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Flight of Honor

The mortal remains of Major Howard V. Andre Jr. and Major James E. Sizemore –shot down in Laos 40 years ago– were discovered and positively identified in 2012. In September 2013 they were layed to rest in Arlington Cemetery. A flyover would have been more than appropriate but was refused because of government budget cuts. This did not stop retired pilots, members of the non profit group Warrior Aviation, from stepping in to provide a Flight of Honor for two of their own.

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Those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier are at their post 24/7, no matter the weather conditions. As many Americans along the East Coast hunkered down and stayed warm during this years harsh winter weather, members of The Old Guard stood watch over the bodies “Known but to God.” Have you ever wondered what motivates these men?

We will let Sergeant of the Guard, Sgt. 1st Class Tanner Welch tell you.

“It’s about the collective respect for people who have gone before us. And it’s about the sacrifice of the unknowns and all the service members who have gone in front of us. So we want to honor their service. The guys fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan right now are not going to stop if it starts snowing tomorrow. The guys who fought in the mountains of Korea didn’t stop because it started snowing. So we have that same mentality down here and to honor their same sacrifice and their same service we’re not going to stop either.”

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Probably the best Flash Mob performance you will ever see. Go Air Force!

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Lest We Forget!!!

Flight Turns Unforgettable

By: John E. DiScala

Delta Flight 2255 from Atlanta to Los Angeles seemed to be an ordinary flight with the exception of Candy, who was the most loving flight attendant I’ve ever encountered. Besides using her Southern charm to quickly defuse every situation, she began her welcome announcement by thanking the handful of uniformed soldiers on-board for serving our country. Her poignant message was followed by applause, and it put into perspective that none of us would be able to do what we do without these brave men and women.

But this transcontinental flight turned out to be everything but ordinary. We later learned, when the captain got on the PA system about 45 minutes prior to landing, that we were transporting a fallen soldier. The plane went quiet as he explained that there was a military escort on-board and asked that everyone remain seated for a couple of minutes so the soldiers could get off first. He also warned us not to be alarmed if we see fire trucks since Los Angeles greets their fallen military with a water canon salute. See my video below.

A few minutes after touchdown, we did indeed have a water canon salute, which I’d previously only experienced on happy occasions like inaugural flights. This time, the water glistening on the windowpanes looked like tears.

Passengers in the airport must have been worried when they saw our plane pull into gate 69A, as we had a full police and fire escort, front and back.

I was on the left side of the plane and later realized that the family could be seen off to the right, standing with the United States Army Honor Guard. According to Wikipedia, each military branch has its own honor guard, usually military in nature, and is composed of volunteers who are carefully screened. One of the primary roles for honor guards is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades.

When the jet door opened, another military officer addressed the escort who was standing at attention. He then stepped on the plane and told us passengers “I just addressed the escort. It is a sworn oath to bring home, to the family, the fallen.” He paused and then said, “Today you all did that, you are all escorts, escorts of the heart.” And then thanked us for our time and walked off the plane.

As you can imagine, everyone was silent and no one got up, not even that person from the back row who pretends he doesn’t [understand] English so he can be first off the plane. I’m sure most had meteor-sized lumps in their throats and tears in their eyes like I did.

It only got more emotional when I deplaned. There was a large number of passengers, who are normally in a hurry to get home or make a connection, standing by the window to witness something truly moving. To see the Honor Guard and family waiting patiently, while LAX baggage handlers and a military loadmaster removed the flag covered casket first from the cargo hold, was humbling to say the least. I’m not sure if it was the fallen soldier’s mother or wife who I watched slowly walk up to the coffin while a few other family members, wrapped in blankets, stood near with a dozen or so of the Honor Guards standing in salute.

As soon as I saw her reach out to put her hand on her baby’s casket, I walked away.

This ordinary flight became extraordinary and is one that I will never forget.

Thank you to all the military who protect our beautiful country and let us live the lives we are able to lead. Without you we would be nothing. And thank you to the Honor Guard for making sure these fallen soldiers, warriors and heroes are not treated like just any piece of luggage as they used to, but rather with the care and respect they so rightly deserve.

Their may concern was to return with HONOR… Need we say more?

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Four days before Christmas 1943, in the darkest hours of WWII, a miracle took place. Two enemies—an American bomber pilot and a German fighter ace—met in combat over Germany and did the unexpected: They decided not to kill one another. Even more incredibly, as old men, they found one another and became best friends.

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Gen. John Kelly, newly appointed Commander of US Southern Command

Below is a segment of the 2010 Veterans Day Speech given by Gen. John Kelly where he describes, in eloquent terms, the final seconds of two great Marines: Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter. After hearing their story he took the time to find out the heroic details of what they did, then made sure these Marines got the medals they deserved. Both were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. This speech went viral on the internet, but I figured some readers of Modern American Heroes might not have seen it. This speech was given merely weeks after Gen. Kelly tragically lost his son, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Kelly. The younger Kelly was on his third combat deployment since 9/11 when he stepped on an IED and was killed instantly. On November 19th Gen. John Kelly received his 4th Star and was named the new Commander of Southern Command.

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Six Seconds to Live

“I will leave you with a story about the kind of people they are…about the quality of the steel in their backs…about the kind of dedication they bring to our country while they serve in uniform and forever after as veterans. Two years ago when I was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8 were switching out in Ramadi. One battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the other just starting its seven-month combat tour. Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines. The same broken down ramshackle building was also home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against the terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on earth and owned by Al Qaeda.

With only seconds left to live Corporal Jonathan Yale "leaned into danger" and fired as fast as he could.

Yale was a dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he supported as well. He did this on a yearly salary of less than $23,000. Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long Island. They were from two completely different worlds. Had they not joined the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple America’s exist simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and where you might have been born. But they were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training, and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they were born of the same woman.

“Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”

The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “Okay you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” “You clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, Al Anbar, Iraq.

A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way-perhaps 60-70 yards in length-and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped. Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.

“No sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”

When I read the situation report about the incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental commander for details as something about this struck me as different. Marines dying or being seriously wounded is commonplace in combat. We expect Marines regardless of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die in the process, if that is what the mission takes. But this just seemed different. The regimental commander had just returned from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses to the event-just Iraqi police. I figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it as a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and we figured the bureaucrats back in Washington would never buy Iraqi statements. If it had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.

I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion. All survived. Many were injured…some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They [didn’t] run like any normal man would to save his life.” “What he didn’t know until then,” he said, “and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal.” Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did. No sane man. They saved us all.”

Both Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter pictured here and Corporal Jonathan Yale were posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for their acts of bravery.

Last Six Seconds in the Life of Two Heroes

What we didn’t know at the time, and only learned a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide attack. It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “…let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.” The two Marines had about five seconds left to live.

It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up. By this time the truck was half-way through the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were-some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds left to live.

With One Second to Live They “Leaned into the Danger”

For about two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the body of the [driver] who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers -American and Iraqi- bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have known they were safe…because two Marines stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber. The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.

The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty…into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight-for you.

We Marines believe that God gave America the greatest gift he could bestow to man while he lived on this earth-freedom. We also believe he gave us another gift nearly as precious-our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines-to safeguard that gift and guarantee no force on this earth can every steal it away. It has been my distinct honor to have been with you here today. Rest assured our America, this experiment in democracy started over two centuries ago, will forever remain the “land of the free and home of the brave” so long as we never run out of tough young Americans who are willing to look beyond their own self-interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down, and kill, those who would do us harm.

God Bless America, and….SEMPER FIDELIS!

 

 

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…Told by Ace Vietnam Pilot Gen. Steve Ritchie

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