Thursday, August 30, 2012

TFH 8/30: Nancy Wake, the "White Mouse"

Several weeks ago while searching around Netflix for something new to watch, I happened across a late 1980s British TV series called Wish Me Luck (IMDB). The show lasted for three series and just 23 episodes and portrays a hidden aspect of World War II: women who volunteered for covert duty assisting the French Resistance with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE, referred to in the show as "the Outfit"). Much of Wish Me Luck was based on the real-life exploits of one such courageous woman: Nancy Wake.

Nancy Wake, c. 1945
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand on August 30, 1912. She is today's Their Finest Hour honoree as this would have been her 100th birthday. Her journey from youth to wartime heroine is truly a remarkable one.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

TFH 8/28: Captain Richard Stephen Ritchie, USAF

Richard Stephen "Steve" Ritchie was born on June 25, 1942 in Reidsville, North Carolina. A gifted athlete, Ritchie entered the United States Air Force Academy and walked on to the football team, starting at halfback for two years. He graduated with the class of 1964 and received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

Ritchie earned his pilot's wings and first flew the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter before switching to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. He first flew in combat over Vietnam during 1968 before being assigned to the Air Force's Fighter Weapons School and becoming the youngest instructor to that point in the program.

Captain Ritchie volunteered to return to combat in 1972 and was posted to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. In May 1972 he had his first two air-to-air "kills". In July he followed with two more aerial victories against Communist fighters.

Forty years ago today, flying F-4D SN 66-7463 with the callsign "Buick 01", Ritchie shot down his fifth North Vietnamese MiG-21 using an AIM-7 Sparrow missile and became the only Air Force pilot ace of the war. He was decorated with the Air Force Cross for his heroism in the skies.

Monday, August 27, 2012

TFH 8/27: First Lieutenant Lee R. Hartell, USA

Lee Ross Hartell was born on August 23, 1923 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the late 1940s, he had settled in Connecticut and joined the United States Army in Danbury in 1949.

Hartell was posted to Battery A of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion with the 2nd Infantry Division for combat in the Korean War. On this day in 1951, then First Lieutenant Hartell was acting as a forward observer attached to Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment when the Communist enemy launched a ferocious attack on our soldiers' defensive position.

The intrepid lieutenant, just four days past his 28th birthday, disregarded every threat to himself to insure that he would be in the best position to call down devastating artillery fire on the attackers. Hartell's courage above and beyond the normal call of duty was credited as the key factor in maintaining the defense of strategic ground and ultimately was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Alden Armstrong, 1930-2012

Not breaking news at this point, but I'm sure you've heard that we lost Neil A. Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, to complications following surgery for coronary artery disease. He was just a few weeks past his 82nd birthday.

I have two Apollo-era photographs as part of my "Finest Hour" sidebars. One (right side, below the House campaign links) shows Apollo 11, the flight Armstrong commanded, punching through the sound barrier with a visible puff of mist during launch on July 16, 1969 - the massive Saturn V rocket framed quite nicely with our flag.

The second is an iconic photograph of astronaut Jack Schmitt on the moon, with both the flag and the Earth in the frame, taken nearly 40 years ago in December, 1972. You'd think a "finest hour" would be a picture of Neil Armstrong on the Moon, no?

Well, except for still frames from the motion picture camera mounted inside the lunar module Eagle, or the grainy TV image stills, there are no pictures of Armstrong on the Moon, unlike the well known photo of Buzz Aldrin. The astronauts only had one EVA camera, and he never gave it to Aldrin to take his picture.

But, that was the kind of person Neil Armstrong was. He never sought to exploit his unique position as the "First Man", and for me, that just adds to his stature.

Apollo 11's Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, said simply: "He was the best, and I will miss him terribly."

When my wife and I were approaching the birth of our son in 2005, there was only one boy's name we really liked, and that was "Neil". Space program fans both of us, we're proud to have named our son for Mr. Armstrong.

Twelve men walked on the Moon. We've lost four of them (James Irwin, Alan Shepard, Charles "Pete" Conrad, and now Neil Armstrong). Eight are still with us: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Ed Mitchell, Dave Scott, John Young, Charlie Duke, Gene Cernan, and Jack Schmitt (yes, I rattled them off from memory). If you ever need a lesson in what "American Exceptionalism" truly means, those twelve names (eighteen, actually - don't forget the six CMPs who went with them: Collins, Gordon, Roosa, Worden, Mattingly, and Evans) are a great place to start.

As I posted to Facebook and Twitter last night, "Rest in Peace, First Man".

Saturday, August 25, 2012

TFH 8/25-26: Master Sergeant Melvin O. Handrich, USA

Melvin O. Handrich was born on January 26, 1919 in Manawa, Wisconsin. He first began service to our Nation in 1942 in the United States Army and participated in both the recapture of Kiska during the Aleutians Campaign and in Europe seeing combat in Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany before being discharged at the end of the war in September, 1945.

After several years back in civilian life, Handrich reenlisted in the Army in January of 1949. He was a member of the 5th Regimental Combat Team, then an independent combat formation in the Pacific. The 5th RCT was one of the first units committed to war on the Korean peninsula in 1950.

During the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, the 5th RCT was attached to the 25th Infantry Division. On August 25-26, 1950, then Master Sergeant Handrich as part of the 1st Battalion/5th Infantry, occupied an observation position all by himself to properly direct fires on the enemy. When he was wounded and his company withdrew, he remained behind to continue the vital work of directing the artillery and mortar fires even though it meant that his life would be lost. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his display of valor, one truly above and beyond the normal call of duty.

Friday, August 24, 2012

TFH 8/24: Rear Admiral Arthur Cayley Davis, USN

Arthur Cayley Davis was born on March 14, 1893 in Columbia, South Carolina. He attended the University of Nebraska for two years between 1909-11 before being accepted into the United States Naval Academy. After graduating with the class of 1915, he received his commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy.

Eight years later, Davis received his "wings of gold" as a Naval Aviator. At the beginning of World War II, he served on Admiral Nimitz's staff until he was posted to take command of the USS Yorktown (CV-5), but the carrier was sunk at the Battle of Midway before he did so. Instead, he was given command of the USS Enterprise (CV-6) on June 30, 1942.

As the Guadalcanal Campaign began in early August, 1942 Enterprise was dispatched along with two other carriers - USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Wasp (CV-7) - to provide air cover for the invasion fleet. The Japanese sent carrier forces of their own, and on August 24-25 they met in the third large carrier vs. carrier engagement of the war: the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

Rear Admiral Davis courageously led his ship through the battle, through repeated enemy attacks and severe battle damage, and brought the "Big E" back to fight again another day. He was decorated with the Navy Cross for his valor in command.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

GOP's Nuclear Option for Missouri

The Republican Party has itself a real disaster brewing in Missouri, thanks to Rep. Todd Akin's linguistic sojourn into both absurdly inappropriate phrasing and pseudo-biology. Mr. Akin, of course, is the Republican candidate for Missouri's US Senate seat, currently held by the deplorable socialist Statist Senator Claire McCaskill.

This is a seat that is key to progressing with the American Restoration. Lovers of liberty must do whatever possible to regain control of the Senate, particularly with probably a minimum of two Supreme Court seats to be appointed in the next Presidential term.

Mr. Akin, now a complete pariah in the GOP, has refused to get out of the race despite calls from both establishment and conservative/libertarian voices in the party to do so, and is currently imploding in the opinion polls as his political self-immolation continues. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has stated that he's persona non grata for funding - as well they should, as Mr. Akin is clearly unsuitable for office based solely on his complete unpreparedness to cogently and intelligently answer a completely foreseeable question for any politician who holds pro-life views.

Mr. Akin can not be compelled or forced to withdraw. The GOP is stuck with him unless he withdraws on his own, and even the prospect for that is iffy as courts have to be involved, costs of reprinting ballots have to be covered, and an adequate candidate has to be found that won't cause any more division than already has been.

There is, however, another solution.

TFH 8/23: Captain Nicholas J. Donelson, USAF

Nicholas J. Donelson was born on June 5, 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri. He enlisted in the United States Air Force on September 17, 1956 and was first trained as a radar specialist. About four years later, he was accepted into the Air Force's Aviation Cadet program and received his navigator's wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant on June 7, 1961.

Donelson first served in the Strategic Air Command's B-52 Stratofortress bombers until he was accepted for pilot training. He earned his pilot's wings and joined the 34th Tactical Fighter Squadron in 1966, flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief from Yokota Air Base in Japan. During several deployments for combat in Vietnam from 1966-1969, he flew a total of 116 war missions.

Forty-five years ago today, then Captain Donelson led a strike against a heavily defended North Vietnamese railroad yard. Even though the Americans came under intense attack by enemy fighters, he led his pilots through to unload their bombs on the target. He was decorated with the second-highest award he could have recieved: the Air Force Cross.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TFH 8/22: Staff Sergeant Erich R. Phillips, USA

The United States Army's 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team is a rapid reaction force forward deployed as part of United States Army Europe. The "Sky Soldiers" (as they're nicknamed) are a storied unit within our Army, having fought with distinction during the Vietnam War. The brigade was deactivated following Vietnam in 1972.

The Army reactivated the Sky Soldiers on October 16, 2000. Over the next several years, the brigade gained its men and equipment, reaching "initial operating capacity" (i.e. full strength) on March 14, 2003. Just twelve days later on March 26, 2003, the 173d would jump into combat in northern Iraq. They served and fought there until February 21, 2004. In addition to their service in Iraq, the brigade has also completed three tours in Afghanistan (2005-6, 2007-8, and 2009-10).

In an infantry company, the mortar platoon provides key firepower to the company commander and his soldiers. The M224 60mm lightweight mortar weighs 47 pounds with all its pieces and parts, not including any ammunition. Our brave soldiers and Marines often have to carry them into battle. Company mortars are often emplaced centrally where they can support the entire unit with fires. As such, they may not have supporting units nearby with only the mortarmen themselves to provide security and protection.

During the 173d's second Afghanistan combat tour on August 22, 2007 - five years ago to the day - the mortarmen of "Chosen" Company (C) of the 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment found themselves under a pre-dawn attack from a numerically superior enemy.

Staff Sergeant Erich R. Phillips was the mortar platoon sergeant. The 23 year-old soldier - already on his fourth deployment to southwest Asia - was sleeping at the time of the attack but quickly leapt into action, rallying the 22 Americans as they were assaulted by as many as 80 Taliban combatants. For his valor, he ultimately received the Distinguished Service Cross - the Army's second-highest award.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TFH 8/21: Two Heroic "Saints"

The United States Navy formed Attack Squadron ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE (VA-163), nicknamed the "Saints", on September 1, 1960. The squadron was equipped with the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. The squadron was assigned to Carrier Air Wing SIXTEEN (CVW-16) in June of 1962; the wing itself was assigned to the USS Oriskany (CV-34). VA-163 participated in three Vietnam combat tours with Oriskany between April 5, 1965 and January 31, 1968, as well as a fourth tour onboard the USS Hancock (CV-19) with Carrier Air Wing TWENTY-ONE (CVW-21) between July 18, 1968 and March 3, 1969.

One of the few "high value" targets in North Vietnam was an electrical generating station outside Hanoi. The facility was among the most heavily defended in North Vietnam, and the multiple missions launched against it had to penetrate dense flak and surface-to-air missile batteries.

Forty-five years ago today, VA-163's commanding officer, Commander Bryan W. Compton, Jr., led a strike on the plant along with another pilot, Lieutenant Commander James. B. Busey, IV. Both aviators sustained major damage to their planes as they led their squadron mates into and away from the target before landing safely on the Oriskany. Both men received the Navy Cross for their valor.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Two Words That Ne'er Go Together: the Unpreparedness of Rep. Todd Akin

And the two words are "legitimate" and "rape".

The comments of Representative Todd Akin, candidate for US Senate in Missouri, are by now well known. Social media has been all over the self-immolating Congressman all day, and I certainly joined the fray:

What is so completely mind boggling to me - and why I think Mr. Akin should drop out of this Senate race post-haste - is how this six-term Congressman could have been so completely unprepared as to botch answering what every pro-life politician should be ready to answer.

TFH 8/20: LTJG Robert Brown Hopgood, USN

Land based aircraft were a key component of protecting Allied convoys during World War II's Battle of the Atlantic. The United States Navy stationed patrol planes in Iceland at Naval Air Station Keflavik.

70 years ago today, a young aircraft commander of a Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat doggedly pressed home his attack on the Nazi U-Boat U-464, sinking it. For his heroism and skill in the air, he was decorated with the Navy Cross.

His name was Lieutenant, Junior Grade Robert Brown Hopgood.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

TFH 8/19: The Most Decorated Aircrew of the Vietnam War

Marine Observation Squadron Six (VMO-6) was first formed in the 1920s. The squadron was inactive from 1933 until November, 1944 when it was reconstituted to join the 6th Marine Division for combat in the last days of World War II in the Pacific, and saw combat on Okinawa.

During the Korean War, VMO-6 was the first Marine Corps helicopter squadron to enter combat and was instrumental in evacuating wounded Marines during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in November, 1950.

The squadron and its UH-1E Huey helicopters was dispatched to Vietnam in 1965. On August 19, 1967, one of VMO-6's helicopters was flying on escort duty for medical evacuation missions. The helicopter, commanded by Captain Steven W. Pless and with co-pilot Captain Rupert E. Fairfield, Jr., crew chief Lance Corporal John G. Phelps, and door gunner Gunnery Sergeant Leroy N. Poulson, overheard on the radio about a downed Army helicopter crew on a beach nearby.

From Captain Pless' combat report:

[F]rom the radio transmissions, I knew that there were four Americans on the beach one mile north of the mouth of the Song Tra Khuc River, that they were under attack by mortars and automatic weapons, and that a CH-47 had been driven off by severe automatic weapons fire. There were three (3) jets overhead and four (4) UH-1Es orbiting about a mile to sea. None of these aircraft could get in close enough to the four besieged Americans due to the mortar fire and severe automatic weapons fire. The Army UH-1Es were endeavoring to locate the source of the mortar fire, get a reaction force launched, and get everyone organized. I had made two transmissions offering to help, but had received no reply. Since the other aircraft seemed reluctant to aid the downed men and unable to get organized, I decided to go in alone and hoped they would follow me and help me. 
My crew all knew the situation and were all aware that we had very little chance of survival. Yet, when I asked them if anyone objected to a rescue attempt, it was a unanimous and emphatic "Go."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

TFH 8/18: Sergeant Robert E. O'Malley, USMC

Robert Emmett O'Malley was born on June 3, 1943 in New York City, New York. He grew up in the Woodside neighborhood of the city's borough of Queens. At age 18 on October 11, 1961, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After completing recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, he became an infantryman and served with the 5th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion/9th Marine Regiment, and 2nd Battalion/1st Marine Regiment.

O'Malley, then a Corporal, deployed to Okinawa with 2/1 Marines in January, 1965. While there, they were redesignated as the 3rd Battalion ("America's Battalion") of the 3rd Marine Regiment (Fortuna Fortes Juvat - "Fortune Follows the Brave"). 3/3 Marines was one of the first USMC combat units sent to Vietnam, arriving at Da Nang in May, 1965.

On August 18, 1965, the Marines launched Operation Starlite - their first regimental-sized combat engagement of the war. 3/3 Marines was tasked with an amphibious landing to kick off the attack, and from their landing ground, to then drive the enemy into the other participating battalions. As the rifle squad that O'Malley led progressed into increasingly intense combat, he remained at the front of his Marines as they assaulted fortified enemy positions and, when ordered to evacuate and thrice wounded himself, courageously and selflessly covered the evacuation of his squad onto helicopters before leaving the battlefield. For his indomitable valor, he received our Nation's highest honor.

Friday, August 17, 2012

TFH 8/17-18: Sergeant Clyde Thomason, USMCR

Clyde Thomason was born on May 23, 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia. He first enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1934 and was discharged to the Marine Forces Reserve in 1939 at the end of his normal enlistment. With the United States' entry into World War II, Thomason volunteered to return to active duty in January, 1942 and also volunteered to join the elite Marine Raider units then under formation.

As a diversionary attack for the Guadalcanal Campaign that began earlier in August, 1942, Companies A and B of the 2nd Raider Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson embarked on the submarines USS Argonaut (SM-1/SS-166) and USS Nautilus (SS-168) and set off for Makin Island, known today as Butaritari.

Carlson's Marines landed on Makin pre-dawn on August 17, 1942 in rubber boats. Sergeant Thomason was one of the lead Raiders ashore, and he distinguished himself above and beyond the normal call of duty, ultimately becoming the first enlisted Marine to be decorated with the Medal of Honor for actions in World War II.

Monday, August 06, 2012

TFH 8/6-7: Captain Harl Pease, Jr., USAAC

Harl Pease, Jr. was born on April 10, 1917 in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1939, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant and received his pilot's wings in 1940.

At the beginning of the United States' involvement in World War II, he was flying the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress with the 93d Bombardment Squadron of the 19th Bomb Group. He flew missions as part of the Far East Air Force first from the Philippines and then Australia. Among the actions that Pease participated in was the Battle of the Coral Sea.

After a mission on August 6, 1942, Pease's aircraft was so badly damaged it was counted out for a "maximum effort" to be launched against Rabaul the next day. He and his entire crew volunteered to take the most serviceable plane available, readied it for combat, and joined the mission.

En route to the target, they penetrated through heavy fighter opposition, destroying several enemy aircraft in the process. Pease and his crew unloaded their bombs on target, and headed for home. Sadly, their plane was too badly damaged to keep up with the other aircraft and was shot down by the Japanese.

Pease and one of his crew mates were able to bail out and were captured by the Japanese. He was imprisoned on Rabaul until October 8, 1942 when, along with other American and Australian prisoners, he was forced to dig his own grave before he was beheaded.

On December 2, 1942, Captain Pease's parents were presented with the Medal of Honor their son so assuredly deserved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.