Friday, June 29, 2012

TFH 6/29: Captain Steven L. Bennett, USAF

Steven Logan Bennett was born on April 22, 1946 in Palestine, Texas. He was a private pilot before he entered the United States Air Force in August, 1968 and earned his military wings in 1969. In 1970, he was trained as a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress pilot before transitioning to forward air controller (FAC) duties in 1971.

Forward air controllers coordinate attack aircraft from either the ground or the air in support of forces fighting on the ground. When airborne, they often put themselves at severe risk of antiaircraft fires to guide bombers into their targets.

On June 29, 1972, - exactly forty years ago today - Bennett was flying a North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco in the skies over Vietnam on a FAC mission. He was just over two months into his tour. The aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile. The missile strike left Bennett's back-seat observer with a shredded and inoperable parachute. He made a momentous decision to ditch the aircraft into the sea, knowing that as the pilot, he'd be unlikely to survive. For both his courage in the air and for his selfless decision to save his comrade, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

TFH 6/28: SP4 Hector Santiago-Colón, USA

Hector Santiago-Colón was born in Salinas, Puerto Rico on December 20, 1942. In 1960, he moved with his family to New York City, where he soon aspired to join the New York City Police Department as a police officer. At the time, one had to be a veteran to be admitted to the department, so he volunteered for the United States Army.

He was sent to Vietnam to fight with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) as part of the 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. On June 28, 1968 during combat in the Quang Tri Province, a North Vietnamese soldier crept up to the position Santiago-Colón was manning with several other soldiers under cover of darkness and withering enemy fire and hurled in a grenade.

With just seconds until the grenade killed them all, Santiago-Colón chose instead to sacrifice himself to save the lives of his comrades. Our nation recognized his ultimate courage and sacrifice with its highest honor.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

TFH 6/27: Sergeant Charles D. McGrath, USAF

Charles Damian McGrath was born on December 16, 1948 in Maryland. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on January 6, 1970 and completed basic training that March. He volunteered for service as a Pararescueman.

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers ("PJs") are elite troops trained in search and rescue, parachute jumping, SCUBA diving, combat medicine, and other specialty areas. They're the men who go in on the ground to rescue and evacuate downed airmen, often right from the teeth of the enemy.

In May 1971, McGrath deployed to Southeast Asia and the Vietnam War and joined Detachment 5 of the 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. Forty years ago today on June 27, 1972, he flew on a mission to rescue an American shot down over North Vietnam. While he was on the ground under ruthless enemy attack, the primary rescue helicopter had to withdraw due to battle damage. McGrath put the life of the downed flier above his own, and for his courage, received the Air Force Cross.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TFH 6/26: Corporal Paul G. Foster, USA

The United States Army's 45th Infantry Division was originally constituted in 1920 as part of the Oklahoma National Guard. The division saw its first combat during World War II in July 1943 with the invasion of Sicily. They also fought on the Italian mainland and southern France.

The 45th Division was reactivated for service in the Korean War in Feburary 1951. During the combat stalemate between American and communist forces in 1952, the division fought on the static front lines enduring trench warfare reminiscent of World War I.

Sixty years ago today on June 26, 1952, a corporal with the 45th Division's 2d Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment single-handedly took out two enemy machine gun positions over three hours of intense close combat. His name was Paul G. Foster, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

Disney/Pixar, via Wikimedia
Yesterday afternoon, I went with the wife and kids to see Disney/Pixar's latest animated film Brave (IMDB, Wikipedia). We thoroughly enjoyed the film and I highly recommend it to my readers. Brave is visually stunning, and while the plot is perhaps slightly weaker than other of their previous products, it gives a very good thematic take on mother/daughter relationships much the same as Finding Nemo did for father/son.

TFH 6/25: Second Lieutenant Charles G. Little, USMC

Sixty years ago on June 24-25, 1952, a young United States Marine Corps rifle platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division placed himself at the front of his Marines and refused care for his own wounds until a determined enemy attack by a much larger force was pushed back, including repelling an assault that resulted in hand-to-hand combat.

I couldn't find much about Second Lieutenant Charles G. Little, other than the Navy Cross citation that so clearly recounts his great courage and brave service to the Marine Corps and our nation.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

TFH 6/23: Two Victoria Crosses from the Falklands

It had been my original intent to feature the major events of the 1982 Falklands War on their thirtieth anniversaries, which sadly, a family loss and other things (like work) got in the way of me keeping up with the project. Looking at my list of draft posts, I see the unfinished one for the Battle of San Carlos staring at me saying, "fail".

There is a task from retelling Falklands history that I must go back and complete, even though I'm past the actual anniversaries. I've chosen June 23 for this post as my slate of Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, or Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor recipients is empty for this date.

The Victoria Cross is the United Kingdom's equivalent of our Medal of Honor. It was instituted in January 1856 to recognize the most conspicuous acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It has only been awarded 1,356 times in 156 years. It was awarded posthumously to two British soldiers for actions in the Falklands.

Friday, June 22, 2012

TFH 6/22: Captain Gail W. Furrow, USA

The Vietnamese Airborne Division was an elite component of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Unlike most South Vietnamese army units, the Airborne soldiers were not detailed to a particular region for combat. Instead, from their headquarters near Saigon, they were deployed to combat "hot zones" as needed for action.

Like most South Vietnamese units, the native "Red Berets" had American advisors attached to them from the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). One of these advisors was Captain Gail W. Furrow of the United States Army.

Forty years ago today in action with the Vietnamese 11th Airborne Battalion, Captain Furrow showed the best the American soldier can offer on the battlefield, regardless of whether the soldiers surrounding him are fellow Americans or allies. His courage saw him decorated with the second-highest award he could have received: the Distinguished Service Cross.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

TFH 6/21: A downed helicopter, a rescue mission, and two brave soldiers

The United States Army's 1st Cavalry Division has a long and storied history. During the Vietnam War, the division was our Army's first airmobile unit employing large numbers of helicopters on the battlefield. Early assault helicopters, like the UH-1 Iroquois ("Huey"), were lightly armored if at all and were particularly vulnerable to enemy fires from the ground.

On this day in 1967 - exactly 45 years ago - one of the 1st Cavalry Division's helicopters was shot down and a platoon from Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment ("Black Knights") was sent to secure it and rescue survivors.

Carmel Bernon Harvey, Jr. was drafted into the Army in 1965. He was a Specialist Four with B/1/5 Cav and a rifleman. Edgar Lee McWethy, Jr. was drafted in 1964 and was one of B/1/5 Cav's medics. Both of these brave soldiers went above and beyond the normal call of duty around that downed helicopter, and well, I'll just let their Medal of Honor citations speak for themselves.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TFH 6/20: First Lieutenant Charles E. Engle, USAFR

Charles Edwin Engle hailed from Carlos, Indiana and was born on February 8, 1945. He graduated from Purdue University and was commissioned in the United States Air Force Reserve through the ROTC program there.

Engle was sent to fly in combat during the Vietnam War with the active Air Force's 56th Special Operations Wing based in Thailand. On June 20, 1970, while flying as a Forward Air Controller and O-1 Bird Dog light aircraft pilot, Engle repeatedly put himself and his aircraft at extreme risk while covering a rescue mission for a shot-down comrade. For his courage, he was awarded the second-highest decoration for valor, the Air Force Cross.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TFH 6/19: Lieutenant Clyde Everett Lassen, USN

Welcome back, dear readers! After a brief three-day hiatus for a mental reload on my part, we'll now resume the recounting of the tales of American heroes on the anniversaries of their intrepidity!

Clyde Everett Lassen was born in Fort Meyers, Florida early in 1942. On this day in 1968, then 26-year old Lassen flew a Kaman UH-2 Seasprite helicopter from the destroyer USS Preble (then DLG-15, later DDG-46) in a mission to rescue two of his fellow Naval Aviators who had been shot down over Vietnam. Two attempts to rescue the stranded flyers failed due to enemy action, but Lassen would not leave his comrades behind.

On his third attempt, he activated the helicopter's landing lights to guide the two men in, even though it clearly indicated his aircraft's presence to the enemy. For his superior airmanship and indomitable courage in the successful rescue, he was decorated with the Medal of Honor.

Friday, June 15, 2012

TFH 6/15: Lieutenant Thomas G. Kelley, USN

Thomas Gunning Kelley was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 13, 1939. After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in 1960, he joined the United States Navy and received an officer's commission as an Ensign. He had served during the Cuban Missile Crisis and off the shore of Vietnam during 1966. Kelley decided to make the Navy his career, and volunteered in 1968 to join the Mobile Riverine Force supporting the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 9th Infantry Division in South Vietnam's Mekong Delta.

On June 15, 1969, then Lieutenant Kelley was commanding River Assault Division 152 and its eight assault craft. As they were evacuating 9th Infantry Division soldiers, the boats came under fire from the Viet Cong. Kelley ordered his boat to stand between the enemy and a crippled craft, and when his own was struck by a rocket and he sustained serious head wounds, he continued in command. On May 14, 1970, Kelley was decorated with the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

TFH 6/14: SGT David B. Bleak, USA

David Bruce Bleak was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho on February 27, 1932. A high school dropout, he worked in manual labor jobs before enlisting in the United States Army. In January 1952 he deployed with the 40th Infantry Division for the Korean War. Bleak was an intimidating figure, standing 6' 5" and weighing 250 pounds. He was trained and served as a combat medic.

Sixty years ago today he accompanied a reconnaissance patrol that came under heavy fire along an exposed ridge. Armed with only his hands and his trench knife, David Bleak did whatever he had to to neutralize the enemy and evacuate the wounded men he was caring for. His gallantry was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TFH 6/13: SP5 John J. Kedenburg, USA

United States Army Special Forces - the "Green Berets" - have training, leading, and serving with foreign military forces, be they organized or not, as one of their prime missions on the battlefield. When they fight, they often fight as if they were one of the natives, showing them the same loyalty and tenacity that any soldier would show his comrades from his own nation and service. Green Berets daily live up to the Special Forces' motto: De Oppresso Liber - "To Free the Oppressed".

John James Kedenburg was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 31, 1946. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1965 and by June of 1968 was serving as an advisor to a group of native South Vietnamese citizen soldiers. When the patrol he was a member of was surrounded by a much larger force, Kedenburg took command and did everything in his power to save the Vietnamese he was with, including giving up his place on a rescue helicopter to save another. His indefatigable courage was posthumously recognized with the Medal of Honor.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

TFH 6/12: PFC Henry Svehla, USA

Sixty years ago today, 19 year-old Private First Class Henry Svehla from New Jersey fighting in Korea with the 32d Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. While on patrol, Svehla's unit encountered an enemy strongpoint which he took it upon himself to charge. His courage and sacrifice was originally recognized with the second-highest award: the Distinguished Service Cross.

After persistent appeals from the men who served with him and his family, Svehla's decoration was upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 2011.

Monday, June 11, 2012

TFH 6/11: Captain John A. Firse, USAF

John A. Firse was born on November 5, 1937 in Ohio. He enlisted in the United States Air Force's aviation cadet program and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and his pilot's wings on June 27, 1958.

On June 11, 1967, Firse was flying a helicopter from Thailand with the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron on a mission to rescue two shot-down American airmen inside North Vietnam. His helicopter came under intense enemy fire, but he wouldn't leave until both Americans were on board. For his heroism, he was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

TFH 6/10: Corporal Charles G. Abrell, USMC

Charles Gene Abrell was born on August 12, 1931 in Terre Haute, Indiana. He grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps just five days after his 17th birthday in 1948. He went to war in 1950 when the 1st Marine Division was sent to Korea. By June 1951, Abrell was a veteran of the Inchon Landing and the Chosin Reservoir campaign.

On June 10 with the 2nd Battalion/1st Marine Regiment ("The Professionals"), Corporal Abrell charged forward through the point squad of his company which had been pinned down by vicious enemy fire. When his attack was upon an enemy bunker, there was only one way for him to destroy the enemy: he used himself as a missile. His sacrifice and courage was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Friday, June 08, 2012

TFH 6/8 & 6/9: The USS Liberty Incident

This June marks the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and her Arab enemies that took place between June 5-10, 1967. A ceasefire was signed after Israel had routed the Arab forces and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights. Israel returned Sinai to Egypt as a condition of the peace treaty between the two nations in 1979. The remaining territories are referred to today as Israel's "post-1967" borders, which obviously are still a matter of contention in the region.

1967 was also the height of the Cold War, part of which was "hot" with the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. The Arab-Israeli conflict presented an excellent intelligence gathering opportunity for the United States, as the Arabs were largely armed with lots of Soviet weaponry. Our technical intelligence experts at the National Security Agency couldn't pass up the availability of either signals intelligence (SIGINT) or electronic intelligence (ELINT) that could be obtained as the war raged.

The USS Liberty (AGTR-5) began her life as the Victory Ship SS Simmons Victory carrying cargo in the Pacific during World War II. The United States Navy acquired the vessel in 1963 and converted her to a "technical research ship"- a floating intelligence gatherer for all things electronic. She was commissioned on April 1, 1964.

The United States officially remained neutral during the Six-Day War. Liberty was dispatched to the far eastern Mediterranean Sea before the war started for the aforementioned intelligence gathering purposes. Israel had warned the American naval attaché in Tel Aviv on June 5th that any unidentified ships off the coast of Israel or the Sinai would be subject to attack.

Liberty's original orders allowed her to approach to within just 6.5 nautical miles of the Israeli coast and 12.5 of Egypt. When the war started Liberty's commanding officer, Commander William L. McGonagle, requested a destroyer escort from the US Sixth Fleet. His request was denied. Subsequent changes to Liberty's orders required her to stay at least 100 nautical miles off the shores of the warring nations.

Tragically, due to delays in processing and being sent on the wrong frequency, the change in orders would be received too late.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

TFH 6/7: PFC Jack G. Hanson, USA

Jack Glennon Hanson was born on September 18, 1930 and hailed from Escatawpa, Mississippi. He entered the United States Army at Galveston, Texas (date unknown) and by 1951 was fighting in Korea with the 31st Infantry Regiment and the 7th Infantry Division.

Private First Class Hanson was a machine gunner. In the pre-dawn hours of June 7, 1951, his unit was defending a strategic hilltop when they came under attack by a numerically superior communist force. His group was ordered to withdraw. Hanson volunteered to stay behind and cover their retreat.

What happened during Hanson's lone stand isn't exactly known, but after reading his citation for the Medal of Honor, you'll have no doubt that this was one of the greatest fighting men our Nation has ever produced.

Battle of Midway Honor Roll

This week we marked the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the battle that changed the course of  World War II in the Pacific and set the United States on the path to ultimate victory in August, 1945. Somewhat amazingly, the battle only produced one Medal of Honor recipient: Captain Richard E. Fleming, USMCR.

The full accounting of heroes from Midway contains hundreds of men. Listed below are the recipients of the Army's Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy's Navy Cross - both awards second only to the Medal of Honor - from the battle, to include recipients from the concurrent Aleutians Campaign as well. I've also included the men who received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the highest Navy award not requiring heroism in the face of the enemy.

My list does not include the servicemen who received other awards for valor such as the Silver Star or the Distinguished Flying Cross - there were many. For this list, the brave men who gave their lives in battle and received posthumous awards have their names italicized. The link for each name goes to Military Times' Hall of Valor.

As I asked for my list of Navy Cross recipients from the Battle of the Coral Sea, please pick a few names from the roll of honor and read about their heroism during June 1942.

We are only free because of the brave who have gone before. We will never forget - or allow to be forgotten - what they did for all of us.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

TFH 6/6: Major John R. Bode, USAF

John R. Bode was born on September 16, 1933 in Omaha, Nebraska. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on May 22, 1952 and was accepted into the Air Force's aviation cadet program two years later for flight training. Bode received his pilot's wings and an officer's commission on June 1, 1955.

In 1969, then Major Bode was serving as a forward air controller with the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron attached to and supporting the United States Army's 25th Infantry Division. On June 5th to 7th of that year, Bode flew six air control missions in support of the 25th Division's 1st Brigade who was engaged in intense fighting. His skill and courage as an airman at extreme risk to himself saw him decorated with the Air Force's second-highest award for valor: the Air Force Cross.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

TFH 6/5: 1LT Benjamin F. Wilson, USA

Benjamin F. Wilson was born on June 2, 1922 in Vaston, Washington. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1940 and was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He had reached the rank of Corporal in the infantry when the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Wilson volunteered to go to Officer Candidates' School and received his commission. For the duration of World War II, he repeatedly volunteered to be transferred to a combat unit, but the Army kept him stateside in training roles. That could have been a very poor decision on their part. Benjamin Wilson was a tiger straining at the leash.

After the war, Wilson returned to civilian life working in Washington lumber mills but he knew that the Army was his place. As the post-war drawdown of the Army was still under way and the officer roles were being purged, he reenlisted as a mere private.

He quickly rose through the ranks and when war broke out in Korea, he was a senior enlisted man with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment - part of the 7th Infantry Division. In combat on June 5, 1951, then Master Sergeant Wilson ignored his own wounds and with complete disregard for his own safety, repeatedly charged enemy positions with his rifle and grenades. When the combat became hand-to-hand, he used his entrenching tool as a weapon and continued the charge. His unbelievable courage and fighting spirit was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Monday, June 04, 2012

TFH 6/4: Captain Richard E. Fleming, USMCR

Richard Fleming was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on November 2, 1917. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1939 after graduating from the University of Minnesota and volunteered for flight training.

During the Battle of Midway, he flew his Vought SB2U Vindicator dive bomber from the airfield on the island. His tenacious attack on a Japanese carrier on June 4, 1942, coupled with his dive on the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma on June 5, saw him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942: 70 Years Later

Originally, my intent was to write a blow-by-blow recount of the Battle of Midway (as I did for the Battle of the Coral Sea), today being the 70th anniversary of one of the most decisive and amazing victories in the history of both the United States Navy and the United States as a whole. After several fits and starts, I realized that there's no reason for me to reinvent the wheel.

If you need a recap of the history, the Battle of Midway article at Wikipedia is good, plus check out some of the official United States Navy resources commemorating the battle. If you're looking for the best, most comprehensive, history of the action there is no better work than Miracle At Midway by Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon. In fact, any topic I cover in this post that isn't covered by a link to a source can be credited to that work.

What I'm going to do by way of commemoration is my own commentary and analysis of the battle and the events that led up to this incredible victory. The battle certainly changed the course of World War II in the Pacific and may even have determined the ultimate outcome of the war, even though there were over three years of fighting left to do. I'll also relate some of the lesser known stories surrounding the battle.

The story of Midway goes all the way back seven months to the Day of Infamy.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

TFH 6/3: Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Romine, USMC

Richard Eugene Romine had been an enlisted Marine before earning his officer's commission and his Wings of Gold as a Naval Aviator. He flew missions in both Korea and Vietnam.

On June 3rd and 4th, 1967 - June 3rd being then-Major Romine's 37th birthday - he was a helicopter pilot flying with squadron HMM-165, the "White Knights", and flying an extraction mission to get friendly forces out of harm's way. Romine's helicopter was shot down, and living up to the squadron's motto of "Whatever It Takes", he organized the crash survivors on the ground, ordered them to gather up all the fighting material they had, and led them through enemy territory back to friendly forces. For his courage under fire, he received the Navy Cross.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

TFH 6/2: SGT Cornelius H. Charlton, USA

Cornelius H. Charlton was born on July 24, 1929 in East Gulf, West Virginia. He spent his childhood in both West Virginia and The Bronx, New York. From an early age, he wanted to be a soldier, but his parents refused to let him drop out of high school to join the United States Army. After Charlton did graduate, he followed through and joined the Army, his parents signed his enlistment papers as he was still 17 at the time.

Charlton, an African American, first served on occupation duty in Germany then in an engineering unit stateside. He was on occupation duty on Okinawa when the Korean War erupted. Even though President Truman's Executive Order 9981 had ordered the desegregation of the military in July 1948, black soldiers were often assigned to either menial administrative duties or to de facto segregated units. In early 1951, Sergeant Charlton arrived at the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment - one of the still-segregated Army formations with white officers - that was fighting as part of the 25th Infantry Division.

His ability and leadership skills soon became evident to his commanders. Quickly advancing from being a squad leader to the platoon sergeant, he took command of his platoon and led them in a successful attack against a defended ridgeline. The wounds he received during the attack cost him his life. His courage earned him our Nation's highest honor.

Friday, June 01, 2012

TFH 6/1: Captains Ronald E. Smith & Dale E. Stovall, USAF

On May 10, 1972, an F-4D Phantom II piloted by the United States Air Force's Major Robert Lodge and weapons officer Captain Roger Locher was shot down by North Vietnamese fighters deep over communist territory. Locher ejected and parachuted safely to the ground. Lodge did not survive. The other American pilots flying the mission that day were preoccupied with fending off the enemy fighters (shooting down many of them) and didn't see Locher's parachute.

For the next 22 days, Captain Locher managed to evade capture by the North Vietnamese. He spent longer on the ground without being captured than any other downed American airman. He knew that for any possibility of rescue, he'd have to get away from the area and closer to the potential rescue forces. No man had been rescued so deep into North Vietnam.

On June 1, 1972, Locher managed to contact American planes flying overhead using his rescue radio. There was some apprehension that the voice on the radio was Locher - it could be an enemy trick to draw in the vulnerable rescue forces and ambush them. Regardless, the rescue operation was launched.

Two of the pilots who went to rescue their stranded comrade distinguished themselves with such skill and courage in the air that they were awarded the Air Force Cross. The first, Captain Ronald E. Smith, flew an A-1E Skyraider attack plane. He located Locher in the jungle and guided the rescue helicopter in, all the while exposed to antiaircraft fires. The second was Captain Dale E. Stovall, who flew the HH-53C rescue helicopter itself.