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Retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Paved Way for EOD Technicians in Elite Special Forces Unit

Sunday, January 22nd, 2023

SOUTH FORK, Colo. – If you have spent much time on military-related social media platforms, you’ve probably seen some of the memes featuring a seasoned U.S. Army sergeant major with a Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge and Combat Infantry Badge.

The Army EOD technician behind those memes is retired U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Mike R. Vining, one of the founding members of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Airborne) and one of the unit’s first EOD technicians.

The reason his Army career has gained so much attention is because Vining has participated in many of the American military operations that defined the latter part of the 20th century, as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician and an elite Special Forces Operator.

Growing up in Howard City, Michigan, Vining was interested in science and mountain climbing. He received chemistry sets for Christmas every year and earned the Grand Prize in a High School Science Fair for a Wilson Cloud Chamber. Vining was also a member of the Science Club and Chess Club and participated in wrestling and track.

Vining then watched a movie that changed the trajectory of his life.

“I saw a World War II movie about a British soldier disarming a large German bomb in an underground chamber in London, England,” said Vining. “I thought, wow, that must take a lot to disarm a large ticking bomb.”

At 17, not long after the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, Vining went to an Army recruiting office and signed up to be an Ammunition Renovation Specialist with the plan of volunteering for EOD as soon as possible. After graduating from basic training camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he went to Ammunition Renovation School on Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where he learned how to destroy unserviceable Code H ammunition during a course that was taught by EOD technicians.

He attended EOD training on Fort McClellan, Alabama, and Indian Head, Maryland, and graduated in May 1969.

While serving with the Technical Escort Unit at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, he volunteered to serve in Vietnam and he spent 11 months with the 99th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) in Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam, in an area west of Saigon and near the Cambodia border.

Two of the most memorable EOD operations of his career happened in 1970 when he participated in the destruction of the Rock Island East and Warehouse Hill enemy weapons and ammunition caches in Cambodia.

Vining was part of the seven-man Army EOD team that supported the 1st Cavalry Division mission to secure and destroy the largest weapons and ammunition cache discovered during the U.S. military’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Named “Rock Island East” after the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, the enemy weapons cache had 932 individual weapons and 85 crew-served weapons as well as 7,079,694 small arms and machine gun rounds. The enemy cache also contained almost a thousand rounds of 85mm artillery shells that were used for the D-44 howitzer and the T-34 tank.

Vining and the EOD techs had to dodge enemy fire and endure biting red ants while working on the cache. After setting up “scare charges” to keep enemy forces out of the security perimeter, Vining made it on the helicopter in time to watch the explosion and see the mushroom cloud that was visible from 50 miles away. The seven Army EOD technicians at Rock Island East used 300 cases of C4 explosives to destroy 327 tons of enemy munitions.

During the operation to seize the cache site, 10 American Soldiers died and 20 were injured.

Later at the Warehouse Hill operation in Cambodia, the EOD team had to disarm booby traps and crawl into underground tunnels to place C4 explosives on 14 cache sites. Vining had to contend with large cave crickets, poisonous centipedes, spiders, bats and scorpions in the narrow tunnels. The teams used 120 cases of C4 explosives to destroy hundreds of thousands of enemy rounds.

After completing his tour in Vietnam, Vining left the Army and returned home to Michigan. He got a job at a plant that stamped out automotive body parts for Ford Motor Company and then became the lead employee on the third shift of the largest press in the plant, a 500-ton press.

“Although it was very good pay, I did not see myself doing this for 20 to 30 years,” said Vining. “In October of 1973, I saw my Army recruiter and asked to go back into the Army.”

The U.S. Army recruiter told Vining that he would have to serve as an EOD technician again, which was exactly what he wanted. He was assigned to the 63rd Ordnance Detachment (EOD) on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Vining was serving on a U.S. Secret Service support mission when his EOD supervisor, Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Ray Foster, Sr., was killed by an improvised explosive device at the Quincy Compressor Division Plant in Illinois, in 1976. Afterward, Vining thought it was time for a change.

“I decided to take Emergency Medical Technician training and following that I decided to volunteer to be a Special Forces medic,” said Vining. “I was getting out of EOD when my control sergeant major told me that they were forming a new Special Forces organization at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and that they were looking for six EOD techs.”

Vining called the number and flew to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for an interview with Col. “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith, the founder of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. Beckwith envisioned the concept that the U.S. Army should have a counterterrorism unit like the British Special Air Service.

“Two weeks later, I was one of four Army EOD techs to start the Operator Training Course 1,” said Vining. “Only two of us made it through. The second person was (retired Sgt. Maj.) Dennis E. Wolfe.”

One of the unit’s first operations was the clandestine mission to rescue 53 American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Known as Operation Eagle Claw, the rescue mission was cancelled after the loss of three helicopters during a sandstorm at the staging site known as Desert One. While the aircraft were leaving the Desert One staging area, a RH-53D helicopter crashed into the transport aircraft that Vining and his team was on.

The helicopter rotor chopped into the top of the fuel-laden aircraft and a fireball shot by Vining and his team. As the EC-130E “Bladder Bird” was engulfed in flames and munitions cooked off around them, Vining and his teammates made it off the aircraft. Vining and his team got on another aircraft with faulty landing gear and just enough fuel to make it across the water to safety.

During the Desert One aircraft collision, eight American troops were killed and both aircraft were destroyed.

Joint Special Operations Command was created as a result of the investigation that followed the ill-fated rescue mission.

In October 1983 during Operation Urgent Fury, when U.S. forces invaded the Caribbean Island of Grenada following the pro-Cuban coup there, Vining was on a rescue team sent to free political prisoners at the Richmond Hill Prison.

His Blackhawk helicopter came under intense enemy anti-aircraft fire on approach to the prison facility and the mission had to be delayed.

The political prisoners were released before a second mission was launched.

After seven years of serving with distinction in Delta Force, Vining accepted an assignment with the 176th Ordnance Detachment (EOD) on Fort Richardson, Alaska. He made the move to be more promotable within the EOD community and to be close to the mountains of the 49th state.

While in Alaska, he maintained his proficiency for EOD missions and later came back to twice climb the 20,310-foot Mount Denali, the highest mountain in North America.

Within one year, he was back at the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, where he would serve in Operation Desert Storm. Although his EOD duties didn’t change, Vining switched to infantry during this time to make himself more promotable within the elite Special Forces unit.

During this second 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta tour, Vining also participated in Operation Pocket Planner during a Federal Penitentiary prison riot in Atlanta in 1987.

Vining would later serve at the Joint Special Operations Command as an exercise planner and J-3 Special Plans sergeant major. He was the Joint Special Operations Task Force senior enlisted advisor aboard the aircraft carrier USS America (CV 66) during Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.

The sergeant major also served as an explosive investigator on the task force that investigated the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, and he used the lessons learned from that attack to help hardened U.S. installations around the world.

During nearly three decades in uniform, Vining earned the Combat Infantry Badge, Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge, Parachutist Badge, Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge and Austrian Police High Alpine “Gendarmerie-Hochalpinist” Badge.

Vining racked up a huge stack of medals and ribbons that include the Legion of Merit Medal, Bronze Star Medal, two Defense Meritorious Service Medals, Army Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, two Joint Service Achievement Medals and the Army Achievement Medal. He also earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology from the University of the State of New York.

Vining said he was glad when the U.S. Army established the 28th Ordnance Company (EOD) (Airborne) to support U.S. Army Ranger and Special Forces missions around the world, as well as the two Airborne Platoons of the 722nd Ordnance Company (EOD) and 767th Ordnance Company (EOD) to support the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force mission.

The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based companies are all part of 192nd EOD Battalion, 52nd EOD Group and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. military’s premier all hazards command.

Vining said that the Kirtland Air Force Base New Mexico-headquartered 21stOrdnance Company (EOD WMD) was another welcome addition to the U.S. Army EOD units. The highly specialized company is part of the 71st EOD Group and 20th CBRNE Command.

From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of joint, interagency and allied operations.

“In my time, Army EOD was viewed as Combat Service Support, but in reality, Army EOD is Combat Support and has always been that way and that means supporting Special Operations and Airborne forces,” said Vining.

Vining said the key to success in the EOD profession is noncommissioned officer (NCO) leadership and mentorship.

“Mentorship is one of the duties of a senior NCO,” he said.

The Army EOD community marked its 80th anniversary in 2022 and NCOs have played a critical role in the EOD profession since its inception. Led by noncommissioned officers, EOD teams often serve on their own in austere environments, covering vast operational areas.

Vining also encouraged EOD techs to seek help for both the seen and unseen scars of war that come with the profession.

“I believe if you spend a career in EOD that you will witness severe injuries and death,” he said. “EOD is an inherently dangerous career but it is also a very rewarding career knowing you have eliminated a hazardous situation.

“If you are suffering from events that you were involved in, you are not alone in dealing with this kind of trauma. I encourage you to open up and just talk about it to a fellow EOD tech or an EOD veteran,” said Vining. “From World War II to the present, we have all witnessed the horrors of war and even the dangerous job we do in peacetime.”

In January 1999, Vining retired from the U.S. Army and married his wife Donna Ikenberry, a hiking guidebook author, professional wildlife photographer and freelance photojournalist. They were engaged at the top of Mount Rainer in Washington and exchanged wedding vows on Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii.

Today, they live together in South Fork, Colorado, where Vining continues to enjoy spelunking, skiing, rock climbing and mountaineering. He also remains active in the veteran’s community.

Vining was inducted into the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 2018.

When he hung up his highly decorated uniform after nearly three decades of service, Vining said he never knew that his storied career would later launch a tidal wave of memes.

“I do not know how any of the memes got started,” said Vining. “One of my grandchildren saw that someone even did a Pokémon card on me.”

By Walter Ham

Jim Schatz – A Path To Overmatch – Next Generation Individual Weapon System Redux

Thursday, January 5th, 2023

Recently, I’ve started resharing some briefings by the late, great Jim Schatz. I originally shared this one in April 2017, right as the Army was taking its first steps toward what is now Next Generation Squad Weapons. As we head into SHOT Show, now is a great time to take a look at what both the Army and SOCOM have accomplished and consider the path that Jim proposed.

One thing he mentioned was the concept of “Frontliners” which has been institutionalized as the Close Combat Force. Other ideas have seen varying degrees of interest.

He was always on top of past missteps in the opportunities we’ve had to modernize our small arms. His last briefing to NDIA’s Armament Systems Forum, on 27 April, 2016 was entitled, “A Path To Overmatch” and made the case for an immediate transition to an intermediate caliber, preferably with a telescoping cased cartridge, along with a new weapon individual weapon. His reasoning was simple; overmatch. Our troops remain outranged by threat weapons firing the 7.62x54R cartridge. While not every enemy is equipped with a weapon in this caliber, they’ve learned to use their PKM MMGs and SVD Sniper Rifles to keep our troops at arm’s length. In the briefing, Jim does a great job of laying out Russian and ISIS capabilities vis-a-vis our US M4A1 and M249.

Jim named five things that could immediately be leveraged to provide overmatch: Lightweight Intermediate Caliber Cartridge (LICC) Ammo, Disturbed Reticle Carbine Sight, Blind-to-Barrier Bullets, Lightweight Modular Weapons and Advanced Training.

He also wanted the most bang for the buck and identified 140,000 “Frontliners” in the US military, aka trigger pullers, who would be the immediate focus of small arms modernization efforts.

Jim urged a transition to two calibers, a 6.5-family intermediate cartridge for the individual weapon and a .338 cartridge for crew served weapons. I have discussed the General Dynamics Lightweight Medium Machine Gun in .338 Norma Magnum. Jim used this example to make the initial case for the transition to LICC ammo for the individual weapon.

In 2017, all of the cartridges being seriously looked at were in the 6.5mm family; .260, .264 USA, and .277 USA. While .260 is currently commercially available, .264 USA and .277 USA were developed by the US Army Marskmanship Unit, which has been conducting in-house evaluations.

Ultimately, the US Army conducted a formal caliber study called the Small Arms Ammunition Configuration study which resulted in a new common caliber for Squad weapons, 6.8mm. After a competitive process, the Army selected the SIG SAUER 6.8 x 51mm common case architecture cartridge for fielding as part of NGSW.

USSOCOM looked at .260 Remington and 6.5 Creedmoor and chose 6.5 CM. It’s all a bit of back to the future. Use of a 6.5mm cartridge isn’t new. 6.5×55 Swedish saw service in Europe for a very long time. Initially developed in the 1890s, it was still in service up to a century later.

This image came from The Firearm Blog’s article on the .264 USA cartridge by Nathaniel F. It depicts (L-R) 7.62 NATO, .264 USA, 5.56 NATO.

Jim was very passionate about this concept and did the homework. For example, he knew the costs to not only pay for the transition to a new caliber, but new weapons as well. The figures are there, for you to see.

Jim’s attention to detail was always keen. He even considered spare parts, manuals, training and ranges in his calculations.

Naturally, transition to a larger caliber, means heavier ammo and a smaller basic load. Here, Jim shows the tradeoffs for the amount of amm a rifleman would carry in his basic load, based in different calibers.

There is a difference, and this is why the transition to Polymer cased/telescoping ammo is so important.

To summarize, these are the takeaways. All of this, is available from industry, right now.

While I cherry picked several slides from this briefing to make certain points, you really need to read the whole thing. I’ve only scratched the surface here. It’s filled with gems like the examples I’ve given.

Jim’s confidence in polymer cased ammo nor his interest in case telescoped cartridges have borne fruit so far, but there’s plenty to see.

You can download it here

Blast From The Past – Jim Schatz – 9 Known Truths

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2023

I last posted this in 2018. A lot has gone on regarding small arms since then. It’s worth a review to consider Jim Schatz’ thoughts on the subject of small arms. The man was a visionary.

Jim Schatz passed away in March 2017. For those you who didn’t know him, he served his country as a paratrooper and later, became a legend in the small arms industry. Every year, he’d stand up in from of his peers and government and remind them that the emporer was naked. Fortunately, his briefing slides are still available, although missing the context of his passion.

I originally shared Jim Schatz’ “9 Known Truths” concerning small arms right after he passed. Since then ‘Lethality’ has become the cause du jour and DoD, led by the Army, is ankle deep in a transition to a new caliber and family of small arms for its Close Combat Forces, called Next Generation Squad Weapon. It’s a 6.8 caliber capability (once again, NOT 6.8 SPC for those of you who believe what read on other websites) consisting of Carbine and SAW replacements.

The “9 Known Truths” is based on Jim Schatz’ experience in the Small Arms industry. Consider them now that we’ve seen DoD’s path forward.

9 Known Truths
General Thoughts on Modern Warfare and Small Arms Technology
1 The asymmetric threat, unencumbered by “western” doctrine and politics, exploits our capability gaps faster than we can react within our cumbersome infrastructure.

2 Kinetic Energy (KE) kill mechanisms (launched bullets, fragments) have been and remain state-of-the-art weapons technology since the 15th century. That will not change anytime soon so we should embrace and improve on it.

3 Man-portable “directed energy” technology is decades away. One cannot “schedule a break through”, regardless of what the sci fi writers and S&T community developers espouse.

4 For the ground combatant, pH and pI/K has not been markedly improved by so-called “Leap Ahead” or “Revolutionary” technology and “Star Wars” S&T projects, yet $B’s have been spent on unrealistic and undelivered promises.

5 Desired Target Effects (direct hits or effective target suppression) depends on aiming and launch “hold proficiency” (marksmanship) be it used for semi, burst or full auto KE fire, air-bursting engagements via accurate lasing, XM25 or “TrackingPoint”-style FS/FCS, or even directed energy “pulses”.

6 Repeatable First Shot hits/kills will never be readily accomplished due to the many “hold” and error factors beyond the control of the operator. Immediate through-optic BDA and rapid adjusted follow-on shots offer the greatest chance of improved target effects, BUT the equipment must provide that core capability to the trained operator.

7 Snipers as “force multipliers” exploit magnified optics, superior weapons, sights and ammunition to increase pH & PI/K at all ranges, especially those beyond assault rifle range. Rifleman can/should leverage that capability by employing affordable “paradigm shifting” precision enablers.

8 Training is paramount to effectiveness BUT advanced hardware enables advanced training and employment.

9 Incremental, available and emerging (and affordable) advancements in small arms, sighting and ammunition technologies offer the greatest return on investment and are waiting to be exploited.

You can read the briefing this came from here.

SCUBAPRO Sunday – POW Ships

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

Throughout the course of the American Revolutionary War, the British imprisoned a significant number of colonists as prisoners of war. They were held on ships because doing so was more cost-effective than constructing prison of war camps on land.

In Wallabout Bay, one ship that fit this description was the HMS Jersey. This port was in close proximity to New York City. The captives were handled in an extremely cruel manner. They were not provided with an adequate amount of food or water. Many of the soldiers perished as a result of diseases such as yellow fever and smallpox. More Americans lost their lives on British prison ships in New York Harbor than in all of the Revolutionary War’s engagements combined. For the majority of the conflict, there were at least 16 of these floating prisons, all of which were known for their filth, bugs, contagious diseases, and terror. They were all anchored in Wallabout Bay on the East River. The Jersey was the most infamous of the miserable ships, although they were all awful.

The British had hundreds of prisoners on their hands after the Battle of Long Island in August 1776 and the subsequent surrender of New York City, and the jails in New York quickly became overcrowded. The British then converted a number of old ships into prison ships when they started taking hundreds of seamen from privateers.

On the HMS Jersey, more than a thousand soldiers were crammed at once. When their British jailers opened the hatches in the morning, their first words to the soldiers below were, “Rebels, turn out your dead!” They died so frequently.

The Department of Defense reports that during the Revolutionary War, 4,435 people died in action. There may have been more deaths on prison ships than the 7,000–8,000 that one historian estimated. Some sources have that number as high as 12, 000 dyeing on the prison ships. Although such number is improbable for a single ship, it is plausible for all of the prison ships taken together and is frequently used.

Elizabeth Burgin was a loyal and brave citizen. We don’t have a lot of information regarding her life. It is well knowledge that she paid as many visits as she could to the captives held aboard the British prison ships. She provided the men food as well as a joyful spirit. An American officer took note of her frequent trips. He intended to provide assistance to a few of the inmates so that they might flee. He requested Elizabeth’s assistance in carrying out his plan. The British authorities did not permit male visitors on board the ships. Elizabeth gave her consent for the inmates to be informed to prepare. They were able to escape the ship with her assistance. The winter of 1779–1780 was one of the coldest on record. Men were able to escape from the ships by walking on the ice that formed when the water in the harbor froze over. During the winter of that year, Elizabeth Burgin was responsible for freeing more than two hundred convicts.

The anger felt by the British was palpable. They were willing to pay a reward of two hundred pounds for information leading to her capture. This sum was greater than what the majority of British troops were paid throughout their whole career of twenty years. Elizabeth was concerned that she might be executed by hanging. As a result of being forced to escape her home, she had to leave the majority of her valuables behind. Elizabeth’s bravery was praised in a letter that General George Washington sent to the Continental Congress. In recognition of her service and sacrifice, the Continental Congress awarded her a pension in the year 1781.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

As an Iowa boy who spent some time as a Marne Man, I was quite pleased to run across this photo from the Iowa Historical Society.

Iowa Soldiers at the “Rock of the Marne” Holding the Sign “Happy New Year to the Folks at Home,” 1951

Public Shelter Living: The Story Of Shelter 104

Wednesday, December 28th, 2022

In this look at Cold War history, we see a training film for Civil Defense Shelter Managers which depicts what life might be like for those who find shelter after a nuclear attack.

SCUBAPRO Sunday – Battle of the Bulge small Truce

Sunday, December 25th, 2022

On December 24th, 1944, The Battle of the Bulge had started 8 days before with a massive push by the Germans to split the Allies in half and stop the use of the Belgium port of Antwerp. Many soldiers on both sides had become lost from their units and were looking for a place to stay. Three American Soldiers were lost around the area where the shack was. They saw the light from the small hunting cabin and the smoke from the chimney. They saw their chance to warm up. They knocked on the door and asked if they could come in. The German lady had a small chicken cooking for themselves but invited the Americans in to warm up and for the Christmas meal.  

One of the American Soldiers was wounded, and the lady tried to make him comfortable. There was a language barrier for a time till one of the soldiers found out the lady could speak French as well as German. So, everything was going well, and the Americans were feeling right at home.

Then suddenly there was a knock at the door. The American’s went for their guns. The lady went to the door and answered it. There were four German soldiers who were also lost from their unit, and they asked the lady for shelter. The lady answered them with this, “Yes, you can come in for Christmas dinner, but I have other guests.” One German soldier remarked, “Americana.” She said, “yes, and that this was Christmas, and there would be no killing on this night.” She also told the Germans that they would have to lay down their weapons while they came in. She instructed the Americans to do the same.

There they were all in the room together, soldiers who a little while ago were bent on killing each other. Now, they were in a small room together with no weapons. Everyone could feel the tension in the air. It was very quiet for about ten minutes. Then one American soldier offered the Germans a cigarette. They obliged. One of the Germans who had medical training asked about the wounded American. He then began to help the wounded American and made him as comfortable as he could be.

By the time the meal was ready, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Two of the Germans were only sixteen, their corporal was 23. As Elisabeth said grace, Fritz noticed tears in the soldiers’ eyes, both German and American.

The truce lasted through the night and into the morning. Looking at the Americans’ map, the corporal told them the best way to get back to their lines and provided them with a compass. They asked if they should instead go to Monschau, the corporal shook his head and said it was now in German hands. Elisabeth returned all their weapons, and the enemies shook hands and left in opposite directions. Soon they were all out of sight, and the truce was over.

If you are in the Christmas spirit and want to watch a movie about the Battle of the Bugle, I would recommend Battleground. It was written by someone who was in the Battle of the Bugle. It is an all-time classic.

Sorry, I couldn’t find the whole movie. This is the preview.

SCUBAPRO Sunday – The Palawan Massacre

Sunday, December 11th, 2022

The Palawan massacre occurred on 14 December 1944, during World War II, near the city of Puerto Princesa in the Philippine province of Palawan. The Japanese Imperial Army massacred 139 of 150 American POWs. The Palawan compound was named Camp 10-A by the japanese, and the prisoners were quartered in several unused Filipino constabulary buildings. Food was almost nonexistent; the prisoners received a daily meal of wormy Cambodian rice and a canteen cup of soup made from camote vines boiled in water (camotes are a Philippine variant of sweet potatoes). Prisoners who could not work had their rations cut by 30%.

The Japanese unit in charge of the prisoners and the airfield at Palawan was the 131st Airfield Battalion, it was command of Captain Nagayoshi Kojima, whom the Americans called the Weasel. Lieutenant Sho Yoshiwara commanded the garrison company, and Lieutenant Ryoji Ozawa was in charge of supply. Ozawa’s unit had arrived from Formosa in 1942 and had previously been in Manchuria. There was also a Military police and intelligence unit, called the kempeitai at Palawan, they were feared by anyone who fell into their hands because of their brutal tactics.

In September 1944, 159 of the American POWs at Palawan were returned to Manila. The Japanese estimated that the remaining 150 men could complete the arduous labor on the airfield, hauling and crushing coral gravel by hand and pouring concrete seven days a week. The men also repaired trucks and performed a variety of maintenance tasks in addition to logging and other heavy labor

An attack by a single American Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber on 19 October 1944, sank two enemy ships and damaged several planes at Palawan. More Liberators returned on 28 October and destroyed 60 enemy aircraft on the ground. While American morale in the camp soared, the treatment of the prisoners by the Japanese grew worse, and their rations were cut. After initially refusing the prisoners’ request, the Japanese reluctantly allowed the Americans to paint American Prisoner of War Camp on the roof of their barracks. This gave the prisoners some measure of protection from American air attacks. The Japanese then stowed their supplies under the POW barracks.

On 14 December, Japanese aircraft reported the presence of an American convoy, which was headed for Mindoro, but which the Japanese thought was destined for Palawan. All prisoner work details were recalled to the camp at noon. Two American Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft were sighted, and the POWs were ordered into the air-raid shelters. After a short time, the prisoners re-emerged from their shelters, but Japanese 1st Lt. Yoshikazu Sato, whom the prisoners called the Buzzard, ordered them to stay in the area. A second alarm at 2 p.m. sent the prisoners back into the shelters, where they remained, closely guarded.

Suddenly, in a deliberate and planned move, 50 to 60 Japanese soldiers under Sato’s leadership doused the wooden shelters with buckets of gasoline and set them afire with flaming torches, followed by hand grenades. The screams of the trapped and doomed prisoners mingled with the cheers of the Japanese soldiers and the laughter of their officer, Sato. As men engulfed in flames broke out of their fiery deathtraps, the Japanese guards machine-gunned, bayoneted and clubbed them to death. Most of the Americans never made it out of the trenches and the compound before they were barbarously murdered. Still, several closed with their tormentors in hand-to-hand combat and succeeded in killing a few of the Japanese attackers.

Marine survivor Corporal Rufus Smith described escaping from his shelter as coming up a ladder into Hell. The four American officers in the camp, Lt. Cmdr. Henry Carlisle Knight (U.S. Navy Dental Corps), Captain Fred Brunie, Lieutenant Carl Mango (U.S. Army Medical Corps) and Warrant Officer Glen C. Turner, had their dugout, which the Japanese also doused with gasoline and torched. Mango, his clothes on fire, ran toward the Japanese and pleaded with them to use some sense but was machine-gunned to death.

About 30 to 40 Americans escaped from the massacre area, either through the double-woven, barbed-wire fence or under it, where some secret escape routes had been concealed for use in an emergency. They fell and/ or jumped down the cliff above the beach area, seeking hiding places among the rocks and foliage. Marine Sergeant Douglas Bogue recalled: Maybe 30 or 40 were successful in getting through the fence down to the water’s edge. Of these, several attempted to swim across Puerto Princesa’s bay immediately but were shot in the water. I took refuge in a small crack among the rocks, where I remained, all the time hearing the butchery going on above. They even resorted to using dynamite in forcing some of the men from their shelters. I knew [that] as soon as it was over up above, they would be down probing among the rocks, spotting us and shooting us. The stench of burning flesh was strong. Shortly after this, they were moving in groups among the rocks dragging the Americans out and murdering them as they found them. By the grace of God, I was overlooked.

Eugene Nielsen of the 59th Coast Artillery observed, from his hiding place on the beach, a group of Americans trapped at the base of the cliff. He saw them run-up to the Japs and ask to be shot in the head. The Japs would laugh and shoot or bayonet them in the stomach. When the men cried out for another bullet to end their misery, the Japanese continued to make merry of it all and left them there to suffer. Twelve men were killed in this fashion. Nielson hid for three hours. As the Japanese were kicking American corpses into a hole, Nielson’s partially hidden body was uncovered by an enemy soldier, who yelled to his companions that he had found another dead American. Just then, the Japanese soldiers heard the dinner call and abandoned their murderous pursuit in favor of hot food. Later, as enemy soldiers began to close in on his hiding place, Nielson dived into the bay and swam underwater for some distance. When he surfaced, approximately 20 Japanese were shooting at him. He was hit in the leg, and bullets grazed his head and ribs. Even though he was pushed out to sea by the current, Nielson finally managed to reach the southern shore of the bay.

He was one of 11 prisoners of war who escaped the December 1944 massacre on Palawan Island in the Phillippines, where around 140 soldiers died when the Japanese put them into trenches, dumped gasoline on them and set them on fire. He was later a key witness in the War Crime Trials of 1945.

This biography tells the story of Glenn (“Mac”) McDole, one of eleven young men who escaped and the last man out of Palawan Prison Camp 10A. Beginning on 8 December 1941, at the U.S. Navy Yard barracks at Cavite, the story of this young Iowa Marine continues through the fighting on Corregidor, the capture and imprisonment by the Japanese Imperial Army in May 1942, Mac’s entry into the Palawan prison camp in the Philippines on 12 August 1942, the terrible conditions he and his comrades endured in the camps, and the terrible day when 139 young soldiers were slaughtered. The work details the escapes of the few survivors as they dug into refuse piles, hid in coral caves, and slogged through swamp and jungle to get to supportive Filipinos. It also contains an account and verdicts of the war crimes trials of the Japanese guards, follow-ups on the various places and people referred to in the text, with descriptions of their present situations, and a roster of the names and hometowns of the victims of the Palawan massacre.