Vocabulary > War > Soldiers > Action
A U.S. Army helicopter gunner, his helmet face
painted as a skull,
awaits soldiers to board his Chinook transport helicopter
for transport out of
the Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents had attacked a nearby U.S. Army outpost,
and the Americans
responded with machine guns, mortars and helicopter gunships.
October 30, 2008
John Moore/Getty Images
Boston Globe > Big Picture > 2008 in
Farewells in San Diego on Monday
before the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme
Richard sailed for Iraq.
December 6, 2004
Department of Defense USA
the Army USA
US Army > images
senior Pentagon official
Army technology > Glossary
D Squadron, Household Cavalry
U.S. military convoy
the United States Air Force Memorial
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds
Los Angeles, CA
21 December 2010
cartoons > Cagle > don't ask, don't tell repeal
USA December 2010
"don't ask, don't tell''
The policy known as "don't ask, don't tell'' was made law in 1993
amid a debate over the role of gays in the military.
It limits the military's ability to ask service members
about their sexual
orientation (don't ask)
and allows homosexuals to serve
provided they keep quiet about their sexual
orientation (don't tell)
and refrain from homosexual acts.
cartoons > Cagle > "Don't ask, don't tell''
USA September 2010
Secretary of Defense USA
the American military / the U.S. military
women in military service
Army drug experiments
at the Army's Edgewood,
Md., arsenal from 1955 until about
carry out an operation
"Semper Fidelis" (always faithful)
a U.S. Marine from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
top drill sergeant
Marine drill instructor DI
Fort Jackson, S.C.,
one of the largest and most active
initial entry training centers in the U.S. Army
U.S. Military Academy graduates
West Point / United States Military Academy
at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y
Gen. Michael W. Hagee, U.S. Marine Corps Commandant
senior Marine commanders
Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, IV
U.S. army soldiers
US soldiers in
soldiers from the Second Battlion, 12th Cavalry
soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division
National Guard soldiers
stand at attention
be assigned to...
the 2nd Force Service Support Group
U.S. military personnel
troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y.
The 172nd Stryker Brigade
be assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored
be from the 101st Airborne Division
U.S. Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment
soldiers from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
Master Sgt. Cindy Rathbun
Col. R. Gary Sokoloski
Maj. General Richard A. Huck, the division commander
Video: Inside the surge
The Guardian's award-winning photographer and filmmaker Sean Smith
months embedded with US troops in Baghdad and Anbar province.
His harrowing documentary exposes the exhaustion and disillusionment of the
Inside the surge, part 2: the provinces
An exclusive film from Guardian photographer Sean Smith
on his time embedded
with the US Marines in Iraq's Anbar Province
and the mountain division in the
so-called Triangle of Death. 2007
Sean Smith in Iraq
Guardian photographer Sean Smith was in Iraq before the invasion,
and stayed in
Baghdad throughout the allied campaign until the city fell to US forces.
three galleries of photographs show his view of the conflict
Guardian photographer Sean Smith >
embedded with US soldiers in Al-Anbar province
and in the so-called "triangle of death" near Baghad, Iraq
Sean Smith, the Guardian's award-winning war photographer,
spent nearly six weeks with the 101st Division of the US army in Iraq.
Watch his haunting observational film
that explodes the myth around the claims
that the Iraqis are preparing to take
control of their own country. 2006
Guardian photographer Sean Smith was in Iraq before the invasion,
and stayed in Baghdad throughout the allied campaign until the city fell to US
Here three galleries of photographs show his view of the conflict.
American marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Division
American soldiers from Charlie Company, 2nd Brigade combat team, 10th Mountain
American soldiers from the mortar team of 2nd Brigade combat team, 10th Mountain
American soldiers from Alpha Company, 2nd Brigade combat team, 10th Mountain
Company C, Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division
the Marine battalion, which is attached to the Army's Second
Brigade Combat Team
a member of the bomb disposal team stationed with the Third
Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Specialist William B. Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R.
Private first class Pfc
Specialist / Spc. Jerry Ryen King
Specialist / Spc. Daniel E. Gomez
Staff Sgt. Juan Campos
Ryan M. Wood
First Class Brian Eisch 2010
Tamara Sullivan 2010
Staff Sgt. Francisco Narewski
Daniel J. Agami
Ryan J. Hill
Sgt. William Callahan
Capt. Rory Quinn
Lt. Col. Roger B. Turner, commanding officer of the Marine
Maj. Bradford W. Tippett, the operations officer for the Third
Army major general
Gen. David H. Petraeus,
top commander of American forces in Afghanistan
four-star general > Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal,
of American forces in Afghanistan 2009-2010
four-star general > Gen. David D. McKiernan,
the top commander in Afghanistan 2008
U.S Army Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli,
the top U.S. field commander in
Joint Chiefs of Staff
top generals > Army Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez
army drill instructor
combat duty / combat tours / war tours / stop loss
The Marine Corps
U.S. / American marines
The Marine Corps > integrating women into war-fighting units > infantry officer
school at Quantico, Va.
Company K of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment,
based at Camp
at a Marine encampment
Camp Pendleton spokesman
U.S. Special Forces
United States Special Operations Command
The United States Special Operations Command oversees
small, elite units in the military that carry out
a variety of missions in hostile territory, many of them classified.
Established in 1987, it has about 54,000 active-duty personnel
from four branches of the armed services.
Updated: Aug. 31, 2011
hazing / military hazing
Army rules define hazing
as conduct whereby a service member causes another service member
“to suffer or be exposed to an activity that is cruel, abusive, oppressive or
World War II > pigeon trainer > Richard Topus
Marine Cpl. Jeremy Slaton
shows off his tattoo which reads "Death" across
The Marines are banning any new, extra-large tattoos below the elbow or the
saying such body art is harmful to the Corps' spit-and-polish image.
By Chris Park, AP
Marines ban big, garish tattoos
By Thomas Watkins, Associated Press Writer
private ≠ private soldier / mercenary
private security companies
international security giant Blackwater Worldwide
military privatisation / private security contractors
private security companies
rules of engagement
air assault on...
ground offensive against
air- and ground-offensive
on foot patrol
car bomb attack
war on terror
on the frontline
/ on the front lines
bungled air attack
Afghanistan > A Year at War 2010
Some 30,000 American soldiers
are taking part in the Afghanistan surge.
Here are the stories of the men and women
of First Battalion, 87th Infantry of
the 10th Mountain Division.
Over the next year, The New York Times will follow their journey.
Recent scenes from Afghanistan
Afghanistan's Korengal Valley
In Afghanistan with the ISAF
Daily Life in Afghanistan
in the line of fire
friendly fire /"blue-on-blue" shooting
under fire / under heavy fire
be caught in cross-fire / crossfire
be fired at
be aimed at
launch an artillery barrage
launch a heavy air and artillery bombardment
shell / shell
a piece of
mortar bomb attack
hail of mortar shells
Afghanistan > Taliban
Afghanistan > Q&A: The Taliban
Their funding, their weapons and their evolution since being ousted as
be backed by heavy air support and
be backed by artillery and tank fire
take up positions
Marines, Charlie Company - 1st Division push into Kuwait City
Iraq battle stress
fight / fight
fight to the death
pocket of resistance
operations / ops
strike at ...
strikes on ...
military strike on ...
in an air strike on ...
carry out air strikes
during an American airstrike on ...
aerial bombing of ...
a bombing and cannon strike by
pound ... from the air
bayonet and grenade actions
missing in action
a wave of bombings
and awe" air attack
take aim at...
ram a vehicle into...
suicide car bombing
hand-to-hand street fighting
a hotbed of resistance to ...
a rebel ambush on ...
target / target
hit by a missile
rescue and recovery operations
flying ace > Col. Donald Blakeslee
draft / call-up
go Awol (absent
without leave) / abscond
call up reservists
British and Commonwealth soldiers
women in the military
be shot for cowardice or desertion
clash of civilizations
move into position
spray fire at random on...
pull out / pullout
heroism / acts of great heroism
highest military honour > the
Victoria Cross VC
display repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned
valour in the face of relentless enemy action
the Navy Cross USA
be awarded the Silver
present a medal of valour to...
the Medal of Honor - The highest American decoration for military
Medal of Honor recipient > Van Thomas Barfoot
Medal of Honor recipient > Vernon Joseph Baker
medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy
medals for acts of valour
recipient of the medal
the honour of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Military medal records go online
The military records of millions of British heroes
from Waterloo to the Second World War
will be published on the internet for the
first time today.
an army barracks
Afghanistan war > Camp Bastion > Britain's vast military base in
the Afghanistan desert
Life on a British base in Sangin, Afghanistan
be prosecuted for war crimes under the
International Criminal Court Act 2001
U.S. Marines searching a
building for weapons
in Mogadishu, Somalia
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
30 August 2010
post-traumatic stress disorder
On War and Redemption
November 8, 2011
The New York Times
By TIMOTHY KUDO
Home Fires features the writing of men and women
who have returned from wartime service in the United States military.
When I returned from Afghanistan this past spring, a civilian
friend asked, “Is it good to be back?” It was the first time someone had asked,
and I answered honestly. But I won’t do that again. We weren’t ready for that
conversation. Instead, when people ask, I make it easy for everyone by
responding, “It’s fine.” That’s a lie, though. It’s not fine.
It’s not the sights, sounds, adrenaline and carnage of war that linger. It’s the
morality. We did evil things, maybe necessary evil, but evil nonetheless. It’s
not the Taliban we killed that bother me. They knew as well as I did what can
happen when you pick up a gun and try to kill your enemies. But the enemy isn’t
the only one who dies in war.
I joined the military when we were already long into this conflict. Aside from
driving to San Francisco to protest the Iraq invasion, I quickly embraced the
inevitability of these wars and relinquished their execution to the government.
That was a terrible mistake. In 2006, as both wars raged and the Iraq conflict
seemed doomed, I felt obligated to do something. I had no idea what I was
committing to when I raised my right hand and took the oath. I realize that my
decision was extreme, but it’s one I felt bound to. Only now do I understand the
responsibility that military members bear, not only for the lives of others, but
also for the consequences of their actions.
It was on a patrol early in our deployment in September of 2010 when the Afghan
farmer dropped his shovel and ran for his life. Our squad of 10 dove for the
ground. We looked toward the staccato crack of machine gun fire but saw nothing.
A few anxious Marines fired anyway. We moved. Someone observed Taliban in a
small building just ahead. We fired. It was the first time in an hour anyone had
a clue where the enemy was. I saw two Afghans calmly building a wall despite the
war erupting around them. Nothing made sense.
We cleared the building. As one team assaulted it, a Marine holding security
spotted two armed men driving toward us on a motorcycle. Gunfire rang out from
multiple directions. “Are you sure they have guns?” I asked. Nobody knew. We
shot a smoke grenade as warning in case they were civilians. They paused, then
resumed course. We yelled and waved for them to stop. They persisted. I thought:
they might kill my Marines but if we kill them, we might be wrong. Cracks and
flashes erupted from the motorcycle. The only hard fact about the rules of
engagement is that you have the right to defend yourself. You decide for
yourself to pull the trigger. The Marines returned fire for 10 long seconds. The
motorcycle sparked where the rounds slapped the metal and drove into the bodies.
The bike stopped. The men fell.
The building was empty. No bodies, no blood, no bullet casings. The fog of war
lifted. I had been certain what was happening and I was wrong. The combination
of confusion, chaos and adrenaline can’t be explained unless you’ve also
experienced it. We ran to the motorcycle. One Marine made a quiet plea, “Please
let them have weapons. Something. Anything.” They were dead. Their weapons were
sticks and bindles. The muzzle flash was light glaring off the motorcycle’s
chrome. One man was no older than 16. It was late afternoon then and, in the
Muslim tradition, their family quickly arrived to bury them in the last hour of
Even now, I don’t know what led them to drive toward a group of Marines firing
machine guns, despite warnings, yells and waving. I know that our decision was
right and, given the outcome, that it was also wrong. We trained to kill for
years and given the opportunity, part of us jumped at the chance to finally be
Marines. Despite the school construction and shuras, that’s what it meant to
make a difference in uniform; it meant killing our enemies. But these men
weren’t enemies. They were just trying to get to a home so close that their
family was able to watch them die. After the shooting, the families encircled us
in hysterics as they collected the bodies. It was the first and only time I saw
an Afghan adult woman’s face. The wailing continued in the distance as we
continued on our mission.
The insanity of war means that incidents like this are accepted. By the
standards of those who fight wars we actually did the right thing. The
catastrophe is that these incidents occur on an industrial scale. Throughout
Afghanistan, there are accidental civilian killings; it is war’s nature. When we
choose war, we are unleashing a force, much like a natural disaster, that can
literally destroy everything and from which there’s no going back. As 10 years
of conflict have shown us, nobody knows how wars end.
With six months left on our deployment I had no choice but to move on. I told
myself we did what we were trained to do and that it just ended badly. I stuck
with that reasoning despite feeling terrible and soon, my emotions caught up to
my logic. People say they can remember a traumatic incident like it was
yesterday. I can’t. Since my return, Afghanistan has melted into a feeling more
than a memory. But I do remember the widows and orphans and wailing families and
the faces of two men on a motorcycle. They understood they were being killed as
it happened, yet they couldn’t accept their fate. They died painfully. Their
teeth clenched and grimacing.Their eyes open. Those eyes gave them a final
pleading expression. Why did you kill us?
Back in the United States, I look at people and think: “You have no idea what
right and wrong are.” Much that I once held as matters of conscience is now just
custom or culture. The challenging thing about ethics is you have to figure them
out for yourself. What the war taught me is first: you should always strive to
do the right thing even though you can’t control the outcome. Second, wrong
decisions have tragic, irreversible consequences. There is no return. Nothing
changes it and no lesson justifies it.
I never pulled the trigger on my rifle but I ordered other men to kill. For an
officer, there is little difference. In all militaries, individuals don’t kill,
groups do. We are each assigned small tasks in the orchestrated murder of our
enemies and oftentimes, this decentralization creates its own momentum. We
became excellent at engineering the enemy’s death. After one incident, my
commanding officer told me that he was ultimately responsible. Yes, by the
letter of the law, that is true. But everything we did over there we did
together. We’re all responsible. I feel it, and I know that the other officers
and N.C.O.’s share the same moments of pride and shame. I also know that that
this sense of responsibility is shared all the way to the presidents I’ve served
under who saw the consequences of our actions at the hospitals at Bethesda,
Walter Reed and Dover Air Force Base.
Only the dead have seen the end of war. This is a maxim that has been used to
illuminate humanity’s propensity for war, but it is also an accurate reflection
of many veterans’ experiences. The war not only came back with us, it was here
the entire time, experienced by orphans and widows. It was experienced by the
widows from my unit who were unable to cook a single meal for their kids since
their husband’s death. During a memorial a few weeks after our return, families
of the dead collapsed grief-stricken in front of their loved ones’ pictures as a
thousand Marines solemnly bore witness. When an officer went to the house to
check on one family, the littlest one told him matter-of-factly, “My daddy is
Civilians can’t shoulder the responsibility for killing, but the social contract
demands they care for those who do. And this is the great disconnect in our
society right now, because that feeling of responsibility is still locked behind
the fences of our military bases. My friends killed and died over there for
America. And while many of my peers view that as sentimental, jingoistic, naive,
or (behind closed doors) stupid, those men believed so deeply in something they
were willing to give everything for it. When we wage war to defend the American
way of life, there’s an obligation to uphold that ideal. Can we honestly say
we’ve done that?
The Marine Hymn states that we are “first to fight for right
and freedom and to keep our honor clean.” Since the shooting, I’ve thought about
what that means and decided that it was beyond good and evil. It was an
accident. War doesn’t distinguish between innocence or guilt, skill or
incompetence, intelligence or idiocy. But we do. We see injustice in the deaths
and can’t accept their inevitability. But it was fated when we decided to go to
war. In that sense, we’re all responsible.
After coming home, our commanders told us we earned glory for our unit, but I
know it’s more complicated than that. War has little to do with glory and
everything to do with hard work and survival. It’s about keeping your goodness
amid the evil. But no matter what happens, you never work hard enough, people
die and evil touches everyone. Our lives will go on but the war will never go
away. That’s why it’s not simply good to be back. I thought my war was over, but
it followed me. It followed all of us. We returned only to find that it was
waiting here the entire time and will always be with us.
Captain Timothy Kudo deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan
2009 and 2011
with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.
He’s currently a
Senior Membership Associate with Iraq
and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Before joining the military he taught middle school math
in the Bronx with Teach
He is a native of Santa Monica, Calif.
On War and
Redemption, NYT, 8.11.2011,
Senate Repeals ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
December 18, 2010
The New York Times
By CARL HULSE
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Saturday voted to strike down the ban on gay men
and lesbians serving openly in the military, bringing to a close a 17-year
struggle over a policy that forced thousands of Americans from the ranks and
caused others to keep secret their sexual orientation.
By a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats, the Senate
approved and sent to President Obama a repeal of the Clinton-era law, known as
“don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy critics said amounted to government-sanctioned
discrimination that treated gay, lesbian and bisexual troops as second-class
Mr. Obama hailed the action, which fulfills his pledge to reverse the ban, and
said it was “time to close this chapter in our history.”
“As commander in chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change
will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best-led and
best-trained fighting force the world has ever known,” he said in a statement
after the Senate, on a preliminary 63-to-33 vote, beat back Republican efforts
to block final action on the repeal bill.
The vote marked a historic moment that some equated with the end of racial
segregation in the military.
It followed an exhaustive Pentagon review that determined the policy could be
changed with only isolated disruptions to unit cohesion and retention, though
members of combat units and the Marine Corps expressed greater reservations
about the shift. Congressional action was backed by Pentagon officials as a
better alternative to a court-ordered end.
Supporters of the repeal said it was long past time to abolish what they saw as
an ill-advised practice that cost valuable personnel and forced troops to lie to
serve their country.
“We righted a wrong,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from
Connecticut and a leader of the effort to end the ban. “Today we’ve done
Before voting on the repeal, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created a
path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants who came to the United States
at a young age, completed two years of college or military service and met other
requirements including passing a criminal background check.
The 55-to-41 vote in favor of the citizenship bill was five votes short of the
number needed to clear the way for final passage of what is known as the Dream
The outcome effectively kills it for this year, and its fate beyond that is
uncertain since Republicans who will assume control of the House in January
oppose the measure and are unlikely to bring it to a vote.
The Senate then moved on to the military legislation, engaging in an emotional
back and forth over the merits of the measure as advocates for repeal watched
from galleries crowded with people interested in the fate of both the military
and immigration measures.
“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the
debate opened. “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you
shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”
Mr. Wyden showed up for the Senate vote despite saying earlier that he would be
unable to do so because he would be undergoing final tests before his scheduled
surgery for prostate cancer on Monday.
The vote came in the final days of the 111th Congress as Democrats sought to
force through a final few priorities before they turn over control of the House
of Representatives to the Republicans in January and see their clout in the
It represented a significant victory for the White House, Congressional
advocates of lifting the ban and activists who have pushed for years to end the
Pentagon policy created in 1993 under the Clinton administration as a compromise
effort to end the practice of barring gay men and lesbians entirely from
Saying it represented an emotional moment for members of the gay community
nationwide, advocates who supported repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” exchanged
hugs outside the Senate chamber after the vote.
“Today’s vote means gay and lesbian service members posted all around the world
can stand taller knowing that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ will soon be coming to an
end,” said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director for
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and his party’s presidential
candidate in 2008, led the opposition to the repeal and said the vote was a sad
day in history.
“I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are
doing great damage,” Mr. McCain said. “And we could possibly and probably, as
the commandant of the Marine Corps said, and as I have been told by literally
thousands of members of the military, harm the battle effectiveness vital to the
survival of our young men and women in the military.”
He and others opposed to lifting the ban said the change could harm the unit
cohesion that is essential to effective military operations, particularly in
combat, and deter some Americans from enlisting or pursuing a career in the
military. They noted that despite support for repealing the ban from Defense
Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, other military commanders have warned that changing the practice would
“This isn’t broke,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said about
the policy. “It is working very well.”
Other Republicans said that while the policy might need to be changed at some
point, Congress should not do so when American troops are fighting overseas.
Only a week ago, the effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy seemed
to be dead and in danger of fading for at least two years with Republicans about
to take control of the House. The provision eliminating the ban was initially
included in a broader Pentagon policy bill, and Republican backers of repeal had
refused to join in cutting off a filibuster against the underlying bill because
of objections over limits on debate of the measure.
In a last-ditch effort, Mr. Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key
Republican opponent of the ban, encouraged Democratic Congressional leaders to
instead pursue a vote on simply repealing it. The House passed the measure
earlier in the week.
The repeal will not take effect for at least 60 days, and probably longer, while
some other procedural steps are taken. In addition, the bill requires the
defense secretary to determine that policies are in place to carry out the
repeal “consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit
cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”
“It is going to take some time,” Ms. Collins said. “It is not going to happen
In a statement, Mr. Gates said that once the measure was signed into law, he
would “immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change
carefully and methodically, but purposefully.” In the meantime, he said, “the
current law and policy will remain in effect.”
Because of the delay in formally overturning the policy, Mr. Sarvis appealed to
Mr. Gates to suspend any investigations into military personnel or discharge
proceedings now under way. Legal challenges to the existing ban are also
expected to continue until the repeal is fully carried out.
In addition to Ms. Collins, Republicans backing the repeal were Senators Scott
P. Brown of Massachusetts, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, John Ensign of
Nevada, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia J. Snowe of
Maine and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.
“It was a difficult vote for many of them,” Ms. Collins said, “but in the end
they concluded, as I have concluded, that we should welcome the service of any
qualified individual who is willing to put on the uniform of this country.”
Mr. Lieberman said the ban undermined the integrity of the military by forcing
troops to lie. He said 14,000 people had been forced to leave the armed forces
under the policy.
“What a waste,” he said.
The fight erupted in the early days of President Bill Clinton’s administration
and has been a roiling political issue ever since. Mr. Obama endorsed repeal in
his presidential campaign and advocates saw the current Congress as their best
opportunity for ending the ban. Dozens of advocates of ending the ban —
including one severely wounded in combat before being forced from the military —
watched from the Senate gallery as the debate took place.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services
Committee, dismissed Republican complaints that Democrats were trying to race
through the repeal to satisfy their political supporters.
“I’m not here for partisan reasons,” Mr. Levin said. “I’m here because men and
women wearing the uniform of the United States who are gay and lesbian have died
for this country, because gay and lesbian men and women wearing the uniform of
this country have their lives on the line right now.”
Senate Repeals ‘Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell’, NYT, 18.12.2010,
a Marine Who Wrote About Combat,
Dies at 79
December 9, 2010
The New York Times
By DENNIS HEVESI
Sheets of enemy gunfire and a hail of mortar shells pinned
down Sgt. Martin Russ and his platoon of Marines when they ventured into the no
man’s land between North and South Korea in the summer of 1953 — the last days
of the Korean War.
“During the barrage,” Sergeant Russ later wrote, “I tried to draw my entire body
within my helmet, like a fetus.”
For seven months, when he was back in the bunkers, he scribbled his thoughts in
a small notebook. Diaries were prohibited, so when a lieutenant asked what he
was writing, he said they were notes for letters home. Those notes became “The
Last Parallel: A Marine’s War Journal,” which rose to No. 8 on The New York
Times best-seller list in 1957.
Mr. Russ, a college dropout who went on to write other books about the chaos of
combat, died Monday at his home in Oakville, Calif., his sister S. K. Dunn said.
He was 79.
At 21, Sergeant Russ served on that front line — the 38th parallel — with the
First Marine Division. The Marines called it the M.L.R., or main line of
resistance — a strip that in some places was a hundred yards wide, in others
thousands. There, despite horrific battles, the armies did not move on, he
wrote; they just dug deeper into their trenches and caves, outposts they named
for movie stars: Marilyn, Ingrid, Ava and Hedy. Decimated companies were
replenished by fresh troops.
Both sides became so fortified that few men ever ventured out in daylight and
survived. Night after night, patrols wove through the brush and terraced rice
paddies to confront the enemy, rescue the wounded or die. It was a stalemate
accepted by both sides because a breakthrough would have cost more casualties
than it was worth — a stalemate that holds to this day.
Home from the war, Mr. Russ tried his hand at acting in Pasadena, then moved to
a small town in Oregon where he sold sewing machines and turned his combat notes
into his first book.
“A book for the years that sets new standards for candid narratives about
citizens in armor,” The New York Times said in a review.
Among Mr. Russ’s other books, most of them based on interviews with combat
veterans, are “Line of Departure: Tarawa” (1967) and “Breakout: The Chosin
Reservoir Campaign, Korea” (1999).
In “Line of Departure” he recounted the World War II battle in which, for the
first time, American forces faced serious Japanese opposition to an amphibious
landing; the Japanese fought almost to the last man and exacted a heavy toll.
For “Breakout,” Mr. Russ interviewed Marines who were surrounded when a Chinese
army of about 60,000 poured over Korea’s border in November 1950, intent on
wiping out American forces marching north to the Yalu River on orders from Gen.
Douglas MacArthur. About 12,000 Marines, strung out along 80 miles of winding
mountain road leading to the Chosin Reservoir, battled their way out of the
Martin Saxon Russ was born in Newark on Feb. 14, 1931, to Carroll and Lavinia
Saxon Dunn. His parents were professional writers. Mrs. Dunn later married Hugh
Russ, who adopted her children. Besides his sister S. K. Dunn, Mr. Russ is
survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Liza Blaisdell; another sister,
Sissy Turner; two daughters, Phoebe Russ and Molly Russ; a son, Luke; and two
After graduating from a private school in Connecticut, Mr. Russ attended St.
Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., but dropped out in his junior year to join
the Marines. Assigned to an ordinance battalion, Private Russ made a nuisance of
himself until his request for combat duty was granted.
In later years, although he had no college degree, he taught writing at what is
now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Despite the fear and devastation he had faced in Korea and later wrote about,
Sergeant Russ remained “a gung-ho Marine” throughout his life, his sister said.
Of his time on the front line, he wrote in his first book: “I’d rather be here
than anywhere else in the world. Whether I’m ready for the loony bin or not is
beside the point.”
Martin Russ, a Marine
Who Wrote About Combat, Dies at 79, NYT, 9.12.2010,
Last Returns to Beachhead
June 6, 2009
The New York Times
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
William G. Dabney could hardly have expected to be spending that ferocious
June day in 1944 hunkered on Omaha Beach, struggling to keep aloft one of the
tethered silver balloons intended to confound German pilots trying to bomb or
strafe exposed Allied invaders in Normandy.
As a member of the only all-black unit in the D-Day landings on Omaha and Utah,
the two beachheads assigned to American forces, Corporal Dabney was a rarity in
a European war that in its early days was fought almost entirely by whites.
The contributions of his unit, the 320th Antiaircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion,
have been largely forgotten over the years. But on Saturday, Mr. Dabney, now 84,
will join President Obama near Omaha Beach to mark the 65th anniversary of the
invasion. On Friday, he received the Legion of Honor from the French government.
Officials of the White House Commission on Remembrance, which organizes services
at American war memorials, say he is the only survivor of the 320th they have
been able to track down.
At 17, Mr. Dabney, of Roanoke, Va., had chafed to join older friends already at
war, and had to persuade his grandmother to let him enlist. Most black soldiers
were being given support roles in the United States, but like many young men,
Mr. Dabney craved action at the front. He volunteered for “special service,”
which he thought would have him loading artillery weapons.
“I didn’t know that it involved flying balloons,” he said in a telephone
interview from Roanoke.
He was sent to Tennessee to train with the 320th, a unit intended mainly to
deploy blimplike balloons for coastal defense. But he soon found himself bound
for England and a role in the invasion of France.
In retrospect, Corporal Dabney and his contemporaries can be seen as pioneers.
As late as the mid-1930s, the Army had been less than 2 percent black. The Coast
Guard used blacks only as stewards, the Navy mainly for kitchen help. The
Marines and the Army Air Forces barred blacks outright. The discriminatory
treatment was defended by an Army War College report in 1925 concluding that
blacks lacked intellect and courage.
“Blacks wanted to participate” in World War II, “but the position of the
military was that wartime is not a time for social experimentation,” said
William A. De Shields, a retired Army colonel and founder of the Black Military
History Institute of America.
Blacks who did join the services were often assigned to thankless jobs as
stevedores, stewards or ammunition handlers. (A single catastrophic explosion of
ammunition at Port Chicago, Calif., in July 1944 claimed the lives of 202 black
sailors, among a total of 320 people killed.)
Some seeds of change had already been planted, however. In June 1941, President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, wary of backlash from whites but pressured not only by
groups like the predominantly black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters but also
by his wife, Eleanor, ordered an end to discrimination in war industry
And that March, the Army Air Forces created a unit of black fliers now well
known as the Tuskegee airmen. Their achievements, along with those of other
black units, helped discredit the War College report.
Still, before the invasion of France, most black soldiers, whose numbers had
risen to 700,000, were stationed in the United States. By 1944, however,
manpower shortages were acute, and by the end of that year more than two-thirds
of black troops were overseas. Corporal Dabney was part of that wave.
So was George A. Davison, another member of the 320th, who died in 2002. In a
letter home after D-Day, Sergeant Davison recalled crossing the English Channel
on the morning of the invasion, in a landing craft shared with Army rangers. “It
was our turn,” he wrote.
Once the landing craft approached shore, the troops had to wade through
chest-high waves, then dig in on the beach under extreme fire. That done, the
men of the 320th deployed their balloons by filling them with helium.
The balloons, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported, “provided a
screen of rubber several miles long on the two main beachheads.” Three German
planes were downed when they struck balloons, which carried explosives, or hit
The balloons came in various sizes. Corporal Dabney headed a three-man crew
responsible for one balloon, of a type classified as V.L.A., for very low
Sergeant Davison also worked with V.L.A.’s. “These weren’t the big barrage
balloons,” which could be 60 feet long, his son Bill said in an interview. “They
were about the size of a Volkswagen.”
“They had only 2,000 feet of line, as opposed to bigger balloons with 10,000
feet,” Bill Davison said. “But 2,000 would keep enemy planes from strafing the
Mr. Dabney recalled the intensity of the Germans’ fire. “We thought at one time
me and my crew might get pushed back into the English Channel,” he said,
“because they were fighting so furiously.”
Sergeant Davison saw a ranger near him blown apart. It was a day, he wrote home,
“of ducking bullets and anything that would kill a man.” He was “too afraid to
be afraid,” he wrote.
Four members of the 320th died. One who lived showed particular courage. Waverly
B. Woodson Jr., a medic, was injured by a mine explosion but went on to work for
30 straight hours treating other wounded men. He received a Bronze Star.
The younger Mr. Davison, who has pledged to keep his father’s story alive,
recently sent President Obama a letter about it.
“I hope he reads it,” Mr. Davison said, “and hope he has some sense of the
African-Americans who were there.”
So does Colonel De Shields, of the Black Military History Institute. “Obama is a
young man,” Colonel De Shields said. “We hope he’ll have an appreciation for the
contribution that African-Americans made in World War II, when we were fighting
two enemies: the enemy abroad and racism at home.”
Last Returns to Beachhead, NYT, 6.6.2009,
Is Ruled Out for Traumatic Stress
January 8, 2009
The New York Times
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and ERIK ECKHOLM
The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the
hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy action, to war veterans
who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical
The decision, made public on Tuesday, for now ends the hope of Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans who have the condition and believed that the Purple Hearts
could honor their sacrifice and help remove some of the stigma associated with
The disorder, which may go unrecognized for months or years, can include
recurring nightmares, uncontrolled rage and, sometimes, severe depression and
suicide. Soldiers grappling with PTSD are often unable to hold down jobs.
In May, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said awarding Purple Hearts to such
service members was “clearly something that needs to be looked at,” after he
toured a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Tex.
But a Pentagon advisory group decided against the award because, it said, the
condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or
bullet, and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify.
“Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or
psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic
combat events,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Current medical
knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as
would be required for this award at this time.”
One in five service members, or at least 300,000, suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder or major depression, according to a Rand Corporation study in
For some soldiers suffering from the disorder, the historical distinction
between blood and no blood in an injury fails to recognize the depths of their
mental scars. A modern war — one fought without safe havens and with the benefit
of improved armor — calls for a new definition of injuries, some veterans say.
Kevin Owsley, 47, who served in the Ohio National Guard in 2004 as a gunner on a
Humvee and who is being treated for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, said he
disagreed with the Pentagon’s ruling.
Unable to hold a job, Mr. Owsley supports his family on disability payments.
This week he told his Veterans Affairs doctor he was fighting back suicidal
impulses, something he has struggled with since his return. “You relive it every
night and every day,” he said. “You dream about it. You can see it, taste it,
see people getting killed constantly over and over.”
“It is a soldier’s injury,” he said, angrily, in a telephone interview on
But many soldiers do not feel that way. In online debates and interviews they
expressed concern that the Purple Heart would be awarded to soldiers who faked
symptoms to avoid combat or receive a higher disability rating from the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m glad they finally got something right,” said Jeremy Rausch, an Army staff
sergeant who saw some of the Iraq War’s fiercest fighting in Adhamiya in 2006
and 2007. “PTSD can be serious, but there is absolutely no way to prove that
someone truly is suffering from it or faking it.”
The Purple Heart in its modern form was established by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in
1932. Some 1.7 million service members have received the medal, and, as of last
August, 2,743 service members who served in Afghanistan and 33,923 who fought in
Iraq had received the award.
The medal entitles veterans to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from
co-payments for veterans hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher
priority in scheduling appointments.
The Pentagon left open the possibility that it could revisit the issue.
But a Pentagon-supported service group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart,
has strongly opposed expanding the definition to include psychological symptoms,
saying it would “debase” the honor.
“Would you award it to anyone who suffered the effects of chemicals or for other
diseases and illnesses?” John E. Bircher III, director of public relations for
the group, said Wednesday. “How far do you want to take it?”
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first identified during the Vietnam War and
has gradually been accepted as a serious psychological problem for some who
experience violence and fear.
Dr. Barbara V. Romberg, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., and founder of Give an
Hour, which offers mental health services to troops and their families, said
that she and many other psychologists believed the discussion of Purple Hearts
had brought more attention to post-traumatic stress disorder and the seriousness
of psychological wounds suffered on the battlefield.
“We’re working to normalize post-traumatic stress as an understandable human
consequence of war that can result in very serious damage to some people’s
lives, and they deserve honoring for that,” she said.
“But I don’t want to be so quick to condemn the decision,” she added.
Many have post-traumatic stress, but only some develop a serious lasting
disorder; in both cases, she said, “people deserve to be honored in some way for
the injury they received in combat.”
After years of criticism for ignoring the problem, the Defense Department and
the Veterans Administration have bolstered their capacity to diagnose and treat
PTSD, and those with serious cases may receive substantial disability benefits.
Some of those suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries qualify for a
Purple Heart because they required medical treatment.
But in its decision not to extend Purple Hearts to PTSD sufferers, first
reported Tuesday by Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon said part of the problem
stemmed from the difficulty in objectively diagnosing the disorder.
That decision was made in November. It was not clear why the Pentagon did not
announce the decision then.
There have been recent changes in awarding Purple Hearts. The criteria was
expanded in 2008 to include all prisoners of war who died in captivity,
including those who were tortured. “There were wounds there,” Mr. Bircher said.
“You have to had shed blood by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy of
the United States,” he said. “Shedding blood is the objective.”
Purple Heart Is Ruled Out for Traumatic
Stress, NYT, 8.1.2009,
Spike Lee to Focus on Black Soldiers
July 3, 2007
Filed at 11:25 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ROME (AP) -- Spike Lee announced plans Tuesday to make a movie about the
struggle against Nazi occupiers in Italy during World War II that he hopes will
highlight the contribution of black American soldiers who fought and died to
The film will spotlight the courage of black soldiers who, despite suffering
discrimination back home, offered a contribution that has so far gone largely
unnoticed in other Hollywood movies, Lee said.
''We have black people who are fighting for democracy who at the same time are
classified as second-class citizens,'' the 50-year-old filmmaker said. ''That is
why I'd like to do a film to show how these brave black men, despite all the
hardship they were going through, still pushed that aside and fought for the
Based on the novel ''Miracle at St. Anna'' by James McBride, the movie will tell
the story of four black American soldiers, all members of the Army's all-black
92nd ''Buffalo Soldier'' Division, who are trapped behind enemy lines in an
Italian village in Tuscany in 1944.
Filming is planned in Tuscany, Rome and the United States, Lee said.
Shooting is expected to start early next year, said producer Roberto Cicutto.
Cicutto said the movie will cost $45 million.
''This is a wonderful story and what makes it even more wonderful is that it is
based upon true incidents,'' Lee said. ''If you look at the history of
Hollywood, the black soldiers who fought World War II are invisible.''
The film will also look at the relationship between the soldiers and the
villagers, some of whom are partisans.
''We had good relationships with the Italian people, they gave us a lot of
information,'' recalled 82-year-old William Perry who, at 19, was an infantry
soldier in the Buffalo Division.
''I'm not a hero, the heroes are those buried in the American cemetery in
Florence. I hope this movie will put a positive spin on some of our activities
here,'' Perry said.
Spike Lee to Focus on Black Soldiers, NYT, 3.7.2007,
Searching for MIAs _ How You Can Help
July 3, 2007
Filed at 12:13 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WHOM ARE THEY LOOKING FOR -- Some 88,000 U.S. troops still missing from World
War II and other conflicts.
HOW TO HELP -- Investigators rely heavily on
tips and information from relatives and private citizens. They particularly
value eyewitnesses. Relatives can provide DNA samples taken from swabs of the
inside of the cheek.
WHOM TO CONTACT -- The Joint POW/MIA Accounting
Command, at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, can be contacted through their
http://www.jpac.pacom.mil/Contact.htm . The Defense POW/MIA Personnel
Office, which oversees policy issues and maintains a family support team, has a
homepage at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/ .
Searching for MIAs _ How You Can Help, NYT,
Soldier's diary recalls horror of the Somme
Thursday March 8, 2007
For almost a century, poets and historians have struggled to describe the
carnage of July 1 1916, the bloodiest day in the history of the British army.
Personal tales are easily lost amid the colossal death toll of the first day of
the battle of the Somme. Of the 120,000 British soldiers who scrambled out of
the trenches to march into a wall of fire, almost 20,000 died.
But a blunt account of the initial offensive by a grocer from South Yorkshire,
which sold at auction yesterday for £7,360, goes some way to explaining what it
was like to be there that day.
Not a lot is known about Walter Hutchinson, a stretcher-bearer in the 10th
Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment, who wrote the diary during the first three
weeks of the battle. He is said to have been a mild-mannered and bespectacled
man who stood 5ft 5in tall. He had a wife, Evelyn, and a daughter, Connie. He
retired in the Lincolnshire seaside resort of Cleethorpes before he died in the
But thanks to his diary, a few facts are indisputable. It reveals that Walter's
"first taste of gas" came on the morning the deadliest battle of the first world
war commenced, after he and his comrades crossed a marsh and clambered into a
His description of the bloodshed that unfolded, repeated again and again in the
diary, is as moving a phrase as any other. It was "an awful sight".
"We hadn't gone far up the trench before we came across three of our own lads
lying dead," he wrote on that first day. "Their heads been badly damaged by a
shell. Their names were Voice and Webster Brothers. We had to go scrambling over
the poor fellows - in and out, in and out. It was one of the awful sights I had
ever witnessed and at this point our own lads was coming out wounded as we was
following them in."
The "lads" were ordered to "dump everything and fix bayonets" and fight. "We
obeyed the order like men."
Walter was hit on the hip by a piece of shell, but "kept running after the
"We then landed at the trench we was making for and found out it was our own
original front line trench. And we saw some awful sights in it for a lot of
wounded men had not been got out there."
The following day Walter peeled back the a sheet from the corpse he believed was
covering his pal Charley: "But I went and lifted the oilsheet from over his face
and found that it was Harold Beecher. And I asked questions about him and found
out he was badly wounded Saturday night and died early on Sunday morning. He was
a clerk in civil life. I was very sorry for we had been good chums from the day
we arrived in France."
He and his colleagues were rescued, but spent three days without food.
On the third day, amid a lull in the fighting, Walter and his fellow men "got to
work and dug some graves for our poor comrades. We buried the poor fellows as
respectful as we could under the circumstances". There were more burials the
next day. And the next. "It was an awful sight. We then got the poor fellows
buried which was a very difficult task for shells was dropping all around us."
The diary, which fetched 10 times its estimate, was sold at Dix Noonan Webb
auctioneers in London by Walter's niece, Jeanette Ive, 75, from Wimborne,
Dorset. It went to a private bidder alongside a Military Medal and a pocket
watch presented to him in 1917.
Extract 'We obeyed the order like men'
Saturday July 1
As soon as we got on the road we saw an awful sight, for there was wounded men
by hundreds coming from the line ... then the order came down, dump everything
and fix bayonets, you have got to fight for it lads. We obeyed the order like
men ... I know we had had a lot of lads wounded and I had not seen anything of
Charley my pal since ... the morning.
Sunday July 2
I asked about my pal and they told me they was afraid he had been killed. But I
went and lifted the oilsheet from over his face and found that it was Harold
Beecher ... I was very sorry for we had been good chums from the day we arrived
in France ...
Tuesday July 4 - Friday 7
Made some tea and had something to eat for the first time since Saturday morning
... We was fairly quiet from the Wednes to the Friday teatime, then Fritz
started shelling us again. I was talking to these three men some 10 yards away
and a shell dropped and killed all the three of them. It was an awful sight.
Soldier's diary recalls horror of the Somme, G, 8.3.2007,
Revisiting Sgt. York
and a Time When Heroes Stood Tall
June 18, 2006
The New York Times
By CRAIG S. SMITH
CHÂTEL-CHÉHÉRY, France — On Oct. 8, 1918, Cpl.
Alvin Cullum York and 16 other American doughboys stumbled upon more than a
dozen German soldiers having breakfast in a boggy hollow here.
The ensuing firefight ended with the surrender of 132 Germans and won Corporal
York a promotion to sergeant, the Congressional Medal of Honor and a place in
America's pantheon of war heroes.
Now another battle is unfolding as rival researchers use global positioning
systems and computer programs, old maps and military reports to try to establish
the exact site of the fighting on that day 88 years ago. Their heated
examinations do not challenge the essential heroism of Sergeant York, yet such
scrutiny helps explain why it is hard to be a hero these days.
There are other reasons, too, of course. Wars are often unpopular clashes
fraught with moral ambiguity, and while the news media are often attracted to
heroism, they also like to challenge myth building.
The military's attempt to turn Pfc. Jessica Lynch into a hero after the invasion
of Iraq unraveled when it emerged that she had not emptied her rifle at
advancing Iraqi soldiers, as first reported. The initial accounts of Cpl. Pat
Tillman's death in Afghanistan in April 2004 came undone when it was disclosed
that the corporal, a former N.F.L. star, had been killed by members of his own
Military abuses now have a longer shelf life than acts of derring-do.
It was easier to create heroic stories in 1918 when the press was more pliable
and the public more gullible, and the popular media had a fondness for uplifting
tales of uncomplicated bravery. Though newspaper articles at the time refer to
members of Sergeant York's platoon who challenged the accounts of that day, the
doubters were given only enough attention to dismiss them.
His exploits grew until he had single-handedly silenced 35 German machine gun
nests and killed 25 enemy soldiers.
The latter-day search for the site of his heroic stand raises questions about
the long-accepted story. In particular, evidence of the sprawl of German
military positions that day does not mesh easily with the geographic
concentration described in Sergeant York's published diary.
According to his account, he was in a group of 17 men who sneaked behind enemy
lines to attack German machine gunners who were holding up a larger American
advance. They surprised a group of soldiers, who surrendered, but almost
immediately came under fire from machine gunners on a ridge 30 yards away.
Six of the Americans were killed and three others were wounded, leaving then
Corporal York the officer in charge. He is credited with overcoming the superior
force by using his sharpshooting skills, honed during turkey shoots and squirrel
hunts in the Tennessee woods.
"Every time I seed a German I jes teched him off," his published diary reads.
This version holds that the senior German officer in charge eventually offered
to order his men to surrender if Corporal York would stop shooting. Within weeks
the young Tennessean was being feted as a war hero, and by the time he returned
to a New York City ticker-tape parade the next May, he had been anointed the
Great War's bravest patriot.
But even he seemed bemused by the mythmaking that surrounded him, and he shunned
the lucrative limelight after the war for the obscurity of his old Tennessee
His heroism might have been forgotten outside the state had Hollywood not
revived the story in the 1941 film "Sergeant York." Gary Cooper won an Oscar for
his portrayal of the hero, and the film became the highest-grossing movie of the
year as another European war was under way.
But underlying the well-shaped tale is a murkier, more complex narrative.
Sergeant York's published diary is actually a heavily embellished account
written for magazine serialization in the 1920's with help from a flamboyant
Australian soldier-poet named Tom Skeyhill, who was blinded earlier in the war.
That diary contradicts itself on several points, and the homey, mountain
vernacular in which it is written is almost certainly an invention of Mr.
Skeyhill, who often wrote in colorful dialects. Michael Birdwell, a historian
and the curator of Sergenat York's papers at the Alvin C. York Historic Site,
says the sergeant's family has never made the real diary available to
historians, so it is not clear what it contains.
"The question is, what is really York and what is after-the-fact addition and
what is plain fabrication?" said Mr. Birdwell, who is part of a team searching
for the exact location of the battle. "I personally dismiss much of the
Nor did Sergeant York's tale go unchallenged. Although the Army took affidavits
from the surviving platoon members corroborating his account, at least one of
the men later asserted that he, too, had fired his weapon during the battle and
that it was impossible to tell who was responsible for killing the most Germans
or how many of them had died.
Two corporals, William Cutting and Bernard Early, who were both wounded, said
the Sergeant York legend had started with a reporter for The Saturday Evening
Post, George Patullo. They met him at a first aid station after the incident,
they said, and told him about the day's events.
Mr. Patullo chose to focus on Sergeant York, presumably because of the tighter,
richer narrative his story allowed. The article, titled "The Second Elder Gives
Battle" in a reference to his position in his Tennessee church, tells the story
of an uneducated backwoods Christian who reluctantly goes to war and reconciles
his religious beliefs with his sense of duty to his country.
The article made him an instant celebrity. But Corporal Cutting insisted long
after the war that the senior German officer had surrendered to him that day,
not to Sergeant York. He even threatened Warner Brothers with legal action if it
did not acknowledge his claims in the film.
At the release of the film, The Boston Globe ran an advertisement in the name of
the seven men saying that they did not recall signing the affidavits
corroborating Sergeant York's account and that none of them were "in agreement
with Warner Bros.' or Sergeant York's version of what really happened 'over
The Germans, too, investigated the incident and found that Sergeant York could
not possibly have carried out the feat alone. They suggested that the story was
a compilation of several events that day. Almost all of those who have wrestled
with the tale, like Mr. Birdwell, agree that the claim that he silenced 35
machine guns is pure fiction.
Still, the many inconsistencies do not detract from the fact that he and his
comrades exhibited extraordinary courage that day.
Now competing groups obsessed with pinning down the truth — to the amusement of
the local French — are using modern forensics to find the spot where Sergeant
A group of Tennessee college professors announced in March that they were "80
percent" certain that they had located the spot using metal detectors, hand-held
global positioning devices and a sophisticated computer program that overlays
historic and modern maps. But an American military intelligence officer working
for NATO insists that the professors' location is wrong and that he is close to
finding the correct spot.
"They're not even in the right valley," said the officer, Lt. Col. Douglas
Mastriano, standing in a poplar grove with a metal detector that beeps and
buzzes at buried shrapnel and cartridge casings.
Each side says its theories about where Sergeant York stood will be proved
correct if it finds spent cartridges from a Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol that
he and several witnesses said he fired at seven German soldiers who charged him
with fixed bayonets.
But each .45 cartridge casing is less than an inch long, and the pan of a metal
detector is only about a foot wide. The wooded area in which he could have been
standing covers more than a square mile and is peppered with bits of exploded
artillery and bullets, as well as spent rifle and machine gun cartridges.
In the end, it does not really matter who is right. The wooded valley where the
fighting took place, its silence broken only by intermittent birdsong, still
carries geography's sometimes powerful spell. Standing there, one can imagine
the murmur of voices, followed by shouts, the sickening rattle of machine gun
fire and, finally, the cries of falling men.
Mr. Birdwell and Colonel Mastriano have found American ammunition that may have
come from York's bolt-action Lee-Enfield Model 17 rifle. Colonel Mastriano also
found an American bullet buried in the dirt on the crest of the ridge that he
says Sergeant York was firing at.
But his rifle has disappeared, and so there is no way of verifying whether he
fired any of the rounds found. The proof, both sides say, will be finding
cartridge casings from a Colt .45 semiautomatic like the one that Sergeant York
fired — if they are to be found at all.
Revisiting Sgt. York and a Time When Heroes Stood Tall, NYT, 18.6.2006,
Diary of North Vietnam Doctor
Killed in U.S.
Makes War Real
June 6, 2006
The New York Times
By SETH MYDANS
HANOI, Vietnam — A lost wartime diary by a doctor
in which she tells of love, loneliness and death on the Ho Chi Minh Trail has
become a best seller in Vietnam, bringing the war alive for a new generation of
The journey of the diary itself has given it a special postwar symbolism for
people here. It was returned to the doctor's family just last year by a former
American soldier who recovered it after she died on the battlefield in 1970.
The writer, Dang Thuy Tram, was killed at the age of 27 in an American assault
after she had served in a war-zone clinic for more than three years. Among the
intertwining passions she expressed were her longing for a lost lover and her
longing to join the Communist Party.
This combination of revolutionary fervor with the vulnerabilities and
self-doubts of a too-sensitive young woman might be called ideology with a human
face, reminding readers that it was people like them, trapped in a moment of
history, who died on their behalf.
"Later, if you are ever able to live in the beautiful sunshine with the flowers
of Socialism," wrote Dr. Tram, addressing herself, "remember the sacrifices of
those who gave their blood for the common goal."
Her story stops abruptly with a cascade of blank pages in her little book,
putting an inconclusive end to her passions and hopes, a reminder that life can
be more pointlessly cruel than fiction.
Two days before she was killed, Dr. Tram wrote of her weariness and her longing
for "a mother's hand to care for me."
"Please come to me and hold my hand when I am so lonely," she wrote. "Love me
and give me strength to travel all the hard sections of the road ahead."
It is this tenderness of feeling that has drawn readers, breaking with a genre
of politically correct diaries that emphasized the heroism but not the pathos of
"Just yesterday," she wrote at one point, "a badly wounded soldier 21 years old
called out my name, hoping I could help him, but I could not, and my tears fell
as I watched him die in my useless hands."
When the diary was serialized in newspapers last year, people cut out and saved
the articles, passed them among their friends and read them aloud to one
another. When it was published as a book, its print run was a sensational
300,000 or more in a country where books are generally published in small
numbers, well under one-tenth that number.
"I really admire her," said Vu Thi Lan, who works in a camera shop and said she
was 38, "the same age as her daughter if she had had one."
Ms. Lan said she had read everything she could find about Dr. Tram in newspapers
and on Web sites, and wondered whether, in the doctor's place, she could have
found the strength to endure.
"In my generation we haven't had a chance to live in that kind of situation,"
Ms. Lan said. "And it's a diary. It's real. That's what makes it interesting.
She didn't mean for people to read it. It was just to release her feelings."
Two-thirds of Vietnam's 83 million people were born after the war ended, in
1975. "So for them, the Vietnam War is ancient history," said Hue-Tam Ho Tai, a
professor of Vietnamese history at Harvard. "It's their parents' history and
it's rather dry, especially in the way it's taught."
This looser, more nuanced presentation suggests that the Communist government,
which bases much of its legitimacy on its wartime victories, "is secure enough
to feel that it's O.K. to talk about the hardship of the war as well as the
glory of it," Ms. Tai said.
At one point, speaking of lost friends, Dr. Tram wrote bitterly, "War never
cares about anyone."
The book's huge press run reflects real demand, said Peter Zinoman, a professor
of Vietnamese history at the University of California at Berkeley. But it may
also involve an effort by the government to "re-energize these old values."
He said Dr. Tram might now enter an official pantheon of wartime heroes, who
include a number of brave young women.
In addition to the book, a hospital is being built and a statue erected in her
memory at the remote site of her clinic in Quang Ngai Province in central
Her grave just outside Hanoi has drawn hundreds of visitors, and special
"Following Dang Thuy Tram" tours have begun taking visitors to places mentioned
in her diary.
The visits to Hanoi of the American soldier who saved her diary, Fred
Whitehurst, have drawn wide attention and he has been welcomed almost as a
member of the family by Dr. Tram's mother, Doan Ngoc Tram, 81, and three
In a telephone interview from North Carolina, Mr. Whitehurst, who is now a
lawyer, said he had been a military interrogator whose job included sifting
through captured documents and destroying those that were of no tactical value.
He said he had come to feel that his discovery of the diary linked him and Dr.
Tram in a shared destiny, and he now calls her "my sister and my teacher."
"We were out there at the 55-gallon drum and burning documents," he said,
describing that moment, "when over my left shoulder Nguyen Trung Hieu said,
'Don't burn this one, Fred, it already has fire in it.' "
In the evenings that followed, Mr. Hieu, his translator, read passages to him
from the small book with its brown cardboard covers and, Mr. Whitehurst said,
"Human to human, I fell in love with her."
According to Dr. Tram's account, two earlier volumes were lost in a raid by
American troops, which means the published diary begins as abruptly as it ends,
as if in mid-conversation.
Last year, after keeping it for decades at home, Mr. Whitehurst donated the
diary to the Vietnam Archives at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Within weeks,
Dr. Tram's family was located in Hanoi through informal veterans' networks, and
last October her mother and sisters were brought to Texas to be reunited with
"It seemed that my own daughter was in front of me," her mother said in an
interview at her home. "For me the information in the diary is not the important
thing. What is important is that when I have the diary in my hands, I feel I am
holding the soul of my daughter."
She said she was only able to read the diary in small sections because of the
power of the account. "She wrote us letters, but we never imagined that she was
suffering those dangers," the mother said.
"It's my birthday today," Dr. Tram wrote on Nov. 26, 1968, "with enemy guns
sounding from all four directions. I am used to this scene already, rucksack on
my shoulder, taking the patients to run and hide. After two years on the
battlefield, it was nothing."
Her real battlefield, though, seems to have been within herself. The diary is as
much a drama of feelings as a drama of war.
From the start, she went to the front with mismatched aims, her mother said: to
fight Americans — "bloodthirsty demons," she called them — and to follow a
childhood love, a soldier she refers to only by an initial, M.
The story of their failed reunion has disappeared with the first two volumes of
her diary. The passages that remain are filled with the pain and recriminations
of lost love.
"Where are you, M?" she wrote. "Are we really so far away from each other, my
beloved? Why do I feel that my heart is still bleeding?"
Throughout the pages, written in a tiny, neat script, Dr. Tram continued to try
to tame her restless thoughts and to force the romantic heart of a young woman
into the rigid discipline of a soldier and a Communist.
"Do you understand, Miss Stubborn Girl?" she chided herself, or, using an
affectionate family name, "Answer the question, stubborn Miss Thuy."
It is a struggle she never wins. Dr. Tram seems unable to distance herself from
her sorrows and hopes, or from the patients she treats and loves.
"Oh! Why was I born a girl so rich with dreams, love, and asking so much from
life?" she wrote.
In an entry dated February 1969, as soldiers around her prepared for battle, she
tried, once again, to push away her feelings.
"Forget all the thoughts of love burning in your heart and pay attention to your
job!" she ordered herself. "Can't you hear the sounds of the guns, signaling the
start of the Spring Offensive?"
Diary of North Vietnam Doctor Killed in U.S. Attack Makes War Real, NYT,
March 30 1971
Calley found guilty of 22 murders
From The Guardian archive
March 30 1971
William L. Calley was last night convicted of murdering 22 people in the South
Vietnamese village of My Lai during a massacre of civilians by American
Calley (27) had been charged with murdering 102 people. He was charged with
killing or ordering to be killed 30 people in My Lai, killing or ordering to be
killed 70 people in a ditch, killing an elderly monk, and killing a baby.
The jury convicted Calley of premeditated murder and assault with intent to
kill. It found him guilty of one of the 30 deaths in the village, and 20 of the
70 deaths in the ditch. He was convicted of murdering the monk, and of
assaulting the baby with intent to kill.
The jury will decide the sentence later today. Calley's conviction is likely to
spark public indignation almost everywhere in the US, except, surprisingly, in
the army itself.
Liberals and conservatives, for different reasons, are united on the issue.
Conservatives say it is an outrage for an American soldier to risk his life in
combat, and then come home to be tried. Liberals believe it is wrong to single
out one man for punish ment while letting go everyone else involved in the My
Calley [is said to have] received thousands of letters of support and only about
10 attacking him. Local citizens are upset about the trial. "They ought to give
him a medal," a waitress said: "I think they're going too far." Restaurants
where Calley dines refuse to allow him to pay for his meals. If he stops for a
glass of beer, a customer usually pays for him.
But army officers seem to have hoped that the jury would find against him. Two
young captains stormed into the press room to chastise a local television
reporter. They said his stories were biased in favour of Calley, who had
admitted killing at least some civilians in My Lai.
"You're not presenting a fair picture," one said. "It's important that we know
the prosecution's side of the story. If he is let go, it will give a licence to
everyone who walks out of Officers' School to go to Vietnam and kill anyone they
A young captain, who — like Calley — had been a platoon leader in Vietnam, said:
"If he did what they said he did, they should hang him. I crawled around on my
belly for eight months over there, and I didn't rape anyone, and I didn't shoot
them either, unless they shot at me."
sentenced to life imprisonment
but freed by a federal judge after three and a
half years' house arrest.
From The Guardian archive > March 30 1971 > Calley found guilty of 22 murders,
Republished 30.3.2007, p. 38,
Day: March 30, 1971
From The Times Archive
Lieutenant William Calley
only person to be convicted
in connection with the My Lai massacre.
to life imprisonment with hard labour
he was free by 1974
LIEUTENANT WILLIAM CALLEY was found
guilty at a court martial today of murdering South Vietnamese civilians at My
Lai on March 16th 1968. The verdict was announced at Fort Benning, Georgia,
after the jury had spent 13 days weighing up the evidence in the four-month
The jury must now determine the sentence, which has to be either death or life
imprisonment. In deciding his guilt, the jury of six Army officers rejected the
defence that Lieutenant Calley, who is 27, was obeying orders from above — a
practice which he said had been instilled into him since he joined the Army.
There were four charges against Lieut. Calley: that he murdered at least 30
“oriental human beings” at a junction of two trails; that he killed 70 others in
a ditch; that he shot a man who approached him with hands raised begging for
mercy; and that he killed a child running from the ditch where the 70 died.
Lieut. Calley was found guilty on the first three charges, although the figures
of the dead in the first two were reduced. On the fourth he was found guilty of
assault with intent to kill the child, a lesser offence.
The hearing to determine the sentence will begin tomorrow. Three of Lieut.
Calley’s superior officers remain to be tried on charges arising from the
massacre. Two men junior to Lieut. Calley have been tried and acquitted and
charges against 19 others have been dropped.
Massacres like the one at My Lai “occur in every war — it’s not an isolated
incident even in Vietnam”. Lieutenant Calley is reported to have told an
American news agency before the verdict. “I will be extremely proud if My Lai
shows the world what war is and that the world needs to do something about
From The Times Archives > On This Day: March 30, 1971, Times,
June 9 1944
Attack began on
D-Day minus one
From The Guardian archive
From David Woodward, 'Manchester Guardian' War Correspondent
(Mr. Woodhead was one of the three British war correspondents who were landed in
France from the air. He went by glider with a parachute unit. He was wounded,
but not seriously, and is now in England.)
Somewhere in England. A British parachute unit formed part of the Allied
airborne force which was the spearhead of the Second Front. It was landed behind
German lines, seized vital positions, and then linked up with Allied forces
which had landed on the beaches. I watched the unit go to war at dusk on D-1
(the day before D-Day), parading with everybody, from its brigadier downwards,
in blackened faces. 'We are history,' said the colonel.
By the time the glider on board which I was had landed it was very nearly
daylight, and the dawn sky was shot with brilliant yellows, reds, and greens
from explosions caused by the huge forces of Allied bombers.
The inhabitants of little French villages awoke to find themselves free again.
German prisoners proved a very mixed bag. The generally poor quality of these
troops was not unexpected, and it was realised that behind them lay some of the
best units of the German Army.
Our men were continually harried by snipers. Later German tanks and Panzer
Grenadiers began their attack. Paratroops are considered light-weights for this
kind of work, but these men stood up to the Germans. When the fighting was at
its most critical a large force of gliders carrying reinforcements flew right in
and landed their cargoes.
These gliders turned the tide, and next morning it was an easy matter for us to
drive in a captured car to the beachhead formed by troops from the sea. The
countryside looked empty, but it still looked like posters advertising summer
holidays in Normandy. Scattered over the ground were the black shapes of our
gliders, most of which had been damaged in their landings.
The pilots of the gliders which had done so well the day before were embarking
in an infantry landing-craft for England to get more gliders to bring over.
Having become a casualty, I travelled with them across the Channel, which in
places seemed literally crowded with ships [in] the swept channels through the
The glider pilots landed this morning at one of the ports used to receive men
during the evacuation from Dunkirk. One of the glider lieutenants told me he had
been brought there at that time. 'The people cheered us then,' he said, 'and now
they just watch us go by. Do you suppose the English ever cheer their
From The Guardian
archive > June 9 1944 > Attack began on D-Day minus one, G,
9.6.2007, p. 36,
Preparations for slaughter on the Maginot Line
From the Guardian archive
Wednesday May 8, 1940
Yesterday I tried to describe the
queer, confused night fighting which goes on nowadays round our outposts in
front of the Maginot Line. It seems all the queerer in its setting of country
almost unspoilt by war.
The woods are in the full glory of
the new leaf, except where it has been stripped away in places by bursts of
shrapnel. The fields, across which the attackers move stealthily at night, are
seen by day to be brilliant with cowslips and dandelions, and in "no-man's-land"
there are apple trees in blossom in the orchards of deserted villages.
Behind the front line, the countryside shows even fewer signs of war. The local
villagers were evacuated long ago, and British soldiers in rest and off duty
wander, through streets unharmed but deserted.
One of my colleagues was walking through such a village the other day when he
heard the sound of organ music coming from the church. He went in and found two
British privates taking turns at the organ, one blowing while the other played
for 10 minutes, strictly timed.
They were transport drivers from Northumberland, off duty for an hour or two and
busy satisfying the good North Country craving for music. In another deserted
church, British and French soldiers have attended together services conducted by
a priest in the uniform of a French private.
There are plenty of French troops about, since our force in the Maginot Line is
an integral part of a larger French formation. Such posts, held by mixed troops
of both countries under a single command, are used on each of our flanks to weld
up smoothly and firmly to the French forces on either side and to avoid leaving
a weak spot.
I do not know whether we have yet used in these combined posts the British unit
which appears to be more suitable than any other - the Hampshire Regiment, which
draws heavily on the Channel Islands and has plenty of French names.
In the peaceful country farther back there are discreet preparations for the
slaughter which has not yet happened. The first British military cemetery of
this war - our earliest casualties, in December, were buried in a neighbouring
French civilian cemetery - has six brown wooden crosses. A hundred yards or so
away is the first German cemetery in the Allied area, with seven crosses in it.
Only one of the crosses on the German graves has a name on it, the other six
dead men could not be identified.
The Germans do not give away many points in the game of war.
From the Guardian archive > May 8, 1940 >
slaughter on the Maginot Line, G,
soldiers > British army
war > soldiers > U.S. army ranks
war > veterans
war > weapons, arms sales
war > weapons >
aircraft, missiles, rockets
weapons > robots
war > weapons > nuclear weapons
war > weapons
> prisoners / abuse / torture
war > casualties >
war > burials
war > remembrance