Monday, April 30, 2012

TFH 4/30: CDR Richard N. Antrim, USN

Richard Nott Antrim was born on December 17, 1907 in Peru, Indiana. His service to our Nation began in 1927 when he entered the United States Naval Academy, graduating with the class of 1931 and receiving his officer's commission as an Ensign in the United States Navy. His early service days saw him posted as a fire control officer on the battleship USS New York (BB-34) after which he received flight training as a Naval Aviator.

With the outbreak of America's involvement in World War II in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, then-Lieutenant Antrim was the Executive Officer of the Clemson-class destroyer USS Pope (DD-225) in the US Asiatic Fleet. The Pope, already obsolescent at the war's opening, didn't stand a chance against the superior forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy and was sunk on March 1, 1942.

In the Pope's last battle, Lieutenant Nott's courage and leadership was exemplary. He coordinated the evacuation of the ship's crew and kept the survivors together in their boats and life rafts for three days afloat until the survivors were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned.

As a prisoner in April 1942, Nott's courage in the face of our enemy and care for his fellow sailors took an incredible course. The vicious Japanese troops guarding them started savagely beating one of his comrades. This officer, near death, could not survive unless something was done. Antrim stepped forward and volunteered to take the remainder of his fellow prisoner's punishment. His acts above and beyond the normal call of duty at incredible risk to himself saw him awarded our Nation's highest honor.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

TFH 4/29: Lieutenant Colonel Louis Carson Wagner, USA

Louis Carson Wagner, Jr. was born on January 24, 1932 in Jackson, Missouri. He was a member of the United States Military Academy, West Point Class of 1954 and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army's Armor branch.

In April of 1972, he was posted to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam as an advisor to South Vietnamese tank units. During the Easter Offensive, he was the senior American with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam's 1st Armor Brigade. The brigade was ordered to defend Quang Tri against three attacking Communist divisions at all costs, even though they were overwhelmed by at least five or six to one.

During the battle from April 29 to May 2, Colonel Wagner refused medical assistance for his wounds, continually placed himself at personal danger, and remained with the Vietnamese leaders as a calm, inspiring bulwark who doubtlessly contributed to the 1st Armor Brigade being able to survive to fight another day. For his courage, the Army decorated him with the Distinguished Service Cross.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

TFH 4/28: Lance Corporal Clement B. Johnston, Jr., USMC

Clement B. Johnston, Jr. was born on July 12, 1947 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He had been in the United States Marine Corps only about a year when while serving with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. On this day in 1966, he was occupying a defensive position with two others when the Viet Cong covertly approached and hurled two grenades at the Americans.

Johnston alertly spotted the incoming grenades, and didn't hesitate to place himself between them and his comrades. For his courage and sacrifice, the Marines awarded him the Navy Cross.

One Moment in Time, A Cause Shown

One week ago, I was attending BlogConCLT, a fantastic event put on by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity and FreedomWorks. As my regular readers know, the bulk of my content here is on the "Finest Hour" motif, and I don't weigh in on other topics as often as I'd like to. I'll admit, my original reason for going to BlogCon was selfish: I wanted to meet so many of the wonderful people I've interacted with via Twitter and other online methods in person.

I did accomplish that, and so many e-acquaintances I can now count as real friends. What I really took away from the experience though was completely unexpected.

Friday, April 27, 2012

TFH 4/27: LTJG Brian E. Westin, USN

On April 27, 1966 the United States Navy's aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) was at "Yankee Station" in the Gulf of Tonkin launching her planes against targets in North Vietnam. One of the planes launched that day on a strike was a Grumman A-6A Intruder belonging to Attack Squadron 85 (VA-85), the "Black Falcons".

Its call sign was "Buckeye 811". Aboard the Intruder were pilot Lieutenant William R. Westerman, Jr. and Bombardier/Navigator Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Brian E. Westin. As they were flying away from the target they bombed ashore, Buckeye 811 was struck by anti-aircraft fires. Lieutenant Westerman was severely wounded and could no longer fly the plane himself. If the crew bailed out now, they'd assuredly be captured by the North Vietnamese. Their only hope was to get back to open water where they could be rescued.

What transpired next is an amazing story of courage and care for one's fellow fighting man. It's a story that saw LTJG Brian Westin decorated with the Navy Cross.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

TFH 4/26: LCDR Michael J. Estocin, USN

Michael John Estocin was born on April 27, 1931 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania and grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania - both near where I live today outside Pittsburgh. After graduating from Slippery Rock University, he joined the United States Navy in 1954 and obtained his "Wings of Gold" as a Naval Aviator.

In April of 1967, he had reached the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was a Douglas A-4E Skyhawk pilot with Attack Squadron 192 (VA-192), the "Golden Dragons", flying off the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) from "Yankee Station" off North Vietnam. During two raids over Communist North Vietnam on April 20 and 26, 1967 he lived up to VA-192's motto - Be Ready, our Enemy Must Lose - flying the suppression of enemy air defenses role. Their primary weapon was the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile; it would home in on the emissions from enemy surface-to-air missile radars. His tenacity, courage, and devotion to duty in escorting attacking aircraft to their targets earned him our Nation's highest honor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

PA 12th Congressional District - Game On for Keith Rothfus!

Last night, we conservatives & libertarians got to enjoy some Democrat on Democrat, liberal on liberal carnage as current Representatives Jason Altmire (PA-4) and Mark Critz (PA-12) found out which one of them would be the "incumbent" for the new PA 12th District.

I'm a constituent in old PA-4 and will be in PA-12. Compared with the wacky, gerrymandered map of the existing PA-12, the new district lines almost look sensible, until one considers the demographics of the region that swipes from the Ohio border all the way to Johnstown and beyond.

TFH 4/25: Corporal Hiroshi H. Miyamura, USA

Hiroshi H. Miyamura, nicknamed "Hershey" by his United States Army comrades, was born in Gallup, New Mexico on October 6, 1925. He served in the Army during World War II along with other Japanese-Americans in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe. After the Allied victory, he was discharged  and he later enlisted in the Army Reserve. He was called back to active service with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea.

During the Chinese Communist spring offensive of 1951, Miyamura served with the Company H, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment - part of the 3rd Infantry Division. On the night of April 24-25, he single-handedly held off determined enemy assault after assault which allowed the rest of his unit to withdraw to fight again another day. For his courage, he received our Nation's highest honor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TFH 4/24: Technical Sergeant Harold E. Wilson, USMC

Harold Edward Wilson was born on December 5, 1921 in Birmingham, Alabama. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and was assigned to duty with the active Marines in April 1942. He served honorably in the Pacific throughout World War II, and was released from active duty in October 1945 with the rank of Sergeant.

Wilson returned to service in the Marine reserves in 1947. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, he was recalled to active duty and was soon fighting there with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and the 1st Marine Division.

On the night of April 23-24, 1951 Wilson's company was largely overrun by Communist attackers. His platoon was barely able to hang onto its hastily prepared defensive positions. Wilson was wounded multiple times, but as the platoon sergeant, he knew that his first duty was to do everything in his power to keep his Marines in the fight. That he did, and his incredible courage and resolve was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Monday, April 23, 2012

TFH 4/23: Captain Jerry N. Hoblit, USAF

Recently I related the Medal of Honor story of Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 Thunderchief "Wild Weasel" pilot from April 1967. Thorsness for certain wasn't the only heroic airman in the 357th Tactical Fighter squadron. Four days after Thorsness' gallantry in suppressing enemy air defenses one of his squadron mates showed again the grit, resolve, and courage required from those who fly SEAD missions.

Jerry N. Hoblit was born on September 8, 1936. His service to our Nation started when he began studies at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York in 1954. After graduation in 1958, he chose a commission in the United States Air Force.

He was initially trained to fly the F-100 Super Sabre before switching to the F-105 and being sent fly and fight in Vietnam. On April 23, 1967 the Air Force launched an attack on the Thai Ngyuen steel mill in North Vietnam. The site was one of the few heavy industrial facilities in the Communist north, and it was heavily defended with the best anti-aircraft forces they had. The site had been raided in March 1967, but the target wasn't destroyed.

As Captain Hoblit's F-105 was decoying surface-to-air missiles and avoiding shot after shot, his flight leader's plane was severely damaged. Even though his plane was out of bombs and missiles, he continued to divert fires away from his comrades and then stayed in the area to help cover the rescue of a downed air crew. For his heroism, he was decorated with the second-highest award possible: the Air Force Cross.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

TFH 4/22: PFC Herbert A. Littleton, USMCR

Herbert A. Littleton was born on July 1, 1930 in Mena, Arkansas. As a child, his family moved to Sturgis, South Dakota. After graduating from the local high school in 1948, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and spent one year on active duty.

After leaving active service, Littleton moved to Nampe, ID to join his family who had relocated from South Dakota. He found work as a lineman with Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph (Mountain Bell). With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, he volunteered to return to active service with the Marine Corps.

Littleton arrived in Korea in December 1950 and joined the 1st Marine Division's 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, known as "The First Team". 1/7 Marines' motto is "Pride, Devotion, Loyalty". On April 22, 1951 then Private First Class Littleton was on night guard duty when the Communist enemy launched an attack. When a grenade landed in his observation post, he knew there was only thing to do. His courage and self-sacrifice was recognized with our Nation's highest honor.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

TFH 4/21: Private First Class Gary W. Martini, USMC

Gary Wayne Martini was born on September 21, 1948. He grew up in West Virginia, and lived there until after his junior year in high school when his family moved to Oregon. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age seventeen in March 1966.

Just a year later, he was serving as a rifleman with Company F, 2d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam. When his platoon assaulted an entrenched enemy position they took heavy casualties. Several wounded Marines lay exposed to the enemy and couldn't reach safety. Before he succumbed to his own wounds, Martini personally saved two of his comrades and was decorated with our Nation's highest honor for his selfless courage.

Friday, April 20, 2012

TFH 4/20: Where We've Been, and Where We Need to Go Back

Today's edition of Their Finest Hour is going to take a slightly different tack from the regular daily features. It is certainly a reminder of American greatness and historical accomplishment and should also serve as a message that speaks to how we've let our greatness slip away. It also serves to me as a reminder of work left undone, and that's something I'm disappointed in myself for.

Forty years ago tonight, at 21:23:35 Eastern Time, Apollo 16 astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke landed on the Moon at the Descartes Highlands in LM-11. Ken Mattingly orbited overhead in CSM-13. Young and Duke became just the ninth and tenth men to walk on the Moon, spending over 20 hours exploring the lunar surface across three EVAs during a stay on the Moon of nearly three days.

Three and a half years ago, I started - and then let slip - a series here for "Apollo+40", a celebration of the United States' travels to our Moon forty years later. Sadly, as was true for our Nation forty years ago, after the triumph of Apollo 11 and the first lunar landing my attention waned.

Yesterday, NASA handed over one of the three surviving space shuttles - Discovery (OV-103) - to the Smithsonian Institution. Presently, the United States does not possess a manned spaceflight capability. In my view, this is inexcusable. The decline in our space program is merely a symptom. I fear with all my being that the United States isn't just losing its greatness: we may be losing our ability to get it back.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

TFH 4/19: Colonel Leo K. Thorsness, USAF

Leo Keith Thorsness was born on February 14, 1932 in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. During the Korean War at age 19, he enlisted in the United States Air Force because his older brother was serving overseas. He earned his wings and an officer's commission through the Aviation Cadet program.

By 1966, he was transitioning to flying the Republic F-105 Thunderchief on "wild weasel" missions, more properly known as suppression of enemy air defenses, or SEAD. SEAD missions are both critical to the success of air offensives and are also among the most dangerous missions an air crew can fly. They don't seek to avoid flak and missiles - they seek them out so they can be destroyed and clear the path for the attacking planes coming behind them.

On this day in 1967, Leo Thorsness led a flight of two F-105s on a defense suppression mission over North Vietnam. After attacking and destroying one enemy anti-aircraft site, the two planes honed in on another. On their bomb run, Thorsness' wingman was shot down by flak. What happened next - well, it was clearly worthy of our Nation's highest honor.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

TFH 4/18: General James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, USAAF

James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle was born on December 14, 1896 in Alameda, California. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley in 1922, he had taken a break from his studies in 1917 to enlist in the Army Signal Corps Reserve as a flying cadet. He didn't serve overseas during World War I, but his skill and proficiency as a pilot saw him retained by the Army Air Service and he received a commission as a First Lieutenant in 1918. He eventually resigned his active commission in 1930 and reverted to reserve status with the rank of Major.

Doolittle was recalled to active service at the outbreak of World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in January 1942. He volunteered to lead the attack of Army bombers on Japan from a US Navy aircraft carrier: now known as the Doolittle Raid. I've already recounted the history of that event on this blog today, but the rest of Jimmy Doolittle's story needs to be told.

The day after the raid, Doolittle was promoted to Brigadier General, skipping the rank of Colonel. Doolittle, more concerned with avoiding capture by the Japanese in occupied China, didn't know. In fact, he was certain that the loss of all 16 aircraft and the relatively minor damage inflicted on the Japanese targets by the Raiders' bombs would assure his court-martial. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Jimmy Doolittle received his third award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for piloting one of the sixteen bombers on the mission. For his overall command, leadership, and initiative he was decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

DOOLITTLE, JAMES H. (Air Mission) 

Rank and organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Army. Air Corps. Place and date: Over Japan. Entered service at: Berkeley, Calif. Birth: Alameda, Calif. G.O. No.: 29, 9 June 1942. Citation: For conspicuous leadership above the call of duty, involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or to perish at sea, Gen. Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland. 

As regular readers will note, placing a recipient's citation early in the post is unusual; it's normally what I use as the culminating feature of recounting tales of heroism. If you watch the fantastic movie about the Doolittle Raid, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (available on YouTube), you'll see that Doolittle is introduced with no back-story given. That's because prior to the raid, prior to World War II, he was a nationally-known aviation pioneer.

America Strikes Japan - The Doolittle Raid, 70 Years Ago

On April 17, 1942, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey's Task Force 16 was approaching the Japanese home islands in heavy weather. The task force, comprised of aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV-6) and USS Hornet (CV-8), along with escorting cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), USS Northampton (CA-26), USS Nashville (CL-43), and USS Vincennes (CA-44), had refueled from their accompanying oilers and headed for Japan. The oilers and the task force's destroyers withdrew back towards Pearl Harbor.

Aircraft from Enterprise flew search missions ahead of the task force. To this point, having maintained complete radio silence, they were undetected by the enemy. Hornet's planes were all stowed below deck in the hangar and couldn't fly because she was carrying 16 North American B-25 Mitchell bombers from the United States Army Air Forces. The bombers were commanded by then-Lieutenant Colonel James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle. Soon after Hornet was commissioned, Army pilots successfully flew a loaded B-25 from her deck in February, 1942. The B-25 was chosen for the mission because not only could it take off from the short length provided by the carrier, it could carry an appreciable bomb load to Japan with enough range to reach friendly airfields in China.

April 18, 1942 would be a day that would change the course of the war in the Pacific.

At 0312, two Japanese ships were detected by radar and their lights spotted by lookouts aboard the American ships. General quarters (battle stations) was sounded aboard the task force. Halsey ordered a course change to avoid contact. They remained undetected. About four hours later at 0715, one of Enterprise's search planes sighted an enemy patrol ship. The Japanese patrol vessel, Nittō Maru, radioed an attack warning to Japan at 0738. At 0744 the task force sighted the enemy at a distance of 10,000 yards. Nashville was ordered to sink the enemy with gunfire. Minutes later, her 6-inch main battery sent the ship to the bottom.

However, the damage was done. The task force had been discovered, and one of the few things that could protect Doolittle's 16 bombers from enemy defenses was surprise. Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle, Hornet commander Captain Marc Mitscher, and Vice Admiral Halsey conferred. The task force was still hours of sailing and over 400 miles away from the planned launch point. They faced the possibility of enemy interception and counter-attack if they waited. If they launched now, the bombers probably couldn't make it to a safe landing in China; they wouldn't have enough fuel. If they waited, the two precious carriers would be in severe danger. They made their decision. Just after Nashville's guns had silenced the Japanese patrol ship, the order came over Hornet's loud speakers:

Army pilots man your battle stations for take off!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Doolittle Raid - 70 years ago, approaching Japan

The USS Hornet (CV-8) had sortied from Alameda on April 2, 1942 carrying 16 Army B-25 bombers. Her sister ship, USS Enterprise (CV-6) sailed from Pearl Harbor on April 8th. The two carriers and their escorts rendezvoused mid-Pacific on April 13th.

On April 16th, the task force attempted refueling from their accompanying oilers USS Cimarron (AO-22) and USS Sabine (AO-25) but the sea state was too heavy. They were proceeding towards Japan in complete radio silence, but were listening because the task force had "eyes" out front.

TFH 4/17: Ship's Cook 3d Class Jesse Whitfield Covington, USN

In 1918, the Medal of Honor was awarded for acts of supreme bravery that were both combat and non-combat related. During World War I, the Bainbridge-class destroyer USS Stewart (DD-13) served with the United States Navy in the Atlantic during the United States' short involvement in the conflict.

On April 17, 1918 she entered Quiberon Bay in France as the explosive cargo of an American steam ship, the Florence H., detonated. Multiple boxes of smokeless powder lay floating amid burning wreckage, placing both survivors and their would-be rescuers at great peril.

Jesse Whitfield Covington had been born September 16, 1899 in Egypt, Tennessee. The 18-year old ship's cook saw a survivor struggling in the water amid the boxes of powder that continued to explode. Ignoring the danger to himself, he dove in the water.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TFH 4/16: Corporal Duane E. Dewey, USMCR

Duane Edgar Dewey was born on November 16, 1931 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At age 19 in March, 1951 he heard his Nation's call for the Korean War and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve for an "indefinite" time - a minimum of the war plus six months.

On April 16, 1952 - exactly 60 years ago today - Dewey was leading a machine gun squad with the 2nd Battalion/5th Marines. Already wounded, Dewey was being treated along with others by a Navy corpsman when he observed an enemy grenade landing nearby. He smothered the grenade with his body, yelling to the corpsman, "Doc, I got it in my hip pocket!" Not only did Corporal Duane E. Dewey receive our Nation's highest honor for his courage, he survived the grenade explosion.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

TFH 4/15: 2 Air Force Crosses - Caldwell & Shaub

The United States Air Force's 776th Tactical Airlift Squadron flew the Lockeed C-130 Hercules for air logistics missions across Southeast Asia, particularly in Vietnam. With the beginning of North Vietnam's Easter Offensive, some besieged friendly forces could only be resupplied by airdrop.

On April 15, 1972 - 40 years ago - one C-130 from the 776th was struck by heavy antiaircraft artillery en route to its drop zone. The critically wounded aircraft was aflame. The cargo of ammunition was seconds away from detonating. The gallant pilot struggled to regain control of the damaged plane and save it. The loadmaster knew that the fire would be their doom if the cargo remained aboard the plane. Both men received the Air Force Cross for their heroism. They were Captain William R. Caldwell and Staff Sergeant Charles L. Shaub.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

TFH 4/14: A U-Boat Sunk off Cape Hatteras

In January 1942, the German Kriegsmarine launched their first U-Boat offensive off the eastern seaboard of the United States, codenamed Operation Drumbeat. For four months, the Nazi submariners sunk ship after ship, with no losses.

All that changed on the night of April 13-14, 1942 - exactly 70 years ago. The USS Roper (DD-147), a Wickes-class destroyer commissioned in 1919, detected the German submarine U-85 running on the surface with her radar. The Roper closed to just 700 yards from the submarine, and evaded a torpedo fired from one of the U-boat's stern tubes. When the range closed to 300 yards, Roper opened fire with naval artillery and machine gun fire, scoring hits that forced U-85 to dive.

The water was shallow, only about 100 feet deep. U-85 had nowhere to go, and Roper moved in for the kill. The destroyer dropped a pattern of eleven depth charges that destroyed the enemy submarine. There were no survivors.

For their courage and skill and combat, and for sinking the first U-boat off the US coast, the commander of the destroyer division and the Roper's captain were both awarded the Navy Cross. They were Commander Stanley Cook Norton and Lieutenant Hamilton Wilcox Howe.

Friday, April 13, 2012

TFH 4/13: Lieutenant Thomas R. Norris, USN and PO3 Nguyen Van Kiet, VNN

In early 1972, the United States Navy's involvement in the Vietnam War was winding down. Many of their operations and duties had been turned over to their South Vietnamese counterparts. The few sailors left were primarily advisors. Many of them were SEALs.

Thomas Rolland Norris was born in Jacksonville, FL on January 14, 1944. As a teenager he became an Eagle Scout and then graduated from the University of Maryland, at which he was an Atlantic Coast Conference champion wrestler. He joined the Navy in hopes of taking wings as an aviator, but poor eyesight prevented that. Norris volunteered for training as a SEAL, nearly didn't make it through training but did, and April 1972 found him as an advisor to a South Vietnamese Navy SEAL unit.

On April 2, 1972, an United States Air Force EB-66 Destroyer electronic warfare aircraft supporting B-52 bombers was shot down. Five of the six crew were unable to eject and are still to this day listed as missing in action. The sole survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Iceal E. "Gene" Hambleton, found himself alone and surrounded by thousands of North Vietnamese troops at the beginning of their Easter Offensive. Amazingly, he was able to evade capture for eleven days.

Rescuing Lieutenant Colonel Hambleton became a top priority. He had been intimately involved with the Air Force's ballistic missile programs under the Strategic Air Command. His capture and interrogation by the Communists would be a strategic disaster. He had to be rescued.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

TFH 4/12: Captain Ronald D. Hubbard, USAAF

The 3d Bombardment Group (Light) of the United States Army Air Forces was formed in early 1942 in Australia from units that fled the Philippines and others that arrived from the United States. Flying the North American B-25 Mitchell, they continued to strike targets in defense of the Philippines.

Captain Ronald D. Hubbard (born March 10, 1915) was a bomber pilot. He had been struck ill with dengue fever and was removed from flying status in early April 1942. Regardless, he volunteered to fly as a bombardier despite his illness. During four missions on April 11-12, 1942 he was credited with sinking an enemy transport ship and with shooting down a Japanese seaplane. His efforts and courage despite his illness earned him our Nation's second highest honor: the Distinguished Service Cross.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

TFH 4/11: A1C William H. Pitsenbarger, USAF

William Hart Pitsenbarger was born July 8, 1944 in Piqua, OH. When he was a junior in high school, he wanted to join the United States Army in hopes of becoming a Green Beret, but his parents denied permission, insisting he stay in school. After graduation, he chose instead to enlist in the United States Air Force and volunteered for training as a Pararescueman.

The Air Force's Pararescue Jumpers ("PJ") are among our military's elite troops. They are trained in combat medicine, parachuting, diving, small unit tactics, weapons, etc. Their job is to rescue friendly forces, such as downed airmen, from the teeth of enemy opposition.

William Pitsenbarger, "Pits" to his comrades, flew over 300 rescue missions with the 38th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Squadron, Detatchment 6 in Vietnam. Two of those saw him recognized for his conspicuous gallantry. First, on March 7, 1966, he rescued a South Vietnamese soldier from a flaming minefield. Since this rescue didn't involve enemy action, he received the Airman's Medal:

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Airman's Medal to Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger (AFSN: 15680744), United States Air Force, for heroism involving voluntary risk of life while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, in action near Bien Hoa Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, on 7 March 1966. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was on duty when a helicopter was requested to remove a severely wounded Vietnamese from a burning, uncharted mine field. With complete disregard for his own safety and despite the hazard of being lowered on a concealed mine, Airman Pitsenbarger was voluntarily lowered by hoist to recover the injured man. The exemplary courage and heroism displayed by Airman Pitsenbarger have reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

About one month later on April 11, the call for rescue came in from a unit of the Army's 1st Infantry Division. The unit had suffered heavy casualties and the jungle was too thick for the Army's helicopters to land, and they weren't equipped with hoists. Pitsenbarger volunteered to descend to the jungle floor, coordinate the evacuation of the wounded, and then, when the situation became impossible for the helicopters to remain, he joined with his soldier comrades in fighting off the ground attack.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

TFH 4/10: Lieutenant Commander John D. Bulkeley, USN

John Duncan Bulkeley was born on August 19, 1911 in New York City. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1933, but due to budget restrictions that limited just the top half of graduates to naval officer commissions, found himself commissioned in the Army Air Corps. After a year though, budgetary restrictions were lifed, and he began the naval career he intended.

When the Japanese attacked the United States on December 7, 1941, Bulkeley was the commanding officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 3 in the Philippines. His Executive Officer was yesterday's Their Finest Hour honoree: Lieutenant Robert B. Kelly. In addition to the squadron, he also commanded torpedo boat PT-41.

Among the many and varied heroic acts Bulkeley performed during the opening days of World War II was the evacuation of General Douglas MacArthur from the Philippines to safety. For the entire period from December 7, 1941 to April 10, 1942, Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley's gallantry and leadership saw him decorated with our Nation's highest honor.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Falklands+30: 3 Commando Brigade sails from Southampton

Thirty years ago today, the first British ground forces sailed from the United Kingdom bound for a rendezvous with the rest of the fleet at Ascension Island, and from there, south to reclaim the Falkland Islands.

The main British ground force was the Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade. 3 Commando Brigade comprised three infantry battalions - 40 Commando RM, 42 Commando RM, and 45 Commando RM - and supporting units. They were reinforced at the outset by 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (3 Para), D & G Squadrons of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, and two armored reconnaissance of the Blues & Royals from the British Army. The brigade would later be further reinforced by 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment (2 Para).

The prospects of an amphibious landing in the Falklands were problematic for the Royal Navy and their Marines to say the least. In 1982, the Royal Navy was largely an anti-submarine force focused entirely on war in the North Atlantic with the Soviet Union. Shrinking budgets had deemphasized amphibious warfare capabilities. How would the UK manage to send a large land force to land on a hostile shore 8,000 miles from home?

TFH 4/9: Lieutenant Robert Bolling Kelly, USN

Robert Bolling Kelly was born on June 9, 1913 in New York City and was a member of the United States Naval Academy Class of 1935. At the beginning of World War II, Kelly was the Executive Officer of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Three in the Philippines, and also commanded the individual torpedo boat PT-34.

On the night of April 8-9, 1942, PT-34 attacked the Japanese light cruiser Kuma. The cruiser was struck, but the torpedo was a dud. At the time, Kelly's PT boat was credited with sinking the cruiser. Regardless of whether or not they did, PT-34 under Kelly's command was a key factor in American and Filipino forces holding out in the Philippines for as long as they did. Kelly's courage and contribution was recognized by both the Navy and the Army with his receipt of both the Navy Cross and Distinguished Service Cross, respectively.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

TFH 4/8: Commander William Walton Hastings, USN

April 8 and 9, 1942 was the closing moments of the heroic stand by American and Filipino fighters on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines. The defenders knew their situation was hopeless. They knew that final defeat was imminent. Regardless, they fought on and made sure as little as possible was left behind to aid the Japanese enemy.

Less than a year before, the United States Navy had established a base to support the Asiatic Fleet at Mariveles. Mariveles was a departure point for the forces that were being evacuated to Corregidor Island and much was left to destroy lest it be captured. Coordinating these efforts was the station's commanding officer, Commander William Walton Hastings. For his courage and devotion to this important duty, he received the Navy Cross.

A happy and blessed Easter to one and all

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

(Go ahead, call me sexist, I love "real" choirs :-) )

Saturday, April 07, 2012

TFH 4/7: CWO Robert L. Horst & WO1 Stephen R. Purchase, USA

Medical evacuation helicopter pilots fly their craft to rescue their wounded comrades. Their helicopters are unarmed, and to the enemies of liberty, the red cross on their sides makes for a target. On April 7, 1972 - forty years ago today - two brave pilots took their helicopter into the teeth of the enemy in an attempt to locate and rescue three Americans and one South Vietnamese soldier who were surrounded by an estimated enemy battalion.

Despite withering fire, they persisted. The aircraft commander, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Louis Horst, was mortally wounded. The pilot, Warrant Officer 1 Stephen R. Purchase, managed to pilot the stricken helicopter away. Both men were decorated with our Nation's second-highest honor: the Distinguished Service Cross.

Friday, April 06, 2012

TFH 4/6: SFC Harvey Gordon Brande, USA

The Soldier's Medal was established in 1926 to recognize the heroism at risk to self not involving armed combat with the enemy. Harvey Gordon Brande was born in 1936 in Long Beach, CA. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1954 and was originally trained as a tank crew member. In 1963, he received training as a combat medic and also joined the US Army Special Forces. Green Beret Brande, while acting as a squad leader with a mobile guerilla force, witnessed a forward air controller plane crash near his location. He risked everything to try and save the crew, and was awarded the aforementioned Soldier's Medal.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Soldier's Medal to Sergeant First Class Harvey Gordon Brande (ASN: RA-19507308), United States Army, for heroism not involving actual conflict with an armed enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. Sergeant First Class Brande distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 6 April 1967 while serving as a Squad Leader in a mobile guerilla force in hostile territory. Sergeant Brande's platoon observed a forward air controller aircraft crash into a hillside while taking part in Operation BLACKJACK TWELVE. He and his men rushed to the scene to attempt to rescue the crew of the plane. Upon reaching the crash site, Sergeant Brande rushed into the burning aircraft to help any survivors. Just as he entered the aircraft, ammunition began to explode, and the fuel tanks ruptured spreading burning fuel over the area. Without regard for his own safety, Sergeant Brande continued to search the aircraft until he was positive that there were not any survivors. Only then did he leave the burning and exploding plane. Sergeant First Class Brande's heroic actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

While both outstanding and impressive, Brande's Soldier's Medal citation just scratches the surface of this great American.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Royal Navy Sails South - Falklands+30

On April 5, 1982, the main component of the United Kingdom's task force responding to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands sailed. The Royal Navy hurriedly assembled the core ships of the task force and got them en route to the South Atlantic just three days after the Argentinian attack. They would be followed later by additional ships, including those carrying the troops who would be tasked with the islands' recapture.

Commanding the task force was Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward. Woodward was a highly regarded officer, and was a submariner by trade. His forces first headed for Ascension Island; when they sailed, it was still largely thought that a diplomatic solution would be found to the crisis. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her government thought it essential to get the task force on the way. Any delay in their sailing would lessen Britain's resolve as viewed by the rest of the world.

HMS Hermes sails from Portsmouth for the South Atlantic
THE FALKLANDS WAR, APRIL - JUNE 1982© Crown copyright. IWM (FKD 208)
So, based upon the dates on which they entered the eventual battle area, here are the thirteen ships that formed the core of Woodward's battle force.

TFH 4/5: HN Richard David De Wert, USN

Richard David De Wert was born on November 17, 1931 in Taunton, MA. He enlisted in the United States Navy in December 1948 and received training as a hospital corpsman. He served at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA until July 1950 when he joined the Fleet Marine Force.

During the Korean War, he landed with the 1st Marine Division at both Inchon and Wonsan, as well as caring for the wounded during the Chosin Reservoir campaign. On April 5, 1951, while posted to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, an attack against Chinese Communist forces saw De Wert ignore his own wounds as he did everything in his ability to live up to the corpsmen's motto: Until they are home, no man left behind. He gave our Nation his life, and our Nation recognized his valor with its highest honor.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

TFH 4/4: EN2 Joseph J. Ennis, USN

In late 1966, the United States Army and United States Navy formed the Mobile Riverine Force to facilitate combat against the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese backers in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The troops for the effort were provided by the 2nd Brigade of Army's 9th Infantry Division. The Navy provided the various boats and ships that carried them into battle.

One of these boat types was the Armored Troop Carrier, or ATC. ATCs were modified Landing Craft Mechanized Mark 6 (LCM-6). They typically carried a mix of heavy automatic weapons with light armor protection and had a crew of six to ten sailors. Each ATC could carry upwards of 40 soldiers and their equipment, including artillery and vehicles.

On this day in 1968, Engineman 2nd Class Joseph J. Ennis was the boat engineer and a machine gunner on ATC 92-2. When the column of boats ATC 92-2 was part of came under heavy attack from the shore, Ennis sprang into action. When he was wounded, he ignored it. When his machine gun malfunctioned, he got another. When others were wounded aboard, he cared for them before seeking aid himself. For his gallantry in action, he received the Navy Cross.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

TFH 4/3: A Wounded C-5, Two Heroic Pilots

April 1975 was the final days of the Vietnam War. As our South Vietnamese allies collapsed, the United States began evacuating Vietnamese civilians and remaining Americans. One of these evacuation plans was called Operation Babylift and was announced by President Ford on April 3, 1975. The intent was to evacuate children and orphans, many of whose fathers were American servicemen.

On April 4, the first evacuation flight on a USAF Lockheed C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft met with disaster. Not long into the flight from Tan Son Nhut Air Base outside Saigon to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, the Galaxy flown by two Captains - Dennis W. Traynor, III (aircraft commander) and Tilford W. Harp - the rear loading ramp locks failed and the plane suffered explosive decompression. Two of the four hydraulic systems aboard the giant airlifter failed and the control cables to the tail area were severed. Traynor and Harp struggled to keep the plane aloft. Through their incredible skill and courage as airmen, they were able to guide their wounded plane to a crash landing and managed to save the lives of slightly more than half of the plane's passengers and crew. They received the two of the final Air Force Crosses awarded for valor during the Vietnam War.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Striking Back at Japan: USS Hornet (CV-8) Sails from Alameda (70 Years Ago)

Two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed the senior officers of the Army and Navy to find a way to strike back direct at the Japanese home islands as quickly as possible. The charge was daunting. The Army Air Corps didn't possess any bombers at the time with the range from what Pacific bases we had left, and the Navy's aircraft carriers were perhaps too valuable to risk using their regular carrier-based aircraft.

Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet, was told in early January, 1942 that it could be possible for twin-engine bombers from the Army to take off from one of our carriers. On February 3, 1942 two North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell medium bombers were flown off the newly-commissioned USS Hornet (CV-8) as the carrier left Norfolk Naval Station destined for the Pacific War. The successful takeoff showed that a strike at Japan could be accomplished.

30 Years Ago - Argentina Invades the Falkland Islands

Thirty years ago today, Argentinian naval and land forces invaded and occupied the British Overseas Territories of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia island. In the coming days I will be authoring a recount of the resulting conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina.

Today, Argentina still claims sovereignty over the islands. The islanders resolutely want to remain British. The story of the United Kingdom's response to Argentinian aggression is a fantastic one of improvisation, resourcefulness, and triumph on the part of a nation whose defenses had been geared solely to fighting the Soviet Union in the North Atlantic and Western Europe.

TFH 4/2: Captain John Walter Ripley, USMC

John Walter Ripley was born on June 29, 1939 in Keystone, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at age 17 in 1957 and was appointed to the United States Naval Academy a year later. He graduated with the class of 1962, and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

His first fleet assignment was to the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Independence (CV-62). He then served with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines until being selected to join the elite 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company in 1965. As part of his recon Marine training, he attended parachute and Ranger school with the United States Army as well as the Navy's SCUBA school.

He deployed for combat in Vietnam with both 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company and as the Company Commander of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. During this tour in August 1967 he was decorated with the Silver Star for gallantry in action.

About four and a half years later, Ripley was serving as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Marines like yesterday's TFH Honoree, Ray L. Smith. Like his Leatherneck comrade, the Vietnamese unit Ripley was assigned to faced the onslaught of North Vietnam's Easter Offensive. At Dong Ha, a bridge that had been built several years before by US Navy Seabees would allow the attacking Communists to pour deep into South Vietnam if it was left intact. It fell to then Captain Ripley to demolish this bridge. Repeatedly he exposed himself to enemy fire as he placed explosives, including when he dangled beneath the bridge structure and carried himself hand-over-hand. All told, he was exposed for three or four hours preparing the bridge for demolition. He was successful, and for his courage, he was awarded the Navy Cross.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

TFH 4/1: Captain Ray Louis Smith, USMC

On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam began what is now known as the Easter Offensive - a full-scale invasion of South Vietnam across the De-Militarized Zone separating North from South. Standing in the way of the determined Communist assault were initially South Vietnamese forces, accompanied by their American advisors.

Ray Louis Smith was born in Oklahoma. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1965. After graduating from Officer Candidates' School in 1967, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant. He was soon posted as platoon leader with a Marine unit serving in Vietnam. His first Vietnam tour saw him decorated with two Silver Stars and the Bronze Star with Combat "V" for his heroism.

His second tour in Vietnam began in November, 1971 as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Marines. In the opening hours of the Easter Offensive, then Captain Smith was with a 250-man South Vietnamese command group that found itself under attack by multiple enemy battalions. When the unit was (literally) decimated, he stood strong to lead our allied forces to safety. For his heroism, he was awarded the second-highest award he could receive, the Navy Cross.