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GySgt R. Lee Ermey
US Marine Corps
View his service history on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: Ermey in Marine Wing Support Group 17 at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan. In 1968, he was ordered to Vietnam with MWSG-17, and spent 14 months in country. The remainder of his service was on Okinawa where he was advanced to Staff Sergeant (E-6). He was medically discharged in 1972 because of several injuries incurred during his service. On May 17, 2002, he received an honorary promotion to Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James L. Jones.
Given a choice between jail or the military, Maynard Smith reluctantly opted for the army. This 31-year-old Private was a discipline problem from the start and was reported to be spoiled, insubordinate, and unliked by all he encountered.
When he arrived in England for combat as an aerial gunner, no one wanted to fly with him, and it was only upon direct orders that the other crews would do so. Odd as it may seem it was on his very first mission that Maynard “Snuffy” Smith inexplicably emerged with the Medal of Honor.
Born in 1911 Caro, Michigan, Maynard Smith developed an early reputation as a spoiled kid prone to trouble and the ability to annoy almost anyone. On leaving school, it was apparent his plan was to live off his inheritance for as long as he could until eventually taking up a job in the tax field.
Smith fathered a child which oddly enough led to his unique path to the military. He and the child’s mother separated, but his failure to pay child support put the 31-year-old troublemaker in the hands of a judge. He was given two choices in 1942, go to jail or join the military.
Once in the Army, Smith found it tough taking orders from anyone particularly men nearly ten years younger than him. Consequently, he opted for the quickest route to acquire rank which at the time was to volunteer for Aerial Gunnery School.
Considering the bombers he was to crew often had a 50% survival rate; it seemed an odd choice for a typically selfish man.
By the time he arrived in England in 1943, his obnoxious personality and reputation for failing to be a team player preceded him. Making no friends in his new location, he earned the nickname “Snuffy” for his obtuse personality.
On May 1, 1943, now Staff Sergeant Smith climbed into the ball gun turret of his B-17 and headed out for France. The target was a series of U-Boat pens near Saint-Nazaire which was a heavily defended location with the nickname “flak city.”
Despite its reputation, at least one group of bombers arrived on target and met little resistance from the German forces.
Dropping their bombs and heading for home, the crew of Smith’s B-17 felt they had made it. Unfortunately, the lead plane made a navigational error, and while he believed they were heading for England, he was leading the group straight to the heavily fortified city of Brest, France. As the group began to descend from the clouds, they were met by a welcoming party of German fighters and intense anti-aircraft fire. Smith’s bomber was instantly hit. Enemy fire ripped through the plane’s fuel tanks causing a massive fire to erupt in the middle of the fuselage. Their communications system went down, the oxygen system was destroyed, and the power to Smith’s ball turret was knocked out.
With the fire raging, three of the crew members decided it was time to bail out. They parachuted over the channel never to be heard from again.
Smith, on the other hand, leaped into action. He tended to the wounded crew as the pilots attempted to navigate the plane home. However, German fighters were still riddling the plane with bullets, and the fire continued to rage threatening to melt the fuselage. They were a long way from home and Smith spent the next 90 minutes treating the wounded, manning the machine gun, and fighting the fire.
The temperature in the plane became so intense the extra ammo began to explode. Smith threw the exploding ammunition through the holes in the fuselage the fire had created. Anything not bolted down he ejected. When the fire extinguishers were empty, Smith donned some protective clothing and attacked the fire by hand. As the plane finally approached England Smith had put the fire out, in part by urinating on it.
The plane landed on the first available airfield and broke in half upon touchdown. Somehow they had made it and the man they dubbed “Snuffy” now found himself an unlikely hero.
Unfortunately for Smith, it did nothing to alleviate his personality problems, and his fellow soldiers only seemed to resent him more. The week that Smith was to receive his Medal of Honor from the Secretary of War he was assigned to KP duty for disciplinary problems.
After the presentation, Smith continued to fly on four more missions before being diagnosed with “operational exhaustion”. He was reduced in rank to Private with a clerical job far from the skies where he earned the nation’s highest military honor.
Smith lived until 1984. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery as the war hero with whom no one wanted to fly. His actions on that fateful May day in 1943 will forever remain noted as a real display of inexplicable courage; obnoxious personality or not.
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2nd Lt Jack Palance
US Army Air Forces
View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: In the late 1930s, Palance started a professional boxing career. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Palance’s boxing career ended and his military career began as a member of the United States Army Air Forces. Palance’s rugged face, which took many beatings in the boxing ring, was disfigured when he bailed out of a burning B-24 Liberator bomber while on a training flight over southern Arizona, where he was a student pilot. Plastic surgeons repaired the damage as best they could, but he was left with a distinctive, somewhat gaunt, look. After much reconstructive surgery, he was discharged in 1944.
There are many of our members who are the family historians. They have clicked on Remember a Veteran and built a page for their ancestors. We have quiet a few profiles that are go back to the Revolutionary War. Even more from the Civil War. We even have a member who is going through his local cemetery to build a page for every veteran buried there.
Once you have added members to your family, you’ll see a button under your photo that says Family Who Served. Click it and you will see your family in a brief shadow box format. To see this image in larger format, click here.
You can also view a short video here that will walk you through the steps.
Diane, Loyde, Darrell and Rowdy
View the service history of actor:
Ens Dennis Weaver
View his Service Profile on TogetherWeServed.com
Short Bio: Best remembered as TV’s “McCloud”, Weaver (top row, center) was an Ensign in the Naval Air Corps in World War II. “I flew the Grumman F4F Wildcat, but I never got overseas,” he says. “I fought the battles of Baffin Bay, Alameda and Opa Locka. I had orders to go overseas but then they dropped the bomb and the war was over.”
A Training Mission That Left More GIs Dead Than Utah Beach
Exercise Tiger is one of Britain’s most harrowing wartime secrets. It involved the slaughter of young American soldiers on the shores of a Devon beach.
At the time the incident was hastily covered up, and the bodies of the GIs who were killed were buried in complete secrecy.
If Allied high command wanted to use Exercise Tiger to give their soldiers a taste of what they would experience during the D-Day landings, they cut far too close to the core. The sea ran red with their blood as corpses bobbed in the surf.
Officially, the deaths were attributed to a surprise attack launched by German E-boats the day after the exercises. The authorities have never acknowledged what happened on Slapton Sands on April 27, 1944, although as time has passed information about the tragedy has become more widespread.
The whole point of the exercise was to make the dress rehearsal as realistic as possible. Dummy enemy positions were built alongside concrete pillboxes. There were 30 men in each assault team armed with flamethrowers, bazookas, machine guns, and mortars.
Slapton was the perfect place to carry out the exercise. The beach consists of coarse gravel and is similarly shaped to the one in Normandy where the real assault would take place.
To make the exercise as realistic as possible, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered that live ammunition was to be used. He wanted it to smell, look and feel like a real battle. He wanted the men to experience seasickness, wet clothes, and the pressure that comes with performing under fire. Instead of giving the soldiers a taste of what would be waiting for them in Normandy, the mock German defenders cut down their comrades in droves.
The Guardian newspaper at the time reported how Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Wolf heard shots zinging past his ear and saw infantrymen hit the beach and remain there motionless. Royal Engineer Jim Cory recalled that men were ‘mown down like ninepins’ before counting 150 fatalities.
An error in communication was also responsible for further friendly fire deaths. During the landing, a naval bombardment was supposed to fire rounds over the top of the assaulting troops. However, American Admiral Don P. Moon delayed the exercise by an hour. When the second wave of GIs hit the beach, they came under fire from artillery, suffering an unknown number of casualties.
The official death toll of Exercise Tiger was 749 men, which is more than perished at the hands of the real enemy during the Utah beach landings. It was the worst loss of life since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
Officially, many of the deaths were assigned to the Battle of Lyme Bay. It occurred the morning after the training when a Convoy T-4, which consisted of eight landing craft carrying men from the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, was attacked by German E-boats in Lyme Bay.
Two ships had been assigned to protect the convoy, but only one was present. Because of a typographical error, the British and Americans were on different radio frequencies and could not properly coordinate. As a result, they were in the dark about the danger lurking below the depths.
The Germans ruthlessly attacked the landing craft, sending men overboard and sinking others. 496 servicemen were on board; 424 died. After the Nazis had launched torpedoes, Allied commanders ordered boats to scatter to avoid more casualties.
It was a death sentence to those still bobbing in the sea. Men died from exposure to the elements but more died because they put their life jackets on around their waists instead of under their armpits. Doing so turned them onto their fronts and forced their faces under water.
As a result of the Battle of Lyme Bay, the Normandy invasion was nearly called off. Ten officers with BIGOT-level clearance were missing. That level of clearance meant they knew about the invasion plans and subsequently their capture would have compromised the Allies.
In the aftermath of the disaster, there were multiple reports of mass graves being dug in the Devon countryside to hide the shameful carnage that had been carried out that day. The Guardian reported anecdotal evidence that supported the claim, although it was fiercely disputed.
There were some lessons gained from the grim episode – albeit ones that would seem like common sense now. Radio frequencies were standardized. Better life jacket training was also put in place for soldiers, and guidance was provided for small craft to pick up survivors who were floating in the water on D-Day.
All that cannot hide the fact that the death toll was completely unacceptable and the cover-up was shameful. Those men should never have met their death in a training exercise on friendly soil and the lessons learned from the exercise can never mitigate that.
View the Service History of actor:
SSgt Hal Holbrook
Short Bio: During World War II, Holbrook served in the Army in Newfoundland. After the war, he attended Denison University, graduating in 1948. While at Denison, Holbrook’s senior honors project concerned Mark Twain. He’d later develop “Mark Twain Tonight”, the one-man show in which he impersonates the great American writer Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemens.