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.
Clowns in action. That's how Keith Nightingale describes the confusion and snafus during the initial Grenada operation. Most objectives were quickly achieved but there were some difficult battles, including one with a Cuban unit. When the Rangers got to the medical school where American students were waiting, they found out about a second campus with more students. Part 2 of 3.
In the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, an effort to plan and execute another mission to rescue the hostages in Iran got under way. Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes recalls that new tactics and equipment were developed that served as the blueprint for the revitalization of special operations units throughout the military.
In the aftermath of the Grenada invasion, peacekeeping forces from all around the Caribbean were assembled to help keep order. Keith Nightingale's battalion was spread all around the island involved in various missions and the locals in all these enclaves helped their liberators celebrate Thanksgiving. Part 3 of 4.
Bill Pearson had been to Vietnam twice and returned unscathed, but the Army wasn't done putting him in danger. He was assigned as an aviation consultant to Iran, advising the Shah's air force on it's supply of American aircraft. The day he arrived, martial law was declared and it wasn't long before there were mobs outside trying to burn down the building. The embassy was no help. Escape seemed impossible.
Operation Eagle Claw was the name of the attempt by US Special Forces to rescue the hostages from the embassy in Iran. The mission was aborted because of mechanical failures in helicopters and then turned tragic when eight men died in a fiery crash. Pilot George Ferkes was part of that team and he describes the events from his perspective.
After the tragic events at Desert One, planning began for another rescue mission. Parallel with this was the decision to create a permanent and robust special operations structure. Keith Nightingale was right in the middle of this difficult effort which involved all the services.
Keith Nightingale was heading up post-invasion operations in Grenada when he got a packet of good intelligence on the leaders of the coup there. This aided him in locating and capturing Hudson Austin, who had been behind the Communist takeover. Part 4 of 4.
When he returned from Vietnam, George Ferkes is fairly sure he saw his old hooch burning on the television when Quang Tri fell. After a couple of years he leapt at the chance to join a special ops outfit, even though, at the time, there was little interest in those units.
No one could get Charles Beckwith to admit that Delta Force didn't have enough personnel to secure all the locations that would be needed for the rescue of the hostages in Iran. Keith Nightingale had to present three times the briefing that proved this. Finally, the Rangers were brought in to enhance the operation and training began in earnest. Part 3 of 4.
There was some good intelligence available during the planning of the Iran hostage rescue attempt. For instance, pilot George Ferkes knew that an aircraft could easily avoid the radar at the border. That was not the problem, though, once the effort got underway.
After a long stint with Joint Task Force Eagle Claw, Keith Nightingale left to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne. This unit was called to be part of Operation Urgent Fury, the liberation of Grenada from a Communist takeover. Part 1 of 3.
With so many joint operations with other countries, Keith Nightingale believes it is more important than ever to be cognizant of their culture and mindset. This was not done in Vietnam and it contributed to the failure of that venture. As he looks back on his career, he salutes some of the leaders who helped him along the way.
Special forces went through a bit of a renaissance after the failed rescue of the hostages in Iran. Never again would US special operations be caught flat footed and unprepared. Pilot George Ferkes was a part of that mission and it provided him with a purpose that guided him through the rest of his career.
It was a lousy assignment. Jim Bolan was one of the first Special Forces officers and, after Vietnam, he wound up in a training unit with no jump slot. Prodded by his wife, he went to Washington to dust off his most valuable inside contact, who was now the Army's Chief of Staff.
Keith Nightingale remembers that, during the buildup of the new Ranger Battalion, the team researched units from the past including British commandos and Vikings to extract any useful training techniques. Live fire exercises and road marches became very important. In December of 1974, the new Rangers were ready.
When the Iran hostage crisis happened, President Carter asked the joint chiefs if there was any way they could be rescued. This set off a mad scramble to put together a multi-branch operation and Air Force special ops pilot George Ferkes was right in the middle of it.
The decimation of the Army was complete. The leadership had punted in Vietnam and there was no support among most of the public. Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams decided to rebuild the Army around a reborn Ranger Battalion, which would be built from the ground up as the finest light infantry in the world. Keith Nightingale found out about this and made sure he was in on it.
When the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized the American embassy, the joint chiefs began looking for the means to rescue the hostages. It was decided to build a team around Delta Force, the elite special ops unit led by Charles Beckwith. General James Vaught was selected as the overall commander of the operation and on his staff was Keith Nightingale, who was then immersed in the urgent planning process. Part 1 of 4.
Keith Nightingale recalls the sometimes uncomfortable fallout from the aborted Iran hostage rescue attempt. There were congressional briefings to give, an investigation to face and a special operations structure to build up. This wasn't made any more pleasant by the conflicting personalities involved.
After his Vietnam tours, Jake Jacobson served in Thailand and the Philippines, among other places, with different Special Forces teams. After almost thirty years of service, he retired, but was soon in Saudi Arabia training Bedouins. He didn't care for that job. (Caution: coarse language.)
Unfortunately, human intelligence had been allowed to wither in favor of satellite technology. This meant that the CIA was little help to the joint task force planning the rescue of the American hostages in Tehran. Every means to extract the hostages was examined and a combination of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters was chosen. Keith Nightingale describes the deliberations that went into this. Pt 2 of 4.
The rebuild of the 75th Ranger Regiment was underway at Fort Benning. Keith Nightingale was the headquarters company commander among other odd jobs. They were developing a new training regimen that was to be the finest anywhere. One important task was the creation of a Ranger Creed.
It had been a long and tortuous process for Keith Nightingale and the rest of the joint task force but Operation Eagle Claw was ready. All the moving parts were primed and all that needed was for President Carter to give the word to go. Pt 4 of 4.
Delta Force and the Rangers had arrived at Desert One but the helicopters were delayed by a dust storm. Only five of them were deemed flyable when they got there and the mission requirements were for six. The mission was scrubbed until the next day and mission planner Keith Nightingale describes the tragic circumstances of the departure from the Iranian desert.