardroom Mess, in addition to2017-05-14_14-56-48 working the General Mess. This will not only enhance your career but will give you an opportunity to expand your culinary skills, especially in terms of plate presentation, sauces (beyond the five mother sauces) and upscale cuisine.

At the time, many pre-1975 CSs (including myself) saw the Wardroom Mess as degrading work that was relegated to the Stewards. Many of us avoided such assignment. I changed my mind after my advancement to Chief Petty Officer. As the Leading Chief MS of NMCB-17, I was responsible for the General Mess, CPO Mess, Wardroom Mess and the BEQ. I slowly realized that officers “put their pants on one leg at a time” just as I do. I accepted my assignment with pride and served the Chiefs and Officers, in the same manner, I had served enlisted Sailors. Only now, I was performing that role in a position of leadership. It was my duty to pass this enthusiasm on to my cooks.

My other advice is to accept increasing responsibility, especially leadership roles. The goal for every enlisted sailor, especially those with a career (active or reserve) in mind, should always be the advancement to Chief Petty Officer. As the most effective leaders in all of the services, being “The Chief” teaches you a lot about humility, motivation, and leadership. You’re the man in the trenches who gets the job done (and trains your Division Officer!).

And seek leadership roles beyond the galley. While Leading Chief CS is a worthwhile goal (and necessary goal for a career CS), extra military leadership roles expand your career. During my 20 years in the Seabee reserve, I served as Fire Team Leader, Squad Leader, 80mm Mortar Team Leader, Headquarters Company Chief, Platoon Chief for crew-served weapons school and career counselor, among many other assignments. This was in addition to fleet assignments as Division Damage Control Petty Officer, sight-setter on a 3″ 50 cal. gun. and 1JV fantail photo talker during Sea and Anchor Detail.

In what ways has helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

Since my retirement in 1999, I’ve maintained the connection with several Navy shipmates on my own. Among those are MSC Bob Voigt, my Assistant Leading Chief MS from NMCB-17, and CS3 Dave Staken, fellow ship’s cook from the USS2017-05-14_14-58-09 Cocopa. I had dabbled in several other military Internet sites.

Together We Served has helped me locate a number of shipmates from a long career, especially those from my shipboard days in the 1970s. I have since become the unit historian for the USS Cocopa (ATF-101).


It’s Only a Movie

By Al Bell

As a small boy I was terrified by Bud Abbot and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, a comedy which featured Lou Costello in constant danger of being attacked by such horror film villains asabbott Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man. Each time Lou was in peril, I would hide my eyes, while my dad would comfort me with the words, “Don’t worry. It’s only a movie.” I soon relaxed. No one was really hurt.

In 1969, I became the senior advisor to a South Vietnamese River Assault and Interdiction Division (RAID), consisting of 21 river boats which had been transferred from the U.S. Navy’s “Brown Water Navy.” I was a Navy lieutenant, and I was assisted by about six enlisted men. We provided technical support and advice in the maintenance and operation of the heavily armed boats. We liaised with U.S. units when the Vietnamese needed air or artillery support. We also helped with logistics in obtaining fuel and ammunition.

My position as an advisor gave me a sense that I was sort of an observer of the passing scene, only becoming involved when help was needed. While I had been to school to learn riverine tactics, the Vietnamese had actually been at war for decades. I had more to learn than to teach.

RAID 72 had the job of transporting a battalion of Vietnamese marines into combat in the U-Minh Forest of the Mekong Delta. We would typically put the marines ashore at a point determined by intelligence to have a concentration of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Our boats would then move into blocking positions, while the marines with air and artillery support would attempt to drive the enemy into our ambush. More commonly, the enemy would fade into the jungle while the marines gave futile chase, leaving the boats to sit and wait for the marines to return.

tet2During Tet of 1968 the enemy had suffered so many casualties that they withdrew into the U-Minh Forest to lick their wounds and to regroup. Both the U.S. and South Vietnamese believed we had the enemy on the run. The South Vietnamese launched a “Dark Forest” Campaign to destroy the remaining enemy in that area.

Our boats carried the marines down a long, narrow canal, the Song Cai Lon. We had to fight our way down. Ahead of my boat, a monitor (a boat bristling with guns) was sunk by an IED made from a U.S. 500 lb. bomb, killing all five sailors on board.

Ever the dispassionate observer, I photographed the boat as it was sinking. After all, this seemed just a movie. There was nothing for me to do but to send a report.

Farther down the canal we bivouacked at a place on the canal shown as the village of Dong Hung. It had been destroyed years before, the villagers had been relocated to a government area, and the jungle had closed in. Still there were the 273rd North Vietnamese Regiment and thousands of VC.

The marines established a small command post (CP) at Dong Hung and the main force went out into the jungle to find the enemy. Our boats moored on both banks of the canal near the CP. My Vietnamese counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Binh, the commanding officer of RAID 72, explained to me that the plan for defending ourselves if attacked was to move the boats to the outside ends of the stretch of the canal bounding our encampment. The boats could then have interlocking fields of fire. I had been concerned that no defensive barrier had been established, nono barbed wire had been strung, nor had trees been felled to provide those fields of fire. They assured me that this would have to do since they did not know how long we would be there. I just thought about Roman Legions on the march who erected timber palisades wherever they stopped, even if it were only for the night.

I don’t recall how many days we were there while the marines were away looking for the enemy. Reports generated by me tracked Vietnamese marine movements, engagements, casualties, and the status of boats. In addition to the 110 Vietnamese sailors, there was one of my enlisted advisors, Radioman 3rd class Bruce McIver, and two enlisted advisors from RAID 74, which provided some of the boats in our group of twenty-one. At night, I would lie under mosquito netting on an air mattress and listen to the chatter on my AN/PRC-25 short range (VHF FM) radio. There were just brief communications between the U.S. Marine advisor, Maj. Mike Cerreta, and the pilot of an Army single-engine forward air control (FAC) aircraft which coordinated air support.

At about 1 a.m. on November 6, I was listening to the Marine advisor and the FAC pilot when the FAC signed off and headed for his base. That meant that there would be no further communication, so I drifted off to sleep. Thirty minutes later, I was jarred awake by explosions all around me. was2Was this just a movie? Mortar rounds were impacting throughout the CP and among the boats. Soon, it became apparent that we were under attack by a large force, perhaps two battalions (500-600 men each) armed with 82 mm mortars, 60 mm mortars, 57 mm recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades (RPG), Chinese machine guns, and AK-47 assault rifles. Swarming from the jungle, they quickly overran the CP, destroying tents, huts, bunkers, and communication equipment. The small contingent of Vietnamese marines and their U.S. advisors were forced to retreat onto the boats.

Plans to move the boats to the edges of the CP evaporated under the speed of the attack. Soon the enemy was among us, climbing on some boats with hand grenades and satchel charges. Most boats got underway from the west bank of the canal and moved to the east bank, for, although we were completely surrounded, the main force of the attack was from the west.

Maj. Cerreta retreated to my Command and Control Boat (CCB) with many Vietnamese marines, some of whom were badly wounded. The CCB tried to back off the west bank but it was tied with nylon lines to a bush on the bank. The CCB backed at full power, but it could only fishtail helplessly three feet from the bank while the enemy on the bank was raking us with rockets and small arms fire. Maj. Cerreta and I crawled to the bow trying to free the line, but it was hopeless. The major even tried unsuccessfully to shoot the line in half with his military issue 1911 Colt.45 Cal pistol.

I jumped below, fetched my Buck knife, and ran back up to the deck. We had been hit by four B40 RPGs, and the boat was on fire from burning fuel. I told Maj. Cerreta that I was going to crawl up and cut the line. Reinforcing my feeling that this was only a movie, he held up his pistol and said, “I’ll cover you!” I crawled exposed up to the bow and found a Vietnamese marine still trying fruitlessly to free the line; I shoved him aside and cut it loose. The CCB quickly moved to the east bank, only 20 yards from the enemy who pounded us with crew manned weapons from the west bank. We fired back with every weapon we had.

The fierce fighting continued until dawn. A medevac helicopter relayed a request for air support. This turned out to be Shadow and Spooky gunships, cargo planes fitted with high speed Vulcan guns. Those Gatling type guns fired so many rounds that it appeared they were pouring liquid metal on the enemy.

In the morning, I organized the evacuation of the many wounded. A man pressing a battle dressing against his belly to hold his intestines in place was begging me to get the helicopters there fast. Each time the helos approached, the VC would fire mortars at us.

After it was all over, I had fired every one of the 500 rounds of M-16 ammunition that I had. A quick survey revealed that all of the boats were out of ammunition, too. I urgently requested helo delivery of all types of ammunition. It did not arrive until the following day. Had we been attacked that night, we would have been wiped out.

Searing my soul for life is a scene from the morning after the fight. Lacking body bags, the Vietnamese had wrapped one of our sailors in a plastic rain poncho. I remember thinking irrationally as I looked at the face limned against the plastic, “He can’t breathe!” Then it came home to me — he would never breathe again! We suffered 44 killed and 151 wounded. Seventy-five enemy bodies were found.

The night of November 8, the enemy attacked again, this time sinking two boats, but we held them off again, but with more casualties on both sides. My realization at this point that this was not a movie and that I had nearly five more months of this affected me deeply. Clearly, this was serious business.

The week in March 1970 that I left Vietnam, we killed a VC whose possessions included a citation for his role in the November 6, 1969 attack on us. Unfortunately, the same firefight which killed that VC resulted in the death of a U.S. Army advisor to Regional and Popular Forces we were transporting.

Al Bell is a writer and publisher who just released his second book “Sea Story!” and Other Sketches: Memories and musings from a life of adventure. Available from (search term; “CDR BELL”). My first book, “Sea Story!” & Other Sketches, is still available there.

The book is a collection of previously published stories, essays, rants, and musings by ‘Skipper Al’ Bell, whose adventurous life has given him a unique perspective on the world. The writings range from interesting accounts of real events to humorous lampoons and fiction. Some are inspiring, while others are ironic. The gentle reader may not agree with the author on some issues, in which case the reader is almost certainly wrong. His writings are part Mark Twain, part Jonathan Swift, and a large dose of Mad Magazine. Some stories are serious and uplifting. Others reflect brooding depression. All are entertaining.


Take United 93 Down!

By LtCol Mike Christy-TWS Dispatches

U.S. Air Force Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was a rookie in the fall of 2001, the first female F-16 pilot ever at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard 113th Wing located at Joint Base Andrews, Camp Springs, Maryland. She had grown up smelling jet fuel, as her father, retired U.S. Air Force Col. John Penney, was a veteran air racer who flew jets in Vietnam and was a flight captain with United Airlines at the time. She got her pilot’s license when she was a literature major at Purdue. She planned to be a teacher. But during a graduate program in American studies, Congress opened air combat aviation to women and Penney was nearly first in line. “I signed up immediately,” Penney says. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Penney and others from her squadron had just finished two weeks of air combat training in Nevada. They were sitting at a briefing table when someone looked in to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center. When it happened once, they assumed it was some yahoo in a Cesna. Word slowly filtered in that it was not a small private plane, but two commercial airplanes that had slammed into the Twin Towers in New York; then, that a third plane had flown into the Pentagon; and finally, that a fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, was heading toward Washington, D.C. to possibly take out the Congress or the White House.

Penney and her commanding officer, Col. Marc Sasseville, were ordered to stop United Airlines Flight 93 from reaching the nation’s capital and hitting its intended target. But there was no time to arm their F-16s, which had only dummy training ammo on board – no incendiary high-explosive bullets and no missiles. They were flying the only missiles they had.

She and Col. Marc Sasseville made a desperate pact – they would be kamikaze pilots, on a suicide mission, to stop Flight 93 from hitting Washington at any cost.

He planned to strike the plane’s cockpit. Without batting an eye, the petite, blonde, 25-year old Penney, one of the Air Force’s first female fighter pilots – and who had never “scrambled” a jet fighter before – replied, “I’ll take [down] the tail.”

“We wouldn’t be shooting it down – we would be ramming the aircraft, because we didn’t have weapons on board,” Penney said in an interview with the Washington Post. She added, “I gave some thought to whether I would have time to eject, but I had to be sure. You only get one chance. You don’t want to eject and then miss. You have to stick with it the whole way.”

What made her mission more terrifying was her knowledge that her father was a flight captain for United Airlines at the time, flying an East Coast rotation that could have included Flight 93. It turns out that her father had been piloting United 93 earlier in the day but had gotten off at Boston, something she had no way of knowing at the time.

On that cool, clear morning, Penney jammed the throttle of her unarmed F-16 fighter jet at Andrews Air Force Base into a roaring “scramble” takeoff, skipping the normal half-hour pre-flight, knowing that if her mission was successful, she would not be coming back.

But none of her thousands of hours in the air quite compared with the urgent rush of launching on what was meant to be a one-way flight to a midair collision.

“It was so surreal because the air space was so quiet,” she recalled. “I really didn’t have much emotion or time to reflect that day because I was focused on getting the job done, but there was significant adrenalin.” She muttered a fighter pilot’s prayer – “God, don’t let me f**k up” – and followed her commander into the sky under full military take-off power, afterburners scorching their trail. Their flight path from Andrews took them over the Pentagon, still billowing smoke as service members and employees and rescue personnel desperately worked to contain the blaze and save lives.

What she and Sasseville didn’t know it at the time, Flight 93 had already crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. She didn’t have to take out an airliner full of innocent civilians, the hostages on board were willing to do just what the two Guard pilots had been willing to do: give their lives for their country.

Her mission soon changed to helping clear and establish a defensive cap over Washington’s airspace and escorting Air Force One, with then-President George W. Bush aboard, to Andrews Air Force Base.

Their lives were spared, but many were lost, including that of a family friend.

One of John Penney’s best work buddies and cubicle mate back at United’s pilot training center, Captain Jason Dahl, was the pilot of United 93 that fateful morning.

Had the passengers of that plane not overcome the terrorists and taken it down in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, “Lucky” would have died killing one of her father’s closest friends, among others.

“It would have been utterly devastating for my wife and me,” John Penney told the Post. “With Jason on the plane, it would have been an additional level of grief. But there were thousands of families that learned about the loss of their loved ones that day.”

When Lt. “Lucky” Penney thinks about her role on Sept. 11 and how it will be remembered, she said she hoped media attention on the attacks won’t make Americans fearful of the future.

“We saw so much of the best of ourselves come out that day, with strangers helping strangers and many courageous acts,” she said. “We remembered something more important than ourselves, and that was the community to which we belonged.”

In the time since that clear blue morning, Penney said, “I’ve come to realize that heroism isn’t something unique or possessed by only a chosen few. That courage is there inside of each and every one of us. In the normal, perfectly average people that helped each other in the moments before the towers fell. The first responders. Neighbors and strangers coming together and lifting each other up. Those who sacrificed to undertake the dangerous and difficult task of cleaning up and rebuilding. How, in defiance of those who would threaten our way of life, how we all got up that next morning and went on.”

Penney, a single mother of two girls, works at Lockheed Martin as a director in the F-35 program. She is now a major and no longer a combat flier. She flew two tours in Iraq and she serves as a part-time National Guard pilot, mostly hauling VIPs around in a military Gulfstream (C-38), pursuing a second master’s degree.

“The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves. I was just an accidental witness to history.”
-Heather “Lucky” Penney


1LT Victor Lawe U.S. Army (1987-1997)

profile4Read the service reflections of

1LT Victor Lawe

U.S. Army


Shadow Box:


My Uncle Stanley Shelton (1SG, Retuncle stan) influenced me to join the Army. I was frustrated after graduating college and not finding a job in my major of Journalism in the Washington, DC area. I visited the Navy recruiter who gave me an aviator test that “wasn’t even competitive.” Code for I flunked. I visited the Air Force recruiter who could not offer me any military jobs that I liked. My cousin Jan and my Uncle Stanley advised me against joining the Marines. I went into the Army recruiter’s office and was told that 81E illustrator job was closed, 33J journalist job was closed, and 33R combat photographer job was closed. All of those jobs were under the Signal Corps so he showed me every laser disk they had for the Signal Corps. I settled on three jobs, 31C Single Channel Radio Operator, 72E and 72M multi-channel radio operator. After some closed doors discussion among the recruiter and his commander I was told the 72-series were closed but there was an opening for 31C Single Channel Radio Operator.

I took the ASVAB, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and scored very high. The commander noticed I had a college degree and asked if I was interested in Officer Candidate School. I said yes. He advised me of the process. I was an Option 19, delayed entry enlistee. Option 19 meant I had station of choice after graduating AIT (Advanced Individual Training). [Untrue] During my last 90 days of civilian life, I became addicted to crack cocaine and my life became unmanageable. I didn’t want to dishonor my commitment to the Army, so I checked into a rehab facility in Baltimore, MD. Two weeks after a 28-day program I boarded a bus to the MEP station in Baltimore. Many of my fellow enlistees were busted for drugs and alcohol consumption after being briefed that these substances were not allowed.


I completed basic training at Ft. Dix, NJ. That coincidentally was the last duty station for my Uncle Stanley who retired as a Company First Sergeant. I boarded another bus for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Gordon, GA. It was different being “off the choke chain” and having certainfreedoms that were denied to me before in basic training. I was fortunate to be in a roomful of experienced and squared away soldiers. We had E4’s in our room who had signed up for IMC (International Morse Code) and they knew the drill on how to prepare for a room inspection. Our rooms always passed with flying marks until one day a drill sergeant gave us a block of instruction on humility. It involved push-ups and some insider tips we knew nothing about. He showed us how to make a challenge coin or quarter bounce or fall flat on a bunk. He made us all take a half step backward and wiped his hand across the floor where we were just standing at parade rest to prove that if he really wanted us he could get us.

My first duty assignment was with the 532nd Signal Company, 39th SIG BN (Signal Battalion), 2nd SIG BDE (Signal Brigade) in Geilenkirchen (GUY-lin-kur-chin) Germany at a NATO Air Base. Our unit provided unsecured (redundant) AM comms to NATO forces, and the 85th USAFAD (Pershing Missiles) in support of the German Defense Plan. This was during the Cold War when Germany was split in half. I resisted the assignment tooth and nail. As an Option 19 I chose Italy, Australia or France for my assignments, my recruiter had told me I would have my choice of assignments, I found out that these were not options for me and was assigned to Germany. I was on foreign soil with too much time on my clean and sober hands. We had a Coke machine in our barracks that sold Bitburger beer. “Lead me not to temptation, it is right down the hall next to the day room.” I continued the paperwork process for applying for OCS (Officer Candidate School). It was painful as the upper echelons of my chains of command were far, far away. My company HQ was located 40 miles away in Rheinberg, Germany. My battalion HQ was located in Chevres, Belgium. My brigade HQ was located in Manheim, Germany. After one unsuccessful attempt where my packet got lost between HQ, I simply gave up.

In January 1989 we were playing a touch football game between the barracks and I was recruited to play contact football with the Dortmund Giants of the bundesliga [German-American Football League]. It was the best thing that happened to me it gave me a sense of purpose outside of being a soldier. I got to see more of Germany than I would have as a barracks rat.

I completed the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) board as an E4 in the secondary zone just before I transferred to my next duty assignment at Ft. Bliss, TX. I was assigned to A Btry, 5/62 ADA (Air Defense Artillery), 11th ADA BDE as a radio operator for a Vulcan platoon. I completed PLDC (Primary Leadership Development Course) and restarted the OCS application process where all of my commanders were co-located on the same post. I wrote the essay “Why Do I Want To Become an Army Officer?” and went through the interview and received high marks.

My assignment changed as I transferred from the Vulcan platoon to HQ platoon as a maintenance clerk. Our assigned clerk tested positive on a drug test prior to deployment as our unit was alerted for Operation Desert Shield. We started deploying advance parties on 15 August 1990. We painted our vehicles sand color, drew desert combat fatigues, went through intense aircraft friend-foe recognition training, rules of engagement, physical training in full MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear and weapons, combat lifesaver training, SEER (Survival, Escape, Evasion, Resistance) training, handling of POW’s in addition to normal skill level training. Our unit closed on Saudi Arabia on 30 September 1990. It was a lot of hurry up and waiting. We convoyed to our tactical assembly area 15 km away from the Kuwaiti border. We trained with different units as our attachment orders were always changing. First we were attached to 75th FA BDE (Field Artillery Brigade) from Ft. Sill, OK, then a FA unit from the WV NG West Virginia National Guard), then 3rd Sqdrn/3rd ACR (Armored Cavalry Regiment), then 17th Cavalry with XVIII ABN Corps. We became part of the left hook during the Desert Storm phase of the operation.

After the war, the parades and the awards I finally got promoted to SGT. Shortly afterwards I received my orders to report to OCS at Ft. Benning, GA. Our class was the first class that was top heavy in every category: most drill sergeants, most recruiters, most warrant officers, most college options, most E-7’s, most Rangers, most Special Forces soldiers, and the biggie: most combat experience. We had folks whose combat experience stretched back to Urgent Fury in Grenada to Just Cause in Panama and a busload of us fresh from Desert Storm. 151 in-processed and I was among the 74 graduated. I received a commission in Armor.

I completed Armor Officer Basic Course at Ft. Knox, KY. I volunteered for Battalion Maintenance Officer course, Dismounted Armor Scout Course (the Armor Center’s version of RIP), Ranger school and Airborne school. I disqualified myself for Ranger school after getting dehydrated twice in the same day for the day and night land navigation courses.

I reported to Airborne training back at Ft. Benning, GA. My orders for my next duty station changed about every 2-3 weeks as I was being assigned a different unit that was going through or completed a post-war draw-down. By the time I made it to Airborne school I received two sets of orders: one for BNCOC (Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course) for 31C20 Single channel Radio Operator NCO, (obviously the left hand of the Army didn’t know that the right hand had given me a commission) and another set cancelling my orders for 72nd Armor Bn, 82nd ABN DIV. I saw my former AIT drill sergeant in my Airborne class. I asked him what would happen if I showed up at BNCOC as a 2LT? “The Commandant would congratulate you on your commission and he would politely show you the door, sir.”

I was finally assigned to A Co. 2/67 AR BN, 1st BDE, 1AD in Friedberg, Germany. The former home to Elvis. I know this because a lock of his hair still exists in the barber shop at the kaserne. As the 3rd platoon leader, I had the fortune of inheriting the best platoon in all of VII Corps. They had a five foot trophy to attest to their gunnery and maneuvering skills. Here I had the opportunity to make some unoriginal mistakes and at the same time hone my craft. By the time I got really good at tanking, I was branch detailed (reassigned) to the Signal Corps.

I went to Signal Officer Branch Qualification Course in Ft. Gordon, GA. It was a homecoming for me as I saw a lot of my former NCO’s that I served with in Geilenkirchen, Germany. I was reassigned as the node center 74 platoon leader of C Company, 141st SIG BN, 1AD in Bad Kreuznach, Germany home to 1st Armored Division HQ. Again I inherited the best signal platoon in the battalion for Signal Stakes. Again I had to learn my craft. I had ample opportunity to do so as signal is very inexpensive to deploy and we deployed in support of anybody and everybody in the division and in the corps that had a need for our comms. I was fortunate to have a platoon full of professional NCO’s who knew their craft.

A year later I was promoted to company executive officer and we received notice from the Pentagon to downsize our battalion and my unit was chosen for its strength. “Tis better to divide the strength than the weaknesses.” I was given a $100,000 budget and a six month timeline to get our equipment to direct support unit (DSU) level maintenance readiness. Our equipment went to the four winds. Our secure communications went to CECOM in Tobyhanna, PA. Our tactical vehicles and comm shelters went to Ft. Riley, KS. Our excess durable items went to Pirmasens depot in Germany. Our recovery vehicles and cargo HEMTT’s (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks) were dispersed throughout V corps.

Our personnel stayed within the battalion as we received orders to deploy an advanced party to Hungary in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. I transferred to HHC (headquarters and headquarters company) as their first XO (Executive Officer) in a l-o-n-g time. I was sent to Observer-Controller school in Hohenfels, Germany to support 7th ATC during Exercise Mountain Guard. This was our capstone exercise to help us train for Bosnia and peacekeeping operations. We deployed January 1996. I served my last year as the Battalion Maintenance Officer under two commanders. In support of this operation we fielded new M40-series masks, new mine detecting equipment, XM1107 armored Hummers, and Windows 95.

As the BMO (Battalion Maintenance Officer) I was responsible for every piece of equipment within the Task Force South sector spanning 13,000 sq. km. Communications were key to find out the unit’s maintenance readiness. The down-sizing came at the wrong time as we were under-strength to handle the communications support mission. As a result we were tasked organize to 22nd SIG BDE to fill in the blanks to make the network more robust from Germany to Hungary to Croatia to the southern tip of Bosnia. It was a rough mission to transition from combat operations to peacekeeping. We were rewriting doctrine and sending in lessons learned every day. After that 1 year peacekeeping tour I left the Army on 1 February 1997.


I participated in Operation Desert Shield and Storm. My unit deployed a month after the initial invasion of Kuwait. Up until 1 January 1990. War was a distant concept. It had no real meaning to me. It was the stuff of legends and movies. During the Shield phase, I activelysought out every Vietnam and Panama vet in our units to mentally prepare myself for the worse situations possible. Our senior NCO’s spoke to us informally and formally to break us in to the horrors or war. It bonded us in ways I cannot really describe. All of the petty BS went away and it became all for one. Us or them. Victory or death. At the same time we remembered our training: MOPP4 (Mission Oriented Protective Posture level 4) training, NBC training (Nuclear Biological Chemical), SEER (Survival, Escape, Evasion, Resistance) training, EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) procedures, mine clearing, rules of engagement, proper SITREPs (Situation Reports), battle drills, change of formation drills, it all came together. All of the different units we were cross-attached to forced us to learn how a field artillery unit shoots, moves and communicates. We applied that principle to armor units, and cavalry units.

During the war  I saw the devastating affects of gunfire on the human body up close and personal. Seeing Iraqi tanks with their turrets blown off and the charred remains of enemy soldiers. Being coated in oily mist after the oil fields were set on fire. Seeing the innocents who were caught in the crossfire. Seeing nomads wandering the desert not knowing where there next meal was coming from. Processing three Iraqi militia who seemingly materialized out of the morning fog as EPWs made me realize how close to dying we were.

After the war, it was difficult dealing with the nationwide accolades, the parades, the speeches and the multiple awards.It changed the fact I can wear my BDU’s or my Class As in public. I can get discounts that were previously unavailable to me. The strangers who waited for us to touch down at Biggs Army Air Field at Ft. Bliss, TX, at oh-dark-thirty to shake our hands and pat us on the back for a job well done was awesome and bewildering. As a soldier, my mindset was that I did my job. I did what I was trained to do. I didn’t do anything heroic or special. To the civilian the contrary was true. I didn’t see the big picture that I was a part of an armed force that helped free the oppressed and liberate a country from the tyranny or a dictator.

My last tour was in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. As soon as we crossed the border experiencing the tomb like silence and seeing all of the war torn homes and burned farms. Seeing children rush towards our convoys because we represented a mobile food source. It hurt my heart to see it.


My signal assignments were the best. During my first signal assignment I had the opportunity to go skiing at Garmisch, design a unit t-shirt, design a company certificate of achievement, and play football with and against German nationals.

My second signal assignment it was homecoming of sorts. I had been away from the signal community for 4 years. I was married, and had achieved my goal of being a commissioned officer. Though I didn’t meet anyone from my enlisted past, I was able to apply many combat arms experiences with my troops. I knew the principles. I knew the jargon. I worked with my soldiers and they worked for me. Both were more family oriented and more comradeship between ranks. Everyone looked out for one another.

Least favorite: Both of these units I will highlight were bad at first until a change in both leadership and philosophy helped turned sagging morale and performance around.

At first Ft. Bliss was a mess. Soldier morale and discipline was at an all time low when I arrived. The barracks were shooting galleries when I arrived. The barracks air conditioning was ignored. Outside it was 100 degrees inside it was 18 degrees hotter. It took several Sergeants Major and an engineering Colonel to get that situated. After a change of command and leadership philosophy things started to get better and then we were deployed which in my opinion united us into an “all for one” attitude. My last company commander CPT Anthony English worked with the soldiers to make the unit better than it was by focusing on the basics.

67th Armor BN in Friedberg, Germany started out a cannibalistic environment wherein fellow lieutenants would turn on each other in an effort to gain favor with the battalion commander rather than perfect their craft and learn from the soldiers they led. It took a transferred company commander and a courageous 1SG to turn that around in our company. Esprit de corps began to improve as I was leaving as our unit got its swagger back through tough, realistic training and teamwork.


Exercise Protect the Force 1994 at Darmstadt Training Area. I was given free reign to formulate a program of instruction to support training a battalion objective of Occupy and Defend a Signal Site. I was allowed to hand-pick my cadre, my OPFOR (Opposing Forces), my ROE (Rules of Engagement), and
my pick of the training ammo and explosives I needed to achieve it. My OPFOR and I trained in the rain, heat and cold to prepare prior to the battalion closing on the training area. We had so much fun providing tough, realistic training.

We trained our units to standard. If you failed a critical task on our lane, your unit was recycled until you learned the lesson. Our BN S-3 supported that objective. We learned so much about each other and our co-workers in the battalion. That situational training exercise was a success due to the planning, personnel and execution that is still talked about decades later.

One scenario that is still talked about was when one unit frustrated my OPFOR. My OPFOR could not take the site away from the unit, so as the officer in charge called a “drive by” audible. We loaded up all the soldiers from the far side of the objective into a Hummer and drove into their site and unloaded our soldiers from the rear of the Hummer into their perimeter. Shock, awe and confusion ensued, fun was had by all, mostly by me and my OPFOR.

Another scenario was the “air assault scenario.” The BLUFOR unit set up their headquarters next to a tree with a purple rope hanging down from it, they did not put the rope there nor did they question why it was there, more about the rope to follow. They did not have complete control their site security, on top of that I had an OPFOR soldier buried under leaves ten feet away from them. We unloaded an artillery simulator, for those who don’t know, this makes a big badda boom, to the near side. While they were distracted, the soldier under the leaves killed everyone in their headquarters that was set up by the tree. The soldier that I had in the tree came down the purple rope upside down and killed everyone who was still standing, from the rear.


Volunteering to create Operation Talk To Santa that was born out of boredom in the site radio room with my old squad leader SGT Tonora Butler. It started with a what if? conversation and ended with my unit providing two radio shelters. One for the kids and one for Santa(me). It was such a hit that the following year I was in demand for two military communities mine and Rheinberg where the company HQ was located. These radio broadcasts lasted for one week, from the 11th of December to the 18th of December, for 2 hours twice a day. The broadcasts went out from the Geilenkirchen School. There was a teacher present to make sure that the children were all allowed a chance to talk to Santa. I received a letter of appreciation from the principle of the school and one year a chaplain got on the air to thank all of us involved for doing what we were doing. He stated that it meant a lot not only to the American children but to the rest of the children as well as it exposed them to a bit of American culture and an idea of what Santa in America is like.

As the newly minted NBC officer going from worst to first in a short amount of time. My assigned NBC NCO committed suicide before the BDE Command Inspection. Even with battalion NCO’s to help my unit bolo’ed the inspection and my unit was placed on the needs improvement list. I received an excess tanker who was not NBC NCO certified to help me organize the mess I had and get our NBC room up to standard and beyond. Within a year our unit became the sterling example for others to follow for best practices. I simply employed a visual tracking system for everything NBC related. This system was implemented by the BN CHEMO (Battalion Chemical Officer) to help B Company win the Draper Award (for excellence in leadership).

Being cross-attached to D Trp, 3/5 CAV during maneuver exercises in Hohenfels, Germany. We had so much fun and learned more about cavalry tactics and strategies. We stopped being concerned about what people thought and focused on basic performance. Our team commander, CPT Farquhar, kept everything simple and stupid. He taught me how to quickly write OPORDERs so that they had SMART (Specific Measurable, Realistic Timely) goals within. Doing the simple things correctly delighted the TF Commander from 3/5 CAV. He loved that we were precise on the radio and could navigate mounted between objectives. We got our swagger back by being bold and audacious.

Being selected by the S-3 SGM to represent our unit to travel to Orleans, France to help that town celebrate their 51st liberation anniversary. Our honor guard cadre and I had the opportunity to see our sister unit the 28th Signal Regiment and participate in parades and enjoy a seven course dinner. The townspeople of Orleans treated us like gods. We met a WWII Medal of Honor recipient. We received a tour of the town and saw the ancient church that Joan of Arc worshiped in.


My first challenge coin for winning the Soldier of the Month Board at Ft. Gordon, GA. I was pulled from formation after class one day and placed in a room full of senior NCO’s with no prior study time as they asked me soldier of the month board questions in rapid succession. Out of all of the random soldiers they pulled I performed the best and received a 361st SIG BN challenge coin.

A certificate of achievement for “The Run to Belgium”. That was my first gut check. I had run a 10k before, but never a 14k. It was 8.8 mile run from the Germany-Netherlands border to the Netherlands-Belgium border. It was confusing as we didn’t really know where we were going. There were no guides along the route. There were no water points. We just followed the herd as thin as it got along the way to where we thought we were supposed to go. We were lucky no one got hurt or lost.

As an acrophobic soldier, this was another one of the manhood tests that I felt I had to overcome while I had the opportunity. I had to recycle after a jammed neck injury during ground week working on PLFs. I left C Company, 507th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) and transferred to the next cycle with D Company. I locked up in fear on the 40 foot tower and was consequently “skinned up” and reminded to have faith in the equipment by the Black Hat. I had to let go of my fear. I had to commit to a leap of faith as it were. After successfully negotiating the 40-foot tower I later learned that I was not the only scaredy-cat. There were a lot of aviation warrant officers who were scared of heights now that they were separated from their metal wings. My first jump was disastrous as my right leg was hung in the risers due to a weak exit through the prop blast. I figured out how to undo the mishap and landed safely. My successive jumps were uneventful and safe.

A TOP GUN hat for getting the best Table XII gunnery score in the battalion. It was my last gunnery and the BN CDR (Battalion Commander) flexed us all over the range in MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture). Every target that popped up got laid down in and out of sector. My platoon outscored 11 other platoons in the battalion to earn that honor.

A letter of commendation from General Cherry for my outstanding support of Exercise Proud Lion. I was assigned as the liaison officer from my unit to brief the simulated and actual deployment of my units in support of the exercise. I was the lowest ranking officer on deck. I was nervous in the service when the chief of staff COL Ryan announced OPBRIEFs were due in 24 hours. I consulted with every captain I could find and consulted with my S-3 MAJ Neil about what to do and what not to do. I rehearsed numerous times before I was ready to brief. I was the last one to brief the ADC-M (GEN Cherry) and his G-3 LTC Kostich (my former BN commander from 2/67 AR) on my OPPLAN. After the brief, the room was silent and GEN Cherry thanked me for my time and effort and asked if anyone had any further questions for me. None came, I was dismissed. He came to me and asked how long I had been doing this in front of a group of senior officers. “This was the first time sir.” I wish I had a coin, but I don’t, so I will have to get creative, have a good Iron Soldier Day Lieutenant.” Weeks later I received a letter of commendation from him that made me the envy of all of my peers and superiors.


SSG Anthony Dokes my second squad leader at 532nd SIG CO. He believed in me and realized the untapped talent he had in me and allowed me to use that talent to be creative and do things to improve morale. He supported my application to OCS. He knew how tomanage me. He got ME! He allowed me to create my own additional duties like site photographer, site illustrator, and unit supply specialist. He supported me playing football and doing things a normal E4 should not be doing. My extra-curricular activities benefited the unit and myself.

SGT Jerome Taylor my squad leader at Ft. Bliss, TX. He was a combat vet from the 509th PIR (Parachute infantry Regiment), Operation Just Cause in Panama. He was instrumental in training us on the do’s and don’ts in combat. You would have thought he was an infantryman but he wasn’t, he was a 63B (Light wheeled mechanic). He and three other NCO’s were from my hometown of Washington, DC. He put the fun in functional training. When I was getting in shape for OCS he led a bunch of volunteers on Sunday runs through the Franklin Mountains. The higher elevation and consistency paid off! When I got to OCS I was running like an Olympic grade turbo-charged cheetah.

Captain Miciotto “Bear” Johnson was my last tank company commander in Friedberg, Germany. He said something to me that hearkened back to my enlisted days, “I take care of all my Soldiers, that includes officers. You need to do the same. If a fellow officer needs help, give it. Don’t do things with a favor attached. Just do it and move on to the next objective. If you do it for one, do it for all of us. We are on the same team and we need all the help we can get when we need it.” He gave us our tanker swagger back by asking every tanker who the best loader was, who the best driver was, who the best gunner was, who the best master gunner was, who the best TC was. It was a test to see if the soldier mentioned someone else or were bold enough to say themselves. It forced soldiers to acknowledge there was someone better than they were. He would follow up if they mentioned another tanker, “So what are you going to do about it?” This forced soldiers to create their own solutions to move up in talent if not rank. It worked. It tore down the platoon fiefdoms and implemented more intra-unit collaboration.

Major Hruska the best BN S-3 I had ever witnessed. It wasn’t that he knew his training and doctrine. He knew everyone else’s too. He was a history buff. He studied tactics and strategy. He was a Jedi among men. He could manage or lead a battle blindfolded. He knew the precise moment to deploy task force reserves and where. He knew enemy capabilities before they deployed. He was THAT guy.

Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Strong saw something in me that I hadn’t recognized in myself. I had not been in the unit very long. I am still in transition from tank platoon leader mode when he walked in on an NCOPD session I was having with platoon’s NCO’s in the mess tent during an exercise. This was a rare if not unheard of event in his battalion. From that point on he made it a point to keep tabs on me and my accomplishments. During my OPPLAN brief for Exercise Protect The Force he stopped me before I finished and announced he had heard enough and left me with the S-3 and his staff. I thought I did something wrong. MAJ Neil and the assistant S-3 assured me everything was fine. “LT Lawe you just watched the colonel get his mind blown with your level of detail and contingency planning. We saved you for last for a reason. He has made all of your peer OIC’s rewrite their plans because they failed to consider all of the what if’s you covered in the second paragraph.” He who takes more than his fair share of objective shall receive more than his fair share of objectives to take. I don’t who said it first but that was my career under LTC Strong and I was okay with it.


SPC Robert Boyles-a native from Oregon, a fellow comic book geek with a great sense of humor. We traveled together from AIT to first duty station in Germany.

SFC Don Fulton-Excellent platoon sergeant. We were both long time Redskin fans, we were both Geminis, and we were both from the AtlanticEast Coast. Me from DC and him from SE Virginia.We were finishing each other’s sentences within a week. He helped me through the transition from NCO to officer.

SFC Louis Imbrogno-excellent platoon sergeant He was a member of a motorcycle club and owned a boss Harley. He helped me weather the constant turnover of gunners I had on my crew.

SFC Bowie-he was my acting 1SG while I was the acting commander. We kept each other honest and ensured we were prepared to do the extra work to ensure the in boxes remained empty.

SPC Cornelius “Boosie” Davis, a native of Alabama who had a great sense of humor. He was a superb all around athlete. I wished we could have played football together at Dortmund.

SPC “Wild Bill” Massey. We became closer after I left the unit. I was the photographer at his wedding in Germany. When I returned to Germany as a 2LT, SGT and his wife were there to pick me up from the airport and ferry me to brigade headquarters.

CPT Ronald Woodman we were OCS classmates and we linked up again at 14st SIG. Both us were former combat arms platoon leaders relearned our craft in the world of communications. We maintained a constant buddy watch over one another.

CPT Stephen Cichocki- he was my OCS classmate and a former master gunner who was my sounding board throughout my commissioned career.

SPC Verburg-he was my go to guy in the platoon if I needed something done right now! He would assess the hey you mission and would enlist his buddies to make sure it was done in a timely and stealthy manner. I loved playing dirty hearts or spades with him. Lots of mutual respect.

SGT Rosamund, SGT Wrzenski, SGT Danielson, CPL Pena, CPL Raymond, among others- all were high speed low drag NCO’s. They were masters of their craft. I learned so much from them during my transition from armor to signal.

SGT Turner- he was my first motor pool NCO who kept me honest on so many occasions with the BN XO.

SSG Cole-he was my go to NCO in the platoon. He was the NCO version of Verburg. Another great card player.

CPT Ian “Frenchie” Forbes-it was his signal platoon I inherited at 141st SIG BN. He provided me with wise counsel on the tribal customs of my new home.

CPT Stephen Bates-we were the noisy outlaws of the battalion who got shit done. We were peer XO’s in different companies who sought each other out just to vent if nothing else. I think we were the founding members of the LPA in the unit.


My tank crew pranked the platoon sergeant’s tank driver who was from Brooklyn, NY. he was deathly afraid of the VW-sized boars in Germany. He fell asleep on guard duty at night, so we poured garbage all around his tank to attract the boars so he would stay awake on duty. If there were no boars we would make hog noises to spur his alertness levels.

My section in Armor Officer Basic Course pranked a certain cadre officer who used to zeroize our SINGCAR radios (Single Channel Air-born Radio system) on every break or AAR (After Action Review). Our section has some former tankers who had ties to the training NCO’s. We convinced one to let us have a smoke grenade. One of our classmates rigged it to the half shaft under his Hummer with communications wire. The more the half shaft rotated it tightened the wire connected to the quick release pin and the spoon and broke. His Hummer quickly filled with emerald smoke. We saw him through our binoculars coughing and gagging several hundred meters away. No retaliation came our way.

I pranked the BN S4 CPT Jonathon Long at a Hail & Farewell into thinking he had left his Vinson KY-57 unsecured in the motor pool and I found it as such during a routine staff duty inspection. I produced an extra one from my CVC (Combat Vehicle Crew-member) helmet bag as proof. It was an extra one I signed out from the communications shop.

I pranked the BN S-3 into believing that such a thing as snow snake repellent existed. I took a can of WD-40 and covered it with a piece of paper that generically said snow snake repellent and made up a stock number to go with it. I referenced the newly issued field manual that referenced snow adders indigenous to Bosnia. He took it and ran with it to the division commander’s weekly readiness briefing. The commander added it to the list of things units needed to order and would be briefed as red, amber or green status. Confession may be good for the soul yet my body paid for that one in the form of push-ups, a one-sided ass chewing and a week’s worth of convoy commander detail downrange in Bosnia.

I have been in manufacturing management ever since. I have been in the metals industry twice as a shift supervisor.

I was in the automotive industry as a shift supervisor. That was fun believe it or not giving back to the armed services. I worked for Oshkosh Defense making trucks like the PLS , HEMTTs, HETs, LVSRs and the newly designed MATVs for the Marines and the Army. It was eye-opening to read the laudatory e-mails from congressmen and service members remarking how our product helped saved lives down range. Also meeting service members who arranged to visit the plant and shake everyone’s hand who helped build these amazing mine resistant vehicles. That organization was the most top heavy with veterans from white collar to blue collar.

I have been in the plastics industry two times-once as a supervisor and currently I am a production manager.

I have let my memberships lapse for the Signal Corps Regimental Association, the US Armor Association and the NCO Association.

When I lived in Indiana, I became a mentor at Handley Elementary and was invited to their Veteran’s Day celebrations. When I lived in Wisconsin, I would march in the Memorial Day parades as an ad-hoc flag bearer in full BDU’s.


It has influenced how I am as a leader in charge of personnel, resources and time. No matter where I worked I employed the same techniques that made me a successful NCO and officer. I was a fit, firm and fair leader. I made it a point to learn the process and implement change to streamline the process and eliminate waste for the better not just change’s sake. Over the years I have had to soften the sharp combat edges I had developed to negotiate more win-win scenarios. I have implemented recognizing individuals and teams who have exceeded performance expectations at the various organizations where I have worked.

Having qualified on numerous weapon systems, I don’t own nor care to own any firearms. I am of the mindset that firepower attracts more firepower. I do not feel the need to conceal and carry. I learned through my military training and as a former range safety officer to respect guns, bullets, weapons of any kind and what they are designed to do. I do not hunt. As long as there are Piggly Wiggly supermarkets I don’t see the need. I have seen up close and personal the effects of small arms fire on the human body. I have witnessed the carnage of large caliber weapons. It would take a lot to motivate me to fire a bullet in anger outside of a high intensity combat environment, and even then (?). My relatives have reluctantly asked “have you killed anyone in combat?” My answer is no. A few will follow-up with “Did you want to kill anyone in combat?” My answer is yes. Does that make me a bad person? Those situations where that was a possibility have long since moved on and so have I.


Get your mind right and the body will execute each and every time. I have done it and I have witnessed it in others. The synergy between the two is awesome. Tap into it. If you declare it, it will become reality. This is a rare environment where you
are getting paid to find out your potential. Numerous soldiers sign up for one MOS and later transfer to something more of their liking. Numerous more soldiers make a career out of the service because it fills their needs and they are good at what they do. Remember “Good gold will not net you good soldiers. It will get you mercenaries until the gold runs out. Good soldiers will get you good gold.”

Join with some goals in mind. At the end of your tour, what do you want to be? My goals were to improve myself as a leader, graduate OCS and to overcome my fear of heights and graduate Airborne school. The last two I accomplished. The first one was a constant work in progress. I was continually learning and sharpening the saw. I read numerous books, field manuals, Army Regulations and had lots of training which were a good base for starting out. To be a good leader, you have to be in a leadership position and learn from your mistakes. The more your do certain things, the more comfortable you will become with your particular leadership style.

If and when you deploy to combat, pay strict attention to your training. Study and ask lots of “what if?” questions. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. No one likes it, but it pays dividends tenfold when the scenario is upon you. Learn from every subject matter expert you come in contact with from drill sergeants to platform instructors to squad leaders to officers. The knowledge is free and it is power. Volunteer for whatever training is available and give it your all.

When you are deployed overseas remember you are an ambassador for your country in whatever role you are assigned. Make the Army values (Loyalty, courage, selfless service, respect, honor and integrity) your values not just buzz words you recall during evaluation time. If you live it, walk it, your soldiers will reflect it.

Volunteer for every training class available, you never know where it will take you. At the very least you will learn something that is benefiting you, the unit and you may be able to apply as a civilian. Seek out the best soldiers, the best NCO leaders (informal and formal) and make them your mentors. Learn by reading the regulations, the field manuals, and the technical manuals. Learn through correspondence courses. Learn through hands-on training, classroom training, cross-training and hip-pocket training. Education is the one promotion no one can take away from you. The positive example you set is the one most will follow. Have a goal and do what it takes to achieve it. If you fail, it’s your goal, no one else’s, the goal police will not drag you away to jail. Dry your tears and try it again. Or simply pick a more achievable goal and pursue that. Specialized qualifications like Ranger and Special Forces are NOT made for everyone that is why it is an elite specialization. The standards are higher to attract the best of the best and even some of them fail.

When people ask me if I miss the Army, I tell them I miss the people more than anything. The soldiers, NCOs, and the officers I served with made up the difference. They made “embracing the suck” missions bearable. We buoyed each other’s spirits to get it done. We did what we had to so we could get back to doing what we wanted to do. The down time spent with each other was worth it. The war stories told around the fire barrel, the pranks, the lies and alibis bonded an unlikely band of brothers and sisters when things were at the worst yet it brought our best.

When people ask me if I would go back, my answer is no. My Army has changed. I would be perceived as a man out of time like Captain America. My old school habits would not blend well with today’s leadership climate.

In beginning it helped me network with former soldiers, NCO’s that I hadn’t been in contact with in years. I later networked with them over Facebook, e-mails and phone calls. The stories I had read about other soldiers some were intimidating reading all of their accomplishments, then I read others that were seemingly uneventful yet the soldier got something out of their service if it was nothing more than interacting with different people on foreign soil. I connected with that.

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