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Posts from the ‘Amazing Military Stories’ Category

11
Dec

Revolutionary War Death Ship

By LtCol Mike Christy

Together We Served Dispatches

 

After the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776, Gen. George Washington guessed correctly that their next target would be New York. By mid-April, Washington had marched his 19,000 soldiers to Lower Manhattan. He strengthened the batteries that guarded the harbor and constructed forts in northern Manhattan and on Brooklyn Heights across the East River on Long Island.

On August 22, 1776, Gen. William Howe’s large fleet and 34,000 army troops landed on Long Island, hoping to capture New York City and gain control of the Hudson River, a victory that would divide the rebellious colonies in half.

Gen. Howe halted the fighting by the early afternoon and directed his men to dig trenches around the American position on the next day. Before they could be surrounded, Washington ordered his men to evacuate Long Island. From late in the evening of August 29 to dawn on the following morning, Washington watched as 9,000 Continentals were rowed back to Manhattan. As the sun came up, a fog miraculously descended on the remaining men crossing the river. According to eyewitnesses, George Washington was the last man to leave Brooklyn. At the Battle of Brooklyn, the Americans suffered 1,000 casualties to the British loss of only 400 men. Militarily, the British were now in control of New York City.

During their occupation, British forces captured or arrested thousands of soldiers and civilians, some after battles fought around New York and some for simply refusing to swear allegiance to the Crown. In addition, the Continental government had authorized a number of privately owned, armed ships to serve on behalf of the patriotic cause; some 55,000 American seamen would eventually serve as merchant marines or privateers. Whenever the British captured these privateers, they gave them the choice of joining the Royal Navy or going to prison. Most ended up in prison.

The problem was, management and treatment of prisoners of war were very different from the standards of modern warfare. Modern standards, as outlined in the Geneva Conventions of later centuries, expect captive to be held and cared for by their captors. The primary difference in the 18th century was the care and supplies for captives were expected to be provided by their own combatants or private citizens.

King George III of Great Britain had declared American forces traitor in 19775, which denied them prisoner of war status. However, British strategy during the early conflict included the pursuit of a negotiated settlement allowing officials to decline to try and/or hang them – the usual procedure for treason to avoid unnecessarily risking any public sympathy the British might have enjoyed in the Americas. Great Britain’s neglect resulted in starvation and disease. Despite the lack of formal executions, neglect achieved the same results as hanging.

American prisoners of war tended to be accumulated at large sites that the British were able to occupy for long periods of time. New York City, Philadelphia in 1777, and Charleston, South Carolina, were all major cities used to detain American prisoners of war. Facilities at these places were limited. At times, the occupying army was actually larger than the total civilian population. Other American prisoners were housed in other parts of the British Empire. Over 100 prisoners were employed as slave laborers in coal mines in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – they later chose to join the British Navy to secure their freedom. Other American prisoners were kept in England (Portsmouth, Plymouth, Liverpool, Deal, and Weymouth), Ireland, and Antigua. By late 1782 England and Ireland housed over 1,000 American prisoners, who in 1783 were moved to France prior to their eventual release.

Space in British jails on land soon ran out, and the British began housing prisoners aboard the abandoned or decommissioned warships anchored in Wallabout Bay, the small part of Upper New York Bay located along the northwest shore of the city of Brooklyn between the present-day Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridge.

As a result, the most horrific struggle of the American Revolution occurred just 100 yards off New York, where more men and boys died aboard a rotting prison ship were lost to combat during the entirety of the war.

The first ships used by the British to hold prisoners were originally transports in which cattle and other stores were carried across the Atlantic. The first prison ship was the “Whitby.” The captives aboard were allowed to keep their clothing and bedding but received no more of such commodities while on the ship. They were given no medical attention. The rations they received were either cut or substituted with unwholesome meat by corrupt British commissaries. The men aboard the “Whitby,” seeing no hope for an exchange, set fire to their ship in October 1777, choosing death in the flames to lingering sufferings of disease and starvation. The burning of the “Whitby” and others like it did not bring the prison ships to an end.

The most infamous of the prison ships was the HMS Jersey or “Jersey” which was an old converted sixty-four-gun man-of-war, stripped of all its fittings except for the flagstaff. Every three days, rations would be given out to a six-man mess. On certain days, men were not allowed to cook fires and had to wait another twenty-four hours or consume their meat raw. Having no fruit or fresh vegetables, scurvy was naturally one of the diseases that afflicted the prisoners. The “Jersey” had on board anywhere from 400 to 1200 prisoners.

Conditions on board were beyond despicable. Meager rations of maggoty bread and rotted meat left the prisoners sick, weak, and emaciated. With no toilets to speak of, excrement piled up as thousands of men and boys were packed into the ship’s dark, dank interior. Occasionally, groups of prisoners would escape overboard, only to be recaptured on British-held Long Island. As years slipped by on the Jersey, life became unbearable: unable to wash but with salt water, their skin turned sallow and hung over their skeletal bodies like old parchment. All thought was consumed by plans for escape, when not distracted by want of food or drink. By 1780, prisoners were dying aboard the Jersey at a rate of roughly ten each day. At least, that’s how many bodies were unloaded from the ship every morning at 8 am. Corpses were brought up to the top deck as they were discovered, and left there until morning when they were piled onto a wooden plank and lowered over the ship’s side to be buried in shallow pits on the sandy banks of Wallabout Bay. Sometimes, bodies would go weeks before being discovered, so dark were the prisoners’ quarters. The air was reportedly so foul that no flame would stay lit.

And since the dead were buried in mass graves only two or so feet deep on sandy beaches, storms and tides regularly uncovered their rancid and decaying corpses, adding an increased air of death and misery to the already-gloomy bay. No records were kept of the dead, and last rites were rarely performed before they were unceremoniously dumped into their pits. Most prisoners remain nameless; their families would never have the closure of knowing what had happened to them

More than 1,000 men were kept aboard the Jersey at any one time, and about a dozen died every night from diseases such as small pox, dysentery, typhoid and yellow fever, as well as from the effects of starvation and torture. Even after the British surrender at Yorktown in late 1781, prisoners were kept aboard the Jersey and other ships until the war formally ended in 1783. At war’s end, there were only 1,400 survivors among the inmates of the entire prison ship fleet, and at least 11,000 men and boys died aboard the ships from 1776 to 1783 – more than lost to combat (6,800) during the entirety of the war. The corpses of the dead were often tossed overboard, though sometimes they were buried in shallow graves along the eroding shoreline. Many of the remains became exposed or were washed up and recovered by local residents over the years.

Throughout the colonies, the mere mention of the ship sparked fear and loathing of British troops. It also sparked a backlash of outrage as newspapers everywhere described the horrors on board the ghostly ship. This shocking event, much like the better-known Boston Massacre before it, ended up rallying public support for the war.

In the years following the Revolution’s conclusion, daily tides uncovered a seemingly countless number of skulls and bones on the shores surrounding Wallabout Bay. Skulls were said to litter the beaches as thick as a pumpkin patch, and children would kick them about like a ball. As Brooklynites collected more and more of the bones, calls began to ring out for a more respectful and honorable resting place for these most neglected of Patriots. As a result, in 1808, a crypt was constructed near the bay for the skeletal remains, almost none of which could be identified. There they would rest in relative peace for another century.

During that century, arguments waxed and waned regarding the construction of a more fitting memorial to these glorious dead. The flame of patriotism was fanned, funds were raised, and in 1908, on a hilltop overlooking the bay where so many thousands of tales of misery were played out, a monument was erected to the Prison Ship Martyrs. Beneath the 100 steps leading to the soaring memorial column was constructed a spacious crypt. Twenty slate boxes filled with the bones of the deceased thousands were placed in the crypt and sealed behind a bronze door. Twenty-thousand New Yorkers and other dignitaries turned out on a cold, rainy November day to dedicate the memorial.

But time has a way of erasing memories. As New York’s fortunes ebbed in the later decades of the 20th century, so too did the fate of the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument. A staircase and elevator which once ferried visitors to the column’s pinnacle were both removed in 1945. Vandals marred its base with graffiti and in 1966, the monument’s four large bronze eagles were removed to be restored, never to return (two remain in storage and two are on display at the armory in Central Park).

As New York has gone through a bit of a renaissance in the past several years, the Martyrs Monument has not been entirely forgotten. Between 2006 and 2008, more than $5,000,000 was spent to restore the column and its surrounding plaza. Despite its restoration, however, the thousands who perished here and whose bones lie beneath our feet remain largely ignored by modern generations. In 2008, in celebration of the memorial’s centennial, only 200 people turned out in the park. Compare that to the 20,000 who flocked there in the rain a century before.

These men walked and fought alongside George Washington. They suffered and died in the name of American independence. They endured untold indignities, even in death. And this largely-forgotten memorial atop a hill in Fort Greene Park is among the most hallowed ground in this nation. We owe everything we have today to the ideals these men held so dear. And we owe them our respect and an immense debt of gratitude.

4
Dec

Bases, Places and Memories: Memorable Flights

By GySgt Paul Moore, USMC (Ret)
WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veteran
I had several memorable flights in the 50 years of flights in both Helicopters and before them the old stiff wings. My first attention getter was in the old Bi-Wing UPF 7 in Primary Flight Training. We had 12 of them parked on an old dirt field located outside Fort Worth Texas in early 1944. We arrived there each day on a bus and then pre-flight our assigned aircraft for our daily flight. This was all a one man operation.

After the preflight, we’d climbed up on the wing left side and with a crank wound up the old inertial starter. We threw the crank down on the ground, jumped in the cockpit, moved the mixture to full rich, cranked the throttle just over Idle, turned the primer to the top cylinders then pulled the toggle to engage the starter motor. Then hope it would fire up or go through that routine again!

After the start, I’d run up to full power check and reached that point then fluctuated. I thought well, that’s not good but if I down the aircraft meant I wouldn’t fly that day. With that unwise decision, I taxied out & took off for our training area which carried me over the outskirts of Fort Worth. Regulations required an altitude not lower than 500 ft over those areas. I went to about 800 ft and the engine dropped back to idle!! I started rapidly moving both the mixture & the throttle FW and Aft and it caught up momentarily then back to idle which required me to drop the nose & start a downward descent to avoid stalling out.

I looked in all directions and it was city streets and houses. I could do nothing but continue my descent without a clue in or on what I was going to land! I had the old seat parachute but altitude and where the aircraft would hit precluded any use of the chute. I was at about 200-foot altitude when I saw the high tension wires in front of me. I pulled the nose up and cleared the wires but lost my forward airspeed and did the only thing left in that mode; lowered the nose and prepared to make a 3 point stall landing!!

To my complete surprise, I was over the railroad tracks that went from Fort Worth to Dallas. I landed alongside the rails in some very tall weeds and came to a stop almost against a building. Would you believe it was a small beer joint on the outskirts named “Blondies.” As I was landing, I noticed cars pulling over along the street and folks looking up at me. I went inside and called the field trying to tell them where I was. At first, they thought it was a caller pulling a joke.

They later took the aircraft on a flat boy trailer back to the field and found that a restriction in the fuel system had caused the problem. It was complete luck that I ended up there without hitting a structure. I received high marks for making the safe landing since I only had been flying solo for 8 hours.

The other one that really got my attention happened at the foot of the mountains in Vietnam near Cam Ranh Bay Jan 17, 1967while flying out of Nha Trang in my old CH34C 543045. I had auto rotated down alongside the mountain to observe an assault by gunships on a mountain site. Suddenly, I went into a very violent spin which made it impossible to move as I was pasted against the seat by the spinning force. I knew that I had lost tail drive and the only possible emergency procedure was to release torque from the main rotors. This happened when I had applied throttle to flare and stop the autorotation. The throttle was on the collective stick and I managed to rotate it to idle and the spin momentarily stopped that was when I saw I was headed nose down to the trees and ground.

Figured that fire was the most likely thing when you crashed so I turned off the battery switch and hit the Mag switch and threw the cyclic stick full left. Wanted to stop the main blades when we hit so they would not chop off our heads. We took down some small trees and the main blades hit the ground on the left side and wound around the top of the cockpit just inches above my head. I was with my left leg outside the side window and the ground. The Vietnamese captain in the right seat climbed up and out the right side window and me trying to get my leg free. I remember hearing the fuel, “gloop, gloop,” running out from the fuel tanks under the troop compartment floor and praying that a fire didn’t start as I could hear the inverters & electrical components running down.

I finally got free and climbed up through the right side window. There in the middle of all that spilled fuel was that dumb Vietnamese officer firing those finger flares we carried into the air. I grabbed him and pushed him away from the helicopter and asked him if he was trying to get the Viet Cong to rescue us!! He wanted to start walking towards the Nha Trang Air Base. I said go ahead if you know where all the minefields and VC might be located. I was going to stay by the crash and see if something flew over then I would fire some flares.

After about 20 minutes some of the Army Hueys flew over and after some time they finally came down with the door gun trained on us to be sure who we were.

I was a very happy camper when we got back to the Nha Trang base. I had some broken ribs, banged-up left leg and numerous bruises but in one piece! When that violent spin started I was sure that was going to be my last flight and my last day on earth.

Anyway, that is two of several flights in my times that I remember every minute of!!

27
Nov

Profile in Courage: Gregory “Pappy” Boyington

By LtCol Mike Christy – Together We Served Dispatches

Stories of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington are legion, many founded in fact, including how he led the legendary Black Sheep squadron, and how he served in China as a member of the American Volunteer Group, the famed Flying Tigers. He spent a year and a half as a Japanese POW, was awarded the Medal of Honor and Navy Cross, and was recognized as a Marine Corps top ace. Always hard-drinking and hard-living, Pappy’s post-war life was as turbulent as his wartime experiences.

Born on Dec.4, 1912, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, young Boyington had a rough childhood, as divorced parents, an alcoholic step-father, and lots of moves withheld much-needed parental guidance. He got his first ride in an airplane at the ripe young age of six, when the famous barnstormer, Clyde Pangborn (who later flew the Pacific non-stop), flew his Jenny into town, and young Gregory wangled a ride. What a thrill for a little kid!

In 1926, at the age of 13, his family moved to Tacoma, Washington. In high school, he took up a challenging sport that he would practice for many years – wrestling. As an adult, the hard-drinking Boyington would often challenge others to impromptu wrestling bouts, frequently with injurious results.

After graduating high school in 1930, Boyington attended the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was a member of the Army ROTC and joined the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He was on the Husky wrestling and swimming teams, and for a time he held the Pacific Northwest Intercollegiate middleweight wrestling title. He spent his summers working in Washington in a mining camp and at a logging camp, and back in Idaho with the Coeur d’Alene Fire Protective Association in road construction. He graduated in 1934 with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering and soon after married his first wife, Helene, who bore him his first son, Gregory Clark Boyington, 10 months later. He initially worked for a time as a draftsman and engineer for Boeing in Seattle.

Boyington had begun his military training in college as a member of Army ROTC and became a cadet captain. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Reserve in June 1934, and then served two months of active duty with the 630th Coast Artillery at Fort Worden, Washington.

In the spring of 1935, he applied for flight training under the Aviation Cadet Act, but he discovered that it excluded married men. Boyington had grown up as Gregory Hallenbeck, and had assumed his stepfather, Ellsworth J. Hallenbeck, was his father. However, when he obtained a copy of his birth certificate, he learned that his father was actually Charles Boyington, a dentist, and that his parents had divorced when he was an infant. As there was no record that someone named Gregory Boyington had ever been married, he enrolled in the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Cadet program using that name.

He began elimination training in June 1935, where he met Richard Mangrum and Bob Galer, both future heroes at Guadalcanal. He passed and received orders to begin Flight Training at Pensacola NAS in January 1936 with class 88-C. Here he flew a floatplane version of the Consolidated NY-2. Like another great ace, Gabby Gabreski, Boyington had a tough time with flight training and had to undergo many rechecks. On February 18, 1936, Boyington accepted an appointment as an Aviation Cadet in the Marine Corps Reserve.

Until he arrived in Pensacola, Boyington had never touched alcohol. But here, with hard-partying fliers, and the burden of his wife’s “indiscretions,” he soon discovered an affinity for liquor. Early on, he established his Marine Corps reputation: hard-drinking, brawling, well-liked, and always ready to wrestle at the drop of a hat. But he kept flying, all through1936, slowly progressing toward earning his wings, flying more powerful planes like the Vought O2U and SU-1 scouting biplanes. At Pensacola, he also met his future nemesis, Joe Smoak, memorialized in the TV show “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (loosely based on Boyington’s memoirs of the same title) as “Colonel Lard.”

Boyington finally earned his coveted wings on March 11, 1937, when he was designated a Naval Aviator and transferred to Quantico, Virginia, for duty with Aircraft One, Fleet Marine Force. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on July 1, 1937, in order to accept a Second Lieutenant’s commission in the regular Marine Corps the following day.

Before reporting for his assignment with VMF-1 at Quantico, Virginia, he took advantage of his 30-day leave to return home and reconcile with his wife Helene, who became pregnant with their second child. In those days, Marine aviators were required to be bachelors; Boyington’s family was a secret that he kept from the brass, but he brought them with him to Virginia, installing them quietly in nearby Fredericksburg. He flew F4B-4 biplanes during 1937, taking part in routine training, an air show dubbed the “All American Air Maneuvers,” and a fleet exercise in Puerto Rico.

In March of 1938, VMF-1 aviators took possession of the latest, hottest Grumman fighters, the F3F-2s, the last biplane fighters used by the U.S. Army Air Force. Powered by the mammoth 950 horsepower Wright-Cyclone engine, the fat-bellied aircraft was fast and rugged.

In July, he moved to Philadelphia to attend the ten-month Marine Corps Basic School. Apparently not motivated by the “ground-pounder” curriculum, Boyington here evidenced the weaknesses that would haunt him: excessive drinking, unpaid debts, fighting, and poor official performance. On completion of the course, he was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Group at the San Diego Naval Air Station, where he took part in fleet exercises off the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown.

Boyington’s irresponsibility, his debts, and his difficulties with the Corps continued to haunt him. One memorable, drunken night, he meant to show off the swimming prowess he had attained as a swimmer at UW, and attempted to swim across San Diego Bay, but wound up naked and exhausted in the Navy’s Shore Patrol office.

Despite his problems on the ground, it was during these days of 1940, flying with VMF-2, that Boyington first became noticed as a top-notch pilot. Whatever his other issues, he could out-dogfight almost anyone. Boyington was promoted to First Lieutenant on November 4, 1940, and in December he returned to Pensacola as an Instructor. Once back at Pensacola, his problems mounted when he decked a superior Officer in a fight over a girl (not his wife), and his creditors sought official help from the Marine Corps. His career was a hopeless mess by late 1941.

Rescue came from the Chinese front against Japan. Anxious to help the Chinese in their war against Japan, the United States government arranged to supply fighter planes and pilots to China, under the cover of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO). CAMCO recruiters would visit U.S. military aviation bases looking for volunteers to help defend China and the Burma Road, critical to maintaining the flow of supplies to anti-Japanese forces in the Far East. The pilots were volunteers only in the sense that they willingly quit their peacetime job with the military; otherwise, they would be handsomely paid through CAMCO. Pilots earned $600 a month, flight leaders $675, plus a fat bonus for each Japanese plane destroyed. This was double or even triple the current military salary for pilots.

In March, CAMCO recruiters began their quest to form the American Volunteer Group (AVG), later known as the famed Flying Tigers in Burma. One recruiter set up an interview room in Pensacola’s San Carlos Hotel, a popular watering hole for pilots. On the night of August 4, Boyington found himself in the hotel bar simply “looking for an answer.” Payday had been just a few days earlier, but he was already broke. His wife and children were gone, he was deeply in debt, and his superiors were breathing down his neck.

The money looked very good to Boyington. Assured by the recruiter that the program had government approval and that his spot in the Corps was safe, he signed on the spot and promptly resigned from the Marine Corps. While the AVG deal for pilots normally meant a later return to active U.S. military service, in Boyington’s case, his superiors took a different view. They were happy to be rid of him and noted in his file that he should not be reappointed.

Boyington shipped out of San Francisco on September 24, 1941, on the Boschfontein, of the Dutch Java Line. After docking at Rangoon, the AVG fliers arrived at their base at Toungoo on November 13. During his time with the Tigers, Boyington became a Flight Leader. He flew several missions during the defense of Burma and was frequently in trouble with the Commander of the outfit, Claire Chennault. After Burma fell, he returned to Kunming and flew from there until the Flying Tigers were incorporated into the USAAF.

Boyington claimed to have shot down six Japanese fighters, which would have made him one of the first American Aces of the war. He maintained until his death in 1988 that he did, in fact, have six kills, and the Marine Corps officially credits him with those kills. However, loosely-kept AVG records only credited Boyington with two aerial kills. The difference seems to have been a mere technicality: it was noted that in a raid on Chiang Mai, Boyington was one of four pilots who was credited with destroying 15 planes on the ground. As the AVG paid for destroyed Japanese planes, on the ground or in the air, Boyington lobbied for his share of the Chiang Mai planes or, to be precise 3.75 planes. And so, later at Guadalcanal, he characterized his Flying Tiger record as including “six kills.” For Greg Boyington, the 3.75 ground kill claims added to 2 aerial kills, rounded off to six kills, and established himself as one of the first American Aces. It may have been a “little white lie,” but once his AVG number of six kills found its way into print, and his USMC victories started piling up, there was no going back.

While with the Flying Tigers, Boyington also made the acquaintance of Olga Greenlaw, the beautiful wife of the Tiger’s XO, Harvey Greenlaw. In her own words, Olga “knew how to get along with a man if I like him.” Apparently, she and Boyington “got along.” Olga served as statistician and writer of the Flying Tigers’ Daily Diary for the year they were in China. In 1943, she wrote her own book titled “The Lady and the Tigers” about her experiences with the Squadron.

Boyington returned to the States in the spring of 1942 and took up with Lucy Malcolmson since his first marriage had fallen apart. With some finagling, undoubtedly helped by the wartime demand for, and a shortage of, experienced fighter pilots, and against the prior recommendations by his superiors, he was reappointed to the U.S. Marines in November, with the rank of Major. In January 1943, he embarked on the Lurline, bound for New Caledonia, where he would spend a few months on the staff of Marine Air Group (MAG)-11. Here, he got his first close look at a Vought F4U Corsair, the fighter in which he would record the majority of his aerial victories.

Boyington finally secured an assignment to VMF-122 as Executive Officer for a combat tour. As usual, he clashed with his superior. This time it was Major Elmer Brackett. Brackett was shortly removed, and Boyington took over but did not see much action. It was now early 1943, when, as the new CO of VMF-122, his claim of six kills with the AVG first made it into print.

In late May of 1943, Boyington’s nemesis, Lt. Col. Joe Smoak relieved him of his command of VMF-122. Shortly afterward, Boyington broke his leg and spent time in the hospital. In the summer of 1943, as he convalesced, the U.S. Naval Air Forces needed more Corsairs in the fight. Oddly, the key pieces – trained pilots and operational aircraft – were present in the South Pacific, but many of them were dispersed. Boyington was given the assignment to pull together an ad hoc Squadron from available men and planes. Originally, they formed the rear echelon of VMF-124.

In a complex, and common, wartime shuffling of designations, Boyington’s team was redesignated VMF-214, while the exhausted pilots of the original VMF-214 were sent home.

Under Boyington as CO with Maj. Stan Bailey as Exec, they trained hard at Turtle Bay on Espritu Santo, especially the pilots who were new to the Corsair. Two other noted Officers rounded out the Squadron: Frank Walton, a former Los Angeles cop, became the Air Combat Intelligence Officer (ACIO), and Jim Reames the Squadron doctor. Walton would later author “Once They Were Eagles.” While leading this group of young pilots, most in their early 20’s, Boyington – at the advanced age of 30 – picked up the nickname “Gramps.” The press gave him the nickname “Pappy” after he was shot down, which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The new VMF-214 was originally called “Boyington’s Bastards” by his men, since none of them were at the time attached to any units, but was later given the more newspaper-friendly label “Black Sheep” by the top brass. In early September 1943, they were moved up to their new forward base in the Russell Islands, staging through Guadalcanal’s famed Henderson Field.

The Black Sheep fought their way to fame in just 84 days, compiling a record 197 planes destroyed or damaged, troop transports and supply ships sunk, and ground installations destroyed in addition to numerous other victories. They flew their first combat mission on September 14, 1943, escorting Dauntless Dive Bombers to Ballale, a small island west of Bougainville where the Japanese had a heavily fortified airstrip. They encountered heavy opposition from the enemy Zeros. Two days later, in a similar raid, “Pappy” claimed five kills, his best single day total.

In October VMF-214 moved up from their original base in the Russells to a more advanced location at Munda. From here they were closer to the next big objective – the Jap bases on Bougainville. On one mission over Bougainville, according to Boyington’s autobiography, the Japanese radioed him in English, asking him to report his position and so forth. Pappy played along, but stayed 5000 feet higher than he had told them, and when the Zeros came along, the Black Sheep blew twelve of them away and drove off the rest. He even made an unsuccessful play for “Washing Machine Charlie,” a random Japanese Betty bomber with deliberately-unsynchronized engines that would make erratic and inaccurate nocturnal bomb drops over Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

During the period from September 1943 to early January 1944, Boyington destroyed 22 Japanese aircraft. By late December, it was clear that he was closing in on Eddie Rickenbacker’s record of 26 victories (including his claimed 6 with the AVG). But the strain had begun to tell. On Nov. 19, 1943, his old nemesis Lt. Col. Joe Smoak placed him under arrest for 10 days for speaking to the staff of the Wing Commander without Smoak’s explicit authorization. Then, on Jan. 3, 1944, in a large dogfight in which the Black Sheep were outnumbered 70 to 30, Boyington was shot down. He later claimed three enemy aircraft killed in the aerial battle, one of which was verified.

He landed in the water, badly injured. After being strafed by the Jap fighters, he struggled onto his raft only to be captured by a Jap sub several hours later. They took him first to Rabaul, where he was brutally interrogated. Even the General commanding the Japanese forces at Rabaul interviewed him. Pappy later related in his memoirs titled “Baa Baa Black Sheep” that the General asked him who had started the war. After Pappy replied that of course, the Japanese had started the war by attacking Pearl Harbor, the General then told him this short fable:

“Once upon a time there was a little of old lady and she traded with five merchants. She always paid her bills and got along fine. Finally, the five merchants got together, and they jacked up their prices so high the little old lady couldn’t afford to live any longer. That’s the end of the story.” The General left the room, leaving Boyington to ponder that there had to be two sides to everything.

After about six weeks, the Japanese flew him to Truk. As he landed there, he experienced one of the early carrier strikes against Truk in February 1944. Along with six other captured Americans, he was confined in a small, but sturdy wooden cell which might have been designed for one inmate. The only opening was a six-inch hole in the floor, for relieving themselves. The stench became nearly intolerable.

He was eventually moved to a prison camp at Ofuna, outside of Yokohama. His autobiography relates the frequent beatings, interrogations, and near starvation that he endured for the next 18 months. The guards, whose only qualification seemed to be passing “a minus-one-hundred I.Q. test,” beat the prisoners severely for any infraction, real or imagined.

He initially lost about 80 pounds, and described how he once entirely consumed a “soup bone the size of my fist” in just two days, a feat which previously he would not have believed a dog could achieve. During the middle period of his captivity, he had the good fortune to be assigned kitchen duty. A Japanese Grandmother who worked in the kitchen befriended him and helped him filch food. Before long, he returned to his pre-captivity weight. He freely admitted later that during the two years he spent as a P.O.W. his health improved, due to the enforced sobriety, with one exception: on New Year’s Eve, he managed to get drunk after begging a little Sake from each of the Officers.

From Camp Ofuna, he witnessed the first B-29 raids striking the nearby Naval Base at Yokohama. During this time, he was given a temporary promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. When he was repatriated, he found he had been awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He also added to his claims for aerial victories after his return. Several other pilots had seen him down one Zero, which raised his total to 20 with the Black Sheep, and 26 if his claims for 6 with the Flying Tigers were included. Twenty-six was Eddie Rickenbacker’s WWI record, and the number shot down by Joe Foss, the top-scoring Marine pilot of all time.

Back in the States, in September of 1945, he claimed to have shot down two more planes in that final battle. Frank Walton, the ACIO, prepared the combat report, and Boyington signed it. With a stroke of his own pen, Boyington was credited with twenty-eight victories, making him the highest scoring ace in the Marine Corps. At the time, Boyington was being feted in a national War Bond Tour, patriotic feelings were running high, and he was a national hero. No one challenged the two additional claims.

Pappy lived until 1988, but it was a hard life, marked by financial instability, marriages and divorces, and battles with alcoholism. Things started downhill on his War Bond tour, when he was frequently drunk. On one infamous occasion, he embarrassed himself, the Corps, and the audience with a rambling drunken speech. His tangled affair with Lucy Malcolmson (still married to her husband Stewart Malcolmson) broke up, quite publicly, when he took up with Frances Baker, who became his second wife. Now a PR liability, the Marine Corps officially retired Boyington in 1947, allegedly for medical reasons, and promoted him to full Colonel.

He moved from job to job, never able to stay with any one thing. He frequently refereed at wrestling matches. After a continued decline into alcoholism, he went on the wagon in 1956 and even joined AA. Things picked up for him in 1958 with the success of his autobiography, “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” He met Dee Tatum the next year, soon divorced Frances, and married Dee (his third). The 1960’s were a real low period for Pappy, including estrangement from his own children.

Pappy’s greatest fame came in the mid-Seventies when the television show “Baa Baa Black Sheep” appeared. Based very loosely on Boyington’s memoirs, the show had a three-year run, and achieved a consistent popularity in reruns. Pappy was a consultant to the show, and got on well with its star, Robert Conrad. But the show’s description of the Black Sheep pilots as a bunch of misfits and drunks, which Pappy happily went along with, destroyed Pappy’s friendship with many of his squadron veterans, including Frank Walton. The show made Pappy a real celebrity, found time to get married a fourth time to Josephine Wilson Moseman, and he made a good career out of being an entertainer – appearing at air shows, on TV programs, and other venues.

Boyington, who had been a heavy smoker and battled cancer since the ’60s, died in his sleep on January 11, 1988, at the age of 75 in Fresno, Calif.

20
Nov

Battlefield Chronicles: Battle of Ngok Tavak & Kham Duc

By LtCol Mike Christy – Together We Served Dispatches

Kham Duc Special Forces Camp (A-105), was located on the western fringes of Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. In the spring of 1968, it was the only remaining border camp in Military Region I. Backup responsibility for the camp fell on the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal), based at Chu Lai on the far side of the province.

The camp had originally been built for President Diem, who enjoyed hunting in the area. The 1st Special Forces Detachment (A-727B) arrived in September 1963 and found the outpost to be an ideal border surveillance site with an existing airfield. The camp was located on a narrow grassy plain surrounded by rugged, virtually uninhabited jungle. The only village in the area, located across the airstrip, was occupied by post dependents, camp followers, and merchants. The camp and airstrip were bordered by the Ngok Peng Bum ridge to the west and Ngok Pe Xar mountain, looming over Kham Duc to the east. Steeply banked streams full of rapids and waterfalls cut through the tropical wilderness. The Dak Mi River flowed past the camp over a mile distant, under the shadow of the Ngok Pe Xar. Five miles downriver was the small forward operating base of Ngok Tavak, defended by the 113-man 11th Mobile Strike Force Company with its eight Special Forces and three Australian advisors. Since Ngok Tavak was outside friendly artillery range, 33 Marine artillerymen of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 13th Marines, with two 105mm howitzers were located at the outpost.

Capt. Christopher J. Silva, commander of Detachment A-105 helicoptered into Ngok Tavak on May 9, 1968, in response to growing signs of NVA presence in the area. Foul weather prevented his scheduled evening departure. A Kham Duc Civilian Irregular Defense (CIDG) platoon fleeing a local ambush also arrived and was posted to the outer perimeter. It was later learned that the CIDG force contained VC infiltrators.

At 3:15 am on May 10, 1968, Ngok Tavak was attacked by an NVA infantry battalion. First, the base was pounded by mortars and direct rocket fire followed by a frontal assault. VC infiltrators dressed as Kham Duc CIDG soldiers moved toward the Marines in the fort yelling, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! Friendly, friendly” before lobbing grenades into the Marine howitzer positions and ran into the fort, where they shot several Marines with carbines and sliced claymore mine and communication wires.

The defenders suffered heavy casualties but stopped the main assault and killed the infiltrators. The NVA dug in along the hill slopes and grenade filled trenches where the Mobile Strike Force Soldiers were pinned by machine gun and rocket fire. An NVA flame-thrower set the ammunition ablaze, banishing the murky flare-lighted darkness for the rest of the night. Sgt. 1st Class Harold M. Swicegood and the USMC platoon leader, Lt. Adams, were badly wounded and moved to the command bunker. Medic Spec 4 Blomgren reported that the CIDG mortar crews had abandoned their weapons. Silva tried to operate the main 4.2-inch mortar but was wounded. At about 5 am hours, Sgt. Glenn Miller, an A-105 communications specialist, was shot through the head as he ran over to join the Marine howitzer crews.

The NVA advanced across the eastern side of Ngok Tavak and brought forward more automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In desperation, the defenders called on US Air Force AC-47 “Spooky” gunships to strafe the perimeter and the howitzers, despite the possible presence of friendly wounded in the gun pits. The NVA countered with tear gas, but the wind kept drifting the gas over their own lines. After three attempts, they stopped. A grenade fight between the two forces lasted until dawn.

At daybreak Australian Warrant Officers Cameron and Lucas, joined by Blomgren, led a CIDG counterattack. The North Vietnamese pulled back under covering fire, and the howitzers were retaken. The Marines fired the last nine shells and spiked the tubes. Later that morning medical evacuation helicopters supported by covering airstrikes took out the seriously wounded, including Silva and Swicegood. Two CH46’s were able to land 45 replacements from the 12th Mobile Strike Force Company, accompanied by Capt. Euge E. Makowski, but one helicopter was hit in the fuel line and forced down. Another helicopter was hit by a rocket and burst into flames, wrecking the small helipad. The remaining wounded were placed aboard a hovering helicopter. As it lifted off, two Mike Force soldiers and 1st Lt. Horace Fleming, one of the stranded aviation crewmen, grabbed the helicopter skids. All three fell to their deaths after the helicopter had reached an altitude of over one hundred feet.

The mobile strike force soldiers were exhausted and nervous. Ammunition and water were nearly exhausted, and Ngok Tavak was still being pounded by sporadic mortar fire. They asked permission to evacuate their positions, but were told to “hold on” as “reinforcements were on the way.” By noon the defenders decided that aerial reinforcement or evacuation was increasingly unlikely, and night would bring certain destruction. An hour later, they abandoned Ngok Tavak.

Sgt. Thomas Perry, a medic from C Company, arrived at the camp at 5:30 am the morning of the 10th. He cared for the wounded and was assisting to establish a defensive perimeter when the decision was made to evacuate the camp. As survivors were leaving, Perry was seen by Sgt. Cordell J. Matheney, Jr., standing 20 feet away, as Australian Army Capt. John White formed the withdrawal column at the outer perimeter wire on the eastern Ngok Tavak hillside. It was believed that Perry was going to join the end of the column.

All the weapons, equipment and munitions that could not be carried were hastily piled into the command bunker and set afire. The helicopter that had been grounded by a ruptured fuel line was destroyed with a LAW. Sgt. Miller’s body was abandoned.

After survivors had gone about 1 kilometer, it was discovered that Perry was missing. Efforts were conducted to locate both Perry and Miller, including a search by a group from Marine Battery D. They were searching along the perimeter when they were hit by enemy grenades and arms fire. Neither the men on the team nor Perry was ever found. Included in this team were Pfc. Thomas Blackman; LCpl. Joseph Cook; Pfc. Paul Czerwonka; LCpl. Thomas Fritsch; Pfc. Barry Hempel; LCpl. Raymond Heyne; Cpl. Gerald King; Pfc. Robert Lopez; Pfc. William McGonigle; LCpl. Donald Mitchell; and LCpl. James Sargent. The remaining survivors evaded through dense jungle to a helicopter pickup point midway to Kham Duc. Their extraction was completed shortly before 7 pm on the evening of May 10.

In concert with the Ngok Tavak assault, the Kham Duc was blasted by a heavy mortar and recoilless rifle attack at 2:45 that same morning. Periodic mortar barrages ripped into Kham Duc throughout the rest of the day, while the Americal Division airmobiled a reinforced battalion of the 196th Infantry Brigade into the compound. A Special Forces command party also landed, but the situation deteriorated too rapidly for their presence to have a positive effect.

The mortar attack on fog-shrouded Kham Duc resumed on the morning of May 11. The bombardment caused heavy losses among the frightened CIDG soldiers, who fled from their trenches across open ground, seeking shelter in the bunkers. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces (LLDB) commander remained hidden. CIDG soldiers refused orders to check the rear of the camp for possible North Vietnamese intruders. That evening the 11th and 12th Mobile Strike Force companies were airlifted to Da Nang, and half of the 137th CIDG Company from Camp Ha Thanh was air landed in exchange.

The 1st VC Regiment, 2nd NVA Division, began closing the ring around Kham Duc during the early morning darkness of May 12. Between 4:15 and 4:30 am, the camp and outlying positions came under heavy enemy attack. Outpost 7 was assaulted and fell within a few minutes. Outposts 5, 1 and 3 had been reinforced by Americal troops but were in North Vietnamese hands by 9:30 am.

OP1 was manned by Pfc. Harry Coen, Pfc. Andrew Craven, Sgt. Joseph Simpson, and Spec 4 Julius Long from Company E, 2nd of the 1st Infantry. At about 4;15 am, when OP1 came under heavy enemy attack, Pfc. Coen and Spec 4 Long were seen trying to man a 106-millimeter recoilless rifle. Survivors reported that in the initial enemy fire, they were knocked off their bunker. Both men again tried to man the gun but were knocked down again by RPG-7 Rocket Launcher fire.

Pfc. Craven, along with two other men, departed the OP1 at 8:30 am on May 12. They moved out 50 yards and could hear the enemy in their last position. At about 11 AM hours, as they were withdrawing to the battalion perimeter, they encountered an enemy position. Craven was the point man and opened fire. The enemy returned fire, and Craven fell with multiple chest wounds. The other two men were unable to recover him and hastily departed the area. Craven was last seen lying on his back, wounded, near the camp.

OP2 was being manned by 1st Lt. Frederick Ransbottom, Spec 4 Maurice Moore, Pfc. Roy Williams, Pfc. Danny Widmer, Pfc. William Skivington, Pfc. Imlay Widdison, and Spec 5 John Stuller, from the 2nd of the 3rd Infantry, when it came under attack. Informal questioning of survivors of this position indicated that Pfc. Widdison and Spec 5 Stuller may have been killed in action. However, the questioning was not sufficiently thorough to produce enough evidence to confirm their deaths.

The only information available concerning 1st Lt. Ransbottom, Spec 4 Moore, Pfc. Lloyd and Pfc. Skivington that Lt. Ransbottom allegedly radioed Pfc. Winder and Pfc. Williams, who were in the third bunker, and told them that he was shooting at the enemy as they entered his bunker.

Spec 4 Juan Jimenez, a rifleman assigned to Company A, 2nd of the 1st Infantry, was occupying a defensive position when he was severely wounded in the back by enemy mortar fire. He was declared dead by the Battalion Surgeon in the early morning hours of May 12. He was then carried to the helipad for evacuation. However, due to the situation, space was available in the helicopter for only the wounded, and Jimenez’ remains were left behind.

At noon, a massive NVA attack was launched against the main compound. The charge was stopped by planes hurling napalm, cluster bomb units, and 750-pound bombs into the final wire barriers. The decision was made by the Americal Division officers to call for immediate extraction.

The evacuation was disorderly, and at times, on the verge of complete panic. One of the first extraction helicopters to land was exploded by enemy fire, blocking the airstrip. Engineers of Company A, 70th Engineer Battalion, frantically reassembled one of their dozers (previously torn apart to prevent capture) to clear the runway. Eight more aircraft were blown out of the sky.

When Pfc. Richard E. Sands, a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, was being extracted on a CH47 helicopter, it was hit by 50 caliber machine gun fire at an altitude of 1500-1600 feet shortly after takeoff.

Sands, who was sitting near the door gunner, was hit in the head by an incoming round. The helicopter made a controlled landing and caught fire. During the evacuation from the burning helicopter, four personnel and a medic checked Sands and indicated that he had been killed instantly. Because of the danger of incoming mortar rounds and the fire, personnel attempting to remove Sands from the helicopter were ordered to abandon their attempt. The remaining personnel were evacuated from the area later by another helicopter.

Intense antiaircraft fire from the captured outposts caused grave problems. Control over the indigenous forces was difficult. One group of CIDG soldiers had to be held in trenches at gunpoint to prevent them from blocking the runway.

As the evacuation was in progress, members of Company A, 1/46, who insisted on boarding the aircraft first, shoved Vietnamese dependents out of the way. As more Americal infantry tried to clamber into the outbound planes, the outraged Special Forces staff convinced the Air Force to start loading civilians on board a C130, then watched as the civilians pushed children and weaker adults aside.

The crew aboard the U.S. Air Force C130 aircraft were Maj. Bernard Bucher, pilot; Staff Sgt. Frank Hepler, flight engineer; Maj. John McElroy, navigator; 1Lt. Steven Moreland, co-pilot; George Long, load master; Special Forces Capt. Warren Orr and an undetermined number of Vietnamese civilians.

The aircraft reported receiving ground fire on takeoff. The Forward Air Control (FAC) in the area reported that the aircraft exploded in mid-air and crashed in a fire ball about one mile from camp. All crew and passengers were believed dead, as the plane burned quickly and was destroyed except for the tail boom. No remains were recovered from the aircraft.

Capt. Orr was not positively identified by U.S. personnel as being aboard the aircraft. He was last seen near the aircraft helping the civilians to board. However, a Vietnamese stated that he had seen Orr board the aircraft and later positively identified him from a photograph. Rescue efforts were impossible because of the hostile threat in the area.

At the time, the order was given to escape and evade, Spec 4 Julius Long was with Coen and Simpson. All three had been wounded and were trying to make their way back to the airfield about 350 yards away. As they reached the airfield, they saw the last C130 departing. Coen, who was shot in the stomach, panicked and started running and shooting his weapon at random. Long tried to catch him, but could not, and did not see Coen again. Long then carried Sgt. Simpson to a nearby hill, where they spent the night.

During the night, the airfield was strafed and bombed by U.S. aircraft. Long was hit twice in the back by fragments, and Simpson died during the night. Long left him lying on the hill near the Cam Duc airfield and started his escape and evasion toward Chu Lai, South Vietnam. Long was captured and was released in 1973 from North Vietnam.

The Special Forces Command Group was the last organized group out of the camp. As their helicopter soared into the clouds, Kham Duc was abandoned to advancing NVA infantry at 4:33 p.m. on May 12, 1968. The last Special Forces camp on the northwestern frontier of South Vietnam had been destroyed.

Two search and recovery operations were conducted near OP1 and OP2 and the Cam Duc airfield on July 18, 1970, and August 17, 1970. In these operations, remains of personnel previously reported missing from this incident were recovered and subsequently identified. They were Spec 5 Bowers, Pfc. Lloyd, Sgt. Sisk, Pfc. Guzman-Rios and Staff Sgt. Carter. Sadly, extensive search and excavation could not be completed at OP1 and OP2 because of the tactical situation.

It was assumed that all the missing at Kham Duc were killed in action until about 1983 when the father of one of the men missing discovered a Marine Corps document which indicated that four of the men had been taken, prisoner. The document listed the four by name. Until then, the families had not been advised of the possibility there were any American prisoners taken other than Julius Long. A Vietnamese rallied identified the photograph of Roy C. Williams as positively having been a POW.

Until proof is obtained that the rest of the men lost at Ngok Tavak and Kham Duc are dead, their families will always wonder if they are among those said to still be alive in Southeast Asia.

Editor’s Note: Capt. Warren Orr was from C-Team Headquarters in Da Nang and was sent to Kham Duc to assist in the evacuation of civilians. At the time, I was the XO of A-Team 102 and was at the C-Team to conduct some personal business when I ran into Orr as he was preparing to leave for Kam Duc. He was his usual friendly, high spirited self but I sensed some apprehension and fear, which is natural when you know are going to a place where heavy fighting and dying. Had I been in his shoes, I would have felt the same. When I learned later that he died on a plane loaded with Vietnamese civilians, I felt terrible about his loss.

13
Nov

Military Myths & Legends: Audrey Hepburn

By LtCol Michael Christy – Together We Served Dispatches

Audrey Hepburn is ranked as the third greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. New Women magazine called her the most beautiful woman of all time. She was among the few entertainers who had won Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. She is celebrated for her work in movies such as Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady and Roman Holiday, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She had the reputation of being a humble, kind and charming person, who lived the philosophy of putting others before herself.

She also became a part of the Dutch Resistance during World War II.

Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 at number 48 Rue Keyenveld in Ixelles, a municipality in Brussels, Belgium. Her father was Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, a British subject and Anglo-Irish banker. Her mother was Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat and a descended from French and English kings. Ella’s father was Aarnoud Jan Anne Aleid, Baron van Heemstra. From 1910 to 1920, he was mayor of Arnhem and served as Governor of Dutch Suriname in northern South America from 1921 to1928. Ella’s mother was Elbrig Willemine Henriette, Baroness van Asbeck.

Hepburn’s mother and father married in the Dutch-Colonial Batavia (now Jakarta), Dutch East Indies in Sept. 1926. This was her mother’s second marriage. They moved back to Europe in 1926 and resettled in Ixelles in Belgium, where Hepburn was born in 1929, before moving to Linkebeek, a nearby Brussels municipality, in January 1932.

Because of her father’s work, she spent her childhood bouncing between Belgium, England and the Netherlands. Because of her multinational background and travelling with her family because of her father’s job, she learned to speak five languages: Dutch and English from her parents and later French, Spanish, and Italian.

She also began studying ballet when she was five years old, hoping one day to be a world-renowned ballet dancer.

In 1935, when she was six-years-old, the marriage between her parents hit a rocky bottom after her mother discovered her father in bed with the nanny of her children, resulting in her father leaving the family abruptly. Two years later in 1937, Ella and eight-year-old Audrey moved to Kent, South East England, where Hepburn was educated at a small school in Elham, run by two sisters known as the “The Mesdemoiselles Smith.” But in September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. All at once, England was no longer a safe place for a little girl, as it had declared war on Germany. At her mother’s request, Audrey’s father scooped up Audrey from her school and put her on a plane to Holland, which intended to stay neutral in the war with Germany and was considered a safe place for riding out the conflict.

It was May 9, 1940, and Audrey Kathleen Hepburn had just turned eleven-years-old. She was living in Holland with her mother, her two older half-brothers, Ian and Alex, and other relatives. Her father lived in London. Her parents were now divorced.

To celebrate Audrey’s birthday, her mother, had bought tickets for her and Audrey to see a performance by the great English dance troupe, ‘The Sadler’s Wells Ballet.’ The company was touring Holland, France, and Belgium. Audrey’s town of Arnhem was to be one of their stops.

Audrey had not seen her dad since that day at the airport. Her parents’ divorce had left an aching hole in her heart. But on this day in May, Audrey was not sad. She was looking forward to the ballet. Her mother had given her more than one reason to smile: “My mother had our little dressmaker make me a long taffeta dress. The reason she got me this, at great expense, was that I was to present a bouquet of flowers at the end of the performance to the director of the company.”

The evening finally arrived. Audrey wore her beautiful new long dress and got to see the famous Margot Fonteyn dance in “Horoscope” and “Facade” by choreographer Frederick Ashton. Afterwards, Audrey’s mother took the stage and gave a formal thanks to the troupe first in Dutch, then in English. Next was Audrey’s big moment. To her surprise, her bouquet of tulips and roses was hurriedly accepted. A quick supper followed, as the dancers hustled about afterward, gathering up their props and costumes, to get on their bus to leave Arnhem that very evening. The dancers didn’t want to get stuck in Holland if the Germans did attack and closed off the borders.

That night, as Audrey slept, the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Dutch were totally shocked. They never dreamed Hitler would attack them, his “Dutch cousins.” Just the night before, Hitler had made a radio broadcast, promising to all who listened that he had no plans whatsoever of attacking Holland. For five days, the Germans came down on the Dutch with the force of Hell. They never bothered issuing a formal declaration of war either.

Incendiary bombs were dropped on The Hague. Nazi troops tore through Audrey’s town of Arnhem, looting and despoiling as they pleased. The Germans threatened to bomb every Dutch city until they were demolished until Holland surrendered. The Dutch military, though terribly outnumbered, fought back anyway, but they were no match for the conquering horde, and were forced to surrender. After five days, Holland capitulated. It would be occupied by the Nazis for five very long years.

Young Audrey watched her Jewish neighbor being herded into trucks, men into one truck, women into another, babies into another. “We did not yet know that they were going to their death,” she remembered.

Over the next ten months, the van Heemstra bank accounts, securities, and jewelry would be confiscated by the Nazis. Rations were imposed on food and fuel which were soon in short supply for the suffering Dutch people. Food became completely nonexistent during the Hunger Winter of 1944 as the Germans cut off all imports of foods to punish the Dutch Resistance that fought back against the Nazis from inside Holland.

The German occupiers also spread anti-English sentiment, banning the import of British jams and biscuits and outlawing the Girl and Boy Scouts. The Germans hoped they could whip the Dutch into a hatred for the English and recruit them in the battle against Britain.

With the Nazis cracking down on the English, the Baroness was worried. Audrey Hepburn was an English name and Audrey spoke English. She carried a British passport. Quickly, Audrey’s mother gave her a new identity as a little Dutch girl. For the war years, the Baroness changed her daughter’s name to Edda van Heemstra. Audrey – now Edda – took Dutch language lessons so she could pass as Dutch and not be arrested for being English. Audrey did not risk speaking English for the rest of the war.

One early winter day, Audrey was walking along a city street when three truckloads full of German soldiers toting rifles stopped suddenly. The soldiers ordered all the girls in their sight to line up and get in the trucks. Audrey did as she was told knowing the girls were heading for military brothels. As the trucks drove off, Audrey kept saying the Lord’s Prayer to herself in Dutch. Then the convoy stopped unexpectedly. Some soldiers jumped out and began abusing some Jews. Audrey said: “I remember hearing the dull sound of a rifle butt hitting a man’s face. And I jumped down, dropped to my knees, and rolled under the truck. I then skittered out, hoping the driver would not notice me, and he didn’t.”

In 1942, Hepburn’s uncle, Otto van Limburg Stirum (husband of her mother’s older sister, Miesje), was executed in retaliation for an act of sabotage by the resistance movement, while Hepburn’s half-brother Ian was deported to Berlin to work in a German labor camp. Hepburn’s other half-brother Alex went into hiding to avoid the same fate. “We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they’d close the street and then open it and you could pass by again. Don’t discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It’s worse than you could ever imagine,” Audrey recalled.

It was because of the sadistic and brutal way the Nazi occupiers treated the Dutch, that Audrey became determined to work with the Dutch Resistance. An accomplished ballerina by age 14, she danced in secret productions in underground places to help raise money for the resistance. To keep from being discovered, the audience did not clap. As she famously said, “The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.”

It was at these “black performances” where the audiences gave the young performers money and folded message to be stuffed into the children’s shoes and transported the next day to resistance workers. There was little doubt in Audrey’s mind that had she been discovered doing either of these things, a swift execution would have followed.

And where was Audrey’s father all this time? He was arrested in England and accused of peddling Nazi propaganda for the notorious leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley. He remained under house arrest for the duration of the war on the Isle of Man with other suspected Nazi sympathizers.

After the Allied landing on D-Day on June 6, 1944, living conditions grew worse. In mid-September 1944, it grew even worse during Operation Market Garden as British and American paratroopers and ground forces moved toward a heavily damaged Arnhem. Operation Market Garden was a failure and the allied forces withdrew from the city of Arnhem. The van Heemstra family was also seriously financially affected by the occupation, during which many of their properties, including their principal estate in Arnhem, were badly damaged or destroyed.

Baroness Ella, Miesje, and Hepburn left Arnhem and moved in with Baron Aarnoud van Heemstra in nearby Velp. Fifteen-year-old Audrey Hepburn had been hovering close to death for months, sick with jaundice, her legs and feet swollen from edema caused by malnutrition, so weak with hunger that she could barely climb the stairs in her grandfather’s home, just outside Arnhem.

But in April 1945 as the fighting came closer, she and her family took refuge in the cellar as the Germans and Allies fought from house to house. “Occasionally, you’d go up and see how much of your house was left, and then you’d go back under again,” she remembered.

Then on the morning of April 29, the shelling and shooting stopped. Audrey heard voices and singing, and smelt English cigarettes. She crept upstairs and opened the front door to find the house surrounded by English soldiers all aiming their guns at her. Hepburn said she screamed with happiness, seeing all these “cocky figures with dirty bright faces and shouted something in English, a cheer went up that they’d liberated an English girl.” That day, sixteen-year-old Audrey Hepburn only weighed 88 pounds.

When the Allies liberated the Netherlands in May 1945, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration aid arrived providing much needed relief. Hepburn witnessed first-hand the transforming impact international aid agencies can have on suffering regions. As a result, she developed a life-long devotion to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Audrey served as Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), from 1988 until her untimely death in January 1993. Through her work with UNICEF, she used her image and the great interest people had in her to attract world attention to her cause, but also of repaying the United Nations for rescuing her from starvation in 1945 Holland. Audrey’s movie career took a back seat to her work for UNICEF which proved more meaningful to her than restarting her acting career. Audrey represented the agency in many capacities, not only appearing at public occasions to support the good cause of UNICEF but also traveling widely to the world’s trouble spots to assess the situation of children.

Upon returning from Somalia to Switzerland in late September 1992, Hepburn began suffering from abdominal pain. While initial medical tests in Switzerland had inconclusive results, a laparoscopy performed at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in early November revealed a rare form of abdominal cancer belonging to a group of cancers known as pseudomyxoma peritonei. Hepburn and her family returned home to Switzerland to celebrate her last Christmas. She spent her last days in hospice care at her home in Tolochenaz, Vaud and was occasionally well enough to take walks in her garden, but gradually became more confined to bedrest.

On the evening of 20 January 1993, Hepburn died in her sleep at home. She was interred at the Tolochenaz Cemetery.

Audrey Hepburn’s legacy as an actress and a personality has endured long after her death. She stands as one of few entertainers who have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. She won a record three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role. In her last years, she remained a visible presence in the film world. She received a tribute from the Film Society of Lincoln Center in 1991 and was a frequent presenter at the Academy Awards. She received the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. She was the recipient of numerous posthumous awards including the 1993 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and competitive Grammy and Emmy Awards. She has been the subject of many biographies since her death and the 2000 dramatization of her life titled “The Audrey Hepburn Story” which starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Emmy Rossum as the older and younger Hepburn respectively. The film concludes with real photos of Audrey Hepburn, shot during one of her final missions for UNICEF.

6
Nov

The New Guy

By Michael P. Walsh

The Washington, D.C., Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with 58,272 names – each a story of lost opportunity and heartache; ultimate sacrifices that, with time, are known by and intimate to fewer. The New Guy is one of those small stories, perhaps now, 48 years later, important to only me – that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told.

Long Island’s morning fog was dense and chilly as I turned onto the drive at Pinelawn National Cemetery. Driving forward, I familiarized myself with the numbering of the stones. Donning my overcoat as I got out of the car, I crossed the roadway to walk another 50 feet over wet grass to The New Guy’s permanent address: plot 31313A in section “N.”

A stunted, winter-bare tree stood watch over his grave – it looked like it shaded him nicely in the summertime. The headstone, identical to the thousands surrounding it, is engraved with bits of personal information: born 12 days after I was, on July 14, 1947, he died March 7, 1968. Below those dates are chiseled the word “Vietnam;” farther down are the two letters “PH” confirming the Purple Heart was awarded posthumously. Exactly 40 years later, March 7, 2008, I was here for a long overdue visit. Although today I know his name, for most of the intervening years, I didn’t. In my recollections, he has always been, simply, “The New Guy.”

New guys were easy to spot. Naturally, there was the rookie’s nervousness, but that clean helmet cover was the giveaway. A seasoned Marine’s helmet might have a heavy rubber band encircling it, holding bug repellant and a well-used plastic spoon, but always printed on the fabric covering his steel “pot” was a message. Sometimes a clever or rude manipulation of a biblical phrase; other times, it was a less-nuanced “Screw You” challenge to the enemy. The brazen tempted fate with a crude calendar counting down their remaining days in country. Attesting to the helmet’s use as protection, basin and stool, the messages were written on camouflage covers stained by rain, soil and sweat. In 1968, those young Marines with helmet covers awaiting a personal signature were known to the rest of us as “New Guys.”

I was a Marine forward observer scout. My helmet cover sported a faded green shamrock, surrounded by the words “All Irish F.O.’s.” Early March found Louis, my radio operator, and me attached to “Alpha” Company, one of two line companies of First Battalion, Third Marines, providing security up a backwater of the Cua Viet River.

It was a reprieve to patrol from a fixed location, allowing us to fortify positions, improve makeshift hutches and learn the lay of the land before, not during, ambushes. The few incoming sniper rounds were erratic – minor nuisances that were quickly suppressed – and the weather improved daily. Most importantly, we were alive. There wasn’t much not to like.

Suddenly, on March 7, 1968, our Vietnamese-speaking S-2 scout reported enemy combatants moving through Phu Tai, a neighboring village, after nightfall. Since it was our job to keep bad actors out of the neighborhood, Alpha Co was ordered on top of Amtrak’s in the predawn dark for a rough ride, over dry rice paddies to give this little village the once over. Maybe we’d find trouble, maybe not. Personally, I was thinking not.

With the bellowing of our Amtrak’s dual turbocharged exhausts announcing our pending arrival, all North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars working the area would surely be long gone before we showed up. For all intents and purposes, it looked like it would be an early morning cakewalk. Map and compass were close, radio communications checked; I was alert, not anxious. Turned out I should have been.

In the glow of a false dawn, we were rolling-up on Phu Tai’s western edge when suddenly a rocket propelled grenade flew out of the tree line, blowing a hole in our lead Amtrak. With it came a stupefying volume of incoming automatic weapons fire. Screams of the wounded and shouts for corpsman were coming from all quarters as Louis and I leapt off our Amtrak and scrambled to a nearby trench. So much for nobody being home. Dawn had arrived at Phu Tai with a promise of some serious mayhem.

A vestige of the French and Viet Minh conflict of an earlier time, our trench was typical of those surrounding villages near the Demilitarized Zone. Just to the north of it, outside the village, was an abandoned, French-era church. It didn’t show on my map, but there it was – two-stories tall and roofless, it was one of the few solid masonry structures in those parts. My view of it was blocked by a clump of bushes rimming our trench’s back edge, directly behind where Louis and I made our stand.

Looking over the forward edge of the trench, I located where Marines were digging in. Our near-instant heavy casualties and the sustained volume of incoming fire indicated a large, entrenched force – a motivated enemy that might mount a counterattack. The simultaneous firing of several batteries was initiated to provide a protective curtain of shrapnel while we got a handle on things.

Despite everyone’s best efforts, the day went badly fast. To my right, just beyond Louis, a Marine I had bummed a cigarette from a few minutes earlier was dead. To my left, in sequence, was another dead Marine, our wounded platoon commander and, scattered beyond them, a dozen, perhaps 15, Marines. Some dead, some wounded; those still capable struggled to keep our recently-issued M-16’s functioning.

During all this, I received a priority radio message advising me an NVA sniper had been spotted on the second floor of the church. The reason for the high number of casualties in my immediate area was now obvious: from his perch, the shooter could target men well below the trench’s rear lip. It was inevitable that Louis and I were going to find ourselves on that deadly score card if we didn’t put him out of business. Hoping to be quick enough to avert additional causalities, another artillery mission was worked up.

It was just then that I met The New Guy – part of a Marine company sent to reinforce our precarious position. As he dropped into the trench behind me, I turned to see by his clean helmet cover; the look on his face said that today was his introduction to the terrors of the fight. Still, he never wavered. Suppressing the fear, we all knew, he spoke the last words of his life: “What do you want me to do?” In the intervening years, neither our dire circumstances nor his response to them have been forgotten.

Quickly I pointed out the sniper’s position and explained the need to keep him down while artillery was brought on target; I don’t remember the precise number, but I can’t imagine that more than 15 words were exchanged. Turning toward the church without hesitation, he took a firing position at the base of the bushes. With my back now covered, I gave the final “fire for effect” that would eliminate that menace in the loft.

Moments later, six 105 mm artillery rounds landed in the church’s upper story, abruptly and decisively ending the shooter’s reign. Unfortunately, The New Guy missed our small victory. Seconds before his demise, the sniper fired his last round. It was on target, and it was fatal. The New Guy was dead.

Although aware that he had protected me, providing time to complete the task at hand, reflection was not an option as that March 7, 1968, engagement at Phu Tai still had plenty of promised mayhem to be played out. A brutal assault, with Marines engaging in close-quarters fighting, routed the NVA forces. Afterward, in the late afternoon’s fading light, we searched for our wounded and killed. I don’t recall there being any prisoners.

As darkness enveloped the field, “Puff,” the Gatling-armed C-130 flying transport, came on station, providing covering fire as needed and dropping huge illumination flares, lighting-up the dry rice paddy for the night’s remaining work.

With our men accounted for, the Marines withdrew from the village and linked up to form a perimeter where, from freshly dug fighting holes, weary eyes and lethal intent were focused into the evening’s menacing shadows. Inbound helicopter flights soon began landing with the necessities: munitions, food, water and, oh yes, more New Guys. Following triage protocol, our corpsmen backloaded the outgoing flights with our 94 wounded. It wasn’t until the next morning, March 8, 1968, that The New Guy and his 12 companions, each now cocooned in a body bag, were finally relieved of duty. Marines gently loaded them into Hueys for their trip back across the Cua Viet to the first stop on their rotation stateside: the morgue at Dong Ha.

Curiously, though few things have had such a profound and lasting imprint on my life, many years passed before I dared replay those long-ago violent days. When I did, prominent and persistent was the question: “Who was The New Guy?” With research, I found the answer.

Three days after the battle of Phu Tai, the Department of Defense issued its weekly count of Vietnam casualties. The following day, March 12, 1968, The New York Times published the names of those who claimed New York as home. Last on their list of 22 was a young Marine from Brooklyn: Esau Whitehead Jr.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial website describes Esau at the time of his death as a 20-year-old African-American corporal from New York City. On “The Wall,” his name is found on Panel 43E, Line 49. The record states vaguely that he died from “ground, small arms fire, Quang Tri province.” Because of the chaos of battle, it is most likely I am the only person who knows the exact details. Wanting to share those, a letter was written describing Esau’s last moments; however, when unable to locate survivors, I rewrote it as the story of ‘The New Guy,’ hoping someday it would land where it belongs. Of course, after all this time, there may be no family left or, it’s also possible that no one cares.

But I do. I care. So, Esau, I’m writing your final story, hoping it will find its way to those who remember that 20-year-old kid from Brooklyn and wonder how it was for you at the end.

Cpl. Esau Whitehead Jr., you died living up to the Marine Corps motto – Semper Fidelis – while protecting a fellow Marine you knew for less than five minutes.

Thank you again, Esau. Your family should know.

The photo is left to right: Cpl Michael Walsh, Cpl James P. “Pat” Daly and PFC Roger McLain displaying the shamrocks they added to their helmet covers in Vietnam, 1968. Lt. George Norris is to the rear and between Cpl. Walsh and Cpl. Daly. He was killed in action while serving as a Company Commander.

Reprinted with permission from the Marine Corps Association & Foundation, Leatherneck Magazine, May 2017

23
Oct

Profile in Courage: The Most Decorated Enlisted Sailor in Navy History

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches

In the history of the United States Navy, only seven men have earned all of the big three valor awards: Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and Silver Star. Six were World War II officers, including one aviator. The seventh was James Elliott “Willy” Williams – considered the most decorated enlisted man in the history of the Navy.

 

Williams, a Cherokee Indian, was born November 13, 1930, in Fort Mill, South Carolina. Two months later he moved with his parents to Darlington, South Carolina where he spent his early childhood and youth. He attended the local schools and graduated from St. John’s High School.
In August 1947, at the age of 16, Williams enlisted in the United States Navy with a fraudulent birth certificate. He completed basic training at Naval Training Center San Diego. He served for almost twenty years, retiring on April 26, 1967, as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class (BM1). During those years, he served in both the Korean War and Vietnam War.
During the Korean War, was stationed aboard the Destroyer USS Douglas H Fox (DD-779) from November 1950 to June 1952. He was detached off the Destroyer and operated off the coast of Korea by taking raiding parties into North Korea on small boats. From 1953 to 1965 he served tours on a variety of naval vessels.
In 1966, with only a year before he was to retire from the Navy, the burly man, 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds Williams volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam.
Williams arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 as a BM1. He was assigned in May to the River Patrol Force, River Squadron Five, in command of River Patrol Boat 105 (PBR-105). The force’s mission was to intercept Viet Cong and North Vietnamese arms shipments, supplies, and personnel on the waterways of South Vietnam’s swampy Mekong Delta and to keep innocent boat traffic on the river and canals safe.
On July 1, 1966, Williams led a patrol that came under fire from the Vietcong sampan. His deft maneuvers and accurate fire killed five VC and resulted in the capture of the enemy boat, earning Williams a Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor. Twenty-two days later his crew captured another sampan, earning Williams a second Bronze Star Medal for Valor. Less than a month later, he received his Silver Star and the first of three Purple Hearts he would eventually receive.
On the night of October 31, 1966, Williams was commanding PBR 105 alongside another PBR searching for Viet Cong guerrillas operating in an isolated area of the Mekong Delta. Suddenly, Viet Cong manning two sampans opened fire on the Americans. While Williams and his men neutralized one sampan, the other one escaped into a nearby canal. The PBRs gave chase and soon found themselves in a beehive of enemy activity as the VC opened fire on them with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms from fortified river bank positions.
Williams, who knew the area well from months of patrols, directed his two boats in a high-speed detour to a spot he knew the fleeing sampan would eventually emerge. Both threaded an alternative channel too narrow for the boats to reverse course. At nearly 35 knots they roared up the twisting passage, the heavily jungled bank passing in a green blur. Then as they rounded a bend to an area of more open water, to the surprise of all aboard, they stumbled into a major staging area for the North Vietnamese Army. Thirty to forty sampans were crossing the channel, each loaded to the gunwales with NVA troops and supplies. The enemy was equally surprised and sprang to their guns. Along the shore, the familiar “thonk” of mortars could be heard. Williams had no choice but to gun his engines straight at the enemy! Tracers streaked across the water. Williams ran his boat directly at several sampans, splitting them in half under the sharp bow of his rocketing speedboat. The PBR’s twisted and jinked blazed their weapons and spilled hundreds of dead and dying NVA troops into the water. The speed and maneuverability of the Americans kept them ahead of the enemy return fire. They blasted through the enemy formation and back into the narrow channel beyond.
Momentarily safe, the PBR’s sped onward. Williams called in heavily armed UH-1B Huey helicopters from the Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 “Seawolves” for air support, but as his speedboats rounded another bend they found themselves smack in the middle of a second staging area as big as the first. Again, the narrow channel determined their fate, and both PBR’s sped boldly at the enemy. For a second time, their machine guns blazed and splinters flew from enemy sampans and NVA soldiers spilled into the water. And for a second time, the two American gunboats sliced through the enemy, blasting and ramming as they went. Secondary explosions from several of the larger junks confirmed Williams’ suspicion that they were ammunition and supply vessels.
Despite three hours of intense combat, Williams’ crew received only two casualties–one gunner was shot through the wrist, and Williams himself was wounded by shrapnel. For his conspicuous bravery above and beyond the call of duty he was put in for the Medal of Honor – which he received from President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 14, 1968, during the dedication ceremony of the Pentagon’s “Hall of Heroes.”
On January 9, 1967, the Navy dredge Jamaica Bay was blown up by mines and PVR-105 arrived to pick up seven of the survivor. Another man was wrapped in the rapidly sinking dredge. Williams dove into the water and, with a rope attached to a nearby tree, pulled clear and obstruction, then swim through a hatch to recover the Sailor. For this, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Six days later Williams was wounded while leading a three-boat patrol that interdicted a crossing attempt by three VC heavy weapons companies and 400 fighters. He and his boat accounted for 16 VC killed, 20 wounded in the destruction of nine sampans and junks. Williams was awarded the Navy Cross and his third Purple Heart.
Williams transferred to the Fleet Reserve in April 1967 and returned to his native South Carolina with a list of awards unmatched by any enlisted man in Navy history. His awards included the Medal of Honor, the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars and the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars, and the Navy Commendation Medal. He also received three Purple Hearts and was twice awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for rescue operations under fire.
He retired after 20 years of service and was appointed in 1969 by President Richard M. Nixon as United States Marshal, serving more than a decade in the Marshals Service. His initial assignment was U.S. Marshal for the District of South Carolina where he served until May 1977. He then transferred to Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia as an instructor and National Armorer. He was called back to South Carolina in July 1979 to resume his appointment as U.S. Marshal and functioned in that position until April 1980. His next assignment was with the U.S. Marshal service Headquarters, Washington, D.C. as Program Manager, Health and Safety and In-District Training Officer where he performed his assigned duties until his retirement from the U.S. Marshal Service.
In the fall of 1999, he was in Florence, South Carolina where he suffered a heart attack and died on the Navy’s birthday, October 13th. He was buried with full military honors at the Florence National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina. The procession of dignitaries at his funeral included seven Medal of Honor recipients and state and national legislators.
In addition to his wife Elaine, he was survived by three sons, James Jr., of Darlington, S.C.; Steven, of Dorchester, S.C., and Charles, of Charlotte, N.C.; two daughters, Debbie Clark of Palm Coast and Gail Patterson of Florence, and seven grandchildren.
Navy Guided Missile Destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG-95) was named and christened in his honor on June 28, 2003, at Pascagoula, Mississippi. His widow Elaine was present at the ceremony.
16
Oct

Battlefield Chronicles: The Second Battle of Fallujah

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches

On March 31, 2004, a private contractor’s convoy was traveling through Fallujah when it was ambushed by heavily armed insurgents. Safeguarding the convoy were four Blackwater USA employees – Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Michael Teague. The four were killed by machine gunfire and a grenade thrown through a window of their SUVs. Their charred bodies were dragged from the burning wreckage of their vehicles by a mob, mutilated, dragged through the streets, and two were hung on display from a bridge over the Euphrates river as the crowd celebrated below.

The public display of the beaten and burned bodies of the four security contractors triggered worldwide outrage. In response to the gruesome slaughter of the private security guards, a U.S.-led operation to retake Fallujah began on April 4, 2004 – only four days after the macabre incident.

Within a week, a third of the city had been retaken, but due to the considerable destruction of the city and heavy civilian deaths by U.S. airstrikes, the interim Iraqi government pressured the American forces to withdraw from the city on May 1, 2004. The U.S. then turned over military operations to 1,100-man Fallujah Brigade, led by Muhammed Latif, a former Ba’athist general, but when the brigade folded in September, American weapons and equipment fell into the hand of the insurgents, foreign fighters, and criminals. The Marine command vowed to return and establish some semblance of peacefulness in Fallujah.

The U.S. suffered 27 deaths in the campaign; some 200 insurgents were killed and approximate 600 Iraqi civilians; 300 of them believed to be women and children.

By the early fall of 2004, the chief objective of the American campaign was to eliminate burgeoning insurgency in safe havens in advance of Iraq’s first parliamentary elections after the American invasion. The legitimacy of the interim government, and the upcoming elections appeared to hang in the balance. Fallujah, a city of 250,000 less than an hour’s drive from Baghdad, was the mother of all safe havens and was among the cities to be retaken.

This metropolis on the edge of the desert had a well-earned reputation as a home for former Ba’athist party enforcers and other criminal elements. It was a squalid, unattractive place, unfriendly to strangers – a city, writes military historian Bing West, “comprised of two thousand blocks of courtyard walls, tenements, two-story concrete houses, and squalid alleyways. Half-completed houses, garbage heaps, and wrecks of old cars cluttered every neighborhood.”

The Corps couldn’t wait to assault the city and mix it up with a colorful mélange of al Qaeda, freelance Islamist extremists from across the Middle East, and several Sunni militia groups.

That chance came in November and December 2004 with the Second Battle of Fallujah – code-named Operation Al-Fajr and Operation Phantom Fury – as part of a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive. It turned out to be the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War and is notable for being the first major engagement of the war fought solely against insurgents rather than the force of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government, which was toppled in 2003.

Unlike the recent struggle to take the city back from ISIS, the outcome of the fall 2004 encounter was never really in doubt. Superior numbers, training, and an immense advantage in firepower ensured that the Fallujah would fall to the Americans. The critical questions were, how much blood and treasure would it take to wrest the city from the enemy? Would the city have to be destroyed to be saved? And most importantly, would victory in Fallujah reverse the momentum of an insurgency steadily growing in both numbers and intensity across much of the country?

Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the top commander of Marines in Iraq, had the luxury of several months to prepare their plan of attack, which proved to be a very successful plan. A preliminary feint from the southwest 24 hours before the main assault would draw off considerable numbers of jihadists from the northern sector of the city, the direction from which the main attack would proceed. A U.S. Army armored brigade had thrown a tight cordon around the entire city, preventing reinforcements or resupplies from reaching the enemy.

Crucially, the Iraqi government and the Americans had managed to persuade/cajole well over 90 percent of the city’s populace to evacuate their homes, so if the American infantry ran into exceedingly tough resistance, they could employ the full range of their lethal supporting arms – Abrams tanks, the steel rain of 105-mm shells from circling C-130 gunships, jet fighter-bombers, and of course, artillery fire – without fear of causing large numbers of civilian casualties.

During this time, it was clear that an assault on the city was imminent and the insurgents prepared a variety of defenses and strong points. The attack on the city was assigned to Lt. Gen. Sattler’s I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MED).

With the city cordoned off, efforts were made to suggest that the Coalition attack would come from the south and southeast as had occurred in April during the Firsts Battle of Fallujah. Instead, I MEF intended to assault the city from the north across its entire breadth. On November 6, Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT-1), consisting of the 3rd Battalion/1st Marines, 3rd Battalion/5th Marines, and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion/7th Cavalry, moved into position to assault the western half of Fallujah from the north.

They were joined by Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7), made up of the 1st Battalion/8th Marines, 1st Battalion/3rd Marines and the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion/2nd Infantry which would attack the eastern part of the city. These units were joined by Iraqi as well.

With Fallujah sealed, operations began at 7 pm, November 7, when Task Force Wolfpack moved to take objectives on the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite Fallujah. While Iraqi commandoes captured Fallujah General Hospital, Marines secured the two bridges over the river to cut off any enemy retreat from the city.

A similar blocking mission was undertaken by the British Black Watch Regiment south and east of Fallujah.

During the cold, rainy evening of November 8, the northern rim of the city came under a thunderous and sustained bombardment from artillery and warplanes. Hundreds of 155-mm shells and 500-pound high-explosive bombs shook the earth across a three-mile front, obliterating a train station and a large apartment complex on the outskirts of the city.

An eerie silence followed. Suddenly the two Regimental Combat Teams of Marine infantry and Army armored battalions, about 8,000 men in all, crossed a railroad embankment and began to push south into the city proper. Within seconds, the American advance was met with an avalanche of small arms and mortar fire. Over the earsplitting din of simultaneous fire from thousands of weapons, loudspeakers on Marine Humvees blared Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and insurgent commanders barked orders in Arabic over their own loudspeakers, ensconced in the minarets of several of the city’s 200 mosques.

Thus, began ten straight days of brutal, close-in fighting to sweep through this labyrinth of a city, north to south, and wrest it from the insurgents’ grasp. The jihadists had spent the better part of half a year constructing bunkers, strong points, and laying out avenues of retreat, and ambush sites. Hundreds of rooms and entire houses had been expertly booby-trapped, and IEDs had been liberally planted in the streets and alleys. Road blocks of Jersey barriers and junk cars designed to funnel the attackers down lethal avenues of approach seemed to be around every other corner. As the insurgents came under fire from the advancing American battalions, they tended to react in one of two ways: they either held their ground and fought to the death, or they rapidly retreated down side streets or into alleys, hoping to lure the Marines and soldiers into prepared kill zones.

Dexter Filkins, a New York Times war correspondent who had covered half a dozen wars and was embedded with a Marine rifle company in Fallujah, described the combat there as “a qualitatively different experience, a leap into a different kind of battle.” He was hardly the only veteran reporter to register that reaction. Filkins himself narrowly escaped death at least once in the fighting and saw several of the men with whom he was embedded die as well.

Later Gen. Sattler recalled the battle “was intense, close, and personal, the likes of which have been experienced by U.S. forces on just a few occasions since the battle of Hue City in the Vietnam War. There were no real front lines, because the insurgents would get behind you constantly.”

On November 9, after 16 straight hours of fighting to take a fortified mosque being used as a command post, men in B Company, 8th Marines, saw a car pull up behind them. Out poured six insurgents wielding rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. The Marines sprung in action, killing four in a matter of seconds before the insurgents could get off a single round of fire. The two remaining insurgents dashed for a courtyard, where they were rapidly cornered by several Marines. Suddenly, one of the insurgents pulled a cord on his suicide vest, sending himself and his brother fighter to instant martyrdom. Virtually every infantry company in Fallujah could report at least one such encounter.

Forty-eight hours into the fight, the Marines had advanced methodically through about one-third of the city, and seized the government center, having leveled several hundred enemy strongpoints to rubble with air strikes, tank fire, and armored bulldozers that proved critical in keeping the advance moving. The insurgents were so entrenched that by the end of the fight, the Marines had been forced to level some 10,000 of 50,000 residences – most were rebuilt at American expense.

On the fourth day of the battle, November 12, both Regimental Combat Teams crossed Highway 10, the six-lane, east-west artery that divided the northern half of the city from the grimy industrial southern half. Southern Falluja had been far more heavily fortified than the north. Here the Marines came up against dozens of unyielding defensive pockets and had to fend off a series of suicidal counterattacks that left the streets littered with bloated, stinking corpses. “Almost as soon as the insurgents were dead, the dogs started gnawing on their bones,” recalled a Marine officer. Heavy rains prevented the authorities from burying these bodies for several days.

It sometimes became necessary to slip small units of Marines in behind the enemy-held pockets to clear them out. Marine Capt. Elliot Ackerman’s platoon slipped behind insurgent lines in the middle of the night, and took up residence in a four-story building.

Author Bing West, who was embedded with a company of Marines in the battle, gives this vivid account of what followed in ‘No True Glory’: “At first light, on both sides of their building, insurgents were slipping forward in bands of four and six unaware of the Marines until the M16s opened up, hitting three or four before the others ducked into the surrounding buildings.”

The insurgents scattered for cover, then converged on the platoon. Within minutes the fighting fell into a pattern. The platoon held a stout building with open ground on all sides, which made a frontal assault suicidal. Instead, enemy snipers, RPG teams, and machine-gunners were running from floor to floor and across the roofs of the adjoining buildings looking for angles to shoot down.

The Marines tried to pick out a window or a corner of a building where an insurgent was hiding and smother it with fire. The shooters on both sides were like experienced boxers, jabbing and weaving and never leaving themselves open. The Marines punched mouse holes in the walls and threw up barricades in front of their machine guns, shifting from room to room every ten minutes.

A particularly effective method for reducing stubborn enemy positions within apartment buildings or other large structures was for the American artillery to fire a “shake and bake” mission: First, a battery of cannons fired incendiary white phosphorus smoke rounds into a building to flush the insurgents outside, and then, after a short delay, they bracketed the building with high explosive rounds to kill them as they exited.

After ten days of grinding, close combat, the Americans, supported by two elite Iraqi Army battalions, had captured the city.

The heavy fighting continued for the next several days as Coalition forces went house-to-house eliminating insurgent resistance. The fighting was not as intense as it had been during the clearing phase, but it was still dangerous, exhausting work. More than 20,000 structures were searched and cleared – some as many as three times, as insurgent hangers-on re-infiltrated previously cleared dwellings. If the Marines were forced to withdraw from a house due to heavy fire from inside, they would reduce it to rubble by attaching a patch of C-4 explosive to two propane canisters and throwing them through a window.

By the time it was all over on December 23, U.S. forces had uncovered more than 450 weapons caches, three torture chambers, one of which contained a live prisoner who’d had his leg sawed off, and 24 bomb-making factories. According to a log cited in Bing West’s book, one Marine platoon cleared 70 or more buildings a day for more than a week, during which time they engaged in an average of three firefights a day, and killed 60 insurgents.

The outcome for taking Fallujah was 95 Americans killed in action, and 450 seriously wounded. According to a report from Gen. George Casey Jr., commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, of the 8,400 insurgents killed in 2004, 2,175 had fallen in the Second Battle of Fallujah. Unfortunately, hundreds of Islamist insurgents had either left Fallujah before the battle or slipped through the cordon in small groups and went on to join their brothers to spark new uprisings in Mosul, Ramadi, and East Baghdad.

Even though Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi – the mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and video beheadings in Iraq – was not captured during the operation, the battle severely damaged the momentum of the insurgency. Tactics that were developed in the battles of Fallujah were used on larger scales to capture Ramadi and other surrounding areas afterward. After the Second Battle of Fallujah, the insurgents avoided open battles, but the number of attacks on coalition troops began to rise more. Four years after the bitter fighting, the city was turned over to Iraqi Forces and the Iraqi Provincial Authority.

The Second Battle of Fallujah joins the ranks of Tarawa, the Chosin Reservoir, and the Battle for Hue as one of the Marine Corps’ bitter, hard-won triumphs that unfortunately had little strategic impact on the war of which it was a part.

One veteran of the battle, Col. John Toolan, was hardly the only thoughtful officer to question whether the kind of fighting that had gone on in Fallujah was counterproductive in the long run. “What’s the impact on a ten-year-old kid when he goes back and sees his neighborhood destroyed? And what is he going to do when he is 18 years old?”

Hearts and minds are not won by leveling cities, and by late 2004, the American military was finally waking up to the fact that it was in the middle of a protracted insurgency war, and hearts and minds were what it was all about.

Twelve years later, the Marines have left Iraq, the insurgents remain, and the country finds itself deeply mired in civil war. But Fallujah has at last been retaken, and the Islamic State is clearly on the defensive – at least in Iraq. And that’s good news for Iraq, for the United States, and for the American Marines and soldiers who fought the good fight for Fallujah in 2004.

Unfortunately, even today, more than a decade later, much of Iraq and the Middle East is still beset by violence.

9
Oct

Military Myths & Legends: The Pied Piper of Saipan

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches
U.S. Marines are known for being hard-chargers; for never giving up and overcoming whatever obstacle they may face. Perhaps no Marine exemplified this willingness to prevail against overwhelming odds better than Guy Louis Gabaldon – “The Pied Piper of Saipan.” He earned the sobriquet in June 1944 when he was 18-years-old by capturing or persuading over two thousand Japanese Soldiers and civilians to surrender during the battles for Saipan and Tinian islands during World War II.

Gabaldon was born in Boyle Heights, California on March 22, 1926, one of seven children in a Mexican-American family. As a ten-year-old, he helped his family by shining shoes on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. Growing up in a tough Hispanic barrio, he became a member of a multi-ethnic gang known as the “Moe Gang.” Like the rest of his gang members, he had a disregard for authority and was always in some kind of trouble. That began to change, however, when he was twelve and “adopted” by the Nakano family, a loving Japanese-American family who raised him as part of their extended family. While living with the Nakano family, he attended Japanese language and culture classes with the family’s children, eventually learning to speak Japanese.

After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Nakano family, like most Japanese-American families living on the West Coast at the time, was sent to an internment camp at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in Wyoming. “I wanted to go to the internment camp with them, but they wouldn’t let me,” Gabaldon would later say. Instead, he moved to Alaska to work in a cannery. On March 22, 1943, his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to Camp Pendleton for basic training. Gabaldon then attended the Enlisted Marine Japanese Language School at Camp Elliot and following graduation, he was then assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, as a Scout and Observer.

As the Marine Corps island-hopped across the Pacific and closed in on Japan, military officials were faced with the dilemma of whether or not to launch a land invasion of the Japanese home islands. Eventually, American military officials decided against invading Japan, as it would cost an estimated one million American and countless more Japanese lives. Instead, the island of Saipan, located in the Northern Mariana Islands, was chosen as a base of operations on which airfields could be built to launch B-29 Superfortress bombers against the Japanese mainland.

After two days of intense bombardment by fifteen battleships of the Armada, on June 15, 1944, more than 300 LVTs landed an initial 8,000 Marine force, including Marines from the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, on the west coast of Saipan under covering fire from eleven support ships, including battleships cruisers and destroyers to being the invasion against a force of more than 30,000entreneched Japanese Soldiers. This was just a fraction of 71,000 American force who would eventually load on Saipan and battle the Japanese. To further complicate matters, Japanese Soldiers, under the impression that they would be immediately executed by the Americans, rarely surrendered. Even as it became apparent that the Americans would eventually take the island, the Japanese Soldiers were ordered by their commanding officers on Saipan to kill seven Americans for every Japanese soldier lost or to commit suicide rather than be captured or surrender. The term “human bullets” was coined by the Japanese to describe these suicidal forces, in their first honest reporting following the loss of the island.

It was against this fanatical force that, after arriving on Saipan, Gabaldon defied orders and left camp his first night on the island to try to capture Japanese Soldiers and brought back two prisoners using his limited Japanese. For leaving his post without permission, Gabaldon was reprimanded by his superior officers and threatened with a court-martial. Despite the threat of disciplinary action, Gabaldon left his post again the following night for the same reason. This time, he approached a cave, shot two guards, and yelled in Japanese to the Soldiers inside, “You’re surrounded and have no choice but to surrender. Come out, and you will not be killed. I assure you will be well-treated. We do not want to kill you.” The Soldiers exited the cave and the next morning Gabaldon returned to camp with 50 prisoners. As a result of his effectiveness, Gabaldon received permission from his commanding officer, Capt. John Schwabe, to act as a “lone wolf” operator. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The perfect task for a tough Hispanic kid from the East Los Angeles barrios.

On July 6, Gabaldon left on another of his evening patrols and entered an area near Saipan’s northern cliffs. It seemed fairly deserted at the time, but before daybreak, he realized that hundreds of enemy infantry were moving onto the flats and gathering for an assault. By this time he was cut off from any path of retreat and any attempt to show himself would have resulted in a quick and noisy death. He remained under cover and listened as thousands of Japanese troops and some civilians drank sake and loudly prepared for the largest banzai charge of the campaign. The island’s commanding Japanese office, Lt. Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito, had mandated that all able-bodied civilians and all mobile wounded forces join in one final suicidal attack, saying “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops. It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than be captured.” In addition, Emperor Hirohito had sent our an imperial order encouraging the civilian of Saipan to commit suicide, resulting in the death of many thousands of civilian, maybe as many as 12,000. Above photo is the funeral of Yoshitsugu Saito by American military personnel, Saipan, 1944.

The following morning, July 7, 1944, the battle to secure the Japanese occupied island of Saipan peaked in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific War. At dawn, with a group of 12 men carrying a great red flag in the lead, the 3000 remaining able-bodied Japanese troops under Lieut. Gen. Saito, plus the civilians he had coerced into joining them, charged forward in the final attack, followed by the barely armed wounded with bandaged heads and hobbling on crutches. The charge lasted over 15 hours and brought the total Japanese losses for the island battle to over 30,000, almost the entire Japanese garrison. Two American battalions were nearly annihilated in the battle leading to 650 casualties, while their fierce resistance resulted in over 4300 Japanese killed. Three Medals of Honor were awarded posthumously for that battle.

The next morning, American Marine reconnaissance patrols edged their dangerous way forward to map out Japanese lines. As one patrol approached the seacliffs lining the north side of the island, they were greeted by an extraordinary sight. On the flats at the top of the cliff was Guy Gabaldon surrounded by hundreds of Japanese troops, many of them still with weapons. One might have thought that this Marine was experiencing his last moments on earth. But as the incredulous scouts looked on, it became apparent that the lone Marine was actually ordering his hundreds of “prisoners” into smaller groups, even as more Japanese streamed quietly up from their ocean-side caves. Eventually, over eight hundred Japanese Soldiers and civilians surrendered to Gabaldon, an astonishing number considering that the battle for Tarawa a few months earlier had produced only 146 prisoners from a total garrison of nearly 5,000. The prisoners were turned over to the U.S. military authorities.

By the time of his July 8 capture of 800 prisoners, Gabaldon had already become well known on Saipan for his capture of hundreds of other die-hard enemy troops using a brisk combination of fluent Japanese and point-blank carbine fire.

Gabaldon continued to capture more Japanese people on Tinian. While back on Saipan fighting Japanese guerrillas still on the island, he was seriously wounded in an enemy machine-gun ambush. Gabaldon was credited with the capture of approximately 1,500 Japanese Soldiers and civilians on Saipan and Tinian and was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commanding officer, Capt. John Schwabe, who noted that Gabaldon single-handedly captured more than ten times the number of prisoners taken by legendary Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Alvin C. York, in World War I. Despite this recommendation, Gabaldon was awarded a Silver Star Medal.

Overall, the Americans counted over 14,500 casualties in the battle for the island, among them nearly 3000 killed in action. Future Hollywood actor Lee Marvin of “I” Company, 24th Marine Regiment, was among the many Americans wounded on Saipan, shot in the buttocks by Japanese machine gun fire. Saipan causes another unexpected result: the loss of the island and the resulting shakeup in the Imperial Japanese Navy’s war staff led to the first honest reporting to the Japanese people of the events taking place in the Pacific as their forces were defeated and territory was lost, with a devastating effect on Japanese public opinion.

Gabaldon received an Honorable Discharge from the Marine Corps as a result of his combat wounds. After returning to civilian life, he moved to Mexico and ventured into various businesses such as a furniture store, fishing, and the import-export of Mexican goods. When his first marriage to June Gabaldon ended in divorce, he met the woman who became his second wife, Ohana Suzuki. For 20 years Gabaldon and his family lived in Saipan, where he worked at various jobs, including police chief and drug abuse counselor.

Gabaldon’s World War II exploits became public when in 1957, he was the invited guest of “This is Your Life,” a popular television program aired by NBC in the 1950s. Hosted by Ralph Edwards, the show presented the life stories of entertainment personalities and “ordinary” people who had contributed in some way to society.

The fact that Gabaldon captured at least 1,500 Japanese prisoners was verified on the national program by Marines Corps intelligence officers Col. Walter Layer, Col. John Schwabe, Maj. James High, and several enlisted men from military intelligence.

Hollywood producers also became interested in Gabaldon’s story and in 1960 released the film “Hell to Eternity” where his actions on Saipan were memorialized. He was portrayed by actors Jeffrey Hunter as an adult and by Richard Eyer as a boy. Gabaldon himself served as an adviser in the filming of the movie.

John Schwabe said he had recommended Gabaldon for the Medal of Honor, but the Marine never received it and instead honored Gabaldon with a Silver Star. But his 1950s appearance on the television show “This is Your Life” led to the making of “Hell to Eternity” resulted in an upgrade to the Navy Cross, second highest award for gallantry to the Medal of Honor. The case to upgrade his Navy Cross to the Medal of Honor is currently under review by the Department of Defense.

In addition to the Hollywood movie, producer Steve Rubin made a documentary film about Gabaldon titled “East L.A. Marine: The Untold True Story of Guy Gabaldon.” Henry Godines also unveiled a commissioned portrait, titled The Pied Piper of Saipan, Guy Gabaldon.

According to Rubin, he was proud of the film. “I think that movie was very inspirational to a lot of baby boomers,” Rubin said. “It was one of the first World War II combat films to portray a sense of humanity in war. The fact of the matter is Guy ended up saving not only hundreds of Japanese lives but American lives as well with a little touch of humanity.”

Decades later in his memoir “Saipan: Suicide Island,” he wrote an expanded account of his wartime experiences.

In 1961 Gabaldon gathered a force of 1,000 Americans to travel to Cuba to wage war against Communist leader Fidel Castro. The trip was blocked by then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, who “called me a vigilante,” Gabaldon told a Los Angeles Times reporter in a 1978 article. Years later Gabaldon advertised for men willing to go with him to Nicaragua to “help fight the Communist take-over.”

Called ‘Gabby’ by his friends, he was an outspoken member of right-wing political organizations. In 1964, he unsuccessfully ran for US Congressman in his Southern California district.

During his lifetime, Gabaldon received many awards and recognitions, including resolutions honoring him from the City of Los Angeles, the City of Chicago, and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas.

On November 12, 2005, he was the recipient of the Chesty Puller Award from the World War II Veterans Committee, a prominent organization which showcases the veterans of World War II and their history.

On July 7, 2006, he was honored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles City Council. The Mayor and the City Council sent a resolution to the White House requesting the Medal of Honor for Gabaldon. That same year the World War II Veteran’s Committee in Washington, D.C., featured Gabaldon on the cover of their quarterly magazine. Also in July, Gabaldon was honored by the National Council of La Raza, a national organization, and a leading Latino civil rights advocate.

On August 31, 2006, Gabaldon died at the age of 80 of heart disease. He was survived by his second wife, Ohana; his sons Guy Jr., Ray, Tony, Yoshio, Jeffrey, and Russell; his daughters Aiko, Hanako and Manya. Two members of his “adopted” family were actor Lane Nakano and his twin Lyle.  He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

A short introduction to the “Hell to Eternity” can be viewed at the following site: https://www.amazon.com/Hell-Eternity-Jeffrey-Hunter/dp/B003Y5UP3K

A short PBS film interview with Guy Gabaldon can be viewed at the following site: http://www.pbs.org/video/2365053267/

2
Oct

My Career as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor

By Glen T. Hogoboom

The first thing they do to you in Marine Corps Boot Camp is to break you down. You are picking up paper, cigarette butts, and anything that is not attached to the ground. You will do that for 10 to 14 days, for 16 hours a day. They will not allow you to look like a Marine, or pretend you are a Marine, or even to be like those that have been training for months who are still recruits.

It will be pointed out to you that you will never amount to anything, that you are a piece of shit, and that it was a mistake that you were ever born. The only thing that you can rely on is that you will eat 3 times a day. Sleep is unlikely, and just when you achieve it, you will most likely be hit over the head with a flashlight and told to get up.

Among your Platoon are 88 or so other recruits, all scrambling every day just to keep track of their own underwear. Friendships are impossible to start, and harder to keep up. One day you know the other recruits next to you, the next day they may be gone.

Then there is the point where you meet your drill instructors, and it almost seems like they are nice, and they introduce themselves. But then all hell breaks loose, and they become devils, and you have to pick up your footlocker and march 3 miles, all the while they are yelling at you.

So then you are at your home for 13 weeks, your barracks. For the most of that time, that is where you will sleep when sleep is allowed. Everyone has to stand fire watch, one hour per night, so if you go to sleep at 8 PM, and have to stand watch at 3 AM, you get awakened for that hour.

Each Platoon has a “secretary”, usually a recruit who has college experience and is older than the others, and that was me for this Platoon in 1977. The secretary does a lot of the paperwork for the Drill Instructors, along with being harassed multiple times per day.

The only way to address a DI is to be at attention, and first saying “Sergeant Drill Instructor Sir” (then say what your business is) followed by “Sergeant Drill Instructor Sir!” Most of the time, your business was merely that you were reporting as ordered.

There are three phases to Boot Camp, the first is try and kill the recruits and if they don’t die, keep them! The idea that they are looking for a few good men is preposterous. If you have a heartbeat, they will take you. Although you might argue that those of us who survive Boot Camp are a few good men.

During the first stage, there was IQ testing, and I did very well, to the point that I was asked to meet with the Lieutenant for an interview for potential Officer Candidate School. But that was worse for me than if it never happened, since it got my hopes up without ever amounting to anything.

I got it in my mind that someone would summon me, and say, “Sir, this was all a mistake, and you don’t belong here!” But that never happened.

I was a smoker, and I never thought about it before going to Boot Camp, about what its deprivation would mean. The idea was that you would get one cigarette per day. But that rarely happened. The first time the DI’s asked who smoked, only I and a few others admitted to it.

Those who admitted to smoking rose from 5 or so to 60 or more, as time went on. All of the DI’s smoked. But we would get one smoke per day if we were lucky. All day I would wait for the DI to yell, dirty ones to the classroom!

The classroom is merely the front of the barracks, and once summoned if we didn’t get there quick enough, the DI would say hell no, you don’t want it bad enough, just go on back to your bunks. And that was disappointing, to say the least.

During phase one there were several disciplinary actions that took place regularly. One of them was if a recruit did not make his bunk properly, all hell would come down. The DI’s would come out of the woodwork, they would be yelling at the top of their lungs, ordering us all to bring our mattresses to the classroom.

So we would scramble, taking the blanket and sheets off, and dragging it to the front of the barracks, all the while trying to avoid the congestion of traffic. Of course, 88 mattresses would not fit, but that didn’t matter because before we could complete the feat, the DI’s would say “JUST STOP!”

“Take your mattresses back and make your bunks!” Of course, as soon as we accomplished that, they would start all over again, making us drag them up again, and so on.

Then there was the problem of some recruit leaving the combination lock on his foot locker unlocked. That was a holy sin! The DI’s would go wild, get your asses up to the classroom! Now go back and get all of your locks and bring them back! Then they would make all 88 of us lock our locks together, which sounds impossible, but believe me it can be done.

Now, if you were one of the recruits who failed to write down the serial number of your lock like you were ordered to do on the first day, then you had a long day ahead of you, waiting for those that knew which their locks were and the combination to unlock them.

To summarize, the first phase of Boot Camp is pretty much evaluating, testing, harassing, cajoling, and learning that this is pretty much your dissatisfactory life for as long as you can survive it, and then add eternity to that.

In phase two of Boot Camp, the emphasis is on marching, drilling as a unit. The DI’s were brutal, one time one of them marched alongside me and yelled in my ear that I was a bitch. It didn’t help my marching much, but it sure got my attention.

But, everyone got yelled at; it apparently was the choice of weapon, and it worked. After a few weeks we were marching as a unit, and no one dared make a mistake.

Finally, there were 88-foot steps in unison. And we suddenly dared to make a smile as we marched. Sometimes our marching took us in view of recruits who had just arrived, who were picking up paper and cigarette butts just like we were a month earlier.

In phase two there were many classes, like instruction in the history of the Marines, at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. We were so tired sometimes, you could hear the clunk as a recruit hit his head on the desk as he passed out.

The desks that we sat at were inscribed by those that came before us, with dates like 1956 or 1967, always followed by the time they had left in Boot Camp, like 20 days and a wake-up. We soon learned that the last day never counted, since all you had to do was wake up and you were done!

And there was so much time spent standing in lines, for the dentist, or the hearing doctor, or the eye doctor. You were not allowed to be a Marine and have a health problem, hence the age old expression hurry up and wait.

By the end of phase two, you started to think there might be an end to this madness, and you started to make your own marks on your desk during a class, like 32 and a wake-up.

Then comes phase three, the hardest of all, along with a chance for me to get out early.

In the third phase of Boot Camp, you go to the rifle range and the infantry training at Camp Pendleton. And the DI’s appear to let up on their infernal behavior.

At the rifle range, the rules change quite a bit, since you can’t really badger a recruit into being safe. If you ever point your rifle in the wrong direction, they write a big white X on your back, and if you ever do it again, they throw you off the range, and you might have to start Boot Camp all over again.

The first week all you do is learn the basics, along with forcing you into a sitting down position that most bodies cannot do. And you sit there for hours, day after day.

The second week you are in pre-qualification. And finally Boot Camp seems like a bit of fun. Your time is split between live fire and working in the pits. In the pits, you move the targets up and down and mark the hit of the shooter.

Also in the pits, when there is a break, private companies would drive up with their food wagons, and we could order hamburgers, hot dogs, and ice cream, without being hounded by the DI’s. The DI’s at this point apparently took vacations, much to our satisfaction.

On pre-qual day I shot as an expert. There was a rumor that on the day of qualification that would we be able to smoke all we wanted. So all of us came loaded with cigarettes.

Unfortunately, it was true, and I smoked so much I was almost sick, and I barely qualified as a marksman, which was the lowest designation, behind Expert and Sharpshooter. Still, one of my DI’s said later that he wouldn’t care if he was shot by a marksman or an expert, it would hurt as much.

Then we went into infantry training and came face to face with Mount MFer.

August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley died, and I was in Boot Camp. A DI asked me if knew who Elvis was, and of course, I said: “Yes Sir!” He told me Elvis had just died. And he asked me how old I was and I said 22, and he asked me when I was born, and I told him, and he said: “Jesus! You are older than me!”

In fact, in my Platoon of 88, there was only one recruit older than me. And for that reason, I probably had a chip on my shoulder. Nevertheless, I was the Platoon secretary, and I knew as soon as the DI’s did, what our schedule would be, sometimes even earlier than them.

While in phase 3 and just starting infantry training, I walked into the DI’s shack to check on the schedule for the next day, and I asked if lights out for the night would be at 2000, and literally, I said “two thousand.” The DI’s laughed like crazy since it would normally be pronounced as 20 hundred hours. One of the DI’s said I can just see Hogoboom writing his mom, saying they keep us up until two thousand here!

Training at Mount MF was beyond belief. We had all heard of it. When we finally got to it, we found it was a desolate piece of land that seemed almost straight up, and the march up it was over 5 miles. There were recruits throwing up, and 50% of them falling behind, including me.

It took the whole day, and when we were finally done with the march, we were exhausted. Exhausted is a mild term, we were ready for the hospital. But we made camp for the night. Our feet were bloody, and we knew the next day would not be any better.

I had to go the bathroom like crazy, and there were some old fashioned outhouses there. With my flashlight in hand, I went in to sit down, but then I saw a tarantula spider sitting there waiting for me. I don’t care much for spiders, and those the size of my foot I care even less for. So I just had to hold it in!

The next morning all of our canteens were empty of water. We had some c-rats to eat, but no liquid. It must have been 110 degrees, and apparently, it was a problem the DI’s had not anticipated. There was supposed to be a water buffalo on site. They stopped training while we waited for water, and four Platoons, over 300 recruits were stranded on Mount MF, in danger of heat exhaustion and water deprivation.

We all laid on our backs, told to not move until the water got there. We must have looked like the street in Atlanta with all the wounded soldiers laid out in ‘Gone With the Wind!’ I was never so thirsty in my life. In fact, even today when I take a drink of water, I remember that thirst.

It was not until maybe 2 PM before we finally got water. The water buffaloes (huge tanks of water) rolled in, and we all cheered. We were told we could fill two canteens each, and then go back in line and fill another two canteens. Some recruits who were at the front of the line shared with those in the back of the line, as they started over.

We got back to the barracks that night. And there were only about 15 days and a wake-up left in Boot Camp.

Now we were back in our barracks in San Diego. With 2 weeks left (and a wake-up), the emphasis was on the classroom, where we had many tests. The DI’s were now rebuilding our spirits, after breaking them down for so many weeks.

I first noticed the change when the DI yelled, dirty ones in the classroom! And then we were outside, standing at attention, passing the garbage lid from one to another, to ash our cigarettes. Meanwhile, DI Staff Sergeant Joe was standing in the balcony overlooking us. When we finished our smokes, Staff Sergeant Joe said smoke another if you want.

So WOW! He actually spoke to us in a normal tone of voice, and had a smile on his face! Some recruits replied, saying “Sir, we don’t have another one.” Then he threw his pack of cigs down to them.

I now had an assistant secretary for the Platoon, his name was Hawkins. And most of the time when our Platoon was at a class, drilling, or physical training, we were held back to do paperwork. Our Senior Drill Instructor relied on me to do most everything, and at one point he and I were going through the list of recruits, determining if they should be promoted to PFC, and what their MOS should be.

Sixteen could be promoted to Private First Class, and he named off the list, pondering each one for promotion, then he got to Hogoboom, and said yes of course. Things were looking up!

Sometimes I would sneak out and make a phone call, usually to my brother Will. Since I was in the reserves, I was to start classes at the University of Wisconsin when I got home. But it looked like I would not be home in time for registration. Then a rumor started going around that some of us would be going home a week early so that we could register for college.

I anxiously awaited each morning, to see if I might be one of those going home early. Alas, I was not, but Hawkins was. I was crushed! I got a hold of Will and set it up so he could register for me.

Meanwhile, I got a letter from my brother Gene, who was stationed in Okinawa and was a Lance Corporal. He said they might be called into action, and I asked Staff Sergeant Joe if he knew anything about it. He said no, but added that is what Marines do.

There were just a few days left, and a wake-up, but I was depressed that Hawk got to go home, and I was worried about Gene. With two days left, we got to go the PX, 2 or 3 at a time for 2 hours. That was pretty exciting, to be alone without the DI’s supervision. And most of us had $500 or more that we had been paid during training.

I bought some cigs and a lighter, unlike many recruits who spent every cent they had. And now there was one day left and a wake-up.

That final full day I got a big surprise, although I knew my parents were coming, I didn’t realize I would get to see them before graduation! Sure enough, the DI’s said my parents were downstairs, and I had 2 hours to meet with them.

To see them in this Boot Camp environment was surreal! I could barely contain my emotions, and of course, I chain smoked. The overwhelming feeling of freedom was hard to handle. And the two hours were over in the blink of an eye, and there I was back in the barracks, and even with less than 12 hours left before graduation, I could not find happiness.

But of course graduation did take place, and I could see my parents in the stands, and then just like that we all threw our covers in the air, and yelled oo-rah! Before I knew it I went from Boot Camp to a fancy restaurant and hotel with my parents, and we ate well and drank, and laughed like the summer had never happened.

At age 22 I probably took the deprivation of freedom harder than the other recruits, where many of them were just 17, and most 18. I had been jealous most of those 105 days of those recruits who actually seemed to enjoy themselves.

And when I got home, I still had a commitment with the Marine Corps to fulfill, but I vowed I would have as little to do with the USMC as possible. And boy did I fail in that vow!

After I got home from Boot Camp it took some time to adjust. I was immediately back in school at the UW, and there were football games, and while the world had stood still while I was gone, it was different for me.

One time when I was at a bar, trying to get a drink, the girl next to me gave me a weird look, and said: “Are you a Moonie or something?” Back then we all had to have the same hair length, less we would suffer the inquisitions of others.

I called Hawk, the assistant secretary, who lived in Indiana and asked him about what happened when he left early. He said Senior DI Staff Sergeant Garrett actually drove him into San Diego, and they went to a bar while waiting for his flight, and they had drinks. I was so jealous!

I had to check in with my reserve unit. I was now a PFC. and I hated doing that. I was in my hometown, and to have that feeling again from Boot Camp, was not pleasant.

Just a week after I got home, I had to attend a drill weekend, and we went up to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. I was not at all prepared. They had not even given me a field jacket. And we flew in a helicopter in 40-degree temperature, with my legs hanging over the side of the helo, and I about froze to death.

Back at school, just walking between classes, I ran into another Marine, and we knew each other just by our haircuts. He said, “Hey, are you an OCS Candidate?” I said, “Well no, what is that?” I told him I had just completed Boot Camp. He said “Why would you do that when you are in college? You qualify for OCS.”

So I called the recruiting office where I had enlisted. And I asked them why they never told me about OCS. They said I had not told them I was in college. Soon after that, I applied, and I was accepted to Officer Candidate School.

So then, in the summer of 1978, I found myself back in the Marine Corps, in Quantico, VA in Basic Training again! That first night, laying in my bunk, I thought here I am again, and I was mad at myself! My goal was to get out of the Marine Corps, not get more into it!

I survived that training. Some did not. The contract for OCS was that you could quit whenever you wanted. And those that quit usually did it in the middle of the night, they would just get dressed, and walk down to the Sergeant, and say I am done.

In the mornings we would see that some bunks were empty. And many of us were jealous because it took guts to do that. Why would anyone stay at a place like that?

After the first two weeks in Junior OCS, we got leave for the weekend. We would take a bus into Washington DC and get a special rate at the hotels. One night we went down to 14th Street, and there was more to do there than anyone could do in a weekend.

I met a woman at a bar, she was 44 and I was 22. Her husband had died in Viet Nam. Not much was said before we found ourselves in a cab going back to her apartment in Falls Church, VA. The next morning she gave me her phone number and suggested I should call the next weekend. I did not call her, although I liked her, she made the time of my weekend go by too quickly!

I sometimes wonder about her, she would be 83 years old now. But at the time it was a good memory when I got back to base, and most of the other Officer Candidates were buzzing with rumors about me and what happened at the bar on 14th Street, and that was not a bad thing. I was quite happy when that summer of 1978 was over, and I was back home.

But it took more than one summer at OCS, to become an Officer in The Marine Corps.

It was now 1980, and I was due to attend Senior OCS in Quantico. I was a senior in college and was now engaged to be married. Once again that first night I found myself in a bunk, back in Basic Training! And I hated myself for continuing to make decisions that landed me back in Basic Training.

Senior OCS was much more difficult and was designed to weed out candidates. Our barracks was located about 50 feet from an Amtrak railway, and it came flying by every night around 2 AM. The vibration was such that our bunks would actually move across the floor. And I thought this was going to be one long arduous 6 weeks!

But after the first week, I never even heard the Amtrak during the night. I had become used to it. And the training had become redundant; there was nothing new anymore. All I had to do was wait it out, and survive until it was over. After all, there were no records kept of training, other than one had completed the training successfully.

This time when I went on leave, I met with my fiancee in Washington DC. I sent her the money for the flight, and gave her detailed instructions on what hotel to check into, and when I would be there. While we had a great weekend (actually about 30 hours only), it was so sad when it was over. I got in the bus, which did not leave right away, and watched her through the window, sitting on the side of a hill and crying.

By Senior OCS, most of us candidates were already receiving payment during college, like $100 a month, and you could no longer just quit, unless you wanted to immediately be sent to active duty as a PFC or Lance Corporal, depending on your experience. That was plenty of motivation to hang in there and get through it.

And of course I got through that training in the summer of 1980, and then all I had to do was graduate from college to get my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. But that was not all that easy since in my first two years of college I had done miserably, hovering around 2.0. To graduate in the School of Education, I needed a 2.5.

Shortly after getting home from Senior OCS in 1980, I got married. I had one semester left in school. Using my calculator, I determined exactly what grades I would need to get to 2.5 GPA, and I needed 3.75 out of 4.0. So in all the first classes of that semester, I told every teacher this is what grade I need, and if I am not on track, please let me know.

I ended up with a 3.75 overall for the semester, and reached 2.500 exactly! In December I attended my graduation ceremony wearing the traditional robe and hat. Then I went back home and changed into my blues where Captain Hooper swore me in as a 2nd Lieutenant. It was a great day!

In February of 1981, I was scheduled to attend (TBS), also sometimes called “The Big Shit.” Now instead of having Corporals and Sergeants yelling at us, we had Captains and Majors. And instead of 13 weeks or 6 weeks, TBS was 23 weeks. By the end of TBS, I had attended 48 weeks of Basic Training, in some of the most demanding and rigorous conditions imaginable.

My mom and dad drove Roberta and me to Quantico for TBS, and when we arrived, they had no housing for us, so they put us up in the Officer’s Club. We had no car, which was due to a great miscalculation on my part. But fortunately, there were hundreds of businesses that thrived on new Lieutenants such as me. We walked just two blocks down the street and got a 1979 Mustang, then drove to an appliance store and got a TV, all on credit.

While I was at my first day of training, Roberta hiked 2 miles into town, with our clothes in a backpack and did our laundry; she did not yet know how to drive a car with a stick shift. Later, when we had time I taught her to drive the car, and then she really got busy. She got us on base housing and went and picked out furniture for it, which they delivered compliments of the Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, I was going through the induction of TBS. There were 40 of us each Platoon, and the first time we had a formation, I recognized the guy next to me, and it turned out we had been in Boot Camp together! I knew Lt. Heineman quite well, given that our last names were close in the alphabet, and we had often been next to each other in Boot Camp as well. Without the alphabet, the military would be in shambles!

He said our drill instructor, Staff Sergeant Joe, was also here, having been commissioned as a Warrant Officer. We would see him often, and now he had to salute us! What a turnaround that was! But he had been a very good DI, and we had nothing but respect for him.

We had some very good leadership at TBS. Our company commander was Major Conway. He was very hands on, leading every 10-mile march we had, and being at every occasion. He was especially interested in those of us who were married and attentive to the problems that training would have on a couple. He invited all of us who were married Officers and our wives to his home for dinner and drinks.

One time, when I was having problems qualifying with the pistol, Major Conway took me under his wing, so to speak. I was doing so badly, and I needed to hit bullseyes on all of the ten shots I had left. And he put his arm around my shoulder and said I know you can do it, just relax. And I did hit all ten. And he told me that was the most impressive marksmanship he had ever seen since it was done under such pressure.

In 2006, James T. Conway was nominated by George Bush as the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps and promoted to 4 Star General. I am very humbled that I served with him, and knew him personally in my brief career.

Like all other training that I went through, TBS ended. Finally! So then I was off to the “real” Marine Corps!

When Marines are not fighting, they train. In essence, they are supposed to be the same whether training or fighting. In reality, it is impossible to maintain that sense of alertness when they all know nothing is going on. In my case, that meant going on to train to become a Supply Officer.

After TBS, I went to Camp Geiger (next to Camp LeJeune) for training. There were around 20 Lieutenants and 5 Warrant Officers in the class. Some of the Lieutenants were “fallen angels.” They had failed to be pilots. Before, and after our trips to the local bars for lunch and beverages, we studied supply, and inventory, and “mechanized allowance lists.” There became a competition to see who could do the best in the tests.

I was far and away the best, at 99.6%, until the last test, when all the Warrant Officers exceeded me, in what was an obvious fix. They had all spent at least 10 years in the field, and they should not have had a worry about me. Nevertheless, I was assigned the best duty location, at Cherry Point, North Carolina.

And there I went, with Roberta, in our new 1980 Nissan Maxima, equipped with a trailer hitch, and a u-haul and everything we owned. The smart folks would just let the Marine Corps handle it, where you just open your doors, and a dozen people come in and pack everything up, and before you know it, everything arrives at your new location. But we were not smart, just cynical, and distrustful.

We did not want to live in base housing, so we bought 1/2 of a duplex for $27,500. It was a home where grass would not grow, and the backyard was a sinkhole. The people in the other half of the duplex were great at first until they got transferred to Japan and they rented it out to a disc jockey (or so it seemed).

Our daughter was born at the Naval Hospital at Cherry Point in 1983, and we were worried that even the sound of a pin dropping would ruin her sleep and ours. But I was deep into my new duties, and could not spend my time with things like grass that would not grow, backyards that sunk, and noisy neighbors.

I was an Officer of Marines!

My best friend in TBS was Tom Downey. He was a Corporal before he was an Officer, and he was as cynical as I was. Now that he was an Officer, he was never lost when having to express an opinion. When some young Lieutenant would say these enlisted guys have to salute us, he would say, but you have to salute them back!

One time I was assigned to show a new 2nd Lt. around the base. We were walking through a parking lot, and a car with a blue Officer’s sticker pulled in and he saluted the car. I told him Officers do not salute cars unless maybe it has a General’s flag on it. He said, “but I’m a 2nd Lt. and all Officers are senior to me.” Then the occupant of the car got out, and made a point of standing at attention and saluting him because he was a Warrant Officer!

At this point, I was firmly implanted in my new job, as the Officer in Charge of MAG-32 ground supply. As a junior Officer, I got all the shitty little jobs. My new boss was Major Owens, and he took care of me, but when he was gone, I was at the mercy of whoever was senior at the air supply side of the unit (until later when I became senior when the Major was not around). Being on the ground side, I and my 80 people, always got the shitty little jobs.

I was a cake escort for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, for Marine Air Group-32. When we showed up for the rehearsal there were 4 of us, and I was the senior Officer. (Yes, we actually practiced!) So the plan was, as we were stationed at each 4 of the corners of the cake as it was wheeled in, that I would give the commands as to when to start and when to stop. Once stopped and at a position on the stage, well, that was the end of what we had rehearsed. So we were standing at attention, and a Colonel came up to speak.

We were kind of in the way, and the Colonel turned to me (obviously recognizing that I was the one in charge) and said Lt. put them at ease. At that point, I issued a command, previously unknown in the USMC, and probably never used since, “Cake Escorts, on my command, stand at ease”, huh. At which point the four of us snapped to parade rest.

So another time some, when the Major was gone, some Captain assigned me the role of being the drill instructor for a Platoon, for the upcoming Wing Wide inspection. They gave me some Gunny Sergeant to assist me, and I tried as hard as I could, but the two of us sucked! After a few weeks, the Colonel sent down his CWO-3 Warrant Officer to check on me, while I was drilling the troops. And he took me aside and said you are not doing very well.

I was not really in the mood, and I told that Warrant Officer to stick it, he had no right to talk to me that way, I outranked him! And he was pretty surprised that I told him off. He thought he would have his way with me. But I knew I was in trouble, so that night I got a 12 pack of beer, and marched inside my home for hours and hours, giving drill commands, and marching from one side of the room to another, while Roberta was in the living room, wondering if I was OK or just crazy!

The next day I showed up at work, with a hangover, and Major Owens, finally being back, called me to his office. He said Glen, you are being relieved of your duties as Drill Instructor. And we both kind of laughed, and he applauded me for my efforts, but said there are plenty of actual Drill iInstructors available to train a Platoon for the inspection.

I even had two prior DI’s working for me, and they said the mark of a successful DI, is getting kicked off the field! And they said that was usually followed by a promotion in rank. So that is the story of my brief career as a Drill Instructor in the Marine Corps.

I was selected for promotion to the grade of Captain in the summer of 1984 but did not receive the actual promotion until a few months after I left active duty in 1985. I took it as a belated congratulation for my duty as a Drill Instructor, but who knows? It could have been for my outstanding performance as the “Senior Cake Escort” for the Officer’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

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