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Posts tagged ‘Medal of Honor’

20
Aug

Profile in Courage: Pete Lemon

2435993The tall man in an immaculate business suit looked across the crowded classroom at more than a hundred young faces. He was an imposing figure, over six feet tall and broad of shoulder. Yet he spoke with a quiet gentleness that captivated the children. At the back of the room stood an impatient cameraman from the local TV station. He had come to interview a rare hero, a living Medal of Honor recipient. It seemed, however, that Peter Lemon was more interested in talking to the children than in talking to the camera. And he wasn’t even talking about himself or his own heroic actions decades earlier. Instead, the hero, pausing from time to time to compose himself, talked of three friends who had died the night of his action.
On that spring day in 1993, there were only 204 living Americans authorized to wear the Medal of Honor. Mr. Lemon was one of them, yet he had shown up in business attire, no Medal draped around his neck. The cameraman tried not to show either his impatience or his disappointment for it would not have mattered. Pete Lemon wasn’t seeking publicity, he was finding a “mission.”  When the presentation came to a close Mr. Lemon invited the children to ask questions. “What does the Medal of Honor look like?” asked one student.
“Here, I’ll show you,” Mr. Lemon replied as he withdrew a blue award case from his pocket. He took the Medal from the case and passed it out to the children to touch and hold. Everyone else in the room seemed equally surprised at the ease with which Mr. Lemon allowed one of our Nation’s rarest treasures to pass from hand to hand. Mr. Lemon must have read our thoughts for he quickly stated, “What good is it to have this Medal if you can’t share it.” Few in the audience that day realized what a major step that event was for Pete Lemon. For him becoming a Medal of Honor recipient began after receiving his award, not in the moments of terror and valor that precipitated it on April 1, 1970.
Peter Lemon was 19 years old, exhausted, scared, and fighting for his life. His body was bleeding from numerous shrapnel wounds in his head, back, and neck. These had been inflicted by an enemy mortar that had exploded near him earlier. Specialist 4 Lemon was fortunate. That same mortar round had literally vaporized one of his close friends and fellow soldiers.
For more than three hours the battle had raged at Fire Support Base Illingworth, one of two small American outposts in Tay Ninh Province. Pete and his 18-man platoon had just returned from another recon patrol hoping to get a good night’s rest. But on this night there was no sleep to be found. Close to 400 enemy soldiers swarmed the small American outpost, and they had chosen the area of the perimeter defended by Pete’s Platoon as their point of attack. Already the young soldier had successfully fought back two waves of enemy soldiers, survived the mortar attack, watched three friends die, and carried another wounded comrade to safety. Each time the enemy had come Pete Lemon had fought with fury, determined that if he could survive this assault, the worst would be over. Wounded a second time, when a third wave appeared poised to overrun the perimeter it seemed that all hope for survival was lost. Determined to go down fighting, however, the intrepid soldier found a working machine gun and jumped to the top of the berm (dirt pile surrounding the base camp) and, in a fully exposed position, continued to fire at the enemy.
Wounded yet a third time in that final assault, and reduced to having to fend off the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, somehow the fearless Army Ranger survived the night. In the days that followed he surveyed the impact of that night from his hospital bed. Every man in the platoon had been wounded. Dead were three of his closest friends, Casey Waller, Nathan Mann and Brent Street.
His own wounds would require more than a month of hospitalization, yet he had refused to be evacuated until the other wounded had been flown to a field hospital. Peter Lemon’s war was over and within six months he had returned to his hometown in the state of Michigan as a civilian to try and forget an event that would forever haunt his dreams. When word arrived the following spring that President Nixon would present the Medal of Honor to him at the White House, Pete Lemon seriously considered turning down the award. There had been eighteen heroes on his section of the perimeter that night, three of whom had died. The Medal, if there was to be one, belonged to them, not to Pete Lemon.
Eventually, the Army prevailed upon the young man from Michigan to accept his Country’s highest award. Ten days after his 21st birthday President Nixon greeted him at the White House and proclaimed him a “hero.” Pete Lemon, who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of twelve, was the only Canadian-born Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War and the first since World War II. It was not a role he had either sought or desired. Shortly after receiving the award he moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There he returned to college where he received Bachelors and Masters Degrees, and quietly built several successful businesses. Few people, including his closest friends from his college days or even his next-door neighbors, knew that Peter Lemon was a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
One of Pete’s fellow Medal of Honor recipients had once said, “It’s easier to earn the Medal than to wear it.” Pete didn’t even try. But while he shunned public recognition of his military heroism, he never forgot the men who had been with him on that night. The survivors of the April Fools Day assault on FSB Illingworth had tried to stay in touch through the years, attempted to support each other through the tough times of “survivor’s guilt” and “what if?” questions. While visiting by phone with one of those comrades one night almost thirteen years after his moment of valor, Pete was asked about his Medal of Honor.
“Oh, I have it,” Pete Replied.
“Where is it?” asked his friend.
“In a shoebox in my closet.”
“You don’t wear it?”
“No!”
“Why not?”
“It isn’t mine,” Pete quickly answered. “It belongs to Casey Waller, Nathan Mann, Brent Street, and the guys in the unit.”
In the weeks that followed Pete thought often of that conversation. From time to time he would look at the Medal and his name engraved on its backside, then put it away in the realization that it belonged to other men. More years passed. Then one night while visiting with yet another of the men from his unit, his former comrade in arms put it into perspective. “Look, Pete,” he told the reluctant hero, “Casey, Nathan, and Brent are gone! If you really feel like that Medal belongs to them, you need to wear it. Every time you wear that Medal you are reminding people about guys like them who fought and died.”
The transition from “reluctant hero” to “Medal of Honor Recipient” would take time, and simple steps like the one Pete had taken that day in 1993 at that middle school.. Pete did attend the Medal of Honor functions, he had a responsibility to his fellow Medal Recipients to do so, and he had never been a man to shy away from responsibility. Returning from one such reunion in 1996 Pete was confronted by a question that would give him a new perspective on the award. After several days of mingling with heroes of the last three wars Pete’s children asked, “Dad, who are these guys.”
The answer was not so simple, for Pete understood it from his children’s perspective. Everyone knew these men were heroes, Medal of Honor recipients. But his own children had looked past the Medals around their necks, read the lines in their faces and the scars they wore, and wondered about the men themselves. Pete himself had to admit that, beyond the Medal, he shared in common with them, there were many he knew very little about personally. And so, for perhaps the first time in the history of the award, someone began asking the question “Beyond the Medal you wear, just who are you and what do you want to tell America?”
 In 1997 Pete tried to answer that question, not only for his own children but for children across our Nation. More than half of the living Medal of Honor recipients responded to the question with sometimes humorous, other times somber, but always moving thoughts from their heart. Those answers were published in Pete’s first book, ‘Beyond the Medal, A Journey from Their Hearts to Yours.’
“This book ought to be in every school,” said a young student shortly after the release of Beyond the Medal. That student had used the book for a report in his own school. Other students wrote to Pete after reading his book, many of them echoing the same thought. That same year the Rotary Club in Pueblo, Colorado had a similar idea and purchased autographed copies for every school in the city and county’s two districts. As Pete Lemon pondered these things and remembered his own definition of a “Good Soldier” and his present role as a “Citizen Soldier,” a new mission developed. For more than a year he began to lay the groundwork for that mission, the dream of putting the words of yesterday’s greatest heroes in hands of tomorrow’s heroes. True to his mission, his hard work and sacrifice are now paying off. Early in October 1999, a special new printing of Beyond the Medal is being mailed to every middle school and high school in our Nation, more than 32,000 of them.
With the humility that characterizes our greatest heroes, Pete would be quick to give the credit for the success of this new mission to the sponsors of the program which includes the Castle Rock Foundation, Fulcrum Publishing, The Military Order of the Purple Heart (Fountain, CO), the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and other anonymous supporters. As one of Pete’s closest friends, I know all too well how many hours he has sacrificed and the money he has invested personally, to accomplish the mission for which he so quickly gives others credit. Some things just never change!
Today Pete Lemon is the proud father of 3 children and works as a professional speaker for corporations and associations, and volunteers his free time to schools, veterans groups, and other organizations. It has taken 25 years from the date of his award for him to learn to become a Medal of Honor Recipient. Is he finally comfortable with it? Not really. The Medal he wears still belongs to other men in his own heart and mind. It is for them that he accepts his role and accomplishes his newest mission, hoping that when others see the five-pointed star hanging from its ribbon of blue around his neck that they will look beyond the Medal and see the man.
To read the about the action that earned Peter Lemon his Medal of Honor, please go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_C._Lemon
23
Jul

Awarded the Medal of Honor and Then Demoted

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.

26
Feb

Army Captain Receives Medal of Honor

Trump Awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam War MedicRetired U.S. Army Capt. Gary M. Rose was presented with the military’s highest honor for heroism by President Donald Trump at an Oct. 23rd ceremony at the White House.

Congress authorized the Medal of Honor for Rose, who will turned 70 on Oct. 17th, last summer after years of lobbying by the military on the California native’s behalf for his actions in saving and caring for dozens of fellow Soldiers during the so-called “Secret War in Laos.”

Researcher and Army veteran Neil Thorne, who has drafted a number of medal applications for members of the secret Studies and Observations Group in which Rose served, told the New York Times last year that his was the first Medal of Honor to expressly acknowledge the heroics of a Soldier on the ground in Operation Tailwind, which played out from Sept. 11-14, 1970, in Chavane, Laos.

At the time, President Richard M. Nixon was denying that American troops were even in the South East Asian country bordering Vietnam. The secrecy surrounding America’s classified operations during the Vietnam War continues to this day; the White House announcement about next month’s medal presentation does not mention that Rose was ever in Laos, in describing his heroics on the battlefield.

The statement says Rose “received the Medal of Honor for voluntarily risking his life on multiple occasions during combat operations while serving as a Medic with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). From Sept. 11 through September 14, 1970, while his unit was engaged with a much larger force deep in enemy-controlled territory, then-Sergeant Rose repeatedly ran into the line of enemy fire to provide critical medical aid to his comrades, using his own body on one occasion to shield a wounded American from harm.

On the final day of the mission, although wounded himself, Sergeant Rose voluntarily exposed himself to enemy fire while moving wounded personnel to the extraction point, loading them into helicopters, and helping to repel an enemy assault on the American position. As he boarded the final extraction helicopter, intense enemy fire hit the helicopter, causing it to crash shortly after takeoff. Again, ignoring his own injuries, Sergeant Rose pulled the helicopter crew and members of his unit from the burning wreckage and provided medical aid until another extraction helicopter arrived.”

On his second day in Laos, Rose was aiding a wounded Soldier when he “had a hole blown through my foot about the size of your thumb,” he told USA TODAY. “That night I took my boot off to see how bad it was. My index finger, my whole finger, slipped into the hole. So I took my finger out. I remember putting my sock back on. I remember thinking, I’ll worry about that later.”

The meritorious conduct “must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.”

Rose, previously was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the country’s second-highest award for valor.

After 20 years in the Army, he worked as a technical consultant in the defense and auto industries, developing user and maintenance manuals and training programs and materials.

The father of three and grandfather of two is now retired and lives with his wife, Margaret, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he is active in a number of charitable organizations.

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.
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/

14
Aug

Medal of Honor recipient and TogetherWeServed.com member Doc Ballard Victim of a Burglary

Colonel Don “Doc” Ballard, Medal of Honor recipient and his wife Virginia suffered a great loss in March while they were visiting the President with other Medal of Honor Recipients. Many items of value were taken plus cash raised by selling MOH books that belonged to Doc’s charitable Forgotten Veterans Program which pays funeral expenses for veterans who don’t qualify for benefits.

I have asked Doc what we can do to help. His answer was Virginia and he would be fine, many items cannot be replaced, but no one was hurt. Doc did say we could help by helping him build up the Forgotten Veterans Program coffers though. To that end, here is the address to send donations for the Forgotten Veterans Program.

Doc also raises funds by selling autographed copies of several Medal of Honor related books. If you would like to order a book, email us at admin@togetherweserved.com and we will be happy to email the form to you.

Send Donations and Book Orders to:
Swan Lake
Attention: The Forgotten Veterans Program
30000 Valor Drive
Grain Valley, MO 64029

26
Jun

Profile in Courage: The First Recipient of the Air Force MOH

By LtCol Mike Christy-TogetherWeServed Dispatches

A separate design for a version of the Medal of Honor for the U.S. Air Force was created in 1956, authorized in 1960, and officially adopted on April 14, 1965. Previously, members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, U.S. Army Air Forces, and the U.S. Air Force received the Army version of the medal.  The first person to receive the new U.S. Air Force Medal of Honor was Major Bernie Fisher during the Battle of A Shau Valley in March 1966. He also received a Silver Star during the same battle.

The A Shau Valley is located in Thua Thein Hue Province, 30 miles southwest of the coastal city of Hue, along the border of Laos. The valley runs north and south for twenty-five miles and is a mile-wide flat bottomland covered with tall elephant grass, flanked by two strings of densely forested mountains that vary from three to six thousand feet. Its geography and isolation made it a primary infiltration route for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) into South Vietnam for men and material brought down from the north along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Located just five miles from the border with Laos was A Shau Special Forces camp with the mission of detecting and interdicting enemy forces. Defending the camp were 10 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group and 210 South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). Out of friendly artillery range, it was supported by Air Commando units equipped with vintage A-1 Skyraiders and AC-47 Spooky gunships.

The camp consisted of some barracks buildings, a triangular fort, and an airstrip made of pierced steel planking just outside the barbed wire perimeter east of the camp. The fort had a mortar bunker at each corner. The walls consisted of steel plate and sandbags.

The camp was routinely harassed by small Vietcong (VC) formations leading up to the battle. Throughout February andMarch, 1966, platoon-sized troops from the camp were sent out to conduct reconnaissance patrols in the surrounding area. On March 5, two North Vietnamese Army (NVA) defectors turned up at the camp. Under interrogation, they indicated that four battalions of the North Vietnamese 325th Division were planning to attack the camp.

Based on that information, night patrols were dispatched to confirm the enemy positions but no sightings were made. However, Air Commandos conducting reconnaissance flights observed large build-ups of NVA troops along with anti-aircraft emplacements. As a result, airstrikes were ordered against enemy positions.

On March 7, Air Force C-123s brought in reinforcements in the form of a MIKE force, increasing the strength of the camp to 17 Green Berets and 368 South Vietnamese irregulars and Chinese Nung mercenaries.

On March 8, the camp was placed on general alert and the camp’s defenders had taken up their positions. During the night a small enemy assault was launched but thrown back.

Shortly after midnight on March 9, with the cloud ceiling at 400 feet, an Air Force AC-47D “Spooky 70” from the 4th Air Commando Squadron got through the clouds and flew up the valley at treetop level, strafing the attacking NVA formations. On the gunship’s second pass, it was hit hard by ground fire. The right engine was torn from its mounts. Seconds later, the other engine was knocked out, too. The bullet-riddled AC-47 crash-landed on a mountain slope, five miles farther up the valley. All six crewmen survived but were attacked by NVA troops. Three crewmen were killed but the other three were eventually rescued by a U.S. Air Force HH-43 helicopters.

About 2 am, March 9, a second attack began with enemy bombardment emanating from the surrounding hills. Mortars, artillery, and rocket-propelled grenades pounded the camp, killing two Americans and wounding 30. The barrage set buildings and the supply dump afire and reduced defensive positions to rubble. The enemy artillery barrage stopped at dawn.

Early in the morning of March 9, two A-1Es from Pleiku were diverted from other targets and sent to the aid of the fort at A Shau. Leading the A-1E flight was Air Force Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, a 39-year-old fighter pilot from Kuna, Idaho and a devout Mormon who did not drink, smoke, or use strong language.  He had been in the Air Force for 15 years.

There weren’t many jets in Vietnam in the early part of the war, so Fisher had volunteered to fly the A-1E, which was in use both by the South Vietnamese Air Force and by U.S. Air Commandos. Fisher was initially sent to Bien Hoa, where he trained South Vietnamese pilots to fly combat in the A-1E. He then transferred to the 1st Air Commando Squadron at Pleiku.

Arriving in the area of A Shau Valley, Fisher and his wingman Bruce Wallace found the mountains blanketed by clouds and began probing to find the canyon in which the camp lay.

On his third attempt, he emerged from the overcast and barely missed colliding with a helicopter that had just come from A Shau with wounded aboard. The helicopter pilot directed Fisher toward a saddle in the mountains, where he found an opening in the clouds about five miles northwest of the camp. He and Wallace went through the hole and flew down the valley at very low level. The enemy AAA was intense.

A C-130 airborne command post told Fisher to destroy the crashed AC-47 before the NVA captured the three 7.62 mm Gatling guns, which could fire 6,000 rounds per minute and which were still in working order. Fisher assigned that task to Wallace – who dropped six bombs on the wreckage and obliterated it – while Fisher went to the direct assistance of the fort.

For the next several hours, Fisher and Wallace collected arriving aircraft above the clouds and led them down into the valley. Fisher guided a CH-3C helicopter that came to evacuate the badly wounded. He also led A-1Es in a strike to break up a force that was massing to attack the fort.

Fisher went up again to bring down two Air Force C-123s. The mountains were tight on all sides, and forward visibility was less than half a mile. They began taking fire seven miles north of the camp. Fisher suppressed the ground fire as the transports air-dropped supplies for the fort from an altitude of 50 feet.

Low on fuel, Fisher went through the clouds one more time to help a forward air controller lead two B-57 bombers down the valley. In all, Fisher spent about two hours under the clouds. He made an emergency landing at Da Nang, 20 minutes away, with almost no fuel left in his tank.

Fisher was awarded the Silver Star for his role as on-scene commander and Wallace received the Distinguished Flying Cross. However, Fisher had not yet seen the last of the A Shau Valley.

In the afternoon on March 9, supplies of ammunition were flown in by C-123 and CV-2 aircraft, but the resupply drops often landed outside of the camp and could not be retrieved. At the same time, helicopters were called to evacuate the wounded. Because of bad weather, however, reinforcements from Hue and Phu Bai could not be deployed, forcing the camp’s defenders to repair as well as they could their defensive wall and dug in for the night.

Sometime between midnight and 3 AM during the night of March 10, the NVA launched yet another attack with mortar and recoilless rifle fire. Two C-123s and an AC-47 dropped flares throughout the night. Before daylight, an enemy assault team penetrated the east wall of the camp, where hand-to-hand combat took place for three hours. By 8 AM, the defenders were pushed into the camp’s north wall and the NVA dug in between the airstrip and the camp.

Throughout the day U.S. Marine Corps and Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) aircraft strafed NVA positions around the camp, but as fighting continued the situation deteriorated with ammunition supplies running short.

About 11 AM, the defenders reported that they could hold out no more than another hour and that airdrops to resupply them with ammunition should stop since they could not retrieve the bundles.

Bernie Fisher and his wingman that day, Capt. Francisco “Paco” Vazquez, were en route to provide air support to Army forces near Kontum when they got an emergency radio call to divert to A Shau. Fisher’s call sign was “Hobo 51,” and Vazquez was “Hobo 52.”

By 11:15 AM, Hobo flight had joined numerous other aircraft that were stacked and circling at 8,000 feet and higher above the valley. They had not yet gone to the aid of the fort because of the danger of running into mountain peaks hidden by the cloud cover.

One of the other A-1 flights in the stack was led by Maj. Dafford W. “Jump” Myers from the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Qui Nhon. Myers was “Surf 41,” and his wingman, Capt. Hubert King, was “Surf 42.”

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22
May

Profile in Courage – Dakota Meyer

By LtCol Mike Christy-Together We Served Dispatches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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27
Mar

Military Myths & Legends: Leadership and the Janitor

By James Moschgat USAF (Ret.)
William “Bill” Crawford was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our Squadron janitor.While we Cadets busied ourselves preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades, and room inspection, or never ending leadership classes-Bill quietly moved about the squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or just tidying up the mess 100 college-age kids can leave in a dormitory.

Sadly, and for many years, few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, “G’morning!” in his direction as we hurried off to our daily duties. Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job – he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours.

Maybe it was his physical appearance that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn’t move very quickly, and in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets.

And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person’s world. What did he have to offer us on a personal level?

Maybe it was Mr. Crawford’s personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a Cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn’t happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell. For whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the Squadron. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford…well, he was just a janitor.

That changed one fall Saturday afternoon in 1976. I was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy, when I stumbled across an incredible story.

On September 13, 1943, a Pvt. William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy.

“William Crawford’s Medal of Honor Citation.”

The words on the page leapt out at me, “in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire… with no regard for personal safety… on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions.” It continued, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States…”

“Holy cow,” I said to my roommate, “you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor recipient.” We all knew Mr. Crawford was a World War II Army vet, but that didn’t keep my friend from looking at me as if I was some sort of alien being. Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait to ask Bill about the story.

We met Mr. Crawford bright and early Monday and showed him the page in question from the book, anticipation and doubt on our faces. He stared at it for a few silent moments and then quietly uttered something like, “Yep, that’s me.”

Mouths agape, my roommate and I looked at one another, then at the book, and quickly back at our janitor. Almost at once, we both stuttered, “Why didn’t you ever tell us about it?” He slowly replied after some thought, “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.” I guess we were all at a loss for words after that. We had to hurry off to class and Bill, well, he had chores to attend to.

After that brief exchange, things were never again the same around our squadron. Word spread like wildfire among the Cadets that we had a hero in our midst – Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had been bestowed The Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.”

Those who had before left a mess for the “janitor” to clean up, started taking it upon themselves to put things in order.

Cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we even began inviting him to our formal Squadron functions. He’d show up dressed in a conservative dark suit and quietly talk to those who approached him, the only sign of his heroics being a simple blue, star-spangled lapel pin. Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our Squadron to one of our teammates.

Mr. Crawford changed too, but you had to look closely to notice the difference. After that fall day in 1976, he seemed to move with more purpose, his shoulders didn’t seem to be as stooped, he met our greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger “good morning” in return, and he flashed his crooked smile more often. The Squadron gleamed as always, but everyone now seemed to notice it more. Bill even got to know most of us by our first names, something that didn’t happen often at the Academy. While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill’s Cadets and his Squadron.

As often happens in life, events sweep us away from those in our past. The last time I saw Bill was on graduation day in June 1977. As I walked out of the Squadron for the last time, he shook my hand and simply said, “Good luck, young man.” With that, I embarked on a career that has been truly lucky and blessed.

Mr. Crawford continued to work at the Academy and eventually retired in his native Colorado, one of four Medal of Honor recipients who lived in the small town of Pueblo.
A wise person once said, “It’s not life that’s important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference.” Bill was one who made a difference for me. Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons, and I think of him often.

Here are ten I’d like to share:
1.) Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bind their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, “Hey, he’s just an Airman.” Likewise, don’t tolerate the O-1, who says, “I can’t do that, I’m just a Lieutenant.”

2.) Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we hung the “janitor” label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others. He deserved much more, and not just because he was received the Medal of Honor. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.

3.) Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory “hellos” to heartfelt greetings, his demeanor and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.

4.) Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that’s no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?

5.) Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford certainly didn’t fit anyone’s standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was just a private on the day he earned his Medal. Don’t sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it’s easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don’t ignore the rest of the team. Today’s rookie could and should be tomorrow’s superstar.

6.) Leaders Should Be Humble. Most modern day heroes, and some leaders, are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your “hero meter” on today’s athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we’ve come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford-he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics. Leaders would be well served to do the same.

7.) Life Won’t Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve. We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don’t come your way. Perhaps you weren’t nominated for junior officer or airman of the quarter as you thought you should – don’t let that stop you. Don’t pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn’t pursue glory – he did his duty and then swept floors for a living.

8.) No Job is Beneath a Leader. If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor recipient, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it.

9.) Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.” Mr. Crawford modeled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.

10.) Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some school or class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet every day will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look, and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don’t miss your opportunity to learn.

Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he was also a teacher, friend, role model, and one great American hero. He passed away on Mar. 15, 2000 and was buried on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For more on the life of Bill Crawford and the action that earned him his Medal of Honor, please go the following site: http://homeofheroes.com/profiles/profiles_crawford2.html

During his 30-year Air Force career, Col. James Moschgat accumulated more than 4,000 flying hours in fighter and trainer aircraft, including the F-4, F-16, T/AT-38, and the T-6A, and flew 60 combat missions in Operations NORTHERN and SOUTHERN WATCH, and IRAQI FREEDOM. He commanded two squadrons, an operations group, and an air expeditionary wing, and served staff tours at HQ United States Air Forces in Europe, Ramstein Air Base, GE, and HQ 12th Air Force, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ.

Moschgat retired from active duty in 2007. He is married to the former Becky J. Daggett of Pleasanton, Calif. They have four children, Patrick, Rhonda, Kymberli, and Matthew.

Editor’s Note:
Private William John Crawford was a scout for 3rd Platoon, Company I, 142nd Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, fighting in Italy during World War II on September 13, 1943 – just four days after the invasion of Salerno.

Crawford was a hero, lauded by peers for his actions in combat but was missing in action and presumed dead. Army Maj. Gen. Terry Allen presented Crawford’s Medal of Honor posthumously to his father, George, on May 11, 1944, at Camp (now Fort) Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It was later learned that Crawford was alive and in a POW camp. He returned to the United States after 18 months in captivity.

He passed away on Mar. 15, 2000.

20
Mar

Profiles in Courage: Audie Murphy

By LtCol Mike Christy – TWS Dispatches

He wanted to join the Marines, but he was too short. The paratroopers wouldn’t have him either. Reluctantly, he settled on the infantry, enlisting to become nothing less than one of the most-decorated heroes of World War II. He was Audie Murphy, the baby-faced Texas farm boy who became an American Legend.

The sixth of twelve children, Audie Murphy was born in Kingston, Hunt County, TX, on June 20, 1925. The son of poor sharecroppers, Emmett and Josie Murphy, he grew up on a rundown farm and attended school in Celeste. His education was cut short in 1936 when his father abandoned the family. Left with only a fifth grade education, Murphy began working on local farms as a laborer to help support his family. A gifted hunter, he was also able to feed his siblings from game animals he shot.

Though he attempted to support the family on his own by working various jobs, Murphy was ultimately forced to place his three youngest siblings in an orphanage when their mother died in May, 1941. This was done with the blessing of his older, married sister Corrine. Long believing that the military offered a chance to escape poverty, he attempted to enlist following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As he was only 16 years old, he was rejected for being underage. Six month later, in June 1942, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Corrine adjusted Murphy’s birth certificate to make it appear that he was eighteen.

He first went to a U.S. Marine Corps recruiting office but was rejected due to his small stature (5’5″, 110 lbs.). Next he tried the U.S. Army Airborne but was again rejected. He was similarly rejected by the U.S. Navy. Pressing on, he ultimately achieved success with the U.S. Army and enlisted at Greenville, TX. on June 30, 1942. Ordered to Camp Wolters, TX., Murphy began basic training. Murphy completed basic training and transferred to Fort Meade, MD for infantry training.

Finishing his infantry training, Murphy was assigned to 3rd Platoon, Baker Company, 1st Battalion 15th Infantry Regiment 3rd Infantry Division in Casablanca, Morocco. Arriving in early 1943, he began training for the invasion of Sicily.

On July 10, 1943, the division made an assault landing on Sicily at a beach town called Licata. In one of the initial contacts, Murphy used his marksmanship skills to kill two Italian Officers attempting to escape on horseback. Five days later he was promoted to Corporal. Over the coming weeks, the 3rd Infantry Division fought its way into Palermo and raced on to capture Messina, thus ending the Sicilian campaign, where the 3rd had a short rest to take on replacements.

With the conclusion of the campaign on Sicily, Murphy and the Division shifted into training for the invasion of Italy. Coming ashore at Salerno on September 18th, nine days after the initial Allied landings, the 3rd Division immediately went into action and began an advance to and across the Volturno River before reaching Cassino. In the course of the fighting, Murphy led a night patrol that was ambushed. Remaining calm, he directed his men in turning back the German attack and captured several prisoners. This action resulted in a promotion to Sergeant on December 13, 1943.

Pulled from the front near Cassino, the 3rd Division took part in the landings at Anzio on January 22, 1944. During the course of the fighting around Anzio, Murphy, now a Staff Sergeant, earned two Bronze Stars for heroism in action. The first was awarded for his actions on March 2nd and the second for destroying a German tank on May 8th. With the fall of Rome in June, the 3rd Division was withdrawn and began preparing to land in Southern France as part of Operation Dragoon. Embarking, the division landed near St. Tropez on August 15, 1944.

On the day he came ashore, Murphy’s good friend Lattie Tipton was killed by a German Soldier who was feigning surrender. Incensed, Murphy stormed forward and single-handedly wiped out the enemy machine gun nest before using the German weapon to clear several adjacent German positions. For his heroism he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

As the 3rd Division drove north into France, Murphy continued his outstanding performance in combat. On October 2, 1944, he earned a Silver Star for clearing a machine gun position near Cleurie Quarry. This was followed by second Silver Star for advancing to direct artillery near Le Tholy. Recognizing Murphy’s competence as a combat leader, he was given a battlefield commission of 2nd Lieutenant and command of a rifle company.

On January 26, 1945, Audie Murphy and some 40 U.S. troops were tasked with holding a frigid snow-covered clearing around a roadway near the Alsatian town of Holtzwihr, awaiting promised reinforcements that were late in arriving. Just after mid-day, enemy artillery announced the arrival of at least 250 German troops and six Panzer tanks as they emerged from the woods.

Murphy had to once again quell a familiar sense of panic as the Germans lined up to attack, a mastery he had learned at the ripe young age of 19 during 18 months of bitter fighting across Italy and France. With two Silver Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross under his belt already, the baby-faced young Infantry Officer was leading men 10 years his senior into battle. Once the shooting began, though, he knew his instincts would take over. “The nerves will relax,” he later wrote, “the heart, stop its thumping. The brain will turn to animal cunning. The job is directly before us: destroy and survive.”

Knowing that his men stood no chance against so large a force, he instructed them back to pre-prepared defensive positions along a nearby tree line. As they ran for cover, he stayed behind and used his field telephone to call in an artillery strike. He had just enough time to radio in his coordinates before German tank fire began delivering devastation around him, and hit a nearby tank destroyer which began burning.

As the assault advanced, Murphy held his ground and continued calling in the Allied artillery. As his position became more precarious, he grabbed his field telephone and took cover atop the burning tank destroyer. Over the radio, he could hear the artillery commander asking how close the Germans were to his position. “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” he yelled back.

As the tank destroyer was slowly being engulfed in flames, Murphy saw that its .50-caliber machine gun turret was still operational and quickly seized the gun and began spraying the nearest German troops with withering fire. “My numbed brain is intent only on destroying,” Murphy later wrote in his autobiography. “I am conscious only that the smoke and the turret afford a good screen, and that, for the first time in three days, my feet are warm.” He continued firing burst after burst, mowing down Nazi troopers by the dozens and keeping the tanks at bay. All the while, he remained on the phone, directing artillery fire ever closer to his own position and dealing catastrophic damage to the advancing infantry.

Murphy’s troops watched in shock from their cover among the trees. “I expected to see the whole damn tank destroyer blow up under him any minute,” Private Anthony Abramski later wrote. In fact, the blaze provided a veil of smoke and flames that prevented the Germans from closing on his position out of fear that the vehicle was about to explode. In spite of this, continuous waves of German Infantrymen inched toward Murphy’s position. A flanking maneuver on his right side was met with a hail of pinpoint fire from his .50-caliber gun. German gunners riddled his smoldering tank destroyer with small arms and tank fire. One blast nearly threw him out and sent razor sharp shrapnel flying into his leg, but he ignored the wound and kept fighting. It was only when he ran out of ammunition that he finally withdrew. Dazed and bloodied, he jumped from the still-burning tank destroyer and limped back to his men. He later wrote that as he walked away, one thought in particular kept racing through his mind: “How come I’m not dead?”

It was the “greatest display of guts and courage I have ever seen,” a stunned Abramski later wrote. “For an hour he held off the enemy force singlehanded, fighting against impossible odds.” Murphy had personally killed or wounded some 50 enemy troops and directed artillery against dozens more. Even after reaching safety, he refused to be evacuated from the field and instead rallied his men in a counterattack that drove the Germans back into the woods.

Audie Murphy was hailed a national hero and awarded the Medal of Honor for his superhuman exploits at Holtzwihr. Not wanting to risk the life of its newest celebrity Soldier, the Army reassigned him as a Liaison Officer and removed him from combat. By the end of the war a few months later, the battle-hardened G.I. had endured three wounds, a nasty case of malaria, gangrene and more dead friends than he cared to remember. “There is VE-Day without,” he wrote of his mixed feelings at the war’s end, “but no peace within.”

In recognition of his overall performance between January 22, 1944 to February 18, 1945, Murphy also received the Legion of Merit. In May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday. Yet he had earned every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism.

Hailed as the most-decorated American Soldier of World War II, Murphy returned home a hero and was greeted with parades and elaborate banquets. LIFE magazine honored the brave, baby-faced soldier by putting him on the cover of its July 16, 1945 issue. That photograph inspired actor James Cagney to call Murphy and invite him to Hollywood to begin an acting career. The two men, one a heroic actor and the other an acting hero, both short in stature but large in presence, hit it off.

Removing his younger siblings from the orphanage, he took Cagney up on his offer, arriving in Hollywood with only his boyish good looks. However, despite his celebrity, for the next several years he struggled to make it as an actor. Jobs were few, and he was only able to land just two bit parts: “Beyond Glory” (1948), and “Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven” (1948). He finally got a lead role in “Bad Boy” (1949), and earned critical acclaim for his starring role in Stephen Crane’s Civil War epic, “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951), directed by John Huston.

In between movies, Murphy published his autobiography, “To Hell and Back.” The book quickly became a national bestseller, and in 1955, after much inner debate, he decided to portray himself in the film version of his book. The movie was a huge hit, setting a box-office record for Universal that wasn’t broken for 20 years until it was finally surpassed by “Jaws” (1975). One of his better pictures was “Night Passage” (1957), a Western in which he played the kid brother of James Stewart. He worked for Huston again on “The Unforgiven” (1960).

During his rise to fame, Murphy met and married 21-year-old actress Wanda Hendrix in 1949. Their marriage appeared rocky from the start, ending with divorce in 1950. He then married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer, and they had two children: Terrance Michael “Terry” Murphy (born 1952) and James Shannon “Skipper” Murphy (born 1954).

In the 25 years that Audie spent in Hollywood, he made a total of 44 feature films. He also filmed a 26 episode western television series, known as “Whispering Smith” which aired on NBC in 1961. Although the series earned good reviews, it was also characterized as unusually violent. Only 20 episodes were aired before the series was cancelled.

Audie Murphy also wrote some poetry and was quite successful as a songwriter. One of his better-known poems is “The Crosses Grow on Anzio” which appears in his autobiographical movie “To Hell and Back.” He also wrote a poem titled “Freedom Flies in Your Heart like an Eagle” which was part of a speech he gave at the July 20, 1968 dedication of the Alabama War Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

His songwriting talents were notable, as his penchant for country music and his poetic skill with rhyming and pentameter (a rhythmic syllabic pattern) resulted in many popular recordings. He usually teamed up with talented artists and composers such as Guy Mitchell, Jimmy Bryant, Scott Turner, Coy Ziegler, or Terri Eddleman. Dozens of Audie Murphy’s songs were recorded and released by such great performers as Dean Martin, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Jimmy Bryant, Porter Waggoner, Jerry Wallace, Roy Clark, Harry Nilsson and many, many others. His two biggest hits, both written in 1962 in collaboration with Scott Turner, were “Shutters and Boards,” which by the early ’70s was recorded in multiple languages by over 60 vocalists, and “When the Wind Blows in Chicago,” recorded by multiple artists including country artist Eddy Arnold on his 1993 RCA album “Last of the Love Song Singers.”

Despite his success in Hollywood, Audie never forgot his rural Texas roots. He returned frequently to the Dallas area where he owned a small ranch for a while. He also had ranches in Perris, California and near Tucson, Arizona. He was a successful Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racehorse owner and breeder, having interests in such great horses as “Depth Charge.”

Always an advocate for the needs of veterans, he broke the taboo about discussing war related mental problems after his experience. In an effort to draw attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War veterans, Audie Murphy was outspoken and candid about his personal problems with PTSD, then known as “Battle Fatigue”. He publicly called for the United States government to give more consideration and study to the emotional impact war has on veterans and to extend health care benefits to address PTSD and other mental health problems of returning war vets.

Murphy earned a great deal of money in his life as an actor and as part owner of the Great Western Arms Company, but also had a major gambling habit which meant his finances were in a poor state for the last years of his life. One friend estimated Murphy lost $3 million through gambling. In 1968 his film career had dried up, and he declared bankruptcy. When he filed for bankruptcy, he stated that he lost $260,000 in an Algerian oil deal and was dealing with the Internal Revenue Service over unpaid taxes.

On May 28, 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into Brush Mountain, near Catawba, Virginia, 20 miles west of Roanoke in conditions of rain, clouds, fog and zero visibility. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. The aircraft was a twin-engine Aero Commander 680 flown by a pilot who had a private-pilot license and a reported 8,000 hours of flying time, but who held no instrument rating. The aircraft was recovered on May 31, 1971.

At the time of his death, major television news networks ABC, CBS, and NBC only gave him a combined total of 1 minute and 30 seconds of news.

In 1975, a court awarded Murphy’s widow and two children $2.5 million in damages due to the accident.

He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, just across Memorial Drive from the Memorial Amphitheater. A special flagstone walkway has been constructed to accommodate the large number of people who stop to pay their respects to this hero. At the end of a row of graves, his tomb is marked by a simple, white, government-issue tombstone, which lists only a few of his many military decorations. The stone is, as he was, too small.

According to cemetery records, the only grave visited by more people than Murphy’s is that of assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

His widow, Pam Murphy, established her own distinctive thirty-five-year career working as a patient liaison at the Sepulveda Veteran’s Administration Hospital, treating every veteran who visited the facility as if they were a VIP. She remained working full time at the VA until 2007 when she was eighty-seven. She died peacefully at the age of 90 in her home in Canoga Park on April 8, 2010.

During Audie Murphy’s three years of active service as a combat Soldier in World War II, he became one of the best fighting men of this or any other century, earning 33 awards and decorations. What he accomplished during this period is most significant and probably will never be repeated by another soldier given today’s high-tech, stand-off type of warfare. The U.S. Army has always declared that there will never be another Audie Murphy.

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