Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TFH: January 31, 1970 in Vietnam - Two Heroes

On January 31, 1970 during the Vietnam War, two heroic Americans - one Marine, one Soldier - went above and beyond the call of duty to save the lives of their wounded comrades in separate actions. Both were decorated with the United States' highest honor.

Monday, January 30, 2012

TFH 1/30: First Lieutenant Robert M. McGovern, USA

On this day in 1951 near Kamyangjan-ni, Korea a lone American infantry officer feared his men would buckle under the enemy's withering assault. He mustered all the courage he could, ignored his wounds, and charged forward. His name was Robert Milton McGovern, and for his gallantry and sacrifice, he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

TFH 1/26: Lieutenant Carlos Thompson, MCSO

Today on Their Finest Hour, I bring you the first of a new category of honoree: recipients of the United States Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor. This decoration, established on May 30, 2001, is for emergency responders who show great courage to the effect of:
Actions above and beyond the call of duty; and exhibiting exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind; or an unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in an attempt to save or protect human life.
Five Medal of Valor-worthy acts of courage are recognized each year.

On January 26, 2007 - five years to the day - Lieutenant Carlos Thompson of the Mobile (Alabama) County Sheriff's Office attempted to stop a vehicle fitting the description of that belonging to an armed robbery suspect. A high-speed chase ensued. During the chase, the suspect stopped, turned, and opened fire upon Lieutenant Thompson with a SKS assault rifle.

From Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Citations for 2006-2007:

Lieutenant Carlos Thompson
Mobile County Sheriff's Office, Mobile, AL

On Friday, January 26, 2007, Lieutenant Carlos Thompson of the Mobile County (AL) Sheriff's Office attempted to perform a traffic stop on a vehicle matching the description of a suspect vehicle involved in an armed robbery. The driver subsequently fled the scene at a high rate of speed. At an intersection, the driver ran through the stop sign, made a 180-degree turn, and stopped his vehicle, facing Lieutenant Thompson. The suspect began firing an assault rifle, striking Lieutenant Thompson and seriously wounding him in his lower leg and hip, rendering him unable to exit his patrol car. While returning fire, Lieutenant Thompson was struck in the right elbow by gunfire, which forced him to reload his weapon with his weak hand to continue to return fire. As the suspect approached on foot, Lieutenant Thompson, using his weak hand, was able to fatally wound the suspect. Though seriously injured, Lieutenant Thompson was able to direct his fellow deputies arriving on the scene, ensuring that the area was secure and any evidence was protected. 

Lieutenant Thompson was a 17-year veteran of the MCSO when this incident occurred. He received his medal at the White House from President Bush on October 22, 2008. He was also decorated with the local Combat Cross and Wounded in Service medals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TFH 1/24: Lord Baden-Powell - a Reprise

Five years ago to the day I posted my first "Their Finest Hour". The honoree was Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, known by boys and men as the founder of Scouting.

On January 24, 1908, the first Boy Scout meeting was held. (links to original 2007 TFH post)

And, Life Scout Allan Bourdius (2-Time Philmont Scout Ranch Veteran), is now proud to reiterate:

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my Country; to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.


A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

In closing, I also remember one very important thing out of the Scout Law. In explaining the importance of "A Scout is...brave", this is a quote from the Boy Scout Handbook I've never forgotten, and always try to remind myself of when I face challenges:

A Scout is brave, even when he is afraid.

I hope to never be in true danger, but if I am, that I will act in spite of it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

TFH 1/20: BMC Quincy Hightower Truett, USN

Beginning in late 1968, Operation SEALORDS was begun in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam to combat the communist Viet Cong supply lines and forces in the region. This operation combined several previous riverine warfare units of the United States Navy into one consolidated force, of which Task Force 116 was part.

On this day in 1969, Chief Boatswain's Mate Quincy Hightower Truett commanded a "Patrol Boat, River" (PBR), one of four other craft in a mission along the Kinh Dong Tien Canal. When the entire unit came under intense enemy attack, he sacrificed his own safety to rescue his comrades from a burning PBR. For his courage, leadership, and sacrifice, he was decorated with our Nation's second highest honor: the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Chief Boatswain's Mate Quincy Hightower Truett (NSN: 4284530), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism on the night of 20 January 1969 while serving with River Division 551, River Patrol Flotilla FIVE, Task Force 116 (TF-116), engaged in armed conflict against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong communist aggressor forces on the Kinh Dong Tien Canal in the Republic of Vietnam. As Patrol Officer of two River Patrol Boats (PBR's) in company with an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) and two other PBR's, Chief Petty Officer Truett was aboard the fourth boat in the column when the entire unit came under intense enemy fire. PBR 8137, the boat ahead of Chief Petty Officer Truett, was taken under extremely heavy fire and began to burn, forcing the five occupants aboard into the water. Observing the men struggling to reach the safety of a ditch, Chief Petty Officer Truett ordered his PBR into the area of the burning craft to recover the men in the water. Without regard for his own personal safety, he deliberately exposed himself to the blistering enemy fire, positioning himself on the bow of his boat to provide covering fire and to assist the men from the water. Because of several bright fires from grass huts burning along the canal bank, Chief Petty Officer Truett was completely visible to the enemy during the entire rescue. Mortally wounded after he had helped rescue the last man from the water, Chief Petty Officer Truett, by his outstanding valor, concern for his shipmates' safety, and inspiring devotion to duty, contributed directly to the safe recovery of the crew of PBR 8137. His selfless efforts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

The Knox-class frigate, USS Truett (FF-1095), was named in honor of this brave sailor and served our Navy for twenty years from 1974-1994. Her motto was "Dedication to God and Fatherland", which her namesake doubtlessly displayed in the face of the enemy.

Chief Truett, age 36 at his death, is listed on Panel 34W, Line 46 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in our Nation's capital. Learn more about PBRs and the brave men who crewed them at the website of their veterans' association.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

TFH 1/18: Sergeant Gordon Douglas Yntema, USA

On January 16-18, 1968, Sergeant Gordon Douglas Yntema was serving with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Vietnam. While accompanying Vietnamese civilian irregular soldiers, he assumed command when the native commander was seriously wounded. Even when severely wounded, he refused to withdraw and leave his comrades to the enemy. Ultimately, when faced with surrender and torment, he chose to fight to the death. For his actions above and beyond the normal call of duty, he received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War:


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Place and date: Near Thong Binh, Republic of Vietnam, 16-18 January 1968. Entered service at: Detroit, Mich. Born: 26 June 1945, Bethesda, Md. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life and above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Yntema, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while assigned to Detachment A-431, Company D. As part of a larger force of civilian irregulars from Camp Cai Cai, he accompanied 2 platoons to a blocking position east of the village of Thong Binh, where they became heavily engaged in a small-arms fire fight with the Viet Cong. Assuming control of the force when the Vietnamese commander was seriously wounded, he advanced his troops to within 50 meters of the enemy bunkers. After a fierce 30 minute fire fight, the enemy forced Sgt. Yntema to withdraw his men to a trench in order to afford them protection and still perform their assigned blocking mission. Under cover of machinegun fire, approximately 1 company of Viet Cong maneuvered into a position which pinned down the friendly platoons from 3 sides. A dwindling ammunition supply, coupled with a Viet Cong mortar barrage which inflicted heavy losses on the exposed friendly troops, caused many of the irregulars to withdraw. Seriously wounded and ordered to withdraw himself, Sgt. Yntema refused to leave his fallen comrades. Under withering small arms and machinegun fire, he carried the wounded Vietnamese commander and a mortally wounded American Special Forces advisor to a small gully 50 meters away in order to shield them from the enemy fire. Sgt. Yntema then continued to repulse the attacking Viet Cong attempting to overrun his position until, out of ammunition and surrounded, he was offered the opportunity to surrender. Refusing, Sgt. Yntema stood his ground, using his rifle as a club to fight the approximately 15 Viet Cong attempting his capture. His resistance was so fierce that the Viet Cong were forced to shoot in order to overcome him. Sgt. Yntema's personal bravery in the face of insurmountable odds and supreme self-sacrifice were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself, the 1st Special Forces, and the U.S. Army. 

Sergeant Yntema left behind a wife and three young daughters. He also received the Silver Star Medal for gallantry and two Purple Heart medals during his Vietnam service. He rests in Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Holland, Michigan and appears on Panel 34E, Line 73 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) still defends our great Nation and the cause of liberty throughout the world from their home base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

TFH 1/17: Colonel Robert F. Wilke, USAF

In January 1968, the 602nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (Commando) flew their A-1 Skyraider attack planes from Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base on missions against the communist enemy in Vietnam. They were most typically used for close air support and as escorts on search and rescue missions for downed airmen.

On January 16 & 17, 1968, Colonel Robert Frederick Wilke was supporting an ultimately successful mission to rescue two downed fliers. He placed his aircraft at extreme risk to accomplish the mission and was shot down. For his gallantry, he was decorated with our Nation's second-highest honor: the Air Force Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Colonel Robert Frederick Wilke, United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as an A-1E Skyraider pilot of the 602d Tactical Fighter Squadron (Commando), Udorn Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action on 16 and 17 January 1968. On these dates, Colonel Wilke participated in the successful combat recovery of two downed aircrew members and commanded an effort to recover two other downed pilots. The latter attempted recovery required a penetration of and flight beneath an extremely low overcast condition. With complete disregard for his own safety, Colonel Wilke executed a slow spiral maneuver into the cloud formation, broke out beneath the overcast, and initiated his search in mountainous terrain with extremely limited air space. As he was conducting this low-level search in a heavily defended hostile environment, intense ground fire was being directed toward his aircraft and resulted in his being shot down over hostile territory. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Colonel Wilke reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Robert Wilke's remains have never been recovered. He is listed on Panel 34E, Line 65 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In addition to his Air Force Cross, he was also decorated twice with the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill in aerial combat.

Monday, January 16, 2012

TFH 1/16: Sergeant Jose Calugas

Jose Calugas was born on December 29, 1907 in the Philippines. At age 23 he joined the US Army's Philippine Scouts and was trained as an artilleryman. Seventy years ago today during the defense of the Bataan Peninsula, he took it upon himself to get a knocked-out gun back into action. For his courage and leadership, he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor:


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Battery B, 88th Field Artillery, Philippine Scouts. Place and date: At Culis, Bataan Province, Philippine Islands, 16 January 1942. Entered service at: Fort Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands. Born: 29 December 1907, Barrio Tagsing, Leon, %Iloilo, Philippine Islands. G.O. No.: 10, 24 February 1942. Citation: The action for which the award was made took place near Culis, Bataan Province, Philippine Islands, on 16 January 1942. A battery gun position was bombed and shelled by the enemy until 1 gun was put out of commission and all the cannoneers were killed or wounded. Sgt. Calugas, a mess sergeant of another battery, voluntarily and without orders ran 1,000 yards across the shell-swept area to the gun position. There he organized a volunteer squad which placed the gun back in commission and fired effectively against the enemy, although the position remained under constant and heavy Japanese artillery fire.

Sergeant Calugas was still fighting for liberty when the US forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. He survived the Bataan Death March and Japanese imprisonment until 1943, when he was released to work as a laborer in a rice mill. His release also meant his return to the fight; Calugas joined a guerrilla unit that helped lead to the liberation of the Philippines in 1945.

In 1945, Jose Calugas received his Medal of Honor from General of the Army George C. Marshall. He remained in the United States Army, received an officer's commission, and became an American citizen in the early 1950s. After leaving the army in 1957, he settled in Tacoma, WA and worked for Boeing. He passed away of natural causes at age 90 in January of 1998.

Friday, January 13, 2012

TFH 1/13: Plunged into Disaster, Six Shined

Thirty years ago today, Washington National Airport (today Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) had been closed in the morning due to heavy snowfall. The airport had reopened around noon. At 1:45 PM, an Air Florida 737 arrived from Miami. That aircraft's attempt to return to Florida that afternoon would end in tragedy.

After a delay of almost two hours, Air Florida Flight 90 - carrying 74 passengers and 5 crew - prepared for departure amid falling temperatures and continuing snowfall. The aircraft had been deiced, but the deicing solution hadn't been mixed properly and wasn't as effective as it should have been. The two pilots, neither particularly experienced with flying in cold weather and snow/ice conditions, inexplicably did not turn the anti-icing systems of their two engines on as part of their takeoff checklist. The pilots also erred by keeping their aircraft very close to the plane taxiing in front of them, thinking incorrectly that the heat from that plane's engine exhaust would help keep theirs free of snow and ice, when the opposite was true.

At 3:59 PM, Flight 90 began its takeoff roll on Runway 01. First Officer Roger Pettit, the "pilot flying" for this leg of the journey, noticed that the 737's performance didn't match what his instruments were telling him. Regardless of his concern, the crew continued with the takeoff - icing conditions on the engines meant that they were producing 16.7% less pressure than they should have, while the instruments reported full power. The icing on the plane's wings denied it a substantial amount of lift. Flight 90 made it airborne - barely - but only reached about 350 feet in altitude before the pilots lost control.

At 4:01 PM, the 737 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River. The forward section of the plane rapidly sunk, leaving just the tail area separated and afloat.

Four motorists on the bridge were killed by the impact. Of the 79 souls aboard the plane, 73 perished in the crash. Six aboard the plane survived the crash; five of those were ultimately saved. Two of the passengers, along with four people who engaged in the rescue, are the real subject of today's recounting of courage.

Flight Attendant Kelly Duncan, then 22 years old, was the youngest member of the Air Florida crew and the only crew member survivor. She was seated in the rear of the plane, and quickly found herself in the icy Potomac river with the other five survivors. Putting her passengers first, she assisted the other survivors as best she could as they clung to the fractured tail of the aircraft, including giving the only available life jacket to one of the injured passengers. She was recognized by the NTSB for her selfless act.

Roger Olian, a sheet metal working foreman at a Washington area hospital, was driving home and was atop the 14th Street Bridge when the plane struck. He heard a man yelling that a plane was in the water. Olian exited his truck, and courageously dove into the river in an attempt to assist the survivors. With ice clinging to his body, he came ashore looking for anything that could be used to assist the victims. Grabbing what little was available to him - some rope, battery jumper cables - he ignored the voices of other bystanders and reentered the freezing waters to try and save others. For his courage at extreme risk to himself, he was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal by the United States Coast Guard.

Lenny Skutnik, a US government office assistant in his late 20s, observed a passenger - Priscilla Tirado - struggling in the water as a helicopter (see below) tried to drop a life line to her. Without hesitation, he stripped off his coat and boots and swam 30 feet out into the river to assist her. He was successful in towing Ms. Tirado to shore, saving her life. Thirteen days after the disaster, he was recognized by President Reagan during the 1982 State of the Union Address. Like Roger Olian, Skutnik was also decorated by the Coast Guard with the Gold Lifesaving Medal.

Donald W. Usher and Melvin E. Windsor crewed the United States Park Police's helicopter Eagle 1. Usher (the pilot) and Windsor (a paramedic) were credited with saving four of the survivors by dropping lines to them from the air and assisting them to shore. At one point during the rescue, they were so low to the water that the landing skids went beneath the surface of the Potomac. Windsor also exited the helicopter onto the barely floating wreckage of the tail section to assist the survivors. They were both decorated with the US Department of the Interior's Valor Award and Silver Lifesaving Medals by the Coast Guard.

Arland Dean Williams, Jr., age 46, was a passenger. He didn't know any of his fellow survivors personally, but he unhesitatingly and with complete selflessness and courage put the lives of the others before his own. A life vest was dropped from Usher and Windsor's helicopter; he gave it to another. Then a flotation ball was dropped; that was given to another. He retrieved many of the lines from the helicopter - and passed them to others. He was the last remaining victim in the water when the tail section finally sank. Exhausted and succumbing to hypothermia, he was unable to save himself, was dragged under, and drowned. Time Magazine on January 25, 1982 - before his identity was known - wrote of his courage:
So the man in the water had his own natural powers. He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger, and that is a power of nature too. The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can do.
It took some time to conclusively identify Williams as "the man in the water". On June 6, 1983 in an Oval Office ceremony, President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole presented his parents, sister, and children with his Gold Lifesaving Medal from the Coast Guard.

Also in 1983, the District of Columbia renamed the 14th Street Bridge to the "Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge." On this day, as well as all others, may those who use the bridge - and the rest of us too - remember the fantastic courage shown that day thirty years ago.

And to the families of all those lost aboard Flight 90, you will be in our prayers on this grim anniversary.

The Washington Post has retrospective coverage, as well as a reprise of the front page from the following day in 1982.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

TFH 1/12 Extra: Corporal Ronald E. Rosser, USA

Ronald Rosser first enlisted in the United States Army at age 17 in 1946. His three-year enlistment saw him returned to civilian life in 1949. After one of his brothers was killed in action during the early days of the Korean War, he reenlisted in hopes of avenging his dead sibling.

60 years ago today - and 10 years after today's other honoree, Lieutenant Alexander Nininger - then Corporal Rosser single-handedly changed the course of a battle. For his gallantry, he received our Nation's highest honor.

TFH 1/12: Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger, USA

70 years ago today, West Point graduate Alexander R. Nininger, Jr. was fighting the Japanese in the Philippines on the Bataan Peninsula with the 57th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Scouts. As history tells, the defense was ultimately futile. Regardless, our brave soldiers did their duty, and many went above and beyond that call.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II:


Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts. Place and date: Near Abucay, Bataan, Philippine Islands, 12 January 1942. Entered service at: Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Birth: Gainesville, Ga. G.O. No.: 9, 5 February 1942. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Abucay, Bataan, Philippine Islands, on 12 January 1942. This officer, though assigned to another company not then engaged in combat, voluntarily attached himself to Company K, same regiment, while that unit was being attacked by enemy force superior in firepower. Enemy snipers in trees and foxholes had stopped a counterattack to regain part of position. In hand-to-hand fighting which followed, 2d Lt. Nininger repeatedly forced his way to and into the hostile position. Though exposed to heavy enemy fire, he continued to attack with rifle and handgrenades and succeeded in destroying several enemy groups in foxholes and enemy snipers. Although wounded 3 times, he continued his attacks until he was killed after pushing alone far within the enemy position. When his body was found after recapture of the position, 1 enemy officer and 2 enemy soldiers lay dead around him.

Lieutenant Nininger lies at rest near where he fell in the Philippines.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TFH 1/11: Captain Harold A. Fritz, USA

Harold Fritz was born on February 11, 1944 in Chicago, IL. His service to our Nation in the Army began in 1966. On this day in 1969, he was a First Lieutenant with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment serving in Vietnam. When the armored column Fritz was commanding was ambushed, he unquestionably demonstrated that leadership is from the front, and that one man can turn the tide of battle. For his gallantry, he received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War:


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Troop A, 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Place and date: Binh Long Province, Republic of Vietnam, 11 January 1969. Entered service at: Milwaukee, Wis. Born: 21 February 1944, Chicago, 111. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. (then 1st Lt.) Fritz, Armor, U.S. Army, distinguished himself while serving as a platoon leader with Troop A, near Quan Loi. Capt. Fritz was leading his 7-vehicle armored column along Highway 13 to meet and escort a truck convoy when the column suddenly came under intense crossfire from a reinforced enemy company deployed in ambush positions. In the initial attack, Capt. Fritz' vehicle was hit and he was seriously wounded. Realizing that his platoon was completely surrounded, vastly outnumbered, and in danger of being overrun, Capt. Fritz leaped to the top of his burning vehicle and directed the positioning of his remaining vehicles and men. With complete disregard for his wounds and safety, he ran from vehicle to vehicle in complete view of the enemy gunners in order to reposition his men, to improve the defenses, to assist the wounded, to distribute ammunition, to direct fire, and to provide encouragement to his men. When a strong enemy force assaulted the position and attempted to overrun the platoon, Capt. Fritz manned a machine gun and through his exemplary action inspired his men to deliver intense and deadly fire which broke the assault and routed the attackers. Moments later a second enemy force advanced to within 2 meters of the position and threatened to overwhelm the defenders. Capt. Fritz, armed only with a pistol and bayonet, led a small group of his men in a fierce and daring charge which routed the attackers and inflicted heavy casualties. When a relief force arrived, Capt. Fritz saw that it was not deploying effectively against the enemy positions, and he moved through the heavy enemy fire to direct its deployment against the hostile positions. This deployment forced the enemy to abandon the ambush site and withdraw. Despite his wounds, Capt. Fritz returned to his position, assisted his men, and refused medical attention until all of his wounded comrades had been treated and evacuated. The extraordinary courage and selflessness displayed by Capt. Fritz, at the repeated risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and reflect the greatest credit upon himself, his unit, and the Armed Forces. 

Harold Fritz retired from the Army in 1993 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 27 years of honorable service. He is still living.

His Vietnam-era unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, today has the vital role of the "opposing force" at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA. The NTC's role is to provide realistic combined arms training for the fighting units of the Army as preparation for actual combat. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 Pittsburgh Steelers - a Post-Mortem

As has been well reported, the Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos in crushing fashion Sunday night, ending their reign as defending AFC Champions. Here are my thoughts on what was actually a good season that probably ended too soon.

1) The Big Failure. Simple: losing both games against the Baltimore Ravens. The opening game was an embarrassment. Giving up a 92-yard TD drive at the end of regulation in week 9 for loss #2 wasn't a whole lot better. If they could have held on to their lead and won the week 9 game, they'd have finished 13-3, won the division, and have secured both a 1st round bye and home field throughout the playoffs by virtue of beating the Patriots in week 8. Ultimately, the course of the Steelers' playoff exit may have been decided on November 6th.

2) Some Rest Would've Been Nice. I realize hindsight is 20-20, but the Steelers didn't handle injuries well down the stretch. Roethlisberger should have been inactive to let his ankle heal fully. Again, go back to November 6th - they win that game, no question Big Ben doesn't play on a bum ankle.

3) Are they too old? Good question. They certainly looked that way on Sunday. Were the injuries to D-Line stalwarts Hampton and Keisel age related? Probably not, but neither of them are spring chickens from a football perspective. It's already pretty much assured that Aaron Smith won't be back next year after season-ending injuries two years in a row. Defensive captain and signal caller James Farrior just finished his 15th season. Hines Ward ends his 14th season (I think he'll be back) but that isn't a big deal because...

4) The Steelers have the best receiving corps in the NFL. Period. They don't have the best single receiver. They have the best unit. Antonio Brown: first ever in league history with 1,000+ receiving yards and 1,000+ return yards. Mike Wallace: nobody will out run him. Emmanuel Sanders: so long as he stays healthy, he's clutch. Jericho Cotchery came up with a couple of big catches in key spots, but won't likely return since he's an unrestricted free agent and with the Brown/Sanders/Wallace trifecta, the Steelers will use cap space and the dollars elsewhere. Prediction: Ward takes a pay cut and stays here. The alternative is retirement. He's loved here, and was around for the Rod Woodson departure debacle. I don't think he'll risk his good will with the fans.

5) Back to an "age" topic, what was up with Polamalu? No secret Troy had an off-year. What I found more disturbing than his lack of interceptions, forced fumbles, and fumble recoveries was his instincts seemed to be off. Throughout his career, Polamalu has had an awesome ability to jump plays or come out of nowhere to make a game changing play. He started looking better late in the season - I saw a lot of that Troy - but was way off the mark in the Wild Card playoff game. Hopefully, he gets back in the groove for next season...at age 31.

6) Let's hope Maurkice Pouncey isn't really fragile. Two seasons. Two late season ankle injuries. He also missed time during the season. The difference in the Steelers' O-Line is massive when Pouncey plays versus not. We need him healthy.

7) What next? With their loss Sunday, the Steelers locked up the 24th overall pick in the 2012 draft. I think they might be in the position of picking the "best available player regardless of position", but I think they'll shy away from a receiver. If I was making the pick, it would be a lineman - offense first, then defense.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, the Steelers will get a rematch with the Broncos (figure that will be a Sunday Night Football appearance). If the AFC West is on the rise, it could be a tough schedule. Games vs. the Jets and Titans should be easy wins based on relative team situations. The games vs. the NFC East should be interesting too - the only walk-over is the Redskins.

What will 2012 hold? It's going to depend really on how the Steelers who suffered late season injuries (Rashard Mendenhall, in particular, not mentioned earlier) recover. Right now, I'm going to say they don't do as well as this year, finish 11-5 but win the division with a week 17 victory over the hated Ravens.

TFH 1/10: PFC Clarence Eugene Sasser, USA

Clarence Sasser gave up his college deferments to serve in the United States Army. Trained as a combat medic, on this day in 1968 he ignored his own wounds and safety to save the lives of others. For his courage, he received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War:


Rank and organization: Specialist Fifth Class (then Pfc.), U.S. Army, Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Place and date: Ding Tuong Province, Republic of Vietnam, 10 January 1968. Entered service at: Houston, Tex. Born: 12 September 1947, Chenango, Tex. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp5c. Sasser distinguished himself while assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion. He was serving as a medical aidman with Company A, 3d Battalion, on a reconnaissance in force operation. His company was making an air assault when suddenly it was taken under heavy small arms, recoilless rifle, machinegun and rocket fire from well fortified enemy positions on 3 sides of the landing zone. During the first few minutes, over 30 casualties were sustained. Without hesitation, Sp5c. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded. After helping 1 man to safety, was painfully wounded in the left shoulder by fragments of an exploding rocket. Refusing medical attention, he ran through a barrage of rocket and automatic weapons fire to aid casualties of the initial attack and, after giving them urgently needed treatment, continued to search for other wounded. Despite 2 additional wounds immobilizing his legs, he dragged himself through the mud toward another soldier 100 meters away. Although in agonizing pain and faint from loss of blood, Sp5c. Sasser reached the man, treated him, and proceeded on to encourage another group of soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There he attended their wounds for 5 hours until they were evacuated. Sp5c. Sasser's extraordinary heroism is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army. 

American hero Clarence Sasser lives to this day. His Vietnam unit, 3rd Battalion/60th Infantry, today prepares the warriors of tomorrow who will defend our Nation and liberty across the globe at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Monday, January 09, 2012

TFH 1/9: SP4 Danny J. Petersen, USA

A disabled APC. Wounded crewmen who had to be rescued and evacuated. All in the face of a numerically superior hostile force. This was what faced 20-year old Danny Petersen of Kansas this day in 1970.


Rank and organization: Specialist Fourth Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 4th Battalion, 23d Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. Place and date: Tay Ninh Province, Republic of Vietnam, 9 January 1970. Entered service at: Kansas City, Mo. Born: 11 March 1949, Horton, Kans. Citation: Sp4c. Petersen distinguished himself while serving as an armored personnel carrier commander with Company B during a combat operation against a North Vietnamese Army Force estimated to be of battalion size. During the initial contact with the enemy, an armored personnel carrier was disabled and the crewmen were pinned down by the heavy onslaught of enemy small arms, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Sp4c. Petersen immediately maneuvered his armored personnel carrier to a position between the disabled vehicle and the enemy. He placed suppressive fire on the enemy's well-fortified position, thereby enabling the crewmembers of the disabled personnel carrier to repair their vehicle. He then maneuvered his vehicle, while still under heavy hostile fire to within 10 feet of the enemy's defensive emplacement. After a period of intense fighting, his vehicle received a direct hit and the driver was wounded. With extraordinary courage and selfless disregard for his own safety, Sp4c. Petersen carried his wounded comrade 45 meters across the bullet-swept field to a secure area. He then voluntarily returned to his disabled armored personnel carrier to provide covering fire for both the other vehicles and the dismounted personnel of his platoon as they withdrew. Despite heavy fire from 3 sides, he remained with his disabled vehicle, alone and completely exposed. Sp4c. Petersen was standing on top of his vehicle, firing his weapon, when he was mortally wounded. His heroic and selfless actions prevented further loss of life in his platoon. Sp4c. Petersen's conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary heroism are in the highest traditions of the service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

Danny Petersen rests today in Netawaka, Kansas. The 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry currently serves with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, WA.

Friday, January 06, 2012

TFH 1/6: Major Patrick Henry Brady, USA

Patrick Brady was an ambulance helicopter pilot. On October 2-3, 1967 he received our Nation's second-highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for heroism while rescuing his wounded comrades. He wasn't done.

On this day in 1968, he flew repeatedly into hostile fire to save the injured. Two helicopters were shot out from under him, and he didn't stop. He was credited with the evacuation of 51 severely wounded soldiers, and for his courage, he received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War:


Rank and organization: Major, U.S. Army, Medical Service Corps, 54th Medical Detachment, 67th Medical Group, 44th Medical Brigade. Place and date: Near Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, 6 January 1968. Entered service at: Seattle, Wash. Born: 1 October 1936, Philip, S. Dak. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Maj. Brady distinguished himself while serving in the Republic of Vietnam commanding a UH-1H ambulance helicopter, volunteered to rescue wounded men from a site in enemy held territory which was reported to be heavily defended and to be blanketed by fog. To reach the site he descended through heavy fog and smoke and hovered slowly along a valley trail, turning his ship sideward to blow away the fog with the backwash from his rotor blades. Despite the unchallenged, close-range enemy fire, he found the dangerously small site, where he successfully landed and evacuated 2 badly wounded South Vietnamese soldiers. He was then called to another area completely covered by dense fog where American casualties lay only 50 meters from the enemy. Two aircraft had previously been shot down and others had made unsuccessful attempts to reach this site earlier in the day. With unmatched skill and extraordinary courage, Maj. Brady made 4 flights to this embattled landing zone and successfully rescued all the wounded. On his third mission of the day Maj. Brady once again landed at a site surrounded by the enemy. The friendly ground force, pinned down by enemy fire, had been unable to reach and secure the landing zone. Although his aircraft had been badly damaged and his controls partially shot away during his initial entry into this area, he returned minutes later and rescued the remaining injured. Shortly thereafter, obtaining a replacement aircraft, Maj. Brady was requested to land in an enemy minefield where a platoon of American soldiers was trapped. A mine detonated near his helicopter, wounding 2 crewmembers and damaging his ship. In spite of this, he managed to fly 6 severely injured patients to medical aid. Throughout that day Maj. Brady utilized 3 helicopters to evacuate a total of 51 seriously wounded men, many of whom would have perished without prompt medical treatment. Maj. Brady's bravery was in the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army. 

Brady retired from the United States Army as a Major General in 1993. He is still living, and is one of just two individuals to receive both the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Vietnam.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

TFH 1/5: Staff Sergeant Franklin D. Miller, USA

On this day in 1970, Franklin Douglas "Doug" Miller was a nearly 25-year old Green Beret with the 5th Special Forces Group. The patrol he was leading encountered a booby trap. With the enemy alerted by the trap's explosion and in superior numbers, it fell upon this man to rescue the day. For his courage, he received our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War:


Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. place and date: Kontum province, Republic of Vietnam, 5 January 1970. Entered service at: Albuquerque, N. Mex. Born: 27 January 1945, Elizabeth City, N.C. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Miller, 5th Special Forces Group, distinguished himself while serving as team leader of an American-Vietnamese long-range reconnaissance patrol operating deep within enemy controlled territory. Leaving the helicopter insertion point, the patrol moved forward on its mission. Suddenly, 1 of the team members tripped a hostile booby trap which wounded 4 soldiers. S/Sgt. Miller, knowing that the explosion would alert the enemy, quickly administered first aid to the wounded and directed the team into positions across a small stream bed at the base of a steep hill. Within a few minutes, S/Sgt. Miller saw the lead element of what he estimated to be a platoon-size enemy force moving toward his location. Concerned for the safety of his men, he directed the small team to move up the hill to a more secure position. He remained alone, separated from the patrol, to meet the attack. S/Sgt. Miller single-handedly repulsed 2 determined attacks by the numerically superior enemy force and caused them to withdraw in disorder. He rejoined his team, established contact with a forward air controller and arranged the evacuation of his patrol. However, the only suitable extraction location in the heavy jungle was a bomb crater some 150 meters from the team location. S/Sgt. Miller reconnoitered the route to the crater and led his men through the enemy controlled jungle to the extraction site. As the evacuation helicopter hovered over the crater to pick up the patrol, the enemy launched a savage automatic weapon and rocket-propelled grenade attack against the beleaguered team, driving off the rescue helicopter. S/Sgt. Miller led the team in a valiant defense which drove back the enemy in its attempt to overrun the small patrol. Although seriously wounded and with every man in his patrol a casualty, S/Sgt. Miller moved forward to again single-handedly meet the hostile attackers. From his forward exposed position, S/Sgt. Miller gallantly repelled 2 attacks by the enemy before a friendly relief force reached the patrol location. S/Sgt. Miller's gallantry, intrepidity in action, and selfless devotion to the welfare of his comrades are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the U.S. Army. 

According to Wikipedia, Miller eventually became a Command Sergeant Major in our Army. He passed away on June 30, 2000 and was cremated and his ashes scattered. From a picture contemporaneous to his Medal of Honor presentation at the previous link, we can see that he also was decorated with the Silver Star and Bronze Star medals for gallantry, although records for those awards do not appear at Military Times' Hall of Valor.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

TFH 1/4: SP4 Larry Johnson, USA

I can't find a lot about Specialist Fourth Class Larry Johnson, so I'll just let his citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, awarded for his heroism and leadership on this day in 1969 and our Nation's second highest honor, speak for itself.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Specialist Fourth Class Larry Johnson (ASN: US-67193481), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 3d Battalion, 47th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. Specialist Four Johnson distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 4 January 1969 as acting platoon sergeant on a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Ben Tre, Kien Hoa Province. While his company was being inserted into a landing zone it came under intense enemy fire and sustained several casualties. Realizing that the hostile fire would have to be suppressed before his stricken comrades could be evacuated, Specialist Johnson quickly organized his troops and led them through the fusillade toward the communist's bunkers. Despite being wounded by enemy fire, he skillfully brought his element across an open area and into a canal, maneuvering to within ten meters of the fortifications before he and his men were pinned down by a crossfire. Courageously exposing himself to the barrage, he then left the dike and single-handedly assaulted a bunker, firing his rifle and throwing hand grenades. Wounded and driven back, he made a second attempt, only to be wounded again. Although unable to use his right arm and in great pain, he charged through the crossfire and, after being hit a fourth time, succeeded in destroying the bunker with hand grenades. As he was beginning to assault a second bunker, he lost consciousness due to his wounds. Sergeant Johnson's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TFH 1/3: Gunnery Sergeant Joseph F. Covella, USMC

Joseph Francis Covella hailed from Brooklyn, NY. He served with the United States Marine Corps in Korea with the 2nd Battalion/5th Marines and was decorated with the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action on September 20, 1951.

The entrance of the United States into the Vietnam War saw then Gunnery Sergeant Covella serving as an advisor to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Infantry Division of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. On this day in 1966, he stayed with our allies who remained behind to cover the withdrawal of forces facing a numerically superior enemy. For his courage, he was awarded our Nation's second-highest honor: the Navy Cross.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Francis Covella (MCSN: 1001220), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Light Weapons Infantry Advisor, Third Battalion, First Regiment, First Infantry Division, Army of the Republic of Vietnam, on 3 January 1966. Sergeant Covella was accompanying the First Company of his Battalion when that unit came under scorching fire from their front, pinning them in a ditch while the numerically superior enemy force continued to rain murderous fire upon them. When the order to withdraw was given, one platoon was instructed to remain in position to provide covering fire, and Sergeant Covella, with no regard for his personal safety, volunteered to remain with the platoon. The remainder of the company made an orderly withdrawal and the platoon was told to evacuate. As soon as the order was implemented, three Vietnamese soldiers and one American advisor were wounded. Realizing that without covering fire his platoon would be destroyed, Sergeant Covella stayed with the wounded to aid them and cover the retreat in the face of a merciless enemy advance. He was able to halt the enemy long enough for his platoon to escape from the trap. His battalion found him later with the men he had tried to protect. By his personal bravery, consummate courage and willing self-sacrifice for his comrades, Sergeant Covella reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Marine Corps and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Gunnery Sergeant Covella was also awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for his Vietnam service. His courageous sacrifice reflects the heritage of his Korean War unit; 2/5 Marines' motto is "Retreat, Hell!" It comes from the battalion's combat service in World War I. On June 1, 1918 the battalion arrived at the front lines and was immediately advised to retreat by a French officer. He was answered by Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams: "Retreat? Hell, we just got here!"