Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fun Times in Hudson, MA

No doubt some of you remember this post, where I introduced the American Heritage Museum (yes, it is in Hudson, MA, how did you know?) and this post when I mentioned that I was actually invited to a preview tour of same. Well yesterday was the big day, Der Tag if you will, The Day, if you won't (do German that is).

I arose fairly early (well, 8-ish, which is early for me), ate breakfast, had some coffee. answered a couple of comments on the blog, then showered and shaved and jumped into Big Girl for the ride north. Ballpark it's about 72 miles, an easy drive on a simply gorgeous day in Spring. (Of course, it could have been raining and I'd still think it gorgeous, I mean I was on my way to see tanks, real tanks. No juvat, none of 'em had their turrets blown off, sorry.)

Met up with Nicholas Moran inside the museum (we were supposed to wait out front, Your Humble Scribe couldn't resist infiltrating the venue and getting a sneak peek), he's a great guy, great sense of humor. Apparently he's read the blog a couple of times and desired to know if the "AF" in "Old AF Sarge" stood for "Air Force" or "As Fire truck," as in "Old As Fire truck Sarge." I assured him that in reality both applied, though I claim it stands for "Air Force." Got a chuckle out of that I did.

Nicholas Moran (left) and Z (right).
He educated us, she checked us all in. See the t-shirt she's wearing?

We all got one. Plus pizza!
Some pre-tour reconnaissance photos (most of these vehicles came from the collection of the late Jacques Littlefield) -

View from the mezzanine, the Vietnam section.
View from the mezzanine, Battle for Berlin in the center.
View from the mezzanine, some of the vehicles from the North Africa section.
The SdKfz-222 armored car in the right foreground is one of only two original vehicles still in existence.
View from the mezzanine, a StuG-III to the left, a Nebelwerfer center, a werfer of nebels as Major Moran likes to say (cracks me up every time I hear it), Nebelwerfer is literally a "smoke thrower," actually it spits out rockets. The GIs called it a "Screaming Mimi." To the right is a SdKfz 251, German halftrack, the real deal, not a Czech post-war version.
Another view from the mezzanine, to the left is the PzKw V, Panther, on the right is a Higgins boat, behind it are a British Comet (left), a British Churchill Crocodile (flame throwing tank, they don't have the trailer yet, they may have to scratch build that) and beyond that is a British Universal Carrier, sometimes called a Bren Carrier.
From the mezzanine, the inside of a Sherman (actually it's a Canadian Grizzly, almost the same). The museum plans to make this section look like a tank manufacturing facility.
Mezzanine view of Mr. Littlefield's first vehicle in his collection, the White Scout Car. Note the water cooled machine guns! (I missed one!)
Mezzanine look at the M-5 Stuart, Sarge wants one. They're little but they are awfully cool looking!
Another mezzanine view of that SdKfz-222, next to a German anti-tank gun.
After we were all checked in, the tour started. It's not all tanks and other vehicles to gawk at, no, not at all. You start off inside a small theater where you see a film which lays out the mission of the museum. We actually had a short briefing from Rob Collings himself, one of the founders of the Collings Foundation (which owns and operates the museum). The opening film covers the Revolution and the Unpleasantness of 1861-1865 as well.

From that theater you proceed to a mock up of a section of World War I trench. While you're in the trench, short films are played, walking you through the American participation in that war. Pretty effective. When the artillery rounds start impacting on the screen, the floor shakes as if those rounds weren't that far off.

From there we moved to another small room, this one has a six-wheel Mercedes staff car and a very early war armored vehicle (I had no idea what it was and forgot to ask). The film covers the rise of Hitler and the rumblings of war emanating from Asia. Both areas have multiple screens which play different scenes, you really need to pay attention. I thought the presentation was very effective. In the trench portion you've got your head on a swivel trying to keep up, in the lead up to war section (rise of Hitler and Japanese Imperialism) you get a deep sense of foreboding. As the film switches to a final screen (behind you), air raid sirens sound, as you turn about, you're on battleship row on the 7th of December 1941.

While scenes of the Japanese attack play out, the screen rises into the ceiling to reveal a doorway onto the mezzanine, the tank display laid out before you. Still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. A very effective presentation.

The museum is not quite complete at this time, they still have some scenery to put up and they're also expecting some more vehicles. Including a rather rare PzKw I, Nazi Germany's very first tank. The museum officially opens May 2nd, they hope. If you're in the area, visit! The museum is a must see, one of their missions is to keep the history of American involvement in these conflicts alive and understandable. So far, so good.

I'll be going back.

We finally got down to the main floor and, of course, Yours Truly had to pose with the Panther. This particular vehicle was pulled out of a river in Poland and was featured on the second episode of Tank Overhaul. We couldn't see inside but the Major assures us it's in immaculate condition. Even the electrical wiring matches 1940's specs, cloth wrapped wiring, not plastic. As they don't make that type of wire anymore, Mr. Littlefield had it made! Major Moran says that the restoration cost north of $3 million. Yes, a three followed by six zeroes. Ah, to be that rich!

Your Humble Scribe and Panther 501.
M-3 Grant tank as used in North Africa.
Peeking inside the SdKfz-222, she's immaculate inside!
The foe of the Panther, the mighty T-34-85.
Ground level view of the M-5 Stuart, I love this little tank!
Schwimmwagen, the amphibious version of the Kübelwagen, this one has Luftwaffe plates (WL).
Next to the Schwimmwagen is a truck towed Flak-38 20 mm gun. The Kübelwagen is to the right of the Flak-38.
An extremely rare T-34-76 in the background. Shades of Panzer Blitz*!
Next to the T-34-76 is the Pak-97/38, German anti-tank gun based on the old French 75 mm cannon.
Yes, that's a Russian Maxim gun in the foreground.
Another view of the T-34-85.
Another view of Panther 501.
Sherman "Jumbo."
Note the lighting, the museum tries to create a mood for each display. This is meant to be the Battle of the Bulge, for the desert displays the lighting is very bright. It's very effective.
The German Jagdpanzer 38(t), armored anti-tank vehicle. Sometimes (not exactly correctly) called a Hetzer.
Me-109G in the livery of Erich Hartmann's aircraft, Karaya Eins.
Another view. Usch was Hartmann's nickname for his wife Ursula.
Another view.
Soviet Su-122 assault gun (behind Karaya Eins' right wing).
Soviet IS-2, Stalin tank. Actually runs!
German 88 mm Flak gun, very useful against tanks as well!
Major Moran educating us. The man knows his tanks!
View inside a Sherman's turret, this is a cutaway model used for training.
Late model Sherman as used in the Korean War.
Yes, the museum has a Pershing, aka T-26. Same type of tank which dueled the Panther in Cologne.
An actual section of the Berlin Wall!
M-41 Walker Bulldog
Soviet PT-76 amphibious tank.
M-48 Patton tank (on loan from the Marine Corps Museum).
The mighty M-1 Abrams, this vehicle actually saw combat. There is a film running to the right of this vehicle which tells its story. I haven't seen it yet, though I will.
A piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
Lest we forget...
An incredible museum. Do I have more pictures? Why yes, yes I do.

Will you see them? Why yes, yes you will.

Once again, my sincere thanks to Nicholas Moran, aka "The Chieftain" for his inviting me to the museum and being such a gracious, and knowledgeable host. I plan on returning no later than October of this year. I'm told they have a reenactment in that month.

But I have a wedding to go to around Columbus Day, not to be mysterious or anything...

Hope the dates don't conflict!

* An Avalon Hill game I used to play.

Saturday, March 30, 2019


Yesterday, the 29th of March, was officially Vietnam Veterans Day.

While some choose a day to remember the men and women who served in Vietnam, I remember them every day.

Thank you my elder brothers and sisters.

I'll never forget you.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Who They Are, Part XI - MiG Killers

Maj. Robert Lodge (left) and Capt. Roger Locher (right) in the cockpit of F-4D 65-0784.
Three MiG Kills.
Alright, the last four men on the masthead are...

Wait a minute Sarge, four? I thought there were only three left who you hadn't mentioned in this series. Well, yes, but...

I need to correct a most egregious error. I've added another fellow to the masthead, a certain Captain Roger Locher of the USAF, Major Lodge's WSO in Vietnam. The man who was in the back seat of Phantom 0784 when the team of Lodge and Locher, callsign "Oyster One," were shot down, not that far from Hanoi. Major Lodge lost his life and Captain Locher became an evader. Eluding North Vietnamese forces for 23 days until he was rescued. (His photo on the masthead is from shortly after his rescue.)

This fighting team has been written of before, here (by me) and here (by juvat). Two very brave men, two very capable aircrew flying my favorite jet, the F-4 Phantom II. After re-reading the accounts of their last fight together, it struck me, "Why on God's green earth did I not put Captain Locher up there on the masthead with his pilot. I mean, read this -
Locher reported later that the aircraft went into a kind of right slice. He noted that the right engine's RPM was at zero and the left was decreasing towards idle. It looked to him that the right engine had exploded. Lodge and his WSO discussed their options. They saw that the hydraulic pressure was low and falling. When Lodge tried the autopilot, it didn't respond. The rear of the jet was on fire, and as the plane yawed the slipstream pushed the flames up over Locher's canopy. Locher later recalled, "We immediately went out of control, flopping from side to side. Then fire started coming in the back of the cockpit. It seared my canopy with bubbles and I couldn't see out any more. The airplane slowed down and was approaching a flat spin." Passing through 8000 MSL, Locher told Lodge that it was getting too hot and he'd better get out. Lodge looked over his right shoulder at Locher and said, "Well, why don't you eject then?"

Lodge had about three weeks previously told fellow squadron members, as he had done several times before, that he would not allow himself to be captured because of his extensive knowledge of classified and sensitive information. Locher successfully ejected at about 8,000 feet but because the remaining planes were busy with the other MiGs, and due to smoke, no one saw his parachute canopy. Two MiG-19s buzzed Locher as he descended, so he knew the enemy was aware he had survived. He estimated it took about 30 seconds for the jet to impact the ground, but never saw Lodge's chute.

Locher was afraid to use his URC-64 rescue radio as he parachuted because it was difficult to remove from the zippered pocket of his survival vest and he was not sure he could get it back in. He figured out his rough location and managed to steer his chute about 2,000 yards away from the plane burning below him and towards a nearby mountain side. After he landed, he couldn't hide his parachute because it was stuck in the trees overhead.

He removed a couple of essential items from his survival pack and left the remainder behind. His survival vest contained a pistol, two pints of water, a first aid kit, insect repellent, mosquito netting, and a knife. He knew from prior briefings that he could not expect SAR this deep in North Vietnam, north of the Red River. Once on the ground and under the trees, he could not hear any jets overhead. He also knew his radio could not penetrate the dense jungle canopy overhead.

Locher listened to hear if a search party was looking for him. He camouflaged his trail for about 100 yards and then climbed the eastern side of the mountain to its peak. He got his bearings and then hid in bushes on the west slope. For three days, Locher listened as a search party of local farmers beat the bushes up and down the east side of the mountain, searching for him. He hid in a brush pile and at one point over the next three days, a boy came within 30 feet of his hiding place. In the evening he returned to the peak. On the second day he picked up radio traffic from American aircraft almost 100 miles to his south, but they did not hear his radio beeper or voice.

He decided his best chance for rescue was to cross the forested, hilly terrain and get to the heavily cultivated Red River Valley, swim the river, and work his way to the sparsely inhabited mountains to the south. He figured it would take him 45 days. He traveled only at first light and at dusk, avoiding the local farmers, and living off the land.

He was able to find plenty of water but only occasionally fruit and berries to eat. He evaded capture and covered over 19 km, gradually losing 30 pounds and his strength. On the 10th day he came within 5 feet of being discovered. Following a well-used trail early one morning, he suddenly had to evade local farmers. He hid in a nearby field where there was little concealment, but pulled leaves and debris over himself. He lay there all day as children from a village he discovered a short distance away played in his vicinity. At one point a water buffalo nearly stepped on him, and a boy came to fetch the animal, only a few feet from Locher. That evening he spotted a hill near the village alongside the Red River, the last hill before the wide open fields of the Red River basin. He was about 5 miles from Yên Bái Airfield.

He hid on the hill for the next 13 days and watched for American aircraft. On June 1, 1972, he was finally able to contact a flight of American jets overhead, calling, "Any U.S. aircraft, if you read Oyster 1 Bravo, come up on Guard". R. Stephen Ritchie, in one of the F-4 aircraft overhead and who had witnessed Locher's jet fall out of the sky, remembered Locher's call sign and answered his call. Locher calmly responded, "Guys I've been down here a long time, any chance of picking me up?" Ritchie replied, "You bet!" Locher's transmissions left some Americans who did not hear his call in doubt about the authenticity of his message, and they believed that the NVA may have manipulated a POW into impersonating him, setting a trap for the would-be rescuers.
Egregious error, corrected.

Now Major Lodge was leading Oyster Flight that day, four F-4D Phantoms of the "Triple Nickel" - the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand (my very first assignment in the Air Force, subsequently cancelled when Udorn's Phantoms went to Okinawa, as did Your Humble Scribe). So Lodge and Locher were flying "Oyster One," the element lead for Oyster Flight (Oyster Three) was Captain Steve Ritchie, with his WSO Captain Chuck DeBellevue right behind him.

Capt. Steve Ritchie (left) and Capt. Chuck DeBellevue (right) in the cockpit of F-4D 66-7463.
Five MiG Kills.
Another little detail I missed back in the day when I wrote of Major Lodge. Odd that I would miss that. On the same mission where Major Lodge was lost and Captain Locher was forced to evade the enemy on the ground, Ritchie and DeBellevue scored their very first MiG kill -
At 0942, forewarned 19 minutes earlier by the EC-121 "Disco" over Laos and then by "Red Crown", the US Navy radar picket ship, the guided missile cruiser USS Chicago, Oyster flight engaged an equal number of MiG-21s head-on, scattering them. Oyster flight shot down three and nearly got the fourth, but fell victim to a MiG tactic dubbed "Kuban tactics" after those of the Soviet World War II ace Pokryshkin, in which a GCI*-controlled flight of MiG-19s trailed so that they could be steered behind the American fighters maneuvering to attack the MiG-21s. Maj. Lodge was shot down and killed, despite clumsy flying by the MiG-19's. (He might have been able to eject, but had previously told his flightmates that he would not be captured because of his extensive knowledge of classified and sensitive information.) Almost simultaneously Ritchie and Capt Chuck DeBellevue, his WSO, rolled into a firing position behind the remaining MiG-21 of the original 4 with a radar lock, launched two Sparrows and scored a kill with the second. (Source)
That team went on to shoot down four more MiGs during their tour in Vietnam.

It's worth noting that Captain Locher went on to become a pilot, first in the F-4 then later in the F-16. He eventually retired from the Air Force (though at what rank I was unable to ascertain, perhaps a kind reader can help us out here) and is still alive at the young age of 72.

Captains Ritchie and DeBellevue are on a very short list of U.S. aces to come out of Vietnam -
Two WSOs are listed among the aces, Chuck DeBellevue is one, he and Captain Jeff Feinstein both have six kills. I'm sure LUSH loves that little fact. As juvat has often mentioned, fighter pilot is an attitude, not just an Air Force Specialty Code!

So that's all those folks on the masthead, heroes of mine. I am working on a special page to act as a one stop reference to this series of posts, also as a place to honor other individuals. Reader suggestions will be entertained. So put on your thinking caps. That page is coming soon. I know Beans can't wait.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Who They Are, Part X - Five Medals of Honor, Five Warriors

Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale
23 Dec 1923 - 05 Jul 2005
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners' of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Adm. Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Adm. Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Adm. Stockdale's valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Brigadier General Joseph J. Foss
17 Apr 1915 – 01 Jan 2003
For outstanding heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as executive officer of Marine Fighting Squadron 121, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at Guadalcanal. Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Capt. Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable. In addition, during this period, he successfully led a large number of escort missions, skillfully covering reconnaissance, bombing, and photographic planes as well as surface craft. On 15 January 1943, he added 3 more enemy planes to his already brilliant successes for a record of aerial combat achievement unsurpassed in this war. Boldly searching out an approaching enemy force on 25 January, Capt. Foss led his 8 F-4F Marine planes and 4 Army P-38's into action and, undaunted by tremendously superior numbers, intercepted and struck with such force that 4 Japanese fighters were shot down and the bombers were turned back without releasing a single bomb. His remarkable flying skill, inspiring leadership, and indomitable fighting spirit were distinctive factors in the defense of strategic American positions on Guadalcanal.
Captain Lance P. Sijan
13 Apr 1942 – 22 Jan 1968
While on a flight over North Vietnam, Capt. Sijan ejected from his disabled aircraft and successfully evaded capture for more than 6 weeks. During this time, he was seriously injured and suffered from shock and extreme weight loss due to lack of food. After being captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, Capt. Sijan was taken to a holding point for subsequent transfer to a prisoner of war camp. In his emaciated and crippled condition, he overpowered 1 of his guards and crawled into the jungle, only to be recaptured after several hours. He was then transferred to another prison camp where he was kept in solitary confinement and interrogated at length. During interrogation, he was severely tortured; however, he did not divulge any information to his captors. Capt. Sijan lapsed into delirium and was placed in the care of another prisoner. During his intermittent periods of consciousness until his death, he never complained of his physical condition and, on several occasions, spoke of future escape attempts. Capt. Sijan's extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Brigadier General* George E."Bud" Day
24 Feb 1925 – 27 Jul 2013
On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3 places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col. Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S. artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable to perform even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were still flying against the enemy. Col. Day's conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
Colonel Leo K. Thorsness
14 Feb 1932 – 02 May 2017
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As pilot of an F- 105 aircraft, Lt. Col. Thorsness was on a surface-to-air missile suppression mission over North Vietnam. Lt. Col. Thorsness and his wingman attacked and silenced a surface-to-air missile site with air-to-ground missiles, and then destroyed a second surface-to-air missile site with bombs. In the attack on the second missile site, Lt. Col. Thorsness' wingman was shot down by intensive antiaircraft fire, and the 2 crewmembers abandoned their aircraft. Lt. Col. Thorsness circled the descending parachutes to keep the crewmembers in sight and relay their position to the Search and Rescue Center. During this maneuver, a MiG-17 was sighted in the area. Lt. Col. Thorsness immediately initiated an attack and destroyed the MiG. Because his aircraft was low on fuel, he was forced to depart the area in search of a tanker. Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew's position and that there were hostile MiGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew's position. As he approached the area, he spotted 4 MiG-17 aircraft and immediately initiated an attack on the MiGs, damaging 1 and driving the others away from the rescue scene. When it became apparent that an aircraft in the area was critically low on fuel and the crew would have to abandon the aircraft unless they could reach a tanker, Lt. Col. Thorsness, although critically short on fuel himself, helped to avert further possible loss of life and a friendly aircraft by recovering at a forward operating base, thus allowing the aircraft in emergency fuel condition to refuel safely. Lt. Col. Thorsness' extraordinary heroism, self-sacrifice, and personal bravery involving conspicuous risk of life were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

I decided to let their actions speak for them, there isn't much I could say beyond what those five citations for those five Medals of Honor say. After reading through those five citations, I was moved. I will also say that my oldest daughter, The Nuke, went to a talk given by then-Colonel Day. She was deeply impressed and she does not impress easily.

Great honor to their memories, may we never forget them.

* Posthumously advanced to the rank of Brigadier General effective 27 Mar 2018 as directed by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.