VBC Happy Hour

Every Monday night at 7pm ET on Zoom and simulcast to Facebook and YouTube. Veterans stories, open conversations, special topics and guests.

Somalia and the Battle of Mogadishu, 1992-1994 on VBC Happy Hour

Date: October 2, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
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As Somali civilians watch, US Marines walk single file toward the camera, down a small ally in Somalia’s Bakara Market. The Marines sweep the market looking for arms and munitions as part of Operation Nutcracker. This mission is in direct support of Operation Restore Hope.

Thirty years ago this week, US forces in Mogadishu, Somalia, suffered their worst casualties in battle since Vietnam. Eighteen Americans were killed, and 73 wounded. But what most remember are the grim images of these dead Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The disaster and the public outcry over it drew the US into a kind of mini-Isolationism which only ended on September 11, 2001.

The horror of “Black Hawk Down,” as the Battle of Mogadishu became known, was part of the larger Operation Restore Hope, a humanitarian mission to save Somalis from starvation.

On VBC Happy Hour, we talk with two veterans of Somalia: Marine Brad Graft, who landed with the first wave of Restore Hope in December 1992, and Eddie Helphenstine, who served as a platoon leader with the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division in Somalia from January through March of 1993 (first from the Army on the ground).

Brad and Eddie will give us a first-hand view of history about the complex and controversial US intervention in Somalia during its chaos and famine in 1992-1994.

The ousting of the authoritarian ruler, Major General Muhammad Siad Barre, in 1991 created a power vacuum filled by various warlords, including the infamous Muhammed Farah Aidid. Somalia descended into a devastating civil war. The strife fanned the flames of humanitarian crisis. Millions of Somalis were on the brink of starvation.

In response to the deteriorating situation, the United Nations (UN) launched Operation Provide Relief in April 1992. But armed militias hampered efforts to deliver humanitarian aid by hijacking aid convoys and stealing supplies.

The situation prompted then-US President George H.W. Bush to propose sending American combat troops to Somalia to protect aid workers and ensure the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance. In December 1992, approximately 1,800 US Marines arrived in Mogadishu to spearhead the multinational force in what became known as Operation Restore Hope. With US military support, international aid workers were now able to restore food distribution and other operations.

But the interventions didn’t solve the underlying violence and anarchy that ruled Somalia, especially its capital of Mogadishu. The prime culprit was the warlord Aidid.

On October 3, 1993, US forces attempted to capture top lieutenants of Aidid at the Olympic Hotel in Mogadishu. Two US Black Hawk helicopters went down, leading to a firefight in which 18 US soldiers were killed, as were hundreds of Somalis.

In the wake of the Battle of Mogadishu and the widespread public outrage it generated, President Clinton made the decision to withdraw all US troops from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit, and the United Nations eventually withdrew its peacekeeping forces by 1995.

Somalia today remains an unstable, fragile, and poor nation, split along religious and ethnic lines and governed largely by violence.

Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

Fortieth Anniversary of “Operation Urgent Fury,” the Invasion of Grenada, 1983 on VBC Happy Hour

Date: October 9, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
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Capt Jeb F. Seagle drags Capt Timothy D. Howard away from their burning AH-i Cobra, shot down by enemy antiaircraft fire near Fort Frederick(Reconstructive art by Lt Col A. M. “Mike” Leahy, USMCR)


Forty years ago, on October 25, 1983, U.S. forces, with a coalition of Caribbean nations, launched Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada, an island nation at the southern tip of the Lesser Antilles, about 500 miles from the Venezuelan coast. It was a key moment in a volatile year that saw the Cold War heat up more than it had since Vietnam.

Join us on October 9 at 7pm for a special two-hour program to talk with a journalist, museum curators, and five remarkable Marine Corps veterans whoserved in Grenada and almost never made it back.

Journalist Phil Kukielski, author of The U.S. Invasion of Grenada: Legacy of a Flawed Victory, will give us the background of the story and also tell us why so much of the war has been shrouded in secrecy.

Larry Burke and Doug Doer from the National Museum of the Marine Corps will also show us a stunning new artifact installed from Operation Urgent Fury. It’s the tail boom of a US Marine AH-1 Cobra helicopter from Operation Urgent Fury, one of two shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

Behind that artifacts is a story of rescue and survival. Five Marines involved in that story will be on our program giving their first-hand accounts.

On the first day of the invasion, two AH-1 Cobras were sent into action to assist some Navy SEALs on the ground in Grenada. Both took fire from Grenadian forces.

One caught fire but managed a rough landing on the ground. Its pilots, Captains Jeb Seagle and Timothy Howard, escaped the wreckage. Seagle went for help, while Howard, right arm nearly shot off below the elbow, right leg severely injured, and a large piece of shrapnel in his neck, waited at the crash site for help.

Coming to the rescue was a Marine CH-46 crew, which also took fire as it descended to land.

Gunnery Sgt. Kelley Neideigh, a Vietnam veteran who’d been manning the door gun, braved fire at the crash site to drag Howard to the CH-46 to safety.

With no sign of Seagle, and Howard’s condition worsening, the CH-46 crew took off.  Seagle was later found dead on the beach, killed by hostile fire.

The other AH-1 Cobra still circled above, drawing fire to allow the rescue team to take off from the crash site. However, deadly anti-aircraft fire sent the Cobra into the sea, killing pilots Major John “Pat” Guigerre and 1st Lt. Jeff Sharver.

In the months and years that followed, Tim Howard learned to walk again and function with one intact arm. He remained in the Marine Corps until his retirement as a colonel in 2006.

We are honored and privileged to welcome Tim Howard to our program to remember the events of October 25, 1983.  We’ll also have Kelley Neideigh, who dragged Howard to safety.

In addition, we’ll welcome three other crew members, heroes all, who flew the CH-46 rescue mission on October 25: Pilot Major Mel DeMars, Co-pilot 1st Lieutenant Larry King, and Crew Chief Corporal Simon “Doug” Gore.

Finally, we’ll welcome Vivian Scharver, Gold Star mother of 1st Lt Jeff Sharver, USMC, KIA 25 Oct 1983, Operation Urgent Fury.

Join us to hear the remarkable story of a little-known Cold War operation from those who were there.

Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

SPECIAL EVENT: Vietnam History and Culture: The Impact of French Imperial Rule

Date: October 12, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
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Historian and VBC Director Todd DePastino presents the third in his series on Vietnam’s history and culture, focusing this week on the French colonization of the region in the 19th and 20th centuries.

France sought access to Vietnam for its raw materials and foreign markets, things needed for France’s growing industrial economy. The French also sought to stamp out Vietnam’s indigenous culture and replace it with French customs and ideals.

For example, they banned the use of the term “Vietnam” and instead referred to it as “French Indochina,” encompassing Cambodia and Laos also.

But the most catastrophic impact of the French was on the daily lives of the Vietnamese peasants. These peasants’ entire existence revolved around growing rice, one of the most labor intensive staple crops in the world. The demands of rice cultivation are so distinct, they even encourage a particular consciousness, one centered on the relations of the collective—the village—rather than the individual. Peasant rice farmers also depend on stable prices and predictable markets, neither of which the French provided when they integrated Vietnam into the global commodity markets.

Under French rule, the price of rice plummeted, and millions of Vietnamese peasants found themselves unable to pay rent, purchase a water buffalo, or buy tools, medicine, and other supplies they couldn’t make themselves.

All the social and technical arrangements peasants had painstakingly upheld for generations to keep their villages intact and their families alive had all been disrupted, to devastating effect.

The result was not only poverty, homelessness, and starvation, but revoluition.

Join us for conversation about the history of Vietnam and how it impacted the American experience there.

Fortieth Anniversary of the Beirut Barracks Bombing of 1983, Part 1 on VBC Happy Hour

Date: October 16, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
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The explosion of the Marine Corps building in Beirut, Lebanon, created a large cloud of smoke that was visible from miles away (USMC)

Forty years ago on October 23, the US Marine Corps suffered its deadliest single-day attack since the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

On that day, in Beirut, Lebanon, a yellow Mercedes loaded with 12,000 pounds of explosives sped toward a four-story concrete building that served as headquarters and barracks for the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines (Battalion Landing Team – BLT 1/8) of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit.

The explosion left a gaping crater and a mountain of rubble, killing 220 Marines, 18 Navy sailors, and three Army soldiers. Minutes later, an identical attack hit the French barracks and killed 58 French paratroopers.

We mark this grim anniversary with two weeks of programs talking with survivors and looking back with veterans of the US military intervention in the Lebanese Civil War from 1982 to 1984.

The Beirut bombing was a turning point in that Civil War, which had raged since 1975. The war was marked by a cascading series of sectarian conflicts where armed militias vied for control of the country.

Turn by turn, the fighting spilled across national borders. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used the chaos as cover for launching military attacks on Israel from Lebanese soil.

Israel countered on June 6, 1982, by invading Lebanon to eliminate the PLO.

Lebanon appealed to the international community, which responded by creating a Multinational Peacekeeping Force (MNF) composed of American, French, Italian, and British servicemembers.

The mission of the MNF was to oversee the safe withdrawal of the PLO and to help stabilize the country.

That would prove a tall order.

Iran spiked the violence sending Shiite fighters bent on fighting the Israelis and the MNF.

Then, Bashir Gemayel, a Lebanese Christian militia commander who had allied himself with Israel and had been elected President of Lebanon, was assassinated before taking office on 14 September 1982.

A wave of violence followed, and the MNF became major targets in the renewed fighting.

In April 1983, a suicide bomber targeted the US Embassy in Beirut, killing 63. including American foreign service workers and Lebanese civilians. This event marked a shift in tactics for terrorist groups in the Middle East, as suicide bombings became more prevalent.

As fighting among the various militia escalated, US Marines and other MNF elements found themselves caught in the crossfire. Most Lebanese came to see the US as not neutral but siding with a narrowly ruled government leadership.

The Beirut barracks bombing itself was a well-coordinated and devastating act of terrorism.

An unknown group calling itself Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility, but investigators concluded that Hezbollah, a proxy army sponsored by Iran and Syria, had organized the attacks.

These bombings signaled a rise in terrorism that would continue to escalate over the years, with extremist groups willing to carry out suicide attacks to target Western interests. The attacks also highlighted a shift in tactics, as terrorists increasingly sought to maximize casualties.

The tragic events in Beirut had a lasting impact and are often seen as an early precursor to the Global War on Terror.

The security lapses and inadequate preparations surrounding the peacekeeping mission were harshly criticized. Ultimately, the US began withdrawing its troops from Lebanon in early 1984 in the face of the rising danger.

Join us for a one-of-a-kind commemoration and conversation that brings together over a dozen veteran survivors of the Beirut barracks bombing as well as others who have documented the tragedy and kept alive the memory of those who have passed.

The legacy of the Beirut bombing still resonates, serving as a stark reminder of the dangers of any military operation, especially those in the volatile Middle East.

Joining us on October 16 and 23 will be:

Michael Ivey, Director/Producer of “They Came in Peace,” a documentary of the Beirut barracks bombing

Jeff Hamman, former Corpsman who runs Beirut-Memorial.org

Robert Abril, 1/8 Corpsman

Greg Balzer, 1/8 Assistant Operations Officer

Miles Burdine, Bravo Company 1/8 Executive Officer

Chuck Dallachie, 1/8 Bn Legal officer

TD Garner, 1/8 Dragon Plt

Larry Gerlach, 1/8 Battalion Commander

Butch Howell, 1/8 Dragon Team Leader

Danny Joy, 1/8 Dragon Plt

Maj. Gen. Jim Lariviere, USMC (ret), BLT 3/8 Recon platoon commander.

LCDR Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, 6th Fleet Chaplain

Greg Wah, Alpha Company 1/8 rifleman

Jerry Walsh, Charle Company 1/8 Executive Officer

Thank you to Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

SPECIAL EVENT: Vietnam History and Culture: Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh

Date: October 19, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
All Events | Online Events | VBC Happy Hour

Historian and VBC Director Todd DePastino presents the fourth in his series on Vietnam’s history and culture by telling the story of how Ho Chi Minh forged a nationalist independence movement from the remnants of a torn peasant society.

Vietnam, in fact, still retains vestiges of its not-so-distant feudalistic past of peasant villages. Landlords sat at the top of the social hierarchy, but peasants had ancestral rights. When those rights were denied, they revolted.

This is what happened in Vietnam in 1930. Seventy-percent of the Vietnamese peasant population was landless, even as rice production skyrocketed. Starvation haunted the decimated villages, while beggars roamed the countryside. Hundreds of independent peasant revolts swept the colony, from North to South. All eventually collapsed under the weight of a massive military response from the French.

The failed 1930 revolt was a lesson for those who wanted independence from the French. Peasants had the will to fight, but no sense of nationhood or national belonging that could coordinate disparate revolts into a single Revolution.

The project of Nationalism—creating a sense of Vietnamese nationhood—was first taken up by a dissident named Phan Boi Chau. Phan’s Nationalist anti-colonial movement embraced Vietnam’s modernization, industrialized, and urbanization.

Phan’s movement failed because it didn’t speak to the 90% of the Vietnamese population, the peasants, who didn’t relate to urbanization and modernization. The task of mobilizing the Vietnamese peasantry for National Independence would be the historic achievement of Nguyen Ai Quoc, later known as Ho Chi Minh.

For peasants to embrace Nationalism, argued Ho, they needed to know what was in it for them. To get peasants on board the struggle to evict the French, he said, required the promise of land–the return of the ancestral rights.

Redistributing it to peasants meant much more than a war of National Independence. It meant a Revolution, changing the rules that governed everyday life. While Vietnamese Nationalists just wanted to severe the connections between France and Vietnam, Vietnamese Revolutionaries under Ho wanted both to sever that connection and transform Vietnam into a Communist society.

The trouble with Communism, from Ho’s point of view, was that it was unacceptable to anti-French activists like Phan Boi Chau. Many of Phan’s followers owned businesses and land and knew that Communism would sweep it all away. So, for his movement to be successful, Ho Chi Minh had to walk a tightrope between his Nationalism on the one hand, and his Communism on the other.

In 1941, after Japan had taken over French Indochina, Ho created a new organization called the “League for Independence of Vietnam”—the Vietminh—that would include ALL Vietnamese interested in overthrowing foreign rule.

He would soon make contact with American OSS agents, who would supply him with weapons and training. In return, Ho gave the OSS intelligence on Japanese troop movements and help rescue downed American flyers.

This was the beginning of the American relationship with Ho Chi Minh and involvement in Vietnam.