CSM Basil L. Plumley

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Night had fallen as American and North Vietnamese soldiers exchanged sheets of gunfire during Operation Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. Illumination flares attached to parachutes floated from American aircraft.

One parachute failed to open, and the flare plummeted into stacks of ammunition crates near the command post of the First Battalion, Seventh Cavalry Regiment, one of several American units engaged in the Vietnam War’s first major battle with North Vietnamese regulars.

Sgt. Maj. Basil L. Plumley jumped to his feet, reached into the pile, grabbed the burning flare and tossed it into a clearing. For that unhesitating action, he earned the Silver Star. It was one of more than 30 decorations he would receive; among the others were the rare honor of a Combat Infantryman’s Badge with two stars, signifying that he had fought in three wars.

“It’s very rare for someone to have served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” said retired Col. Greg Camp, executive vice president of the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Ga., near Fort Benning. Only 325 soldiers have ever received what is known as the “Triple C.I.B.”

Sergeant Major Plumley, who died at 92 on Wednesday, [October 12, 2012,] at a hospice in Columbus, Ga., also has the distinction of having received the Master Combat Parachutist Badge with a gold star, indicating that he had leapt into battle five times during his 32-year military career.

“In World War II, he made four combat jumps into hostile fire: at Sicily, Salerno, on D-Day in Normandy and in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands,” Colonel Camp said. “To have then made a fifth jump in Korea would make him one of a very few to have earned a gold star on his jump wings.”

Sergeant Major Plumley received wider prestige after the 1992 publication of “We Were Soldiers Once …and Young,” an account of the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, and the 2002 release of the movie based on the book, “We Were Soldiers.” The book was written by Joseph L. Galloway and Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, who as a lieutenant colonel at the time was commander of the First Battalion, Seventh Cavalry. The movie starred Mel Gibson as the colonel and Sam Elliott as Sergeant Major Plumley.

Mr. Galloway was a United Press International correspondent attached to the battalion during the Ia Drang battle in the remote Central Highlands of Vietnam. “This was a cliffhanger situation, 450 Americans in an understrength battalion surrounded by more than 2,000 North Vietnamese regular troops,” Mr. Galloway said in an interview on Thursday. “In four days, 234 Americans were killed.” (Colonel Camp of the Infantry Museum said the North Vietnamese lost many more troops.)

At 6-foot-2, Sergeant Major Plumley was a no-nonsense, almost monosyllabic leader, Mr. Galloway said, even to a civilian. On Day 2, he recalled: “This battle blew up and I hit the ground. I’m laying as flat as I can and Plumley walks up, kicks me in the ribs and hollers, ‘Can’t take no pictures laying there on the ground, sonny!’ ”

To the troops, he was “Iron Jaw.”

Basil Leonard Plumley was born in Blue Jay, W.Va., on Jan. 1, 1920, one of six children of Clay and Georgia Plumley. His father was a coal miner. After two years of high school and work as truck and tractor driver, he enlisted in the Army in 1942.

His daughter, Debbie Kimble, said he died within two weeks of being told he had colon cancer, and four months after his wife of 62 years, the former Deurice Dillon, died. Besides his daughter, he is survived by a granddaughter and two great-grandsons.

After retiring from the Army in 1974, he worked for 15 years as an administrative assistant at the Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning.

In his later years, particularly after “We Were Soldiers” was released, Sergeant Major Plumley was frequently invited to speak at officer and noncommissioned officer courses. “He was a terror in insisting on hard, realistic training, the highest possible standards, because he knew that saves lives in combat,” Mr. Galloway said.

But when his phone rang and an interviewer asked him to tell war stories, he would hang up.

We honor you, Basil Plumley.

(#Repost @The New York Times)

CAPT Thomas J. Hudner, Jr.

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Thomas Hudner had no particular interest in airplanes when he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1946. He wanted only to serve aboard a ship. But in 1948, after he had been at sea for several months and had worked as a communications officer at Pearl Harbor for a year, he was ready for a new challenge and volunteered for flight training. He was briefly stationed in Lebanon before being assigned to the carrier USS Leyte as an F4U Corsair pilot.

By the fall of 1950, Lieutenant Hudner was flying combat missions in Korea. On December 4, he was one of a flight of six fighters sent out on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Korea. Hudner was wingman for a Navy flier named Jesse Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who had attracted a good deal of attention—and some discrimination—as the Navy’s first black pilot.

While strafing enemy positions at a low altitude, Brown’s plane was hit by antiaircraft fire. Smoking badly and without power, the aircraft was too low for Brown to bail out or clear the snow-covered mountains. Hudner followed Brown down, calling off a checklist to help prepare him for the crash landing.

Brown put his plane down in a wheels-up landing in a clearing below. The impact buckled the fuselage at the cockpit, and Hudner was certain that Brown was dead. To his amazement, Brown opened the canopy and waved weakly, but he appeared to be unable to free himself. Knowing that rescue helicopters had a long distance to travel, Hudner decided to help Brown get out of the plane himself. He didn’t ask permission from the flight leader because he knew it would be denied.

Hudner radioed, “I’m going in,” then dumped his ordnance, dropped his flaps, and landed wheels up, hitting the hilly area hard. He got out and struggled through the snow to get to the downed plane. Hudner saw that Brown’s right leg was crushed by the damaged instrument panel, and he was unable to pull him out of the wreckage.

Hudner kept packing snow into the smoking engine and talking to Brown as he drifted in and out of consciousness. When a U.S. helicopter arrived, the pilot worked with Hudner for forty-five minutes trying to get Brown out. They hacked at the plane with an ax, and even considered amputating Brown’s trapped leg with a knife. The snow packed on the bottom of their boots prevented them from getting any firm footing on the plane’s wing. As nightfall approached, bringing temperatures as low as thirty degrees below zero, it was clear that Brown was dead. Hudner hated to leave the body behind, but the helicopter pilot couldn’t fly in the mountainous terrain after dark. Reluctantly, the two men returned to base camp.

The next morning, reconnaissance showed that Brown’s body, still in the cockpit, had been stripped of clothing during the night by enemy soldiers. Because of the hostile forces in the area, it was impossible to retrieve it. The following day, the commander of the Leyte ordered four Corsairs to napalm the downed plane so that Brown could have a warrior’s funeral.

By February 1951, the Leyte was back in port in the United States. In mid-March, Hudner found out that he was to be the first American serviceman in the Korean War to receive the Medal of Honor. Daisy Brown, the widow of Jesse Brown (who had been posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross), was present when President Harry Truman put the medal around Thomas Hudner’s neck on April 13, 1951.

We honor you, Thomas Hudner Jr.

(#Repost @Medal of Honor Speakout)

CPL Paul Alexander Steppe, Jr.

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War:  Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch:  Marine Corps
Unit: 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Service Location:  Camp Pendleton, California; Korea

Paul Steppe, a Marine infantry corporal serving in Korea, saw fierce action, punctuated by long nights when he and his foxhole buddies alternated two-hour watches. Wounded by a grenade on Christmas Eve 1951, Steppe was evacuated to a hospital, narrowly escaping death when his transport plane lost its landing gear on takeoff. In his memoirs, An Everlasting Watch, Steppe notes that American troops are still “on watch” in the Korean peninsula, his war’s resolution still incomplete.

We honor you, Paul Steppe.

(#Repost @http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.04941/)

SSG Kenneth Bentz

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For someone who modestly admits he did “nothing special” while serving in Korea, Kenneth Bentz offers an informative and entertaining look at the life of an Army clerk in wartime. Drafted six months after the start of the war, Bentz did not ship out with the men he had trained with and went over on his own. His voyage took so long that there were letters waiting for him when he arrived in country. His three sisters were good to him, sending him everything from cookies to a camera to a cot. He was stationed for time in Chip Yong Ni, where one of the big battles of the war had already been fought and where he contracted malaria. He typed, did personnel work, and occasionally pulled guard duty, thankful he wasn’t carrying a weapon out in the field. His tour of duty was extended by one week: He agreed to interview outgoing GIs in Japan for a ticket on an airplane back instead of passage on a ship.

We honor you, Kenneth Bentz.

(#Repost @Veteran’s History Project)

 

LTJG Neil Armstrong

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Born on the family farm in northwest Ohio on August 5, 1930, Neil Armstrong attended Blume High School in Wapakoneta before entering aeronautical engineering studies at Purdue University in 1947. His education was paid for by the Holloway Plan, under which he committed to four years of study and three years of active-duty service in the Navy. His studies were interrupted in January 1949, however, when the Navy called him up to report to Pensacola for 18 months of flight training. He became a fully qualified Naval aviator just a week after his 20th birthday. His first assignment was to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 7, at NAS North Island, San Diego, California.

It wasn’t until August 1951, that Armstrong saw action in the Korean War from the cockpit of his F9F-2 Panther. While making a bombing run, he took anti-aircraft fire near Wonsan, North Korea. Though he was able to pilot the jet back to friendly territory, he was forced to eject from the damaged aircraft.

Armstrong flew 78 missions over Korea, for a total of 121 hours, earning 3 Air Medals and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star.

Later that year, at the age of 22, he returned to Purdue to complete his studies and joined a Naval Reserve fighter squadron at NAS Glenview, Illinois, where he was promoted to lieutenant jg.

After graduation, Armstrong decided to become a test pilot and sent an application to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base, which had no open positions. The application was forwarded to the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, where Armstrong began working in February of 1955.

He began by piloting chase planes on drops of experimental aircraft from converted bombers and research flying in the early supersonic fighters. His first flight in a rocket plane came in 1957, in a Bell X-1B. Three years later, he began flying the X-15 hypersonic rocket research aircraft.

In 1962, the X-15 took him to an altitude of 207,000 feet, the highest he flew before participating in the Gemini 8 space mission. That X-15 flight was the longest in both time and distance of the ground track.

That same year, after having been chosen as part of the pilot consultant group for the X-20 Dyna-Soar military space plane, Armstrong was moved to astronaut status.

In March of 1966, he made his first trip into orbit as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission, during which he performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space.

Armstrong made his second space flight in 1969, this time as the commander of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. He became the first man to step foot onto the moon’s cratered surface.

Returning to Earth, Armstrong was appointed NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics where he served until 1971 when he resigned from NASA to accept a teaching position with the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering. He had completed a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.

Neil Armstrong is a fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and an honorary fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the International Astronautics Federation. Armstrong also served on the National Commission of Space. He has been decorated by 17 countries and is the recipient of numerous honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, among others.

We honor you, Neil Armstrong.

(Submission by: Isabella Parry. #Repost @USO)

PFC Robert Dale Gregg

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I was hit by a hand grenade shrapnel during assault on an enemy bunker to my immediate front. The bunker was about 1/4 of the way down a hill which we were attempting to take and later in the day it was taken by the platoon (Baker Co. 1st Platoon). The shrapnel damaged my left eye and I was evacuated to a field hospital then to hospital ship USS Haven then to Japan and the U.S.

We honor you, Robert Gregg.

(#Repost @National Purple Heart Hall of Honor)

CRM Lillian L. “Fraz” Fravell

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Lillian L. “Fraz” Fravell was born in the small town of Orient, IL to a coal miner and housewife. She was the sixth sibling of nine brothers and eight sisters. She enjoyed having fun with her seventeen siblings and liked growing up in a small town. Fraz especially loved school. By the time she was 11, she knew that she wanted to go to college. To get a college education, she planned to join the Navy when she was old enough. After high school she moved to Peoria, IL and began working at the Caterpillar Tractor Co. It was during her time at this company that she was given the name “Fraz.”

At the age of 20, Fraz decided to follow her dream and joined the Navy. Amazingly, eight of her brothers also joined the military. This made nine full-blooded siblings from her family, with her being the only girl, to serve. She began her basic training in Great Lakes, IL. She was trained and placed in communications to work as a cryptographer deciphering codes. Her first duty station was Washington, DC. Her next duty stations included Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Boston, MA, and Brunswick, ME. While at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was not a state yet so her assignment was considered overseas shore duty. After she left Brunswick, she was sent to Norfolk, VA for instructor school. She instructed for radioman school and also for recruit training for women. During her military career, Fraz worked during some momentous occasions. She was Chief in Charge in Washington, DC at the Communication Station during the Cuban Missile Crisis and also when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Korean War. According to her, these were all turbulent times. After 20 years of service, she retired from the military as Chief Radioman and went back home to Orient.

Fraz became employed by the state of Illinois to work with selective service. She switched jobs and began working for the Veterans Hospital in Marion, IL. She finally made the decision to fulfill her dream of a college education. She enrolled in John A. Logan Junior College. Majoring in social work, she finished her Bachelor of Science degree from Southern Illinois University at the age of 49. It was during these college years that she made great friends and thoroughly enjoyed learning.

Upon graduating, she began working as a social worker in oncology with nursing home programs. Her first job was in a veteran’s outpatient clinic in Las Vegas, NV. Her next job took her to Tampa, FL to work at James A. Haley Veterans Medical Center. At the age of 54, she finally retired completely. She moved from Florida back home to Orient. She enjoyed her retired life by golfing, playing softball, and bowling. She said she had to be athletic growing up with nine brothers. She also drove from Orient to Mobile, AL to work women’s professional golf tournaments. Working with the LPGA, she kept score and drove the golfers around.

Fraz had known about the Naval Home in Gulfport from teaching naval history in recruit training. In 1992 she decided to move back down south to live at the Home. Because she enjoyed visiting and helping her fellow Residents, Fraz became the first Resident Ombudsman. After living at the Naval Home for about eight years, she decided to move back to Orient. She fixed up her grandmother’s house and lived with her pets. She spent her time doing church and family activities. After a while, she decided to move back to the Home, which had changed to the Armed Forces Retirement Home. She asked for the assignment of Resident Ombudsman again since she enjoyed it so much the first time. Fraz still serves under AFRH-G’s Ombudsman, Master Chief Wise, as the Resident Ombudsman. She’s always visiting with Residents and using her helpful temperament to aid in any way she can. Always a pleasure, Fraz is such a great Resident to have around AFRH-G!

We honor you, Lillian Fravell.

(#Repost @AFRH.gov)