Category Archives: Korean War

May we all grow up to be Buzz Aldrin

Downing a pair of NorK MiG-15s while flying an F-86 Sabre as part of the famed 51st Fighter Wing over Korea would be the highlight of a career for most, but was just the opening act for Buzz…

Col. Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr., (USMA 1951), besides flying 66 combat missions during the Korean war, shooting down two enemy MiG-15s, making three spacewalks as pilot of the 1966 Gemini 12 mission, serving as the lunar module pilot on the 1969 Apollo 11 mission where he was the second man to walk on the surface of the moon– and pack later a punch to defend that honor— just made his 93rd orbit around the sun while aboard this humble rock in style.

On my 93rd birthday, and the day I will also be honored by Living Legends of Aviation, I am pleased to announce that my longtime love and partner, Dr. Anca V Faur, and I have tied the knot. We were joined in holy matrimony in a small private ceremony in Los Angeles, and are as excited as eloping teenagers.

The oldest surviving moonwalker (only 4 of the 12 remaining) got hitched in combat boots, no less. 

Clowns and Mills Bombs

78 years ago today, 23 January 1945: PVT Marcel St-Laurent of “D” Company, Le Régiment de Maisonneuve, clowns for the camera at Cuyk, Netherlands. Details of the fuze on the bottom of the No. 36 Mills Bomb grenade can be seen. The length of the cloth bandolier has been altered by tying a knot in it to make it shorter.

First introduced in May 1918 and updated in the 1930s, the No. 36M Mk I was the British Army’s standard hand grenade until 1972 and still pops up in Africa and the Middle East from time to time.

A Canadian UN soldier in Korea with a U.S. made M-1 Carbine and several British Mills bomb grenades.

As for the good PVT St-Laurent, the Montreal-recruited Régiment de Maisonneuve was first recruited in 1880 and covered itself in glory in both World Wars– where its members became well-acquainted with the Mills Bomb. When the top image was taken, the regiment had previously landed in France in July 1944 as part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. It was bled white through the Battle of the Scheldt, and the Walcheren Causeway before reforming for the final campaigns in the northern Netherlands and the Battle of Groningen.

Infantry of the Regiment de Maisonneuve moving through Holten to Rijssen, both towns in the Netherlands. 9 April 1945. Lt. D. Guravitch. Canadian Military photograph. New York Times Paris Bureau Collection. (USIA) NARA FILE #: 306-NT-1334B-11

It endures to this day as a Primary Reserve unit, still based in Montreal, along with the better-known “Van Doos” of the 22nd Regiment, making up one of the few French-language units of the Canadian forces.

The Flight to Freedom’s final chapter

We pause to remember a North Korean fighter pilot today, No Kum-sok.

Born in 1932 as Okamura Kyoshi in the Japanese-occupied Hermit Kingdom, he was the son of a baseball player. The teen considered becoming a kamikaze during the latter stages of WWII but was dissuaded from it and nonetheless later became an aviator for the Korean People’s Air Force.

Training in Manchuria under his new, more Korean name, he would complete no less than 100 combat sorties in the Korea War. Just after the truce was announced, and with his father dead and his mother in the West, he decided it was time to pull stumps for the South.

At the stick of his advanced MiG-15bis, he would famously streak from Sunan outside of Pyongyang to Kimpo Air Base in South Korea on 21 September 1953, a flight of just 17 minutes, and become probably the highest-profile defector of the day.

After being debriefed by the CIA, he was given $100K as authorized by Operation Moolah, although he was not aware of the reward for defectors who brought their MiGs over.

1.2 million of these pamphlets were dropped on North Korea in 1953. Operation Moolah promised a $100,000 reward to the first North Korean pilot to deliver a Soviet MiG-15 to UN forces, or just $50K for either a pilot or aircraft. The pamphlet carried the photo of LT Franciszek Jarecki, who had flown his Lim2 (license version of MiG 15bis) from Poland to political asylum in Denmark in March 1953.

No’s MiG, repainted in USAF markings and insignia, the under guard and awaiting flight testing at Okinawa. Note the M3 grease gun at the ready. (USAF image)

Taking the name Kenneth H. Rowe, he emigrated to the U.S.– where his mother had already escaped to– and, picking up several engineering degrees and a Korean-American bride, worked in the American aviation community and then as a professor at Embry-Riddle. Mr. Rowe, late of the DPRKAF, passed in Florida over the weekend, aged 90.

As for his MiG, following a career as a test aircraft in USAF custody, it was sent to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, where No visited it before his death. It has been restored to its original #2057 livery. 

Ping! Happy 90th Birthday, Garand Patent

On 27 December 1932, the U.S. Patent Office granted Case File No. 1,892,141, for a “Semi-Automatic Rifle” to one John C. Garand, aged 44 of Massachusetts. The rest is history.

The 75-page patent application filled out and filed by Mr. Garand himself is so historical that it is fully digitized in the U.S. National Archives.

Filed in April 1930, it was endorsed by the Secretary of War with W.N. Roach, the Army’s Chief of the Patent Branch of the Ordnance Department, signing the drawing sheets and application forms as Garand’s attorney of record. His address was simply listed as Springfield Armory.

The petition, signed by Garand. (Photo: National Archives)

Among the most captivating pieces of the application were several pages of diagrams, all of which are suitable for framing in any man cave.

Toughest thing I had to write

This cartoon hit me in the feels this year.

That’s because it is the first in my life without my grandfather.

A career NCO (Signal Corps), he joined the Guard as a teenager during the war in Korea and then transitioned to active service, serving as an adviser to the Shah’s Army, to that of the King of Iraq, to the West Germans, and then the South Vietnamese, the latter repeatedly. After traveling around the globe for most of his 23 years of active duty, he retired as a promotable E8, declining to take the extra bump and be a 30-year man because it would have meant finishing his next contract in the Beltway, something he said that he just wasn’t built for.

So, he retired, picked up his family from Fort Gordon, then headed back home to Mississippi. This included his newly-born first grandson– me.

My grandpa and I in 1975, just after he left the Army, with his brand new bouncing baby grandson. The carpet on the wall behind him he brought back to the states from some bazaar in Iran, back when it was called Persia. The right is him just last year, a proud old bearded Vietnam vet.

Now, he is gone, and, while I have written professionally for the past 20 years, including several books, thousands of articles, and thousands more blog posts, his obituary was the toughest thing I ever had to write.

Over 8.7 million Americans served in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam era from 1964 to 1973, and it is thought that well over a third of those have already left us, with more packing their sea bags and duffles every day. The number of Korean War era Vets is even smaller and is expected to fall below 200,000 in the next couple of years.

Be sure to hug them while you can.

So I went to see Devotion…

I weighed in last week on the behind-the-scenes attention to detail of the new J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

1950 photo of Fighting 32 (VF 32) ahead of USS Leyte’s Med deployment that soon became a Korean combat tour

If you missed that, the production went all-out, leasing real MiG-15s, F4U Corsairs, A-1 Skyraiders, and F8F Bearcats, then constructing an Essex-class straight deck carrier in a field to put them all on for static shots.

I mean, Dillard is the son of a Blue Angel and his first memory is touching the nose of his dad’s just-landed F-18– so what do you expect?

Said the director on his use of these vintage war birds:

It was by far the most meticulous part of the filmmaking process, but it was important to me aesthetically that we put as much realism in front of the camera as we could. There aren’t even enough of these period planes still flying to fill the skies in the way that we wanted to. But what we always prioritized is that the action happening closest to the camera was practical. That 17th plane, half a mile off, can totally be CGI. But the plane flying very close to the camera is a real Corsair painted with the real squadron’s letters and numbers, and there are real stunt pilots in those planes, executing real maneuvers. That was very important to me and ultimately worth the prep and the planning.

And, besides tapping in actor Glen Powell– who played the cocky “Hangman,” the modern Iceman substitute in the new Maverick movie– Dillard also used the same aerial photography team that worked on that project but with the benefit of fewer restrictions.

“I joke that they spent 200-plus million dollars on R&D, then came to work with us,” Dillard says. And since his film didn’t use modern U.S. Navy planes, he had more freedom. “There is significantly less red tape when you want to take that plane 15 feet over the water at more than 100 miles an hour and photograph it, which at one point we did,” he says. “There are also technical differences in photographing those aircraft… As a small example, you can’t put a camera directly behind an F-18, because there’s jet blast. But we could sit our camera plane right on the tail of the Corsair because it has a propeller — you’re not worried about the camera melting from the afterburner.”

With this lead-up, how could I NOT go see the movie on opening night last week?

I can report that it was a good film, that should be seen on the biggest screen possible to drink it in, full of amazing and unique warbird shots. As far as the plot, it is based on a true story and they stick to most of the real details with only minor deviations. The dialog was a little hokey at times but certainly not any worse than that seen in other modern war films.

As Brown was the first African-American U.S. Navy officer killed in action, he has long deserved a decent film telling his story and this is it. Going past that, it is entertaining and, while circling back to the racial elephant in the room several times, doesn’t make it the prime driving point of the film. I’m no movie rater but if you had to ask me, I’d give it at least an 8 out of 10 overall.

If you have some time to kill, you could find worse ways to spend two hours.

Perhaps it will lead to Brown getting a destroyer named after him. 

Speaking of which.

Welcome home, Hudner

Of interest, the SURFLANT-tasked Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), commissioned in 2018, just returned this weekend from the inaugural deployment of the Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group.

As detailed by the ship’s social media page:

-We sailed 15,148 miles,
-Conducted 7 replenishments at sea,
-Set 8 Sea and Anchor details
-Completed 2 Straits Transits
-Saw winds as high as 52 knots,
-Completed 78 flight quarters,
-Inducted 4 new Chief Petty Officers,
-Qualified 3 new Officers of the Deck, 2 new Tactical Action Officers, and 8 new Engineering Officers of the Watch
– Expended 52,266 rounds of ammo,
– Passed 1 Engineering Certification,
– Visited 2 new countries,
And made countless memories along the way.

    Mighty Mansfield

    56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

    Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

    Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

    Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

    Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

    USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

    Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

    Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

    • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
    • Days on Gun Line: 220
    • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
    • Enemy KIA: 187
    • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
    • Secondary Explosions: 59
    • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
    • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

    Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

    Whistling up an Essex class carrier and matching Corsairs

    Ensign Jesse L. Brown, USN. In the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950. He was the first African-American to be trained by the Navy as a Naval Aviator, and as such, he became the first African-American Naval Aviator to see combat. Brown flew with Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) from USS Leyte (CV-32). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USN 1146845.

    This week is the opening of the J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

    The obligatory trailer:

    And, from the Navy, Dillard and Glen Powell (who portrays Hudner) talk about the importance of maintaining historical accuracy while filming, which pulled in vintage Corsairs and F8F Bearcats from around the globe and the construction of a 1:1 scale CV-32 deck/island in a field in Statesboro, Georgia.

    Nice they aren’t totally CGI!

    As Brown was a Hattiesburg native Mississippian, his deeds have long been remembered at the Mississippi Military History Museum at Camp Shelby and the African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg. The latter has a life-sized Brown standing on the deck of the USS Leyte.

    It is great that this story is finally getting some bigger exposure.

    In a deeper dive into the story overall, USNI host Eric Mills sits down with Thomas Hudner III, son of the real-life MOH recipient depicted in Devotion.

    Happy 247th Birthday, Marines, (wherever you are)

    “Return flight-An GRS-1 Sikorsky transport helicopter lifts away with a load of casualties after disembarking the Marines in the foreground.” This is Sikorsky HRS-1, Bureau Number 127795 of HMR-161. The photo was taken by HMR-161’s photographer, Staff Sergeant H. Michael McMahon on September 13, 1951, during Operation Windmill I, Korea. From the Photograph Collection (COLL/3948), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections

    A Message From The Commandant Of The Marine Corps, 10 November 2022: 

    70 years ago, Army Major General Frank E. Lowe was quoted as saying, “The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight.”

    That testimonial rings as true now as it did then, and will remain so tomorrow. As we celebrate the 247th anniversary of our Corps’ founding, we reflect on nearly two and a half centuries of exceptional prowess, while also taking objective stock of where we are today and how we will prepare for future battlefields. Our birthday provides us a chance to focus on the one thing common to our success in the past, present, and future: the individual Marine. Victories are not won because of technology or equipment, but because of our Marines.

    Since 1775, Marines have fought courageously and tenaciously in every conflict our country has faced. Through the Revolution, the Spanish-American War, World Wars in Europe and the Pacific, conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, and operations in the Middle East, Marines consistently earned a reputation as the world’s elite fighting force. We inherit and take pride in this reputation, evolved over time by Marines acquitting themselves with honor and distinction on every battlefield in every clime and place. Battlefields change, and Marines have always adapted to the environment and the changing character of war – but the reason we fight and win is immutable. It’s the individual warfighters, and their love for each other, that makes our Corps as formidable a force today as it has been for the past 247 years. It’s our ethos and our unapologetic resolve to be the most capable and lethal fighting force that sets us apart from the rest.

    Current events around the world remind us that peace is not guaranteed. While we are justifiably proud of our past and pay tribute to the remarkable warfighters who came before us, we understand that the stories of yesterday cannot secure our freedom tomorrow. We must be ready to respond when our Nation calls. It falls on Marines who are in uniform today to write the next chapter of our Corps. The solemn responsibility of maintaining our illustrious warfighting legacy rests upon your shoulders. I know that you are up to that task. The battlefields of tomorrow are uncertain. The future characteristics of warfare are uncertain. But one thing is certain – wherever Marines are called, they will fight and win – today, tomorrow, and into the future.

    Happy 247th Birthday, Marines!

    70 Years Ago: The Big Stick arrives on Battleship Row

    USS Iowa (BB-61) underway in Pearl Harbor with an escort of harbor tugs, while en route to the U.S. at the end of her Korean War combat tour. The photograph is dated 28 October 1952. Middle tug is Anacot (YTB-253). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44539

    In the above, note that Iowa has lost her WWII seaplane catapults– her class used helicopters during their Korean tours-– as well as her 20mm Orelikons but still maintains her 40mm Bofors batteries.

    The NHHC also has this great bow shot in their files from the same day.

    USS Iowa (BB-61) Steaming into Pearl Harbor with rails manned, 28 October 1952, while en route to the U.S. following her first Korean War deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44538

    As well as a direct overhead shot.

    USS Iowa (BB-61) off Pearl Harbor, en route to the U.S. at the end of her Korean War combat tour. The photograph is dated 28 October 1952. Note the ship’s hull number (61) and U.S. Flag painted atop her forward turrets. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44536

    Iowa commissioned 22 February 1943 and earned nine battle stars for her World War II service. Post-war, she served as Fifth Fleet flagship and conducted a variety of sea training, drills, and maneuvers with the Fleet before she entered mothballs in 1949.

    However, her slumber was short.

    As detailed by DANFS: 

    After Communist aggression in Korea necessitated an expansion of the active fleet, Iowa recommissioned 25 August 1951, Captain William R. Smedberg III in command. She operated off the West Coast until March 1952, when she sailed for the Far East. On 1 April 1952, Iowa became the flagship of Vice Admiral Robert T. Briscoe, Commander, 7th Fleet, and departed Yokosuka, Japan to support United Nations Forces in Korea. From 8 April to 16 October 1952, Iowa was involved in combat operations off the East Coast of Korea. Her primary mission was to aid ground troops, by bombarding enemy targets at Songjin, Hungnam, and Kojo, North Korea.

    During this time, Admiral Briscoe was relieved as Commander, 7th Fleet. Vice Admiral J. J. Clark, the new commander, continued to use Iowa as his flagship until 17 October 1952. Iowa departed Yokosuka, Japan 19 October 1952 for overhaul at Norfolk and training operations in the Caribbean Sea.

    A beautiful period Kodachrome of USS Iowa (BB-61) hurling a 16-inch shell toward a North Korean target, in mid-1952. Some 16,689 rounds were fired from her main and secondary batteries on enemy installations during her stint off Korea. Note her 40mm quad gun tubs. Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-K-13195 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command.

    She added two Korean War battlestars to her tally, then spent the next five years in a series of Cold War operations in the Med– where she was Sixth Fleet flag– and throughout the North Atlantic region.

    Iowa decommissioned 24 February 1958 for a second time, then entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia, where she remained until a trip to Pascagoula for her second recommissioning in 1984– and I was a goofy ten-year-old in the stands at Ingalls West Bank that day, my heart bursting.

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