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The Plane That Won A War And Polluted A River

Dec 1, 2016

This is a condensed version of a story originally published Sept. 29, 2015. Read the complete story here.

There's an old photograph in my father’s office that I’ve always wondered about. In it my grandfather and nine other young airmen stand in front of their B-17 plane, shoulders squared, smiling for the camera. They were probably in England at the time, getting ready to fly bombing raids over Germany in 1943.

Paul Fishman spots a rusty chunk of metal jutting out of the riverbank on Portland’s South Waterfront.

“Ah-ha!" he said. “Here’s a piece of ship’s hull."

The piece came from a World War II ship – one of the few signs of the post-war industry that used to be here.

During World War II, the site was one of several Willamette River shipyards devoted to building military vessels. But when victory made all those warships obsolete, this stretch of the waterfront became the scrapyard where many of those ships were torn apart.

Growing up, Paul Skirvin milked a lot of cows.

“Dad went and borrowed the money,” he says. “And before we was through milking cows, we was milking about 60 head.”

This was outside of Portland in the 1930s and '40s. Skirvin was too young to fight in World War II. Soon after it ended he received a quick lesson in economics when he and his brother were hired to log off their neighbor’s land.

“We milked those cows all month and about the same as we’d make in a week logging.” he says.

An Army review concludes that commanders did nothing wrong when they kicked out more than 22,000 soldiers for misconduct after they came back from Iraq or Afghanistan – even though all of those troops had been diagnosed with mental health problems or brain injuries.

The Army's report, ordered by Secretary Eric Fanning, seeks to reassure members of Congress that it's treating wounded soldiers fairly. But senators and military specialists say the report troubles them.

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Khaled Abdullah/Reuters 

A new book, "The Drone Memos," allows readers to sift through once-secret documents detailing aspects of the Obama administration’s practice of targeted killings of terrorism suspects.  

“You look at those documents, and you realize immediately this is a practice we have institutionalized and entrenched and normalized,” says Jameel Jaffer, the former ACLU lawyer who led the battle to obtain the papers.

The Navy has just been granted permits by the U.S. Forest Service to expand electromagnetic warfare training over Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Now the Navy is cleared to drive trucks out into the Olympic National Forest, armed with electromagnetic signaling technology. Then growler jets will take off from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and fly overhead, searching for the signal trucks from the air. It's essentially a military training game of hide-and-go-seek. The trucks simulate cell towers and other communications behind enemy lines that the Navy wants to scramble.

Congress has reached a compromise on the Pentagon's effort to claw back millions of dollars in bonuses paid by the California National Guard, agreeing to forgive the debt in cases where soldiers "knew or reasonably should have known" they were ineligible to receive the money.

When Donald Trump enters the Oval Office, his presidency will begin with a national security challenge that has no precedent — four separate wars where the U.S. military is bombing Islamist extremists.

Presidential transitions in wartime aren't new, and some earlier conflicts were on a much larger scale. President Obama confronted two major wars on his first day in 2009. President Nixon came into office as the Vietnam War raged. President Truman assumed office when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in the final months of World War II.

Among the many unknowns hanging over this presidential transition: the fate of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama has sworn to close it; President-elect Trump wants to fill it up again.

Obama has been promising the closure will happen since his second day in office in 2009. In February, he repeated that pledge one more time, saying, "I'm absolutely committed to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo."

That same day, at a campaign rally in Sparks, Nevada, Donald Trump was promising the opposite.

Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning is asking President Obama to grant her clemency saying she is requesting "a first chance at life."

Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after perpetrating one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.

Air Force veteran Katherine Pratt in front of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Pratt's detachment was responsible for the operational tests.
Courtesy of Katherine Pratt

For some military service members returning to civilian life can be disorienting.

The Native American community is reaching out to help vets with a modern day version of an ancient ceremony known as “calling home.”

Desmond Doss is credited with saving 75 soldiers during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the Pacific — and he did it without ever carrying a weapon. The battle at Hacksaw Ridge, on the island of Okinawa, was a close combat fight with heavy weaponry. Thousands of American and Japanese soldiers were killed, and the fact that Doss survived the battle and saved so many lives has confounded and awed those who know his story. Now, he's the subject of a new film directed by Mel Gibson called Hacksaw Ridge.

As Iraqi security forces advance toward the ISIS-held city of Mosul, ISIS militants are said to be rounding up civilians from surrounding areas and bringing them to the city to use as human shields.

The Pentagon says two Americans were shot and killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, and at least two others were wounded. One of those who died was a service member, the other was a civilian.

NPR's Tom Bowman reported the assailant opened fire at the entrance to an ammunition depot near Camp Morehead, a training center for Afghan commandos. The camp is about an hour's drive south of Kabul.

As Tom reported for our Newscast unit:

The man from Mosul is neat and tidy, in his mid-30s. He uses careful English and tries to stop his voice from trembling as he speaks about the Iraqi city he lived in all his life.

"My mind is full with memories," he says. "Friends. Home. You know — my home. I was born there."

ISIS has occupied Mosul for more than two years. Residents describe a regime of strict rules and savagely violent punishments for breaking them. The man is too afraid of ISIS to give his name or occupation, but he is a professional. He brought up a family in Mosul.

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