As kids growing up, we played games to pass the time, entertain ourselves, and meet other youngsters our age. It was an innocent time.
In the military, it’s sort of the same — except the games are much darker.
Spending the majority of your day either stuck on a ship, humping a pack in the field, or just bored as hell in the barracks, tends to give service members ampul time to come up with simple, low-cost games to play.
Warning: these do not necessarily reflect the most noble moments of our military heritage — but they sure are entertaining!
1. Don’t Fall Asleep
You could consider this a prank or a game.
The military grants you at least 8 hours of rest per night, supposedly. Don’t be so sure that when you manage to sneak a cat nap here or there that someone isn’t out to get you, even if they’re on your side.
These service members found out the hard way.
2. F*ck, Marry, Kill
This one is probably self-explanatory, but Dale Doback from 2008’s Step Brothers (played by John C. Reilly) is going to explain.
3. No Balls
This game is almost like truth or dare, minus the truth option.
It’s no secret that men and women sometimes talk themselves up in front of their comrades to boost their image to gain respect. We’ve all experienced it at some point or another and maybe even done it ourselves.
The best time to call out “no balls” is after a tough talker makes a strong arm claim and no one else expects it. Seeing everyone’s shocked reaction of “will they do it?” could be priceless.
4. Nut Tap/ The Gator/ Nut Check
The various names of this game are endless.
Out of all the games, this is probably the most dangerous and most painful one. It can leave your fellow gamers fuming at you for extended periods of time, but who cares. It’s hilarious!
This game is typically controlled under false pretenses as getting you mark into proper position can be challenging.
5. Playing Picasso
You’re the last man in the office, as you secure the spaces you notice John Doe has left his CAC inserted (so to speak) into a government computer and he’s gone for the day. Game on!
A Common Access Card (or CAC — please don’t call it a CAC card) is just as important for civilians and active duty members to have in their possession while on base as a driver’s license while operating a motor vehicle. Once you’ve retrieved the CAC, its time to teach the forgetful service member a small, but useful lesson.
Time to create your masterpiece!
These games are meant to be conducted out of good wholesome fun. So don’t be that guy who goes overboard.
What military games did you play? Asking for a friend…
The Cold War was an interesting time for America. Any idea which gave the U.S. an edge over the Soviet Union, real or perceived, tangible or psychological, was considered a viable field of study. This spirit of innovation as many benefits as it did questionable plans. For example, as the the U.S. planned to put a man on the moon, the U.S. had been planning to nuke the moon for at least a decade. The biggest outcome of the crazy innovation of the Cold War has to be “I can’t believe they tried something so crazy” stories on the Internet, like the one you’re currently reading.
In 1959, the Navy submarine Barbero had a Post Office branch onboard. Before leaving Norfolk, the office took on 3,000 postal covers (envelopes with special stamps, all cancelled, designed especially to be collectors items) addressed to government figures, among them President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The Barbero was also loaded with a special Regulus cruise missile. Its nuclear warhead was removed and replaced with two post office mail containers. The target was the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Mayport. 22 minutes after launch, the Regulus hit its target.
Excited and overly optimistic Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield declared the delivery was “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world. This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation… before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
We weren’t really, but isn’t it great to have a Postmaster General who is that excited about delivering the mail in a timely way?
By this time, air mail allowed for mail to cross the ocean in a day, so the need for such high speed, costly, and non-reusable delivery services were not really destined for widespread use. In a nod to the idea of missile mail, Rocket Mail — one of the earliest major free email services on the Internet — before being acquired by Yahoo! in 1997.
Over the years Hollywood has shed both positive and negative light on the military experience. While the biographical examples might face severe scrutiny over matters of accuracy, here are 8 fictional military characters who inarguably wouldn’t cut it in the real deal:
1. Ensign Charles Beaumont Parker – “McHale’s Navy”
When the military is used as the basis for a sitcom, it’s inevitable that some of the troops won’t exactly be up to snuff. Ensign Parker brings that to another level, actively causing harm to U.S. and Allied Forces. (The show takes place during World War II.) He accidentally fires a depth charge in one episode, and in another accidentally shoots down an Allied aircraft. That’s a level of ineptitude the United States military wouldn’t and frankly couldn’t stand for.
2. Buster Bluth – “Arrested Development”
Buster is enlists in “Army,” as he calls it, due to a dare a comedian makes to his mother. And lucky for him, he’s immediately honorably discharged after having his hand bit off by a seal. In season 4, he re-enlists to control drones in Iraq. Buster has a blast – until someone explains to him that what he’s doing is real, and he immediately has a panic attack. Then again, Buster once had a panic attack because a llama was near him. He might tell you he’s in Army, but he isn’t Army Strong.
3. Beetle Bailey – “Beetle Bailey”
One thing you certainly can’t be in any branch of the military is lazy, and Beetle Bailey is perhaps the laziest of them all. He’ll do anything to get out of work, including putting his fellow soldiers, and commanding officers, at serious risks. Luckily, the characters at Camp Swampy don’t seem to face any particular risk of war being declared, and therefore will likely avoid any form of actual combat. If they did face an enemy attack, or were sent to fight someplace, chances are Beetle Bailey would be too lazy to even raise his arms.
4. Gareth Keenan – “The Office” (BBC version)
There’s no real reason to doubt Gareth Keenan when he claims he was a Lieutenant in the Territorial Army before joining Wernam-Hogg, aside from how utterly clueless he seems to be when Tim and Dawn quiz him about tactical strategy. Gareth talks a big game, always being prepared to take a man from behind, give a man a lethal blow, or even discharge with rapid speed if enemies should uncover and enter his hole — you know, find out where he’s hiding. The fact Gareth never seems to understand the double entendres behind his own boasts kind of makes him look foolish, perhaps too foolish to actually achieve any kind of rank.
5. Zapp Brannigan – “Futurama”
Zapp may be a 25-Star General in the Year 3000, buts its impossible to imagine he’d last a single day in any branch of the U.S. military. No part of Brannigan’s success makes sense. Although Brannigan’s Law is named after him, he openly admits he doesn’t understand it in the slightest. In fact, most of Brannigan’s successes are subjugating and annihilating weak and defenseless aliens, which, while smart satire, isn’t something that would actually be tolerated in the military.
6. Don Draper – “Mad Men”
Don’s a special case on this list, in that his whole story is that he quite literally couldn’t make it in the military. As fans now know, Draper’s mystery actually began with him as Dick Whitman, but things dramatically changed during the Korean War. Terrible things happen during war, and its hard to say how any individual would react when faced with the horrors Whitman and his Lieutenant, the real Don Draper, faced. But what’s clear is Whitman’s reaction is highly illegal and wouldn’t be tolerated in any military.
7. Homer Simpson – “The Simpsons”
Homer Simpson has had over 100 jobs, and he’s been terrible at nearly every one of them. His time in the service still manages to rank among his most inept. Homer actually joined the service twice—first as a member of the Navy Reserve in Season 9, then in Season 18 he enlisted in the Army. As a member of the Navy Reserve, Homer nearly caused a nuclear war with Russia, and in the Army he turned a training exercise into a city-wide explosive event. The military always welcomes recruits, but Homer should probably stick to his hundreds of other jobs.
8. Dave Titus – “Titus”
Everyone in the Titus family seems to think it would be a great idea for Dave to join the Army. It could teach him responsibility and get him to stop doing drugs and being lazy. However, his brother Christopher sees it a different way: the Army isn’t going to bring Dave up; Dave’s going to bring the Army down. Fearing “Private Dave” could somehow cause nuclear destruction, Christopher gives Dave some pot to smoke on the way to recruitment, hoping this story will find a less destructive end.
China has made excellent progress developing its second aircraft carrier, and Chinese state-run media says it could start patrolling the South China Sea by 2019.
The South China Morning Post, based on a scan of Chinese state media reports, states that the carrier was “taking shape.”
“It will be used to tackle the complicated situations in the South China Sea,” said Chinese media.
The “complicated situation” the media report referred to stems from Beijing’s claims to about 85% of the South China Sea, which sees $5 trillion in trade annually. China has developed a network of artificially built, militarized islands in the region, and at times has unilaterally declared “no fly” or “no sail” zones.
In 2016, the International Court of Arbitration ruled these claims illegal, and the Trump administration has promised to put a stop to China’s aggressive, unlawful behavior.
But that’s easier said than done, and a designated aircraft carrier in the region could help cement China’s claims.
China’s second carrier, likely to be named the “Shangdong” after a Chinese port city, will resemble the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, which itself is a refurbished Soviet model.
China’s carriers, like Russia’s sole carrier the Admiral Kuznetzov, feature a ski-slope design. US models, on the other hand, use catapults, or devices that forcefully launch the planes off the ship. Ski-slope style carriers can’t launch the heavy bomb-and-fuel-laden planes that US carriers can, so their efficacy and range are severely limited.
But Taylor Mavin, a UC San Diego graduate student in international affairs, notes for Smoke and Stir that these smaller, Soviet-designed carriers were built with the idea of coastal defense, not seaborne power projection, being the main goal:
“Since a major confrontation between NATO and Warsaw Pact would most likely take place in Europe, during the later Cold War Soviet planners focused on protecting the heavily defended ‘bastions’ shielding their ballistic missile submarines and not seaborne power projection.
China’s navy has undergone rapid modernization in the last few years with particular emphasis on fielding submarines. So while a Chinese carrier couldn’t travel to say, Libya, and project power like a US carrier could, it might just be custom made for the South China Sea.
But don’t expect the world’s most populous nation to stop at two carriers. A recent report from Defense News states that satellite imagery from China shows the nation developing catapults to possibly field on a US-style carrier.
Taken in concert with China’s other efforts to create anti-access/area-denial technology like extremely long-range missiles, the US will have to have its work cut out for it in trying to offer any meaningful counter to China’s expansionism in the Pacific.
A U.S. Navy Coastal Patrol ship intercepted an illegal arms shipment traveling on a small cargo ship in the Arabian Gulf, confiscating hundreds of AK-47 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades and .50-Cal. Machine Guns.
The shipment, originating from Iran, was believed to be bound for Yemen to support Houthi rebels fighting the Yemeni government, Navy officials told Scout Warrior.
The USS Gravely, a guided missile destroyer, was called in to support the Coastal Patrol ship, the USS Sirocco, Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th fleet, told Scout Warrior.
“Intelligence led us to determine we might find something,” Stephens added. “They talked over maritime radio and sent a boarding team over.”
The illicit cargo included 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers, and 21 .50 caliber machine guns, a Navy statement said.
“This seizure was the third time in recent weeks international naval forces operating in the waters of the Arabian Sea seized a shipment of illicit arms which the United States assessed originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen. The weapons are now in U.S. custody awaiting final disposition,” the statement continued.
Citing the ongoing civil war in Yemen, Stephens added that sending illegal weapons to an insurgent group will only make a difficult problem works.
“The Houthis are an insurgent group which seized control of the country and ousted the legitimate government. It is a disastrous humanitarian situation,” Stephens explained.
A potential factor behind the US support for the legitimate Yemeni government is their collaboration with the US on counterterrorism activities fighting Al Qaeda in the country.
Alongside efforts to support the ongoing air attacks against ISIS from the Arabian Gulf, the Navy is also invested in protecting what they call the “global commons.” This includes a series of strategically significant waterways essential to trade, shipping and other maritime activities. With this in mind, the Navy routinely conducts anti-piracy and counterterrorism operations in the region.
During the Cold War, the American nuclear deterrent strategy required coming up with ways to guarantee the survival of nuclear weapons if the Soviets managed a surprise first strike. The surviving devices would then be used to destroy Soviet civilization.
Keeping U.S. nukes out of Soviet crosshairs required a lot of imagination. The Americans had to keep the nukes deeply buried or constantly on the move. Then they had to make sure the surviving devices could be used effectively.
One such scheme was outfitting a full-size Minuteman III Inter-continental Ballistic Missile to fit in the back of a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft, dumping the nuke out the back and triggering the ICBM’s full ignition sequence.
Minuteman III ICBMs carry multiple warheads bound for separate targets. This makes the Minuteman III the ideal missile for the mobile nuclear weapon strategy. At 60 feet long and 78,000 pounds, the missile is easily carried by the gargantuan aircraft.
The C-5 Galaxy’s maximum payload is an amazing 285,000 pounds and the aircraft itself is just under 248 feet long. With an operational range of 5,250 nautical miles, the C-5 can fly from Dover Air Force Base to the Middle East without having to refuel.
Launching a fully functional ICBM out the back of an aircraft inflight might sound crazy, but the Air Force first tested this concept successfully in 1974.
Marines traditionally carry out their attacks from the sea. In fact, their most legendary battles started with amphibious assaults: Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and even Chosin.
Practicing for such assaults was a regular thing, but between the War on Terror and budget cuts, the 1st Marine Division and 3rd Marine Air Wing hadn’t carried out an exercise like this in a while. According to a report from the Orange County Register, though, that has since changed.
The 3rd Marine Air Wing’s “Winter Fury” exercise, involving AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets, AH-1Z Vipers, UH-1Y Venoms, CH-53 Sea Stallions, MV-22 Ospreys, and KC-130J Hercules tanker/transports alongside drones, like the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-21 Blackjack, has been combined with the 1st Marine Division’s “Steel Knight” exercise, which involves a battalion of infantry and supporting assets. This is the first time in a decade that these exercises have been combined.
The exercise simulates storming ashore to create an air field and refueling point behind enemy lines. In essence, it’s a smaller-scale version of the 1950 Inchon landing, a key battle in the initial United Nations counter-attack of the Korean War that saw nearly all of North Korea liberated from the regime of Kim Il-Sung.
In World War II, the Marine Corps carried out similar operations throughout the “island hopping” campaign, often bypassing large numbers of Japanese troops, leaving the outposts to “wither on the vine.” During the Cold War, the Marines practiced similar operations for use in Norway against a Soviet invasion. Even in the War on Terror, the Marine Corps carried out a similar operation when they seized Camp Rhino from the Taliban.
The aircraft, which have been launching strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since July, are now conducting high-intensity, seven-day-a-week operations to protect the ground forces moving into Mosul.
Rear Adm. James Malloy, the commander of the Eisenhower carrier strike group, told Military.com in an exclusive interview this week that the crew of the carrier has been tireless as conditions on the ground intensify.
“The sailors are motivated and focused and understand the sense of urgency with this enemy,” he said. “And the ground [conditions are] a direct result of naval power projected ashore. So it’s pretty easy to explain to them both what they’re doing and the effect that they’re having on the enemy.”
The carrier, which deployed in June, launched about 116 airstrikes on Islamic State targets during its transit through the Eastern Mediterranean sea, and more than 1,330 since its arrival in the Arabian Gulf as of Sunday, Malloy said. But these numbers, he noted, did not take into account the aircraft that were at that moment in the air over Mosul.
While strikes have been ongoing in and around Mosul for months in anticipation of the last major offensive into the city, operations have changed in recent weeks as the assault began.
Navy pilots are destroying fewer deliberate targets — fixed objectives they’re assigned to hit before they launch from the carrier deck — and more dynamic targets, often moving objectives that they are assigned after they arrive in the region and check in with the air controller.
Nearly 90 percent of strikes launched from the Eisenhower are now assaulting dynamic targets, Malloy said.
“The reason why [dynamic] targeting is much more critical now is because that is in direct support of troops on the ground moving against the enemy,” he said. “So by the time the pilots get to their targets from the carrier, the forward line of troops may have moved and the surgical precision of Navy air is critical to be able to impact the battle as it is occurring.”
Typical dynamic targets are command and control nodes and key areas where Islamic State militants will attempt to conduct resupply and ground maneuver in response to being attacked.
“They are being targeted as they try to do that, so we are accelerating the ground campaign with the airstrikes,” Malloy said.
The Eisenhower will likely remain in the region for several more months until its deployment concludes. On Thursday, multiple media outlets reported that Iraqi and Peshmerga troops, shored up with a small contingent of U.S. advisers, had finally breached the limits of Mosul.
For the Super Hornets, known for speed, precision and maneuverability, it’s an opportunity to show off what they can do.
“As a major offensive is occurring, the dynamic targeting capability of the aircraft come to fore,” Malloy said. “And that is where they shine for the most part: their responsive capability from the air.”
While other senior citizens were enjoying a quiet life in retirement, 71-year-old Billy Waugh was hunting for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and blowing Taliban fighters to smithereens.
As a member of a CIA team sent in shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Waugh battled militants at Tora Bora and helped bring about the collapse of the Taliban. It seemed a pretty good ending to a career that featured combat in Korea and Vietnam, surveilling Libya’s military, tracking international terrorists, and God-only-knows-what-else for the CIA.
Waugh was born in 1929 in Texas and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948. After completing airborne school he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. But he was eager to get into combat, and he reenlisted in 1951 so he could get to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. Then the Korean war ended, and his career veered off into “black ops” territory once he joined the Special Forces in 1954.
His life after that reads like the most badass resume we’ve ever seen: Five tours with Special Forces “A” teams in Vietnam and Laos where he was wounded multiple times, working for the CIA’s Special Activities Division in Libya, preventing the Russians from stealing classified missile secrets on the Kwajalein Atoll, and helping to hunt down the infamous terrorist Carlos “The Jackal,” which he later detailed in a book.
In that same book, “Hunting The Jackal,” Waugh also writes of the time he survived a major North Vietnamese Army attack in Vietnam, where he was shot in the head.
“I took another bullet, this time across the right side of my forehead. I don’t know for sure, but I believe the bullet ricocheted off the bamboo before striking me. It sliced in and out of a two-inch section of my forehead, and it immediately started to bleed like an open faucet,” Waugh wrote. “It sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but you know it’s a bad day when the best thing about it is getting shot in the head.”
The bullet had knocked him unconscious, and the NVA soldiers who later inspected his body thought he was dead. Though the enemy soldiers had taken his gear, clothing, and Rolex watch, he was left alone where he was hit, and his comrades later landed on a helicopter and saved his life.
“If you were going up there, you were either going to die or get shot all to hell,” Waugh told The Miami New-Times of his team’s work in Vietnam. “Everyone in the outfit was wounded once, twice, three times.”
He officially retired from the Army at the rank of Sergeant Major in 1972, though he had been working for the CIA since 1961 and would continue to work for the agency over the years as an operative or contractor. His military awards include the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, four Army Commendation medals, and eight Purple Hearts for wounds in combat.
Waugh has often lived in the shadows at the forefront of America’s wars. Long before Osama bin Laden would be known as U.S. public enemy number one, he was tracking the terror mastermind’s every move in Sudan and put forth several plans to take him out.
“I was within 30 meters of him,” Waugh told Air Force journalist Nick Stubbs in 2011. “I could have killed him with a rock.”
In between his time in uniform and paramilitary garb, Waugh earned a Bachelor’s and Masters Degree, and he still lectures young soldiers on the art of surveillance, according to Dangerous Magazine. But it’s apparently not all PowerPoint and boredom for the now-85-year-old.
Waugh, who now lives in northwest Florida, still lists himself as a “contractor for my present outfit” on his website. So the next time something bad happens to America’s enemies, he may be part of the reason why.
“If the mind is good and the body is able, you keep on going if you enjoy it,” Waugh told Stubbs. “Once you get used to that [life of adventure], you’re not about to quit. How could you want to do anything else?”
Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman, the “Boat Guys” in all those Navy SEALs photos, are a small and elite bunch of warriors who don’t get nearly enough credit for their contribution to American security.
Here’s what makes the “SEALs Taxi Service” so lethal.
First, yes, they have SEALs on the boats. When your payload is Navy SEALs, that’s a pretty big plus in the lethality department.
And the Navy isn’t afraid to recruit potential candidates while they’re still young. Scout teams go into the community to seek out talented individuals who might be interested in a special operations career.
In the 1950s France, in the midst of dealing with insurgencies in its colonies in Algeria and Indochina, recognized a military need for easily transportable artillery that could quickly be deployed to the front lines. It happened upon one very novel solution: a militarized Vespa scooter with a built-in armor-piercing gun.
The Vespa 150 TAP, built by French Vespa licensee ACMA, was designed expressly to be used with the French airborne special forces, the Troupes Aéro Portées (TAP).
The Vespa TAP was designed to be airdropped into a military theater fully assembled and ready for immediate action. This high level of mobility made the TAP the perfect anti-guerilla weapon, since enemy irregulars could appear at a moment’s notice even in remote locations.
Outfitted with an M20 recoilless rifle, the TAP proved more than capable of destroying makeshift fortifications used by guerrillas in Algeria and Indochina. The M20 was designed as an anti-tank recoilless rifle that was outfitted with a high-explosive anti-tank warhead. Under ideal circumstances, the rifle could penetrate 100mm of armor from 7,000 yards away.
The M20 outfitted on the Vespa was never actually meant to be fired while the vehicle was in motion. Instead, the Vespa frame functioned as a way of transporting the artillery to the front line. Once there, the rifle would be removed from the Vespa and placed on a tripod for accurate firing.
Remarkably, aside for a slight overhaul of the engine, plus the inclusion of the rifle and ammunition mounts, the standard Vespa and the TAP were designed almost identically. The TAP had a strengthened frame and lower gearing, but besides that it drives just as any Vespa would.
About 500 total TAPs were produced throughout the 1950s.
However ingenious the TAP was, the vehicle was never used outside of the French military during engagements in Algeria and French Indochina.
Like most national celebrations and holidays, Cinco de Mayo started with honest intent, connected to some important historical event, but was eventually commercialized into a booze-filled party absorbed by outside cultures. While a majority of people explain Cinco de Mayo as “the Mexican Fourth of July” in-between margarita sips, this isn’t correct either. As David E Hayes-Bautista, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the School of Medicine at UCLA, told Time, “Cinco de Mayo is part of the Latino experience of the American Civil War.”
In the early 1860s, Mexico had fallen in immense debt to France. That situation led Napoleon III, who had flirted with supporting the confederacy, to send troops to not only overtake Mexico City, but also to help form a Confederate-friendly country that would neighbor the South.
“The French army was about four days from Mexico City when they had to go through the town of Puebla, and as it happened, they didn’t make it,” Hayes-Bautista says. In a David-and-Goliath style triumph, the smaller and less-equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla, on the fifth of May of 1862. (The French army returned the following year and won, but the initial Mexican victory was still impressive.)
In May of 1942, U-boat 506 sank the freighter “Heredia” approximately 40 miles off New Orleans. Most of the crew onboard were merchant seamen, but there were also a handful of civilians including the Downs family, consisting of the parents, Ray and Ina, along with their two children, eight-year-old Sonny, and eleven-year-old Lucille. When the ship exploded, chaos ensued and Ina and Lucille were separated from Ray and Sonny who found refuge in a four-foot balsa wood life raft. Father and son were joined by the Heredia’s captain, Captain Edwin Colburn, and civilian George Conyea. The following narrative, excerpted from Michael Tougias’ new book “So Close to Home,” chronicles their final hours in the life raftwhen all hope seemed lost.
The baking rays of the sun pounded down on the four souls clinging to the square life raft, that was now partially submerged. If we don’t drown, thought Ray Downs, we’re going to die of dehydration. They had been drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for over fourteen hours, and Ray worried his boy Sonny wouldn’t last another hour.
Sonny was lost in his own exhausted stupor. Then he felt something against his leg. He glanced down and could not believe what he saw: a banana, perhaps the same one he had lost earlier, was bobbing in the water.
“Dad, look!” he gasped, reaching out and snatching the green banana.
“I knew you’d find it. I think that banana is really going to help us. Why don’t you unpeel it and take a big bite and then pass it around for all of us to share?”
Sonny did as he was told. It was a struggle to swallow his piece of the banana with his mouth and throat so dry. Twenty seconds later, he felt nauseous and vomited the banana bite back into the sea.
“Well, that didn’t work so well,” Ray said. “The banana wasn’t ripe anyway.”
Sonny only nodded. He was slumped forward with his head hanging so low that it almost reached his knees.
A few minutes later, Sonny said, “Dad, can we go in now?” He said it as if they were on a fishing trip and it was up to his father when to call it quits.
Rather than try to explain the situation, his father answered, “Soon, son, soon.”
Sonny looked up at his father and just nodded.
It wasn’t long after this exchange that Ray noticed fellow survivor George Conyea staring at something directly behind where Ray was sitting. Ray turned his head and saw not one but four grey shark fins lazily cutting through the sea just five feet away from the raft. When he looked over at Conyea and the captain, he saw another couple of fins. By now, all four of the survivors could see the sharks. No one said a word.
One shark turned toward the raft and then glided directly under it. The group could see the outline of its body as it passed directly beneath them. It looked to be about five to six feet long.
Sonny quickly pulled his feet out of the water.
“Take it easy, Sonny, don’t thrash around,” said his dad. “They’ll move on.”
But they didn’t move on.
The four survivors now counted seven different sharks making slow half-loops around the raft before making a pass directly underneath it. This was by far the most terrifying experience of the ordeal for both Sonny and the three adults. The raft was too small for the men to try and get their legs on top of the balsa wood. Ray was right: their best defense was not to make a commotion.
The men did not know what kind of sharks they were, only that they were as big as themselves. The life raft probably acted like a magnet for sharks, attracting their interest simply because it was a floating object, and the sharks, with their keen sense of smell, could also have been drawn in by the scent of the blood from the wound on Ray’s leg. And any movement the group made, such as switching position, would have caused a vibration in the water, and that too would attract sharks. It’s also possible that smaller fish were holding position under the shade of the raft, and the sharks came in to investigate this potential prey, and then became inquisitive about the humans.
Whatever kind of sharks were circling the Heredia survivors, they were curious and gradually moved in closer to the life raft, making their lazy half-loops just a couple of feet off the side of the raft before they submerged and swam directly under it. One shark, when passing under the raft, rolled on its back, and an anxious Sonny could see its half-opened mouth. The boy almost let out a scream, but his dad, who had seen the same thing, reached over and put his hand on Sonny’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, they are just checking us out. We are something new to them.”
Ray had no idea if what he was saying was true or not, but the last thing he needed was for his son to go into a panic. He also hoped his words calmed the captain and George Conyea, because they were as wide-eyed as Sonny, watching every move their new visitors made.
Ray felt despair like he had never known. Sundown was just three and a half hours away, and the thought of the sharks gliding beneath them at night was too terrible to contemplate. He felt absolutely helpless.
Minutes crawled by and the four survivors kept still, eyes glued on the fins lazily cutting through the water on all sides of the raft. The behavior of the sharks stayed the same; they came within a foot or two of the castaways but there was no direct contact with either the raft or the group’s legs or feet.
“How long will they stay?” asked Sonny, looking at his father.
“Don’t know, Sonny; but like I said, they are just curious.” Ray paused and continued his calming words: “If we don’t bother them, they won’t bother us.”
An hour went by and the group tried to ignore the sharks, but with little success. There was nothing else to look at, nothing else to take their mind off the seven fins circling them.
About two hours after the sharks first arrived, more fins appeared in the water not far from the raft. Sonny was terrified, thinking, not more sharks. . . .
Captain Colburn spoke up. “Hey, those are dolphins.”
Like the U-boat that had caused their ordeal, the sharks submerged and were not seen again.
Sonny experienced an incredible sense of relief and joy with the dolphins’ arrival and the sharks’ departure. He felt as if he had been holding his breath for the past two hours, afraid to move a muscle. There was no doubt in his mind that the dolphins had driven the sharks off to help him.
The dolphins’ presence not only relieved Sonny’s concern over the sharks, they also gave him something new to watch. Unlike the sharks, the dolphins swam quickly around the raft, their entire backs almost coming out of the water, and then briefly submerge and repeat the process. Up and down came their fins. But after just three or four minutes, they moved on and were gone from sight.
The group didn’t speak. Without the fear of sharks, their minds went back to the predicament of time running out for a rescue. It would be dark within the hour. Their thirst was unbearable and all felt extremely weak. Sonny was in the worst shape because of his small body. Now that the sun was low in the sky, he was shivering again. His father noticed and had him move back on his lap where he wrapped his big arms around the boy, trying to stop his shaking.
Sonny looked up at his father. “Shouldn’t a boat be here by now?” he asked.
Ray needed to keep his son’s mind occupied. So instead of discussing the lack of a rescue boat, he said “Let’s play a game. See those seagulls way up there? You choose one and I’ll choose one and we’ll count how long they go without flapping their wings. Whoever’s bird flies the longest without using its wings wins.”
Sonny perked up a bit. He didn’t really want to play the game because he was so chilled and his mouth so parched that he’d rather not talk. But he thought maybe this game was what his father needed to do.
“Okay, I’m picking the one over there,” Sonny said as he lethargically pointed at a shape off to the west.
“And I’ve got the one straight up,” answered Ray.
With heads tilted back, father and son watched the birds they had chosen. It was easy to look up because the sun was almost touching the ocean.
“Mine just flapped,” said Ray. “You win.”
Sonny gave a half-hearted nod.
“Well, let’s play another round,” said Ray.
Again they chose birds. Sonny chose one high in the sky and way off on the eastern horizon. This time the captain and George Conyea also looked up to see which birds the father and son chose. Anything to take their minds off their body’s demands for water.
Again Ray’s bird flapped its wings quickly. “You win again,” he said.
Sonny kept his eyes on his own bird. “Wow, Dad, mine is still going along without flapping.”
Ray looked closer at the bird in the distance.
“Captain, let me use your binoculars,” Ray said.
The captain removed the strap from around his neck and handed them to Ray, who hurriedly put the binoculars to his eyes. He adjusted the focus and stared intently at the bird far in the distance.
“That’s no seagull, it’s a plane!” he shouted.
“Yes, yes!” shouted the captain.
The survivors still could not hear its engines or tell what kind of plane it was, but there was no doubt it was a plane and that it was heading toward the raft.
“Quick, Sonny, take off the captain’s coat! I’ve got to get it on the board.”
Within seconds, Ray was waving the board with the white coat on it, and the others were waving their arms.
Ray couldn’t tell if the pilot had spotted the white coat, and the tension was unbearable. Please, please, he said to himself. His son’s very life was at stake. The boy could not make it through another cold night. He waved the white coat wildly.
As the plane drew closer, its metal skin briefly glittered when the sun’s rays hit it. Now they could hear the dull drone of the engine, and Sonny shouted “Help!”
“Keep waving the flag!” shouted the captain, his excitement growing. “It’s got to see us. It’s our last chance. I think it’s coming our way.”
Ray could make out the outline of the plane and, because of its unique construction, realized it was a Navy PBY. The single wing was elevated on a pylon above the fuselage rather than coming straight out from the sides. This allowed unobstructed visibility for its aviators to scan the ocean during either patrols for U-boats or search-and-rescue missions. Two engines with propellers were mounted on the wing, one on each side of the aircraft.
The plane came ever closer but it did not descend. Ray thought maybe it was going too fast to see them.
But Sonny’s heart soared. He was certain the plane was coming for them. And he was right. In one swift motion, the PBY started descending and adjusting its course slightly so it was just fifteen feet off the ocean and heading right toward the raft, banking hard so that Sonny could actually see the pilot, who was giving a thumbs-up. The boy let out a croak of joy along with the cheers of his father, the captain, and George Conyea.
The four raft passengers watched with awe as the plane circled back toward them. Its 104-foot wingspan and 63-foot length made it appear enormous so close to the water. Just as the plane was barreling over their location, they saw the pilot drop a package out the window, landing just ten feet from the raft. Using the board and their hands, all four survivors paddled furiously toward what they hoped was their salvation floating in the water.
The captain grabbed the package and ripped it open. Inside were two flares, a large container of water, and a note. The captain read the note out loud: “We will send shrimp boats to come and get you. If anyone is seriously hurt, wave me in and I’ll pick them up.”
Ray thought for a minute. He knew the plane was going to search for other survivors in the few minutes of daylight left and he didn’t want to slow it down. Someone, maybe Lucille or Ina, might be hurt and the plane could rescue them. He thought Sonny could make it the half hour or hour that he expected the shrimp boat to take to arrive.
The plane made a broad circle above the raft and then moved off.
“We made it, son,” said Ray; “we’ll be on the boat in no time.”
Then the captain passed the water container to Ray, saying, “Let’s all take a drink. We may want to let our bodies adjust to the water before we take a second drink.”
When Sonny took his gulp of water, he thought he had never tasted anything so good, so sweet. It was as if the water had magical powers, because he felt better immediately. He couldn’t wait for the container to come around again for his second drink of the life-giving fluid. But the captain said again that they shouldn’t drink too much all at once, and the other adults agreed.
A few minutes later the plane reappeared, then moved off. The survivors had no way of knowing that the pilot had dropped a note to shrimp boats a few miles off that said: “Watch my direction. Follow me. Pick up survivors in water.”
A half hour went by and the survivors bobbed on their little raft in the darkening shadows. They all had another drink of water, and the captain said that he thought a shrimp boat could reach them within the next half hour.
Sonny shivered in his father’s arms. The hydrating water had eased his thirst but did nothing for his growing hypothermia.
“That plane can land on water, right, Dad?”
“Then why didn’t they just do that and pick us up?”
“They needed more time in the air to find others. But the boat will be here soon.”
“What if the boat can’t find us?”
“They will. And remember, we’ve got flares to use if we see a boat.”
Sonny had forgotten about the flares. But he also wondered how his dad would see a boat in the distance in the pitch black of night.
More time went by. The sun had set, but the survivors could still differentiate between the horizon and the ocean in the twilight. Sonny had forgotten all about the sharks, but Ray hadn’t. Ray still scanned the dark ocean around the raft for any sign of a fin. He wondered what to do if a shark appeared and thought that should one come, he could use the strong light from a flare to scare it off. But with only two flares. . . .
The prospect of another night in the water scared Ray to the core—not for himself but his concern over Sonny, who he could feel shivering in his arms. He second-guessed himself about not waving in the plane. Now there was nothing he could do to change that decision.
Editor’s note: Michael Tougias is a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of 25 books including “The Finest Hours,” “A Storm Too Soon,” “Rescue of the Bounty,” “Overboard,” “Fatal Forecast,” “Ten Hours Until Dawn,” and “There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse.”
His latest work is an inspiring historical narrative titled “So Close to Home” that tells the story of all four members of the Downs family as they struggle for survival. Their story is contrasted against that of the daring U-boat commander, Erich Wurdemann, who pushed his crew to the limit of endurance as he laid waste to ships throughout the Gulf.