Military Campaign Stories

Pvt Burt Young, U.S. Marine Corps (1957-1959)

Pvt Burt Young, U.S. Marine Corps (1957-1959)

You may not recognize the name, but you'll recognize the face. Let's be honest: a Burt Young movie marathon is a day well spent. He appeared in more than 160 roles in 50 years in Hollywood, acting alongside the silver screen's most recognizable names: Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, and, of course, Sylvester Stallone.  His credits include "Chinatown," "The Killer Elite" and "Once Upon a Time in America," along with his turn as Paulie in the 1976 film "Rocky." He continued in the role through all of the "Rocky" sequels, but it was his performance in the first film that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  The Unlikely Journey from Queens Hoodlum to Hollywood Star Burt Young, born Gerald Tommaso DeLouise on April 30, 1940, in Queens, New York, USA, grew up in a family where his father wore many hats—a sheet metal worker, an iceman, and eventually a high school shop teacher and dean. He has Italian-American heritage, which added authenticity to his...

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SFC Fred Willam Zabitosky, U.S. Army (1959-1989) – MOH Recipient

SFC Fred Willam Zabitosky, U.S. Army (1959-1989) – MOH Recipient

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. SFC Fred Zabitosky, US Army, distinguished himself while serving as an assistant team leader of a nine-man Special Forces long-range reconnaissance patrol. SFC Zabitosky's patrol was operating deep within the enemy-controlled territory in Laos when they were attacked by a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army unit.  SFC Fred Zabitosky Repeatedly Exposed Himself to North Vietnamese Attackts SFC Fred Zabitosky rallied his team members, deployed them into defensive positions, and, exposing himself to concentrated enemy automatic weapons fire, directed their return fire. Realizing the gravity of the situation, SFC Zabitosky ordered his patrol to move to a landing zone for helicopter extraction while he covered their withdrawal with rifle fire and grenades. Rejoining the patrol under increasing enemy pressure, he positioned each man in tight perimeter defense and...

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The Earth Is Weeping by Peter Cozzens

The Earth Is Weeping by Peter Cozzens

After the Civil War, the Indian Wars would last more than three decades, permanently altering the physical and political landscape of America. Peter Cozzens gives us both sides in comprehensive and singularly intimate detail.  Overview of The Earth Cries He covers lots of ground, much of it bloody, thus he skips lightly over certain events, but in doing so he doesn’t gloss over anything. Even when he treads familiar ground - Red Cloud’s War, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the Nez Perce flight and fight, the epic pursuit of Geronimo, Wounded Knee, and so forth - he relates all in surprisingly fresh and insightful fashion.  One of his major points is that Western Indians never united to oppose the white "invaders" but continued to make war on one another, as they had done for centuries. Indian tribes such as the Shoshones, Crows, and Pawnees - all of whom had been victimized by stronger tribes - cast their lot with the American soldiers, while Apaches scouted for the Army...

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WW2 – Battle Of Wake Island (1941)

WW2 – Battle Of Wake Island (1941)

The Battle of Wake Island was fought December 8-23, 1941, during the opening days of World War II. A tiny atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, Wake Island was annexed by the United States in 1899. Located between Midway and Guam, the island was not permanently settled until 1935 when Pan American Airways built a town and hotel to service their trans-Pacific China Clipper flights. Consisting of three small islets, Wake, Peale, and Wilkes, Wake Island was to the north of the Japanese-held Marshall Islands and east of Guam. As tensions with Japan rose in the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy began efforts to fortify the island. Work on an airfield and defensive positions began in January 1941. The following month, as part of Executive Order 8682, the Wake Island Naval Defensive Sea Area was created which limited maritime traffic around the island to U.S. military vessels and those approved by the Secretary of the Navy. An accompanying Wake Island Naval Airspace Reservation was also established...

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Civil War – The Battle of Chattanooga

Civil War – The Battle of Chattanooga

The November 1863 Battle of Chattanooga was a series of battles that were fought over the course of three days. It was also a series of battles that probably should have never happened in the first place. Around the same time, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured the key city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Union Army defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg; Gen. William Rosecrans managed to defeat Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga, forcing the south out of middle Tennessee. But Rosecrans failed to follow up on his big win in good time. When he finally did, he was soundly beaten at Chickamauga and pushed back to Chattanooga. Gen. Thomas: The Hero of The Battle of Chattanooga It was only because of Gen. George Henry Thomas’ determined stand at Chickamauga in September 1863 that the Union Army avoided destruction. Chattanooga was an important transportation hub at the time critical to both the Union and the Confederates. There was no going around it: both sides needed the city....

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The Sullivan Brothers

The Sullivan Brothers

Ever since the premiere of "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998, there's been a little bit of confusion around how and why the Army might want to pull one of its soldiers out of a combat zone, even if all of his many brothers were killed in combat.  During World War II, there were very few exemptions to the military draft. Most of the time, potential recruits were rejected for things like medical issues, having jobs critical to the war effort, or religious exemptions. It wasn't until after the war that the Department of Defense began considering things like families losing multiple sons in combat.  "Saving Private Ryan" was loosely based on the story of the four Niland Brothers. Edward Niland's B-25 Mitchell Bomber was shot down over Burma in May 1945, and he was considered killed in action (he was later liberated from a Japanese POW camp). Brothers Preston and Robert Niland were both killed at Normandy in June 1944. Sgt. William "Fritz" Niland was with the famed 501st Parachute Infantry...

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Maj Kurt Chew-Een Lee, U.S. Marine Corps (1945-1968)

Maj Kurt Chew-Een Lee, U.S. Marine Corps (1945-1968)

Kurt Chew-Een Lee is believed to have been the first Asian-American officer in the Marine Corps, rising through the ranks beginning his career from World War II to the Vietnam War.  Lee was born in 1926 in San Francisco and grew up in Sacramento, California. Lee's father was M. Young Lee, born in Guangzhou (Canton), emigrating in the 1920s to the Territory of Hawaii and then California. Once established in America, M. Young Lee returned to China to honor an arranged marriage. He brought his bride to California and worked as a distributor of fruits and vegetables to hotels and restaurants. Two of his brothers, Chew-Fan and Chew-Mon, became Army officers who also served in the Korean War. Chew-Mon received the Distinguished Service Cross and Chew-Fan the Bronze Star. Kurt Chew-Een Lee Joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944 Eager to fight in World War II, Kurt Chew-Een Lee joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944. Instead, he was based at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as a...

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Famous Navy Unit: VFA-31 Tomcatters

Famous Navy Unit: VFA-31 Tomcatters

VFA-31 (Strike Fighter Squadron 31) is the second oldest Navy attack fighter squadron. Known as the Tomcatters with the call sign "Felix," it is currently based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA. It flies the F/A-18E Super Hornet. "V" stands for fixed wing, "F" stands for fighter, and "A" stands for attack. Chief Of Naval Operations Instruction (OPNAVINST) governs the squadron designation system. The Navy's oldest currently active squadron is VFA-14, and it has been redesignated 15 times since it was established in 1919. The Enduring Tale of Felix and the Tomcatters Over the history of U. S. Naval Aviation, many designations have been used multiple times, resulting in numerous unrelated squadrons bearing the same designation at different times. The use of letter abbreviations for squadrons was promulgated in the "Naval Aeronautic Organization for Fiscal Year 1923," which is the first known record associating the abbreviated Aircraft Class Designations (V-heavier than...

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Backtracking in Brown Water by Rolland E. Kidder

Backtracking in Brown Water by Rolland E. Kidder

The market is flooded with books written about Vietnam. Many follow the same path in their storytelling, beginning with their youth, entry into the military, their war experiences, returning home, and how they feel today about that journey. This book does some of that, but it is different in more ways. The author takes us on a voyage spanning his wartime service as a U.S. Navy patrol boat officer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta to his recent return trip to Vietnam and finally, to the most poignant and memorable part of his story, visiting the families and graves of three friends and fellow combatants. The nexus of the book came from an article written by the author for Naval History magazine and published in 2010. But through that process of research and pouring over a journal he kept during his Vietnam tour of duty, the memories of those three men, James Rost and Eldon Tozer, both Navy patrol boat officers and Robert Olson, an Army advisor working with Vietnamese soldiers, kept popping...

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Sgt Jack Riley, U.S. Marine Corps (1966-1972)

Sgt Jack Riley, U.S. Marine Corps (1966-1972)

What personal and professional achievements from your Military service are you most proud of and why?:

Did each of us Marines in Vietnam have an impact on those in our charge? We follow all orders, doing our duty with the usual subordinate complaints of our being singled out again for something others should also be called upon to do. The common expression was being screwed by the green machine again. The platoon leader assigned combat patrols based on his and the platoon sergeant’s assessment of combined squad skills. Chief among those was whether the squad leader possessed the skills to accomplish the mission and safely return his men. “To safely return his men!” During Operation Prairie Three, March 30, 1967, I failed miserably to return with my men safely. Four of my Marines, plus two more who joined my squad on Hill 70, were killed that day and night. Two died from one mortar blast, and four died from bullets and shrapnel. Wounded three times myself, we were all hurting and vastly outnumbered. We never stopped fighting both the enemy and trying to cheat death. At battle’s end, while lying on a surgical gurney at the NSA, I felt like a total failure as a leader. We were victorious at the battle’s end, but six of my Marines did not safely return. More had experienced tour-ending severe wounds. So much for being a squared-away squad leader! I declined a recommendation for valor from my first sergeant. Losing six Marines does not warrant a medal! The guilt of those killed stayed with me for decades. I never spoke of Vietnam to my wife or siblings. I was invited to speak at events and did so only to recognize those brave men on Hill 70. I kept my shame to myself!

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CMSgt Jerry Shelton, Jr., U.S. Air Force (1983-2013)

CMSgt Jerry Shelton, Jr., U.S. Air Force (1983-2013)

What personal and professional achievements from your Military service are you most proud of and why?:

Boots on the Ground. Promotion to the Air Force’s highest enlisted rank, Chief Master Sergeant (one percent of the Air Force enlisted structure), certainly tops my list of professional achievements. But it was not the promotion itself that stands out as my most memorable military moment…well, not exactly. Let me explain. In May 2009, my Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) flight and I reported for duty at Combined Joint Task Force Paladin, headquartered at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where our EOD flight was under operational control. Supporting the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division throughout Wardak and Logar Province, our 16 EOD teams resolved 476 improvised explosive device incidents and 103 weapons cache operations, effectively removing over 21,280 pounds of explosives from the battlefield.

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LCDR Curtis Smothers, U.S. Navy (1962-1986)

LCDR Curtis Smothers, U.S. Navy (1962-1986)

What personal and professional achievements from your Military service are you most proud of and why?:

My proudest achievement during my 24 years’ and 6 months’ service in the U.S. Navy was my Presidential Meritorious Service Medal award. The award recognizes my performance as an Administrative Officer on the USS Coral Sea (CV-43) before and during the 1983 change of home port and around-the-world cruise. The Coral Sea was an older aircraft carrier dating back to about 1948. Duty on this proud ship could best be characterized as arduous and challenging. We had a fully deployed complement of the ship’s company and embarked squadrons consisting of about 5,000 officers and men. This was before the age of computers, email, and social media, so we had to do everything on paper and mostly by the seat of our pants.

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