CPT Isaac Camacho

2018-9-4 Camacho

The First American POW to escape captivity during the war in Vietnam.

Green Beret Army Capt. Isaac Camacho vividly recalled the terrible night when he was captured by Viet Cong. It was the night of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas. He was held for nearly two years until he fled, becoming the first U.S. prisoner to escape from Viet Cong captivity. That evening, Nov. 22, 1963, the Viet Cong forces started firing mortars into the Hiep Hoa U.S. Army Special Forces base camp, in South Vietnam, about 35 miles north of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). While half of his team was away, he said, Viet Cong fighters infiltrated the camp, silently killed guards and forced Vietnamese civilians to lay down their weapons — they only wanted to kill the Americans.

Several of the Special Forces troops manned a machine-gun position and began trying to stem the tide of invaders.

Camacho, who was the camp’s heavy weapons specialist, grabbed a carbine and made his way to the mor-tar bunker, where he waged a one-man mortar barrage against the enemy. He was still firing approximately 30 minutes later when he was joined by Lieutenant John R. Colby, the detachment’s executive officer, who was trying to rally the defending forces. In light of the attack’s intensity, and seeing that some of the CIDG troops were fleeing, Colby decided that further efforts to defend the camp would be futile. He handed Camacho a grenade to use for added protection and ordered him to leave while he could.

Camacho left reluctantly. He knew that a couple of Americans were still fighting inside the camp. Once outside the compound, he thought of his friends and could not bring himself to abandon them. He re-entered the enclosure and encountered heavier firepower and exploding mortar rounds. When he suddenly came face to face with some VC, he blasted at them with his carbine. The enemy fire was so overwhelming that he tossed his grenade at the VC and made a dash for cover in a machine-gun bunker. But the VC soon located him, as well as Sergeant George E. Smith, Specialist Claude McClure and Staff Sgt. Kenneth M. Rorback.

Apparently, I was seen, Camacho later recalled, because in the next 30 seconds, I was surrounded and flashlights were being shined on me. I was ordered to get up, and as I did a VC grabbed my carbine. He felt the barrel, which was hot, then he said something to the others in Vietnamese. While they were tying me up, one VC gave me a butt stroke with his M-1 and I was out. When I came to, I had blood all over from a gash on the back of my head. Then another order was given, and we were practically dragged across the barbed wire.

Although he survived the intense attack, Camacho and the three other men captured by the Viet Cong were beaten and blindfolded. They were transported like cargo to one of the guerrilla army’s bases. Camacho lived in shackles and was confined to cages, one of which was just six by eight feet, for much of the next 21 months.

The action (at the camp) earned him the Distinguished Service Cross. On July 9, 1964 His escape, spending four days evading pursuers in order to return to U.S. control, earned him the Silver Star.

We honor you, Isaac Camacho.

(Submission by: Miah Parry. #Repost @Special Forces Association Chapter LX)

CAPT John McCain

2018-8-28 McCain

When John McCain made his first bid for public office in 1982, running for a House seat in Arizona, critics blasted him as a carpetbagger, pointing out that he’d only lived in the state for 18 months.

“Listen, pal, I spent 22 years in the Navy,” the exasperated candidate reportedly shot back at one event. Then, after explaining that career military people tend to move a lot, he delivered a retort that made the attacks against him seem ridiculously petty: “As a matter of fact… the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

McCain won the election, launching a political career that earned him two terms in the House, six in the Senate, and his party’s presidential nomination in 2008. But even after four decades in public life, McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam continued to define him in the minds of many Americans, admirers and detractors alike. While he ultimately made his name on the national political stage, the scion of two four-star admirals was, at his core, a lifelong military man. He followed into the family business, becoming a decorated, if at times reckless, fighter pilot who conducted nearly two dozen bombing runs in Vietnam before being shot down, captured and tortured.

In both his military and political careers, McCain earned a reputation for being feisty and combative. “A fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed,” he declared in his 2018 memoir The Restless Wave, written with his longtime collaborator Mark Salter, and published after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that took his life on August 25, 2018.

Below, a timeline of his military life [selected segments, see History.com for the full account]:

John Sidney McCain III is born on August 29 at a U.S. Navy base in the Panama Canal Zone. His father, John S. McCain, Jr., is a submarine officer who will later rise to the rank of admiral and become commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific during much of the Vietnam War. His grandfather, John S. McCain, Sr., also an admiral, would come to command the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific during World War II. “They were my first heroes, and earning their respect has been the most lasting ambition of my life,” McCain would later write in a 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers.

John McCain enters the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1954 and graduates with the class of 1958. He’s the third generation in his family to attend the Academy; his father had been class of 1931; his grandfather, class of 1906.

By all accounts, especially his own, the young McCain is an indifferent and rambunctious student, prone to pranks and occasional disobedience to authority. He graduates fifth from the bottom of his class. “My four years here were not notable for individual academic achievement but, rather, for the impressive catalogue of demerits which I managed to accumulate,” he admitted to the graduating class of 1993 in a commencement speech.

After graduation, McCain goes on to flight school in Pensacola, Florida, and later Corpus Christi, Texas, to train as a pilot. “I enjoyed the off-duty life of a Navy flyer more than I enjoyed the actual flying,” he will remember. “I drove a Corvette, dated a lot, spent all my free hours at bars and beach parties, and generally misused my good health and youth.”

In late 1966, he joins a squadron of A-4E Skyhawk pilots that will deploy on the U.S.S. Forrestal, a carrier that soon heads to the Tonkin Gulf, off the coast of North Vietnam. They arrive at the peak of President Lyndon Johnson’s Operation Rolling Thunder campaign of massive sustained aerial bombardment.

On the morning of July 29, 1967, McCain has another brush with death. As he awaits his turn for takeoff from the USS Forrestal, for a bombing run over North Vietnam, another plane accidentally fires a missile. It strikes either his plane or the one next to him (accounts differ), igniting a raging fire on the ship’s deck. McCain manages to extricate himself from his plane, only to be hit in the legs and chest by hot shrapnel.

“All around me was mayhem,” he would recall years later. “Planes were burning. More bombs cooked off. Body parts, pieces of the ship, and scraps of planes were dropping onto the deck. Pilots strapped in their seats ejected into the firestorm. Men trapped by flames jumped overboard.” By the time it’s over, more than 130 crew members are dead.

Three months later, on October 26, McCain takes off on his 23rd bombing run over North Vietnam, reportedly on a mission to destroy Hanoi’s thermal power plant. Just as he releases his bombs over the target, a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, described as looking like “a flying telephone pole,” strikes his plane, ripping off its right wing. McCain ejects, breaking both arms and one knee, and parachutes into a shallow lake.

After briefly losing consciousness, he wakes up to find himself “being hauled ashore on two bamboo poles by a group of about 20 angry Vietnamese. A crowd of several hundred Vietnamese gathered around me as I lay dazed before them, shouting wildly at me, stripping my clothes off, spitting on me, kicking and striking me repeatedly…. Someone smashed a rifle butt into my shoulder, breaking it. Someone else stuck a bayonet in my ankle and groin.”

Soon, an army truck arrives, taking McCain as a prisoner of war. He will remain one for five and a half years.

McCain remains a prisoner until the U.S. and North Vietnam sign a peace accord in late January 1973, ending the conflict. He is released in March, along with 107 other POWs, and boards a U.S. transport plane headed to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.

After his return to the States, and while he’s still undergoing therapy for his injuries, McCain requests assignment to the National War College in Washington, D.C. “By the time my nine months at the War College ended, I had satisfied my curiosity about how Americans had entered and lost the Vietnam War,” he later wrote. “The experience did not cause me to conclude that the war was wrong, but it did help me understand how wrongly it had been fought and led.”

In late 1974, after he manages to pass the physical exam to qualify for flight status, he’s sent to Cecil Field, a naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida. A few months later, he’s promoted to commanding officer of a replacement air group, responsible for training carrier pilots.

McCain’s third and final assignment, however, may be the most influential in setting his future course. In 1977, he’s assigned to a liaison office in the United States Senate in Washington, where he serves as the Navy’s lobbyist and gets to see the workings of Congress from the inside. The job marked “my real entry into the world of politics and the beginning of my second career as a public servant,” he later recalls.

In 1981, McCain retires from the Navy with the rank of captain. His decorations include, among others, a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

We honor you, John McCain.

(#Repost excerpts @History.com)

BG Rhonda Cornum

2018-8-18 Cornum

Rhonda Cornum embarked on a combat search and rescue mission the morning of 27 February 1991 to recover an Air Force pilot shot down over Iraq during Desert Storm. Tragically, the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was aboard crashed as a result of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire. One of only three survivors from the eight-member crew, Major Cornum was captured and taken prisoner by the Iraqi Republican Guard. Suffering two broken arms, a severely damaged leg, and gunshot and shrapnel wounds in her shoulder and head, she survived imprisonment behind Iraqi enemy lines. An Army flight surgeon, wife, and mother, she was repatriated on 6 March 1991 as one of only two women POWs from the Gulf war. Although U.S. law prohibited women from serving in combat roles, her experiences and open dialogue as a POW helped pave the way for continued Congressional expansion of military women in combat roles.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, now Brigadier General Cornum started her military career in 1978 as an Army medical researcher. She completed medical school at the Uniformed Services University in 1986, and was quickly drawn to the combat field and aerospace medicine arenas. Her love of flight grew as she completed airborne, air assault and flight surgeon training. Her medical aviation research enhanced use of helmet mounted displays in advanced attack helicopters and in pilot performance. She and her husband, Air Force Brigadier General (Dr.) Kory Cornum, also built their own experimental aircraft by hand. After repatriation, Major Cornum became the first medical officer to graduate from Air Command and Staff College. She continued medical training and research in the field of urology, commanded the 28th Combat Support Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and deployed as the Medical Task Force commander to Bosnia. She was also the first female commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, leading medical treatment for over 26,000 injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. General Cornum’s career culminated in founding and leading the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Center. The Center develops psychological strengthening and resilience training to aid military members in surviving difficult, even life-threatening, situations. Awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal, POW Medal and others for her service, recently-retired General Cornum splits her time between a 700 acre family farm in Kentucky, and Biloxi, Mississippi, where her husband serves as the medical center commander.

We honor you, Rhonda Cornum.

(#Repost @GoE Foundation)

MSG Richard Davis

2018-7-31 Davis

Army Master Sgt. Richard Davis, 30, of Black Lick, Pennsylvania, will be buried June 24 in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. In early November 1950, Davis was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, near Unsan, North Korea, when Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces attacked the regiment, and forced the unit to withdraw. Many soldiers became surrounded and attempted to escape and evade the enemy, but were captured and marched to POW camps. Davis was declared missing in action as a result of the battle that occurred between Nov. 1 and 2, 1950.

In 1953, during the prisoner of war exchange historically known as “Operation Big Switch,” nine repatriated American soldiers reported that Davis was held at POW Camp 5 and died in February or March 1951. Additionally, Davis’ name appeared on a POW list compiled by the Chinese, dated April 8, 1951. Based on this information, a military review board amended Davis’ status to deceased in 1951.

Between 1990 and 1994, North Korea returned to the United States 208 boxes of commingled human remains, which when combined with remains recovered during joint recovery operations in North Korea between 1996 and 2005, included the remains of at least 600 U.S. servicemen who fought during the war. North Korean documents included in the repatriation indicated that some of the remains were recovered from the vicinity where Davis was believed to have died.

To identify Davis’ remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used mitochondrial DNA analysis, which matched a niece and great niece, Y-Short Tandem Release DNA analysis, which matched a nephew and a sister; dental comparison analysis, which matched Davis’ records; and circumstantial evidence. On June 17, 2016, his remains have been identified and returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Today, 7,812 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously returned by North Korean officials or recovered from North Korea by American recovery teams.

We honor you, Richard Davis.

(#Repost @DoD POW/MIA accounting Agency)

 

 

SSgt Doane Hage Jr.

2018-7-24-hage1.jpg

Determined to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II, 20-year-old Doane Hage enlisted and set out to be a fighter pilot. He wound up an armament man with a bomber squadron and then caught a break when a vacancy opened up on one plane’s crew. Shot down over France in November 1942, he was sheltered for a time by a family of Spanish refugees. He was captured trying to cross into Spain and confined to the famous Stalag 17B, where he sharpened his drawing skills for the other prisoners, recreating scenes of their own planes going down. The above sketch is by Doane Hage depicting a view from outside the plane of his own escape above St. Nazaire, France.

We honor you, Doane Hage Jr.

(#Repost @Veteran’s History Project)

CPL Frank W. Buckles

Buckles

Born in a Missouri farmhouse in 1901, Buckles lied about his age to enlist in the Army at 16. “I was interested in the war,” he explained during a 2001 interview with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project. “I’d been reading the newspapers since I was a child, and I was a wireless amateur.” In December 1917 he set sail for England on the Carpathia, meeting crewmembers who had been aboard when the ship rescued survivors of the Titanic less than six years earlier.

Eager to see action, Buckles persuaded his superiors to send him to France. “I used several methods, including, I should say, pestering every officer of influence in the place,” he recalled. He was stationed in Bordeaux and various other locations, where he drove ambulances and motorcycles but never served on the front lines. After the armistice, he assisted with the repatriation of German prisoners of war, then returned to America and eventually got a job with the White Star Line steamship company.

Buckles’ shipping career satisfied his thirst for adventure and even embroiled him in the century’s second major global conflict. In December 1941, he was working in Manila when Japanese troops invaded the city and took him prisoner. He was held in several brutal internment camps and lost more than 50 pounds before being freed by an American airborne unit in February 1945. Suffering from beriberi and dengue fever, he decided to seek a quieter existence back home in the United States, where he married, had a daughter and later ran a cattle farm in West Virginia, where he lived until his death. His wife, Audrey, died in 1999.

Buckles became the country’s last surviving World War I veteran following the death in February 2008 of 108-year-old Harry Landis. Over the next few years, he received a flood of honors and awards, including special permission to be buried at Arlington National Ceremony. He also served as the honorary chairman and spokesman for the World War I Memorial Foundation, which supports the restoration of the District of Columbia War Memorial and its rededication as a national monument to veterans of the Great War.

We honor you, Frank Buckles.

(#Repost @History)