4:48 | 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 September 11th attacks, the path to war was unclear. Dick Myers describes the weeks following from his position as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
Before heading off to Iraq, Choy took the time he still had in the US and got married. Soon after, he was instructed to first go to Fort Bliss for more training. Having already had skills in construction, that got him placed in an Iraqi Battalion. Once he was in Iraq, he unfortunately saw a few injuries and deaths of different men. The real tragic part of those stories is the majority of them were accidents.
After a long year of training, building, riding, and surviving in Iraq, Choy had finally completed his tour. He came home around the age of retirement, and so he did retire shortly after returning. He gives some reflections about the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and how they compared and contrasted. Specifically, the treatment of soldiers who came home after the war was over.
With over 30 years of service in the military, Dick Myers was about to be nominated as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but September 11th, 2001 would prove to be a much more eventful day than he anticipated. (Interview conducted in partnership with the Eisenhower Foundation as part of their Ike's Soldiers program. https://eisenhowerfoundation.net & http://ikessoldiers.com)
He was happy as a platoon sergeant in a Ranger rifle company, so when he was considered for Command Sergeant Major, Michael Hall was ambivalent. Would he be removed from close relationships with the men? But in a series of assignments at that job, he found great professional satisfaction.
Henry Choy tells about the living conditions he had while constructing buildings in Iraq, as well as a few humorous stories he witnessed while over there. One of the biggest issues they faced was that it was hard to tell which Iraqis were allied with the US and which were not, sometimes to the point where they couldn't trust their own interpreters. At one point he and his brigade were acting as escorts for convoys trying to get from Kuwait to Iraq.
Britney Alexander was born and raised in Louisiana and had a dad who was an Army figure. Because of her great love for her dad, she wanted to enlist in the Army just like him. She talks about where she was on 9/11, her basic training at Fort Jackson, and Fort Lee where she had her training to be a cook.
The Army Rangers were formed not only as an elite strike force but also as a crucible to spread field experience and knowledge throughout the military. In his long career, Michael Hall found many instances of this in many different organizations. The experiment had succeeded.