Monday, July 30, 2012

Punishing Success, Olympics-Style

Imagine an athletically talented young woman who has committed blood, sweat, tears and countless hours to her gymnastic training. She finally qualifies for her nation's Olympic team, and during the event qualifications at the Olympic Games she places in the top 24, placing her in the individual all-around competition - a life's achievement, right?

Except two of her fellow team mates placed higher and the competition's governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG), has a "two qualifier per nation" rule. Sorry, guess you have to wait four years and try again - if you can.

Oh, did I forget to mention that this happened to four young women - three of whom are Anastasia Grishina of Russia, Jennifer Pinches of Great Britain, and Yao Jinnan of China?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No More Veronicas - A Proposal for Aurora's Legacy

As all my readers assuredly know, early last Friday (July 20, 2012) a mass-murderer shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 and wounding nearly five dozen. This murderer's weapons of choice were an AR-15-type "assault" rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a Glock .40S&W pistol.

The face of this tragedy for me will forever be 6-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan and her ice cream cone . Veronica's mother was gravely wounded in the attack - there is a bullet lodged in her neck - and will likely suffer some form of permanent paralysis. At last published reports, she hasn't been told yet her daughter is dead.

We've heard that 911 calls poured into dispatch when the shooting started. The first two or three police officers arrived in minutes - after the shooting had stopped. They arrested the suspect with no further incident.

The Denver Post reports today that there were delays in EMS teams reaching the victims. Sure, their system was probably overwhelmed and the firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics who responded I'm sure did their best, but could more lives have been saved or injuries mitigated with quicker response by trained personnel?

Now there's this report; that the alleged gunman basically pre-confessed, but that the notebook he authored may have been sitting in a mailroom since July 12th. There were seven days (since July 19th is the last day prior) that the evil plan could have been cottoned to and perhaps stopped.

Gun control will not stop mass murder. Spending more public money on emergency services will not stop mass murder or even better mitigate the aftermath. We are the first line of defense and response for all emergencies - not just the most violent or tragic.

No more Veronicas. It's up to us - you, me, everyone.

TFH 7/25: Second Lieutenant Robert S. Williams, USMC

Yesterday, I blogged about Lance Corporal Richard A. Pittman, Medal of Honor recipient from the 1st Platoon, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division during Operation Hastings on July 24, 1966.

Along with Lance Corporal Ned E. Seath (Navy Cross) and Captain Robert J. Modrzejewski (Medal of Honor), Pittman was the third Hastings hero I've honored here recently. Today, we have a fourth Marine from the battle: Second Lieutenant Robert S. Williams, Pittman's platoon leader. His heroism during July 24-25, 1966 saw him awarded the Navy Cross.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TFH 7/24: Lance Corporal Richard A. Pittman, USMC

Richard Allan Pittman was born on May 26, 1945 in San Joaquin, California. After he graduated from high school in June of 1964, he tried to enlist in both the United States Army and United States Navy but was turned down in both instances owing to his blindness in one eye.

In September 1965, the United States Marine Corps Reserve took a chance on the half-blind young Californian and accepted his enlistment application. Pittman's enlistment was switched to the active Marine Corps soon afterwards.

Pittman completed recruit training in February of 1966 and was sent to fight in Vietnam not long after with the 1st Marine Division as a rifleman in Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He fought in several battles during his Vietnam tour through October 1967 including Operation Hastings during July 1966.

He had been promoted to Corporal while in Vietnam, and was a Sergeant when he left the Marines on April 5, 1968. A little more than one month later, Pittman was honored at the White House on May 14, 1968 when he was presented with the Medal of Honor in recognition of his actions on July 24, 1966 as a Lance Corporal during Hastings. Pittman had stood in the face of the enemy alone, and fought until he had exhausted all his ammunition, including that of weapons he picked from the ground.

Monday, July 23, 2012

TFH 7/23: Lieutenant Colonel Andre C. Lucas, USA

Andre Cavaro Lucas was born in Washington, DC on October 2, 1930. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1948, and eventually graduated from the United States Military Academy, West Point with the class of 1954, receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant.

While serving as the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment - part of the 101st Airborne Division - at Fire Support Base Ripcord in South Vietnam from July 1-23, 1970, then-Lieutenant Colonel Lucas unquestionably demonstrated the best the American warrior can offer in terms of courage and leadership. His intrepid service cost him his life, and a grateful Nation bestowed upon him its highest honor.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

TFH 7/21: Major General William F. Dean, USA

William Frishe Dean, Sr. was born on August 1, 1899 in Carlyle, Illinois. While underage, he tried to enlist for service during World War I, but was denied permission by his parents. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the California Army National Guard in 1921. After graduating from Berkeley, he received a commission with the United States Army.

During World War II, he served in a variety of stateside headquarters positions until, as a Brigadier General, he was assigned as the Assistant Division Commander of the 44th Infantry Division in 1943. Dean was promoted to Major General later that year, and commanded the 44th Division when they landed in Normandy on September 15, 1944. He was the 44th's commander until the unit was disbanded at war's end. For his World War II service, he was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit.

In 1950, Dean was posted as the commander of the 24th Infantry Division on occupation duty in Japan. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the understrength and ill-equipped 24th was sent to South Korea to fight a delaying action until more forces could arrive. Yesterday, I wrote about Sergeant George D. Libby, 24th Division Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Taejon.

During the same battle, General Dean refused to leave any member of his unit behind, even as they were being overrun. Generals aren't expected to fight at the front, but Dean did, and his indomitable fighting spirit was quite appropriately recognized with our Nation's highest award.

Friday, July 20, 2012

TFH 7/20: Sergeant George D. Libby, USA

George Dalton Libby was born on December 4, 1919 in Bridgton, Maine. He fought in Europe with the United States Army during World War II, and stayed in the Army after the war. In 1950 he was serving with the 24th Infantry Division on occupation duty in Japan.

Most US Army formations were grossly understrength following post-war cutbacks, and the 24ID was no exception. Their languishing in occupation duty further sapped their fighting abilities. On June 25, 1950 when the North Korean communists invaded South Korea starting the Korean War, the 24th Infantry Division was rushed by President Truman's orders onto the Korean peninsula.

The 24th's orders were to slow the North Korean advance and await for reinforcements from additional American units. They were to trade men and materiel for time and distance - acting in effect as a military "speed bump". They suffered defeat after defeat in the early days of fighting.

From July 14-21 the 24th made a valiant stand at the Battle of Taejon against three attacking North Korean divisions. During this battle, then-Sergeant George D. Libby of the 24th's 3d Engineer Combat Battalion found himself as the only uninjured member of his unit after they were ambushed. He repeatedly put himself at risk to protect his comrades and became the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for the war.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

TFH 7/19: Captain Norman L. Wells, USAF

Norman Louross Wells was born on March 7, 1933 in Annapolis, Maryland. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on April 18, 1952. Two and a half years later, he received his pilot's wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant via the Aviation Cadet program.

He initially flew two North American Aviation products, the F-86 Sabre and the F-100 Super Sabre. In the early 1960s, Wells transitioned to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. He was flying them from Bitburg Air Base in Germany from 1963 to 1966 when he was sent to fly and fight in Vietnam.

On July 19, 1966, then-Captain Wells led a flight of F-105s from the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing's 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron on a strike mission. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for both penetrating the enemy's defenses to deliver his bombs on target then for courageously engaging and destroying an enemy fighter after the bomb run.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TFH 7/18: Captain Robert J. Modrzejewski, USMC

Two days ago, I related the story of Lance Corporal Ned E. Seath. Lance Corporal Seath saved his unit - Company K, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment - on June 16, 1966 by taking two broken machine guns to assemble one working one while under fire during Operation Hastings. Seath eventually received the Navy Cross in recognition of his courage. It wouldn't be the only high award for valor the company would earn for the battle.

Robert Joseph Modrzejewski was born on July 3, 1934 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1957 and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve through Platoon Leaders' Class. He transferred to the active Marine Corps in 1960.

In July 1966, then-Captain Modrzejewski was the commander of Company K/3/4. From July 15-18, he unhesitatingly placed himself at the front of his unit at extreme risk to himself, repeatedly ignored his own wounds, and inspired his Marines to victory against a much larger force. His indefatigable courage saw him awarded our Nation's highest honor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TFH 7/17: Captain David F. Rich, USA

Today's ground warriors of the United States Army and United States Marine Corps have state-of-the-art technology to help them locate and counter enemy mortar and artillery fires, namely the Firefinder radars (AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37). These systems allow our gunners to track incoming shells and plot their trajectories back to where they were fired from so our own guns can attack and destroy the enemy batteries.

Reliable and effective counter-battery radars weren't available until the mid-1970s. Before then, counter-battery targeting was much more an art than a science, and a high-risk one at that.

During twelve days in July 1970, an Army artillery officer commanding a fire base in Vietnam established by Battery B, 2d Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment - then part of the 101st Airborne Division - continually exposed himself to enemy fires and ignored his own repeated wounds while commanding the battery and analyzing the craters left by enemy rounds to target his guns back at them.

He was Captain David F. Rich, and his valor was recognized with the second-highest Army award: the Distinguished Service Cross.

Monday, July 16, 2012

TFH 7/16: Lance Corporal Ned E. Seath, USMC

Ned E. Seath enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age 19 in 1962. In December 1965 he was sent with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment to combat in Vietnam. 3/4 Marines was then part of the 3rd Marine Division.

On July 15, 1966, the Marines began executing Operation Hastings near the Vietnam DMZ. Seath was a machine gun team leader with Company K/3/4. On July 16th, his company came up against a well-entrenched enemy force and assumed a defensive perimeter. Early in the action, two of the Marines' M60 machine guns were rendered inoperative, causing the company to lose crucial firepower.

In complete darkness and under continuous enemy fire, Lance Corporal Seath took two broken guns and reassembled one working one. His courage under fire and fighting spirit was credited with saving the company, and he ultimately received the Navy Cross for his valor.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

TFH 7/12: First Lieutenant Frank S. Reasoner, USMC

Frank Stanley Reasoner was born on September 16, 1937 in Spokane, Washington. He moved with his family to Kellogg, Idaho in 1948. After graduating from high school in 1955, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps three months before his 18th birthday.

Reasoner served in a variety of enlisted roles, and by 1958 had attained the rank of Sergeant. He applied for and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy that year. After graduating from the academy in 1962, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and rejoined the active Marine Corps as an infantry officer.

He was assigned to the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and the 3rd Marine Division at Kaneohe Bay, Hawai'i. In December 1963, he was promoted to First Lieutenant and deployed with his battalion for the Vietnam War in April 1965. Reasoner was placed in command of 3rd Recon's Company A on June 20.

About three weeks later on July 12, 1965, Reasoner led his company on a patrol deep into enemy controlled territory. Demonstrating that leadership can only be from the front, he took a position with the five-man point unit when they came under intense automatic weapons fire from a numerically superior enemy force. Isolated from the rest of his company, when his Marines suffered wounds he placed their survival above his own. For his indomitable courage, leadership, and supreme sacrifice he was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TFH 7/11: A Daring Rescue Mission by Two "Centaurs"

What became the United States Army's F Troop (Air), 4th Cavalry Regiment ("Centaurs") started as part of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry attached to the 25th Infantry Division. When the division left Vietnam, the air cavalry troop stayed behind and joined the 1st Aviation Brigade.

The Centaurs were equipped with a variety of aircraft, including the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse light observation helicopter. 40 years ago this day on July 11, 1972, a helicopter was shot down in territory held by the communist North Vietnamese. Five American and one South Vietnamese servicemen - some gravely injured - faced certain capture or death by the enemy barring a dramatic rescue.

Two officers from F Troop volunteered to fly their Cayuses to rescue the downed men. They endured withering antiaircraft gun and missile fire, and ultimately did rescue the five men. The two heroic pilots were Captain Frederick D. Ledfors and First Lieutenant Wesley F. Walker. Both men received the Distinguished Service Cross for their daring mission.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TFH 7/10: Three "Sky Soldiers" at Dak To

The United States Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade was the first major combat unit committed to the Vietnam War in 1965. Forty-five years ago today, the "Sky Soldiers" (as the 173rd is nicknamed) were engaged in the Kon Tum province's Dak To area.

Later in 1967, the Battle of Dak To would rage for several weeks in the same area. As a prelude to the larger battle in November, American and South Vietnamese forces sought to stave off communist infiltration into the south via the Ho Chi Minh trail in the region. This was known as Operation Greeley, and began in June 1967.

After the 173rd's 4th Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment established a fire base about six and a half miles south of Dak To, they advanced on a nearby hilltop and conducted search and destroy missions against the enemy. During these actions, three members of Company A/4/503 who gave their lives for our Nation exhibited such courage under fire in their sacrifices that they were all posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Their names were PFC John C. Borowski, 1LT Daniel W. Jordan, and SP4 Joel M. Sabel.

Monday, July 09, 2012

TFH 7/9: LCDR William H. Brockman, Jr., USN

William Herman Brockman, Jr. was born on November 18, 1904 in Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted in the United States Navy Reserve in 1922 and received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy the following year. He graduated with the class of 1927 and received his commission as an Ensign with the active United States Navy.

From 1929, he specialized in submarines. Then Lieutenant Commander Brockman took command of the submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168) in early 1942. Nautilus' first war patrol was eventful: the boat was dispatched for the decisive Battle of Midway. (Their Finest Hour's recap of the battle can be found here.) Brockman was among the many recipients of the Navy Cross for his command of the submarine during the battle.

As Nautilus' patrol continued after the Battle of Midway from June 10-July 11, 1942, Brockman received a second award of the Navy Cross to honor his continued courage and tenacity in command.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

TFH 7/7: Captain Albert C. Slater, Jr., USMC

Operation Buffalo was a major United States Marine Corps action that took place in early July, 1967 south of the Vietnam demilitarized zone (DMZ). The battle began with costly casualties to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, then a component of the 3rd Marine Division.

The battalion was caught in an ambush on July 2nd that decimated 1/9's Companies A and B. Out of about 400 Marines, 84 were killed, 190 wounded, and nine listed as MIA. Company B's command group was completely wiped out by an artillery shell.

Throughout the fight the commander of Company A, Captain Albert C. Slater, Jr. (born February 1, 1939), was steadfast in his courage and leadership and kept his Marines in the battle against a much larger enemy force. He was decorated with the Navy Cross for his actions.

Friday, July 06, 2012

TFH 7/6: Captain Roger H. C. Donlon, USA

The Battle of Nam Dong took place on July 5-6, 1964. A 12-man United States Army Special Forces "A-Team" and one Australian led the 360 native defenders of the Nam Dong camp against an attacking communist force at least three times their size.

The American commander was Captain Roger Hugh Charles Donlon. He was born on January 30, 1934 in Saugerties, New York. He first enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953, and in 1955 received an appointment to the United States Military Academy, West Point. He left West Point for personal reasons, but rejoined the United States Army in 1959 and received his commission through Officer Candidate School.

In August 1963, Donlon volunteered for service with the Special Forces and earned his "Green Beret". He was sent to Vietnam with the 7th Special Forces Group, and his courage, determination, and indefatigable leadership saw him become the first recipient of the Medal of Honor for the Vietnam War.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

TFH 7/5: Private First Class Walter P. Johnson, USMC

This will be a quick post, because little other than this United States Marine's Navy Cross citation is available. Stories of soldiers and Marines jumping on top of grenades to save their comrades frequently appear here as Their Finest Hour honorees. What's almost unheard of is the story of a man who shields his comrades from a grenade explosion - and survives.

Private First Class Walter P. Johnson, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on July 5, 1952, did just that. I'd love to find out why his incredible act of heroism didn't warrant the Medal of Honor.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

TFH 7/4: Sergeant Leroy A. Medonca, USA

When the United States Army's 3rd Infantry Division deployed from Fort Stewart, Georgia to Kuwait in 2002-2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, a portion of the division's gear was carried by the Bob Hope-class Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/off ship (LMSR) USNS Mendonca (T-AKR-303), placed in service with the Military Sealift Command in January 2001.

It's fitting that the Mendonca carried the 3rd Infantry Division to war. The ship's namesake, Sergeant Leroy A. Mendonca, was born on August 2, 1932 in Honolulu, Hawai'i. He was an infantryman with the 3rd Division's 7th Infantry Regiment during the Korean War.

On July 4, 1951, he single-handedly repulsed an enemy attack, including continuing to fight hand-to-hand when he exhausted his ammunition, and allowed the rest of his platoon to withdraw to secondary defensive positions. His stand cost him his life, and we gained one of our Nation's undoubted greatest heroes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

TFH 7/3: Staff Sergeant William E. Shuck, Jr., USMC

William Edward Shuck, Jr. was born on August 16, 1926 in Cumberland, Maryland. He grew up just south of there across the north branch of the Potomac River in Ridgeley, West Virginia. Shuck's service to our nation began in the waning days of World War II when he joined the United States Navy Reserve at age 18 in 1944. He remained with the Navy Reserve until 1946. On November 14, 1947 he enlisted with the United States Marine Corps and became an infantryman.

On July 3, 1952 - exactly 60 years ago - Shuck was a machine gun squad leader with Company G, 3rd Battalion ("The Cutting Edge"), 7th Marine Regiment ("Prepare to March"). The regiment was part of the larger 1st Marine Division ("No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy"). While in the attack, Shuck was already wounded when the leader of an adjacent rifle squad was taken out. He immediately took charge, integrated the other Marines with his machine gunners, and resumed the assault - until a sniper's bullet claimed his life. For his courage, intrepidity, and inspiration to his fellow Marines, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Monday, July 02, 2012

TFH 7/2-3: Capt. Gregory Etzel & Maj. Richard Mehr, USAF

Forty-five years ago on July 2 & 3, 1967, two United States Air Force pilots distinguished themselves while flying a rescue mission into North Vietnam to retrieve a shot-down American airman.

Gregory A. M. Etzel was born on April 9, 1936 in Brooklyn, New York. He entered the Air Force in June, 1957 via Air Force ROTC at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was trained as a helicopter pilot and was part of Detatchment 2 of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, based at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base.

Richard Lawrence Mehr was born on December 30, 1930 in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He also was commissioned via ROTC at the University of Louisville in 1952. He was trained and served as a supply officer before he took to the skies. He flew close air support in the Douglas A-1 Skyraider.

Both of these brave fliers received the Air Force Cross - the second-highest award possible - for their courage during the rescue.