1918: When enemy fighters shoot down Ensign George M. Ludlow’s Machhi M.5 seaplane (featured image) off the Austria-Hungary coast, Charles H. Hammann lands beside him and rescues the downed aviator. Hamman’s fighter is also damaged, and the winds high and seas choppy, but he manages to take off with Ludlow holding the struts behind him (the plane wasn’t designed to carry two pilots) and flies 65 miles across the Adriatic Sea to the air station at Porto Cassini, Italy. The plane sinks from the weight of the extra passenger after landing but both aviators are safe.
Hammann, an enlisted pilot at the time, becomes the first Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor and is commissioned as an ensign after his daring flight.
1942: On Guadalcanal, around 900 soldiers of Japan’s 17th Army slam into about 2,500 Marines manning positions along Alligator Creek. Wave after wave of Japanese soldiers are cut down by the Marines, killing well over 700 attackers – including the Japanese commander – while inflicting nearly 100 percent casualties.
1944: Grumman’s last piston-powered fighter, the F8F-1 Bearcat, makes its first flight. The warplane can fly faster and climb more quickly than the venerable Hellcat, but enters service too late to see action in World War II. The Blue Angels will begin using the Bearcat for their demonstrations, and many Navy and Marine aviators – including Neil Armstrong – consider the agile warplane as their favorite.
Today’s post is in honor of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor Gavin (34, Spokane, Wash.), who passed away one year ago today from wounds sustained in a helicopter crash in Sinjar, Iraq the previous day. Gavin piloted an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that was returning from an Operation INHERENT RESOLVE counter-terrorism mission, and flew for the 160th “Night Stalkers” Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Gavin had served two combat tours in Iraq, three in Afghanistan, and four during INHERENT RESOLVE.
1910: 100 feet over New York City’s Sheepshead Bay Race Track, Lt. Jacob E. Fickel becomes the world’s first aerial gunner. Sitting in the biplane’s passenger seat, with Glenn Curtiss at the controls, Fickel fires his Army Springfield .30-caliber rifle, demonstrating that a bullet can be fired from a moving aircraft without the recoil knocking the plane out of the sky.
Fickel goes on to command the Fourth Air Force during World War II and retires as a major general.
1912: After less than three hours of instruction, 1st Lt. Alfred A. Cunningham boards a Curtiss (yes, the famed aircraft designer that flew alongside Lt. Fickel two years ago) biplane and makes his first solo flight, becoming the Marine Corps’ first aviator. A veteran of the Spanish-American War and several Caribbean campaigns, Cunningham deploys to the Western Front during World War I where he observes aviation tactics – while over German lines – and formulates procedures for Marine aviators to use against enemy submarines and their bases.
1950: (featured image) After over two weeks of fighting at Taegu, South Korea, an outnumbered UN force consisting of the American 1st Cavalry Division and the Republic of Korea’s II Corps defeats five divisions of North Korean soldiers. MacArthur’s Pusan Perimeter still holds.
If you’ve ever tried to keep pace with another vehicle and talk to someone while both vehicles are in motion, you can probably appreciate how difficult it must be to accomplish the feat at 17,000 miles per hour like Gemini 6 and 7 astronauts had to.
On 15 December 1965 Walter M. Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford blasted off from Cape Canaveral to rendezvous with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, who had already been in space for several days, studying the effects of long-term spaceflight. The original Gemini 6A aborted on the pad, and some quick thinking by Schirra saved the mission, when he opted not to follow procedure and eject the capsule when their Titan II launch vehicle failed to lift off. Three days later, the astronauts were back on the pad and lifted off without a hitch — with Borman and Lovell watching from space.
Just under six hours later, Gemini 6 closed in on the cramped and weary Gemini 7 crew and practiced rendezvous procedures. Schirra flew circles around Gemini 7 and the astronauts spent five hours traveling together, sometimes just inches apart. NASA produced a fascinating film about the joint missions called PROUD CONQUEST, which you can watch below the fold. Continue reading “Sunday Movie Matinee: Gemini 6 and 7”
1777: A month after arriving in the United States, the Marquis de Lafayette is commissioned “major general” in the Continental Army after offering to serve without pay. Lafayette will meet Gen. George Washington in five days, who is in Philadelphia to brief the Continental Congress on military affairs, then joins Washington’s staff and the two become close friends.
1942: (Operation WATCHTOWER) As Army Air Forces aircraft begin their week-long preparatory bombardment, 16,000 Marines of Maj. Gen. Alexander Vandegrift’s soon-to-be-famous First Marine Division board their landing craft and depart for the invasion of Guadalcanal – the first American offensive of World War II.
1943: As ten soldiers work to fill in a crater on a Sicilian road, the Americans come under machinegun fire from two enemy positions. Sgt. Gerry H. Kisters and his officer move forward to the first nest and captures the gun and its four operators. Then, Kisters closes in on the second gun – by himself. Although wounded five times during his approach, he kills three of the emplacement’s occupants and captures the second machinegun.
For his actions, Kisters is awarded the Medal of Honor. As he is presented with the nation’s top award, he is also awarded the Army’s second highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), for actions during a May, 1943 battle in Tunisia. Kisters is the first American to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the DSC during World War II.
That same day on New Georgia, Pvt. Rodger W. Young’s men were ordered to fall back as the brass reorganized the defensive lines for the night. Suddenly, an enemy machinegun opens up on the soldiers, and Pvt. Young spots the gun through the foliage 75 yards away. Despite being wounded by the opening burst of fire, he he charges the enemy position as his fellow soldiers fall back. Wounded again on his approach, he reaches a distance where he can engage the enemy with grenades, but is finally cut down. Thanks to his sacrifice, Young’s teammates escape without injury and several Japanese soldiers are neutralized. Young is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Continue reading “Today in U.S. military history: Around the world in 65 days”