Posted in Military History

Never Forget: Capt. Joseph S. Smith

Smith was posthumously promoted to captain

On 4 April 1971, two 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-100 Super Sabres took off from the Republic of Vietnam’s Phan Rang Air Base just before 3:30 p.m. to hit a large warehouse deep in central Cambodia. Behind the controls of the lead plane — codenamed BLADE 05 — was 1st Lt. Joseph S. Smith, a 25-year-old Notre Dame graduate from Assumption, Ill. who had started his tour in August 1970.

After four successful passes over their target, Smith was lining up for a strafing run when his aircraft suddenly leveled off before reaching the warehouse. Smith’s F-100 started trailing white smoke. His wingman and the forward air controller watched as the jet descended slowly and rolled over before impacting the ground half a mile away. He did not eject. There was no emergency beacon. Visibility at the crash site was obscured by smoke so there was no way the pilots could know what happened. But there was no parachute and no emergency beacon. With little to no chance of survival, they would have to wait.

The military determined that Lt. Smith had been hit by unseen enemy ground fire and died instantly. Aircrews observed heavy enemy activity in the area the next day when they returned to investigate the crash site — too heavy to send in ground units to recover the body. Continue reading “Never Forget: Capt. Joseph S. Smith”

Posted in Military History

Never forgotten: Remains of over 200 Pearl Harbor sailors, Marines identified

On the morning of 7 December 1941, nine Japanese torpedoes struck the battleship USS Oklahoma, anchored on Battleship Row during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The massive ship capsized in just 15 minutes, trapping hundreds of sailors and Marines inside.

Crews worked feverishly to rescue the survivors, which could be heard tapping the inside of the ship’s hull for the next three days. Unsung heroes like civilian dock worker Julio DeCastro raced against the clock, cutting through sections of the hull to pull out dozens of men.

Two Oklahoma sailors earned the Medal of Honor: Seaman James Ward and Ensign Francis Flaherty both sacrificed their lives so their comrades could escape their battle stations. Chief John Austin posthumously earned the Navy Cross for assisting 15 of his fellow sailors out of a flooded compartment. Boatswain Adolph Bothne braved enemy fire and the hazardous waters, picking up boatload after boatload of survivors and ferrying them to Ford Island. Lt. (j.g.) Aloysius H. Schmitt assisted in evacuating a dozen trapped sailors through an opening, but when it was his turn to escape, he declined so that several other sailors that showed up as he about to be rescued appeared. Schmitt gave up his chance of survival so that others may live, becoming the first American chaplain to die in World War II. Continue reading “Never forgotten: Remains of over 200 Pearl Harbor sailors, Marines identified”

Posted in Military History

10 September: Today in U.S. military history

Ivan (left) and Cornwell

Today’s post is in honor of Capt. Leroy J. Cornwell III and Maj. Andrew Ivan Jr. who were lost when their F-4D Phantom went down during a forward air control mission over Laos’ Plain of Jars on this day in 1971. The 27-year-old Cornwell (from Wakefield, Va.) served in the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) and Ivan (29, from New Brunswick, N.J.) flew for the 13th TFS — both based at Udorn Air base, Thailand. Originally listed as missing, the crew were declared dead in 1973. However, their remains were located and buried in Arlington National Cemetery in the 1990s.


1813: Along the shores of Lake Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s squadron engages the Royal Navy in the Battle of Put-in-Bay. Perry’s ship is so damaged that he boards an open lifeboat and transfers his flag to another ship in the face of heavy gunfire before resuming the fight. After defeating the British, he writes a brief report to Maj. Gen. (and future president) William Henry Harrison, commanding the Army of the Northwest: “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

1944: The First U.S. Army captures Luxembourg. After being conquered by the Germans during both world wars, the tiny nation strips neutrality from its constitution and becomes a founding member of NATO. Continue reading “10 September: Today in U.S. military history”