8:01 | Continuing his Air Force career after the war in Europe, Clyde Burnette became a flight engineer ferrying retired aircraft. After a short discharge and reenlistment, he served in the Berlin Airlift. When they asked for a position check on one flight near the East German border, they didn't get a position but they were told to immediately make a 180 degree turn.
They told Clyde Burnette that if he enlisted instead of waiting for the draft, he could pick his specialty school. He held out for aircraft maintenance school while they tried to make him accept others, and was soon training as an engineer and gunner on heavy bombers.
The score from the color-coded bullet hits on the target showed he had no hits, until they found out the scorer was color blind, recalls B-24 gunner Clyde Burnette. He was on a model crew, held back to wait on new aircraft, but the men got tired of waiting and volunteered for combat. It got his attention when he was designated a ball turret gunner, yet never saw a ball turret in training, even as he arrived in England.
The ball turret was "the worst torture chamber ever," according to Clyde Burnette. He was very happy when the bombing mission didn't call for it and he could man a waist gun instead. Wherever he was positioned in the plane, it was cold, so cold that layer upon layer of clothing was necessary.
On his first bombing mission, B-24 Gunner Clyde Burnette saw another aircraft explode in mid-air. One man got out but his parachute was in flames. It was a sobering introduction to combat. He recounts some other close calls, including the time they had to return with a payload of special 2,000 pound Blockbusters and broken landing gear.
B-24 crew member Clyde Burnette walks us through a typical mission for the airmen stationed in England and flying missions against Nazi targets. It took an incredibly complex ballet of men and machines just to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of aircraft in formation to start the mission.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
Captured airman Clyde Burnette says his German interrogator spoke better English than he did and already had a complete dossier on him. He kept quiet and was soon in a prison camp where all anyone could think about was food and the lack of it. There were hi-jinks, like throwing rocks at the commandant's plane, disappearing infantry, and the sergeant who was really a doctor.
In the prison camp, Clyde Burnette only saw one American shot by the guards, a man who snapped and started climbing the wire. In the infirmary, a Yugoslav prisoner invited him along on an escape, but Burnette had to return to the general population and he missed his chance to try to make it to Italy, where his brother was posted. The camp was Stalag 17B and it became famous after the war when a prisoner wrote the story which became a well known Hollywood film.
The Red Cross parcels were supposed to augment the food provided by the Germans but it became the primary food source for the American airmen in Stalag 17B. Clyde Burnette describes how they kept distracted from the hunger, including making some homemade booze from raisins and holding rat races in the barracks. When a prisoner stole food from another, the punishment was harsh and memorable.
When the guns of the approaching Russians could be heard, the German guards emptied the prison camp and marched the allied prisoners westward across Austria. Clyde Burnette waited in the woods where they were left by the guards until a lone American tank rumbled up.
Liberated and well fed once again, ex-POW Clyde Burnette tried to return to the States with his unit, but his records were gone when he got to England so he had to wait. He had a space on the Queen Mary, but was bumped by officers so he wound up crossing the Atlantic on an LST. A small reward was once again getting billeted in a hotel in Miami Beach.
The mission was photo reconnaissance and Clyde Burnette maintained the modified F-51's that flew the daily flights over North Korea. It was a miserable place to work, he recalls, as they had to maintain the aircraft with no hangars or sheds, just tents for shelter.
After serving in World War II and the Korean War, Clyde Burnette was stationed in the Philippines as the Vietnam War began to heat up. He nearly got sent there but returned to the States to finish his career which included prepping aircraft for possible use in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
General Stanley McChrystal grew up in a military family, where service was part of the culture. At West Point, he spent a summer with a Ranger company, which made him keen on becoming a Ranger. Eventually he commanded a Ranger battalion, where he instituted "The Big 4," four training principles which were essential.
There was one last big action just before his tour was over and then Jon Keen could look forward to returning home. The replacement unit that moved into his position in Afghanistan began taking casualties right away, so nothing had changed. He reflects on the challenges he faced there and how the attack on September 11, 2001 shaped his life.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Command, he countered the old notion that Rangers were inflexible. In every assignment outside the Ranger Regiment, he tried to spread the Ranger philosophy of discipline and standards.
After responding to the Mayaguez Incident, the USS Coral Sea finished its visit to Australia for a commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Dan Spahn fondly recalls that visit and, when he returned stateside, he managed to secure shore duty for the remainder of his enlistment. His electronics training served him well in his post-military career.
When he was serving outside the Ranger Regiment, General Buck Kernan thought mostly about getting back. When he did return, he began planning the operation in Panama that became known as Just Cause. After an unusual jump with the softest landing he ever experienced, he witnessed the courage and good judgment of two young Rangers.
Walter Boomer talks about his promotions up the ranks of the Marines and what it was like to be a leading General. As he's driving to California, the news breaks out about Iraq invading Kuwait, and this completely changes the course for him and his family.
According to General Stanley McChrystal, the establishment of the modern Army Rangers during the post-Vietnam period helped build a new Army from the center out. As they became a premier light infantry unit, the growing terror threat pulled them into the area of special operations, where they must balance those two responsibilities.
While on Cold War duty in Italy, Gilbert Howland found the time for golf, a little cognac and entertainment in a Trieste nightclub. One of the entertainers became very special to him. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
After the Japanese surrendered, Gilbert Howland was transferred to an MP unit for a while, then discharged. He reenlisted after a year and left for a tour in Italy, guarding Trieste against Yugoslav incursion. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
General Buck Kernan's biggest heroes are the troops and NCO's that helped develop him into an effective leader. He feels privileged to have served with the Rangers. They are still the role models for the rest of the Army and that is why they lead the way.
When peace came to Korea, Gilbert Howland's first job was to disburse a giant supply of lumber for the construction of new fortifications. Then it was back to Fort Dix and the training regiment, but it was his next post that he describes as a Christmas present; Hawaii. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
To General Stanley McChrystal, the Ranger practice of sending officers and NCO's to other units throughout the Army was a huge success. There was a nagging problem with Special Operations units, however. They didn't want the Rangers to ever leave!
What should a young man who wants to become a Ranger expect? General Buck Kernan knows. They will learn what the Rangers stand for and have accomplished and they will will develop the skills to carry that forward. It is a life you will miss when it's over.
Tricky situations are nothing new to Walter Boomer. In this clip, he talks about one time in particular that he was caught in the middle of Iraqi territory, with only his other men to count on. To follow up, he also discusses which position he prefers to hold and the debate between soldiers "then and now."
Jon Keen was helping unload casualties in Asadabad, Afghanistan when he saw his platoon sergeant among the wounded, a sight which seared his memory. It was difficult for the Afghans as well. The dead children he carried from helicopters is another forever memory. During this time, two Medal of Honor events occurred in a large operation called Rock Avalanche.
Task Force 714 was a Joint Special Operations Command organization tasked with finding high value targets during Operation Iraqi Freedom. First and foremost was Saddam Hussein and his inner circle. General Stanley McChrystal recalls a more routine mission which centered around some phone calls from the enemy.
On the Afghan border with Pakistan, platoon leader Jon Keen had the difficult job of finding Taliban fighters and sympathizers among the local population. Sometimes, this did not make many friends. He did have a good friend in his interpreter, who at great risk to himself and his family, helped the Americans.