A day of free assistance with VA entitlements, claims, benefits

Troops and veterans in the Washington, D.C.,area who need help with Department of Veterans Affairs entitlements, benefits and claims can get free professional counseling and assistance Sept. 19 in Reston, Va.

The American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association and Disabled American Veterans will host the annual Mobile Service Office that day,and DAV service officers will be on hand to offer one-on-one assistance.

MOH recipient Hershel Williams recalls end of WWII as time of elation ... and relief

When World War II finally ended 70 years ago this week, Hershel Williams recalls that he and his fellow Marines on Guam were "absolutely elated, because the word was that the Japanese were going to surrender. We would not have to make that next campaign."

That "next campaign" was one that Williams didn't expect to survive.

Williams had already taken part in the bloody battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, and would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions there. When he got to Guam, the Marines "started a new training system.

"Previous to our return from Iwo, we trained constantly for jungle warfare. When we returned, they had built some false-fronted buildings to simulate a street. They'd put up false walls with a door, a window, that sort of thing, because [in] our next campaign, somebody knew we were going to be in a city, not in a jungle. We began training: How do you street fight? How do you approach a house? How do you go through a window?"

In a phone interview from his West Virginia home on Thursday, Williams said the Marines on Guam "thought we were going to Tokyo. As far as we were concerned, that was Japan. It didn't have anything else. There were no other names or anything else, Tokyo was Japan. So we're going to Tokyo.

"Well, we found out after the war was over, they had a campaign scheduled where [the Marines] would go under a program called Olympic — that was the code name — and [on November 1] we were going to attack the island of Kyushu. That was our next goal. So we would have been in a place where we would've had no option but to kill women and children. Because they had been trained by the Japanese to protect their homeland with any kind of a weapon that they had. So, according to historians, if we had had to go to Japan, [all the armed forces] would've had a million casualties.

Over the years a debate has continued about whether atomic bombs should have been used against Japan, but the way Williams sees it, "the bomb no doubt saved my life."

"The celebration that we had on Guam on August 7th after the bomb was dropped on the 6th, was unreal. We jumped up and down, we screamed, we yelled, we fired weapons into the air. It was chaotic. Because we felt that was going to be the end of the war. I don't know why we felt that, but we did. When they dropped the one on the 8th, we didn't go as wild. We went wild, but not quite as wild as we did on the 6th."

And when word of the surrender finally arrived, "I was just absolutely thrilled that I was going to get to come home. I didn't care when or what or how."

It also represented a reacquaintance with the rest of the world. Until the final days of the war, "none of us had personal radios, we weren't permitted to have them. The only information we got was through the Armed Forces Network. Usually had one radio, and it was usually in the first sergeant's office. We were not getting any newspapers, or any bulletins, or any radio information at all as to what was going on in the world. Everything was secret.

"After the bomb was dropped, we could have lights in our tents at night."

On visit to Bushes’ home, former presidents prompt wounded vet to propose

Tyler Jeffries and his fiancee, Lauren Lilly.

It was a rare opportunity for retired Army Spc. Tyler Jeffries, in more ways than one.

Jeffries and other wounded veterans — all featured in the book “Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed” — were invited to visit the famed Bush family summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Former President George H. W. Bush wrote the foreword to the book, which discusses mothers helping their sons recover from combat injuries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

England police try odd (actually even) approach to crime fighting

RAF MILDENHALL, England — How odd.

Citing dwindling budgets, police with the East Midlands Special Operations Unit played a numbers game with victims of attempted burglaries in Leicestershire County.

VA getting the word out on successes, challenges

Department of Veterans Affairs stories will be popping up everywhere this week as the beleaguered agency rolls out a nationwide outreach effort to highlight reform efforts in the wake of a crisis in veterans’ health care.

Roughly one year after former Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald took over as VA secretary in the midst of a scandal, the VA has instructed directors of its medical centers, regional offices and cemeteries to reach out to local media to tell their stories.

VA whistleblower on reporting wrongdoing: 'Prepare for hell'

Shea Wilkes, foreground, addresses attendees of the Whistle Blower Summit in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Wilkes and 3 other former or current Department of Veterans Affairs employees who have spoken out about malfeasance within the department shared tips on how to report problems.

WASHINGTON — More than a year into a nationwide crisis in veterans health care, the government whistleblowers who exposed deadly faults in the Veterans Administration have had lots of experience in what to expect when speaking out against supervisors.

On Thursday, four of those whistleblowers addressed the annual Whistle Blower Summit in a cramped room just down the road from the congressional buildings where many have testified about malfeasance such as secret waiting lists and abusive workplaces. This time, they were telling potential whistleblowers how to tell the truth while protecting themselves from retaliation.

A new brew for the USS Indianapolis crew

A bottle of Survivor's Tale Pale Ale sits atop an American flag. Mare Island Brewery made the specialty beer to honor the survivors of the USS Indianapolis at their annual reunion in Indianapolis from July 23-26, 2015. Six cases of the beer were to be distributed to the survivors and their families during a banquet Saturday night.

Those who survived the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis tell some pretty incredible tales – unembellished accounts of four hellish days spent adrift in shark-infested waters, where 880 sailors died.

This tall one – Survivor’s Tale Pale Ale produced by Mare Island Brewery in California – is for them.

One year later, women still shut out of quarter million military jobs

Capt. Megan Selbach-Allen, center, confirms her route with the combat operations center during Exercise Desert Scimitar at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., in April 2015. Selbach-Allen, 1 of 9 women assigned to 1st Tank Battalion, said she loves being a part of 1st Marine Division, which could put her in 'the forward part of the fight.'

Less than a year from an integration deadline, nearly a quarter-million positions remain closed to women in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines as of March, along with 25,700 positions still closed to women by the U.S. Special Operations Command, according to Government Accountability Office data.

The four services have opened up 91,000 positions for women since January 2013, when the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rescinded a 1994 rule that prohibited women from being assigned to certain ground combat units.

Vt. college offers grants for veterans interested in farming

A Vermont college is offering grants to veterans who want to become farmers.

Sterling College, in Craftsbury, Vt., is taking applications for its Veterans College-to-Farm Program, in which veterans receive a $10,000 grant to start a farm or food business upon completion of a Sustainable Agriculture or Sustainable Food Systems degree.

Nothing cuddly about MIT's latest cheetah robot

In a screen capture from a YouTube video, MIT's cheetah clears an obstacle.

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s kitty cat prototype just got a little bit scarier.

From an MIT news release Friday: “In a leap for robot development, the MIT researchers who built a robotic cheetah have now trained it to see and jump over hurdles as it runs — making this the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously.”