31 August 2008

Victoria Cross: C. Heaphy


Major, Auckland Militia, New Zealand Military Forces

Born: 1822, St John's Wood, London
Died: 3 August 1881, Brisbane, Australia

Citation: For his gallant conduct at the skirmish on the banks of the Mangapiko River, in New Zealand, on the 11th of February, 1864, in assisting a wounded soldier of the 40th Regiment, who had fallen into a hollow among the thickest of the concealed Maoris. Whilst doing so, he became the target for a volley at a few feet distant. Five balls pierced his clothes and cap, and he was wounded in three places. Although hurt, he continued to aid the wounded until the end of the day.
Major Heaphy was at the time in charge of a party of soldiers of the 40th and 50th Regiments, under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry Marshman Havelock, Bart., C.B., V.C., the Senior Officer on the spot, who had moved rapidly down to the place where the troops were hotly engaged and pressed.

(London Gazette Issue 23217 dated 8 Feb 1867, published 8 Feb 1867.)

Note: Major Heaphy was the first soldier serving with the New Zealand Army to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Sir Henry Havelock VC CB had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions as a lieutenant in the 10th Regiment of Foot, at Cawnpore in July of 1857.

Medal of Honor: J. McCloy


Coxswain (later Chief Boatswain), US Navy

Born: 3 January 1876, Brewster, New York
Died: 25 May 1945, Leonia, New Jersey

Citation: In action with the relief expedition of the Allied forces in China, 13, 20, 21, and 22 June 1900. During this period and in the presence of the enemy, Coxswain McCloy distinguished himself by meritorious conduct.

Citation: For heroism in leading 3 picket launches along Vera Cruz sea front, drawing Mexican fire and enabling cruisers to save our men on shore, 22 April 1914. Though wounded, he gallantly remained at his post.

Note: USS McCloy (DE 1038) was named in his honour.

27 August 2008

Mr Monk and the submarine

Anybody watch Monk? To be specific, did anybody watch the 15 Aug episode, "Mr Monk is Underwater"? A naval officer, who is an old friend of Natalie's, has doubts about the recent suicide of his XO, and asks Monk (Tony Shalhoub) and Natalie (Traylor Howard) to come down to his boat to have a look. Monk agrees - but then has second thoughts when he discovers that the "boat" is actually a submarine. Natalie and her friend (Casper Van Dien) get Monk below, promising they will only stay for three minutes, but suddenly the boat is under way and Monk is trapped there until return to port.

My wife had great fun pointing out errors:
The boat is supposedly a "class 4" fast attack, whatever that might be. It's the USS Seattle, so it must be a 688, right?

The passageways look good - narrow enough that people must turn sideways to pass each other - but the mess decks are too roomy and hold too many people. (She said it's amazing how they could have something almost perfect, and then right afterward have something that was so wrong.)

There's direct access from inside the people tank to the ballast tanks!

There's an infirmary, with a real live medical officer (Natalie's LT) in charge. (Countermeasures space, anyone?)

Berthing is a big open space, with open racks - no curtains - that look somewhat like those on Museum Ship Nautilus.

An alarm sounds at every depth change.

I spotted a few more problems, of course:
When Monk first goes aboard, the hatches are all shut. A hatch is opened for him to go below; the hatch looks right, but there's nobody standing there opening it.

The CO (William Atherton) has gold dolphins, a nice set of ribbons (didn't get a good look at them all, but he has the Kuwait Liberation Medal) and a boomer pin, but no command pin. And the COB isn't wearing his COB badge, either.

There are only a couple of poopie suits; officers are in summer whites, chiefs in khakis, and blueshirts in utilities.

The boat is moored, of course, when Monk and Natalie come aboard. Minutes later, alarms are sounding and the CO is ordering a depth change to 250 feet. No manoeuvring watch, no casting off of mooring lines - they're still attached to the pier!

The CO gives depth change orders to the COB, not to the OOD. (At least he does say "chief of the boat," rather than "COB.") And there isn't a single repeatback!

"Niner." Gack.

The skipper and the doc (that LT) not only have personal firearms on board, but have them in their own spaces (stateroom and infirmary, respectively).

The torpedo room looks like that on a WWII boat, with a central passageway and a pair of torpedoes hanging on each side.

There were, however, some good things, too:
Most of the depth change orders, even if delivered to the wrong person, were worded almost correctly: "two five zero feet," "one five zero feet," &c. (Though he did say "three zero zero feet" instead of "three hundred feet.")

Uniforms are done well, with appropriate insignia, including name tapes and "U S Navy" tapes on the utilities.

The interior decor looks good: fake wood paneling, seafoam green paint, lockers, the weirdroom (much like that on a 688).

And I have to admit, the skipper's "I am the Lord thy God" speech did remind me of certain COs I've known....

Update 1139 28 Aug: Tweaked this a bit, with no substantive change to content.

The pink gorilla suit

Huzzah! LawDog has finally finished the story of the pink gorilla suit!!!

Warning: Do not even consider drinking something whilst reading this story....

RIP: Gladys Powers

Gladys Powers
10 May 1899 – 22 Aug 2008

The last female veteran of World War I has died. ZUI this article from the Abbotsford (BC) Times:
Abbotsford's oldest soul waltzed her way onto the front pages of the Times, and into our hearts over the years - now we wish Gladys Powers Godspeed as she leaves this earth, at 109 years of age.

Four months after celebrating her birthday on May 10, Gladys Powers died peacefully in her sleep at around 2 a.m. on Aug. 15.

Powers, who may have been Canada's oldest First World War veteran, was admitted to MSA General Hospital after she broke her hip on Aug. 14 at her home for many years, the Valhaven Rest Home.


Born in Lewisham, England, in 1899, she moved to Turkey with her family before the First World War. After her mother died, she returned back to England and at 15, she fibbed about her age to enlist in the British Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She then worked as a waitress with the British Women's Royal Air Force during the First World War.

After the Great War, she immigrated to Canada with her first husband, Canadian soldier Ed Luxford. She disliked the cold, so the couple moved to Vancouver, walked nearly 1,000 kilometres along the Canadian Pacific tracks in 1925.


At her death, Gladys was the world's last surviving female veteran of World War I and Canada's oldest war veteran.

ZUI also this article from the Vancouver (BC) Province, which gives more information about Mrs Powers.

Wikipedia now lists twelve surviving veterans of World War I: four living in the UK, three in Australia, two each in France and the US, and one in Italy. All twelve served in the Allied forces (six British, two French, and one each Australian, Canadian, Italian and US); the last Central Powers veteran, Franz Künstler (Austro-Hungarian army) died on 27 May 08.

Update 1234 4 May 2010: In January 2010 Florence Green, of King's Lynn, Norfolk, was discovered to have also been a WRAF veteran from World War I. She is currently the only known living female WWI veteran.

24 August 2008

Victoria Cross: B. J. Budd


Corporal, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment

Born: 16 July 1977, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died: 20 Aug 2006, Helmand Province, Afghanistan

Citation: During July and August 2006 A Company, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment were deployed to occupy once again the District Centre at Sangin [Afghanistan]. The company's location was constantly under sustained attack from a combination of Taliban small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar and rocket fire. In order to reduce this threat platoons were regularly tasked to conduct security patrols into the urban and rural areas in the vicinity of the District Centre. Given the prevailing enemy activity in the area it was assessed that patrols had a 75 per cent chance of coming into contact with the Taliban - a statistic that was not lost on the men of A Company.
These patrols regularly came under attack and on 27th July Corporal Budd's section identified and engaged two enemy gunmen on the roof of a building in the centre of Sangin. This provoked a fierce fire-fight in which two of Corporal Budd's section were hit. One was seriously injured and collapsed in the open ground, where he remained exposed to enemy fire, with rounds striking the ground around him. Realising that he needed to regain the initiative and understanding that the enemy needed to be driven back so that the casualty could be evacuated, Corporal Budd led his section forward and assaulted the building where the enemy fire was heaviest. He led this attack under fire and personally killed two of the enemy inside the building with grenade and rifle fire, forcing the remaining fighters to flee across an open field where they were successfully engaged by the rest of his section. This courageous and prompt action proved decisive in breaking the enemy and was undertaken at great personal risk. In inflicting significant losses amongst the enemy and forcing their withdrawal, Corporal Budd's deliberate action and conspicuous gallantry allowed the wounded soldier to be evacuated to safety where he subsequently received life-saving treatment.
On 20th August Corporal Budd was leading his section on the right forward flank of a platoon clearance patrol near Sangin District Centre. Another section was advancing with a Land Rover fitted with a .50 calibre heavy machine gun on the patrol's left flank. Pushing through thick vegetation, Corporal Budd identified a number of enemy fighters 30 metres away to his front. As he had not been seen by these Taliban, Corporal Budd indicated their presence to the rest of his section and used hand signals to prepare his men to launch a hasty attack. He then led his section on a flanking manoeuvre but the enemy engaged the Land Rover on the left flank and the element of surprise Corporal Budd had hoped to achieve was lost as his own section was also spotted.
Recognising the immediate requirement to regain the initiative, Corporal Budd made a conscious decision to assault the enemy and ordered his men to follow him. As they moved forward the section came under a withering fire that quickly wounded two men and incapacitated a further soldier when a bullet struck his body armour. The effectiveness of the enemy's fire and these losses forced the unwounded members of the section to take cover. However, Corporal Budd continued to assault forward on his own, knowing full well the likely consequences of doing so without the close support of his remaining men. He was wounded but he continued to move forward, firing at the enemy and accounting for a number of them as he rushed their position. Inspired by Corporal Budd's example, the rest of the platoon reorganised and pushed forward their attack, killing more of the enemy and eventually forcing their withdrawal. Corporal Budd subsequently died of his wounds and when his body was later recovered it was found surrounded by three dead Taliban. There is no doubt that Corporal Budd first demonstrated conspicuous gallantry in leading the assault on 27th July 2006, an assault which broke the enemy and ultimately saved the life of a wounded member of his section. What is remarkable is that he did this again on 20th August in the knowledge that the rest of his men had either been struck down by enemy fire or had been forced to go to ground.
Throughout his service in Afghanistan Corporal Budd led his section from the front and was always at the point where the action was fiercest. Twice he behaved with the greatest gallantry but his single-handed action on the second occasion and his determination, though wounded, to push on against a superior enemy force stands out as a premeditated act of inspirational leadership and the greatest valour, which cost him his life.

[London Gazette Issue 58182 dated 14 Dec 2006, published 15 Dec 2006.]

Medal of Honor: A. E. Baker


Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Air Corps; commanding 93d Heavy Bombardment Group

Born: 1 January 1907, Chicago, Illinois
Died: 1 August 1943, near Ploieşti, Romania

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy on 1 August 1943. On this date he led his command, the 93d Heavy Bombardment Group, on a daring low-level attack against enemy oil refineries and installations at Ploesti, Rumania. Approaching the target, his aircraft was hit by a large caliber antiaircraft shell, seriously damaged and set on fire. Ignoring the fact he was flying over terrain suitable for safe landing, he refused to jeopardize the mission by breaking up the lead formation and continued unswervingly to lead his group to the target upon which he dropped his bombs with devastating effect. Only then did he leave formation, but his valiant attempts to gain sufficient altitude for the crew to escape by parachute were unavailing and his aircraft crashed in flames after his successful efforts to avoid other planes in formation. By extraordinary flying skill, gallant leadership and intrepidity, Lt. Col. Baker rendered outstanding, distinguished, and valorous service to our Nation.

22 August 2008

RIP: Ed Freeman

Ed W Freeman
Nov 1927 - 20 Aug 2008

ZUI this article from the Idaho Statesman:
As Ed "Too Tall" Freeman lay ill in a Boise hospital over the past few weeks, many came to pay their respects to the 80-year-old national war hero and former helicopter pilot.

One unexpected visitor offered a very personal thank you to Freeman, a veteran of three wars and recipient of the highest military award - the Congressional Medal of Honor - for his actions on Nov. 14, 1965, at Landing Zone X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam.

"A guy came into the hospital and said, 'You don't know me, but I was one of those people you hauled out of the X-Ray,'" said Mike Freeman, 54, one of Ed's two sons. "He said, 'Thanks for my life.' "

Freeman died Wednesday.


The heroics of Freeman and the others involved in the Ia Drang campaign are immortalized in the Mel Gibson movie "We Were Soldiers," which is based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young." A sequel, "We Are Soldiers Still," was released this month.


Freeman, a Mississippi native who married an Idahoan, began his military career at 17 with a two-year stint in the Navy during World War II.

"He joined the Navy and hated it. The ocean thing was not his bag," Mike Freeman said.

So he joined the Army, serving four years in Germany before getting deployed to the Korean conflict.

The 6-foot-4 tell-it-like-it-is Southerner got the name "Too Tall" because he was told he was too tall to be a pilot. That didn't stop him from pushing to fly.

Freeman was played by Mark McCracken in the film We Were Soldiers.

Freeman receives the Medal of Honor from President Bush, 16 July 2001

******* *** *******


Captain, US Army; 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)

Born: 1927, Mississippi
Died: 20 August 2008, Boise, Idaho

Citation: Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion. His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have gone down, with much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers -- some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

20 August 2008

Australian medals to be awarded for Vietnam

ZUI this article from the Melbourne Herald Sun:
THE officer who commanded Australian troops in the Battle of Long Tan says his men have finally been given the justice they deserve.

The recognition comes 42 years after the bloody Vietnam War conflict.

Harry Smith, who commanded D Company 6 RAR, and two of his fellow officers are to receive gallantry awards while surviving veterans of the battle will be able to wear a unit citation recognising their bravery, the federal government has announced.

Mr Smith, a major at the time of the battle, has been offered the Star of Gallantry, the nation's second-highest military honour behind the Victoria Cross.

Former lieutenants Dave Sabben and Geoff Kendall will be offered the Medal for Gallantry, equivalent to the Military Cross.

ZUI also this article from The Age:
Another 11 former soldiers will be able to have their claims to further awards examined before an independent Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal to be established by the Federal Government.

The Battle of Long Tan, long considered Australia's most significant battle in Vietnam, took place on August 18, 1966, when 108 members of Delta Company, 6RAR, commanded by then-major Smith, encountered a regiment of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. Delta Company, outnumbered by more than 10 to one, held off wave after wave of attacks until a relief force arrived. Eighteen Australians died and 21 were wounded.

Update 1244 28 Aug: This article from the Brisbane Courier Mail includes more information about the Battle of Long Tan.

Star of Gallantry (SG) and Medal for Gallantry (MG)

18 August 2008

Now I've seen everything....

ZUI this article from the MOD Defence News:
A retired senior Army officer has knighted a penguin on behalf of the King of Norway in a special ceremony at Edinburgh Zoo today, Friday 15 August 2008.

Representative Colonel of the Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland and Chief Executive and Producer of the Edinburgh Tattoo, Major General Euan Loudon CBE, conferred the unusual knighthood on king penguin Nils Olav, in front of 130 members of the Norwegian King's Guard.

Penguin Olav has been the unit's mascot since the 1980s and since then has risen through the ranks to become its Honorary Colonel-in-Chief.


It was on a visit to Edinburgh in 1962 that a young lieutenant called Nils Egelien first encountered the penguins at the Zoo. On a return visit ten years later he persuaded his regiment to sponsor a king penguin, which they duly adopted as their mascot, awarded the 'rank' of Lance Corporal, and named Nils Olav (after Nils Egelien and Norway's then King Olav).

On subsequent visits to the Scottish capital Olav received promotion to Corporal in 1982, Sergeant in 1987, Regimental Sergeant Major in 1993, Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major in 2001 and Honorary Colonel-in-Chief in 2005.

King penguin Nils Olav inspects Norwegian guardsmen at Edinburgh Zoo before receiving his knighthood

MOD photograph © Crown Copyright/MOD 2008.

17 August 2008

Victoria Cross for New Zealand: B. H. Apiata


Lance Corporal, New Zealand Special Air Service

Born: 28 June 1972, Mangakino, New Zealand
Died: TBD

Citation: Lance Corporal (now Corporal) Apiata was, in 2004, part of a New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) Troop on patrol in Afghanistan, which laid up in defensive formation for the night.
At approximately 0315 hours, the Troop was attacked by a group of about twenty enemy fighters, who had approached by stealth using the cover of undulating ground in pitch darkness. Rocket-propelled grenades struck two of the Troop's vehicles, destroying one and immobilising the other.
The opening strike was followed by dense and persistent machine gun and automatic rifle fire from close range.
The attack then continued using further rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun and rifle fire. The initial attack was directed at the vehicle where Lance Corporal Apiata was stationed.
He was blown off the bonnet by the impact of rocket propelled grenades striking the vehicle. He was dazed, but was not physically injured.
The two other vehicle crew members had been wounded by shrapnel; one of them, Corporal D, was in a serious condition.
Illuminated by the burning vehicle, and under sustained and accurate enemy fire directed at and around their position, the three soldiers immediately took what little cover was available. Corporal D was discovered to have sustained lifethreatening wounds. The other two soldiers immediately began applying basic first aid.
Lance Corporal Apiata assumed command of the situation, as he could see that his superior's condition was deteriorating rapidly.
By this time, however, Lance Corporal Apiata's exposed position, some seventy metres in front of the rest of the Troop, was coming under increasingly intense enemy fire. Corporal D was now suffering serious arterial bleeding and was lapsing in and out of consciousness.
Lance Corporal Apiata concluded that his comrade urgently required medical attention,or he would likely die. Pinned down by the enemy, in the direct line of fire between friend and foe, he also judged that there was almost no chance of such help reaching their position.
As the enemy pressed its attack towards Lance Corporal Apiata's position, and without thought of abandoning his colleague to save himself, he took a decision in the highest order of personal courage under fire. Knowing the risks involved in moving to open ground, Lance Corporal Apiata decided to carry Corporal D singlehandedly to the relative safety of the main Troop position, which afforded better cover and where medical treatment could be given.
He ordered his other colleague, Trooper E, to make his own way back to the rear.
In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy metres of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.
By his actions, he removed the tactical complications of Corporal D's predicament from considerations of rescue.
The Troop could now concentrate entirely on prevailing in the battle itself. After an engagement lasting approximately twenty minutes, the assault was broken up and the numerically superior attackers were routed with significant casualties, with the Troop in pursuit.
Lance Corporal Apiata had thereby contributed materially to the operational success of the engagement. A subsequent medical assessment confirmed that Corporal D would probably have died of blood loss and shock, had it not been for Lance Corporal Apiata's selflessly courageous act in carrying him back to the main Troop lines, to receive the immediate treatment that he needed.

Edit 0031 4 Sep 11: According to the Dominion Post, "the gunfight occurred in the early hours of Friday, June 18, 2004, in a remote part of dry and mountainous central Afghanistan, north of Kandahar."

Note: This was the first award of the Victoria Cross for New Zealand.
SAS troopers are not normally identified in public - thus "Corporal D" and "Trooper E."

Medal of Honor: R. J. T. Yano


Sergeant First Class, US Army; Air Cavalry Troop, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment

Born: 13 December 1943, Kealakekua Kona, Hawaii
Died: 1 January 1969, near Bien Hao, Republic of Vietnam

Citation: Sfc. Yano distinguished himself while serving with the Air Cavalry Troop. Sfc. Yano was performing the duties of crew chief aboard the troop's command-and-control helicopter during action against enemy forces entrenched in dense jungle [near Bien Hao, Republic of Vietnam, 1 January 1969]. From an exposed position in the face of intense small arms and antiaircraft fire he delivered suppressive fire upon the enemy forces and marked their positions with smoke and white phosphorous grenades, thus enabling his troop commander to direct accurate and effective artillery fire against the hostile emplacements. A grenade, exploding prematurely, covered him with burning phosphorous, and left him severely wounded. Flaming fragments within the helicopter caused supplies and ammunition to detonate. Dense white smoke filled the aircraft, obscuring the pilot's vision and causing him to lose control. Although having the use of only 1 arm and being partially blinded by the initial explosion, Sfc. Yano completely disregarded his welfare and began hurling blazing ammunition from the helicopter. In so doing he inflicted additional wounds upon himself, yet he persisted until the danger was past. Sfc. Yano's indomitable courage and profound concern for his comrades averted loss of life and additional injury to the rest of the crew. By his conspicuous gallantry at the cost of his life, in the highest traditions of the military service, Sfc. Yano has reflected great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.

14 August 2008

I love my job

The new district manager (boss over nine stores in MA and CT) made her first official visit to the store this week. I swear the flop-and-twitch here was worse than it ever was on the boat when an admiral was coming for an inspection....

10 August 2008

Victoria Cross: J. G. Beharry


Private, 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment

Born: 27 July 1979, Grenada, West Indies
Died: TBD

Citation: Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries). His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.
In the early hours of the 1st May 2004 Beharry’s company was ordered to replenish an isolated Coalition Forces outpost located in the centre of the troubled city of Al Amarah [Iraq]. He was the driver of a platoon commander’s Warrior armoured fighting vehicle. His platoon was the company’s reserve force and was placed on immediate notice to move. As the main elements of his company were moving into the city to carry out the replenishment, they were re-tasked to fight through a series of enemy ambushes in order to extract a foot patrol that had become pinned down under sustained small arms and heavy machine gun fire and improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade attack.
Beharry’s platoon was tasked over the radio to come to the assistance of the remainder of the company, who were attempting to extract the isolated foot patrol. As his platoon passed a roundabout, en route to the pinned-down patrol, they became aware that the road to the front was empty of all civilians and traffic – an indicator of a potential ambush ahead. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt, so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then immediately hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades. Eyewitnesses report that the vehicle was engulfed in a number of violent explosions, which physically rocked the 30-tonne Warrior.
As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle’s gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded. Due to damage sustained in the blast to the vehicle’s radio systems, Beharry had no means of communication with either his turret crew or any of the other Warrior vehicles deployed around him. He did not know if his commander or crewmen were still alive, or how serious their injuries might be. In this confusing and dangerous situation, on his own initiative, he closed his driver’s hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade placed across the road.
The vehicle was hit again by sustained rocket-propelled grenade attack from insurgent fighters in the alleyways and on rooftops around his vehicle. Further damage to the Warrior from these explosions caused it to catch fire and fill rapidly with thick, noxious smoke. Beharry opened up his armoured hatch cover to clear his view and orientate himself to the situation. He still had no radio communications and was now acting on his own initiative, as the lead vehicle of a six Warrior convoy in an enemy-controlled area of the city at night. He assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his Warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five Warriors behind him towards safety.
As the smoke in his driver’s tunnel cleared, he was just able to make out the shape of another rocket- propelled grenade in flight heading directly towards him. He pulled the heavy armoured hatch down with one hand, whilst still controlling his vehicle with the other. However, the overpressure from the explosion of the rocket wrenched the hatch out of his grip, and the flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver’s tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret. The impact of this rocket destroyed Beharry’s armoured periscope, so he was forced to drive the vehicle through the remainder of the ambushed route, some 1500 metres long, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle. During this long surge through the ambushes the vehicle was again struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. While his head remained out of the hatch, to enable him to see the route ahead, he was directly exposed to much of this fire, and was himself hit by a 7.62mm bullet, which penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface.
Despite this harrowing weight of incoming fire Beharry continued to push through the extended ambush, still leading his platoon until he broke clean. He then visually identified another Warrior from his company and followed it through the streets of Al Amarah to the outside of the Cimic House outpost, which was receiving small arms fire from the surrounding area. Once he had brought his vehicle to a halt outside, without thought for his own personal safety, he climbed onto the turret of the still-burning vehicle and, seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby Warrior. He then returned once again to his vehicle and again mounted the exposed turret to lift out the vehicle’s gunner and move him to a position of safety. Exposing himself yet again to enemy fire he returned to the rear of the burning vehicle to lead the disorientated and shocked dismounts and casualties to safety. Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy. Only at this stage did Beharry pull the fire extinguisher handles, immobilising the engine of the vehicle, dismounted and then moved himself into the relative safety of the back of another Warrior. Once inside Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated.
Having returned to duty following medical treatment, on the 11th June 2004 Beharry’s Warrior was part of a quick reaction force tasked to attempt to cut off a mortar team that had attacked a Coalition Force base in Al Amarah. As the lead vehicle of the platoon he was moving rapidly through the dark city streets towards the suspected firing point, when his vehicle was ambushed by the enemy from a series of rooftop positions. During this initial heavy weight of enemy fire, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the vehicle’s frontal armour, just six inches from Beharry’s head, resulting in a serious head injury. Other rockets struck the turret and sides of the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.
With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, and forcefully reversed the Warrior out of the ambush area. The vehicle continued to move until it struck the wall of a nearby building and came to rest. Beharry then lost consciousness as a result of his wounds. By moving the vehicle out of the enemy’s chosen killing area he enabled other Warrior crews to be able to extract his crew from his vehicle, with a greatly reduced risk from incoming fire. Despite receiving a serious head injury, which later saw him being listed as very seriously injured and in a coma for some time, his level-headed actions in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire at short range again almost certainly saved the lives of his crew and provided the conditions for their safe evacuation to medical treatment.
Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action.

(London Gazette Issue 57587 dated 17 Mar 2005, published 18 Mar 2005.)

Medal of Honor: A. Mack


Captain of the Top, US Navy; USS Brooklyn

Born: 17 May 1834, Holland
Died: 25 September 1907

Citation: On board the U.S.S. Brooklyn during successful attacks against Fort Morgan, rebel gunboats and the ram Tennessee in Mobile Bay, on 5 August 1864. Although wounded and sent below for treatment, Mack immediately returned to his post and took charge of his gun and, as heavy enemy return fire continued to fall, performed his duties with skill and courage until he was again wounded and totally disabled.

07 August 2008

The approaching horror

Only two more months until we have a teenager in the house....

06 August 2008

STS-128 (Atlantis) crew named

I somehow missed this NASA press release dated 16 July:
NASA has assigned the crew for space shuttle mission STS-128. The flight will carry science and storage racks to the International Space Station.

Marine Corps Col. Frederick W. "Rick" Sturckow will command space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-128 mission, targeted for launch July 30, 2009. Retired Air Force Col. Kevin A. Ford will serve as the pilot. Mission specialists are NASA astronauts John D. "Danny" Olivas, retired Army Col. Patrick G. Forrester, Jose M. Hernandez and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Christer Fuglesang. The mission will deliver a new station crew member, Nicole Stott, to the complex and return Tim Kopra to Earth. Ford, Hernandez and Stott will be making their first trips to space. Stott and Kopra were previously assigned in February to station missions.

Atlantis will carry a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module filled with science and storage racks to the station. The mission will include two spacewalks to remove and replace a materials processing experiment outside ESA's Columbus module and return an empty ammonia tank assembly.

This will be the 30th space flight for Atlantis, first used for mission STS-51-J (3-7 Oct 85), and the 128th shuttle flight. Atlantis is scheduled for one more mission after this, STS-131 (currently planned for Feb 2010).

Kopra will be taken to the ISS aboard the space shuttle Endeavour (mission STS-127), currently scheduled for launch in May of 2009.

FY09 CPO (and SCPO) selectees

The list is out - part I here, part II here. I recognised two names this time, an SK and a nav ET from Prov.

Whilst looking through the list, I realised that I hadn't seen this years SCPO list. Only one name there I recognised - a nuc ET, also from Prov.

Congratulations to all the selectees.

03 August 2008

Victoria Cross: A. H. L. Richardson


Sergeant, Lord Strathcona's Horse, Canadian Forces

Born: 23 September 1872, Southport, Lancashire
Died: 15 December 1932, Liverpool

Citation: On the 5th July, 1900, at Wolve Spruit [South Africa], about 15 miles north of Standerton, a party of Lord Strathcona's Corps, only 38 in number, came into contact, and was engaged at close quarters, with a force of 80 of the enemy.
When the order to retire had been given, Sergeant Richardson rode back under a very heavy cross-fire and picked up a trooper whose horse had been shot and who was wounded in two places and rode with him out of fire.
At the time when this act of gallantry was performed, Sergeant Richardson was within 300 yards of the enemy, and was himself riding a wounded horse.

[London Gazette issue 27229 dated 14 Sep 1900, published 14 Sep 1900.]

Note: Sgt Richardson was the first member of the Canadian forces to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Medal of Honor: M. L. Urban


Captain, US Army; 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division

Born: 25 August 1919, Buffalo, New York
Died: 4 March 1995, Holland, Michigan

Citation: Lieutenant Colonel (then Captain) Matt Urban, United States Army, who distinguished himself by a series of bold, heroic actions, exemplified by singularly outstanding combat leadership, personal bravery, and tenacious devotion to duty, during the period 14 June to 3 September 1944 while assigned to the 2d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. On 14 June, Captain Urban's company, attacking at Renouf, France, encountered heavy enemy small arms and tank fire. The enemy tanks were unmercifully raking his unit's positions and inflicting heavy casualties. Captain Urban, realizing that his company was in imminent danger of being decimated, armed himself with a bazooka. He worked his way with an ammo carrier through hedgerows, under a continuing barrage of fire, to a point near the tanks. He brazenly exposed himself to the enemy fire and, firing the bazooka, destroyed both tanks. Responding to Captain Urban's action, his company moved forward and routed the enemy. Later that same day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban was wounded in the leg by direct fire from a 37mm tank-gun. He refused evacuation and continued to lead his company until they moved into defensive positions for the night. At 0500 hours the next day, still in the attack near Orglandes, Captain Urban, though badly wounded, directed his company in another attack. One hour later he was again wounded. Suffering from two wounds, one serious, he was evacuated to England. In mid-July, while recovering from his wounds, he learned of his unit's severe losses in the hedgerows of Normandy. Realizing his unit's need for battle-tested leaders, he voluntarily left the hospital and hitchhiked his way back to his unit hear St. Lo, France. Arriving at the 2d Battalion Command Post at 1130 hours, 25 July, he found that his unit had jumped-off at 1100 hours in the first attack of Operation Cobra." Still limping from his leg wound, Captain Urban made his way forward to retake command of his company. He found his company held up by strong enemy opposition. Two supporting tanks had been destroyed and another, intact but with no tank commander or gunner, was not moving. He located a lieutenant in charge of the support tanks and directed a plan of attack to eliminate the enemy strong-point. The lieutenant and a sergeant were immediately killed by the heavy enemy fire when they tried to mount the tank. Captain Urban, though physically hampered by his leg wound and knowing quick action had to be taken, dashed through the scathing fire and mounted the tank. With enemy bullets ricocheting from the tank, Captain Urban ordered the tank forward and, completely exposed to the enemy fire, manned the machine gun and placed devastating fire on the enemy. His action, in the face of enemy fire, galvanized the battalion into action and they attacked and destroyed the enemy position. On 2 August, Captain Urban was wounded in the chest by shell fragments and, disregarding the recommendation of the Battalion Surgeon, again refused evacuation. On 6 August, Captain Urban became the commander of the 2d Battalion. On 15 August, he was again wounded but remained with his unit. On 3 September, the 2d Battalion was given the mission of establishing a crossing-point on the Meuse River near Heer, Belgium. The enemy planned to stop the advance of the allied Army by concentrating heavy forces at the Meuse. The 2d Battalion, attacking toward the crossing-point, encountered fierce enemy artillery, small arms and mortar fire which stopped the attack. Captain Urban quickly moved from his command post to the lead position of the battalion. Reorganizing the attacking elements, he personally led a charge toward the enemy's strong-point. As the charge moved across the open terrain, Captain Urban was seriously wounded in the neck. Although unable to talk above a whisper from the paralyzing neck wound, and in danger of losing his life, he refused to be evacuated until the enemy was routed and his battalion had secured the crossing-point on the Meuse River. Captain Urban's personal leadership, limitless bravery, and repeated extraordinary exposure to enemy fire served as an inspiration to his entire battalion. His valorous and intrepid actions reflect the utmost credit on him and uphold the noble traditions of the United States.

01 August 2008

Lakes on Titan, water on Mars

ZUI this NASA press release dated 30 July:
NASA scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn's moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane. This makes Titan the only body in our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface.

Scientists made the discovery using data from an instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft. The instrument identified chemically different materials based on the way they absorb and reflect infrared light. Before Cassini, scientists thought Titan would have global oceans of methane, ethane and other light hydrocarbons. More than 40 close flybys of Titan by Cassini show no such global oceans exist, but hundreds of dark lake-like features are present. Until now, it was not known whether these features were liquid or simply dark, solid material.

"This is the first observation that really pins down that Titan has a surface lake filled with liquid," said Bob Brown of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Brown is the team leader of Cassini's visual and mapping instrument. The results will be published in the July 31 issue of the journal Nature.


The visual and mapping instrument observed a lake, Ontario Lacus, in Titan's south polar region during a close Cassini flyby in December 2007. The lake is roughly 7,800 square miles in area, slightly larger than North America's Lake Ontario.

"Detection of liquid ethane confirms a long-held idea that lakes and seas filled with methane and ethane exist on Titan," said Larry Soderblom, a Cassini interdisciplinary scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz. "The fact we could detect the ethane spectral signatures of the lake even when it was so dimly illuminated, and at a slanted viewing path through Titan's atmosphere, raises expectations for exciting future lake discoveries by our instrument."

And ZUI this NASA press release dated 31 July:
Laboratory tests aboard NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample. The lander's robotic arm delivered the sample Wednesday to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples.

"We have water," said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. "We've seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted."

With enticing results so far and the spacecraft in good shape, NASA also announced operational funding for the mission will extend through Sept. 30. The original prime mission of three months ends in late August. The mission extension adds five weeks to the 90 days of the prime mission.


The soil sample came from a trench approximately 2 inches deep. When the robotic arm first reached that depth, it hit a hard layer of frozen soil. Two attempts to deliver samples of icy soil on days when fresh material was exposed were foiled when the samples became stuck inside the scoop. Most of the material in Wednesday's sample had been exposed to the air for two days, letting some of the water in the sample vaporize away and making the soil easier to handle.

"Mars is giving us some surprises," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. "We're excited because surprises are where discoveries come from. One surprise is how the soil is behaving. The ice-rich layers stick to the scoop when poised in the sun above the deck, different from what we expected from all the Mars simulation testing we've done. That has presented challenges for delivering samples, but we're finding ways to work with it and we're gathering lots of information to help us understand this soil."

Knights' Ransom (S F Welty)

I think it was Betsy Bird who was blogging a while back about old children's books that really ought to be reprinted. Knights' Ransom, by S F Welty, is one that I think fits that category.

In 1396 the Kingdom of Hungary was threatened with attack by the Turkish sultan Bayezid I (also known in the west as Bajazet). An army, largely composed of French and Burgundian forces under the leadership of Count John of Nevers, travelled from Paris to the Hungarian capital of Buda, where it joined King Sigismond's army. Bajazet had not yet appeared, so eventually the decision was made to take the war to him. After attacking a few smaller Turkish towns, the Christian army arrived at Nicopolis (now Nikopol, Bulgaria) and lay siege to it.

Bajazet, who had been fed intel on Christian movements by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan, took his time, waiting until his full army was gathered before moving on Nicopolis. His arrival took the Western army by surprise, and the resulting battle was a disastrous defeat for the French. Many were killed; most of the prisoners were executed by the Turks, with only a few kept to be ransomed. I haven't found a list of prisoners or a description of the ransom demanded, but it was obviously paid, for Count John succeeded his father as Duke of Burgundy in 1404.

Knights' Ransom starts near Paris, on the day the French set out for Hungary. Young Vahl Thorfinnsson, a falconer in the service of Count John, is part of the crowd; his task will be to tend Count John's falcons during the journey - especially Crusader, the white Greenland falcon.*

Vahl is captured just before the battle of Nicopolis, whilst out exercising Crusader, and he and the bird are taken to Bajazet, who is also a devotee of the sport of kings.
Dusk began to fall, but the troops of prisoners brought into the camp grew larger and larger. The clash of arms diminished, though the screaming of wounded men grew shriller and harsher as the hours wore on. Vahl caught sight of several standards he knew, borne in triumph by Moslem horsemen. Flaunted in the Turkish camp, the pennons could only mean that their owners were dead or prisoners.

Vahl sat on the warm, dry ground and bowed his aching head in his arms, trying in vain to close his ears as well as his eyes to the evidences of defeat. But his curiosity was stronger than his fear. He wrenched his eyes open in time to see Count John of Nevers and five of his leading knights, in heavy chains like common criminals. They moved under guard, and their rich raiment was torn and soiled with dust and blood, but their heads were still high. They bore themselves, even in adversity, with pride and courage. Groaning, Vahl covered his face with his hands.

Vahl manages to escape, taking Crusader with him, and makes his way back to France. There he is accused of cowardice and imprisoned by Count John's father, Duke Philip II of Burgundy, who refuses even to listen to Vahl's story. Three days later, Vahl is joined in his cell by a friend, Sir Olivier of Artois, who escaped from the battle and was received in France with the same welcome Vahl received. On the day set for their execution, however, they are saved by the arrival of another knight, Sir James de Helly, who has been sent as an emissary from Bajazet.

The sultan is willing to return some two score prisoners in exchange for a ransom consisting of gold, scarlet cloth, tapestries, fine linen - and twelve Greenland falcons. Twelve? There are only three of these rare and valuable birds in all of France, owned by Count John, Duke Philip and the king himself, Charles VI. The king agrees to send these three on to Bajazet as a down payment, while Vahl and Sir Olivier travel to Greenland to obtain nine more.

Only ships from Bergen are permitted to trade with Greenland, so they must sail from Bruges to Bergen, and thence to Iceland, Greenland and even beyond, to the lands discovered four centuries earlier by Leif Eiriksson. They meet with various interruptions along the way, including pirates:
Vahl's place was at Sir Olivier's side, but he could not hold it. The agile knight was everywhere at once; he seemed to find the thickest of the fray by instinct, strike an enemy a disabling blow, and attack another. But Vahl found himself duelling with a short, barrel-chested fellow twice his age and sturdy as an oak. The man beat him back until he could retreat no further except over the deck rail into the sea. Into that icy deathtrap his enemy might have pushed him, had not the pirate suddenly slipped. He recovered too quickly for Vahl to strike him down, but not quick enough to prevent Vahl's safe retreat to the foot of the tiny castle in the stern of the ship. Against him there his assailant soon pressed fiercely. He backed Vahl against the cabin door in the wall and set to work with heavy blows to finish him. One of the pirate's comrades, having struck down an opponent, ran to his aid. Together they fell upon the squire.

The book is rich in historical detail, and includes a glossary, mainly of terms used in falconry, and a map of Vahl's travels. My only quibble was a description of a cottage with strings of peppers hanging from the rafters; peppers are American plants, unknown in Europe until a century after the setting of this book.

Knights' Ransom, by S F Welty, Follett Publishing Company, 1951. Long out of print, alas, but available from various on-line used-book dealers, and probably also through interlibrary loan (ILL).

* The gyrfalcon, Falco rusticolus.

Book list - Jul 08

Time to Depart - mystery, by Lindsey Davis
A Dying Light in Corduba - mystery, by Lindsey Davis
Bud, Not Buddy - children's, by Christopher Paul Curtis (Newbery Medal, 2000)
Roman Architecture - ancient history, by Frank Sear *
Three Hands in the Fountain - mystery, by Lindsey Davis
Criss Cross - YA, by Lynne Rae Perkins (Newbery Medal, 2006)
Your Inner Fish - anatomy and evolution, by Neil Shubin
Locomotive: Building an Eight-Wheeler - children's non-fiction, by David Weitzman
Two for the Lions - mystery, by Lindsey Davis
One Virgin Too Many - mystery, by Lindsey Davis
Hit Parade - thriller, by Lawrence Block
Rifles for Watie - children's historical novel, by Harold Keith (Newbery Medal, 1958)
A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World - American history, by Tony Horwitz
Sounder - children's, by William H Armstrong (Newbery Medal, 1970)
Beyond the Deepwoods - children's fantasy, by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Door in the Wall - children's historical novel, by Marguerite de Angeli (Newbery Medal, 1950)
Knights' Ransom - children's historical novel, by S F Welty *
Julie of the Wolves - YA, by Jean Craighead George (Newbery Medal, 1973)
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - SF, by Kate Wilhelm

19 books this month; asterisks mark the two rereads. To reach my goal of 208 books this year I need to average 17.33 per month, so I'm now (143 books and a novella) ahead of track (122).

I also started reading Rogue Moon, a science-fiction story by Algis Budrys, but after 60 pages I still wasn't interested in the plot or in any of the characters, so I gave up on it - one of my rare DNFs.

The six Newbery Medal winners bring my total thus far up to 58 of 87.