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.
It was good training that helped her get through a stressful deployment to Iraq. Kim Tapia worked inside the wire instead of out on the roads, but it was her job to manage and support all those convoys. She remembers the ribbing the support soldiers took from the ones who ventured outside, something that never bothered her. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
What are the basic sustainable standards when training an elite force? As GEN Stanley McChrystal's Command Sergeant Major, Michael Hall helped him develop the Big Four; four standards that all Rangers must master. They are marksmanship, physical training, medical training, and small unit battle drills.
Iraq war veteran Kim Tapia describes her work with Bunker Labs, a non-profit that helps veterans become entrepreneurs. Transitioning back to civilian life can be daunting, and she says that communities need to step up with support. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Retired Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall recalls the strong physicality of the Ranger battalions in his day and relates that to the bond of respect and responsibility that connects all Rangers. His intent was to serve his four year enlistment and go to college, but he kept coming back for one more tour, one more tour.
Following the tragic deaths of ten Afghan children, it fell on General David Barno to tell President Karzai about the incident. He describes the effect this had on the rules of engagement going forward and he discusses a document he drew up to give guidelines to the troops that would keep them in the good graces of their hosts.
When a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up at the gate, dental officer Mike Barno hurried to his emergency assignment, triage at the aid station. A truck with wounded men from the Afghan Army pulled up and he jumped into the back, ready to help.
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.
It was very odd to transition from her tense situation in the war zone of Iraq to the tranquility of the Georgia countryside. The Army had changed Kim Tapia, but it was a good change. It was so good she enthusiastically entered the reserve force for a long run. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Air Force wives are tough. Bob Wolfe was over the ocean looking for Soviet ships when his wife checked herself into the hospital to deliver their first child. She joined him briefly at his next post in Columbia, but she stayed at home while he was in Ethiopia on a mapping mission. While there, he had an odd encounter with some local tribesmen.
She joined the Army to get help with paying for college, but the brotherhood and sisterhood was so strong and so satisfying, that Kim Tapia is still there, 15 years later. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Air Force ROTC was Bob Wolfe's introduction to the military. After navigator training he was flying photo missions for the Army map service when the Cuban missile crisis brought the Cold War to the forefront of national attention. He was sent to Bermuda, where he flew missions looking for Soviet ships bound for Cuba.
During his time at the Strategic Air Command, Rollie Sterrett had to give private briefings to a Navy Admiral who wasn't allowed in the general briefings due to arcane inter-service politics. The first question from the admiral forced Rollie to make a delicate choice, but he chose well.
The Drill Instructor was tough but supportive and the training was specific and repetitive. Kim Tapia didn't understand it at the time, but the Army was preparing the trainees how to react and survive and win in a war fighting environment. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
Deploying to Iraq was a wide-eyed experience for a young Kim Tapia. The older soldiers who had been there before were complaining, something that she can look back on, now, in solidarity. The heat of Kuwait was overwhelming, but she soon moved to a forward operating base in Iraq. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
What do the Big Four training standards enable the Ranger force to do? There are two primary missions, according to Retired Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall. The first is forced entry into a denied country to establish an airhead for follow-on forces and the second is the special operations combined forces raid.
Kim Tapia describes working at night in the tactical operations center, managing and directing support for the convoys traveling through Iraq. It was an important job and she gradually realized just how important. She still hangs on to the DVD's she bought in Iraqi shops to watch in her off hours. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
War movies had convinced young Michael Hall that he wanted to be a Marine, but when he visited the recruiting offices, he found something that might be even better, the Army Rangers. After a short stay in the regular infantry, he secured the assignment to the Rangers, where his life was changed the very first day.
The Iraq war required a huge supply operation to staff and stock the bases scattered around the country. Kim Tapia worked in the tactical operations center at one of these bases, monitoring and managing the patrols on the road. She recalls when a daisy chain IED hit one of the convoys, and the time a vehicle borne device exploded near the front gate. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)
After his Vietnam tour, Air Force photo interpreter Rollie Sterrett was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the photo reconnaissance wing. He soon caught the eye of the new SAC commander and became the daily briefing officer for SAC with an emphasis on B-52 operations in Vietnam.
Kim Tapia was lucky to be assigned quarters in one of the hardened concrete spaces at the base near Mosul. When the base came under mortar fire, she didn't even wake up. She received plenty of training and briefings on what she would face in the war zone, but she feels the support was lacking for soldiers transitioning back home. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.- https://nationalvmm.org/)