Category Archives: man card

Light a candle for the Dorchester Chaplains today

USAT Dorchester during 1942. Note her 4-inch deck gun forward. NHHC Catalog #: SC-290583

Some 80 years ago today, 3 February 1943, the 5,200-ton Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines passenger steamer-turned-troopship SS Dorchester, while sailing from New York to Narsarssuak, Greenland as part of West-bound convoy SG 19, when she came across German type VIIC submarine U-223 (Kptlt. Karl-Jürg Wächter) as part of Wolfpack Nordsturm.

Besides 1,069 tons of general cargo, lumber, and 60 bags of mail, Dorchester carried a complement of seven officers, 123 crewmen, some 23 Navy Armed Guards (the ship was armed with one 4 in, one 3 in, and four 20mm guns) and 751 assorted U.S. Army troops and civilian passengers.

It was all over very rapidly after U-223 loosed five torpedos around 0452. With lifeboats scarce, although the escorting U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Tampa, and Escanaba stood by immediately to rescue those seeking to leave the ship, within 30 minutes the Dorchester was on the bottom, taking 675 souls with her including her master, three officers, 98 crewmen, 15 Armed Guards, and 558 troops and passengers.

Painting of the crew from Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba rescuing survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard image

Four Army chaplains representing the four different faiths: Rev Lt George Lansing Fox (Methodist); Rabbi Lt Alexander David Goode; Rev Lt. Clark Poling (First Reformed Church) and Father John Washington (Catholic) gave up their lifebelts to soldiers who have none, and all perished with the ship.

The four “Immortal Chaplains” were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the DSC.

The Army’s Chaplin Corps marks their passage every February 3rd.


A Smoke and a Read

105 years ago. February 1918. Offical caption: A Canadian soldier enjoys a few minutes with the Canadian Daily Record (Un soldat canadien prenant une pause, s’apprêtant à feuilleter le Canadian Daily Record).”

Note his SMLE .303 to Sergent’s left, a Mills Bomb and electric torch by his pillow for repelling trench-raiding stosstruppen, a gas mask and bayonet eternally at the ready; and a kettle and water can by his rope bed.

Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-002507

According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in The Great War– big numbers considering the country had a population in 1914 of just under 8 million. Canada suffered a staggering 66,000 killed and more than 172,000 wounded in the conflict.

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. 

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. 

That kick, tho

I love both war movies and sports movies so it should come as no surprise that 1981’s “Victory,” directed by the great John Huston (shortly after he did one of my favorite films of all time, the Kipling tale, “The Man Who Would Be King”), in which a team of scratch Allied soccer players drawn from across numerous German stalags during WWII to play an elite German team, is high on my list.

Starring a number of international World Cup-level footballers with acting from the likes of Sir Michael Cain up front and Max Von Sydow’s Major Karl von Steiner adding just enough honor to the opposition, the film is very loosely based on the often over-told semi-true story of the “Death Match” between Ukrainian and German teams in occupied Ukraine in 1942.

However, the big guns on the field are brought by Brazilian football phenom, Pele, who was in his 40s when “Victory” was filmed and had retired from the sport already, with three World Cup wins in his rearview– a record not bested to this day.

Still, Pele was both funny and delivered a perfect bicycle kick photographed by English cinematographer Gerry Fisher (of “Aces High” fame.)

Truly art in sport.

When I saw the film as a kid, I was playing soccer in a Y8 league and, every time I put on my cleats for my next five years in the sport, I thought of “Victory.” Much later in life, while coaching it for my kids’ teams, watching it at team parties was required, although I will admit, it was more of an acquired taste!

Thank you, Pele,

Christmas in Rayon City

Starting 30 November and running through the first week of December 1944, the “Angels” from the 11th Airborne Division made their first combat jump– Operation King II, better known later as “Operation Table Top,” for reasons that will be obvious. 

Unlike the huge brigade, division, and even corps-sized jumps seen in Europe from the Allied airborne forces already in the war, Table Top– targeting a short airstrip near Manawarat on Leyte in the Philippines to cut off a Japanese withdrawal– was a more pin-point operation. Rather than squadrons of C-46s/47s, each dropping sticks of a dozen men at once, Table Top came down to one Paratrooper at a time from grasshopper single-engined liaison aircraft, L4/L5 Cubs/Stinsons. Anything larger would have left men hanging in coconut trees.

Those dropped amounted to 241 Paratroopers drawn from across the Division with the 11th Abn. Div. RECON platoon going in first followed by a platoon of “Sky Beaver” engineers of Co.C, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion; followed by one platoon element each from Co.C., 187th Glider (Parachute) Infantry Regiment, 221st Airborne Medical Company, 457th Parachute Field Artillery Bn, and HQs Grp 511th Parachute Signal Company.

In his book “Love in an Altered State” about his father, SSG Bill Potoka, Platoon Sergeant of 3rd Platoon, Co C, 127th AEB, Mr. William Potoka describes Sky Beaver actions: 
“Named Operation Table Top, the drop zone was 600′ x 200′ and fringed with coconut trees. Manarawat was to become the hub of all operations of the Division in Leyte Mountains. 1st Platoon supported C Co, 511th PIR. The jump was made one paratrooper at a time from L4 and L5 Cub airplanes. The cub planes zoomed the drop zone and pushed out a paratrooper on each zoom.”
In his book “When Angels Fall” about his Grandfather, 1LT Andrew Carrico III, of the 511th PIR, 11th A/B, Jeremy Holm describes Sky Beaver actions: 
“Engineers from the 127th AEB soon jumped on Manawarat to clear a larger landing with explosives which increased the range of the Division’s L-4s (L-5s couldn’t handle landing there) for artillery spotting, unit locating and casualty evacuation. Medical staff from 221st Airborne Medical Company airdropped soon after along with equipment for a Portable Surgical Hospital that further enlarged “Rayon City”. 
Casualties carried to Manawarat were cared for by three surgeons, ten surgical technicians and other medical staff working out of a thatched and parachute-covered bamboo structure.  Once the wounded were stabilized, they either recuperated on Manawarat then went back to their units or were flown to San Pablo then on to larger hospitals at Dulag (or back to the states).

With such a shoestring op, as the paratroopers remained on the ground at Manawarat, they had to make do with what they had for the rest of the month and “Rayon City” was born. After all, what would you make from hundreds of yards of parachute shrouds and thousands of feet of paracord?

December 1944. Official caption: “Rayon City,” the camp at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Shown here are men of the 11th Airborne Division, preparing for evening chow. House in the background is a native hut, now used as a radio shack and Command Post.

(U.S. Air Force Number 58643AC) National Archives Identifier: 204950331

“A shortwave radio being used in the Manawarat mission against the Japs on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here, T/4 Warren Scott of Portland, Oregon repairs the set. [Note, he is likely from HQs Grp 511th PSig Co.]”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58644AC). National Archives Identifier: 204950127

“The Manawarat strip on Leyte Island in the Philippines is named ‘Randolph Field’ because many of the pilots there were trained at Randolph Field, Texas. The perimeter of the strip is marked with discarded parachutes. When large para-packs full of supplies, dropped on Randolph Field on Leyte Island in the Philippines, they made large holes in the strip, so the Engineers stand by to fill in the holes as soon as the pack is carried away.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58641AC) National Archives Identifier:204950327

“The 11th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In And Shown Here Is A Vultee L-5 Dropping Fresh Bread Packed In Barracks Bags.”

(U.S. Air Force Number A58653AC) National Archives Identifier:204951950

“The 11Th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In. Shown Here Are A Group Of Men Carrying The Cases Of The Tinned Bird To The Food Dump.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58653AC) National Archives Identifier: 204951948

This included a drop of five gallons of ice cream especially for those “Angels” that had been hurt on landing or taken sick due to assorted jungle malaise and had been laid up in the strip “hospital” where apparently making grass skirts was a thing.

“The Recuperation Ward of the hospital at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here the men with less serious wounds or sicknesses are hospitalized until they are well enough to return to duty. The man at left is making a ‘grass skirt’ from rayon shrouds of discarded parachutes. (U.S. Air Force Number 58648AC)

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.

Red Arrow at War

80 Years Ago: Papua, New Guinea, December 1942:

“Red Arrow at War by Michael Gnatek” via the U.S. Army National Guard Heritage Painting Program.

The 32nd Infantry Division, known as the “Red Arrow” Division. made up of units from the Michigan and Wisconsin National Guards (126th Infantry Regiment, 127th Infantry Regiment, and the 128th Infantry Regiment), was mobilized on 15 October 1940.

Slated to depart for Northern Ireland after World War II began, the division was diverted to the Pacific at the last minute, arriving in Australia in May 1942. Elements moved to Port Moresby, New Guinea in September 1942, in order to halt the Japanese invasion which threatened Australia. The Red Arrow’s 126th Infantry Regiment went by ship; the 128th Infantry was airlifted in the first mass troop movement by air in World War II. Joining the Australians, the 32d entered combat on 16 November 1942.

Soldiers from the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment adjust their clothing and equipment after disembarking a transport plane that brought them from Port Moresby to the Dubadura air strip eight miles south of Buna, Papua New Guinea Dec. 15, 1942. Note the boonie hats–M1941 Herring Bone Twill (HBT) sun hats– M1905 bayonets, and serious love of multiple Thompson pouches per user. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

32nd “Red Arrow” Division Soldiers position themselves behind a captured Japanese breastwork near Cape Endaiadere, New Guinea, Dec. 21, 1942. Note the M1928 and boonie hats. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

The Allied forces were to take heavily-fortified Japanese positions at Buna, on New Guinea’s southeast coast. It proved to be one of the most difficult campaigns of the war. Fighting in the hot, steamy jungles, the 32d was desperately short of basic equipment, weapons, medicine, and even food. In the terrible heat and drenching rain the men of the 32d, many of them burning with fever, had to reduce Japanese positions one at a time, usually by rushing them with grenades. Most of the Japanese fought to the death, but finally, on 2 January 1943, Buna fell.

It was the Japanese Army’s first defeat in modern history, but for the 32d Division the cost was high: 1,954 were either killed or wounded, with 2,952 hospitalized due to disease.

After Buna, the 32d participated in the long campaign to drive the Japanese from the rest of New Guinea and went on to see heavy fighting in the Philippines.

Across 654 Days of Combat– twice the average amount seen by most divisions in the European Theatre of Operations– the 32nd would suffer 7,268 casualties.

Today, the 32d Infantry Brigade, Wisconsin Army National Guard, continues to maintain the Red Arrow heritage.

The WARNG maintains an excellent photo depository of the Red Arrow in WWII.

And Pass the Ammunition

Original caption: “Seaman Barrett C. Benson who was a Methodist minister with two churches at Dalton and LaFayette, Georgia, saw the men of his churches going off to war…Deciding to follow them, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Note his flat cap with Coast Guard band, the distinctive USCG shield on the sleeve of his winter jumper, classic 13-button trousers, 10-pocket M1910 belt with M1905 bayonet hanging from its side, and an M1903 rifle with stripper clip of .30-06 M2 ball at the ready. If you are curious, the photo even caught the rifle’s serial number (587211) which makes it a circa 1914 Springfield Armory-made weapon. (USCG Photo, NARA NAID: 205588663)

The former minister joined the Coast Guard as an apprentice seaman and went through the regular ‘boot’ training with thousands of other young men. He is shown carrying on his duties as an armed guard protecting fighting ships under construction at Manitowac, Wisconsin.

On Sundays, he has been helping out as a preacher in a Twin Rivers church, after answering a call to fill in for the regular minister who was unable to attend.

Coast Guardsman Benson said, “When the war is over, I hope to be back in the pulpit a better man for having had the adventure of trying to maintain my duty to both Church and State.”

While there is no date on the photo, the craft behind the good SN (Rev.) Benson is, judging from the number and the shape of the wheelhouse, likely the 38-foot “cabin cruiser” type picket boat CG 38387, or possibly CGR-387, a Coast Guard Reserve “Corsair Fleet” picket boat (formerly the 37-foot pleasure craft Contact, #22H158) taken into service in the 8th Coast Guard District in Feb 1942 and then disposed of in June 1946. As both vessels were active throughout WWII, that doesn’t narrow it down very much, but I’d lay odds on, judging from the uniform and equipment, the image was likely snapped in the winter months of 1942. 

Further, it doesn’t seem that Benson remained in the USCG for “the duration,” and he soon shipped off with the Navy as a chap since a 2013 obituary lists him as, “A retired United Methodist Church Minister and United States Navy Chaplain with the rank of Commander, serving on a ship in the Pacific Theatre during WWII, active duty during Korean conflict and the Vietnam era.”

As a side note, Manitowoc Shipbuilding built 36 LCT (5) landing ships and 28 Gato and Balao-class fleet submarines during the war, with 13 additional submarines canceled Post VJ Day.

First Antarctic Pistol Tournament

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), earlier this month departed to support the annual joint military service mission called Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF), a mission that involves traveling to Antarctica to break miles of ice up to 21 feet thick in the regular push to resupply McMurdo Station.

Deep Freeze I was held back in 1955-56 and involved a full task force (TF43)  under RADM Richard E. Byrd himself, consisting of three (well-armed) icebreakers, three freighters, and three tankers.

With that in mind, check out this great shot of the “First Antarctic Pistol Tournament,” held during Deep Freeze II, some 65 years ago.

Original caption: “The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) sponsors the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 20, 1957).”

Note Northwind’s twin 5″/38 DP mount. Commissioned 28 July 1945, “The Grand Old Lady of the North” had a 44-year career, a span of time recently bested by Polar Star, which celebrated her 46th anniversary earlier this year. Photo: National Archives NAID: 205581182

From the back of the image:

Chilled thumbs pull the triggers at targets lined up in ice 7 feet thick at Helleric Sound. Probably the most unusual setting in the history of match shooting, this was one of those rare Antarctic days with the atmosphere crystal clear, the temperature hovering around 26 degrees, a light breeze of six knots bloating down from the ranges of Victoria Land. The intensity of the sun’s reflection on the snow makes it necessary for the shooters to wear dark gloves. Competitors were divided into groups, of Old-Timers and TYROs. Old-Timers included all NRA (National Rifle Association) card holders handicapped according to their classifications. TYRO entries were limited to non-NRA members who had qualified with the .45 caliber pistol over Services qualification courses. At this time the Northwind lay moored at McMurdo Sound where she had been helping the Navy cargo ship Towle (visible at the stern of the icebreaker) unload cargo for the Williams Air Operation Facility located five miles away.

A close-up detail shows the firing line equipped with what look to be new Smith & Wesson Model 41s or, more likely, High Standard Victors, both popular with Bullseye target shooters of the era for 25 and 50m work.

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