Profiles in Courage

Col James Kasler, U.S. Air Force (1950-1975)

Col James Kasler, U.S. Air Force (1950-1975)

James Helms Kasler was born on May 2, 1926, in South Bend, Indiana and following 30-years of distinguished military service, retired as a U.S. Air Force Colonel. Three times James Kasler went off to war and three times returned home. During his career, he is the only person to be awarded three Air Force Crosses. He also was awarded two Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, nine Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Purple Hearts, eleven Air Medals and Bronze Star with V for valor. Setting aside recipients of the Medal of Honor, he is the 10th most decorated serviceman in U.S. history. For some, he is known as Indiana's Sgt. Alvin York, the famous hero of World War II. Biography of James Helms Kasler Shortly after graduating from Shortridge High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in May 1944. James Kasler spent his two-year enlistment flying combat missions over Japan as a B-29 Superfortress tail gunner. Following the war, Kasler attended Butler University in Indianapolis for three...

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Sgt. William Harvey Carney, U.S. Army (1863-1864)

Sgt. William Harvey Carney, U.S. Army (1863-1864)

Today, we may remember the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, also Sgt. William Harvey Carney, at the Civil War Battle of Fort Wagner from the 1989 film "Glory." The critically-acclaimed film was released more than 30 years ago, but it stands the test of time for many reasons.  The most important reason is that it's reasonably true to the history of the unit, with a few of Hollywood's usual dramatic licenses. The 54th Massachusetts was the first all-Black regiment raised in the Union to fight in the war. Though the movie was based on Robert Gould Shaw's letters to his family, all the Black characters are entirely fictional. What they accomplished was not fictional, however, and neither was their tenacity and courage under fire. It was at the attack on Fort Wagner that one soldier, Sgt. William Harvey Carney became the first Black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor. He did it with his stalwart defense of the American flag.  Carney was born a slave in the area around Norfolk,...

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Capt Francis Gary Powers, U.S. Air Force (1950 – 1963)

Capt Francis Gary Powers, U.S. Air Force (1950 – 1963)

Soviet Air Force pilot Capt. Igor Mentyukov was sitting at a bus station in Perm when he was recalled to base and ordered to get into his Sukhoi Su-9 wearing whatever he had on. He was not wearing a flight suit or any other gear, and his fighter was currently unarmed. His orders from Moscow were to take off immediately and pursue an enemy aircraft flown by American CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers at high altitude - and ram it.  He headed toward his plane and took off, headed for certain death. Luckily for Mentyukov, he never made it that far. His onboard radar failed, and he couldn't see his target. He switched off his afterburner and flew home, low on fuel. Soviet's Rocket Attacks At The Spy Plane Flown by Francis Gary Powers The enemy plane flying above the Soviet Union that day was a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, flown by American CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers. Mentyukov may have missed Powers, but the Soviets fired eight S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missiles at the spy plane. ...

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Gunnery Sgt. John Lee Canley, U.S. Marine Corps (1953-1981)

Gunnery Sgt. John Lee Canley, U.S. Marine Corps (1953-1981)

As 1967 turned to 1968, American forces had officially been fighting in Vietnam for years, and many believed the Vietnamese Tet holiday would pass uneventfully, as it had in years past. They were wrong. On January 31, 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched an offensive across South Vietnam, targeting more than 100 towns and cities.  It was the largest operation from either side until that point in the war. Eighty thousand communist troops hoped to spark a mass uprising against American and South Vietnamese (ARVN) forces among the populace. The uprising never happened, and a U.S. and ARVN counterattack quickly took back what was lost in the surprise.  One notable exception was the city of Hue, Vietnam's ancient capital. After taking Hue, the communists would have to be forcibly pushed out of the city street by street and house by house. It took 17 battalions of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and ARVN troops to dislodge them.  Sgt. John Lee Canley Led...

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MajGen. Keith L. Ware, U.S. Army (1941–1968)

MajGen. Keith L. Ware, U.S. Army (1941–1968)

MajGen Keith Lincoln Ware was born in Denver on November 23, 1915. His military career began on July 9, 1941, when he undertook his basic training at Camp Roberts, California, following his induction into the Army under the Selective Service Act. He attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry on July 18, 1942. Keith Lincoln Ware Was Awarded the Medal of Honor Assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, he sailed on October 22, 1942, from Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was part of the North African invasion force. He participated in the Algeria-French Morocco and Tunisian Campaigns. The next major operations he participated in were the invasion of Sicily, the Naples-Foggia battles of southern Italy, the landings at Anzio Beachhead, and then on the San Tropez beaches of southern France August of 1944. On June 18, 1945, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. An excerpt from the citation states, "On December 26, 1944, while...

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PO3 Robert Eugene Bush, U.S. Navy (1944–1945)

PO3 Robert Eugene Bush, U.S. Navy (1944–1945)

Robert Eugene Bush wasn't old enough to join the Navy when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. He was still in high school. His neighbor in his hometown of Raymond, Washington, was a Fireman aboard the USS Arizona. "He's still on board the Arizona," Bush said in a Veterans History Project Interview. Bush could barely stand the wait to join the war. He wouldn't be old enough until his 17th birthday in the Fall of 1943. He and a friend from school dropped out and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. "We just wanted to be part of it," he said. "A little of it was adventurous, but the rest of it was to get even." He would only be in the military for one year, six months, and 22 days, the shortest tour of duty of any of the Medal of Honor recipients in World War II. But the battle he would fight to earn the medal would be one of the war's biggest and deadliest: the Battle of Okinawa.  For 98 days, U.S. Army soldiers and United States Marines fought the Japanese...

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Capt Bobbie Evan Brown, U.S. Army (1918-1952)

Capt Bobbie Evan Brown, U.S. Army (1918-1952)

The 21st of October 1944 saw the first city inside Nazi Germany to fall to the Allies. U.S. troops captured Aachen, the historical capital of Charlemagne, in 19 days of fighting. The Wehrmacht took a beating at Aachen, losing two divisions and taking irreplaceable losses from eight more. The Americans also had a corridor into the Ruhr Basin, the Third Reich’s industrial nerve center. Among the Americans who captured Aachen was Lt. Robert E. Brown (Bobbie Evan Brown), a longtime Army veteran who first enlisted in 1918. The Army knew him officially as Bobbie Brown because he’d signed his name that way when joining at age 15. When the United States entered World War II, he was a unit First Sergeant, but as a talented athlete and leader, he was ready to go. He had no idea he would become a one-man bunker buster.  Bobbie Evan Brown Became Company Commander Brown had fought in North Africa with Gen. George S. Patton’s 2nd Armored Division, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, and fought his way...

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“Let’s Roll” Todd Beamer – Hero of UA Flight 93

“Let’s Roll” Todd Beamer – Hero of UA Flight 93

The years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have seen a lot of changes in the cultural fabric of the United States and in the armed forces. With the 20-year anniversary of that tragic day, it’s important for us to look back and remember some of the heroes that emerged from the ashes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93. One of those heroes was a civilian named Todd Beamer. Beamer died when United 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But his memory carried on, giving the U.S. military, American police officers, and firefighters around the world a new battle cry: "Let’s Roll." In many ways, 32-year-old Todd Beamer was the quintessential American. He was born in Michigan to middle-class parents who moved around the country wherever their work took the family. He was a Christian and an athlete who studied business in college. When he graduated, he got a good job with a major corporation and taught Sunday school in his spare time.  On Sept. 11,...

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Maj Richard Bong, U.S. Army Air Forces (1941–1945)

Maj Richard Bong, U.S. Army Air Forces (1941–1945)

Richard Ira "Dick" Bong, was born September 24, 1920, in St. Mary's hospital in Superior, Wisconsin. He was the first of nine children born to Carl T. Bong and Dora Bryce Bong, living on a farm near the small town of Poplar, Wisconsin, about 20 miles southeast of Superior. Dick's father came to the United States from Sweden at the age of seven, and his mother was of Scots-English descent. Dick grew up on the family farm and attended the Poplar Grade School. Richard Bong then attended the Poplar High School, which consisted of only three grades. Consequently, he completed his senior year at the Superior Central High School in 1938 by commuting 44 miles round-trip. Bong's interest in aviation began in 1928 when President Coolidge was vacationing near Superior and established a summer White House in the Superior High School. His mail was delivered to him daily by an airplane. Dick was fascinated. Later, he recalled that the mail plane "flew right over our house, and I knew then that I...

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SSgt William Hart Pitsenbarger, U.S. Air Force (1962-1966)

SSgt William Hart Pitsenbarger, U.S. Air Force (1962-1966)

Born in 1944 in Piqua, Ohio, William Hart Pitsenbarger was an ambitious only child. He wanted to quit high school to join the U.S. Army Special Forces' "Green Berets," but his parents convinced him to stay in school. After graduating in 1962, Pitsenbarger decided to join the Air Force and on New Year's Eve 1962, he was on a train bound for basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Pitsenbarger's Early Life and Education During his basic training in early 1963, "Pits" - as he was known to his friends - learned his military skills in a series of demanding schools. After Air Force basic training, he volunteered for pararescue work and embarked on a rigorous training program, which included U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, a rescue and survival medical course, and the U.S. Navy's scuba diving school. More Air Force rescue training and jungle survival school followed. His final training was in air crash rescue and firefighting.  His first assigned was to the Rescue Squadron...

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Lt Gen Lewis “Chesty” Puller, U.S.Marine Corps (1919-1955)

Lt Gen Lewis “Chesty” Puller, U.S.Marine Corps (1919-1955)

"Lewis Burwell ' Chesty' Puller, born in the 19th century, fought in the heaviest fighting of the 20th century and is now a legend in this century. The most decorated Marine to ever wear the uniform, and also the most beloved, Puller left a mark on the Marine Corps that would define its culture for years to come." - Michael Lane Smith Biography of Lewis "Chesty" Puller The son of a grocer, Lewis "Chesty" Puller was born June 26, 1898, at West Point, Virginia, to Matthew and Martha Puller. He loved hunting and fishing and was a military history buff who grew up listening to old veterans' tales of the American Civil War and idolizing Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. He was forced to help support his family after his father's death when he was ten. Puller attempted to join the U.S. Army in 1916 to take part in the Punitive Expedition to capture Mexican leader Pancho Villa, but he was too young and his mother refuses to grant parental consent. In 1917, he followed his martial interest to...

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