Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TFH 2/29: Sp4c. Jerry D. McAfee, USA

Sorry for the late post, but I did find the story of a Leap Day hero. On  February 28-29, 1968 Specialist Fourth Class Jerry D. McAfee exhibited heroism in action worthy of our Nation's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.

He was serving with the 2nd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment on a reconnaissance mission near Bien Hoa when a South Vietnamese battalion found itself under heavy attack and needed immediate reinforcement.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TFH 2/28: Commander (Chaplain) George A. Rentz, USN

Yesterday, I chronicled the account of the USS Houston (CA-30) and the Medal of Honor exploits of her final commanding officer, Captain Albert H. Rooks. There was another man decorated for heroism during the final moments and sinking of the Houston, another quite inspiring story.

George Snavely Rentz was born in Lebanon, PA on July 25, 1882. He was not a Sailor by trade, but a man of God. After graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church. He began ministering to America's warriors during World War I, serving as a Navy Chaplain with United States Marine Corps forces in France. He found this to be his calling, and stayed on as a chaplain in the Navy. He was promoted to Commander in 1924, and served on a succession of ships and shore stations. Rentz was known as a crew favorite, and joined the Houston in August of 1940.

When the Houston sank, he found himself among the survivors struggling for life in the water. Rentz, then age 59, looked at the younger men, many injured - his parishoners - and made a momentous decision.

Monday, February 27, 2012

TFH 2/27: Captain Albert H. Rooks, USN

The USS Houston (CA-30) was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. When war came in December, 1941 she was docked in the Philippines. Houston sailed for Australia and there became part of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command. Her commanding officer was Captain Albert H. Rooks.

Albert Harold Rooks was born in Colton, WA on December 29, 1891. He became a naval officer through his education at the United States Naval Academy, graduating and receiving his commission in 1914. He served across the fleet, and was the commander of several submarines and a destroyer before taking charge of the Houston.

Needless to say, the ABDA forces were greatly outnumbered by the Japanese agressors. On Feburary 4, 1942, the Houston took a bomb hit disabling her No. 3 gun turret, but also shot down four Japanese planes. Captain Rooks' leadership saw that the Houston was repaired and back in action in just 72 hours.

Then on February 27, 1942 the Houston found herself facing a much stronger Japanese force at the Battle of the Java Sea. Even though her most critical battle damage had been repaired, her aft main battery turret was still out of action. Nevertheless, outnumbered and outgunned, Houston and her Dutch and Australian comrades sailed force in an attempt to stop the Japanese. They were not ultimately successful, but the courage of the Houston's captain did not go unrecognized.

Friday, February 24, 2012

TFH 2/24: Sergeant John L. Levitow, USAF

John Lee Levitow was born on November 1, 1945 in Hartford, CT. He joined the United States Air Force in 1966 and trained first in civil engineering then took to the skies, becoming a loadmaster on cargo aircraft.

February 24, 1969 saw then Airman First Class Levitow filling in for a different crew on an AC-47 Spooky aerial gunship, callsign "Spooky 71". Spooky 71's aircraft commander, Kenneth Carpenter observed muzzle flashes on the ground during the night mission. He turned the aircraft to bring the three 7.62mm miniguns to bear on the enemy.

While he was turning, the aircrew in the rear was preparing to eject an illumination flare to make aiming the guns easier. Spooky 71 was struck in the starboard wing by an 82mm mortar shell. The blast from the shell peppered the fuselage of the plane with shrapnel. Many of the crew - Levitow included - were wounded. While the shell blast was highly damaging, it was not catastrophic but catastrophe for Spooky 71's crew was imminent. In the blast's aftermath, the safety pin on the illumination flare was pulled and the flare started to burn. There were just seconds before the flare would detonate, cooking off the thousands of rounds of ammunition for the guns and destroying the aircraft and dooming the crew.

Ignoring his pain and daze from the shell blast, John Levitow saved his plane and her crew. His act of supreme courage at unbelievable personal risk resulted in his decoration with our Nation's highest honor.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

TFH 2/23: Three 1969 Vietnam Battles, Three Heroes

On this day in 1969, Americans fighting in Vietnam in three different locations saw three of their comrades exhibit courage and gallantry above and beyond that expected of the American warrior. All three men gave their lives for our Nation.

Oscar P. Austin was born on January 15, 1949 in Nacogdoches, TX. He was a Marine; a Private First Class with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.

Robert W. Hartsock hailed from Fairmont, WV. He was a Staff Sergeant with the United States Army's 25th Infantry Division.

Lester W. Weber, another Marine, was born in Aurora, IL in 1948 and was a Lance Corporal with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

All three men also received our Nation's highest honor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TFH 2/22: Colonel Wesley L. Fox, USMC

Today's edition of Their Finest Hour has special significance for me. This is a man I have personally met on, if I remember correctly, three occasions - all at Marine Corps Base Quantico between 1990 and 1992.

Wesley Lee Fox was born on September 30, 1931 in Herndon, VA. He gave 43 years of his life to the service of the United States in her Marines from 1950 to 1993. He served two tours as an enlisted man during the Korean War. When I met him, he was the Commanding Officer of USMC Officer Candidates' School as a full Colonel. He had held every enlisted or officer rank from Private to Colonel with the exception of Sergeant Major across those 43 years.

Colonel Fox was a Marine legend when I met him. His legend comes from his actions during the Vietnam War on February 22, 1969 when, after his company found itself under heavy attack and he was twice wounded, he nonetheless led from the front, refused medical attention, and inspired his Marines to victory. And yes, for his courage and leadership that day he received our Nation's highest honor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

TFH 2/21: Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper, USA

Joe Ronnie Hooper was born on August 8, 1938 in Piedmont, SC. A high-school dropout, he nonetheless began service to our Nation in 1956 when he enlisted in the United States Navy. After basic training, he served aboard two aircraft carriers, the USS Wasp (CV-18) and USS Hancock (CV-19). His time in the Navy ended in 1959, soon after his promotion to Petty Officer 3rd Class.

Hooper felt our Nation's call again less than a year later, when he joined the United States Army in May, 1960. After Army basic training he volunteered for Airborne School. His first post was with the 82nd Airborne Division, and he also served in both Korea and Panama while attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant. Run-ins with the military justice system saw him reduced in rank to Corporal, but in late 1967 he was promoted again to Sergeant and joined the 101st Airborne Division, with which he made his first tour of duty in Vietnam. He was discharged from the service upon his return from war in June 1968.

During his Vietnam tour on this day in 1968, he cemented his place among our Nation's greatest heroes. For his  leadership and courage while assaulting a heavily defended enemy position, all the while ignoring his own multiple wounds and injuries and putting first the lives of his soldiers, he received our Nation's highest honor.

This is simply an amazing account, worthy of not just admiration but also awe...

TFH 2/20: LT Edward H. O'Hare, USN

The name "O'Hare" is familiar to nearly everybody who flies into, out of, or through Chicago, IL. O'Hare International Airport is the namesake of Edward Henry "Butch" O'Hare, a US Naval Aviator during World War II. In fact, if you walk through Terminal 2 - near the connector to Terminal 1 - you'll come across a Grumman F4F Wildcat.

The Wildcat was the fighter type flown by then Lieutenant O'Hare on Feburary 20, 1942 when he found himself alone in the skies, 9 approaching Japanese bombers, and nothing except himself and his plane between the enemy and his ship, the USS Lexington.

Continuing my series of every World War II Medal of Honor winner 70 years on (and my apologies for missing this post yesterday!), here is the heroic story of "Butch" O'Hare:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

TFH 2/18: SP4 Daniel Fernandez, USA

Daniel Fernandez was born on June 30, 1944 in Albuquerque, NM. By February of 1966, he had already served one tour in Vietnam, and was beginning his second.

On this day in 1966, just 43 days into his tour of duty, a patrol he was on was ambushed by the Viet Cong. When he and four others returned to the ambush site to rescue a wounded comrade, Fernandez was quickly presented with saving himself, or saving the lives of his fellow warriors. He chose the latter, and his courageous self-sacrifice was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Friday, February 17, 2012

TFH 2/17: Corporal James L. Johnson, Jr., USMC

The 9th Marine Regiment was first formed at Marine Corps Base Quantico on November 20, 1917. They were deactivated about a year after the end of World War I. The reconstituted 9th Marines reformed on February 12, 1942 and participated in the assaults of Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima as part of the 3rd Marine Division. The regiment once again went to war in Vietnam, landing in-country on March 8, 1965 - the first conventional ground combat unit committed to the war.

Regular readers of Their Finest Hour know that the Navy Cross is the highest decoration the Department of the Navy can award alone, is the second-highest award for valor behind only the Medal of Honor, and is the equivalent of the Army's Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Force's Air Force Cross.

On this day in 1969, a Marine squad leader with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines earned his place among the honor roll of Navy Cross recipients.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

TFH 2/16: Second Lieutenant Terrence C. Graves, USMC

Terrence Collinson Graves was born in Corpus Christi, TX on July 6, 1945. As a boy, his family moved to New York, where he spent his formative years. After graduating from high school he attended Miami University in Oxford, OH.

Graves' service to our Nation began with his participation in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Miami University. A distinguished student and midshipman, he was posted as the NROTC Battalion Commander his senior year.

Upon graduation from college in April 1967, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. By December of that year, he was sent to lead Marines fighting in Vietnam.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TFH 2/15: PFC Louis E. Willett, USA

Louis Edward Willett was born in Brooklyn, NY during the waning days of World War II in 1945. In February 1967, a draftee, he was serving with Company C, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment - part of the storied 4th Infantry Division. The 12th Infantry is one of the most historic regiments of our Army.

The regiment was first constituted during the Civil War at Fort Hamilton in New York. The regiment served with distinction throughout our history including landing in the first wave on Utah Beach during Operation OVERLORD - the invasion of Normandy, France, D-Day, June 6, 1944. Their motto is Ducti Amore Patriae, in English, Led By Love of Country.

On this day in 1967, Private First Class Louis Willett's love of country and his fellow fighting man inspired him to acts of supreme courage, and supreme sacrifice. For his gallantry, his Nation deemed him worthy of its highest honor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

TFH 2/14: Sergeant First Class William S. Sitman, USA

William Samuel Sitman was born on August 9, 1923 in Bellwood, PA, a small town near Altoona. His service to our Nation began during the Second World War where he served with the Army in Europe. An account of Sitman's life written by William Summers, a hometown friend four years his junior, appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on May 29, 2000. In 1945 as the allied armies were crossing the Rhine River on their way into Germany, he was decorated with the Bronze Star medal for bravery when he helped extinguish a fire that threatened to detonate a trailer full of mortar ammunition.

After the war, he returned to peaceful life in Bellwood. He was involved with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars softball team, which is where Mr. Summers really got to know him. He married a local girl, Sara Emily Covert, and they had a daughter named Joan, born in 1948. Sitman returned to the Army in 1949. After North Korea invaded South Korea, he returned to war.

Monday, February 13, 2012

TFH 2/13: Police Officer Thomas D. Richards

The Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor was created early last decade to recognize first responders who exhibit courage above and beyond the call of duty.

The recipient list for the award brings us just such a story from this day in 2004. On Feburary 13, 2004, fire fighters and emergency medical personnel responded to a woman having been shot. When they arrived on the scene, they came under fire from the assailant. They were saved by Police Officer Thomas D. Richards.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

TFH 2/12: Sergeant Charles R. Long, USA

Charles Richard Long was born on December 10, 1923 in Kansas City, MO and grew up in Independence, MO. After graduating from high school in 1941, he joined the United States Army. He served during World War II in the European Theater, including service during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he remained serving in the Army Reserve.

Called back to active duty for the Korean War, he served with the 38th Infantry Regiment as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. On this day in 1951, while acting as a forward observer for mortar fire, his gallantry and sacrifice was deemed worthy of our Nation's highest honor.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An Open Letter to Gabrielle Giffords

The Hon. Gabrielle Giffords
c/o Giffords for Congress
P.O. Box 12886
Tucson, AZ 85732-2886

Dear Ms. Giffords,

My first reaction yesterday to the announcement by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that the fifth Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship of the United States Navy would carry your name was one of incredulity as I find the honor to be improperly given. Yet, at first, I did not believe this reflected poorly on you personally, but my opinion there has now changed. It is simply a disgrace that you are accepting this honor. I respectfully ask you to consider the following, and to reconsider your acceptance.

Friday, February 10, 2012

TFH 2/10: Lieutenant Colonel George A. Davis, Jr., USAF

George Andrew Davis, Jr. was born on December 1, 1920 in Dublin, TX. He first gave his service to our Nation and the cause of liberty during World War II in the US Army Air Corps, flying Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. He shot down seven Japanese enemy aircraft and earned a reputation as a "daredevil" pilot, in contrast to his reserved personality.

He transitioned from the Army to the United States Air Force when it was established as a separate branch in 1947. When war came again in Korea, he flew the North American F-86 Sabre, and was placed in command of the 334th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. All told during the Korean War, he was credited with no fewer than eight enemy aircraft destroyed.

Sixty years ago today, he led a flight of Sabres near the border with Communist China. His superb airmanship, tenacity, and courage in battle cost him his life that day, but also resulted in him being decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

TFH 2/9: Lance Corporal William R. Prom, USMC

Operation TAYLOR COMMON was launched by elements of the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam on December 6, 1968 against the North Vietnamese Army in the An Hoa Basin. They were reinforced by Leathernecks from the 3rd Marine Division as well. One of the Marines was William Prom, born November 17, 1948, and who hailed from my adopted home town of Pittsburgh, PA.

On this day in 1969, Lance Corporal Prom's unit was ambushed by the NVA as they returned from a reconnaissance mission. Prom, leading a machine gun team, realized that without quick and decisive action the enemy would carry the day. His resolve and courage did not falter, and for his heroism, he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

TFH 2/8: Four Airmen over North Vietnam

On this day in 1968, four American airmen strapped into their McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II fighters at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base as part of the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron with the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing for a mission over North Vietnam. Their target: a heavily defended enemy airfield.

Faced with deteriorating weather conditions and intense enemy anti-aircraft fire, the two F-4s descended as low as they dared to attack the target visually. They were successful in destroying several enemy aircraft on the ground. While one of the two American fighters was shot down, the second stayed on station to coordinate the rescue of the downed airmen, both of whom evaded capture and were rescued.

For their tenacity, courage, and determination to strike their target in the face of enemy action, all four of these great Americans received our Nation's second highest honor: the Air Force Cross. All four citations are listed below, courtesy of Military Times' Hall of Valor.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

TFH 2/7: 1LT James A. Gardner, USA

James Gardner was born on this day in 1943. On his 23rd birthday in 1966, this young, two-year Army officer truly showed what it means to lead from the front. For his leadership and supreme courage in the face of the forces of tyranny, he was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

TFH 2/5: Pitch, Reverse, Block, Pass, Touchdown, Victory!

Six years ago today, in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL at Ford Field, Detroit, QB Ben Roethlisberger took the snap and pitched to Willie Parker, running left. Parker hands off to Antwaan Randel El running right. Big Ben throws a huge block on the blitzing corner back to spring Randel El to the outside. He stops, and throws a beautiful, on-target 43-yard pass to Hines Ward. Touchdown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers' fifth Lombardi Trophy was assured!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

TFH 2/4: Lieutenant Colonel Stanley T. Adams, USA

Stanley Taylor Adams, "Stan", was born on May 9, 1922 in De Soto, Kansas. His service to our Nation began during World War II. He was wounded twice during the North African and Italian campaigns, and later served on occupation duty in Japan.

Adams' Korean War service saw him gain an officer's commission for his leadership. Not long before he received his gold bars as a Second Lieutenant, then-Sergeant First Class Stan Adams led 13 men in a courageous counter-attack against an enemy force with at least 10 times the strength in numbers. Charging ahead with fixed bayonets, Adams and his soldiers routed the enemy. 

This happened 61 years ago today. For his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty", he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Friday, February 03, 2012

TFH 2/3: First Lieutenant Willibald C. Bianchi, USA

Continuing my series of every Medal of Honor recipient for World War II, 70 years to the day.

Willibald Bianchi was born on March 12, 1915 in New Ulm, Minnesota. When the United States was plunged into war on December 7, 1941 he was with the Philippine Scouts. On this date in 1942, the forces of liberty struggled against the Japanese invaders on the Bataan peninsula. While the forces of the United States Army and the Philippine Army were generally trying to just hold ground, occasionally they were able to counter-attack. During one such event, Lieutenant Bianchi's fighting spirit, courage, and tenacity were ultimately deemed worthy of our Nation's highest honor.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

TFH 2/2: Corporal Larry L. Maxam, USMC

When a defensive perimeter is compromised, it's real bad news for the defenders. Unless, that is, a heroic United States Marine is there to carry on the defense alone.

On this day in 1968, 20-year old Larry Maxam of Burbank, California grabbed an abandoned machine gun, ignored multiple wounds, and repelled the assault on the Cam Lo district headquarters in Vietnam. He gave his Nation his life. His Nation gave him its highest honor.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

TFH 2/1: Master Sergeant Hubert L. Lee, USA

His platoon attacked by a numerically superior enemy force and forced to withdraw. The platoon leader wounded and incapacitated. He assumed command, regrouped his battered unit, and led them forward. When he was wounded the first time, he refused assistance and pressed the attack. Five times the platoon was repulsed by the enemy. Five times they regrouped and attacked again. During the fifth assault, he was wounded again, and crawled forward to continue the attack, motivating his men to follow. Wounded yet again, he still directed his soldiers on a final assault that ultimately regained the key objective the platoon had been holding.