Vietnam: Ignored Heavy Damage To His Aircraft & Repeatedly Attacked Enemy FLAK With Bombs & Cannon Fire

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Colonel Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen June 29, 1934 – December 14, 1987.

Colonel Dethlefsen personifies the word hero.

In 1967, the US Air Force attacked an industrial facility in North Vietnam. One of the American planes was severely damaged by intense flak, both from the ground, as well as by fire from enemy aircraft.

However, instead of heading back to base as the pilot should have, he continued his assault. In doing so, he destroyed two missile sites, for which he received the Medal of Honor – America’s highest military award for acts of valor.

During the Vietnam War, the Americans could not stop North Vietnam from supporting communist insurgency movements in South Vietnam. President Lyndon Johnson decided to play hardball by launching Operation Rolling Thunder on March 2, 1965.

He aimed to bomb North Vietnam back to the Stone Age without sending ground troops into the North. The idea was to demoralize the North Vietnamese people and undermine their communist government. Not since the bombing raids on Germany and Japan during WWII had the US engaged in such intense and sustained mass destruction.

Thái Nguyên is a province in the Northeast region of Vietnam. It has long been a producer of tea. In 1917, Thái Nguyên City became a major center in the revolt against French occupation. By 1956, it was one of the main headquarters of the Viet Minh, and by 1959, it was the center of North Vietnam’s developing steel industry.

Still reeling from the damage caused by the war of independence against France, North Vietnam pinned much of its hope on the city and its factory. As such, it was a major political, trade, transportation, railway, and communication hub.

With the onset of the Cold War, it received aid, funding, and technical expertise from the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Little wonder, then, that it was one of the most well-defended cities in North Vietnam: armed with a surface-to-air missile (SAM) complex, anti-aircraft guns, and a ring of automatic weapons. For the Americans, it was the perfect target.

A B-66 Destroyer and F-105 Thunderchiefs release their payload of bombs over North Vietnam as part of Operation Rolling Thunder on 14 June 1966

A B-66 Destroyer and F-105 Thunderchiefs release their payload of bombs over North Vietnam as part of Operation Rolling Thunder on 14 June 14, 1966;

King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit of Thailand were not fans of communism. Only two small countries, Laos to their north and Cambodia to their south separated them from Vietnam. Feeling threatened, they asked the Americans for help.

Much of Rolling Thunder’s aerial assaults were launched from Thailand air bases at Korat, Takhli, Ubon, and Udon Thani. The Thakhli Royal Thai Air Force Base in the Nakhon Sawan Province was relatively close to Thái Nguyên.

Merlyn Hans Dethlefsen joined the US Air Force in 1953 at the age of 19. In 1965, he earned a major in business from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the following year, he was deployed to Southeast Asia. In 1967 he achieved the rank of Captain. Dethlefsen flew F-105 Thunderchief fighters with the 333rd and the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron of 335th Tactical Fighter Wing.

On March 1, 1967, his strike force was assigned to attack the Thái Nguyên steel factory, but it was the rainy season. Heavy clouds lay low over the cluster of tea-growing hills of the region, making visibility zilch.


A McDonnell F-4B Phantom II
A McDonnell F-4B Phantom II;

On March 8, the clouds lifted, so Dethlefsen and his team took to the skies – only to turn back again due to heavy rain. On the way, they made secondary strikes in Laos to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong supply routes.

The skies finally cleared on March 10, and a strike force of 72 fighter-bombers made up of F-105 Thunderchiefs, and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs took off from different airbases.

Flying well ahead of them were four other F-105s. Dethlefsen piloted the number three plane. They were on a fire-suppression mission to destroy the enemy’s anti-aircraft defenses and protect the 72 aircraft that were to bomb the steel factory and its supporting facilities.

A Republic F-105D-30-RE Thunderchief armed with M117 750 lb bombs
A Republic F-105D-30-RE Thunderchief armed with M117 750 lb bombs;

The lead plane was manned by Major David Everson and Captain Jose Luna. As they approached the factory complex, their aircraft was shot down by 85mm AAA fire. Everson and Luna survived but were captured. Their wingman (the plane that flies behind and to one side) was also severely damaged and returned to base.

That left Dethlefsen and his wingman piloted by Major Kenneth Holmes Bell. Dethlefsen took charge. He ordered a second strike during which he received several hits from the anti-aircraft guns below. He veered off – straight into an incoming Russian Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, a supersonic jet fighter plane. At such close range, the enemy pilot quickly hit both him and his wingman Bell.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21;

Rather than retreat, the American pilots destroyed several anti-aircraft guns before veering off – only to find themselves up against a second MiG. They were again hit from both the air and the ground.

Assessing the damage, Dethlefsen decided he could still go a few more rounds. Bell thought so too and went after the first MiG as it swooped back for a second shootout. The second MiG was still maneuvering out of its first strike, giving Dethlefsen a chance to dive lower.

Although the American planes had taken severe damage, Dethlefsen destroyed as many SAMS as he could by repeatedly flying through the smoke and incoming anti-aircraft fire.

Major Kenneth Holmes Bell
Major Kenneth Holmes Bell;

Diving kamikaze-like, he fired his 20 mm cannons, taking out two missile sites. Despite the damage to his plane, Bell was also able to dive and destroy another missile site.

By then their planes were too heavily damaged for any more heroics, so they flew back to Takhli. The other 72 bombers completed their strike on the steel factory complex and surrounding city without the loss of a single aircraft.

Operation Rolling Thunder finally ended on November 2, 1968, leaving an estimated 180,000 North Vietnamese civilians dead. The steel factory at Thái Nguyên opened again on August 29, 2013.

For his heroic actions, Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon B. Johnson on February 1, 1968. He became the third of 12 airmen so honored during the Vietnam War.

Dethlefsen died at the age of 53 of natural causes on December 14, 1987. He is buried in Section 65 of Arlington National Cemetery.


Clearing 10 Enemy Bunkers in the Jungles of Vietnam SSGT James Bondsteel Emerged with the Medal of Honor

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Master Sargent James Bondsteel July 18,1947-April 9,1987.

Perhaps due to his name – part James Bond and part Man of Steel – it became apparent very quickly that Staff Sergeant James Bondsteel was the type of man you wanted on your side during a fight.

Serving as a platoon sergeant for Company A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Bondsteel was rallying his men for action after a series of previous engagements that week. A nearby recon platoon had stumbled across an entrenched NVA battalion, and Company A got the call to move in.

Bondsteel took stock of the gravity of the situation. The recon platoon was getting hit hard and was on the brink of faltering. He moved his men into position and began the assault. Containing men from multiple platoons against a more substantial enemy force, Bondsteel opted to lead from the front. Charging into one enemy bunker after another with grenades and his M-16, Bondsteel was individually responsible for clearing ten enemy fortified positions. Refusing assistance for his wounds when a fragmentation grenade went off in his face, he continued to fight for over four hours until relieved by another company. When he emerged with his men from A Company after the fight of their lives, James Bondsteel was the newest recipient of the nation’s highest military honor.

Infantrymen attacking out of a Huey during Operation Attleboro, Vietnam

From Marine to Army Legend

James Bondsteel was born in 1947 in Jackson, Michigan. After graduating from high school, Bondsteel opted to serve in the US Marine Corps in 1965. The war in Vietnam was winding up, and Bondsteel was sent to Korea. There he was known for his work in supporting an orphanage during his peacetime deployment, showing a gentler side to this gallant warrior.

When his time in the Marine Corps was up, he decided a career in the US Army was in order. In 1969 he joined the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment. During his time in Vietnam, he had picked up the nickname “Buddha” due to his tall stature and large torso.

Again showing another side to his character, Bondsteel had learned the local language and could speak Vietnamese – even recognizing the differences between various regional dialects. Despite this gentler side, it was his warrior spirit that earned then Staff Sergeant James Leroy Bondsteel his place in military history.

On May 23, 1969, Bondsteel and the men of A Company had engaged in a firefight where they took control of a large cache of enemy ammunition and weapons indicating a heavy enemy presence in the area. They headed back to a nearby US outpost to refuel their Armored Personnel Carriers and regroup for the night. The next morning they were preparing to go back to the same area when they got the call that forever changed the life and history of James Bondsteel.

The One Man Bunker Buster

The call came on May 24 that a recon platoon had stumbled across a massive force and was under heavy fire and had casualties. The enemy force as it turned out happened to be an entire NVA Battalion entrenched in a system of bunkers with an estimated strength of over 600 to 800 soldiers. SSGT Bondsteel and A Company headed towards the small hamlet of Lang Sau. When they arrived they found the reconnaissance platoon under a storm of fire and in desperate need of help.

Immediately organizing the assault and dividing his men into combat teams, Bondsteel jumped straight into the action destroying four enemy bunkers. While his men provided covering fire, he led the charge, throwing grenades into the opening of the bunker and then thrusting himself in firing with his rifle. He then proceeded to the next bunker, repeating his actions. The result was many dead enemies, conquered bunkers and US soldiers inspired by the gallantry of their leader.

When another platoon nearby began to falter, Bondsteel raced some 200 meters across the fire-swept terrain to organize those men back into a sustainable defense. He then jumped back into his role as a one-man bunker buster. While taking out two more bunkers, he came face to face with an enemy soldier attempting to drop a grenade. Bondsteel was able to wrestle free just in time to pull back and save his own life despite receiving multiple fragmentation wounds to his face and chest. Undeterred, Bondsteel resumed the charge.

The US infantry enjoyed advantages in mechanization over the Viet Cong forces encountered, including the M113 and in certain locales, full battle tanks.

A Gallant Stand

While busting the bunkers, Bondsteel also found the time to rescue a severely wounded officer who was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Bondsteel showed up, dispatched the enemy and directed the officer to medical assistance before resuming the fight. After four hours of intense fighting, Bondsteel was responsible for the destruction of ten enemy bunkers and killing many of the numerically superior enemy.

The men of A Company were finally relieved from the fight and able to take stock of their losses. They had suffered over 40 wounded and ten killed during their courageous stand. For Staff Sergeant James Bondsteel his actions led to the nation’s highest military honor. In 1973, James Bondsteel was presented with the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon.

James Bondsteel continued his 20-year career in the military before retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant. Following his gentle side, he spent time after his service as a Veteran’s counselor for the VA.

Despite the best efforts of an entire NVA battalion to kill James Bondsteel, it was a tragic accident with a logging truck in Alaska that ended this gallant warrior’s life. James Bondsteel earned his reputation as both a gentle and violent soul, and as a result, will forever hold his place in the halls of US military history as an example of inexplicable gallantry.


John J. McGinty III – Racing through the Jungles of Vietnam to Save his Men

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H/T  War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Captain John J. McGinty III  January 20,1940-January 17,2014.

Part of being a good combat leader involves sending men into a possibly extremely hazardous environment – then pursuing relentless devotion to their well-being and safety. The dichotomy between mission accomplished and troop welfare has long been a challenge for leaders. Such was the case for Staff Sergeant John McGinty.

A Marine Corps Career

John James McGinty III was born on January 21, 1940, in Boston, Massachusetts just as the Marines were about to perform their greatest show of force in WWII. After attending school in Louisville, Kentucky, McGinty joined the Marine Corps Reserve in February 1957 and then enlisted for active duty in 1958.

After training, McGinty headed for the infantry. First serving as a rifleman with the Marine Corps Reserve in Kentucky he then went on to Camp Pendleton, California and the Marine Barracks at US Naval Station Kodiak, Alaska. His sojourn as a Marine continued with moves to Norfolk, Virginia and eventually as a Drill Instructor on Parris Island. By August 1962 he had been promoted to Sergeant.

When the war in Vietnam started heating up, McGinty finally found his home with the 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. The unit was embroiled in heavy fighting in Vietnam and a Marine like McGinty was just what the doctor ordered. The year was 1966 and any doubts the war in Vietnam would be a long affair were quickly vanishing.

President Lyndon B. Johnson greets American troops in Vietnam.

Mission Accomplished and Troop Welfare

On July 18, 1966, Staff Sergeant McGinty’s thirty-two-man platoon were ordered to cover their rear while the entire battalion withdrew to a new position. The battalion had been under withering attack for three days, and the enemy showed no signs of relenting. Much was being asked of McGinty and his men in leaving them to secure the withdrawal, but the mission had to be accomplished.

Immediately the platoon came under an intense barrage of fire from mortars, heavy machine-guns, and small arms. The first of what would be many human wave attacks poured towards the platoon. Directing the gunfire, McGinty ordered the Marines to unleash their worst upon the enemy. The Marines happily obliged, cutting down one charging wave of troops after another.

After a short period of calm, another human enemy wave broke out of the jungle charging towards the Marines. Again McGinty’s men fired at the approaching enemy, but due to the sheer size of the attacking force and in the chaos, two squads became cut off from the rest of the platoon. Realizing he had to take care of his Marines, McGinty managed both to accomplish his mission and protect his troops.

U.S. army troops taking a break while on patrol during the Vietnam War.


Between a hailstorm of machine-gun fire and mortars, McGinty raced through the jungle to their position, dodging death at every step. The scene was harrowing. Nearly all 20 Marines were wounded and their medic lay dead. Immediately, McGinty jumped into action quickly reloading their weapons and directing the gunfire of the injured Marines.

As he moved among them, McGinty, now wounded himself, continued to care for the severely injured and encouraged his men and directed their firepower enabling them to repel the attack. When the enemy attempted to outflank their position, he killed five of them at point blank range with his USMC 1911 pistol. On the verge of being overrun by enemy forces, McGinty called in air strikes to accurately attack within fifty yards of their position. After four hours of intense combat, the attacking hordes finally ceased.

An estimated 500 enemy bodies lay strewn on the battlefield. For his actions that day, Staff Sergeant McGinty received the Medal of Honor and a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant. His fortitude and leadership under fire warranted such a promotion. McGinty’s MOH citation states his “personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy.”

Sergeant First Class Robert Howard: Refused Two Medals of Honor

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Sergeant First Class Robert Howard. July 11,1939-December ,23 2009.

US Marines in Vietnam during Operation Allen Brook in 1968

He earned three nominations for a Medal of Honor but received only one. Not because he did not deserve all three, but because some of his actions occurred where officially the US Army was not supposed to be.

Robert Lewis “Bob” Howard was born on July 11, 1939, in Opelika, Alabama with a family reputation to maintain. His father and four uncles all served in WWII. Sadly, two died during the war, while his father and two others died of their wounds after it ended.

With little money, the family was forced to move back in with his mother’s parents. To help put food on the table, Howard and his sister picked cotton at a very young age. In July 1956 when he was 17, he dropped out of school and joined the US Army.

In Vietnam, Sergeant First Class Howard served with the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). It was a highly classified organization carrying out secret operations throughout Vietnam and the surrounding territories.

On November 16, 1967, the SOG attacked a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) cache. Howard had killed four soldiers when a machine gun nest opened fire on his team pinning them down. He shot a sniper and then charged the nest, killing its occupants. Another machine gun then began shooting at them.

Robert L. Howard on March 2, 1971.

He grabbed a grenade, crawled up to the nest, and destroyed it at point blank range. More firing forced him to retreat enabling another NVA force to retake the machine gun. Grabbing a light anti-tank weapon, he stood as bullets whizzed past, and fired – taking out the second machine gun for good before his team was extracted by helicopter.

He had earned his first MoH recommendation. As the encounter had occurred in Laos and the US was a cosignatory of the 1962 “International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos,” the operation never happened. Instead, the recommendation was downgraded to a Silver Star.

On November 15, 1968, he accompanied a Forward Operation Base (FOB) 2 Hatchet Platoon; again into Laos. Four days later, they were ambushed by NVA troops with a Soviet Pt-76 tank. Using his trusty anti-tank rocket, and braving intense fire he crept toward the tank and destroyed it.

American soldiers with an alleged Viet Cong captive near the Cambodian border.

When a medivac chopper came for them, it was shot down. While wounded, Howard ran through enemy fire to the helicopter, and lead the two surviving pilots and injured door gunner out. He then fought another 300 yards through NVA fire to get them all to safety. He sustained more injuries receiving 14 pieces of shrapnel, which really annoyed him.

Pissed off, he charged the NVA, killed two, and took one prisoner. A rescue of the men was attempted but was unsuccessful as the NVA kept them at bay with anti-aircraft guns. Next morning when another attempt was made Howard charged forward and silenced a 37-mm anti-aircraft gun allowing the extraction to go ahead.

A rescue of the men was attempted but was unsuccessful as the NVA kept them at bay with anti-aircraft guns. Next morning when another attempt was made Howard charged forward and silenced a 37-mm anti-aircraft gun allowing the extraction to go ahead.

North Vietnamese Army troops marching through Laos in 1967.

Again, he was recommended for a MoH. Again, as the operation took place in Laos, he got a Distinguished Service Cross, instead.

On December 29, 1968, Private First Class Robert Francis Scherdin was the assistant team leader of a ten-man reconnaissance patrol. They were in Cambodia in the tri-border region of South Vietnam and Laos when they were attacked. Scherdin became separated from his team.

Howard was part of a 40-man rescue team that flew in the next day. They were fired upon even before they landed. One Huey was shot down, so the platoon leader ordered Howard to secure the landing zone. As he led his men up a hill, he and Lieutenant Jim Jerson were injured by a landmine. A bullet then detonated the latter’s ammunition belt. When Howard came to, it was to blindness and pain. After several minutes, his vision returned, but the pain in his hands was intense as shrapnel had shredded them.

A US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopter of the 20th Special Operations Squadron “Green Hornets” at a base in Laos in 1970.

Screams of dying men reached him – some were burning. It was an NVA soldier with a flame thrower. Howard tried to drag Jerson downhill, but it was not easy; he was 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighed about 200 pounds.

Two NVA companies were firing at them as Howard dragged Jerson to a log. NVA soldiers rushed them. One ran directly toward Howard, his bayonet raised but he tripped over Jerson. Howard was then shot in the foot.

The situation was grim. They were surrounded so Howard did the only thing he could.

President Richard Nixon pinning the MoH on Howard

He ordered the remaining 20 men to make a triangle with three strobe lights. Then he radioed base and ordered an airstrike on their position. For the next three and a half hours they held their ground until the strikes finally came. The explosions were so close some of his men were hit.

An emergency night extraction then rescued them. Despite his severe wounds Howard refused to board until everyone else had. Unfortunately, Scherdin was never found.

Howard finally received his MoH on March 2, 1971.

These Weapons Caused The Deaths Of The Soldiers Who Used Them


H/T War History OnLine.

Throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, military technology has advanced considerably. Along the way, that evolution has taken some disastrous turns, particularly several weapons which proved almost as dangerous for the men using them as they were for the enemy.

Here are five that proved unreliable to the point of being deadly to those who used them.

The Mark 14 Torpedo

Like many nations around the globe, the US and its Navy struggled to develop effective torpedo systems during WWII. The Mark 14 torpedo was a particularly dangerous venture.

Not only did it often miss its target, but on one occasion it sank the submarine it was launched from. Due to its magnetic trigger mechanism, it doubled back and hit the USS Tullibee, the submarine that had fired it, resulting in the deaths of almost everyone on board.

Its development had been under-funded and the testing period for the weapon was much too short, so the risks were already high. The torpedo was eventually redesigned, and the problems that had made it so dangerous were corrected.

The Mark 14 Torpedo

The M16 Rifle

During the Vietnam War, American soldiers were issued with new M16 rifles. The manufacturers claimed the weapons were “self-cleaning” so troops were supplied with minimal cleaning materials and no instructions on how to maintain them. It proved to be a deadly problem.

The M16 Rifle in action

The rifles got clogged with dirt and detritus, and spent cartridges became stuck inside the chamber. The only way to remove the blockage and get it operational again was to take the rifle apart, clean it and remove the cartridge. This laborious process left troops on the battlefield completely defenseless, and there were numerous reports of soldiers being found dead after a gunfight with their M16 disassembled beside them.


French soldiers making a gas and flame attack on German trenches in Flanders. Belgium. (Army) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 111-SC-10879 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 642
Gas being released from cylinders

An iconic feature of WWI, chemical weapons like mustard and chlorine gas could be devastatingly effective when used successfully. However, there were risks involved for the men deploying the gas in the first place.

The delivery of gasses via a projectile had been outlawed by the Hague Convention in 1899. The only available method was to open a gas cylinder when the wind was blowing towards enemy lines. It meant if the wind changed – as it often did – the cloud could be blown right back onto the soldiers who released it.

Also storing the cylinders was dangerous. If any of them leaked prematurely, the ensuing stream of gas drew enemy fire and shelling, as well as directly affecting the soldiers nearby.

Underground Explosives

An underground explosion on the Western Front

Tunneling has been used in wars throughout the centuries, and during WWI, it became a practice on both sides of the Western Front. Teams of men worked to dig passages underground, moving towards and underneath enemy lines.

When they reached beneath critical enemy positions, they set explosives to be detonated. However, planting the explosives was incredibly dangerous for the soldiers involved. Tunnelers risked dying from cave-ins, or crushed and trapped when the passages collapsed around them, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning. Explosives sometimes went off prematurely, killing the men charged with setting them up.

The Ross Rifle

The Ross Rifle. By Balcer – CC BY 2.5

Originally designed as a hunting rifle, this weapon was supplied to Canadian troops during WWI. Although the firearm worked well for its original purpose, as a military tool it was far from ideal.

It was large and unwieldy, for one thing, and the mud and dirt of the trenches easily jammed the internal workings. A bayonet fixed on the barrel often fell off when a bullet was fired.

The worst and most troubling feature of this weapon, however, was that the bolt of the rifle often dislodged when in use, launching the bullet back into the soldiers’ hands. At best this could result in serious injury, at worst it could cause their death. Understandably, the Ross Rifle was removed from service after just a year in action.

10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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H/T Mental Floss.

I do not recall hearing about how the first unknown soldier was chosen.

Then I might have and had forgotten.


On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.


One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain


The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.


Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.


Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”


The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.


Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard“. Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.


Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.


The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.


Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

Remains Of American Airman Who Laid Down His Life In Vietnam Are Returned To The USA For Honored Burial

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William C. Ryan.    

1st Lt. William C. Ryan

Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William C. Ryan, of Hoboken, New Jersey, was 25 when he was killed in action during the Vietnam War.

A member of the Marine Fighter Attack Force 115, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force Pacific, he was on a combat mission above Savannakhet Province, Laos, serving as the radar intercept officer of an F-4B aircraft on May 11, 1969. The plane was hit by enemy fire while pulling out of a bombing pass. The pilot was unable to control the airplane after being hit.

He called several times for Ryan, but received no response. The pilot ejected before the plane crashed. Witnesses reported only one parachute leaving the plane. The pilot was rescued but, due to the location of the crash, a search and recovery effort was not possible at the time. Ryan was declared dead as of May 11, 1969.

In the period between January 1990 to May 2012, joint teams from the US, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons interviewed people who had witnessed the crash in order to gain information about Ryan.

During the period from May 2012 to January 2016, joint teams made a total of six trips to excavate the crash site that was believed to be Ryan’s near Ban Alang Noi. They recovered life support items, aircraft wreckage and remains, possibly human. On February 17, 2016, the remains were shipped to the Defense POW/MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) laboratory for analysis.

DPAA scientists used dental comparisons, isotope analysis, and circumstantial evidence to positively identify the remains as Ryan’s.

Ryan’s remains will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

The DPAA recognized the support of Laos was instrumental to recovering Ryan’s remains.

There are still 1,611 servicemen and civilians unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.


A Hero’s Welcome: He Laid Down His Life In The Vietnam War, Now He’s Coming Home To Texas

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P. Air Force Captain Robert R. Barnett.                 

Capt. Robert R. Burnett

Air Force Captain Robert R. Barnett was 32 when he was killed in the Vietnam War. His remains were returned to Austin, Texas for burial with full military honors on April 7, 2017.

On April 7, 1966, Barnett was a member of the 8th Bomb Squadron. He was piloting a B-57B bomber on a mission over Laos. During a dive bombing run, the plane crashed so violently it disintegrated and caught fire. No parachutes were seen from the plane, and hostile enemies in the area prevented a team from conducting a search and rescue mission at the site. After the crash, Barnett was listed as killed in action.

Capt. Robert R. Burnett

A joint team from the US and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) visited the crash site in January and May of 2005. In 2014 and 2015, there were three excavations performed which recovered human remains, life support items and material evidence. All the items recovered were sent to the DPAA to be analyzed.

he DPAA used circumstantial evidence and dental records which matched the remains found at the crash site, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency reported.

The government of Laos’ support was critical to successfully recovering Barnett’s remains.

There are still 1,611 US servicemen and civilians from the Vietnam War yet to be accounted for.


Mission to Honor Forgotten Vietnam Gold Star Families

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H/T War History OnLine.

This is a very worth while project Please help me spread the word about it.

We owe this and more for the men and women that died in Viet Nam and to their families.

Gold Star families who lost relatives in the Vietnam War, have often felt like the forgotten casualties of war; the stigma and controversy surrounding the war have prevented many of these families from even talking about it. Jim Crigler is on a mission to honor these families.


Mission of Honor: a moral compass for a moral dilemma by Jim Crigler is a raw, bold, introspective autobiography of life during and after the Vietnam War. As a UH-1 Helicopter pilot flying in the jungle highlands of South Vietnam, Warrant Officer Jim Crigler and the men he flew with were tested daily.

When Crigler returned from Vietnam after his 12-month tour of duty, he did his best to put the war behind him and make a life for himself and his family, and now he is on a “mission of honor” to do the same for other families.

Coinciding with the release of Mission of Honor, on April 22, 2017, Crigler will embark on a solo canoe trip down the full length of the Mississippi River, stopping at 29 cities and towns along the way, to meet with Gold Star families and veterans, presenting them with a symbolic gold coin.

 He will also raise money for American Huey 369, a charitable organization that gives helicopter flights to veterans and their families.

Learn more at Mission of Honor and connect with Jim Crigler on Facebook and LinkedIn

The Only Marine to Earn a Medal of Honor for Actions as a POW, Donald Cook Was Truly Unbreakable in the Face of the Enemy

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H/T War History OnLine.

R.I.P.Colonel Donald Cook U.S.M.C.

To be clear, there have been multiple Marines who displayed inexplicable gallantry in combat warranting a Medal of Honor before they were subsequently captured.  However, if you are searching the halls of history for the one Marine Medal of Honor recipient whose actions as a POW earned him the medal, you will only find Donald Cook.

In fact, Captain Cook was only in Vietnam for 18 days before he was captured.  He would spend the next three years enduring harsh captivity at the hands of the North Vietnamese. Despite deteriorating health, he would often give his food and medicine to his fellow prisoners in greater need. When questioned by the North Vietnamese, he never gave them more than his name, rank, service number, and date of birth.  His captors didn’t even know he was a Marine and just assumed he was an Army Officer.


Refusing to cooperate on multiple occasions, he found himself more than once being threatened at gunpoint. On one such occasion, Cook simply said, “You can’t kill me, only God can decide when I die.”  For his actions during his captivity, Captain Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor.

A Gifted Linguist

Donald Cook was born in Brooklyn New York in 1934. After high school, he chose to attend St. Michael’s College as he was a man deeply guided by his faith. While in college, he would prove quite the gifted linguist and was fluent in Latin, German, and French by the time he graduated. In 1957, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and was assigned as a communications officer due to his natural gift with language.

He would serve as the officer-in-charge of an interrogation and translation team, before being assigned as an intelligence officer with the Fleet Marine Force Pacific.

As the war in Vietnam began to ramp up, Captain Cook took a personal interest and began to study the Vietnamese language. By 1964, he was eager to volunteer for service in Vietnam to put his skills to use. Unfortunately for Donald Cook, his time as a free Marine in Vietnam would be remarkably short.

After only 18 days in country, Captain Cook and his fellow Marines became engaged in a firefight with the North Vietnamese and after being shot in the leg, Cook passed out from the loss of blood.

US Marines in Vietnam via
US Marines in Vietnam.

When he awoke, he found himself the first Marine officer taken prisoner in the Vietnam War. By all accounts, the action in which he was captured displayed none of the characteristics one might associate with a Medal of Honor recipient. Rather, Cook’s place among the gallant men in the history of war would come as a POW.

Others Before Himself

Shortly after capture, Cook had established himself as the senior officer among 10 other POWs and thus the legal spokesman for the group. Responsibility for leading the men through this ordeal would fall to him as well as official interactions with their captors.

U.S. Marines fighting in Huế.
U.S. Marines fighting in Huế.

The setting would be various jungle POW camps throughout Vietnam. They were given meager rations of rice and fish, quickly leading to malnourishment, sickness, and disease. As the senior officer, Cook would demand additional food and medicine, with some success but often at a high price to himself.

When food was scarce and medicine hard to come by, Cook would often ignore his own deteriorating physical health to feed and treat his fellow prisoners.

The “Little Vegas” area of Hỏa Lò Prison, built for American POWs in 1967. Shown in a final inspection in 1973 shortly before the Americans’ release.

On more than one occasion when en route to a new POW camp, Cook would bear the burden of his fellow weaker prisoners packs to ensure they made it alive. Through his encouragement, leadership, and support his fellow prisoners would always make it. For Cook, it almost seemed unthinkable to give his captors the pleasure of their deaths or their cooperation.

One fellow POW would describe his relentless resistance by saying, “If Captain Cook thought the Viet Cong were using his feces for fertilizer, he would have stopped crapping.”

On top of caring for his fellow prisoners, he would lead them in their defiance towards their enemy. Under extreme duress, it is common for POW’s to submit to behavior outside of the code of conduct. However, Cook never relented.

Despite harsher treatment for doing so, it was his policy to give them “the big four and nothing more.” “Name, rank, service number, and date of birth” is all the Vietnamese would ever learn about Donald Cook. However, the gifted linguist would work hard to stay one step ahead of his foe. He continued to learn and master the Vietnamese language while in captivity although he never once spoke it to his captors.

Fellow prisoners report that he often seemed to be in the minds of the guards due to his ability to listen in on conversations unbeknownst to them.

Statue of Col. Cook on the campus of St. Michael's College in Colchester, Vermont. Photo Credit.
Statue of Col. Cook on the campus of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. Photo Credit.

Fighting Until the End

He helped lead a failed escape attempt on at least one occasion, but due to the weak physical condition of the prisoners, they were unable to make it. He was severely beaten as the senior officer for doing so and it was on this occasion that a pistol was placed to his head and he gave his famous line “You can’t kill me, only God can decide when I die”.

As fate would have it, Captain Cook would prove that statement true.

USS Donald Cook at sea.
USS Donald Cook at sea.

It wasn’t the beatings, the starvation, or a bullet that took Captain Cook’s life. Rather, was the bite of one mosquito. Captain Cook died of malaria in December 1967, just shy of three years in captivity.

The accounts of his fellow POWs brought his story back to the world and in 1980, Captain Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter.

It was presented to his widow, with his children looking on, and it reminded a nation to be thankful for a strong character like Captain Cook.  His story is one of faith, commitment to his fellow prisoners, and a burning determination to fight until the very end.

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