Propaganda cartoons play a big role in war by educating service members, encouraging the purchase of war bonds, and rallying the home front. The heyday of American propaganda cartoons was easily World War II, and a motley assortment of characters have been used to win the wars.
As a note, many of the war cartoons were deliberately racist towards the people of enemy nations, so expect some offensive imagery when viewing.
1. Private Snafu and his cigar-smoking Army fairy
Snafu was a young Army private who constantly got himself into trouble by complaining, shirking duty, or avoiding medicine and immunizations. In “Three Brothers,” Snafu wishes he had one his brothers’ jobs, and the cigar smoking fairy shows up to show Snafu what his brothers, Pvt. Tarfu and Pvt. Fubar, are doing for the war effort. Snafu was voiced by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny.
The Man of Steel did his part in World War II. Superman was generally depicted as a newspaperman in the States, fighting spies and saboteurs. But, he did take the fight to the enemy a few times, like in “The Eleventh Hour” when he began sabotaging Japanese industrial efforts.
4. Donald Duck and the Disney crew
Most of the Disney crew joined the war effort in different ways. Donald Duck famously took the fight to the enemy though. Oddly, the duck famous for his sailor uniform was typically depicted as being in the Army. Donald was even airborne. He makes his first jumps in “Sky Trooper” above, and eventually conducted a solo combat jump into Japan.
Of course, real world characters were recreated in the cartoon world, and the depictions of Axis leaders were not very flattering. In “The Ducktators,” Hirohito, Mussolini, and Hitler get depicted as zealous ducks. Other Nazi leaders were ridiculed beside Hitler in “Education for Death.”
7. Looney Tunes and the Gremlins
Like the Disney characters, Looney Tunes characters joined the war. In “Falling Hare,” Bugs Bunny goes up against gremlins that are trying to damage Allied aviation equipment.
Popeye the sailor man joined the military in World War II. Predictably, he joined the Navy. He appeared in a lot of cartoons including “Many Tanks,” and “Seeing Red, White, and Blue.” In the above video, “A Jolly Good Furlough,” he gets to visit his nephews and see the jobs they do in home defense.
9. Mr. Hook
Mr. Hook was part of a short-running series that began in 1943 where a vet of World War II looked back at his time in the conflict and described his exploits to his son. The dad would tell his son the importance of war bonds to America’s eventual victory and then celebrate all the money they made off the bonds when they finally matured.
When ships are fighting, the battles can take a long time. To give one example, the battle between a German wolfpack and convoy ONS 92 lasted from May 11 to May 14 — three days of constant ASW. Combat can take a toll on a crew, but so can not eating.
Today, it runs a little differently, given the higher expectations that sailors have about their food. Let’s look at one of the newest warships in the Danish Navy, the Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate HDMS Peter Willemoes. This frigate is powerful, carrying 32 RIM-66 SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, up to 16 RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 24 RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, a pair of 76mm guns, and a 35mm close-in weapon system. It also can operate a MH-60R helicopter and carry up to 165 personnel.
So, how can they quickly feed that crew, while still keeping a combat edge? Well, for one thing, the crews don’t get a lunch hour — they get six minutes to eat. That restriction means that the cooks can fix that meal and clean everything up in a grand total of 74 minutes.
As a result, that crew is refueled and ready to take on the enemy, whether in the air, on the surface, or underwater. The video below helps show how this is done – quickly and efficiently, so this ship can fight!
Clarence L. Tinker wasn’t always an airman, but he was always a warrior. I don’t mean that in the way that we call everyone in the military a “warrior” these days. I mean Tinker was not only an infantry officer, he was an Osage warrior from Oklahoma, and it makes perfect sense that the Air Force Base in Oklahoma City is named after him.
Spoiler alert: Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker was killed in World War II. He was actually the first general officer to die in the war. Before flying his last mission, however, he had the storied career of an old-school badass.
Tinker was born on the Osage nation in Oklahoma in 1887. He grew up speaking his native language and living like an Osage. He loved the old stories about Osage warriors and the Osage scouts who rode with American cavalry units. Though he had a traditional upbringing, he attended federally-funded schools for Native Americans, including Missouri’s Wentworth Military Academy, where his career began.
After a stint in the Philippine Constabulary, a national police force designed to take over the duties of Spain’s Guardia Civil during the American occupation of the islands, he was commissioned into the U.S. Army infantry in 1912.
He never made it to the trenches of World War I, but within a year after the war’s end, he was training for the future of the Army: the Air Service. He started flying lessons in 1919 and was officially transferred to the Air Service in 1922.
After graduating from the Army’s Command and General Staff School in 1926, he became the Assistant Military Attaché for Aviation in London. Shortly after arriving in Britain, he was flying with the U.S. Naval Attaché when the plane started having engine trouble. It went down near some cliffs and burst into flames.
Tinker, dazed, got up from the burning fuselage and ran clear. When he realized that his co-pilot was still in the flames, he went to rescue the unconscious man. Despite terrible burns and flames so hot that he couldn’t get closer at times, he managed to pull the man out and clear.
He would become the Commandant of the Air Corps Flying School in Texas, and would lead countless air units as their commander. By October 1940, he was promoted to Brigadier General. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shook the islands’ defensive posture, the Army sent Tinker to command the 7th Air Force and reorganize Hawaii’s defenses.
Like many airmen and Army generals in the Air Corps, Tinker believed that air power was the future of warfare and only a strong air force would turn the Japanese back, end the threat of Japanese aggression through long-range bombing and ultimately bring the Japanese Empire to its knees.
In 1942, Tinker was promoted to Maj. Gen. Tinker, becoming the first Native American to hold the rank and the highest ranking Native in the Army. He finally got his chance to show what strategic long-range bombing could do in combat in the Pacific Theater, but it would also be his undoing.
During the Battle of Midway, Tinker decided to fly a squadron of B-24 Liberator Bombers to meet the retreating Japanese ships, and deliver a heavier blow than their loss at MidWay already was. Somewhere along the way, his fellow airmen watched in horror as Tinker’s plane dove out of control and crashed into the ocean below.
Tinker and his 10 crew members were never found. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and six months after his death, the airfield in Oklahoma City was named Tinker Field, soon to be Tinker Air Force Base.
To this day, Osage natives sing songs about the Osage warriors who served in the U.S. military. Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker has a song of his own.
Featured photo: Tinker Air Force Base/Air Force Photo; inset: Clarence Tinker, Wikimedia Commons
The Polish president has bestowed a high honor on the US Army commander in Europe as Poland marked its Armed Forces Day with a military parade.
President Andrzej Duda bestowed the Commander’s Cross with a Star of the Order of Merit on Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of the US Army in Europe.
Some 1,500 Polish soldiers then paraded in Warsaw, while fighter planes and other aircraft flew in formation above.
Polish President Andrzej Duda. Wikimedia Commons photo by Radosław Czarnecki.
Poland’s marching soldiers were joined by a small unit of US troops, some of the thousands who deployed to Poland this year as part of efforts to reassure European countries concerned about possible Russian aggression.
US Ambassador to Poland Paul Jones said on Twitter that the Americans were proud to march alongside their Polish allies.
That’s right, a fire department was the lead military force of an armed revolution.
Of course, Bunau-Varilla didn’t rely solely on firefighters and their axes. He knew that the revolution would enjoy popular support in Panama since the region, which considered itself a sovereign country forced into an ongoing relationship with Columbia, had been agitating for independence for about 80 years. And to ensure success, he cut a couple of deals before sending his firemen into action.
Then Bunau-Varilla went to Washington, D.C. and asked the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt to back the revolution. The administration refused to say outright that they would do so but gave Bunau-Varilla the distinct impression that they would support Panamanian independence.
The White House’s response was a major double-cross of the Columbians. An 1846 treaty obligated America to help put down revolutions and revolts in the Panama region. But Roosevelt wanted a cross-isthmus canal to help the Navy get between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and Columbia had consistently demanded more money every time America offered a treaty to construct it.
Bunau-Varilla, who had been working towards a Panama canal for over 15 years, held significant stock in a French company that owned the rights to a failed, incomplete canal. He would recoup serious amounts of money if the canal was constructed and he knew how desperately Roosevelt wanted to build one.
So, with the firm belief that Washington would back Panama, Bunau-Varilla told his fireman and mercenary army that America was coming.
On Nov. 4, American troops near the city of Colon, Panama, were approached by Columbian forces demanding the use of the railroad that the troops were guarding.
When the Americans refused them access, the Columbians threatened to kill them all. The Marines fell back into a fortified building in range of the Nashville’s guns.
The Columbians had a numbers advantage but would have had to fight under naval bombardment to kill the Marines. They wisely decided not to attack.
With Columbian reinforcements cut off, the firefighters and their mercenary allies were easily able to establish effective control of Panama City. Over the next two days, two American cruisers arrived, the Dixie (AD 1) and the Atlanta, with hundreds of Marines to reinforce the new republic.
The U.S. government officially recognized Panama’s independence on Nov. 6, and Columbia gave in. The revolution succeeded with very little blood spilled. Panama quickly signed a treaty granting the U.S. permission to build a canal across the country. Over the following months, America sent more troops, including Marines under then Maj. John A. Lejeune, to establish control of the Panama Canal Zone ahead of the construction effort.
Panama quickly signed a treaty granting the U.S. permission to build a canal across the country. Over the following months, America sent more troops, including Marines under then Maj. John A. Lejeune, to establish control of the Panama Canal Zone ahead of the construction effort.
Planning and construction of the canal continued until mid-1914 when it was finally completed. America controlled the Panama Canal until it was given to local authorities in 1999 (based on a deal signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977).
Lately, it seems everyone has an opinion on the role of women in combat. Recently two female officers passed Army Ranger training and the Marines completed a study on gender integration, and some government officials are upset about all of it. But the notion of women in combat is not new. They’ve been in the thick of it for centuries, and not just as camp followers and nurses.
With a few exceptions, women in leadership and direct combat roles were (forcefully) restricted by men (unless God tells a sixteen-year-old French girl how to beat the English. But, of course, that doesn’t count because God is a dude, right?).
God’s mansplaining of how to win the Hundred Years’ War aside, in the days when armies would forage food and supplies, officially licensed small business people known as “sutlers” or “vivandiers” would follow the armies to sell tobacco, food, and drinks.
The Napoleonic Wars and the wars of Napoleon III brought the rise of the vivandière, often the daughters and wives of those enterprising businesses. They came to battle with a tonnelet (a small barrel) of brandy to give soldiers as they fought in a battle.
They would deliver much-needed shots to the wounded and would even carry them back to aid stations in the rear during the entire course of a battle. The vivandière marched with the troops everywhere they went and endured the same weather and combat conditions as the armies they followed. Some even carried a musket and fought in the battle. Unsurprisingly, the troops loved them for their bravery and generosity. The loss of a vivandière in battle was a loss to the entire army.
Paintings were made about them, and operas were composed, like Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment and Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. (Don’t say We Are the Mighty doesn’t expose its readership to high art. We at Team Mighty love this sh*t.)
The vivandière caught on overseas. During the American Civil War, they served with both Confederate and Union armies during battles, where their tradition of bravery continued. The U.S. Army calls them “the Forgotten Women of the Civil War” who “deserve to be remembered.” Women continued this role well into WWI, but were no longer allowed to go into combat.
The troops love for their vivandières goes beyond the normal desire a man has for women. Though some troops did marry their vivandière, the bond between these women and their regiments was more akin to the bonds people form after serving in combat with one another. Songs were written about the women who could handle themselves around love-struck men, like this song about a woman named Madelon (translated from French):
“That’s All, Brother” is the name of a WWII Army Air Corps Douglas C-47, the first in a long line of 432 planes which led the air drop of paratroopers in the early morning hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944. After D-Day, it also flew in Operation Market Garden, the relief of Bastogne, Operation Varsity, and more. It was sold to civilians after the war and sold up to sixteen times before 2008.
A civilian non-profit named Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a Dallas-based organization dedicated to preserving military aviation history, has since found “That’s All Brother” in a Wisconsin Boneyard. The all-volunteer CAF currently showcases its 160 restored aircraft to the public via airshows and reenactments and seeks to add “That’s All Brother” to its fleet through a Kickstarter Campaign.
Mission Albany, the nighttime paratroop assault, was the first step of Operation Neptune, which itself was the first part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France during World War II. Mission Albany dropped 6,928 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division into occupied France. The men in “That’s All Brother” were the first to drop in.
This isn’t an unprecedented event. Similar planes of historical value have since been found and restored to their WWII-era glory. One such plane was “The Snafu Special,” which also flew on D-Day, participated in Operation Market Garden, and was sold to a civilian airline in Czechoslovakia after the war. This is the first time such a restoration effort has been made through crowdsourcing on Kickstarter, however.
A pledge of $300 or more earns a backer a limited edition brass “cricket,” used for nighttime identification by Airborne troops dropped on D-Day, supplied by the original company in England who supplied the U.S. Army for Operation Overlord, manufactured in the original factory, on the original machines, using the original dies.
The CAF is also looking for the names of men from the 101st, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment who flew into France on “That’s All, Brother”
To learn more or donate to the effort to restore “That’s All, Brother,” see CAF’s campaign page on Kickstarter.
Guam’s first line of defense from an incoming North Korean ballistic missile could very well be MQ-9 Reaper drones. This sounds very counter-intuitive, since ballistic missiles go very fast, and the normal cruising speed of the MQ-9 Reaper is 230 miles per hour.
But according to a report from DefenseOne.com, the secret was not in what the drones could shoot or drop, but instead in what the drones could see. In a June 2016 multi-lateral exercise involving Japan, the United States, and South Korea, two MQ-9 Reapers equipped with Raytheon Multi-Spectral Targeting System C were able to give Aegis ships armed with SM-3s more precise targeting data on the ballistic missile.
The Missile Defense Agency is hoping to reduce the number of drones needed by adding a targeting laser to the Reaper.
According to the Raytheon web site, the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, or MTS, is a combined electro-optical/infra-red system that also adds a laser designator. Various versions of the MTS have been used on platforms ranging from the C-130 Hercules cargo plane to the MQ-9 Reaper. The United States military has two general versions, the AN/AAS-52, or the MTS-A, and the AN/DAS-1, the MTS-B. The Air Force is also buying another Raytheon MTS system, designating it the AN/DAS-4.
One possibility to improve these airborne eyes could center around a jet-powered version of the Reaper called the Avenger. According to the General Atomics web site, the Avengr has a top speed of 400 nautical miles per hour, and can stay airborne for as many as 20 hours, depending on the version.
The Avenger could have the option of not just watching a launch, but maybe even hitting an enemy missile. According to a 2015 report from BreakingDefense.com, the Avenger could also carry the HELLADS, a high-energy laser system. Earlier this year, the Army tested a high-energy laser on the AH-64 Apache, combined with Raytheon’s MTS.
In this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast, Blake, Tim, and O.V. speak with Mitch Burrow, a funny burly-guy who went from being a Marine to becoming a stand-up comedian.
When we join the military all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we have sort of an idea of what we want to do with our lives — but we change our minds dozens of times before landing a career that we hopefully love.
Mitch is a Marine Corps veteran that served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. He then started a career in manufacturing before realizing that it sucked. Now, Mitch has found his true calling in acting silly on a stage in front of strangers on a nightly basis.
So why did Mitch decide to jump on stage and be a comedian after getting out of the Marines?
“I love stand up comedy, so I was like you know what? If this is working at a party or a social group, let me try it on stage,” Mitch humorously recalls. “So I drove down to San Diego to the Comedy Store in La Jolla and had three shots of tequila, and I drank a couple of Budweisers then I got on stage. I’ve been told it went pretty good.”
In a mock dogfight over the Pacific Ocean, a test fight for Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II, the most expensive weapon in U.S. history, the F-35 was bested by America’s trusty F-16 Fighting Falcon – first flown in 1974.
A June 29th post on the War Is Boring blog quoted an unnamed test pilot who described the plane as “cumbersome.” Other comments include:
“Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement”
“Insufficient pitch rate”
“Energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time”
“The flying qualities in the blended region were not intuitive or favorable”
“Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution”
According to the Daily Mail Online, the dogfight was held in January near Edwards Air Force Base in California, and was supposed to test the fighter’s close range combat ability between 10 and 30,000 feet. The F-35’s performance was so bad, it was deemed “inappropriate for fighting other aircraft within visual range.”
The specially designed, custom made, most advanced helmet ever was designed to give F-35 pilots a full 360-degree view around the plane but the cramped cockpit wouldn’t allow the pilot to move his head to see his rear, which allowed the F-16 to sneak up behind him.
Essentially, the F-35 pilot couldn’t watch his six because his helmet was too big.
The F-16 is still very much in service while the F-35 is in testing phases but for $59 billion spent in developing the fighter and $261 billion spent in procuring it, not to mention the cost of operations and sustainment ($590 billion in 2012 alone), a taxpayer might think there would be more bang for the billions of bucks spent. So does Congress. The only ones who love the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program are the Pentagon and probably Lockheed-Martin, the manufacturer. Currently, the fighter is best known for catching on fire during takeoff.
According to the Washington Post, Pentagon officials fired back, saying the plane the test pilot flew “did not have its special stealth coating… the sensors that allow the F-35 pilot to see the enemy long at long ranges… or the weapons and software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.”
The F-35 was previously reviewed as “double inferior to Russian and Chinese” fighter designs in a RAND Corporation briefing (based on research by two former fighter pilots) in 2008. Other comments include: “Inferior acceleration, inferior climb, inferior sustained turn capability. Also has lower top speed.”
C.W. Lemoine, author and former fighter pilot, took to Fighter Sweep, a blog written by and for military aviators, to defend the F-35 and explain why framing the F-35’s performance as a dogfighting loss is “garbage”
“The reality is that we don’t know where each deficiency was found. My guess is the critiques on the pitch rates for gunning and abilities to jink happened in the canned offensive and defensive setups. But one has to remember this is a test platform and they were out to get test data, not find out who the king of the mountain is.”
Lemoine still acknowledged the helmet issue as a legitimate problem, saying “Lose sight, lose the fight.”
In the Daily Mail story, Marine Corps Lt Gen. Robert Schmidle said the F-35 “could detect an enemy five to 10 times faster than the enemy could detect it.” Which is a good thing because right now, the F-35 pilots will need that time and distance to actually be able to hit the enemy.
In a revelation that has strategic implications for Japan, analysis of satellite imagery shows the existence of North Korea’s second submersible test-stand barge — a sign that the nuclear-armed country could be ramping up development of its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
According to the analysis released May 1 by the 38 North website, a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, the barge was identified in commercial satellite images taken April 19 of the Nampo Naval Shipyard on the country’s west coast.
The isolated nation already operates one barge on the country’s eastern coast, at the Sinpo South Shipyard, from where it has conducted at least four — but as many as six — test-launches of the Pukguksong-1, or KN-11, SLBM since 2014, when that barge was first seen.
According to the report, the newly detected barge appears to be identical in size and layout to the original. Such barges are used by navies to test underwater new and modified submarine missile launch tubes and systems, and to conduct initial test-launches before the systems are installed in submarines.
“The discovery of a second missile test barge may have a number of implications for the future of North Korea’s SLBM program that appears to be an important priority for Kim Jong Un,” the report said, adding that the timing of the barges’ acquisition could help reveal the direction of the program.
If both were acquired at the same time, the report said, it would imply that Pyongyang is planning a more extensive test program than it has conducted so far.
It is unclear if the new barge was acquired or manufactured by the North, but since there have been no indications of barge construction work at the North’s west coast naval shipyards over the past year, that suggests the vessel had been acquired from abroad.
“Since the second barge seems to have been acquired three years after the first, this could mean that North Korea is planning to accelerate its SLBM test program to include a west coast component or develop new SLBM designs, or that it may deploy a ballistic missile submarine with the West Sea Fleet,” the report said. “None of these possibilities are mutually exclusive.”
The Pukguksong-1 would give the reclusive state a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent since the threat of a retaliatory second-strike would throw a wrench into any scenario where the U.S., South Korea, and Japan attempt to preemptively destroy North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.
According to David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Pukguksong-1 has a maximum range similar to the North’s Rodong missile of about 1,250 km, allowing it reach most or all of Japan from a submarine located near the Korean coast.
Through the use of insults, strict discipline, sleep deprivation, and controlled explosions, Army drill sergeants turn recent high school grads and civilians looking for a new job into trained soldiers ready to serve in America’s wars. This transition is, of course, painful — by design.
Here are 11 things trainees will complain about before learning to suck it up as an Army soldier:
“I’m tired. I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
New U.S. Army soldiers are expected to operate on little sleep. While in the barracks, recruits’ sleep is regularly interrupted by drill sergeants conducting inspections, punishing infractions, getting head counts, or waking soldiers for the heck of it. The party continues in the field where soldiers sleep in bags instead of beds.
“This food is terrible.”
Military food is rarely praised, and basic training food is even worse. Eating periods are very short and are supervised by drill sergeants who pounce onto soldiers who reach for fattening or sugary foods.
“You mean I have to pay for this terrible haircut?”
Soldiers get their heads buzzed, run in tennis shoes, and shave every day — but what most people don’t know is the trainees foot these bills. The shoes, haircuts, toothpaste, and other gear and services are all paid for by the trainees through Eagle Cash cards, a sort of military prepaid debit card. Most of these costs are defrayed by a uniform allowance that soldiers receive once a year, but the surprise bills still create complaints.
“There’s ugly, then there’s Army Ugly. We are all Army Ugly.”
No matter how handsome you are, it’s hard to rock the haircuts, glasses, and tan lines the Army gives you. Males have to have their heads buzzed. All soldiers requiring corrective lenses are issued basic training glasses, generally referred to as “birth control glasses.” And, after months in the sun in physical training uniforms, combat uniforms, and berets, graduating soldiers have deep tan lines around their wrists and across their foreheads.
“They yell at us all day, and one keeps calling us crack pipes.”
It doesn’t matter who the recruit is, even if they’re famous or the child of a general, they’re getting yelled at in basic training. (Stephen Colbert didn’t even enlist and he caught the sharp edge of the drill sergeants.) Many recruits find themselves shocked at the sheer amount of verbal abuse as well as the language used. The language might be toned down, but the volume never will be.
“Why do we have to take the mask off? Isn’t the point to learn how to use the mask?”
Though they will brag about these experiences later, all recruits have a training event they’re dreading during basic. Maybe it’s the CS gas chamber where they’re forced to remove their gas masks and breath deeply. Some complain about the night infiltration course where they must crawl across the ground while machine guns are fired over their heads and artillery simulators are thrown nearby. Most complain about the “smokings,” physical training sessions spread throughout the day to help new soldiers quickly build strength and endurance.
“Even on overnight guard, I can’t be alone.”
They march as a group, eat as a group, sleep as a group, shower as a group. They go to the bathroom in, at a minimum, two-man teams. Recruits have no privacy for the nine weeks or more of training. Soldiers who go through one station unit training, a combined basic training and job school mostly used for combat soldiers, will endure this for even longer. This can be a source of a lot of complaints, especially if a soldier is paired with another recruit they don’t like.
“Oh, that guy’s a blue falcon. We couldn’t stand him.”
The other recruits, especially the “blue falcons,” soldiers who screw over their peers by tattling or just being a moron, can be a major source of stress for new soldiers. When one basic trainee screws up, that means the whole platoon or whole company is screwed up, and everyone suffers equally. Bad hospital corners on one bed? Grab some real estate, soldier; you’re doing pushups until sweat fogs the windows. Adding to the atmosphere is that, after the punishments, all the trainees are still stuck in the same bay together, still sleeping four feet away from each other, still crapping in battle buddy pairs. And they remember which ones ratted them out.
“We can’t walk on that grass. That grass is only for the drill sergeant.”
Recruits are issued a handbook with pages and pages of arbitrary rules during reception week, before they even make it to basic training — rules like, “All towels must be folded in thirds, not halves, and the open sides must face towards the south side of the building.”
“We had to run everywhere, even when we were early.”
Soldiers are ordered to sprint between training stations, even if they can see the long line from a hundred feet away. Trainees run to the back of the line, then wait until the line moves. The experience and frustration defines “Hurry up and wait” — a military maxim.
“I wore pants with buttons for so long, zipping my jeans felt weird.”
For nine or more weeks, they’ve worn only what they were told to wear, only sat in chairs if given express permission, ate what they were given when they were given it. After graduation, they find take out menus and weigh the merits of thai versus pizza for dinner. They debate whether to watch a DVD or play a football game after the training day ends. They get their cell phones back and wonder whether they should call their mother or their girlfriend first. (They generally call their significant other first. Sorry, mom.)
The final resting place of presidents, bandleaders, war heroes, astronauts, inventors, civil rights leaders, Pulitzer Prize winners, boxers, Supreme Court justices and sports stars, Arlington National Cemetery stands as a memorial to the melting pot of the United States. With connections to some of our nation’s most influential people and pivotal events, its history is as interesting as its denizens.
Arlington is situated on 624 acres overlooking the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D. C. Although today it is surrounded by the nation’s capital, at one time, Arlington was a bucolic estate with a neoclassical mansion, Arlington House. Still presiding over the grounds today, the mansion was built by George Washington’s (yes, that Washington) grandson and marks the beginning of the cemetery’s history.
Before she married George, Martha was married to Daniel Parke Custis. After he died and she wed the “Father” of our Country, George adopted her two surviving children. The oldest, John Parke Custis (JPC), died in 1781 while serving with the Revolutionary Army. He left behind four children, the youngest of which, George Washington Parke Custis (GWPC), was born only shortly before his father’s death.
GWPC and one sister went to live with the Washington’s. When he became of age in 1802, GWPC inherited wealth and property from his deceased father (JPC), including the Arlington land. Hoping to build a home that could also serve as a memorial to his grandfather, George Washington, GWPC hired an architect and built a Greek revival mansion believed by some to be “modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.”
The home was built in pieces, with the north wing being completed in 1802, and the south in 1804. These two stood as separate buildings until the central section connected them in 1818. During GWPC’s life, a portion of the mansion was reserved to store George Washington memorabilia, which included portraits, papers and even the tent Washington used while in command at Yorktown.
GWPC and his family lived and died on the property, where many of them were buried.
In 1831, GWPC’s only surviving child, Mary, married Robert E. Lee (yes, that Lee). The Lee’s lived on the property with the Custis’s where they raised their seven children. At her father’s death, Mary inherited Arlington. Robert E. Lee loved the property and once described it as the place “where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world.”
Prior to the Civil War, Lee had attended West Point (graduating second in his class) and saw service for the U.S. in the Mexican War (1846-1848). A respected and well-liked officer, Lee struggled with his decision to resign his commission of 36 years in order to take command of Virginia’s confederate forces. When he did in April 1861, this choice was seen as a betrayal of the Union by many of his former friends including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs.
As Arlington, on high ground overlooking the capital, was critical to either the defense or defeat of D.C., Union leaders were eager to control it. After Virginia seceded in May 1861, Union troops crossed en masse into Virginia and soon took command of the estate. The grounds were quickly converted into a Union camp.
By 1862, Congress had passed a law that imposed a tax on the real property of “insurrectionists.” Mary was unable to pay the tax bill in person, and her proxy’s attempt to satisfy the debt was rebuffed. As a result, Uncle Sam seized Arlington, and at its auction, the federal government purchased the estate for $26,800 (about $607,000 today, far below market value).
Not only a good bargain, Union leaders felt that by seizing the estates of prominent Rebels, they would, in the words of Gen. William T. Sherman: “Make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.”
In 1863, after thousands of former slaves, freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, converged on D.C., a Freedman’s Village was established on the estate “complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands on which former slaves grew food for the Union war effort.”
One sees more than poetic justice in the fact that its rich lands, so long the domain of the great general of the rebellion, now afford labor and support to hundreds of enfranchised slaves.
As Union casualties began to mount in the spring of 1864, Gen. Meigs suggested burying some of the dead at Arlington. The first, on May 13, 1864, was Pvt. William Christman, a poor soldier whose family could not afford the cost of a burial. Soon, many other indigent soldiers were laid to rest on Arlington’s grounds, near the slave and freedman cemetery that had already been established. Realizing the efficacy of this system, Gen. Meigs urged Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:
I recommend that . . . the land surrounding Arlington Mansion . . . be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose.
Serving the dual goals of paying homage to the dead and making “Arlington uninhabitable for the Lees,” Meigs had prominent Union officers buried near Mrs. Lee’s garden. He also placed a mass grave of over 2000 unknown soldiers, topped with a raised sarcophagus, close to the house.
After the war, the Lee’s tried in vain to regain Arlington. Mary wrote to a friend that the graves: “are planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency.” After Robert E. Lee’s death in 1870, Mary petitioned Congress for the return of her family home, but this proposal was soundly defeated.
Shortly after, other monuments and structures honoring the dead were erected including numerous elaborate Gilded Age tombstones and the large, red McClellan Gate at the entrance to the grounds.
The family was not done, however, and in January 1879, following six days of trial a jury determined that the requirement that Mary Lee had to pay the 1862 tax in person was unconstitutional. On appeal, the Supreme Court concurred, so the property was once again in the hands of the Lee family.
Rather than disinter graves and move monuments, however, the federal government and Mary Lee’s son, George Washington Custis Lee, agreed on a sale. On March 31, 1883, Uncle Sam purchased Arlington from the Lee family for $150,000 (about $3,638,000 today).
One of the National Cemetery’s most well known gravesites is that of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy with its eternal flame. Two of his children and Jackie Kennedy are also interred there.
William Howard Taft is the only other U.S. President buried on the grounds, and he along with three other Chief Justices and eight associate justices represent the Supreme Court at Arlington.
Of course, war heroes abound and famous generals buried at Arlington include George C. Marshall (father of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after WWII) and Omar N. Bradley.
Famous explorers interred at Arlington include Adm. Richard Byrd (the first man to fly over both poles) and Rear Adm. Robert Peary (another arctic explorer). John Wesley Powell (of Lake Powell fame) is also laid to rest at Arlington, as are several astronauts including Lt. Col. Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Capt. Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr. (the third man to walk on the moon).