On 18 August 1976, a team of U.S. Army and South Korean soldiers headed out to trim a tree on the South Korean side of the De-militarized Zone. The men were unarmed, only carrying axes they would use to trim a tree that obstructed their view. Soon, they were confronted by a belligerent North Korean officer they had nicknamed Lt. “Bulldog” who advised them that N. Korean dictator Kim Il Sung had personally planted the tree and cared for it. Capt. Arthur G. Bonifas ignored the officer’s protests, which sent the offended officer back across the Bridge of No Return for reinforcements.
In moments, Lt. Bulldog was back, this time on a truck loaded with communist soldiers armed with crowbars and clubs. When Bonifas again ignored the demands to stop, the North Koreans pounced on the Americans and South Korean soldiers, savagely beating and hacking them with axes. All but one of the outnumbered crew were wounded, and Bonifas lay dead. 1st Lt. Mark Barrett died of his wounds while enroute to the hospital. Continue reading “43 years ago: NKoreans murder Bonifas and Bennett in DMZ attack”
On 13 June 1949, a flight of fighters closed in on their target: Misawa Air Force Base. Misawa scrambled fighters to intercept the incoming aircraft, and soon, nearly two dozen aircraft are downed or on fire. Sadly, this was a drill and all of the aircraft were American.
Leading the attacking formation was 1st Lt. James Patrick Hurley (b. 18 January 1925), a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (Class of ’46), from the 40th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group out of Johnson Air Force Base. Hurley’s F-51 Mustang collided with another Mustang flown by Lt. Stewart Abbott Young, Jr. (b. 22 March 1934) of the 8th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, who had scrambled to intercept. Young was killed when his crippled fighter smashed into the flight line. The Mustang impacted among several dozen fully fueled F-80 Shooting Star jets, which were prepared for an operational readiness test the following day. Continue reading “Someone had a really bad day”
On 15 August 1944, 2,000 U.S. Eighth Air Force and Royal Air Force heavy bombers, supported by hundreds of fighter escorts, lifted off to strike 11 Luftwaffe bases in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. One of those targets was Fliegerhorst Weisbaden, which would become a U.S. Air Force base during the Cold War. Intense enemy flak damaged 11 aircraft, but 39 Hell’s Angels B-17s were soon over the enemy airfield, dropping 164,000 pounds of explosive and incendiary ordinance on the runway and its facilities.
Approximately 45 miles away from Weisbaden on their return trip, shortly after the fighter escorts left, a flight of two dozen Focke-Wulf Fw-190s and Messerschmidt Bf-109s fighters flew out of the sun and pounced on the bombers. In moments, enemy pilots had shot down nine aircraft.
On paper the 303rd Bombardment Group’s Combat Mission No. 229 looks like just another operation — one of many thousands of such missions during the war. Mission reports have this great way of stripping out the human element of combat, filtering out countless compelling stories of how our airmen lived or died during that six-hour mission. All we are left with 75 years later is numbers on a typed piece of paper. Aircraft classified simply as lost or damaged. Men listed as missing, killed, captured or wounded. But how can we begin to wrap our minds around how great and terrible the experience of being on one of these B-17s must have been? Just working with open sources, we don’t know a great deal more about Combat Mission No. 229 than we do about the Greeks that infiltrated Troy by hiding in a giant wooden horse thousands of years ago. It is impossible for us to properly understand the experience of strapping into that lonely, exposed ball turret, fly through enemy anti-aircraft fire, enemy fighters, attack your target, then fly back through the flack and fighters, and hopefully have enough aircraft left to land in one piece.
And if you’re “lucky,” you go back out again and again and again. Continue reading “Real American Heroes: The fallen HELL’S ANGELS of the 303rd Bombardment Group”
1777: A force of militiamen from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont – led by Gen. John Stark – clash with a detachment of British General John Burgoyne’s army in the Battle of Bennington (near present-day Bennington, Vt.). The Americans rout the British, and the amount of supplies captured during the engagement leads to Burgoyne’s forthcoming defeat at Saratoga – which convinces the French to join the war.
1780: Following his successful campaign in the south, Lord Cornwallis engages Gen. Horatio Gates’ force in Camden, S.C.. The Americans are annihilated, taking nearly 2,000 casualties in just one hour. The infamous cavalry commander Col. Banastre Tarleton wrote that “rout and slaughter ensued in every quarter.” Gates’ defeat is so severe that the “Hero of Saratoga” will never again command troops in battle.
1918: 600 miles north of Moscow, American troops (Along with British, Australian, Canadian, and French allies) assist in capturing Archangel from Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik forces. The war will end before the “Polar Bear Brigade” can reach the rear of the German lines and some 200 Americans never return from the little-known Russian expedition.
1940: Happy National Airborne Day! At Fort Benning, Ga., Brig. Gen. William C. Lee and 48 volunteers from the 27th Infantry Regiment perform the Army’s first official parachute jump, demonstrating the use of airplanes to drop soldiers behind enemy lines. It will be two years before the U.S. military uses paratroopers in combat when the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment jumps into North Africa.
1934: The Marines depart Haiti, ending the United States’ 19-year occupation of the Caribbean island.
1942: U.S. Navy destroyers finally manage to deliver the first load of supplies to Marines on Guadalcanal, who have been coping with limited rations and ammunition since landing nearly ten days ago.
Also on this day, Maj. Gen. Matthew Ridgway’s 82d “All-American” Infantry Division is redesignated as the 82d Airborne Division, becoming the first airborne division in American military history. The division’s first combat jumps will take place in Sicily and Italy the following year.
1943: 35,000 American and Canadian troops conduct an amphibious landing on the beaches of Kiska, Alaska – only to discover that the Japanese had abandoned the island weeks ago.
In the Solomon Islands, 6,500 soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division storm ashore on Vella Lavella. The islands will be captured in just under a month.
1944: (featured image) Well over 100,000 American and French troops land on the French Riviera, easily driving the German defenders back and capturing several strategic ports. The soldiers move so quickly across France that the supply trains can’t keep up, and most of Southern France is liberated in four weeks.
Before dawn on 14 August 1942 a lone B-17 Flying Fortress taxied to the end of the runway at a remote jungle airstrip seven miles from Port Moresby, New Guinea to scout for Japanese shipping. Aboard are four veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Royal Australian Air Force copilot, a former cavalry trooper, a Scottish gunner, and a navigator that, despite having just turned 21, was already a veteran of 45 sorties. The pilot runs up the throttles and the bomber disappears into the pre-dawn sky for a nine-hour reconnaissance patrol.
The crew will never be seen again.
Back on 6 December, Gen. “Hap” Arnold personally met with 16 B-17 crews that were departing Hamilton Field (Calif.) on a 2,400-mile leg to Oahu before reaching their final destination in the Philippines. He told them “War is imminent. You may run into a war during your flight.”
Hap was right. First to reach Hawaii was the San Antonio Rose, and copilot 2nd Lt. Wilson L. Cook quickly discovered they had flown into a hornet’s nest. They could see ships ablaze in Pearl Harbor and were receiving ground fire. Unarmed, they had to shake off nine Zeroes and by then were nearly out of fuel and badly shot up. Everywhere they tried to land was swarming with enemy fighters, so the pilot (1st Lt. Frank P. Bostrom) landed on a fairway at Kahuku Golf Course.
Aviation Cadet Hubert S. Mobley and Sgt. Irving W. McMichael crewed Naughty but Nice, which was another B-17 that arrived during the Japanese attack. Their pilot landed on a small, unpaved emergency fighter strip, where they loaded fuel, guns, and ammunition before flying to Hickam Field.
Sgt. Elwyn O. Rahier was on the ground when the Japanese attacked; his plane was undergoing repairs at Hickam when an enemy bomb hit their hangar. The bomb blast killed two soldiers and wounded four, including Rahier.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the citizens of Seattle, Wash. raised over $280,000 during a war bond drive to purchase a B-17E, which was named Chief Seattle from the Pacific Northwest. The nearby Boeing plant completed assembly on Chief Seattle and it was delivered to the 435th “Kangaroo” Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 19th Bombardment Group (Heavy), Fifth Air Force on 5 March 1942. On 9 August the plane flew its first combat mission, an eight-hour patrol over Rabaul and Kavieng, which Japanese troops had recently captured. Chief Seattle had to abort a second similar patrol two days later when it developed engine problems while enroute. Continue reading “Real American Heroes: the lost crew of CHIEF SEATTLE”
1900: After fighting their way 80 miles from the port of Tientsin, an eight-nation relief force (the United States, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, and Italy) arrives at the walls of Peking. A young Marine private named Dan Daly earns his first of two Medals of Honor during the battle by single-handedly holding off hundreds of Chinese soldiers. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Cpl. Calvin P. Titus (depicted above, holding flag) earns the Medal of Honor for volunteering to scale the city wall surrounding Peking. The troops break the siege, effectively bringing an end to the Boxer Rebellion.
In our nation’s history, only two Marines earned the Medal of Honor for two seperate actions — Dan Daly and Smedley Butler, both of whom fought at Peking. 18-year-old captain (having just received a brevet promotion for valor at Tientsin) Butler was wounded in this day’s action, and would say that Daly was “The fightin’est Marine I ever knew.”