Christmas Eve, The Battle of the Bulge, the 8th Air Force, and the Medal of Honor.

 

The German counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest was deliberately launched during a period when the forecast weather grounded most allied aircraft. Negating the US and British airpower greatly improved the German’s ability to move and mass forces.

But on the 24th of December, 1944, dawn rose upon a crystal clear sky, and Army Air Forces made a maximum effort to attack the Germans. The fighters, fighter-bombers and light and medium bombers of the 9th Air Force were focused on tactical support.

And the jewel in the crown of the Army Air Forces in Europe, the mighty 8th Air Force, would have its largest single mission of the war.

Mission Number 760 struck airfields, marshaling yards, road junctions, and other communications targets throughout western Germany.

2034 B-17 and B-24 bombers, and 853 fighters of the 8th Air Force would pummel Germany this day. Compared to the ghastly losses the 8th had suffered a year prior, or even six months before, the loss of 12 bombers and 10 fighters was almost insignificant. *

But one of those twelve lost bombers saw an act of heroism that would see a Medal of Honor awarded.

Posthumously.

Frederick Castle, the son of an Army officer, graduated from West Point in 1930, and received training as a pilot at March Field, California, earning his wings in December of 1931. He left active duty in 1934, and found civilian employment, though he remained active in the reserves.

When Ira Eaker was struggling to get the fledgling VIII Bomber Command on a sound footing in England, one of his staff suggested that Castle would make a fine staff officer. And so Castle was recalled to active service as a Captain in January 1942.

And Castle was indeed a fine staff officer, quickly rising through the ranks to become the A-4, the Supply officer for all of 8th Air Force. And his reward for doing that job well was a combat command, first of the 94th Bomb Group (three squadrons of 12 bombers each in a group). Later, he was made deputy commander of the 4th Combat Bomb Wing (with three, and later five bomb groups).  When the 4th CBW grew to five bomb groups, in November 1944, Castle was promoted to Brigadier General.

It was the policy of the 8th Air Force that every mission be led by a senior officer, usually at least a Colonel, but often a Brigadier or even a Major General.

And so on the morning of December 24, 1944, as Mission 760 began to flow from the fields scattered across England to the German fatherland, it was led by Frederick Castle as the Airborne Mission Commander.

His particular bomb group missed its rendevous with its escorts, leaving the flight vulnerable to fighter attacks. Engine problems and damage from enemy fighters crippled his B-17, leaving it a straggler, always a favorite target for enemy fighters. Eventually, his aircraft succumbed to repeated attacks. Castle struggled to maintain control of the bomber to allow his crew to bail out. He himself would not escape.

He was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of 1 engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded 2 members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in 2 engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crewmembers an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying Gen. Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

*8th Air Forces first strike, on August 17, 1942 had consisted of 12 B-17s striking marshaling yards at Rouen, France.

Air Force Special Operations Helicopters in Vietnam

Most of us, when we think of Air Force Special Operations helicopters immediately picture the mighty MH-53J/M, the giant Pave Low III/IV used through the 80s and 90s to insert special operation forces at long range and in limited visibility into denied territory. The Pave Low is retired now, replaced in Air Force service by the CV-22B.

Here’s the thing- the Air Force didn’t get the MH-53 until well after the Desert One disaster during the Iran hostage crisis. It had operated H-53s for many years prior to that, all the way back to the Vietnam war, but used it in the Combat Search and Rescue role, picking up downed pilots in enemy territory. But the Desert One fiasco convinced both the Army and the Air Force they needed dedicated aircraft and crews to support special operations forces.

Of course, the H-53 wouldn’t be the first Air Force helicopter focused on support to special operations. During the Vietnam War, it quickly became apparent that the North Vietnamese were supplying their forces and the Vietcong in the south via what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex of roads and trails moving from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. This web of trails was dispersed so that finding individual units and convoys on it was extremely challenging. A great deal of effort went into developing technologies that could find traffic on the trail. But for most of the war, the most effective means of finding traffic was to insert small reconnaissance teams of 3-6 men in the area. These small teams, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, or LLRPs (pronounced “Lurps”) would be inserted into an operational area via helicopter, walk to an objective area, and quietly observe. Intelligence gathered would be used to generated targeting for airstrikes, as early warning for ground commanders, and generally help generate an order of battle of enemy forces. Similar patrols inside South Vietnam would detect, locate and target NVA forces operating against the US and our South Vietnamese allies.

Tasked with supporting this mission, the Air Force actually bought their own variant of the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey, the UH-1F. Given that they were primarily inserting very small teams, the Air Force chose the original short cabin configuration. And observing the trouble the Army had with gunship versions of the short cabin UH-1B due to lack of power, the Air Force Hueys were powered by the General Electric 1500hp T-58 turbine engine, unlike virtually every other Huey that used variants of the Lycoming T-53 turbine.*

The Air Force also developed a bolt on kit to convert a “slick” Huey into a gunship variant, with two 7-round 2.75” rocket launchers, and two M134 miniguns mounted in the cabin. Where the army external forward firing mounts for M60s and later M134s, the cabin mounted miniguns of the Air Force could be used either in a forward firing mode, or as flexible guns aimed by the crew chief and gunner.

On November 26, 1968, then 1st LT James P. Fleming, USAF of the 20th Special Operations Squadron was flying a UH-1F when a call for an emergency extraction of a six man MACV-SOG recon team came over the air.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming’s profound concern for his fellowmen, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.

James_P_Fleming

Airforce_moh

As the Air Force learned lessons in Vietnam about the tactics, techniques and procedures best suited for this mission, they produced a film to share with new pilots and crews to keep this institutional knowledge alive.

Also, there’s some pretty good shooty/splodey in there.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNJ1-RUIVuQ]

 

*The T-53 also was adapted to become the 1500 hp turbine that powers todays M1 tank series.

Medal of Honor- Corporal William Kyle Carpenter

This afternoon the President of the United States awarded the Medal of Honor to William Kyle Carpenter, Corporal, USMC (Ret.) for his selfless action near Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on the 21st of November, 2010.

Then Lance Corporal Carpenter was on a rooftop in a small village, along with fellow Lance Corporal Eufrazio, when he was severely injured by the blast of a grenade. LCPL Eufrazio was also badly injured by the blast.

The incident has been under review for years, eventually coming to the inescapable conclusion that then  LCPL Carpenter had used his body to shield his fellow Marine from the grenade’s blast.

CPL Carpenter has undergone about  40 surgeries to repair, in so far as is possible, the damage done to him by that blast.

He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. He is also currently the youngest living Medal of Honor recipient.

Well done, Corporal Carpenter. God Bless and good luck in all your future endeavors.

SGT Kyle J. White to be awarded the Medal of Honor

On May 13, 2014, President Barack Obama will award Kyle J. White, a former active duty Army Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant White will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, during combat operations against an armed enemy in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on November 9, 2007.

Sergeant White will be the seventh living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND:

Former Sergeant Kyle J. White separated from the Army on July 8, 2011. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC, where he works as an Investment Analyst.

Sergeant White enlisted in the Army in February 2006 as an Infantryman. After completion of training at Ft Benning, he was assigned to Vicenza, Italy, with 2nd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry “The Rock” as a grenadier and rifleman which included a combat tour to Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008. Following Italy, Kyle was assigned as an opposing forces Sergeant with the Ranger Training Battalion at Ft Benning.

Sergeant White deployed in support of the War on Terror with one tour to Afghanistan.

At the time of the November 9, 2007 combat engagement, then-Specialist White was a Platoon Radio Telephone Operator assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. His heroic actions were performed during a dismounted movement in mountainous terrain in Aranas, Afghanistan.

White’s awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster and “V” device, the Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon with numeral “2” device, the NATO Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Parachutists Badge, the Air Assault Badge, the Presidential Unit Citation, and the Valorous Unit Award.

via President Obama to Award Medal of Honor | The White House.

From the Times-Herald:

 

The battle for which White is being honored was a textbook ambush by an enemy that vastly outnumbered the Americans and their Afghan comrades. Between firing his rifle, scrambling to retrieve wounded comrades and having his thoughts scrambled by two close explosions, White told commanders what was happening, according to an Army account.

“All of Afghanistan was listening to his call sign, Charlie One Six Romeo,” says Col. William Ostlund, then-commander of the battalion in which White served as a specialist.

“So when his platoon leader was killed, Charlie One Six Romeo was instrumental in controlling every single thing, from the fixed-wing bombers to the helicopter attack to the indirect (mortar and artillery) fire to treating casualties,” Ostlund says.

Fourteen Americans and a squad of Afghan National Army soldiers were attacked while strung out single file along a narrow trail devoid of cover. Scores of Taliban fighters crouched on the opposite side of the valley or were concealed ahead down the trail or on the ridge above. They opened fire at 3:30 p.m. as the setting sun was in the soldiers’ eyes. Many of the attackers were in shadows, all but invisible to the Americans.

The Taliban even videoed the action so they could turn it into a propaganda film. But the battle all but escaped notice in American media.

The Medals of Honor on Letterman

I gave up watching Letterman pretty much about the time I gave up keggers in college. So I guess I missed these two (separate) interviews Dave did with Medal of Honor recipients SSG Ty Carter and SSG Clinton Romesha.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ptt5gRt1bM&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C94XgJIFkSA&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

Seattle Seahawks Military Appreciation Day

With large Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard populations, the Seattle area, in spite of being something of a liberal bastion, has a good reputation for supporting servicemembers.*

And the Seattle Seahawks, having their hottest season ever, took to the time to recognize some of the military members, with a reenlistment ceremony, presentation of Purple Hearts to wounded soldiers, and displays and announcements, as well as hosting Medal of Honor recipients SSG Ty Carter, SFC Leroy Petry, and LTC (Ret.) Bruce Crandall.

Well done, Seahawks!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcciFU-3hRs]

*San Francisco used to. Now virtually every installation in the Bay area is gone, likely never to return.

CPT William Swenson… on the Battlefield

On September 8, 2009, during the Battle of Ganjgal, then Army Captain William D. Swenson showed valor above an beyond the call of duty. And while he was doing so, an Army National Guard crewmember of a MEDEVAC helicopter took footage of the Captain.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en1ZHMANDkg&w=448&h=252&hd=1]

In our increasingly digital world, I think we’ll see more and more of this.

Former CPT Swenson will be presented the Medal of Honor on October 15, 2013.

CPT William Swenson to be presented Medal of Honor

This is for his actions in the same engagement where SGT Dakota Meyers earned his.

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 16, 2013
President Obama to Award Medal of Honor
On October 15, 2013, President Barack Obama will award William Swenson, a former active duty Army Captain, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. Captain Swenson will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of the Afghan National Security Forces with Afghan Border Police Mentor Team, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan on September 8, 2009.
Captain Swenson will be the sixth living recipient to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. He and his family will join the President at the White House to commemorate his example of selfless service.
PERSONAL BACKGROUND:
Captain William D. Swenson separated from the Army on February 1, 2011 and currently resides in Seattle, Washington. He is single.
Captain Swenson was commissioned as an Army Officer upon completing Officer Candidate School on September 6, 2002. His military training and education includes: Infantry Maneuver Captains Career Course, Ranger Course, Infantry Officer Basic, Infantry Mountain Leader Advanced Marksmanship Course, Airborne, Officer Candidate School.
At the time of the September 8, 2009 combat engagement, Captain Swenson was an Embedded Trainer and Mentor of Afghan National Security Forces. His actions were performed as part of 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 10th Mountain Division.
His military decorations include: Bronze Star Medal with Two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with One Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Two Campaign Stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantryman Badge, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge

I stole this from John Donovan’s facebook feed. Thanks, John. John also mentions his suspicion that, for whatever reason, the Bush era DoD had a strong reluctance to consider any award of the MoH to surviving troops, whereas the Obama administration has not shown such reluctance.

Interestingly, this is the second small unit engagement that has seen the award of the MoH to two participants. Both here and the battle of COP Keating were desperate fights, and both came in for widespread criticism for the way Big Army handled the fight. I have a suspicion that the scrutiny of the fights has lead to greater documentation of the actions, which in turn raised the visibility of the participants, and led to greater supporting documentation for the awards process. Of course, in CPT Swenson’s case, the awards package was “lost” leading to a delay in the decision to make the award. That’s absolutely shameful.

Small Town Hero

Mav mentioned:

Every small town in this great nation holds some interesting history and this was the history in mine.

I’m visiting in The Dalles, OR, a small town on the edge of the Columbia River. It’s a lovely town, with a stunning view of the Columbia Gorge.

20130913_135555

It’s also the hometown of  Medal of Honor awardee SFC Loren R. Kaufman.

Citation:

Sfc. Kaufman distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action. On the night of 4 September the company was in a defensive position on 2 adjoining hills. His platoon was occupying a strong point 2 miles away protecting the battalion flank. Early on 5 September the company was attacked by an enemy battalion and his platoon was ordered to reinforce the company. As his unit moved along a ridge it encountered a hostile encircling force. Sfc. Kaufman, running forward, bayoneted the lead scout and engaged the column in a rifle and grenade assault. His quick vicious attack so surprised the enemy that they retreated in confusion. When his platoon joined the company he discovered that the enemy had taken commanding ground and pinned the company down in a draw. Without hesitation Sfc. Kaufman charged the enemy lines firing his rifle and throwing grenades. During the action, he bayoneted 2 enemy and seizing an unmanned machine gun, delivered deadly fire on the defenders. Following this encounter the company regrouped and resumed the attack. Leading the assault he reached the ridge, destroyed a hostile machine gun position, and routed the remaining enemy. Pursuing the hostile troops he bayoneted 2 more and then rushed a mortar position shooting the gunners. Remnants of the enemy fled to a village and Sfc. Kaufman led a patrol into the town, dispersed them, and burned the buildings. The dauntless courage and resolute intrepid leadership of Sfc. Kaufman were directly responsible for the success of his company in regaining its positions, reflecting distinct credit upon himself and upholding the esteemed traditions of the military service.

SFC Kaufman was killed in action in Korea before his award was presented.

High above the town, in a beautiful, immaculately maintained park, there is a memorial to him, and to the other veterans of this small town who have gone forth to serve their nation and its ideals.

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Almost every town in America has something similar. And I’m always compelled to take a moment and enjoy each town’s, and reflect upon what a great nation I have had the honor and privilege to serve.

Kindly Uncle

Your humble host is playing kindly uncle to his niece’s children. They’re pretty good kids. But I’m very, very new to being left in charge of children.* They’re doing a good job training me. Who knew snacks and junk food were not just part of a healthy diet, but the cornerstone thereof?

The kids are being very, very quiet right now, which I take to mean they’re being very well behaved. Which means I have time to post a couple links.

I was going to write on this subject yesterday, but the Bangor Daily News website and I don’t get along. So I tossed it to Craig for his blog, and since he did all the work of writing, I’ll just crib back from him. To wit- it appears the original Medal of Honor presented to Joshua Chamberlain has been discovered, and is now being exhibited in Chamberlain’s hometown of Brunswick, ME.

Joshua Chamberlain’s original 1893 Medal of Honor found at church sale, donated to Brunswick history group

Brunswick, Maine — One of the most prestigious medals earned by one of Maine’s most decorated sons was discovered at a church sale and turned over to a Brunswick-based organization for safe keeping, the group announced Monday.

The U.S. Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain — who would go on to become president of Bowdoin College and governor of Maine — in 1893 for “distinguished gallantry” in the Battle of Gettysburg 30 years earlier.

The artifact was given to the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the organization announced Monday afternoon. The individual who came to own the medal found it in the back of a book he had purchased “several years ago” at a sale held by First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass., according to the society.

Read the whole thing, of course. And while you’re over there, take a moment to peruse Craig’s excellent historical overview of various campaigns of the Civil War.

An aside about the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. At the time, the MoH was the only award for valor. And the conditions under which it was awarded were not quite as defined as today. As a result, one might see awards for actions that today wouldn’t merit such an award. But surely Chamberlain’s award is one that even today the professional warrior, the citizen soldier (of which Chamberlain may be the most worthy example) and the armchair general can all agree was righteously given.

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BusBob over at the Lexicans has another of his very entertaining sea stories.

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It looks like budget cuts have the Army trimming its Combatives program. Combatives, as they are trained today, are a new development. In my days, we had bayonet training, and hand-to-hand combat training. But both were so stylized and unrealistic, neither was really worth much. As far as the Combatives program goes, I like it. Not because very many soldiers will ever need to fight that way, but as some folks in the Army Times article note, it goes a long way to help instill a warrior ethos into the soldier. Grappling, struggling, fighting. Those are good things.

But the Army-wide competition seems to me to have almost become an “MMA-Lite” obsession with some folks. My only concern is that a lack of qualified Combatives instructors can lead to injuries in training.

On the other hand, it’s staying in the basic skill set for soldiers. And the Army has also been trying hard to trim back the number of tasks that are “everybody must know” tasks. After all, if everything is a priority, nothing is.

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*I’ve long said the Army is just like the Boy Scouts, but without adult supervision.