Category Archives: sadness

The Butgenback Shuffle

Jan. 13, 1945: a Big Red One Soldier, from the 16th Infantry Regiment, in a protective snowsuit (aka Spok suit) advances toward enemy positions in the Butgenback sector of Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.

Signal Corps Photo 248311

PFC George Kelly of Philadelphia near Bütgenbach Belgium – January 1945. LIFE Magazine, George Silk Photographer. Kelly was KIA shortly after this picture was snapped, at age 25.

For more on the 16th Infantry’s trip through snow “knee-deep on the level and drifted to two to three times that depth where the wind could get at it,” check out the regimental historical society’s detailed account.

That great shooting range in the sky

Among those lost to the gun community in 2022:

Aaron Hogue — One of the managing owners of Hogue Grips and son of Guy Hogue, the company’s founder, Aaron died when the jet he was piloting in the National Championship Races at Reno crashed. 

Peter J. “Pete” Hylenski — A gifted design engineer who left his mark with Wildey, Winchester, and Kimber, Hylenski was known as “Mr. Model 70” as he was the long-term Model 70 Rifle Design Engineer during the era that saw the return of the “pre-’64” type Model 70 control-round feed action. Hylenski passed away on March 29, 2022, aged 77.

Thomas Devine Smith — A Texas sports shooter and Air Force officer, Smith competed in the 50-meter pistol event at the 1964 Summer Olympics before winning two gold medals at the 1963 Pan American Games. He set and broke numerous pistol records in his career, some of which still stand even decades later. He also survived his plane breaking up in-flight, landing on snow-covered Mt. Helmos in Greece without a parachute, surviving the fall. Colonel Smith died in May, aged 90. 

George Trulock — Founder of the shotgun choke empire that bears his name– and is OEM for numerous manufacturers– George Trulock was a legend in the gun industry. He passed in June and is remembered by his company as “a visionary and a creative genius” as well as an “amazing human being.” 

The rest of the list is in my column at Guns.com.

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.

Maritime Mystery: Death of a Wooden Shoe

Some 80 years ago today, a warship and her entire crew vanished from the waves and not a single confirmed piece of her has ever been seen since.

Constructed in 1941 at Snow Shipyards in Rockland, Maine, the 225-ton, 116-foot wooden-hulled longline trawler F/V Belmont was acquired for $2,122 on 19 June 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard for use on the newly-formed Greenland Patrol, watching over the Danish possession and fighting the “Weather War,” keeping German radio and meteorological stations out of the frozen land.

Commissioned as USCGC Natsek (WYP-170), named in honor of a geographical feature on Greenland, her armament was slight– an old 6-pounder 57mm gun taken from prewar cutter stocks that was deemed still deadly enough to haul over German weather trawlers in spotted, two 20mm Oerlikons should she encounter a German Condor patrol plane, and two short depth charge racks should she see a U-boat.

Assigned to CINCLANT control out of Boston with the rest of the Greenland Patrol, Natsek could make a stately 11 knots and cruise at 9.5. Her and her Snow-built half-sisters USCGC Nanok (ex-F/V St. George) and USCGC Nogak (ex-F/V North Star), earned the nickname of “wooden shoes” as they looked, well, like large wooden shoes and had about the same characteristics.

Other vessels of the Greenland Patrol converted at the time included seven larger and sturdier steel-hulled trawlers (F/V Helka, Lark, Weymouth, Atlantic, Arlington, Winchester, and Triton) that likewise received similar armament and Greenland geographical monikers but starting with an “A” to set them apart as a class (USCGC Alatok, Amarok, Aklak, Arluk, Aivik, Atak, and Arvek, respectively).

Besides keeping the Germans out of Greenland, the Patrol’s primary task was to establish and supply a series of 14 “Bluie” met and HF/DF stations around the coastline. Airfields would soon be added to these isolated stations to allow them to serve as way stations for the North Atlantic ferry route, running planes from bases in Labrador to Scotland with stops in Greenland and Iceland. 

The fact that these converted trawlers could carry 90 tons of cargo below decks and draw but 11 feet of seawater when doing so helped greatly. While it would seem folly to us today to task 10 small vessels (the largest of these, Winchester/Aivik, was only 590 tons and 128 feet overall) with such a mission, keep in mind that the locations chosen for the Bluie stations were often only reachable by snaking through dense fields of icebergs and narrow fjords, so chosen to remain hidden from German surface raiders.

Natsek’s first patrol, began just ten days after she was commissioned, with newly-minted Lt. (jg) Thomas La Farge, USCGR, skipper. La Farge, who had no prior military experience, received his temporary commission as he was “a yachtsman and lover of ships” and noteworthy as a grandson of the late, great, muralist, John La Farge.

She set sail for Greenland waters in company with the minesweeper USS Bluebird (AM-72), and fellow USCG-manned armed trawlers Atak and Aivik, as part of CTG 24.8 on 29 June. Arriving at Bluie West #1 (Narsarssuak) on 20 July, Natsek plied Greenland waters, supplying Bluie stations through the month of August. Beginning on 28 September, she set sail from Narsarssuak to transport supplies, equipment, and personnel to Skoldungen to establish and build a weather station. She arrived there on 12 October. She continued on to help establish another weather station, this time at Torgilsbu and later that month another one at Skjoldungen.

On 9 November she was ordered to assist in looking for a downed plane along the southeast coast of Greenland.

On 15 November she then received orders to escort the Army cargo ship Belle Isle to Torgilsbu from Skjoldungen. She accomplished the escort without incident and arrived at Torgilsbu on 16 November. She departed Torgilsbu on 23 November and arrived at Narsarssuak on 30 November.

On 14 December 1942 Natsek departed Narsarssuak in a convoy with Bluebird and fellow “wooden shoe” USCGC Nanok, to return to Boston via Belle Isle Strait.

Natsek never arrived.

In January, the Navy made it official after she was several weeks overdue.

From the 1/24/43 issue of the NYT:

The detailed story of her disappearance, via the 1947 report, “The Coast Guard at War: Lost Cutters”

Click to make bigger

This, from “Death of a Wooden Shoe :A Sailor’s Diary of Life and Death on the Greenland Patrol, 1942” by Thaddeus D. Nowakowski, a journal kept by a Coast Guardsman during his six crucial months as a seaman on board Natsek’s sister, USCGC Nanok, and digitized by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office in 1994:

Besides LaFarge, Natsek vanished with a crew of 23 including 10 Coast Guard regulars (counting both her chiefs) a Navy radioman, and 12 wartime-era recruits. Considered lost at sea, their names are inscribed on the World War II East Coast Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park as well as a marker at Arlington that notes of the Natsek:

The entire crew of 23 men and one commissioned officer are considered to have met death in the line of duty on or after 17 December 1942, as a result of drowning.”

Natsek at the time was the fourth Coast Guard ship to be lost in WWII and 107th American vessel overall. Ultimately, the USCG would lose no less than 40 vessels in the conflict.

As for the Weather War, the Allies won and today, Bluie West Six is Thule Air Base, still an important enough asset that the Pentagon on Friday awarded a $4 billion civil engineering and maintenance contract to a local firm in Greenland, Inuksuk A/S, running through 2034.

Many Hands Make Light Work

An important milestone occurred this weekend across 45 minutes on a humid and foggy Saturday morning for the Biloxi National Cemetery. The unit, which honors well over 17,000 of the nation’s veterans (going back to the war with Mexico) and their spouses, celebrated its 10th annual Christmas wreath drive.

Sadly, the number of wreaths grows each season. Total number of wreaths this year pushed the 25,000 mark

In an effort that costs the government or the VA nothing, a core of volunteers– heavy with youth groups such as Scouts and JROTC– covered the grounds with donated wreaths, making sure every gravesite had one.

Of course, the background work included local businesses donating funds for wreaths and new bows (replaced yearly) and further smaller teams of volunteers who worked all day Thursday unloading and Friday staging the wreaths/affixing new bows, but the work went cheerfully.

I am glad to have participated in this mission for the past several years with my family. 

I try to say a little piece and acknowledge the individual Veteran on each of the wreaths I install, in addition to taking it upon myself to cover the graves of those I knew personally.

A pole/broomstick/piece of PVC pipe (and a buddy to carry the other end) helps greatly.

Of course, the crowds of volunteers will be smaller on Jan. 7th when we go to pick them back up but, that’s part of the job!

If you have a national cemetery in your area that doesn’t do something similar, please think about starting such an effort.

If they already do, please join in the effort. Every pair of hands helps!

Tragedy over Dallas

Unless you have been under a rock all weekend, two WWII-vintage warbirds owned and operated by the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum– the Commemorative Air Force– suffered a catastrophic mid-air collision during an air show at the Dallas Executive Airport on Saturday. There are several viral videos floating around, none of which will be shared here as they show the deaths of all six crew involved.

CAF reports it is “working with local authorities and the FAA, and the NTSB will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident.”

The aircraft involved were Boeing B-17G-95-DL/PB-1W Flying Fortress 44-83872/BuNo 77235/N7227C, best known as “Texas Raiders,” and Bell P-63F-1-BE Kingcobra 44-11719/N6763.

Texas Raiders was among the last 20 B-17s built by Douglas in Long Beach, coming out of the plant in July 1945. Transferred to the Navy for conversion to a PB-1W Patrol Bomber, she racked up over 3,000 hours before she was retired in 1955 and sold to the Aero Service Corporation two years later for use as an airborne survey aircraft. She went on to become one of the longest civilian-operated B-17s after CAF purchased her third hand in 1967, appearing in countless airshows and as an extra in movies for over 30 years. Notably, she is the B-17 in Tora, Tora, Tora that is shown low-flying with only one wheel deployed– a trick she would display many times over the years.

43-11719 was the sole surviving P-63F of the two believed built. She did not see formal military service but rather flew as a test airframe with Bell Aircraft– hence the black “X” marks on her wings and fuselage. Following WWII, the U.S. Government sold the aircraft on the surplus market and she made waves on the Air Race circuit throughout the 1970s before she was picked up by CAF in 1981 and extensively restored.

HOW TO SUPPORT THE FAMILIES

On behalf of its board, staff, and members, the International Council of Air Shows offers its heartfelt condolences to the families of those individuals involved in the recent accident in Dallas and to our colleagues in the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). In response, the International Council of Air Shows Foundation, in association with the CAF, is accepting donations for the families of those involved in the accident. To donate, go to https://airshowfoundation.org/support/ , select “Donation in honor or memory of an individual” and type “CAF” as the “Name of Memorialized”. 100% of the money collected through this effort will be provided to the families as emergency funding, with all received funds being split equally amongst those families impacted.

The ICAS Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and follows all IRS guidelines. Although most donations made to the ICAS Foundation are tax deductible, please consult with your individual tax adviser to confirm the deductibility of your contribution. EIN: 38-2885409

Making room for the honored dead

Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is probably America’s most hallowed ground. Founded unofficially in the Civil War on the somewhat illegally seized grounds of Robert E. Lee’s wife’s estate, the Army cemetery today consists of 624 acres and is the final resting place of over 400,000 service members and their families.

However, it is fast running out of space. This brings us to the massive Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion Project, a planned 50-acre expansion that has been underway in assessment and roadway diversion for most of a decade with the primary purpose to increase the capacity for future interment at the cemetery, adding anywhere from 60,000 to 80,000 new individual gravesites at a cost of $420 million. This will allow it to continue to serve new qualifying interments into about 2060.

VOA has more details in the below video.

Clamagore set for one last cruise

This Friday, 14 October, the former museum ship, ex-USS Clamagore (SS-343), will be towed quietly from her long-time berth at Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum outside Charleston, South Carolina. She will be pulled slowly across 475 miles of coastal waters to Norfolk for recycling.

As noted by the Post & Courier

The board that oversees stateowned Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum decided earlier this year to dismantle the Clamagore after years of grappling with what to do with the aging sub. The decision followed exploration of “numerous alternatives,” including making it an underwater reef, finding a new home for it and fixing it.

Patriots Point has said repairing the Clamagore would be cost-prohibitive. A 2019 estimate from a marine surveying and consulting company estimated the figure at more than $9 million. Moving it onto dry land also was deemed too expensive. Multiple reefing plans fellthrough.

“Unfortunately, we cannot financially sustain the maintenance of three historic vessels,” Patriots Point said in March after it voted to recycle the sub.

The current $2 million operation included the removal of some 500 dorm refrigerator-sized batteries that have been aboard since the 1950s as well as an extensive amount of fittings and internals, all in an effort to raise her hull as much as possible for her last ride.

Commissioned on 28 June 1945, she was given an extensive GUPPY III conversion in the Cold War– the most advanced type for those old Balao-class boats– and only retired in 1975 after 30 years of service.

She has been at Patriot’s Point since 1981, and, at the time of her arrival there, was widely considered the best preserved American diesel sub afloat.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

Bad month for Submarine Museums

While we have covered these in part in previous years, it looks like time has come and gone for the old HMAS Otama (SS 62/SSG 62), a retired Oberon-class diesel boat of the Royal Australian Navy that was decommissioned 22 years ago, the sisters USS Ling (SS 297) and USS Clamagore (SS-343), Balao-class submarines that, when retired were about the best preserved of their type anywhere in the world.

Otama

Otama, still fairly new and in good shape when she was retired after 22 years of service, was grossly neglected and never opened.

Set to be moved off Lookout Beach in Australia on Monday, she is headed to the breakers.

Ling

For over four years, the status of the USS Ling (SS 297), a Balao-class boat, has been in limbo. Decommissioned in 1946 after earning a single battle star, she was converted to an NRF training boat based at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then disposed of in 1972. Towed to nearby  Hackensack, New Jersey the next year in near-pristine condition, she operated as a museum ship there for 40 years, a great example of a WWII fleet boat, until, cut off from shore access due to real estate development in 2018, the museum closed and “vandals” broke in and flooded her. 
 
Since then, assorted volunteer groups looking to save her formed and even bring her to Louisville, but that all stopped last winter and she is now possibly worse than ever.
 

USS Ling, in poor condition, cut off from shore, locked in the river by a bridge, and likely settled again on the bottom mud in 14 feet of river. This isn’t going to end well.

This was posted three weeks ago in a “Save the Ling” group: 
 
People are asking for updates. The best I can tell you is, we are constantly working to see things through. Due to recent circumstances, we could claim ownership of the Ling in about an hour. But, in doing that we could also own the liabilities she has, debts to the city, EPA fines, Bergen County fines, and a bunch of other hidden costs that could hit us should we become the new owners. 
 
That said, as I said in another post. Thanks to her being closed up for a year or more now, she is most likely covered in mold. She has her list back, which only tells us that she has settled back in place after the manifold system was stolen and we were unable to continue to blow tanks and exercise ballast tanks. 
We are cut off from shore. The gangway donated to LNM has fallen into the muck. There is no safe access point to her due to the developers moving on with construction. We had a window, we missed it, they moved on and that does not include the Ling. 
 
At this point, I am not sure what can be done. We continue to play cards we are dealt, but there are very few left in the deck. If someone is a lawyer, and willing to pro bono things, we can continue the fight.

Clamagore

Almost scandalously, the Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum outside Charleston, South Carolina, which had Clamagore since 1980, has scrapped her in almost total silence and, while there are supposed plans to preserve some of her artifacts in a compartment aboard the poorly preserved old Essex-class carrier USS Yorktown, also run by the organization, it seems like most of her will simply hauled off to the junk yard despite howls from Submarine Vets and those curious who have sought to pick up a small piece for their own collection.

80 Years Ago: The Worst, and Best, Telegrams, Back to Back

Via the South Pacific WWII Museum, Harold F. Rhone Collection photo.

The telegram you don’t ever want to receive, followed not too long after by the one you do.

September 1942 and Harold Rhone was missing in action, a 22-year-old ship fitter on the New Orleans-class heavy cruiser USS Astoria (CA-34), sunk in August 1942, at the Battle of Savo Island. Importantly, the loss of the ship was not made public until late October.

But thankfully, as noted in the follow-up telegram, Rhone was located and went on to serve at the Boat Repair Unit on Santo.

Earning a Purple Heart for his injuries, SF1 Rhone survived the war, left the service in 1947, and passed in 1997, aged 77.

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