31 October: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, who was killed by an improvised explosive device during a patrol in Fallujah, Iraq on this day in 2003. The 23-year-old native of Riverside, Calif. was assigned to 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Infantry Division and is one of nine graduates of the U.S. Military Academy’s Class of 2002 who gave their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan.

1941: Although the United States has not yet entered the war, U.S. Naval vessels are serving as convoy escorts. When a German U-boat wolfpack attacks an Allied convoy near Iceland, the American destroyer USS Reuben James places itself between an incoming torpedo and an ammunition ship. The torpedo detonates the destroyer’s magazine, blowing the Reuben James in half. 115 sailors perish in the first sinking of a U.S. warship in World War II.

1943: Lt. Hugh D. O’Neill, flying at night in a specially modified F4U Corsair, shoots down a Japanese Betty bomber over Vella Lavella, scoring the first kill for the radar-equipped night fighters.

1966: While on a patrol mission of the Mekong Delta, two patrol boats of the Brown Water Navy are fired upon by Vietnamese sampans. When Petty Officer First Class James E. Williams gives chase, he discovers a hornet’s nest of enemy activity in the isolated section of the delta. During a three-hour battle with enemy boats and fortifications, Williams and his crew, supported by helicopter gunships, destroy 65 vessels and kill hundreds of the enemy force. For his role in the engagement, the Navy’s most-decorated enlisted sailor (having already received two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars – all for valor – in addition to the Navy Cross) is awarded the Medal of Honor.

1968: Five days before the elections, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson ends Operation ROLLING THUNDER, the bombing campaign against North Vietnam. Over three-and-a-half years, 864,000 tons of bombs fell on the Communist nation – more tonnage dropped than either the Korean War or the Pacific Theater of World War II. Over 900 U.S. planes are shot down during Rolling Thunder, with over 1,000 aircrew killed, wounded or captured. But despite the damage inflicted by the Americans, the resilient North Vietnamese show they can take what Washington can dish out.

1971: Saigon begins releasing the first of around 3,000 Viet Cong prisoners of war. American POWs won’t be released until 12 February 1973.

“The Mighty Thor”

1972: Two Navy SEAL advisors and their South Vietnamese naval commando counterparts on a reconnaissance mission realize they were accidentally inserted smack dab in the middle of thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers. As the team maneuvers back to the sea, they are compromised. Lt. Thomas Norris receives a massive facial wound, and a Vietnamese frogman tells Petty Officer Michael E. Thornton that Norris is dead. Instead of leaving his supposedly fallen officer behind (Norris was alive – barely – but unconscious), Thornton fights his way through a murderous field of fire to rescue Norris, then swam out to sea for four hours before being rescued while holding two incapacitated teammates – even though Thornton himself had been wounded multiple times. Thornton will be awarded the Medal of Honor for his incredible lifesaving feat.

1976: The Air Force’s E-3A Sentry (featured image) airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) aircraft makes its first flight.

Author: Chris Carter

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