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Still coming home

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”

Prowlin’ no more

Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.

We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”

They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.

Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.

And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.

First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.

Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.

No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.

In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.

Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.

U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, fly off the coast of North Carolina, Feb 28, 2019. VMAQ-2 is conducting its last flights prior to their deactivation on March 8, 2019. VMAQ-2 is a subordinate unit to Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.

Further, EA-6B BuNo. 162230/CY-02, part of the Sundown Flight, will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

You just thought they were preserved

A last haven for guns that would have otherwise been scrapped by authorities, an Australian firearms museum is now confronted with the possibility they may have to mutilate their own collection.

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory, which crafted Australian Lee-Enfields from 1912 into the 1950s when they switched to making inch-pattern semi-auto FAL rifles, is an icon in the country.

The Australians from the ANZACs of Gallipoli through Korea, more often than not, carried Lithgow-made Enfields, and then they switched to Lithgow made FALs…

Some two decades ago, a non-profit group turned portions of the facility into a museum to preserve both the factory and historic Australian firearms. Staffed by volunteers, they take legally in unregistered guns during national firearm amnesty periods rather than have them torched by police. “We exist for the community and display a range of artifacts of historical, educational and community value,” the museum said.

In short, they gave scarce guns a forever home.

Now, they may have to butcher their holdings– which is already under tight security controls and deactivated via trigger locks and removed firing pins– to the point that the often-rare and in many cases unique guns “will be reduced to a metal blob rather than a genuine firearm.”

The museum houses this incredibly rare No 6 Mk I Lithgow Enfield “Jungle Carbine,” one of only a handful made. It is slated to have a steel rod welded into its barrel, and that’s just for starters.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Remembering the Tampa

Signal boost here, from the USCG:

R 261000 FEB 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CG-092//
TO ALCOAST
UNCLAS //N05700//
ALCOAST 062/19
COMDTNOTE 5700
SUBJ:  USS TAMPA PURPLE HEART MEDAL CAMPAIGN

1. The U.S. Coast Guard needs your help with locating and contacting descendants of the USS TAMPA, which was tragically sunk during World War I with all hands lost. The Service has yet to present 84 of the outstanding Purple Heart Medals awarded posthumously to the crew. We intend to recognize as many of the descendants as possible this Memorial Day. We need your help to do this.

2. Background:
   A. USS TAMPA, a Coast Guard ship and crew serving under the Department of the Navy, was lost with all hands after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Wales on 26 September 1918. This tragic loss occurred just weeks before the end of World War I. It was the single largest loss suffered by the Coast Guard during that conflict.
   B. At the time of TAMPA’s loss, the Purple Heart Medal was not in use. In 1942, eligibility was extended to include the Coast Guard, but it was not until 1952 that the awarding of the Purple Heart Medal was made retroactive for actions after 5 April 1917. However, TAMPA was overlooked until 1999, when a retired Coast Guardsman submitted a proposal to award the Purple Heart to her crew.
   C. In 1999, then-Commandant Admiral James Loy authorized the posthumous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to the crew of USS TAMPA. Today, over one hundred years after TAMPA was lost and twenty years after the first TAMPA Purple Heart was awarded, the Coast Guard is still
attempting to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ Purple Heart.

3. The purpose of this ALCOAST is to raise awareness of the Purple Heart award program and to continue to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ medals. You can help.

4. Summary of USS TAMPA Purple Heart Medals awarded:

   A. There were 130 men on TAMPA, including 111 Coast Guardsmen and 4 Navy men.
   B. 26 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals have been claimed since 1999.
   C. 3 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals are presently in progress.
   D. 84 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed.

5. The names of the 84 TAMPA crew whose Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed are listed here: https://www.history.uscg.mil/tampa/.

6. To submit applications for TAMPA Purple Heart Medals, please contact Ms. Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Archivist, at Nora.L.Chidlow@uscg.mil or 202-559-5142. She has served as the primary point of contact between the Coast Guard and many TAMPA descendants, and also with the Medals &
Awards branch.

7. To apply for their ancestor’s Purple Heart Medal, descendants are required to provide documentation showing the descendant’s relationship to the TAMPA crew member, such as family trees, pages from family Bibles, birth/death certificates, and/or pages from Ancestry or other
genealogical applications. Please expect about 4-6 weeks’ time for processing.

8. I encourage all members of our Coast Guard family to share this ALCOAST with the widest possible audience. We owe it to our shipmates in USS TAMPA and their descendants to ensure their heroism and sacrifice are recognized and remembered.

9. RDML Melissa Bert, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.

10. Internet release is authorized.

Old warships die, but their pieces live on

With the recent decision by the Navy to dispose of the ex-USS Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) rather than donate it for preservation, the calls went out for other military museum ships to come get what they could carry for use in their on-going efforts. You see, when you visit a museum ship, you are bound to see, touch and tread upon relics from dozens of other historic vessels.

Case in point:

The USS New Jersey battleship museum in Camden “brought back two tripods for .50cal guns, electronics parts, and flooring for the CIC restoration, tools, and equipment to fill in empty racks on the ship, and a bore sight for the 5″ gun, among other odds and ends.”

Fall River, Mass’s USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr (DD 850) museum, a vessel that shares much with the Adams, made extensive use of the offering:

For use in JPKs restoration, we acquired another torpedo dolly for the ASROC/Torpedo magazine, the ASROC deck guides for the ASROC loader crane, thermometers, valve wheels, and misc engineering parts, casualty power cable, three DC Chart holders for our repair lockers, blackout curtains, key internal parts for our DRT table in CIC, SONAR and ASROC system test sets, dozens of information and safety placards, CPO locker handles, glass globes for the ASROC magazine, a cleaning gear locker, and much more.

To preserve the history of DDG-2, we acquired both her throttle wheels from her After Engine Room, both sides of her Engine Order Telegraph in the Pilot House, information placards from her 5”54 gun systems stamped DDG-2, and some navigation instruments all marked USS Charles F Adams. These items will be saved for use in our future renovated Admiral Burke National Destroyer Memorial and Museum.

In short, Adams will endure.

DDG-2 Charles F Adams, in the Atlantic, 16 November 1978. USN 1173510

Vale, Windsor Davies

Perhaps best known for his epic portrayal of Battery Sergeant Major Williams in the Perry & Croft (they also did Dad’s Army and Allo’ Allo!) WWII sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, the British actor Windsor Davies has passed at age 88.

Davies, who served in the East Surrey Regiment in the 1950s in Egypt on the lead-up to the Suez Crisis, captured a CSM brilliantly, some would say. Perry & Croft would know, as they served themselves, in India, where It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was set.

For sci-fi nerds, he also appeared in B&W Doctor Who episodes (with the Second Doctor) and voiced Sergeant Major Zero in the Terrahawks.

You can bet that caricatures of Williams/Davies will endure forever.

Sad times on the icebreaking front

While the U.S. Navy ordered a class of 8 heavily-armed polar icebreakers in WWII (the Wind-class, which carried twin 5″/38 DP mounts, 40mm Bofors, 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, seaplanes and an ASW mortar), as well as the larger single-vessel USS Glacier (AGB-4) by 1955, just a decade later the Navy left the ice biz to the realm of the sparsely-funded Coast Guard.

Since then, all nine of these breakers have been sent to the scrapper, replaced in the 1970s by just two (relatively unarmed) Polar-class icebreakers of which only one was still operational by 2010.

Now 43-years young, the country’s sole polar icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), just reached Antarctica on her annual Operation Deep Freeze resupply mission to McMurdo Station– while her crew went unpaid due to the current lapse in funding.

The voyage wasn’t pretty.

U.S. Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star

From the Coast Guard:

During this year’s deployment, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed.

The ship also experienced a leak from the shaft that drives the ship’s propeller, which halted icebreaking operations in order to send scuba divers in the water to repair the seal around the shaft. A hyperbaric chamber on loan from the U.S. Navy aboard the ship allows Coast Guard divers to make external emergency repairs and inspections of the ship’s hull.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Healy in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.

Yikes.

Can you imagine being a young Coastie E-4 on that ship right now?

In Antarctica?

While your old lady (or man) sends you emails that the light bill is due and check on the 15th was for $0.00?

Politics aside, be sure, if you are able, to contribute to your local efforts to take care of USCG families in your area, and keep those deployed in your thoughts.

Semper Paratus

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