Posts tagged ‘Medal of Honor’

SHAKO: More Heroics of the Greatest Generation

WORLD WAR II.

Last Surviving WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Passes.

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died June 29.

Williams’ passing at age 98 “marks not just the death of a hero, but the end of a line of heroes of the Greatest Generation,” the Defense Department said .

President Harry Truman congratulates Hershel “Woody” Williams at the White House on October 5, 1945 after awarding the Marine the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle of Iwo Jim in World War II.

Williams landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945, with 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. Two days later, he famously destroyed enemy emplacements with a flamethrower, going forward alone into machine gun fire, covered only by four riflemen, according to Marine Corps Times.

Williams’ Medal of Honor citation can be found here:

He was discharged in 1945, but stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve until his retirement. He continued to serve through his foundation, the Woody Williams Foundation, which honors families who have lost a loved one in service to their country.

“From his actions on Iwo Jima to his lifelong service to our Gold Star Families, Woody has left an indelible mark on the legacy of our Corps,” Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black, said in a statement, SEAPOWER reported.  “As the last of America’s “greatest generation” to receive the Medal of Honor, we will forever carry with us the memory of his selfless dedication to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to our great nation. The Marine Corps is fortunate to have many heroes, but there is only one Woody Williams. Semper Fidelis, Marine,”

Hershel “Woody” Williams was a guest at a sunset parade at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 2, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Jason Kolela)

In 2020, the Navy commissioned the expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams in his honor.

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Last Survivor Of Malmedy Massacre.

Harold Billow, the last known survivor of the infamous Malmedy Massacre during World War II died May 17 at the age of 99, The Associated Press reported.

Harold Billow, last known living survivor of World War II Malmedy Massacre died May 17, 2022. (Photo: The World War II Foundation tweet)

Billow was attached to the Army’s 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944-January 1945 when German forces launched a last ditch offensive in Belgium to try to stem the war’s tide.

On the second day of the surprise German offensive, December 17, 1944, Billow’s lightly armed unit surrendered after a brief battle and he was taken prisoner by Waffen SS soldiers. According to various accounts, the Germans opened fire on the unarmed prisoners in a field, killing more than 80 in what came to be known as the Malmedy Massacre.

“As soon as the machine gun started firing, I went face down in the snow,” Billow told Lancaster Online in 2019. He played dead as the Germans checked for survivors. Billow said he stayed there for several hours before he and other survivors bolted. He made his way through hedgerows before reaching the safety of American lines.

After the war, he was called to testify at a war crimes trial in which 43 German soldiers were sentenced to death for the Malmedy Massacre. However, they were eventually released after investigators determined U.S. guards had coerced confessions.

Massacred American Soldiers Near Malmédy December 17, 1944. (US Army Center for Military History)

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

West Point cadets in dress parade uniform. (U.S. Military Academy)

June 30, 2022 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: New Medal of Honor Museum; Movies About MoH Heroes; Medal of Honor Quiz

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.

Friday, March 25, was National Medal of Honor Day, established by Congress to “foster public appreciation and recognition of Medal of Honor recipients.”

Since the medal was created in 1861, 3,511 members of the U.S. military have received the Medal. Some of the names are quite famous like movie star and World War II legend Audie Murphy, frontier scout and showman Buffalo Bill Cody, and William “Wild Bill” Donovan, commander of the fabled Fighting 69th New York regiment in World War One and head of the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II.

But most are names that are famous briefly when they receive the Medal, like Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, cited for his heroism on Guadalcanal in 1942, but largely forgotten until the HBO Series The Pacific, rediscovered Basilone’s story.

Standards to award the Medal of Honor have evolved over time, but the Medal has always stood for actions that go above and beyond. The current criteria were established in 1963 during the Vietnam War, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor website.

The Medal is authorized for any military service member who “distinguishes himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty

The Defense Department announced on March 25 that ground had been broken for a Medal of Honor museum in Texas.

Medal of Honor recipients are honored at the National Medal of Honor Museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, March 25, 2022.

At the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in Arlington, Texas, Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the stories of selfless service deserve a permanent home. Their stories of heroism, service and valor must be shared, he added. And that’s exactly what the museum will do.

Milley told stories of some of the 15 Medal of Honor recipients who attended the groundbreaking, as well as others not present.

“It’s those stories that will document our country’s bravery, that gives purpose to our entire military. It’s their heroism,” he said.

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Movies About MoH Heroism

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture is worth tens of thousands.

Here’s a short list of seven Hollywood movies over the years that told the stories of Medal of Honor awardees from the Civil War, the First and Second World Wars, Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan.

 

1. Hacksaw Ridge (World War II, 1945)

This 2016 film recounts the selfless bravery of Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, during the Battle of Okinawa. A pacifist who refused to kill or even carry a weapon in combat, Doss became the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

 

2. Sergeant York (World War 1, 1918)

Tennessee farmer and marksman Alvin York was another pacifist who didn’t even want to serve in the Army when he was drafted in 1917, according to this 1942 film. However, his nearly single-handed assault on German machine guns resulting in more than a dozen Germans killed and 132 captured earned him the nickname “One Man Army,” as well as the Medal of Honor. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of York.

 

3. Black Hawk Down (Somalia, 1993)

This 2001 film recounts the story of 160 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who dropped into Mogadishu in October 1993 to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord, but found themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis. Posthumous MoH recipients Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart were played in the film by Johnny Strong and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

 

4. Lone Survivor (Afghanistan, 2005)

This 2013 film is about Marcus Luttrell, the only member of his SEAL team to survive a vicious running gun battle with Afghan insurgents during a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. The team commander, Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.

 

5. We Were Soldiers (Vietnam, 1965)

The story of the battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War, pitting U.S. Air Cavalry troopers against North Vietnam Army regulars. The movie also shows the stress on soldiers’ families back home waiting for news of their loved ones. Helicopter pilot Major Bruce ‘Snake’ Crandall, the Medal of Honor for his heroism ferrying supplies and troops into and wounded soldiers out of a “Hot LZ,” a landing zone under heavy fire, was played by Greg Kinnear.

 

 

6. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (World War II, 1942)

Spencer Tracy plays then-Army Air Force Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, the commander of the first air attack on Tokyo less than six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Doolittle, who planned the mission, trained the crews of B-25 land-based bombers to take off from an aircraft carrier, and then flew the lead bomber in the risky all-volunteer mission, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

 

7. The Great Locomotive Chase (Civil War, 1862)

During the Civil War a Union spy and volunteer soldiers, who risked hanging as spies if captured, plotted to steal a Confederate train and drive it to Union territory while destroying the Confederate railway system along the way. The survivors of this daring raid were the first U.S. troops to receive the new Medal of Honor. The raid failed in its main objective and all the raiders were captured. Eight were hanged. Eight others escaped and the rest were traded in a prisoner exchange. In all, 19 were awarded the first Medals of Honor, including Private Jacob Parrott of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who is considered the first soldier awarded the MoH. Claude Jarman Jr., played Parrott in the 1956 Disney live action film about the raid.

The Mitchell Raiders receive the first Medals of Honor in The Great Locomotive Chase. (Disney via Military.com)

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Last, but not Least — a Quiz.

The Pentagon web site asks how much do you know about the the nation’s highest medal for valor in combat?

Click here, to take the quiz.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

West Point cadets in dress parade uniform. (U.S. Military Academy)

March 28, 2022 at 2:05 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: Righting Old Wrongs — Honoring the Harlem Hellfighters

All-Black WW I Regiment Honored.

President Joe Biden signed legislation August 25, to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to the 369th Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” in recognition of their bravery and outstanding service during World War I.

‘Hell Fighters’ from Harlem By H. Charles McBarron (Click photo to enlarge image)

During World War I, the 369th spent 191 days in frontline trenches, more than any other American unit. They also suffered the most losses of any American regiment, with 1,500 casualties.

On August 10, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to award the medal to the Hellfighters. It was the third Gold Medal to go to an African American unit, after the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 and the Montford Point, North Carolina, Marines in 2011.

“The Harlem Hellfighters are an example of courage under fire,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the Senate Majority Leader. “It has taken too long for this country to recognize their bravery.” Other supporters of the legislation were New York’s other senator, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Representatives Tom Suozzi and Adriano Espaillat, both of New York and Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio.

Originally formed before the war as the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard, it was an almost entirely African-American unit. They were the first black U.S. troops sent to France, arriving in late 1917, as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

A U.S. Model 1917 Bolo knife.

The unit was relegated to labor service duties instead of combat training. As part of the 185th Infantry Brigade the 369th was assigned on January 5, 1918 to the all black 93rd Infantry Division.

Although he had commanded black troops (the famed 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers) in the Spanish-American War, AEF commander General John J. Pershing and others refused to integrate the armed services. Many white American soldiers refused to serve in combat with blacks. The Army decided on April 8, 1918 to assign the 369th to the French Army, which had been requesting American units as replacements. The men were issued French weapons, helmets, belts and pouches, although they continued to wear their U.S. uniforms.

“The American Negro soldier in France was treated with the same contempt and undemocratic spirit as the American Negro citizen is treated in the U.S.,” said civil rights activist, historian and author W.E.B DuBois.

The regiment, wearing French helmets while serving with the French army in 1918. (National Archives via wikipedia)

The original caption of the photo above read: “Negro troops in France,” Noting the unit had been under fire, it added: “Two of the men, Privates Johnson and Roberts, displayed exceptional courage while under fire and routed a German raiding party, for which the Negroes were decorated with the French Croix de Guerre.”

Henry Johnson wearing his French Croix de Guerre, the only decoration he received during his lifetime, for his heroism in France during World War I.

Private Henry Johnson was  cited for his heroism on the night of  May 15, 1918 on the Western Front in France. While on sentry duty with another soldier of the 369th, Johnson fended off a night raid by as many as a dozen German soldiers. Johnson and the other soldier fired on the Germans until they ran out of ammunition. They then used hand grenades and rifle butts to fight the Germans. When the other soldier was knocked unconscious, the Germans tried to carry him off as a prisoner, but Johnson battled back using his rifle as a club and then slashing at the Germans with his bolo knife. He may have killed four Germans single-handed in the dark while rescuing his comrade. 

Despite 21 wounds, Johnson did not receive the Purple Heart medal or any other citation from his country, even though former President Theodore Roosevelt described him as “one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war.” He received the Purple Heart posthumously in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. The DSC was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for bravery in combat, and posthumously presented by President Barrack Obama in 2015.

“America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson,” Obama said at the award ceremony. “We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. But we can do our best to make it right,” he added.

As part of the French Army’s 161st Division, the 369th took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On September 29, after a brutal struggle, during which heavy casualties were sustained, Sechault was taken and the 369th soldiers dug in to consolidate their advanced position. That action is depicted in the painting at the top earned the Croix de Guerre for the entire regiment. But the Meuse-Argonne claimed nearly one-third of the 369th as battle casualties.

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York in the photo.

August 26, 2021 at 1:27 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: TWO HEROES, TWO WARS Part I

The Army Ranger.

In recent weeks, the heroics of two men, one a soldier, the other a sailor, have come to our attention at 4GWAR Blog. To give each their due, we’ve decided to tell their stories separately in a two-part posting starting today May 27, 2020.

Korean War Hero Receives Medal of Honor 71 Years Later

President Joe Biden presents the Medal of Honor to retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. for conspicuous gallantry during the Korean War at a White House ceremony, May 21, 2021.

More than 70 years after he led a company-sized Army Ranger unit in an attack and holding action against hundreds of Chinese troops on a frozen Korean hilltop, retired Army Colonel Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the highest U.S. military decoration for bravery at a White House ceremony May 21.

President Joe Biden placed the Medal of Honor around the neck of Colonel Puckett for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty during combat actions at Hill 205 in the vicinity of Unsan, Korea, on November 25th and 26th, 1950.

“Today, we are hosting a true American hero and awarding an honor that is long overdue — more than 70 years overdue,” Biden said. After decades of lobbying by retired military — including soldiers in Puckett’s company — aware of what the young lieutenant did in Korea — the U.S. Army awarded him the Medal of Honor.

“Colonel, I’m humbled to have you here today,” Biden said. Noting — that when Puckett first learned of the award he said “Why all the fuss? Can’t they just mail it to me?” — the president said: “Colonel Puckett, after 70 years, rather than mail it to you, I would’ve walked it to you. You know, your lifetime of service to our nation, I think, deserves a little bit of fuss.”

In Korea, Puckett served as an infantryman and company commander with the Eighth Army Ranger Company, which he led during a daylight attack of Hill 205. While his men were pinned down and under enemy mortar, machine-gun and small-arms fire, he ran across an open area — three times — to draw enemy fire, thereby allowing his Rangers to locate and destroy the enemy machine gun, and to seize the hill, according to the Army.

Puckett inspired and motivated his 57-man company, in zero-degree weather at night, to repulse five assaults by a 500-man battalion supported by intense mortar barrages. Puckett called for artillery support, which decimated attacking enemy formations.

Puckett was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Hill 205 in 1951. He served in Vietnam in 1967, where he received a second Distinguished Service Cross. Throughout his career, he received two Silver Star medals (the nation’s third-highest award for bravery in combat); two Legion of Merit honors; two Bronze Star medals with V device for valor and five Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in action. Then there’s ten Air Medals; the Army Commendation Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal, among other citations and awards.

Then an Army 1st lieutenant, Ralph Puckett Jr. went above and beyond the call of duty as the Eighth Army Ranger Company’s commanding officer during a multi-day operation in North Korea that started on November 25, 1950. He received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor, 71 years later.

During his career, Puckett qualified as a master parachutist and glider trooper. He also earned the coveted U.S. Army Ranger Tab, the Army Combat Infantryman Badge and the Lancero Badge from Colombia.

As a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, then-1st Lt. Puckett had limited infantry training and no combat experience when he was tasked with forming and leading a provisional Ranger company at Camp Drake, Japan, in August 1950. Ranger units were a fixture in American armies in the 18th and 19th centuries. The modern Rangers created as a special operations force during World War II, were disbanded after the war. However, 15 Ranger companies, including Puckett’s, were created during Korea.

Hundreds of soldiers volunteered for the unit, which allowed Puckett to select his men based on their weapons qualification scores, duty performance, athletic ability and personal desire to serve as an Army Ranger.

Puckett included several soldiers of color, just a few years after the long racially-segregated U.S. military began to integrate, according to the Washington Post.

The Eighth Army Ranger Company relocated to then-Pusan, Korea, where they began what was expected to be seven weeks of specialized training at the Eighth Army Ranger Training Center. Soldiers who could not meet the standard were cut from the company and replaced with allied Korean soldiers, known as KATUSAs.

After taking Hill 205, the Rangers came under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire as Chinese forces entered the Korean conflict against U.S. and United Nations forces. It would be the first of six battalion-sized attacks against Puckett’s unit.

For details on the battle, click here. Severely wounded, Puckett ordered his Rangers to leave him behind to ensure their safety. Two Rangers ignored that order, fought back against the Chinese force as they crested the hill and dragged Puckett down to safety. Privates First Class Billy G. Walls and David L. Pollock were each awarded the Silver Star medal for their own heroism in saving Puckett, the Post reported.

Tomorrow: TWO WARS, TWO HEROES Part II: The Navy Hospitalcorpsman

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SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress, or parade, uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York

May 27, 2021 at 5:40 pm Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPERATIONS: Medal of Honor for Ranger (Updated); Al Qaeda Threat in Africa

Army Ranger Awarded Medal of Honor

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne conducting a security patrol while on a mission in northern Afghanistan in 2014. (Courtesy photo via U.S. Army)

Army Sergeant Major Thomas “Patrick” Payne — a Ranger in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command — received the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony on Friday (September 11, 2020) for heroics in 2015 when he and others rescued some 70 hostages facing imminent execution by Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.

Payne, then a Sergeant 1st Class, was the assistant team leader of a group of operators with the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. They joined Kurdish commandos on the October 22, 2015, nighttime raid to free Iraqi hostages from the ISIS prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

Payne will become the first living Delta Force member to receive the Medal of Honor, according to Military.com. Army officials have identified Payne as a Ranger, but they have not publicly confirmed his affiliation with the elite and highly secretive Delta Force, the website noted.

Intelligence reported the hostages were being housed in two buildings inside the heavily-fortified compound. Payne’s team would be responsible for clearing one of them. The raiders arrived by CH-47 Chinook helicopter, but a complete brownout ensued as the helicopter rotors stirred up dust. Using their night vision googles, Payne and others navigated to the wall of the compound as enemy gunfire erupted, according to an Army report of the incident.

Patrick’s team met light resistance as they cleared their assigned building. Once inside, they used bold cutters to break thick locks on two rooms with steel prison doors, releasing nearly 40 hostages. There was still an intense firefight going on at the other building. The other team radioed for assistance.

Under heavy machine-gun fire Patrick and others climbed a ladder to the roof of the one-story building, where they engaged the enemy with hand grenades and small arms fire. Insurgents below them detonated suicide vests, causing the roof to shake. At the same time, smoke billowed out from the roof and enemy gunfire targeted Patrick’s team.

They moved under heavy fire back to ground level and breached windows and walls to enter the building. Once inside, the fighting was intense and the Kurdish commandos began taking casualties.

In order to release the remaining hostages, Patrick reentered the flaming structure with bolt cutters despite heavy gunfire fire. Flames touched off ammunition from a nearby weapons cache. Amid the smoke and chaos, Patrick twice more entered the burning building and with the Kurds, helped release about 30 more hostages.

Patrick and the others did not learn that one of their team members Master Sergeant Josh Wheeler, had been killed in action, until they returned to base.

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Why Africa Matters.

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa says the continent is important in the effort to counter violent extremist organizations.

“Al Qaeda and Islamic State have both stated that they intend to attack and undermine the United States,” says Air Force Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, adding that both groups have found a safe haven in Africa. In Africa, Anderson told an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) virtual conference on countering violent extremism, “they can establish themselves, they can develop their means ,and then they can eventually establish — whether it’s a caliphate or their area of control that will give them resources” to undermine the international order and attack the United States and Western allies and partners.

The Sahel Region of Africa. (Wikipedia)

Having lost its caliphate in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has been West, with the Islamic State Grand Sahara in the Mali region and the Islamic State West Africa, in Northeastern Nigeria. Even more disturbing, Anderson said, “we’re seeing them as they expand down the eastern coast, the Swahili coast of Africa. And so we see them established in Somalia. We see them going down into Mozambique, in Tanzania. And we see that these affiliates continue to expand and leverage each other.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda has been more patient, avoiding attention while it created two big affiliates — al Shabaab in Somalia and AQIM, al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb. 

“This is not a threat that one nation can take care of on its own. It’s not a United States problem. It’s an international problem,” Anderson said.

Special operations troops have long trained their counterparts in Somalia, Kenya, Niger and other countries, while civil affairs units have supported local goodwill projects, in countries like Cameroon, where Nigeria-based Boko Haram encroaches, notes Military Times.

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Silver Stars for Heroism.

Two Green Berets and an Air Force pararescueman were awarded Silver Star medals for their heroism during a nearly eight-hour firefight last year after the Special Forces team stumbled upon an elite Taliban force in a small Afghan village, according to Stars and Stripes.

All three Silver Stars were awarded at a small ceremony in the Rock Garden on the 7th Group compound at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida., in August, along with six Bronze Star Medals with Valor devices, three Army Commendation Medals with Valor devices and four Purple Hearts earned over the six-month deployment last year of the 7th Group’s 1st Battalion.

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SOCOM Modernizes Small Craft Fleet.

The small surface craft fleet that supports the clandestine operations of Navy SEALs and Marine Raiders is undergoing a modernization program, according to Seapower magazine.

The SEALs use special operations craft, to approach shores and insert and extract teams of special warfare operators. These craft are fast, quiet, capable of shallow-water operations, and armed with machine guns for use if their cover is blown. The small craft also can be used for coastal patrol missions and to interdict hostile craft and conduct visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) missions.

Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) operate the Special Operations Craft Riverine (SOC-R), which is specifically designed for the clandestine insertion and extraction of U.S. Navy SEALs and other special operations forces in shallow waterways and open water environments. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jayme Pastoric)

Navy Special Warfare Command, the parent unit of the SEAL teams, as a component of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), receives much of its equipment not through normal service acquisition channels but through SOCOM. SOCOM is a combatant command but is unusual in that it has its own acquisition budget and programs.

The special warfare community nearing completion of recapitalization of two classes of small boats and well along in a modernization program that will increase the capabilities of its special operations craft. See details here.

September 11, 2020 at 2:11 am Leave a comment

SPECIAL OPS: Medal of Honor for Green Beret; Niger Ambush Heroes Recognized

Medal of Honor.

Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony

Medal of Honor recipient Army Master Sgt. Matthew O. Williams is inducted into the Hall of Heroes by Defense Secetary Mark T. Esper at the Pentagon on October. 31, 2019. (Defense Department photo by Marine Corps Corporal Marcos A. Alvarado)

Army Special Forces Master Sergeant Matthew O. Williams has been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award of valor, for his combat actions in the Shok Valley of Afghanistan in  2008.

At the time of the battle, Williams — then a sergeant — was a a weapons sergeant with Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 3336, of Special Operations Task Force 11. On April 6, 2008, the ODA was on a mission to capture or kill high-value targets of the Hezeb Islami al Gulbadin in Shok Valley, Nuristan Province.

Williams was part of an assault element — several American soldiers and a larger Afghan commando force — inserted by helicopter. As they were moving up a mountain toward their objective, they were engaged by intense enemy machine guns, snipers and rocket-propelled grenades.

Williams heard that the lead element had sustained several casualties and was in danger of being overrun. He immediately gathered the commandos around him while braving intense enemy fire and led a counterattack across a 100-meter long valley of ice-covered boulders and a fast-moving, ice-cold, waist-deep river.

During the course of a six-hour battle, Williams rescued other members of the assault element and evacuated numerous casualties while continuously exposing himself to insurgent fire.

Williams is the second Medal of Honor recipient from this engagement. He joins former Staff Sergeant Ron Shurer II,  a medical sergeant with ODA 3336, who received the top valor award on October 1, 2018.

Like Williams, Shurer, battled his way across icy terrain under heavy enemy fire to reach the pinned down lead element.  For the next five and a half hours, Shurer helped keep the large insurgent force at bay while simultaneously providing care to his wounded teammates. Overall, Shurer’s actions helped save the lives of all wounded casualties under his care.

Originally, Williams was awarded the Silver Star medal, the third-highest decoration for valor in combat. The Army reviewed and upgraded the award to the Medal of Honor for gallantry and heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Medal Of Honor Ceremony

Williams was joined by Ronald J. Shurer II after Williams’ Medal of Honor Ceremony at the White House on October 30, 2019. (Defense Department photo)

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Nigerien Heroes.

The head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) awarded six medals to Nigerien soldiers who fought alongside Army Special Forces in a 2017 ambush near the village of Tongo Tongo that claimed the lives of four Green Berets and four Nigerien soldiers.

Army General Richard Clarke, the SOCOM commander, presented the awards in Niamey, Niger’s capital, along with the U.S. Ambassador Eric Whitaker, to four surviving soldiers, and family members of two others who were killed, Army Times reported.

MAP-Niger

(Map of Niger: CIA World Fact Book)

The honors included two Bronze Star medals, one Army Commendation Medal and three Army Achievement medals. The four surviving Nigeriens who received awards were Corporal Moustapha Kakalé, Soldier 2nd Class Ibrahim Assoumane, Soldier 2nd Class Abdou Kane and Soldier 2nd Class Kamel Issoufou Oumar.

Family members representing Adjutant Chief Soumana Bagué and Soldier 2nd Class Abdoul Rachid Yarima received posthumous awards and condolences from Clarke and Whitaker, according to embassy officials.

The four Americans killed in the attack were: Sergeant First Class Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright and Sergeant LaDavid Johnson.

Sergeant LaDavid Johnson and Staff Sergeant Wright were awarded the Silver Star Medal posthumously for bravery. Johnson and Black received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor posthumously. Other members of the 11-man Special Operations team also received commendations.

However, Army Times noted, the mission and the Defense Department report on the fatal ambush remain controversial.  A lack of air support or persistent overhead surveillance aircraft worsened the disaster near the Niger-Mali border when the U.S. troops and their Nigerien partners were ambushed by an Islamic-State aligned force three times their size.

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U.S. Army General Richard Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, pins a medal on one of six Nigerien soldiers decorated for bravery in a 2017 terrorist ambush that left four of their comrades and four U.S. Green Berets dead. (Photo: U.S. Embassy Niamey via Twitter) 

The investigation, conducted by U.S. Africa Command, identified “individual, organizational, and institutional failures and deficiencies that contributed to the tragic events of 4 October 2017,” but it concluded “no single failure or deficiency was the sole reason for the events” on that day.

 

 

November 8, 2019 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

1918, The Final Weeks: Aerial Combat

The Arizona Balloon Buster.

Frankluke

Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. with his SPAD S.XIII on September 19, 1918.

Some legendary World War I aviators — like Germany’s Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen, or America’s top ace, Eddie Rickenbacker — are still well known to many today.

However, Frank Luke Jr., has seldom been a household name, even though he was the No. 2 U.S. aerial ace during the Great War and earned the Medal of Honor.

Young, handsome and feisty (he was often in trouble with his superiors) Luke had the temperment, skills and killer instinct shared by the best fighter pilots on both sides. And in just a few short weeks in 1918, he shot down eight German planes and 14 enemy observation balloons. His head-on attacks on the hydrogen-filled, heavily guarded balloons earned him the nickname the “Arizona Balloon Buster.”

During a seven-day period, September 12-18, 1918 — two days of which he did not fly — Luke scored 13 confirmed victories, including five victories (two balloons and three airplanes) on the last day, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Luke was born in 1897 in Phoenix, Arizona — ironically the son of German immigrants — and with anti-German feeling running high after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917 (remember sauerkraut’s name was changed to “Liberty Cabbage”) he enlisted almost immediately in the U.S. Army. He joined the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, earned his wings and sailed for France. He was assigned to the famed 27th Aero Squadron in July 1918.

In September 1918, Luke began a personal campaign against German observation balloons and airplanes. In a single week, he scored 13 confirmed victories, including three aircraft and two balloons in one day.

WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA: WORLD WAR I/AVIATION, PHOTOGRAPHY, OBSERVATION

Luke brought down three German observation balloons in 35 minutes. He stands beside one of his kills. (U.S. Army photo)

His final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in late September 1918. After shooting down three observation balloons six miles behind the German lines, Luke was severely wounded by a single machine gun bullet on September 29, 1918. He landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux — after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground. Weakened by his wound, he collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. There are contradicting stories about what happened next. Some say Luke drew his Colt 1911 pistol as German infantry approached  and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Others state he refused enemy calls for his surrender and killed several Germans before succumbing to his chest wound.

Here is the official Medal of Honor citation:

After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by 8 German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames 3 German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing 6 and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.

Luke Air Force Base, located west of Phoenix, Arizona, is named for the Balloon Buster.

October 4, 2018 at 11:00 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Obama Presents Overdue WWI Medals of Honor

Prejudice Overturned.

Sechault, France, September 29, 1918 ('Hell Fighters' from Harlem By H. Charles McBarron/National Guard Bureau)

Sechault, France, September 29, 1918
(‘Hell Fighters’ from Harlem By H. Charles McBarron/National Guard Bureau)

Two deceased U.S. Army veterans of World War I — one Jewish, the other black — neither of whom received the full credit they deserved for their wartime heroism, have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military decoration for valor.

In a White House ceremony Tuesday (May 2) President Barack Obama presented the medals to Sergeant William Shemin and Sergeant Henry Johnson. Shemin, who was Jewish, was awarded the second-highest heroism medal, the Distinguished Service Cross in 1919 — even though his superior recommended him for the higher award. Johnson, who was black, received no U.S. medals although France awarded him one its highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre with Palm. In both cases racial and religious prejudice were believed to be the cause of the injustice.

“They both left us decades ago, before we could give them the full recognition that they deserved.  But it’s never too late to say thank you,” Obama told the medal ceremony audience. “I want to begin by welcoming and thanking everyone who made this day possible — family, friends, admirers.  Some of you have worked for years to honor these heroes, to give them the honor they should have received a long time ago,” Obama said, adding: “We are grateful that you never gave up.”

President Obama presents Ina Bass, left, and Elsie Shemin-Roth with the Medal of Honor for their father, Army Sgt. William Shemin, at the White House, June 2, 2015. (Defense Dept. photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

President Obama presents Ina Bass, left, and Elsie Shemin-Roth with the Medal of Honor for their father, Army Sgt. William Shemin, at the White House, June 2, 2015. (Defense Dept. photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Shemin received his Medal of Honor for braving intense German machine gun and rifle fire three times to rescue wounded soldiers on August 7, 1918 near Bazoches, France. After his officers and senior non-coms were killed or wounded, Shemin took command of his platoon “and displayed great initiative under fire, until he was wounded, August 9, 1918,” according to the military. Shemin was a member of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Read the Medal of Honor citation here.

Johnson, then a private with Company C, of the 369th Infantry Regiment — an all-black National Guard unit known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” — was  cited for his heroism on the night of  May 15, 1918 on the Western Front in France. While on sentry duty with another soldier of the 369th, Johnson fended off a night raid by as many as a dozen German soldiers. Johnson and the other soldier fired on the Germans until they ran out of ammunition. They then used hand grenades and rifle butts to fight the Germans. When they other soldier was knocked unconscious, the Germans tried to carry him off as a prisoner, but Johnson battled back using his rifle as a club and then slashing at the Germans with his bolo knife. He may have killed four Germans single-handed in the dark while rescuing his comrade.  Read the Medal of Honor of honor citation here.

Despite 21 wounds, Johnson did not receive the Purple Heart medal or any other citation from his country, even though ex-President Theodore Roosevelt described him as “one of the five bravest American soldiers in the war.” He received the Purple Heart posthumously in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross in 2002. Like Shemin, Johnson’s DSC was upgraded this year to the Medal of Honor.

Johnson’s regiment, the 369th, was one of the few black regiments sent to France, although they were transferred to fight with French troops, rather than American units who were hostile to the idea of blacks in combat.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard, accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of Pvt. Henry Johnson, who served during World War I with the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters,  June 2, 2015. (Defense Dept. photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard, accepts the Medal of Honor on behalf of Pvt. Henry Johnson, who served during World War I with the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, June 2, 2015.
(Defense Dept. photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

As part of the French Army’s 161st Division, they took part in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. On September 29, ater a brutal struggle during which heavy casualties were sustained, Sechault was taken and the 369th soldiers dug in to consolidate their advance position. That action is depicted in the photo above and earned the Croix de Guerre for the entire regiment. But the Meuse-Argonne claimed nearly one-third of the 369th as battle casualties.

June 3, 2015 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

SHAKO: Medal of Honor for Chaplain

Honoring Korean War Hero

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

An Army chaplain who comforted the wounded during one of the early battles of the Korean War and then elected to stay behind with them — facing certain capture or death — has been awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama at a White House ceremony this week.

Rev. Emil J. Kapuan, who died in that POW camp after inspiring his men and seeing to their medical and spiritual needs under the harshest conditions,  served with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Here is the citation for Father Kapuan’s Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery by those in uniform:

“Chaplain Emil J. Kapaun distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Calvary Division during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, from November 1st to 2nd, 1950.

On November 1st, as Chinese Communist Forces viciously attacked friendly elements, Chaplain Kapaun calmly walked through withering enemy fire in order to provide comfort and medical aid to his comrades and rescue friendly wounded from no-man’s land.

Though the Americans successfully repelled the assault, they found themselves surrounded by the enemy.  Facing annihilation, the able-bodied men were ordered to evacuate.  However, Chaplain Kapaun, fully aware of his certain capture, elected to stay behind with the wounded.

After the enemy succeeded in breaking through the defense in the early morning hours of November 2nd, Chaplain Kapaun continually made rounds as hand-to-hand combat ensued.  As Chinese Communist Forces approached the American position, Chaplain Kapaun noticed an injured Chinese officer amongst the wounded and convinced him to negotiate the safe surrender of the American forces.

Shortly after his capture, Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his personal safety and unwavering resolve, bravely pushed aside an enemy soldier preparing to execute Sergeant First Class Herbert A. Miller.  Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s gallantry save the life of Sergeant Miller, but also his unparalleled courage and leadership inspired all those present, including those who might have otherwise fled in panic to remain and fight the enemy until captured.

Chaplain Kapaun’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Calvary Division and the United States Army.”

Several Korean War vets, including some who had survived the prison camp — thanks to Father Kapuan, were present at the White House award ceremony. The medal was presented to his nephew by Obama. Here is the transcript of that ceremony.

“He was a bright light in a dark, dark tunnel,” former POW Bob Wood told the Kansas City Star.  “He didn’t get the Medal of Honor for killing people or leading a brave charge, but for something even more terribly inspiring.”

The Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, which Father Kapuan did not live to see. Photo: aculty.smu.org

The Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, which Father Kapuan did not live to see.
Photo: Faculty.smu.org

— — —
488px-Shako-p1000580SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

April 12, 2013 at 12:24 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: A Fourth Iraq-Afghanistan Medal of Honor Recipient

Outnumbered, Outgunned — but NOT Overwhelmed

Photo Credit: Leroy Council, AMVIDPresident Barack  Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha during a White House ceremony on Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo Credit: Leroy Council, AMVID)

President Obama awards the Medal of Honor to former Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha during a White House ceremony on Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo Credit: Leroy Council, AMVID)

On Monday (Feb. 11) Army Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration for bravery. That makes him only the fourth living American service member to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in the Iraq and Afghan wars. Seven others have received the Medal of Honor posthumously.

The staff sergeant, retired now, and working in the oil fields of North Dakota, was cited for his heroic actions in a horrendous battle at a besieged outpost in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province more than three years ago.

On the morning of October 9, 2009, Combat Outpost Keating — manned by just 53 soldiers at the bottom of a deep valley — was attacked from all sides by as many as 300 Taliban fighters firing machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds down onto the tiny post.

“These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun,” President Obama said at the medal award ceremony in the White House. But they fought back, even after the enemy breached the perimeter defenses.

Obama noted that Romesha was not the only hero in Outpost Keating that day. For their actions on Oct. 9, 2009 the defenders earned 37 Army commendation medals, 27 Purple Heart medals, 18 Bronze Star medals and nine Silver Stars.

We’ll let the Army citation for Romesha’s actions that day speak for itself:

Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3rd, 2009.

On that morning, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of the complex, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small-arms fire. Staff Sergeant Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner.

Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team, and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds. Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight, and upon the arrival of another Soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional Soldiers.

Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire, as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost’s perimeter.

While orchestrating a successful plan to secure and reinforce key points of the battlefield, Staff Sergeant Romesha maintained radio communication with the tactical operations center. As the enemy forces attacked with even greater ferocity, unleashing a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle rounds, Staff Sergeant Romesha identified the point of attack and directed air support to destroy over 30 enemy fighters.

After receiving reports that seriously injured Soldiers were at a distant battle position, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his team provided covering fire to allow the injured Soldiers to safely reach the aid station. Upon receipt of orders to proceed to the next objective, his team pushed forward 100 meters under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of their fallen comrades.

Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day-long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the Troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating.

Staff Sergeant Romesha’s discipline and extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army.

When President Obama called Romesha to tell him that he would receive the Medal of Honor at the White House, Romesha said he was honored. “But he also said, it wasn’t just me out there, it was a team effort,” Obama recalled. He cited the fallen, as well as survivors of Romesha’s team in the audience, at the ceremony.

The following soldiers were killed that day in the defense of Outpost Keating: Private First Class Kevin Thomson; Sergeant Michael Scusa; Sergeant Joshua Kirk; Sergeant Christopher Griffin; Staff Sergeant Justin Gallegos; Staff Sergeant Vernon Martin; Sergeant Joshua Hardt; and Specialist Stephan Mace.

To read more about Staff Sgt. Romesha and other Medal of Honor recipients, click here.

SHAKO

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

February 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

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