Category Archives: hero

55 Years Ago: We have the technology

Such a captivating image of Atomic age wonder, hard to imagine it was real, and that it hails from September 15, 1966.

NASA research pilot William Harvey “Bill” Dana takes a moment to watch NASA’s converted NB-52B Stratofortress mothership (52-0008, Balls Eight) cruise overhead after a research flight in the Northrop HL-10 heavy lifting body. “HL” stands for horizontal landing, and “10” refers to the tenth design studied by engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. On the left, John Reeves can be seen at the cockpit of the lifting body. NASA Photo.

More on the HL-10 here, more on Balls Eight here, and, since you came this far, a word about test pilot Major Steven Austin.

Buffalo Soldiers Remembered at West Point

Lost in the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 remembrances over the weekend was a small ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy where Gen. (Ret.) Vincent K. Brooks presided over the dedication of a monument honoring the service of the “Buffalo Soldiers” who served for 40 years at West Point.

Founded immediately after the Civil War to take advantage of a pool of over 140,000 surviving members of the segregated wartime USCT, which had been disbanded on October 1865, the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiments, along with the four regiments black infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st– later amalgamated in 1869 to the 24th and 25th Infantry due to service-wide budget cuts) carried the legacy of some 175 regiments of freedmen who fought in the last two years of the War Between the States.

Fighting in virtually every campaign of the Plains Wars in between policing the border regions and patrolling Yosemite National Park in the days before the service’s armed rangers, the Buffalo Soldiers also went overseas to mix it up with the Spaniards in 1898 and serve in the Philippines against assorted insurgents. Notably, five members of the 10th Cavalry earned the Medal of Honor during the Spanish–American War.

The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, fighting dismounted in the Battle of Las Guasimas, Cuba, 24 June 1898. Via the LOC LC-DIG-PGA-01889

One of the most unsung duties, at least until this week, that these professional horse soldiers performed, was in providing for the standing United States Military Academy Detachment of Cavalry.

Made up of 100 long-service black non-commissioned officers and senior enlisted who were considered among the best in the Army, the detachment formed 23 March 1907 to teach future officers at West Point riding instruction, mounted drill, and cavalry tactics, a mission they would perform by the numbers until 1947. The cadets who earned their spurs in such drill included George S. Patton Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar N. Bradley.

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Gifted to the academy by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, the 10-foot-tall bronze trooper mounted on horseback characterizes the level of horsemanship expertise that was provided to future Army officers. Nationally renowned sculptor Eddie Dixon was commissioned for the piece that bears a likeness to SSG (Ret.) Sanders H. Matthews Sr., a Buffalo Soldier stationed at West Point. Sanders, who founded the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point, Inc., worked tirelessly to pay tribute to their memory, and plans to erect the monument have been underway since 2017.

“These Soldiers embodied the West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country, and ideals of the Army Ethic,” said the U.S. Military Academy 60th Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams. “This monument will ensure that the legacy of Buffalo Soldiers is enduringly revered, honored, and celebrated while serving as an inspiration for the next generations of cadets.”

U.S. Army Photo by John Pellino/USMA PAO

Happy 80th Navy EOD

The first mine disposal class of 24 officers and enlisted Sailors graduated on 22 August 1941, marking the start of the Navy EOD community, the wearers of the “crab.” Today, more than 2,000 Navy EOD technicians serve in the U.S. Navy, carrying forward the legacy of 80 years of distinguished service.

Check out this primer about RADM Draper Laurence Kauffman, the WWII father of Navy EOD and America’s first frogman, as well as hearing from EOD vets from Vietnam and the Gulf War.

In semi-related news, the U.S. Navy announced this week that it has finished the ship-based Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program onboard the littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS 14) off of the California coast. 

Desert Haka, 80 Years Ago Today

Via Time to Go Home.

25 June 1941, Egypt: Members of the 28 (Māori) Battalion, Royal New Zealand Army, performing a haka, the ancestral Māori war cry.

“The four men in the foreground are (from left to right): Private John Manuel (he was killed in action six months after this picture was taken), Private Maaka White (he was killed in action five months after this picture was taken), Private Te Kooti Reihana (he was later wounded by enemy fire), and Lance Corporal Rangi Henderson (he was killed in action two years after this picture was taken).”

The 28th is recognized today as the most decorated Kiwi battalion during WWII, receiving battle honors: Olympus Pass, Crete, El Alamein, Tebega Gap, Takrouna, North Africa 1942–43, Orsogna, Cassino 1, The Senio, Italy 1943–45, Mount Olympus, Greece 1941, Maleme, Canea, 42nd Street, Withdrawal to Sphakia, Middle East 1941–44, Tobruk 1941, Sidi Azeiz, Zemla, Alem Hamza, Mersa Matruh, Minqar Qaim, Defence of Alamein Line, El Mreir, Alam el Halfa, Nofilia, Medinine, El Hamma, Enfidaville, Djebibina, The Sangro, Castel Frentano, Monastery Hill, Advance to Florence, San Michele, Paula Line, Celle, Saint Angelo in Salute, Santerno Crossing, Bologna and Idice Bridgehead, as a unit.

Its men would receive no less than 7 DSOs, 1 OBE, 21 MCs, 13 DCMs, and 55 MMs in addition to a U.S. Silver Star and at least one was recommended, but ultimately did not receive, a VC.

Just Clarence & Chuck putting on their faces for a night out

“Pvt. Clarence C. Ware, 438 W. 15th St., San Pedro, Calif., gives a last-second touch to Pvt. Charles R. Plaudo, 210 N. James, Minneapolis, Minn., make-up patterned after the American Indians. Somewhere in England.”

Note the censor has marked out the unit insignia on Plaudo’s shoulder. Also note the good private’s M1 Thompson SMG, which has medical tape around the stock, likely to help guard a growing split in the wood. Photo 111-SC-193551 via NARA 

Both of the paratroopers are members of the now-famous “Filthy Thirteen” of the 1st Demolition Section– the direct inspiration for the fictionalized Dirty Dozen— of the Regimental Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division. The mohawks and “war paint” came like a bolt of youthful inspiration from Sgt. Jake McNiece, a fellow member of the Thirteen who was part Choctaw.

As for the men shown above, Clarence was wounded in action in Normandy and after the war he returned to California, passing away in 2001 at the age of 78. Meanwhile, “Chuck” Plaudo re-enlisted after the war into the Air Force and later served in Japan. He passed away at age 26 in April 1950 from injuries due to an auto accident.

Col. (Ret.) Ralph Puckett Jr., new to the MOH at age 94

Born 8 December 1926 in Tipton, Georgia, Ralph Puckett Jr. was still at West Point when VE and later VJ Day came, and, when he joined the service as a freshly-minted butter bar in 1949, wanted to be a Ranger so bad that he volunteered to “take a squad leader’s or rifleman’s job” with the 8th Army Ranger Company since no officer billets were available.

It was with the Rangers that Puckett shipped out for Korea the next fall, having a meeting with destiny at a place remembered as Hill 205, where his 57 Rangers and Korean soldiers held on against six battalion-sized attacks over two days and nights in freezing conditions.

From his, eventual, MOH citation:

First Lieutenant Puckett distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces near Unsan, Korea, on 25 and 26 November 1950. With complete disregard for his personal safety, First Lieutenant Puckett led his company across eight hundred yards of open terrain under heavy enemy small-arms fire and captured the company’s objective. During this operation he deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire to enable his men to spot locations of the machine guns. After capturing the objective, he directed preparation of defensive positions against an expected enemy counterattack. At 2200 hours on 25 November 1950, while directing the defense of his position against a heavy counterattack, he was wounded in the right shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back. During these attacks, he left the safety of his foxhole in order to observe movements of the enemy and to direct artillery fire. In so doing, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy small-arms and mortar fire. In the sixth counterattack, at 0300 hours on 26 November 1950, he was wounded again, so seriously that he was unable to move. Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal. Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety. First Lieutenant Puckett’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

Initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his Korean tour, Puckett would remain on active duty, picking up a second DSC in Vietnam in 1967 to add to two Silver Stars; two Legions of Merit; two Bronze Stars with V device for valor; five Purple Hearts; ten Air Medals; the Army Commendation Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

He picked up his MOH upgrade last week at the White House, dressed in newly issued Army Greens, which ironically are almost identical to his 1949 service uniform.

Happy 207th, Herr Freeman, of Mobile Bay (in)Fame(y)

While poking around Pascagoula’s Greenwood Cemetery (I have tons of childhood/teenage stories about this place logged in my time as a “Goula Boy,” but I digress) last week, I paid my respects at the grave of longtime area resident, Martin Freeman, MOH.

Photo: Chris Eger

Born 18 May 1814 in the Prussian port city of Stettin (Szczecin, Poland, today), he took to the sea early in life, and by his late teens, he was in the states where he married a fellow German immigrant and started a family.

Living on the Gulf Coast, he was a well-known Mobile and Pascagoula area (Grant’s Pass/Horn Pass) bar pilot who had the misfortune of being captured in the late summer of 1862 while fishing off Mobile Bay by the Union’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron, under the command of RADM David Farragut (another man with longstanding ties to Pascagoula) and, despite Freeman’s “protests of not being interested in the war and only wanting to fish, was engaged by the fleet as a civilian pilot.”

Fast forward to the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, and Freeman was aloft in the rigging of Farragut’s flagship, the steam sloop-of-war USS Hartford, so he could better see the changing bars and currents at the mouth of the sometimes treacherous (and mine-strewn) bay then issue course corrections as needed.

Farragut’s report of the battle mentions Freeman to the Navy in glowing terms:

The last of my staff, and to whom I would call the notice of the Department, is not the least in importance. I mean Pilot Martin Freeman. He has been my great reliance in all difficulties in his line of duty. During the action he was in the maintop [elevated platform on main or middle mast], piloting the ships into the bay. He was cool and brave throughout, never losing his self-possession. This man was captured early in the war in a fine fishing smack which he owned, and though he protested that he had no interest in the war and only asked for the privilege of fishing for the fleet, yet his services were too valuable to the captors as a pilot not to be secured. He was appointed a first-class pilot and has served us with zeal and fidelity, and has lost his vessel, which went to pieces on Ship Island. I commend him to the Department.

His service was so influential to the battle that he was a civilian recipient (later serving as an Acting Volunteer Lieutenant, a rank he was only issued in October 1864) of the MOH, a rarity. Only eight other civilians– to include a fellow pilot in Navy Civil War service, John Ferrell– hold that honor.

Freeman’s citation, issued 31 December 1864:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Mr. Martin Freeman, a United States Civilian, for extraordinary heroism in action as Pilot of the flagship, U.S.S. HARTFORD, during action against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee, in Mobile Bay, Alabama, 5 August 1864. With his ship under terrific enemy shellfire, Civilian Pilot Martin Freeman calmly remained at his station in the maintop and skillfully piloted the ships into the bay. He rendered gallant service throughout the prolonged battle in which the rebel gunboats were captured or driven off, the prize ram Tennessee forced to surrender, and the fort successfully attacked.

The Pilot for the USS HARTFORD at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Aug 5, 1864. Photo by Robira, New OrleansDescription: Courtesy of I.B. Millner, Morgantown, NC. Catalog #: NH 49431

His name would be listed as the only officer besides the master aboard the 4th rate gunboat USS Sam Houston in 1865.

Freeman continued his service after the war, even successfully fending off a court marshal lodged against him in 1866 while at the time the seniormost officer aboard the gunboat USS Cowslip (which had raided Biloxi Bay during the war).

Eventually, Freeman became the USLHS lighthouse keeper on Horn Island, off Pascagoula, which is now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, from 1874 to 1894. His wife Anna and son, Martin, Jr., were listed interchangeably as assistant keepers. The light changed from an old old screw-pile lighthouse offshore to one located on a hill actually atop the island in 1887.

This image from 1892 almost certainly shows Freeman and his wife, Anna, as well as one of his children. NARA 26-LG-36-70

A closer look. Note the rarely-seen USLHS uniform and cap. 

It was while at Horn Island, tending his light and watching the Gulf, that Freeman penned a private letter about the famous battle he was a part of to a fellow veteran that eventually made it into the New York Times and caused some heartburn as Freeman made the record clear that he was in the rigging with the good Admiral that day, higher aloft than Farragut. For such a sin as to point out a historical fact, he was chastised in responding letters published by the Times from those who felt he was trying to besmirch the Admiral’s legacy.

It wasn’t just Farragut up there…

In the end, Freeman’s old injuries sustained from an explosion of a mine at Fort Morgan in September 1864 forced him to move his family ashore from Horn Island to Pascagoula in early 1894, where he died on 11 September 1894 at the residence of his son-in-law, Alf Olsson. His subsequent funeral was reportedly well-attended. 

His family still lives in the area and his grave is well-maintained, with the vintage gravesite covered by a concrete slab, likely in the 1960s as part of state regulation, and a new VA marker installed. (Photo: Chris Eger)

With Mississippi only a decade or so off from Reconstruction, his obituary in the Pascagoula Chronicle-Star only mentioned his lighthouse service, omitting his wartime record of accomplishments, but does speak well of him.

He was kind and hospital to all who visited the light-house and his jovial disposition won for him a host of friends. He was charitable, and brought up his children in the fear of the Lord.

Incidentally, the beautiful Horn Island light was swept into the Gulf in 1906, taking its keeper at the time, Charles Johnsson, along with his wife and teenage daughter with it.

As for Farragut, an admiral who has had five different warships named in his honor, Pascagoula remembers him fondly as well, and his family also lives in the area.

Farragut has long had a banner across from the Jackson County Courthouse.

Z Man Loadout

The “Z Special Unit” or “Z Force” detachments, immortalized in the early Sam Neil/Mel Gibson action film Attack Force Z (which included some great suppressed M3 Grease Guns and folbot action from an Oberon-class SSK) ripped up Japanese held islands throughout WWII. There is a really fascinating history behind these units and the redoubtable men who served in them.

Check out this loadout, showing a Webley/Enfield revolver, M1 Carbine, the wicked Welrod suppressed .32 “special purpose” gun, a machete (or possibly one of William E. Fairbairn’s Smatchets), and pack, courtesy of A Secret War.

Now, that looks fun. (Photo: A Secret War)

Save the Adak

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak (WPB 1333) transits at maximum speed. Adak is assigned to Commander, Task Force 55 and is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by: Quartermaster 2nd Class Kendall Mabon/Released)

Commissioned in 1989, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak (WPB-1333), is one of the last remaining 110-foot Island-class patrol boats in the service.

She is also perhaps the most historic.

Serving initially in New York City, operating from the now-closed Coast Guard base on Governor’s Island, she was the on-scene commander for the response to TWA Flight 800. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, she was the command boat for the “American Dunkirk” seaborne evacuation of more than 500,000 people trapped in lower Manhattan.

Then, deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2003 with three of her sisters, Coalition Warship 1333 carried Navy SEALs and Polish GROM special forces on raids to seize Iraq’s two primary oil terminals intact before they could be destroyed. During that mission, on 23 March 2003, she was one of the first units to capture Iraqi PWs.

Still forward deployed to Bahrain, she has seen more of the Persian Gulf than many, and most of her recent crews have been younger than the aging patrol boat. Slated to be disposed of in the coming months, replaced by a larger and more capable 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter that is already in the Med and on the way to the sandbox, a group wants to bring her back home instead.

From the USCGC Adak Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that wants to bring her back from overseas and install her as a museum ship in Tampa Bay, where she would also help with a youth program, a worthy idea that, when the size and condition of the vessel are taken into account, very achievable:

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak is slated to be decommissioned on July 14, 2021. The Adak is a historic ship that led the largest waterborne rescue in world history in New York City on September 11th, 2001, and later captured some of the very first enemy prisoners of war in Iraq. Without a budget to bring her home, and due to current limitations on how to dispose of the ship, the Coast Guard is planning to give the USCGC Adak to the government of Indonesia. This ship is a national historic treasure and we cannot let this happen!

If nothing else, at least sign the petition.

OSS Training Grounds, as Close as Your Local National Park?

You wouldn’t think it, but the NPS has a great book online that stretches 600 pages and chronicles the use of the country’s national parks during WWII as training grounds for the secret squirrels of Bill Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services: OSS Training in the National Parks and Service Abroad in World War II, by Professor John Whiteclay Chambers II of Rutgers University.

It makes sense as many of the early trainees used old CCC camps located deep in the woods on newly-cut logging and forestry roads. Where else would you train super-soldiers, right?

Besides the logical NPS details, the book also goes into extensive coverage of the teams that deployed overseas, with some great illustrations.

Enjoy!

« Older Entries