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Oct. 4: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of the four 3rd Special Forces Group soldiers who were killed during a reconnaissance patrol in Niger one year ago today: Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 34 of Puyallup, Wa.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39 of Springboro, Ohio; Sgt. La David T. Johnson, 25 of Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29 of Lyons, Ga.

Left to right: SSgt. Black, SSgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Sgt. La David Johnson, and SSgt. Wright

1777: A week after losing Philadelphia to the British, Gen. George Washington decides to surprise Gen. Sir William Howe’s force encamped at Germantown (Pa.). 11,000 Continental troops and militia have marched 16 miles through the night, and begin their assault at 5:30 a.m.. Although initially successful, heavy fog, insufficiently trained troops, and stiff British resistance unravel Washington’s coordinated assault and the attack falls apart. Washington’s army suffers over 1,000 casualties and will have to spend the winter at Valley Forge.

1821: Lt. Robert F. Stockton, veteran of the War of 1812 who also fought the Barbary pirates, sets sail from Boston to interdict the African slave trade. Stockton will help establish the country of Liberia, where thousands of former American slaves and free blacks are resettled. He will capture several slave ships on this cruise, of which he writes, “I have great satisfaction in the reflection that I have procrastinated the slavery of some 800 Africans, and have broken off this horrible traffic to the northward of Cape Palmas for at least this season.

Continue reading “Oct. 4: Today in U.S. military history”

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The 15 men who earned the Medal of Honor during the Pearl Harbor attacks

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo’s 1st Air Fleet begins their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Two waves of aircraft strike the U.S. Pacific Fleet at anchor, as well as bases across Hawaii. Five of the eight battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships are either sunk or severely damaged. By day’s end, 2,718 American sailors, 582 soldiers (including Army Air Forces personnel), 178 Marines, and 103 civilians are dead, dying or wounded.
In a day full of countless acts of American bravery and sacrifice, 15 men and officers of the U.S. Navy earned the Medal of Honor – 11 posthumously – during the battle. Here are the accounts of their actions.

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to John William Finn for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

For The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Ensign Herbert Charpoit Jones, United States Naval Reserve, for conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage, and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Ensign Jones organized and led a party, which was supplying ammunition to the anti-aircraft battery of the U.S.S. CALIFORNIA (BB-44) after the mechanical hoists were put out of action when he was fatally wounded by a bomb explosion. When two men attempted to take him from the area which was on fire, he refused to let them do so, saying in words to the effect, “Leave me alone! I am done for. Get out of here before the magazines go off.” Continue reading “The 15 men who earned the Medal of Honor during the Pearl Harbor attacks”

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Oct. 26 in U.S. military history

An Aeromarine 39 on final approach for USS Langley, Oct. 1922

1909: U.S. Army Lt. (future brig. gen.) Frederick Erastus Humphreys​ becomes the first Army aviator to solo in a heavier-than-air craft – the Wright Flyer​ – following three hours of instruction by Wilbur Wright​.

1922: Off Cape Henry, Va., Lt. Commander Godfrey Chevalier becomes the first aviator to land on a moving ship when his Aeromarine 39B biplane touches down on the deck of USS Langley.

1942: Japanese carrier-based aircraft sink the carrier USS Hornet, leaving only one operational American carrier in the Pacific. The Battle of Santa Cruz is a pyrrhic victory for the Japanese, however, as their carrier pilots were decimated in the attack and can no longer conduct attacks on U.S. forces at Guadalcanal.

On Guadalcanal, Platoon Sergeant Mitchell Paige single-handedly fought off waves of Japanese soldiers while all the Marines in his machine gun section are either killed or wounded. Once reinforcements arrived, Paige will lead a bayonet charge that drives off the enemy. For his actions, Paige is awarded the Medal of Honor.

1950: The First Marine Division lands at Wonsan, Korea and moves north toward the Yalu River. In a month, they will be attacked by 10 Chinese divisions and have to fight their way out of the Chosin Reservoir.

Meanwhile, Republic of Korean (South Korea) forces arrive at the Yalu River and learn that two entire Chinese Armies have already crossed into Korea.

1966: A magnesium parachute flare ignites aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) off the coast of Vietnam, igniting the worst ship-board fire since World War II. 44 sailors perish in the blaze.

1968: An estimated four battalions of North Vietnamese soldiers attempt to overrun Fire Support Base Julie near the Cambodian border. Supported by dozens of B-52 strikes, the defenders manage to repel the attack.

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Oct. 24 in U.S. military history

Texas Air National Guard pilot – and future Pres. – George W. Bush flew the F-102 “Delta Dagger”

1742: After poor leadership and disease claim all but 600 of the 3,500-man 61st Regiment of Foot, the American expeditionary force is disbanded and returns to the colonies. “Gooch’s Regiment”, named after regimental commander – also the Governor of Virginia – Lt. Col. William Gooch, had been part of the ill-fated British expedition to capture the Spanish colony of Cartagena (present-day Colombia).

1944: On day two of the Battle of Leyte Gulf – the largest naval engagement of World War II – U.S. aircraft attack the Japanese fleet, sinking the battleship Musashi and damaging four others. A single Japanese dive bomber attacks the light carrier USS Princeton igniting an internal blaze that will sink the ship with just one bomb.

In the air, Cmdr. David McCampbell and wingman Ens. Roy Rushing spot a flight of 60 Japanese planes and engage despite the outrageous odds. McCampbell shoots down nine warplanes, setting a single sortie record, and his partner claims six. After becoming the only U.S. aviator to claim “ace in a day” status twice, McCampbell lands his F6F “Hellcat” as it runs out of fuel and with only two bullets left. For his daring actions, the top Naval ace of the war is awarded the Medal of Honor.

In the Taiwan Straight, the submarine USS Tang, whose crew sank five Japanese ships in a single engagement the day before, fires another torpedo, which circles around and sinks Tang. The sub bottoms out in 180 feet of water, but nine crew members – including skipper Richard O’Kane – escape in the only known successful use of the Momsen rebreather.

1951: In the skies over Korea, 150 Russian MiG-15 fighters intercept a formation of B-29 bombers and 55 F-84 “Thunderjet” escorts. The Communists manage to shoot down four of the B-29s and one escort, but at least eight MiGs are lost in the largest air battle of the Korean War. The sortie will be the last daylight bombing raid for the B-29.

1953: At Edwards Air Force Base, Convair’s chief test pilot Richard L. “Dick” Johnson takes off with his YF-102 prototype, marking the first flight of the “Delta Dagger.” The F-102 served as an interceptor, capable of attacking enemy bomber formations with its AIM-26 “Nuclear Falcon” missile. Future President George W. Bush would fly the “Deuce” during his service as a pilot with the Texas Air National Guard.

Prior to his days as a test pilot, Johnson flew 190 missions over North Africa and Italy in his P-47 “Thunderbolt”, then went on to become the second Air Force pilot to break the sound barrier. He deployed to Korea where he was supposed to be supervising the installation of equipment on F-86 “Sabre” fighters, but was sent home after the Air Force discovered Johnson was flying unauthorized combat missions.

1954: President Dwight Eisenhower sends a letter to Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem, pledging direct support to the South Vietnamese government. Although United States assets have been in French Indochina since World War II, this date is considered the beginning of the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam.

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Today in Medal of Honor history

On Oct. 2, 1969, Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Novosel gets the call that a team of South Vietnamese are pinned down in Vietnam’s Kien Tuong Province, and the medevac pilot heads to the rescue. As he circles overhead to rally the beleaguered troops while they prepared to be lifted out, enemy fire is so intense that his helicopter is driven away six times. Undeterred, Novosel – who would be wounded by close-range automatic weapons fire during the daring mission – performed 15 extractions under fire, saving 29 soldiers.

This was Novosel’s second tour flying medevac helicopters in Vietnam. The “Dean of the Dust-Offers” flew an amazing 2,543 missions, rescuing 5,589 personnel. He had flown B-29s during World War II, and also served during Korea. By the time Novosel retired in 1985, he was the last World War II aviator still on active duty. His son also flew medevac choppers, and both father and son would take turns rescuing each other during the Vietnam War.

Novosel’s full Medal of Honor citation can be read here

On Oct. 2, 1952, Private First Class Jack W. Kelso’s platoon is hit by a heavy enemy assault that takes both the platoon commander and platoon sergeant out of action. Kelso exposes himself to enemy small arms and mortar fire, attempting to rally his fellow Marines. Met by a hail of fire, he seeks cover in a bunker, which is quickly targeted by an enemy grenade. Kelso picks up the grenade and moves to an exposed position to throw it back at the enemy when it goes off after leaving his hand – peppering Kelso with shrapnel. Instead of remaining in the bunker, the mortally wounded Kelso opts to expose himself to the withering fire and provide cover fire while his men move to another position.

Kelso’s full Medal of Honor citation can be read here

On this date 73 years ago, as the 85th Infantry Division fights their way across Italy, Sgt. Christos H. Karaberis’ platoon was pinned down by enemy fire. Karaberis – who changed his name to Chris Carr following the war – crept to the rear of an enemy machine gun position. Leaping forward and shooting his submachine gun into the position, he caught the occupants by surprise – capturing eight enemy soldiers. Carr moved on to the next position – this time maneuvering to avoid enemy fire – killing four soldiers and capturing another. Carr then moved against a third machine gun position, forcing the enemy troops to surrender. Incredibly, Carr would charge two more positions, bringing his total to five machine gun nests, killing eight enemy soldiers, and capturing 22.

Carr’s full Medal of Honor citation can be read here