Sure, most people end up in one nice, consolidated grave. But these five generals were not “most people”:
1. Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s skeleton and flesh were buried 400 miles apart.
When Isaac Wayne arrived at the Army blockhouse in Erie, Pennsylvania, he expected to exhume his father’s bones and take them the 400 miles back to his hometown of Radnor, Pennsylvania for re-burial. His father was Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a Revolutionary War and Northwest Indian War hero.
When the remains were exhumed, the body was found to be in good condition despite 12 years having passed since Gen. Wayne’s death in 1796. Isaac’s cart was too small to move a complete body though, and so Isaac had the body dismembered and the flesh boiled off of it. Then, he took the bones the 400 miles back to Radnor. The boiled flesh and the tools used in the “operation” were reburied in Erie.
2. Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell was buried 640 miles from his leg.
A Confederate leader in the Civil War, Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell was seriously injured at the Second Battle of Manassas. His leg was amputated and buried in a local garden. Ewell returned to combat after a one-year convalescence and was taken prisoner near the end of the war.
3. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles’ leg is in the Smithsonian.
Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles led his men to their doom at the Battle of Gettysburg when he ignored his orders and marched forward of his designated positions. Exposed, he and his men were brutally attacked and Sickles himself was wounded by a cannonball to the leg.
After his amputation, he decided against having his leg buried and instead sent it to the Army Medical Museum where Sickles visited it every year. It now resides at the Smithsonian Museum while Sickles rests in Arlington National Cemetery.
4. Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s leg was buried somewhere by an army private.
Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood lost his right leg after it was struck by a Minie ball during the Battle of Chickamagua in Georgia. His condition after the surgery was so bad that his physician, assuming he would die, ordered Pvt. Arthur H. Collier to take the leg to a nearby town where the general was being treated.
5. Stonewall Jackson’s left arm has a famous grave.
The grave of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s left arm is well known. Jackson was returning from a reconnaissance of Union positions in 1863 when his own soldiers mistook him for the enemy. Pickets fired on him and injured his left arm which was later amputated.
Stonewall’s chaplain buried the arm near Chancellorsville while Jackson was taken to Fairfield Plantation, Virginia. Jackson was expected to make a recovery, but he died of pneumonia eight days after his injury. He is buried in Lexington, Virginia, 44 miles from his arm.
Deploying to a war zone is a risky proposition, even for the most highly trained commandos like SEALs. While on deployment in Iraq in 2007, retired Senior Chief Mike Day and his team set out on the crucial mission to locate a high-level al Qaeda terrorist cell in Anbar province.
While running point on the raid, Day was the first to enter a small room defended by three terrorists who opened fire.
He managed to take one of them down as he started taking rounds himself. He kept firing, and dropped another terrorist who detonated a grenade as he went down.
Dazed and confused, the skilled operator switched to his sidearm and started re-engaging the insurgents, killing the rest. Day had been shot a total 27 times, 16 found his legs, arms, and abdomen. The last 11 lodged into his body armor.
Nevertheless, Day remained in the fight and cleared the rest of the house before walking himself to the medevac helicopter located close by.
“I was shot both legs, both arms, my abdomen. I mean you throw a finger on me, anything but my head I got shot there” — Day stated. (Source: CBN News/ Screenshot)
Day lost 55 pounds during his two weeks in the hospital, and it eventually took him about two years to recover from his wounds.
After serving in the Navy for over 20 years, Day now serves as a wounded warrior advocate for the special operations community.
“The United States and the rest of the international coalition stand ready to support Iraqi Security Forces, Peshmerga fighters and the people of Iraq in the difficult fight ahead,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a separate statement. “We are confident our Iraqi partners will prevail against our common enemy and free Mosul and the rest of Iraq from ISIL’s hatred and brutality.”
According the the BBC which has a reporter embedded with Kurdish Peshmerga troops, the invasion kicked off in the early morning hours Oct. 17 with sporadic skirmishes along the roads to the east of the city. Iraqi forces pushed north from the so-called “Q-West” air base recently captured from ISIS and where U.S. forces have been helping the Iraqis establish a logistics base for operations to take Mosul.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, OIR commander, said the operation to regain control of Mosul will likely continue for weeks and possibly longer. But it comes after more than two years of Islamic State oppression in Mosul, “during which they committed horrible atrocities [and] brutalized the people” after declaring the city to be one of their twin capitals, the general said in the statement.
The coalition can’t predict how long it will take for the ISF to retake the city, Townsend said, “but we know they will succeed — just as they did in Beiji, in Ramadi, in Fallujah and, more recently in Qayyarah and Sharqat.”
The OIR coalition will provide “air support, artillery, intelligence, advisors and forward air controllers,” Townsend said in the statement, adding that the supporting forces “will continue to use precision to accurately attack the enemy and to minimize any impact on innocent civilians.”
During the past two years of ISIL control in Mosul, OIR efforts have expanded to include a coalition of more than 60 countries, which have combined to conduct tens of thousands of precision strikes to support Iraqi operations, and trained and equipped more than 54,000 Iraqi forces, the general said.
“But to be clear, the thousands of ground combat forces who will liberate Mosul are all Iraqis,” Townsend said in the statement.
Carter, in his statement, called it a “decisive moment” in the campaign. Townsend said it’s not just a fight for the future of Iraq, but also “to ensure the security of all of our nations.”
Violent jihadism as a governing ideology has been a significant feature of the global scene for nearly two decades.
There are certainly differences between say, the nature Al Shabaab’s control over Somalia in the early 2010s, the Taliban state’s governance of Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and ISIS’s “caliphate” in the present day.
But militant groups spurred by a combination of religious radicalism, violent disenchantment with the existing state system, revisionist philosophies of Islamic history, and a rejection of secularism and Enlightenment value systems have morphed into territorial political units with alarming frequency in recent years.
One such instance was in Mali in early 2012, when jihadists piggybacked on a long-simmering Tuareg autonomy movement — itself empowered by the collapse of Mali’s government in the wake of a shocking military coup — in order to take control of several population centers in Mali’s desert north. Among them was Timbuktu, a legendary center of trade and Islamic scholarship.
The jihadist occupation of Timbuktu was brutal but thankfully brief: In early 2013, a French-led coalition liberated the city after 10 months of militant control. Now, the rule of Al Qaeda-allied militants over the city is the topic of what might be the important movie of the past year.
The hypnotic and visually overwhelming “Timbuktu,” the work of Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako and an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, is an intimate and terrifying inquiry into one of the defining authoritarian ideologies of the 21st century, as told from the perspective of the people who are actually suffering under its yoke. (The film is currently playing in New York and LA and will open in various other US cities in February and March.)
US movie audiences have usually met jihadists through the lenses of American sniper rifles, or lying prone in front of CIA interrogators. “Timbuktu” is hardly the only movie that’s portrayed them as political and social actors. “Osama,” a multi-national production about a girl living in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan that won the 2004 Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and Iranian director Moshen Makhmalbaf’s highly regarded “Kandahar,” about a Afghan woman who sneaks into Taliban Afghanistan to try to stop her sister from committing suicide, succeed in giving viewers a first-hand look at the societies that jihadists create and the horrors this visits upon the people trapped in them.
In the wake of ISIS’s takeover of a Belgium-sized slice of the Middle East, “Timbuktu” has more immediate resonance than either of those films. The movie opens with a pickup truck of fighters flying a black flag nearly identical to ISIS’s. As the opening credits roll, the fighters eviscerate a row of traditional figurines in a hail of machine-gun fire.
But the firmest sign that jihadist rule is something external, alien, and deeply unwanted comes in the next scene, when gun-toting fighters enter a mud-brick mosque without taking their shoes off. They tell the imam that they have come to wage jihad. The imam replies that in Timbuktu, people wage jihad (which has the double meaning of spiritual reflection and self-purification, in addition to earthly holy war) with their minds and not with guns.
The next hour and a half is a grisly survey of what happened when this 1400-year-old precedent was inverted.
The jihadists ban music — one of the most celebrated aspects of Malian culture — and then whip violators in public. They ban soccer, and then break up a group of children miming a game in silent protest. The jihadists speak a smattering of local languages and broken Arabic; their leader bans smoking only to sneak cigarettes under the cover of the town’s surrounding sand dunes.
In one of the more illustrative scenes, a female fish seller is told by one jihadist that women can no longer appear in public without wearing gloves. She explains to him that she can’t work unless she’s barehanded and then dares the fighter to cut her hands off on the spot.
In “Timbuktu,” the jihadists are power-tripping, thuggish and hypocritical. They are in the city to create a totally new kind of society and revel in their own insensitivity to local concerns.
But crucially they are not entirely outsiders, and some of the film’s most affecting scenes involve a Tuareg who joins with the jihadists occupying the town, a reminder that there are local dynamics at play. Just as importantly, the film hints at the context of state collapse and social chaos that allowed the jihadists to take over in the first place.
The movie’s primary narrative follows a Tuareg herder who accidentally kills a fisherman from a different ethnic group during an argument over his cows’ access to drinking water along a disputed riverbank. The film’s central conflict encapsulates the unresolved questions of ethnicity and resources that kept northern Mali in a state of crisis that the jihadists later exploited.
The herder’s treatment at the hands of Timbuktu’s new overlords depicts the imposition of an an outside ideology. But the killing is itself is a pointed example of how social turmoil can feed into a violent, totalitarian mania seemingly without warning. It harkens back to ISIS’s swift takeover of Iraq this past summer, a national-level instance of the dynamics that “Timbuktu” manages to boil down to an intimate, dramatic scale.
“Timbuktu” has a happy ending. Even if it isn’t part of the movie, the city was eventually liberated from jihadist control. The film depicts a now-extinct regime.
But the nightmare of “Timbuktu” is far from over. The liberation of the areas that ISIS rules will come at some indeterminate future date, and parts of Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are still under the control of extremists whose ideologies are not categorically different from what appears in the film.
“Timbuktu” is maybe the best cinematic depiction ever made of what millions of people around the world are suffering through.
Marine Gen. James Mattis is something of a legend in the US military. Looked at as a warrior among Marines, and well-respected by members of other services, he’s been at the forefront of a number of engagements.
He led his battalion of Marines in the assault during the first Gulf war in 1991, and commanded the task force charging into Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003, as a Major General, he once again took up the task of motivating his young Marines to go into battle.
One day before beginning the assault into Iraq, on March 19, 2003, every member of 1st Marine Division received this letter, written in Mattis’ own hand.
In the letter, he tells them, “on your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.” He conveys a sense of staying together and working as a team, writing, “keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit.”
He finally signs off with the motto of 1st Marines: “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.”
A major Islamic State group counterattack July 7 along the northern edge of Mosul’s Old City neighborhood has pushed Iraqi Army forces back some 75 meters (82 yards) and is threatening recent gains in other Old City fronts, an Iraqi military officer said.
The officer said the attack was launched just after noon July 7 and estimated it was carried out by 50 to 100 IS fighters. A doctor at a medic station said he received more than a dozen wounded Iraqi soldiers.
Both men spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Iraqi security forces have retaken almost all of Mosul — Iraq’s second largest city — from IS militants who overran it in 2014.
In late June, IS counterattacks on the western edge of Mosul — neighborhoods retaken months earlier — stalled the push by Iraqi forces to go deeper into the Old City as they forced a reallocation of Iraqi ground forces, coalition surveillance, and air support.
Unlike the July 7 attack, the late June counterattack was launched from outside Mosul, most likely from Tal Afar, an IS-held town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Mosul.
The counterattacks underscore the extremist group’s resilience in Iraq, despite significant territorial losses and months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by US air power.
The pockets of IS-held Mosul now measure less than a square kilometer.
Also on July 7, The UN’s migration agency suspended operations in two camps — the Qayara air strip emergency site and the Haj Ali camp — near Mosul hosting nearly 80,000 displaced Iraqis due to sporadic violence and exchange of gunfire.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the security situation prevented six water-tanker trucks from entering the Haj Ali camp, where temperatures reached the low 50s Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in recent days.
Humanitarian groups have repeatedly suspended operations in and around Mosul due to security concerns since the fight to retake the city from IS began last October.
In April, the United Nations suspended operations in the same area due to security threats along the road south of Mosul’s western half.
In February, the UN suspended operations in eastern Mosul weeks after the area was declared fully liberated as IS attacks continued to inflict heavy civilian casualties.
In both instances, the UN resumed operations within a matter of days.
In a U.S. territory half a world removed from the continental United States, what does it mean to be American? To find out, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl shipped off to the far reaches of Pacific Micronesia, to Guam.
Guam is a tiny island with a full dance card of seemingly competing cultural histories. Its indigenous people, the Chamorro, called it home for 4000 years, but after the island was “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it experienced several centuries of European colonization, capture, and rule that heaped Spanish, Catholic, American, and Japanese cultural influence atop the foundations of its identity.
But where other territories with similar fraught histories stumble through the modern era in crisis and without a firm sense of collective “self,” Guamanians wove themselves into the fabric of democratic and multicultural America. They celebrate their 21st century hybridity with exuberance, with fervent patriotism and military service, and with a food culture so funky and delicious, people travel from all over the globe to get in on it.
Why choose? (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
In Guam, you find patriotism in its purest form, animated by gratitude for life. Guamanians have earned a deep understanding of how precarious human existence can be, whether it’s an island in the middle of the ocean or an oasis in the heart of the desert or a small, blue planet in the void of space.
Guamanians don’t just feel gratitude, they act on its behalf. As a people, they serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than any of the 50 states.
When the Americans came and liberated us, they became family. That patriotism from our ancestors or those even living today, it continues on. And that’s an honor to be part of a nation that gives freedom, to be part of something greater than this tiny island…that’s what makes us American. —Sgt. Joleen Castro, U.S. Air Force
Their service reflects their dedication to the American ideal, yes, but it’s also an expression of inafa’maolek, or interdependence, the core value of the Chamorro people. Guamanians, at the deepest level of their tradition, celebrate collective prosperity, unity and togetherness. They celebrate the good.
Unsurprisingly, they throw incredible parties. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Civilians might think of military hair regulations as one standard look (see: jarhead), but there’s actually some variance among the branches. The “high and tight” sported by soldiers and Marines is much too short for your average airman.
Just ask Air Force captain Mark Harper.
In 2005, Harper deployed to Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq as Officer In Charge of the Joint Combat Camera team. Though he deployed with the Air Force, it was a joint environment, so Harper found himself reporting to an Army colonel and supervising about 40 grunts.
The first day he reported to Army HQ, those soldiers jumped on the chance to give him a hard time about his hair (which is probably a good thing — you only haze the people you like, right? Right?).
“I learned my schedule was intense and I wouldn’t be able to get someone else to cut it, but I wasn’t going to endure this mockery again, so I thought, ‘How hard can this be? I’m just going to cut it myself…'”
Usually, any mention of “computer-based training” leads to more groans from troops than any GI Party ever could. Not so for these military video games. These games are more like those marathon weekends playing “GoldenEye 64” during the junior high years. Bring out the military equivalent of Funyuns and Mountain Dew (Sunflower seeds and Rip-Its?) and settle in to become the best U.S. troop that ever roamed virtual Earth.
Developed by the U.S. Army and one of the most prolific developers of Super Nintendo (SNES) games, the Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator (MACS) used a light gun to rate how well a soldier shoots. MACS also aided in learning to zero a rifle and other basic aspects of marksmanship. The light gun isn’t the standard issue SNES weapon, it’s a replica of Jäger AP-74, which is itself styled after the M-16 rifle used by the U.S. military.
Virtual Reality Combat Training
The VIRTSIM System, created by Raytheon, is an immersive, open space, VR training ground. The basketball court-sized game pad keeps track of a soldier’s movements through the use of a rubber pad and a weapon-mounted controller. The limitations of the game and the environment allow for the troops to train on responses to incoming fire of different kinds, but they can’t jump for cover and they will never be as tired in the training simulator as they might be after days of dismounted patrols in the real world. The system’s benefit is that it is a way to train for scenarios that the Army cannot recreate and allows for troops to familiarize themselves with the weapons and equipment they’ll carry in a real-world situation.
Full Spectrum Warrior (Xbox)
In 2004, game producer THQ and The U.S. Army-funded Institute for Creative Technologies dropped “Full Spectrum Warrior.” Recognizing that millennials coming into the military since 2000 grew up playing video games, the Army’s Science and Tech community created this first attempt at leveraging video games for training purposes. There were two versions of “Full Spectrum Warrior,” the one released to the public, and the one used as a training tool. The Army’s version is unlocked via a static code (HA2P1PY9TUR5TLE) on the code input screen. The player issues orders and directions to virtual fire teams and squad members, over whom he does not directly control. Another version of the game, called “Full Spectrum Command,” would be introduced later for company-level commanders.
Tactical Iraqi (PC)
The “Tactical Iraqi Language and Culture Training System” brought scenario-based PC gameplay to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines before their Surge deployment to Iraq in 2007. The game was developed to teach Iraqi situational language and gestures as well as cultural nuances in a virtual world that could be applied to real-world deployments. It brought Marines face-to-face with Iraqis during simulated missions. The game reduced several months of cultural training to 80 hours of computer-based training.
America’s Army (PC, Xbox)
“America’s Army” is not just a game, it’s a series of games. The U.S. Army developed and published this first-person shooter to provide a virtual soldier experience that was “engaging, informative, and entertaining.” Since its initial inception on PC in 2002, it has grown to include iterations on Xbox, Xbox 360, arcade, and mobile apps. The platform has also extended to other government training platforms to further train troops. The latest iteration, “America’s Army: Real Heroes” featured specific, real-world soldiers who have distinguished themselves in combat. The series has won dozens of awards, including Best Action Game of E3 by GameSpy and Best First Person Shooter from Wargamer.
Virtual Battlespace 2
“Virtual Battlespace 2” (or VBS2) gives instructors the ability to create custom battlefield simulations that engage the players (read: soldiers) from multiple viewpoints. Like “Full Spectrum Warrior,” it also gives soldiers the ability to issue orders to squad members. As of 2012, the game was still being used for Basic Combat Training scenarios. It teaches land nav, combat scenarios, and platoon-level group strategies. The biggest advantage of using VBS2 is that new soldiers learn from their mistakes more easily and faster, with fewer consequences than say, getting lost in the woods in a land nav exercise.
Just imagine the shocking scenario where the U.S. angered China, Russia, Iran, and its traditional allies like the UK and France. Now imagine if these countries formed a unified coalition to attack the U.S. How long would the U.S. be able to hold them off? Which tactics would it deploy? What role will its citizens play?
In this debut episode of the WATM podcast, the boys of the editorial team discuss how this idea might play out.
The podcast is hosted by bunch of vets who live and breathe all things weapons, tactics, and mil-tech. Here’s who they are:
In an interview with We Are The Mighty, the man behind the camouflage pattern, Guy Cramer of HyperStealth Biotechnologies, says there were very specific reasons why the Afghan army chose the uniforms it did, and that it wasn’t a decision imposed by the Pentagon.
1. The camouflage is actually perfect for the environment
Pentagon watchdogs argue the Afghan army uniform is built in a pattern that won’t help conceal soldiers in about 98 percent of Afghanistan’s environment. The country is mostly desert, rock or arid (think the New Mexico or Arizona mountains) and the green-heavy pattern the Afghan army adopted isn’t suited to most of the battlefields soldiers would fight in.
Cramer told us, however, that at the time the army adopted its pattern, most of the fighting was going on in the agricultural areas of Afghanistan’s south, among ribbons of lush growth flanking irrigation canals and croplands.
The pattern adopted by the Afghan army is similar to one that was developed for a competition in the U.S. Army to find an alternative to the gray-green Universal Camouflage Pattern the service began fielding in 2003. Cramer engineered so-called the US4CES family of patterns that in some tests performed far better than the MultiCam pattern the Army eventually settled on.
One of the things Cramer builds into his patterns is technology to help conceal soldiers at night, not just in daylight. Pentagon watchdogs claim there were several U.S. patterns available for the Afghans to choose from, including the UCP one and the old-style “Battle Dress Uniform” analog pattern.
But Cramer says the UCP and others “glows” at night when seen through night vision — a technology that’s becoming increasingly available to insurgents and terrorists.
The Afghan pattern is designed to help conceal soldiers during night operations, which are increasingly part of the Afghan army’s tactics.
3. It sets the army apart
Sure, Pentagon watchdogs point fingers — and possibly rightly so — at then Afghan defense minister Abdul Rahim Wardak for his focus on fashion instead of utility in picking the AFPAT over other patterns like BDUs and desert digital. But Cramer says one of the things Wardak was looking to do was to set his forces apart from the rest of the hodgepodge of Afghanistan’s security forces.
“He wanted it to be distinct,” Cramer said. “The ANA is highly respected in Afghanistan and he wanted his troops to look different.”
Sounds kinda like the Marine Corps, doesn’t it?
Also, and potentially more importantly, Cramer argues that making a distinct, licensed pattern for the ANA is safer for the troops because it’s harder for insurgents to disguise themselves as friendlies and infiltrate bases.
“Anyone can get their hands on BDUs,” he added.
In fact, there have been several incidents in Afghanistan where insurgents have slipped inside friendly lines wearing Army UCP-pattern uniforms, and the Afghan army wanted to avoid that at all costs, Cramer said.
The fur is flying over the alleged “waste” of $28 million in an Afghan uniform that’s suitable for just 2 percent of Afghanistan’s terrain (if you just include “forest” as your measure), and there’s certainly a lot of waste, fraud and abuse to go around when it comes to bankrolling America’s Afghan allies.
But as with any Washington kerfuffle over Pentagon spending, there’s at least a little more to it than meets the eye.
Before the advent of stealth technology, the variable that mattered more than any other in terms of tactical aircraft survivability and lethality was speed. So in 1955 the U.S. Air Force issued a request for a high-altitude, long-range bomber that could go Mach 3 while carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload. After a few trips to the drawing board and some mods to the Air Force’s requirements, North American Aviation was awarded a developmental contract based on their submission.
Enter the B-70 Valkyrie, a revolutionary scream-machine that was nearly four times as fast as the legacy B-52s it was designed to replace. The Valkyrie was huge — 185 feet long and 30 feet tall with a maximum takeoff weight at a whopping 542,000 pounds. The bomber was powered by six General Electric J-93GE turbojet engines that could each deliver 30,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. But it’s massive size and power was belied by sleek lines that made it arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing aircraft ever built.
The B-70 had a crew of four — a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defense systems operator each seated in comfortable cocoons with clamshell doors. In the event of an emergency each cocoon could rocket away from the aircraft individually.
The Valkyrie used “compression lift” — a phenomenon that occurs when a conical body (the fuselage) under the center of a wing pushes air to the sides, which increases pressure and therefore lift — to travel upwards of 7,500 nautical miles supersonic. At takeoff the wingtips were straight, but a high speeds they’d angle down as much as 65 degrees to create the necessary compression.
The bomber had a number of unorthodox moving parts including movable canards on the nose and a ramp in front of the windscreen that would raise at high speed to create a more aerodynamic airframe (and it also gave the pilot very poor visibility in that regime).
Mach 3 creates a lot of air friction, and friction creates heat, so the Valkyrie was built with honeycomb stainless steel and (sparingly, like 9 percent) titanium, which was expensive and in short supply back in those days.
North American was funded to built a single test aircraft — designated the XB-70 — at a cost of $750 million. The inaugural test flight was delayed by maintenance and other technical issues by three years. All of the Valkyrie’s revolutionary subsystems came with their own problems — honeycomb structures broke, hydraulic systems hemorrhaged fluid, and control surfaces didn’t fit right.
At the same time the tactical world began to change. Better ICBMs made Air Force planners wonder whether they needed long-range bombers at all. And the introduction of the Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile rendered even the speedy B-70 vulnerable. Based on these factors as well as the projected cost of the Valkyrie, the Eisenhower administration grew sour on the program. The Air Force reduced the program funding to a single asset that would be used for experimental research testing only.
But the presidential election of 1960 changed the landscape. President Kennedy believed the Valkyrie was important in the arms race. The program budget was upped by $265 million and the test plan was reworked to include warfare capabilities and not just research.
A year later the Kennedy administration understood the Eisenhower administration’s issues with the airplane, and the Valkyrie was once again relegated to a research program — however the requirement was reworded with the caveat that if the Air Force requirement necessitated the need for the B-70 the program would be quickly modified to also test for combat operational capabilities.
The Valkyrie’s maiden flight occurred on May 11, 1964 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The plan was to take the airplane supersonic on the first flight, but a landing gear problem kept them subsonic. The XB-70 also had a minor hydraulic fire but managed to land safely.
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in flight. (Official USAF photo)
The airplane finally went supersonic on it’s third test flight and eventually broke a number of speed records including 70 sustained minutes of supersonic flight, 50 of them at greater than Mach 2.
But the test team also discovered that extended supersonic flight punished the airframe beyond its existing design limits, and they had to modify parts of the intake system and fuselage as the test plan went forward.
The first XB-70 reached Mach 3 only once — on it’s 18th test flight on October 14, 1965 — and that speed did substantial damage to the leading edge of one of the wings. (Luckily nothing was sucked into the intakes.) After that the airplane was limited to no greater than Mach 2.5.
A second XB-70 was built after comprehensive wind tunnel testing that yielded a modified design of the intake system, the hydraulics, and the wings. The new design made the airplane more stable, especially at high speeds. On May 19, 1966 the second Valkyrie flew Mach 3 for 33 minutes.
But test problems persisted. One flight forced test pilot Joe Cotton to jump a circuit breaker with a paper clip to get the landing gear to come down. (Basically, a $750 million airplane was saved with a 39 cent paperclip.)
Then one of the contractors pushed the notion of a “family photo,” an idea that proved to be the true beginning of the end for the Valkyrie. General Electric wanted to use a private Learjet to shoot both film and still photos of the XB-70 flying in formation with a T-38, F-4, F-104, and an F-5 — all GE-powered jets.
The requisite approvals were obtained, and on June 8, 1966 the four Air Force test jets launched to rendezvous with the XB-70 at the end of a test event. The five-jet formation flew around the Edwards AFB airspace for about 40 minutes without incident while the Learjet got the desired footage and photos. But as the formation was breaking up to return to base, disaster struck.
The F-104 drifted left until its left wing hit the XB-70’s right wing. At that point the Starfighter flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (who was flying the F-104) and Carl Cross (the XB-70’s co-pilot who was on his first Valkyrie flight) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape crew capsule moments prior to ejection.
The investigation concluded that Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70’s wing. The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70’s right wingtip as the reason for the F-104’s sudden roll over and into the bomber. There was also a lot of CYA and finger-pointing among Air Force leadership regarding who had actually approved the “family photo,” and ultimately the punishment for improperly vetting the event fell to the lowest levels of the chain of command.
Although the remaining Valkyrie continued to fly test events, the mishap crushed any chance of the airplane being used as an operational asset. On February 4, 1969 the XB-70 flew to Wright-Patterson AFB to be made into an exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force — the final flight for a powerful and visually stunning airplane the likes of which will never be seen again.
We’re hoping the top leaders in your unit don’t have your cellphone number, but if they do, the text messages you may someday receive probably won’t be fun to read.
There’s a way of gauging the level of trouble you’re in by the person who contacts you about your offense. The first and less severe level is your shop LPO (Leading Petty Officer). The second level is your chief and the third and most severe level is your Command Master Chief, also known as the CMC.
It’s never a good thing if your CMC skipped this chain to contact you directly. Here are nine text messages you’ll dread receiving from master chief:
1. Why is your liberty buddy in my office and you’re not?
You and your buddy submitted liberty plans agreeing to watch over each other during the weekend. Now you’re at your girlfriend’s place wondering what kind of trouble your buddy has gotten both of you in.
2. It’s called Cinderella liberty for a reason shipmate. WHERE THE F–K ARE YOU?!
Cinderella liberty means that you have to be on the ship by midnight. You haven’t earned overnight liberty at your new command. Do you play the new guy card and say you got lost or do you stay out all night and live it up while you can?
3. You better be dead, hurt or kidnapped. There’s no excuse for missing ship’s movement.
The CMC is right, there’s no excuse for missing ship’s movement. It had better been worth it, don’t expect to go on liberty for a long time.
4. Last minute change, your duty section is doing load-in tomorrow. Muster time is 0600.
The CMC doesn’t actually believe you’re sober on the last night before pulling out to sea. But he’s the CMC, so whatever he says, goes. Stop drinking now and prepare for a full day of intensive labor.
5. I’m not approving this marriage chit until I talk to you.
But CMC, I love this woman. I know she’s a little older, and her English isn’t great, but I think it’s time. We’ve been dating for six months.
6. I need to talk to you about chief’s Captain’s Mast tomorrow. Come to my office.
Do you comply with the CMC and lie at Captain’s Mast or do you throw him and the chief under the bus?
7. I just got a call from the MAs. Your entire shop is being accused of hazing the new guy.
Hazing is an egregious offense in today’s Navy. You and your shop will be the example for what not to do for years to come.
8. I just got a call from security. Your duty driver was in a wreck and he was drunk.
You’ve just lost your duty section leadership position. In the CMC’s mind, that idiot is a direct reflection of your leadership.