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Today in U.S. military history: the first soldier in space

Today’s post is in honor of Spc. Allen D. Kokesh Jr. who was died on this day in 2006 from wounds sustained by an improvised explosive device attack on his vehicle in Baghdad. The 21-year-old from Yankton, S.D. was assigned to the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery.


1943: The submarine USS Growler (SS-215) spots the supply ship Hayasaki and begins a nighttime battle. The Japanese ship turns to ram the sub and rakes Growler‘s bridge with machine gun fire, wounding the skipper, Commander Howard W. Gilmore.

Unable to get off the bridge, Gilmore orders the crew to “Take her down!” — sacrificing his life to save his men. For his actions, Gilmore is awarded the Medal of Honor – the first of seven sub commanders to earn the nation’s top award for valor during World War II.

Meanwhile, the Imperial Japanese Navy completes Operation “Xe” – the evacuation of nearly 1,800 remaining troops from Guadalcanal. After six months of brutal fighting, nearly 15,000 Americans killed or wounded, and over 600 aircraft and dozens of ships lost, the island is now completely in American hands.

1965: Sappers cut their way through the defensive wires surrounding Camp Holloway in Pleiku, opening the way for 300 Viet Cong guerrillas to attack the helicopter base near Pleiku. Simultaneously, the VC attacks other nearby targets, killing eight Americans and wounding over 100, while destroying and damaging dozens of helicopters and planes. Pres. Lyndon Johnson orders a retaliatory strike, and 49 aircraft from the carriers USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and USS Hancock (CV-19) hit military targets along the de-militarized zone and in North Vietnam.

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Today in U.S. military history: a legendary Pararescue jumper earns the Air Force Cross

Today’s post is in honor of Capt. Lucius L. Heiskell, who was lost in a helicopter crash on this day in 1967 in North Vietnam. The 27-year-old Naval Academy graduate (Class of 1962) from Memphis, Tenn. was a forward air control pilot with the Air Force’s 23rd Tactical Air Support Squadron. Also listed as missing were Maj. Patrick H. Wood, Capt. Richard A. Kibbey, and Staff Sgt. Donald J. Hall of the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron’s Detachment 5. Wood’s and Hall’s remains were identified in 2017 and Kibbey’s in 2018. The story of Heiskell’s attempted rescue follows.


1787: Representatives of the French and U.S. governments sign the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris. France now recognizes the United States as an independent nation and provides much-needed military aid.

1802: Congress authorizes President Thomas Jefferson to arm U.S. ships to defend against Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean.

1832: Marines and sailors aboard the USS Potomac (the first of five so-named ships) attack pirates from the village of Quallah Batoo, Sumatra (present-day Indonesia) following the massacre of a U.S. merchant vessel in February 1831.

1862: In northwestern Tennessee, a Union Naval flotilla commanded by Flag Officer (a temporary rank which soon is replaced by the grade of Commodore) Andrew H. Foote and a force commanded by Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant converge upon Fort Henry. The plan is for Foote’s warships and Grant’s troops to attack simultaneously, but heavy rains and water from the swollen Tennessee River force the Confederates to surrender the flooding fort to Foote before Grant can arrive. The capture of the poorly engineered Fort Henry is the first major Union victory of the Civil War.

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Today in U.S. military history: The Great Raid

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. Alejandro Carrillo, who was killed during combat operations on this day in 2007 in Iraq’s Anbar province. The 22-year-old from Los Angeles was on his second deployment to Iraq and was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 7, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force.


1862: The U.S. Navy’s first ironclad ship, USS Monitor, is launched at Greenpoint, N.Y. Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the turreted gunship will make history in March when she trades shots with the Confederate ironclad Virginia (a vessel built from the previously scuttled USS Merrimac) in a duel that ends with a draw at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

1942: A formation of over 50 Japanese bombers target Singapore harbor — unprotected by either fighters or anti-aircraft guns. Among the enemy bombardiers’ targets is USS Wakefield, a former luxury ocean liner, until her conversion to a troop transport in 1941. Wakefield had just disembarked 20,000 British troops, destined to surrender in just two weeks when Singapore falls to the Japanese.

Five Coast Guardsmen perish during the attack — the service’s first casualties of World War II. After some quick repairs, Wakefield loads about 500 women and children fleeing the Japanese and carries them to Sri Lanka.

USS Wakefield, which until June 1941 was the United States Lines’ SS Manhattan

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Today in U.S. military history: Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off for last time

Today’s post is in honor of Seaman Apprentice William Flores, who was one of 23 Coast Guardsmen that perished on this day in 1980 when USCGC Blackthorn collides with another vessel. Flores, 18, of Carlsbad, N.M., was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal — the service’s highest non-combat award for heroism — for tossing life jackets to guardsmen that had jumped overboard, then remained aboard the sinking vessel to assist injured and disoriented crew, sacrificing his life to save his shipmates.


1915: Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs into law the congressionally approved merger of the “Life Saving” and “Revenue Cutter” services, thus establishing the U.S. Coast Guard. Still, the officially recognized birthday of the Coast Guard is Aug. 4, 1790, the day Congress approved Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s proposal to “build ten cutters to protect the new nation’s revenue.”

1945: The Eighth Air Force celebrates its third birthday by sending 1,006 B-24 and B-17 bombers and 249 P-51 escorts to Dortmund, Germany on Mission 809 — a raid on marshaling yards, bridges and benzol plants, and other targets of opportunity. German air defenses shoot down seven B-24s and three B-17s, damage 464 bombers, and upon landing, another four bombers are damaged beyond repair. 16 airmen are killed, 31 wounded, and 106 missing in action.

By this time, the Mighty Eighth had flown more than 250,000 bomber and 210,000 fighter sorties, delivering well over half a million tons of bombs and destroying 13,000 enemy planes.

1966: Marines hit the beaches of the South Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province in the first amphibious landing since Korea. The Americans meet little resistance as they head inland, then move to cut off retreating North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces.

1973: B-52s carried out their final combat sortie in Southeast Asia — striking targets in South Vietnam. Operation ARC LIGHT had started in 1965.

Bomb blasts from a B-52 “Arc Light” strike. A B-52D, like the bomber which left the destruction seen above, could carry 108 500-lb. bombs, or a mixed load of 64 500-lb. bombs in the bomb bay and 24 750-lb. bombs on underwing pylons.

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Today in U.S. military history: VI Corps lands at Anzio

Today’s post is in honor of 1st Lt. Nainoa K. Hoe, who was killed by an enemy sniper on this date in 2005 in Mosul, Iraq. The 27-year-old from Kailua, Hawaii was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.


1944: Allied forces, including the U.S. VI Corps under the command of Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas (of Lt. Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army), begin a series of landings along a stretch of western Italian coastline in the Anzio-Nettuno area. The Allies achieve complete surprise against – and encounter little initial resistance from – the Germans, but the landings, codenamed Operation SHINGLE, kick off what will become one of the most grueling campaigns of World War II.

To distract from the Anzio landings, Gen. Clark’s forces attack key positions along the Rapido River. Company F of the 143rd Infantry Regiment is handed the responsibility of charging across the bridge targeted by artillery and mortars and into a killzone of withering machinegun fire. Staff Sgt. Thomas E. McCall and several of his men make it across the ice-covered bridge, and he quickly reassembles what remains his soldiers. They maneuver across open, muddy terrain and barbed wire to a spot where McCall orders his two squads to set up their machine guns. But enemy artillery quickly wipes out all of McCall’s men and one of the guns. McCall drags the wounded to cover and provides first aid, then grabs the last surviving machinegun and runs toward the enemy machinegun positions. He charges into one, killing its occupants, then wipes out another. McCall is last seen charging into a third enemy machinegun position, and will be captured by the Germans.

McCall is awarded the Medal of Honor, and will fight again in Korea. The Battle of Rapido river was considered one of the worst defeats for the U.S. Army during World War II and was the subject of a Congressional investigation following the war.

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Today in U.S. military history: the siege of Khe Sanh

Today’s post is in honor of Cpl. Christopher G. Singer, who was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on this day in 2012. The 23-year-old from Temecula, Calif. was assigned to the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.


1903: The Militia Act of 1903 – also known as the “Dick Act” (Congressman and Maj. Gen. Charles Dick authored much of the legislation) – is passed, establishing federal standards and greater federal control over state militias, essentially creating the modern National Guard.

1918: 12 officers and 133 enlisted men from the 1st Aeronautical Company arrive for anti-submarine duty at Ponta Delgada, Azores. The unit was one of the first completely equipped American aviation units to serve overseas in World War I.

1954: (Featured image) First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christens USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world’s first-ever nuclear submarine, at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn. Nautilus then launches into the Thames River, and in just under a year will cast her lines and ship out under nuclear power. Her Submarine Thermal Reactor obliterated anti-submarine warfare tactics honed against World War II-era diesel-electric subs since nuclear subs no longer need to surface periodically, can dive deeper, and (if detected) could clear the search area in record time.

1961: Seven years to the day after the first nuclear sub is commissioned, USS George Washington (SSBN-598) completes her first operational voyage. The United States’ first ballistic missile submarine remained underwater for 66 days during her maiden deterrent patrol.

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Today in U.S. military history: The Doolittle Raid is born

Today’s post is in honor of Sgt. Michael J. McMullen, who on this day in 2006 died of wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device in Ramadi, Iraq. The 25-year-old from Salisbury, Md. served as a firefighter-paramedic on the Salisbury Fire Department and was assigned to the Maryland National Guard’s 243rd Engineer Company. McMullen was posthumously awarded the Silver Star (for saving the life of a fellow soldier during the attack), the Purple Heart, and promoted to Staff Sergeant.


1942: After just a month of war in the Pacific, the United States Navy meets to determine the best way to quickly strike the Japanese home islands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted an attack to boost U.S. morale while weakening that of Japan’s. Several potential options were discussed, such as:

  1. Dispatching B-24 Liberators from Hawaii and refueling them with Navy seaplanes (nearly an 8,000-mile round trip);
  2. Launching B-17s from Midway and topping off with fuel from B-24 tankers (over 5,000 miles round-trip);
  3. B-17s towing fuel-laden gliders

One suggestion from a Naval antisubmarine officer made the most sense: sail an aircraft carrier within striking range and launch Army twin-engine bombers. The “Doolittle Raid” is born, and will be carried out in just three months.

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Dec. 26: Today in U.S. military history

Today’s post is in honor of Spc. Jason M. Johnston, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Arghandab, Afghanistan on this day in 2009. The 24-year-old from Albion, N.Y. was assigned to the 2d Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division.


1776: After Gen. George Washington’s famous crossing of the icy Delaware River the night before and a eight-mile forced march, 2,500 Continental Army soldiers and militia catch the Hessian (German mercenaries fighting for the British) garrison at Trenton, N.J. completely by surprise. Washington’s force captures 900 soldiers along with weapons and supplies, incredibly without losing a single American soldier to combat. Lt. (and future president) James Madison is one of the few soldiers wounded during the battle.

1943: (Featured Image) Following a naval and air bombardment, the 1st Marine Division lands at Cape Gloucester in their first combat operation since Guadalcanal. Fifth Air Force’s pre-landing bombardment of the Japanese defenses was so thorough that completely destroying a target would be referred to as “Gloucesterizing.”

Dense jungles, horrible weather, and near-impassable mud welcomed the invaders, but the Marines “adapt, improvise, and overcome,” capturing the island from the Japanese in just over a week.

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