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Chino Air Show 2016

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Chino Air Show, Day 2

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Day One at Chino

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Warbirds Road Trip

Heading for the Chino Air Show today with more camera gear than I can carry!  Looking forward to sharing the images I capture of the amazing war birds that will be making low-level passes over the old Cal Aero Academy airfield out east of LA. This was the site of one of the USAAF’s primary flight training facilities, and many great aces went through the program there, including Gerald R. Johnson.

Will be road tripping down with my father, John Bruning Sr. This voyage to the Southern California desert is something we’ve been doing since the mid-1980’s. It either ends up being a 5 hour drive of awesome discussions on everything from current politics, history and economics, or we end up wanting to kill each other as we argue for hours over something totally ridiculous, like when the FM-2 Wildcat production run ended. The latter almost caused my son to jump out of the car somewhere on the Grapevine back in 2013. 🙂

Stay tuned. Have caffeine and a tranquilizer dart gun just in case my old man starts getting obnoxious….

 

—John R. Bruning (jr)

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Episode Three of theAmericanwarrior.com podcast series

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Seen at FOB Leatherneck with the 162 Engineers

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John & Renee Do History–Again!

This episode, we find out how long Renee’s been wearing her Harry Potter sweats, how John stole a fuzzy North Korean-made blanket in Afghanistan, gave Renee Fireball to help combat Renee’s latest injury, all while discussing some remarkable American combat veterans from the Pacific Air War. We chat about the 475th Fighter Group, the 49th Fighter Group, what it is like to dogfight with a duck between your legs, what happened when 38 kill ace Tommy McGuire got bored and how a coin toss led a Mid-West Quaker kid to a moment of terrible decision over Wake Island in 1941.

 

 

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Historians and their Animals

Today we kick off our theamericanwarrior.com podcast series!  This week, we’ll be talking about a little-known characteristic historians have in common–the way we name our pets.

Hope you’ll listen in as Renee Bruning and I (John R. Bruning) chat about World War II battles, Civil War generals and foundling kittens.

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Knives and Bayonets Against the Waffen-SS:

82nd airborne bulge155 8x10The American paratroopers moved swiftly through the darkness, their speed and effort keeping the bitter cold at bay. Through thick woods they’d captured earlier that day, they would soon break out into flat, open ground broken only by rows of heavy barbed wire fences. Four hundred yards across that dead space, two companies of elite SS panzergrenadiers waited for them. Supported by heavy tanks, half tracks, 75mm gun carrying armored cars and 20mm flak wagons, the entrenched SS troops possessed the kind of firepower that could utterly wipe out an infantry assault.

The paratroopers had waited for the pre-attack artillery bombardment, but it didn’t happen. They waited for the two tank destroyers assigned to attack, but the LT in charge of them refused to move forward, arguing his M36 Jacksons were no match for the German armor on the other side of the open ground.

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A German 20mm flak half track. Cheneux was defended, in part, by a Luftwaffe light flak battalion equipped with eighteen of these deadly vehicles.

Without artillery or armor, the paratroopers attacked anyway. The situation was desperate.

Bulge359It was 1930 hours, December 20, 1944. Christmas season in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. The 82nd Airborne reached the battlefield only two days before after a wild drive up from France. Thrown into the path of Kampfgruppe Peiper, the men of the 82nd had no time to get oriented, lacked winter clothing and carried nothing heavier than bazooka rocket launchers.

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An 82nd anti-armor bazooka team covers a road near Cheneux on December 20, 1944.

The Peiper’s panzergrenadiers represented the best troops left to Nazi Germany. Fiercely loyal to the Reich, they fought with tremendous intensity and determination with the best equipment in the world. Equipped with Tiger II heavy tanks, Panther medium tanks, self propelled guns and half tracks, Peiper’s kampfgruppe was supposed to lead the way to the Meuse River in the opening days of the German Ardennes offensive. Getting across the Ambleve River was a key step toward the Meuse, but furious counter-attacks by the 30th Infantry Division had stopped Peiper’s spearhead at Stoumont. To the south, at Cheneux, the Waffen-SS troops seized two bridges, crossed the Ambleve and prepared to drive on.

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Men of the 82nd moving into forward positions on December 20, 1944.

The 82nd’s 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment reached the front and its regimental commander, Colonel Tucker, realized the gravity of the situation. The panzergrenadiers had to be driven back across the Ambleve and their bridgehead destroyed. Cheneux had to be seized and the river used as the main defensive line against further German armored thrusts.

The responsibility for taking Cheneux fell to the 1-504. Second Battalion had pushed to within a half mile of the town earlier on December 20, 1944, their advance aided by a captured German half track armed with a 77mm field gun, which a scratch American crew put to good use until they ran out of ammunition. Shortly after, the attack stalled and 1-504 was ordered to attack through 2nd battalion’s lines and take Cheneux in a night attack.

Nothing went right at first. Bravo Company 1-504 formed the right wing of the assault, while Charlie was the left.  Each company went in with four waves of men with fifty yards of space between each wave.

They barely made it into the open terrain when the Germans opened fire with every barrel. Mortar round rained down on the Americans. Artillery soon followed. Struggling through the indirect, the first waves crawled to the barbed wire fences. The Germans had them zeroed. Suddenly, yellow glowing 20mm anti-aircraft shells streaked overhead, exploding among the troops.  The zipper-fast sound of MG-42’s going cyclic erupted across the German main line of resistance. The Americans, caught against the barbed wire, out in the open without support, were cut down relentlessly.

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The deadliest machine gun of World War II, the German MG42.

Trapped in the kill zone, the veteran NCO’s and officers of 1-504 realized they had to close with the enemy or die in the terrible crossfire. On the right, 1st platoon Bravo Company’s commander, 2nd Lt. Richard Smith and Staff Sergeant William Walsh stood up in the tracer-light night and urged their men to charge.  They hurdled the barbed wire fences, 20mm flak rounds savaging their ranks. Sprinting through the fusilade, Walsh was seriously wounded in the hand. He kept going, urging his men as the MG-42’s raked through them.

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1-504th’s machine gun teams suffered catastrophic losses. Five of eight supporting the initial night assault into Cheneux were wiped out by German counter-fire. This M1919 LMG team belonged to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. The photo was taken at Odrimont, Belgium a couple weeks after the Battle of Cheneux on January 6, 1945.

The battalion’s .30 caliber machine guns did their best to suppress the Germans, but the American gunners didn’t stand a chance in the face of so much firepower. Panzers, flak wagons and mortars concentrated on those support by fire positions and took out five of the eight machine gun crews before the night was over.

That left the paratroops on their own in the kill zone. Some tried to provide their own suppressing fire while others charged forward. Ammunition ran low; the men pulled guns and ammo off the wounded and the dead to keep going. Driven forward, the first wave finally reached the German lines. On 1st Platoon, Bravo’s section of the front, Staff Sergeant Walsh had his men prep grenades for him (he couldn’t pull the pins out with his wounded hand). Holding the spoon in place, he charged toward a German 20mm flak half track and chucked the grenade onto its bed. The weapon detonated beside the 20mm gun, wiping the crew out.

Other paras surged into the German trenches and foxholes, clubbing the panzergrenadiers with rifle butts and  beating them with bare fists. The fighting devolved into vicious man-t0-man battles to the death.

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A captured panzerschrek under investigation by U.S. troops at St. Mere Eglise during the Normandy Campaign. Captured panzerschreks were sometimes used against the Germans since they proved more effective than American bazookas.

Sergeant Edwin Clements reached one of the flak tracks. Out of ammunition, he drew his combat knife, jumped onto the back of the vehicle and killed the three man gun crew. Nearby, Private Mack Barkley did the same, slitting a 20mm gunner’s throat then grabbed a German panzerschrek and put two rockets into another armored vehicle before being wounded in action.

The fighting coalesced around the armored vehicles. The panzergrenadiers, overwhelmed in their trenches by the desperate American assault, gave ground. Twenty of them were killed in hand-to-hand fighting as the others fell back into Cheneux’s buildings. Meanwhile, the vehicle crews found themselves surrounded by paratroops willing to do just about anything to knock their guns out. Staff Sergeant Walsh was seen climbing onto a German tank and–in true Hollywood fashion–dropping a grenade on the crew from the track commander’s hatch. Others followed suit. Private First Class Daniel Del Grippo of 2nd Platoon Charlie earned a Distinguished Service Cross for knocking out an MG-42 nest, then tommy-gunning a flak track’s 20mm crew.

First Platoon Bravo made it into the west side of Cheneux with twelve men standing. Walsh and Smith urged them forward toward’s the town church, only to run into another flak track parked in an intersection. Sergeant Dock L. O’Neil, who had splintered his M1 Carbine’s stock on an SS Soldier’s head, led the attack against this vehicle and knocked it out with a bazooka just as the gun crew wounded him in the leg. As the track burned, one of the Luftwaffe gunners jumped clear, only to be cut down by O’Neil’s Model 1911 Colt .45. Smith was killed soon after while leading the remains of his platoon.

An hour into the attack and every B Co officer had been killed or wounded except the company commander. The sight of his men being slaughtered in the 400 yard kill zone proved too much for him. He went berzerk, suffering a mental breakdown and a few of his surviving men had to physically restrain him. Command fell to the XO, who pressed the attack forward.

Bulge135 burnGerHTJan6On the left, Charlie Company ran into multiple barbed wire fences. Every time the assault waves climbed over them, the Germans smothered the Americans with explosive shells and machine gun rounds. Stubbornly, the surviving Americans closed with the panzergrenadiers and drove them out of the foxholes–or killed them in place.

As the attack neared the west side of town, Charlie’s lead elements ran into a Puma armored car equipped with a short barreled 75mm infantry support gun. The vehicle had been taking out the battalion’s heavy weapons crews, but now it shifted fire on the advancing paras. Corporal Harold Stevenson tried to knock it out with a bazooka, but the Puma’s gunners cut him down. The vehicle backed away into the night to continue the fight elsewhere in town.

Charlie penetrated the town, fighting room to room with the panzer grenadiers inside the buildings while simultaneously battling the Luftwaffe’s flak tracks in the streets. The two companies of SS panzergrenadiers lost half their men and began to pull back against the Ambleve to defend the two bridges.

Three hours into the fight, one of the 504th’s senior officers discovered that the two M36 Jackson Tank Destroyers assigned to the assault waves had not gone forward. Demanding an explanation, the airborne lieutenant colonel was outraged to hear a young LT explain how his tracks didn’t stand a chance against the German panzers defending the town.

The LTC stormed over to a platoon of 60mm mortars and ordered the men there to start dropping rounds on the tankers if they did not move forward. Under that threat, the LT gave the word to go get into the fight. They rumbled up the main road into Cheneux, the fighting raging in chaotic clumps on either side without any clear front line remaining. As the Jacksons neared the town, a German half track roared right at them. Surprised, the lead Jackson’s crew trained their turret on the track–only to have their 90mm gun barrel smack the German vehicle. Stunned at this collision with an American AFV, the half track crew bailed out while the Jackson’s driver backed up far enough to allow his gunner to put an HE shell into the German rig. It blew up as the M36’s killed its fleeing crew.

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The M36 Jackson sported a 90mm gun, the largest and most powerful anti-tank weapon to be widely employed by the U.S. Army in WWII.

Late that night, a few of the survivors of 1-504th’s attack reached Cheneux’s picturesque church on the south side of town. Surprisingly, it was one of the few intact buildings left, and the men approached it cautiously. Led by Lt. Howard Kemble, a light machine gun platoon leader whose men were thrown into the assault as reinforcements, the small band of Americans opened the church’s front doors and found an elderly priest presiding over a congregation of terrified, traumatized civilians. Though in the midst of battle, some of the Americans–Lt. Kemble included–entered the church, knelt beside the Belgians and prayed together with them. A moment later, they slipped back out into the fight where Lt. Kemble led the men into a bayonet charge. He was killed not long afterward by German Soldier he thought was an American. Kemble received a posthumous Silver Star for his actions.

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504th paratrooper Walt Hughes at Cheneux after the night assault.

 

 

By the end of the night assault, the 1-504 secured half of Cheneux. They clung to their foothold and awaited reinforcement. The next day, the 504th’s 3rd battalion joined the fight and finished the job, clearing the town and forcing the Germans across the Ambleve in bitter fighting.

The Germans lost at least a hundred and fifty men, four flak tracks knocked out or captured, one Tiger II lost, two Pumas, six half tracks, a 105mm howitzer and two other vehicles. The bloody coup de main forced Peiper to abandon his only bridgehead across the Ambleve. He withdrew to La Gleize to await relief that never came. Ultimately, his kampfgruppe was surrounded and virtually destroyed. The 504th’s action at Cheneux played a major role in blunting the main armored spearhead on the northern sector of the Battle of the Bulge. That strategic victory came at a terrible cost. By the end of the first night of the Battle of Cheneux, Bravo company had twenty men standing, no officers. Charlie had three officers, forty men left.

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Men of the 82nd Airborne examine an abandoned Tiger II.

In the days that followed the Battle of Cheneux, the 82nd Airborne Division fought against no fewer than three Waffen-SS Divisions, only retreating after General Bernard Law Montgomery ordered them to do so. Within days of that withdrawal, the division returned the offensive and played a key role in the American counter-punch that regained in January all the ground lost in December.

The 504th had not just achieved their military objective that December 20th. Their furious attack against entrenched, elite troops backed up by heavy weapons and armor–succeeded against all odds because of their sheer courage, professionalism and determination. These men exemplified the best tradition of American combat arms and proved that man-to-man, the Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne were more than the measure of the Waffen-SS.  The assault at Cheneux represents one of the most heroic and determined in the U.S. Army’s history. It has become part of the long and proud legacy of the 82nd Airborne– a legacy that our current generation has added to on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror.

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The 504th Parachute Infantry advancing to another assembly point prior to an assault on German positions near Heersbach during the final days of the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945. The 504th saw near-continuous action for almost five months following the devastating battle of Cheneux.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Belgium, ETO, European Theater of Operations, Uncategorized, War in Europe, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grog and the National Guard

Field artillerymen of Battery A, 2-218th Field Artillery, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, fire a 105mm shell from a Howitzer at Yakima Training Grounds, Wash., during the units annual training Aug. 9.

Field artillerymen of Battery A, 2-218th Field Artillery, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, fire a 105mm shell from a Howitzer at Yakima Training Grounds, Wash., during the units annual training Aug. 9.

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Buckman Tavern, Lexington Green.

Today, I want to write about Grog. Grog and citizen-soldiers, actually. One is the fuel, the other is the shield and sword of this great nation of ours, and our tradition of both goes back hundreds of years. What were the Colonial militiamen doing at Lexington when the Redcoats marched into town? Drinking breakfast at Buckman’s Tavern, of course!

Grog is a time-honored Army tradition. I’ve been to numerous dining outs over the years, and have always had a lot of fun with the grog bowls in each. You get to know a unit by what they put in their grog, and what they put it in. The first grog I ever sampled belonged to Bravo Company, 2-162 Infantry. I can’t remember everything that was in that grog–hell that whole night is pretty fuzzy after I started drinking it–but I do recall sand from Iraq, filthy socks and too many different types of hard hooch to count being dumped into the bowl by the unit’s senior NCO’s. It was drunk not from fine china cups or crystal glasses, but a mangled, well-worn infantry boot. Somewhere, there are photos of me drinking from the boot that should never, ever be published. God it was nasty stuff–like burn your nostrils and set fire to your face nasty.

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From 2005-2013, I spent a lot of time with the National Guard units in Oregon, writing about them and serving as the leader of a volunteer group of civilians who filled the OPFOR role. This gave me access to free grog!

The 82nd Engineers had their own twist on the grog bowl. Again, the details are fuzzy, but as I remember they used the bucket from a backhoe as the grog bowl. An ancient engineer boot was the drinking utensil of choice. Lots of gritty stuff in that one as well.

I was lucky to be invited to a couple of dining outs with Alpha Company, 2-162, where I made the life-threatening crucial error of trying to keep up with the Legendary Alan Ezelle as he and Brian Hambright raided the open bar. By the time the grog had been poured and stirred, I was already barely able to walk. All I remember from that night was taking a drink from the boot and feeling my ears blow off. I vaguely recall projectile vomiting in Ankeny Hill Wildlife Refuge some hours later. I tasted whiskey and coffee grounds in my mouth for days, despite gargling with Listerine (and when that didn’t work) rubbing alcohol.

IMG_0381Just to be clear, I’m not a heavy drinker. On an empty stomach, I am a complete lightweight. National Guard Grog devastates me every time.

Earlier this month, I was honored to be the guest speaker at the 2-218th Field Artillery’s dining out. I was both excited to see what artillerists put in the grog, and also very nervous about making a spectacle of myself after drinking it. The affair was hosted at the Embassy Suites in Portland, and for a change I had appropriate attire. Until about a year ago, I had not owned a suit since 1996 and was always severally under dressed at these functions (and funerals). This made me even more nervous though, as I began to wonder how one cleans grog barf out of super 120 wool.

Artillery grog is composed of seven charges. Each charge has a particular piece of history attached to it. The first charge is a special blend that is mixed and buried for weeks by one of the members of the unit so that it may properly ferment and melt your stomach upon ingestion. Charges 2-7 all represent different aspects of the U.S. Army’s heritage or the unit’s history. Sake for fighting the Japanese during WWII. Cognac to honor our French Allies who helped give us the means to achieve our freedom. Scotch in honor of the British and our special alliance with them. The grog was mixed in what looked like an early 20th Century artillery caisson, then poured into shell casing mugs. Champagne, engine oil, a sock and some ladies stockings I believe were added to the mix to give it a bit of well, je ne sais quoi.

The result was a pinkish concoction that upon first taste was light and (thanks to the engine oil) smooth. Unlike the other grog I’ve had, the Redlegs made something that was not only historically laden, but quite good. I was astonished. I looked at my new friends, cheered them and said, “See you in the ER gentlemen” as I took a swig. The champagne’s bubbliness lend itself to the charge 1 buried blend and the cognac, while the Scotch fueled a nice burn on the way down. Unfortunately, I was driving that night, so I could only have a taste. I didn’t wake up in prison nor in the ER wondering where my clothes were and how my chest hair got burned off, thus I consider the evening a win.

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A 2-218th Forward Observer during a field exercise in Australia, November 26, 1942.

The 2-218th Field Artillery has a history that dates back to 1866, making it the first and longest serving artillery unit west of the Mississippi River. Men from the battalion served in border wars with Mexico, the Western Front of WWI, in the Pacific and ETO during WWII, and for the last decade supported almost every Afghanistan and Iraq deployment undertaken by the Oregon National Guard. The Redlegs of the 2-218th are a humble, quiet, stalwart and exceptionally professional bunch whose deeds have escaped notice since they shirk the limelight. In the coming months, I’ll be writing more about them and their fascinating history. For now, the speech I delivered at the dining out (pre-grogged) gives a glimpse into the battalion’s rich heritage:

 

In the summer of 1943, an Australian brigade and the 162 Infantry executed an amphibious landing at Nassau Bay on New Guinea’s northern coast. The plan was to push inland and take out the Japanese base at Salamaua. Doing so would eliminate the Japanese from eastern New Guinea and open up  the way for MacArthur’s Island hoping drive to the Philippines.

 

The landing was a disaster. Heavy surf swamped the only large landing craft available and most of the barges and LCVP’s were lost on the waterline as well. The 162nd struggled ashore without heavy equipment and without most of their radio gear to face a well-prepared enemy fighting from interlocking pillboxes and log bunkers.41st Inf Div 218th FA Bn 155mm Howitzer Yellow Beach Hollandia New Guinea 06--44 (1 of 1)

 

They called it the Shipwreck Landing. The 218th Field Artillery was supposed to have gone ashore with the 162, but the destruction of so many landing craft made that impossible. Instead, B and C Batteries, landed a few days later.

 

They began taking casualties on that first day. Japanese snipers lurked in the jungle around them. Hold outs laid on point-blank ambushes. Booby traps claimed several men. The weather went from steamy hot to sudden deluges that left the men shivering.

 

41st Inf Div 163rd Inf Regt Cannon Co 105mm howitzer yellow beach hollandia 060544 (1 of 1)The 80 men of C Battery and their four 75mm pack howitzers were of no use on the beach. The infantry had slogged inland already, and the Oregon artillerists were tasked with hauling their guns five miles through swamps, across creeks and rivers—by hand. They broke the weapons down, made makeshift litters from tree limbs to carry some of the gear and waded through chest-deep swamps teeming with crocodiles. Several men in other units had been eaten alive by those animals. Others had been swept away in the fierce current of the Bitoi River.  The men of C Battery crossed and recrossed that river at least six times as it wound around the only jungle track that could take them to the Japanese.

 

When they cleared the river, they had to carry their howitzers up steep slopes and down the backsides of ridges into leech and mosquito-filled swamps. With their four guns, they brought four hundred rounds of 75mm ammunition, each weighing fifteen pounds.

 

The morning of July 8, 1943 found C battery dug in on a hillside about six thousand yards from a major Japanese defensive position that the 162 called “The Pimple.” The Pimple was a thousand foot tall hill overlooking the Bitoi Track and River. To get to Salamaua, the Pimple had to be taken. The Aussies had attacked it three times. The Japanese, hunkered down in 25 pillboxes and 50 heavy weapon emplacements, threw back every assault and even cut off one of the Aussie companies for three days.

 

On the 8th, the Aussies and the 162 tried again. This time, the 218th was there to support them. It was a big moment for the Oregonians and Washingtonians of the unit. They’d never fired their 75’s in anger before, and before the pre-assault barrage began, the men gathered to sign their names on the first shell.

 

For days, the infantry had been charging up the Pimple into interlocking fields of fire with nothing more than grenades and light machine guns to support them. They had no tanks. Close Air Support was in its infancy and unavailable. The Japanese fought to the death. They hadn’t given ground.

 

That changed with the 218th’s arrival.  That day, July 8, 1943, the men of C Battery fired the unit’s first shell of World War II. In the ensuing days, the battery burned through its ammo supply. Men had to retrace their path back to the beach to hand carry another hundred shells. Others were air dropped, but most were damaged in the attempt. The NCO’s organized a party to recover those damaged shells, pull the primers and projectiles out of dented casings then refitted them into empties laying around the firing pits.

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For almost a week, the 218th hammered the Pimple, taking out machine gun nests, mortar tubes and pillboxes. Three days into the battle, C Battery received an urgent call for support. An Aussie platoon had discovered an entire Japanese infantry company coming to reinforce the Pimple. They’d gathered for a short rest during their march in an open field—no more perfect a target for the 75’s. C Battery fired nine shells per gun in thirty-six seconds and smothered that Japanese company in high explosives. At least fifty were killed and countless others wounded. The Pimple would not be reinforced.

 

The Aussies took the hill the next day.

 

For the next month, the 218th sent shells down range as the infantry assaulted one damn ridge after another. On the 4th of August, the unit suffered its first combat fatalities when an Aussie mortar round fell short and landed on a forward observer team, killing five men.

 

On September 1st, with the Allied infantry at the threshold of Salamaua, The Japanese launched a furious counterattack. Dawn Company, 15th Brigade, Australian Army was cut off atop a steep ridge. Low on ammunition, the Japanese counter-assault swept toward them. Captain Burelbach, the 218th’s fire support officer attached to the Aussies, called for fire. Every gun in the 218th and 205th rained shells down on the Japanese attackers, breaking up two onslaughts and saving Dawn Company.

 

41st Inf Div 218th FA Bn M2 50 Cal AA Tambu Bay New Guinea 081943 (1 of 1)The ordeal did not end on the 1st. The next morning, freshly landed Japanese Marines—elite troops—stormed Dawn Company’s positions along the ridge. Exhausted, weakened by jungle diseases and weeks of fighting in horrific conditions, the Aussies could not possibly hold out for long. Burelbach called for fire. The 218th ringed Dawn Company with a curtain of steel and stopped the Japanese Marines in their tracks.

 

Later that day, Dawn Company’s commander, Captain Provan, limped into Smith Battery, 218th’s perimeter. Wounded, filthy and emaciated, he wanted only to thank the Americans who had saved the lives of his men. Without their 75’s, he told them, Dawn company would have been annihilated.

 

The 218th’s first campaign of World War II ended a few days later. It set the tone for what followed for two more years of fierce, jungle fighting in long forgotten places that served as stepping stones to the Philippines. Unheralded, these campaigns unfolded against a brutal and determined enemy that asked no quarter and gave none. The 218th played a significant role in MacArthur’s drive to Leyte which cut off 250,000 men—as many as were surrounded at Stalingrad in 1943. Of those 250,000, less than 11,000 were left to surrender at the end of the Pacific War. The 41st and the 218th took part in one of the greatest and most successful military operations in American history—and received almost no notice for it.

 

That is the hallmark that characterizes the artillery, unfortunately. Overshadowed by the infantry, by special forces, the whiz-bangs of the Air Force’s smart weapons, the artillery has been virtually ignored by the American media, except to demonize it over collateral damage.41st Inf Div C bat 218th FA fires 105mm howitzer at Arara New Guinea 052544 (1 of 1)

 

The truth is, those who matter know its importance. They know that the U.S. Army’s success on every battlefield from Boston Harbor in 1776 to the most furious onslaughts in Afghanistan and Iraq are built on the backs of the men and women who crew the guns. The superiority of American artillery tipped the odds in 1848, stopped Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, blasted the holes in the German defenses in the Meuse Argonne that the infantry exploited. The 75’s, 105’s and 155’s of World War II were the main casualty producers—something like 85% of the German losses on the Western Front came from indirect fire. Time on Target, the ability to shoot and scoot, the speed at which the artillerists could get shells downrange—those assets saved countless Allied lives and broke up countless Axis counter-attacks.

 

Without the artillery in Korea, the mass Chinese human wave attacks would have destroyed the U.N. and the American 8th Army in 1950. Without the artillery emplaced on Vietnam fire bases, how many would have been overrun by the NVA? And the Gulf War? While the technology got all the attention, the real work was done by the artillery.

 

The Global War on Terror changed everything. The concern for collateral damage and the cost of paying for every broken doorknob in Iraq and Afghanistan led the artillery away from its traditional role as the King of the Battlefield. Firepower, accuracy and speed were replaced with convoy security, military police duties, infantillery patrols. The Artillery, the most specialized and technical branch of the Army, became a jack of all trades, doing whatever needed to be done to support the mission.

 

19may04 034Yet the need for infantry support, firepower and the protection of American lives with that deadly steel curtain remained. The skills and weaponry that made the U.S. Army an unbeatable force for two hundred years have atrophied across Big Army and the Guard alike, but the threats of conventional warfare remain. Russia and the Ukraine, the demented regime in North Korea, Chinese expansion in Southeast Asia—these are threats our infantry and aviators cannot alone deter.

The men and women of the 2-218th have proven their skills in this traditional role are the best in the nation. Despite deployment after deployment in non-artillery roles, the infantry you will support on future battlefields will rest a little easier knowing that the Oregon Guard has their back. Your commitment to your training has ensured these crucial skills have not atrophied.

The men and women of 2-218th have proven this by winning the coveted Hamilton Award in 2012.

You accomplished this despite the many competing demands you have faced since 9-11. Men and women from this unit have served on every battlefield since 2004. They have been in ambushes, kinetic small arms fire engagements. They’ve called for fire at critical moments in key battles. No finer example of this can be found than Patrick Eldred, Bravo Company, 2-162’s Fist of God. While serving as a forward observer during the Battle of Najaf in 2004, Pat brilliantly called for both artillery and air support, sometimes danger close to 2nd Platoon Bravo during sixteen days of house-to-house fighting. Pat’s precision and coolness under continuous, sustained fire for those two weeks played a decisive role in defeating the Mahdi Army fighting around the Imam Ali Shrine.

 

Personal examples of bravery abound. Luke Wilson, a 2-218th veteran who volunteered to go out with 2-162 during OIF II is an exemplary case of selfless devotion to his Brother warriors. On the first night the battalion drove into Baghdad from Kuwait, sixty plus Syrian volunteer insurgents hit the Oregon convoy. Luke’s plywood walled 998 Humvee took an RPG that wounded everyone in back. Luke’s leg was blown off below the knee. Instead of calling for help, he continued to fire at the enemy until their rig cleared the kill zone. Even after, he refused to call attention to himself until everyone else was treated. He almost bled to death before reaching the Baghdad CASH as a result.

Smoke rises behind a Charlie Company HUMVEE from a car that charged the scene firing at the unit. Charlie Company returned fire, stopping the car, to secure the area, during increased tension in Sadr City, Iraq on July 5, 2004. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop (Released)

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop (Released)

 

This is your heritage, your legacy. From its first inception in the 1860’s to the battles our nation fights today, the men and women of the 218th serve with great distinction and honor. More than any other National Guard unit I’ve encountered, 2-218th is also a family. Generations serve here. It is a rite of passage for many families to serve in this unit. It becomes the core of their lives. While America has endured crises and convulsions here at home and abroad for over a century and a half, the 2-218th has been a constant. Here, service is valued. A commitment to something greater than self is at the core of that service. It is not a unit you join for financial benefits—there are no tier one bonuses to be had. This is a family you must seek out, you must want to join and be a part of this extraordinary heritage. You must want to build on that with your own actions.

 

They say our grandparents were the Greatest Generation. They won a war with the full support of a nation mobilized in every aspect for it. They won that war with a draftee military, on broad shoulders of patriots young and old.

 

This generation has been asked to do far more with far less. You are volunteers in the longest war in American history, a war being fought by a tiny warrior class while the rest of the nation is busy with their own self-involvements. On your capable shoulders is the flag of our nation, and members of this unit have worn it in the most remote corners of the globe. You are doing it without the full support of our political leadership or our fellow Americans. You are doing it in anonymity, without rewards beyond the fulfillment of knowing what you do has tremendous value. American artillery exists to save American lives. Without you, without your pride and professionalism, there would be far more empty seats at holiday tables across the country this year.

That is what a century and a half service means. In the many trials ahead that we face overseas, the men and women of 2-218th will meet those challenges with steadfast resolve, courage and the commitment that has long since made the Oregon National Guard and its values the bedrock of our state.

 

Our grandparents may have been the Greatest Generation. But in my book, you are the Most Noble one. If we are to save our nation in this time of great crises, it will be those like you who will get the job done. Those of us who still believe ours is the greatest nation and humanity’s last hope, vest in you our complete trust and support.

 

On this most sacred of American holiday seasons, pull your loved ones close. With family, we will persevere. God bless you, and God Bless America.

41st Inf Div fa bn tractor and 105mm in New guinea jungle 070743 (1 of 1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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