Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission - We Are The Mighty
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Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

The 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” thrilled some viewers — and scared the bejesus out of others — with its tale of commandos storming a snow-covered mountain fortress and a scene of Richard Burton wrestling with Nazi thugs on the roof of a swaying cable car.


But for an Omaha teen named James Stejskal, seeing the movie inspired his life’s work as an Army Green Beret.

“I was always interested in that kind of life,” said Stejskal, 63, now retired from careers as a soldier and CIA agent and living in Alexandria, Virginia. “A small unit fighting against the bigger enemy (using) a combination of military and intelligence operations, not just brute force.”

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission
Green Berets standing proud.  (U.S. Army photo)

This spring, Stejskal published a book called “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the U.S. Army’s Elite, 1956-90,” about the secret unit with which he spent nine of his 23 years in the Army. Its work was so sensitive that the Pentagon didn’t acknowledge its existence until 2014.

“That’s when we finally came in from the cold,” said Tom Merrill, 63, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, who served with Stejskal in Berlin and remains a friend.

Stejskal enlisted in the Army in 1973, a year after graduating from Central High School. Soon he became a Green Beret, serving on small special ops teams. He was a weapons sergeant and a medic, known to his buddies as “Styk.”

“He was the consummate operator — natively smart, well-educated, thought well on his feet,” said Merrill, who lived in Council Bluffs as a boy.

The Berlin unit, created in 1956, was blandly named Detachment “A.” It disbanded in 1990, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission
Berlin Wall, 1989 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The soldiers of Detachment “A” didn’t look much like soldiers. They dressed in modish clothes, wore beards and long hair, made local friends, lived in off-base apartments. All spoke German, many of them fluently.

“Working in civilian clothes, blending in with the locals, doing cool stuff in West Berlin and the middle of (Communist) East Germany,” recalled Stejskal, who served in the unit from 1977 to 1981, and from 1984 to 1989. “It was a very ambiguous kind of duty.”

They were expert at soldierly skills like marksmanship, wilderness navigation, rappelling from helicopters, urban combat. But they also learned the tradecraft of spies, including surveillance and secret messaging.

In the event of a Soviet-led invasion of Western Europe, the detachment’s job was to melt into the population of Berlin and engage in acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. In his book, Stejskal describes it as a “Hail Mary plan to slow the (Soviet) juggernaut they expected when and if a war began.”

Each of the detachment’s six teams was to be responsible for sabotaging bridges and railroads, harassing the enemy in designated slices of East Berlin and East Germany.

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Berlin during the Cold War.

The work evolved as new threats emerged in Europe, and encompassed training in guerrilla warfare, direct-action precision strikes, and counterterrorism.

As radical groups spread terror across Europe with kidnappings, mass shootings and hijackings in the 1970s, Detachment “A” practiced rescuing hostages from trains and airplanes. Pan Am let them drill using airliners stored in its hangars at Berlin’s Tegel airport.

The detachment’s highest-profile mission had little to do with the Cold War and didn’t even take place in Europe. In 1980, the detachment was tapped to help rescue 52 U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran by radical Iranian students.

Soon after the embassy was captured Nov. 4, 1979, the U.S. military began developing a plan to seize the hostages. Most were held in the main embassy compound, but the job of Detachment “A” was to snatch three who were being held separately at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

The first rescue attempt, Operation Eagle Claw, ended in disaster when a plane and a helicopter collided in the dark in the Iranian desert.

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Operation Eagle Claw ends in failure, 1989. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The military quietly began planning a second rescue attempt, again including members of Detachment “A.” Stejskal and Merrill, who hadn’t been part of Eagle Claw, were involved in the second, Operation Storm Cloud. It involved using Air Force transport planes to fly partly disassembled helicopters into an airfield commandeered in the desert. The helicopters would be quickly reassembled and used to assault the Foreign Ministry.

The team traveled to Florida to conduct live-fire drills and spent weeks rehearsing with helicopter crews. They honed their weapons skills with extra-long hours on the shooting range.

“We were blowing (our weapons) up, we were firing them so much,” Stejskal said.

They ran a dress rehearsal in late November 1980, but soon the word came down: The mission had been scrubbed.

“It was deflating, extremely,” Stejskal said. “It’s like preparing for a big game and then being told you can’t play.”

The hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.

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President Reagan’s inauguration, 1981. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Stejskal soon rotated out but returned to the unit in 1984. The 1980s are remembered now as the death throes of the Soviet empire. But at the time, it wasn’t clear whether popular movements like Poland’s Solidarity might provoke a Soviet crackdown.

“No one was really sure how it would all play out,” he said.

Stejskal left Berlin in the spring of 1989, but he flew back in November when he heard that the Wall had fallen. He wanted to see the end of the Cold War icon that had shaped his life.

“In one way, it was a relief: The mission as I knew it in Berlin was over, or soon would be,” Stejskal said. “On the other hand, there was a bit of nostalgia for the way things were.”

Not that his life on the razor’s edge ended when the Wall fell. In December 1992, Stejskal was badly wounded when his car drove over a land mine in Somalia.

Stejskal suffered a serious head injury and a shattered leg.

“I basically had 3½ inches of bone that was turned to confetti,” he said.

Stejskal returned to duty a year later. But he knew he would never regain his former strength. So he retired in 1996.

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Green Berets. (U.S. Army photo)

That was the same year he married Wanda Nesbitt, a State Department foreign service officer he had met five years earlier during an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, in the country then known as Zaire.

At his first overseas posting with Nesbitt, Stejskal said, someone handed him a sticky note with a telephone number on it and said to call if he wanted a job. That led to a 13-year stint with the CIA.

In recent years, Stejskal has attended Detachment “A” reunions, where the stories flow along with the beer.

“Somebody said, ‘We need to get this down on paper. We’ve got a history. Who’s going to write it down?'” he said.

Stejskal volunteered. Merrill said the book, published in March by Casemate Publishers, has taught him a lot he didn’t know about the unit’s history.

“He gave it the respect it deserved,” Merrill said. “He was able to take his insider knowledge and transfer it to something an outsider can understand.”

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The Army Chief learned about Pearl Harbor in 14 words

December 7, 1941, is a day which lives in infamy. But it dawned normally at 7:13 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and the attack on Pearl Harbor didn’t begin until the afternoon in Washington. For leaders like Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, the expectation would have been that it would be another tense day of preparing for war, at least until a single note was presented to him.


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Then-Lt. Col. George C. Marshall in World War I. (National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Marshall had spent years growing as an Army officer before he was tapped in 1939 to become the chief of staff. By that time, he had 37 years of experience in the military and had served in the mud of the Philippine-American War and of France in World War I, rising to colonel and serving as the chief of staff to then-chief of staff Gen. John J. Pershing.

After World War I, he led a number of units before taking over the Army as a whole, and he was experienced in making do with short spending. But it was probably by late 1939 that the growing regional wars would become a world war. (In an odd twist of history, Marshall’s first day as chief of staff was September 1, 1939, the same day Germany invaded Poland.)

And so Marshall oversaw a large increase in military spending and re-armament. His role included deciding where the most direly needed equipment would be sent. And Marshall believed Oahu was nearly impregnable. So while he promised certain new weapons and reinforcements to Lt. Gen. Walter Short at Pearl Harbor, he also took back heavy bombers and other assets that he moved to places like the Philippines.

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Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall in 1944. (U.S. Army Military History Institute)

 

Marshall was the only high official eligible to see “Magic” intercepts who was not alerted on the night of December 6 that Japan was going to reject a U.S. proposal that Japan withdraw its troops from China and Indochina. And so he didn’t know until he entered his office at 11:25, after his morning horseback ride, how closely America had come to an active war. He immediately ordered that the intelligence be passed to commanders in the field.

Even though the president, secretaries of State, Navy, and War, and the chiefs of Army and Navy war plans and Chief of Naval Operations had all known for hours about the building intelligence signaling war, Marshall was the first one to order the likelihood of war be briefed to the commanders in the trenches. Unfortunately, transmitting that intelligence would take over 8 hours, and Short wouldn’t receive it until seven hours after the attack began.

So when the day dawned on December 7, Marshall was likely hoping that he could keep shifting resources to where he thought they were needed most, that he had a little more time to reinforce and improve positions across the Atlantic and Pacific. By noon, he knew he was likely out of time and that December 7 would be the day.

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A digital scan of the actual note given to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George C. Marshall. (U.S. Army War College)

 

Within hours, he would receive a message. It was not addressed to him, though most papers destined for the chief of staff’s desk were laboriously drafted and then addressed to him. It was not typewritten or printed. It wasn’t even written with particularly good handwriting.

But it likely made Marshall’s blood run cold. In just 14 words, it confirmed that the suspected attack was underway.

To all ships Hawaiian area
Air raid on PH
This is no drill.
Urgent

Marshall would learn over the following weeks that over 2,300 Americans had died. He likely second-guessed some of his own decisions about Pearl Harbor after the stunning losses there, though it’s unclear that any of the assets he removed from the island base would have made a difference.

(One of the biggest redeployments from Pearl was nine heavy bombers which, if they had survived the attack, would have been used in the hunt for the Japanese fleet and vengeance on December 7, but American hunters had almost no idea where the Japanese carriers were.)

The air raid pulled America firmly into World War II, awakening the “Sleeping Giant.” America would chase Japanese forces all the way back across the Pacific and would pummel the island nation’s allies in Europe.

Articles

Trump nominates VA undersecretary to take over top job

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he will nominate Dr. David Shulkin, the undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Department, to take over the top job at the agency.


Trump made the surprise announcement during a press conference in New York, saying Shulkin is “fantastic” and will do a “truly great job,” The Associated Press reported.

Also read: What you need to know about the Navy SEAL Trump picked for his cabinet

If Shulkin is confirmed, he would be the first non-veteran to head the VA. With its nearly $180 billion budget, the VA is the second-largest federal agency behind the Defense Department.

Many veterans groups had pushed for Trump to keep current VA Secretary Robert McDonald on the job, but the president-elect has signaled he wants someone else to reform the agency in part by giving vets more access to private care — an issue he frequently raised during his campaign.

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission
Photo by Robert Turtil | Department of Veterans Affairs

A selection for the post, expected last month, was delayed after the two frontrunners — Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam and president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, and Luis Quinonez, an Army veteran of Vietnam and founder of IQ Management Services — dropped out of consideration.

Shulkin was confirmed for his current position at the VA in 2015. In that role, he oversees the Veterans Health Administration and a health care system that covers nearly nine million veterans across more than 1,700 sites.

A physician, Shulkin has previously served as president at Morristown Medical Center, Goryeb Children’s Hospital, Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization, according to his VA biography. Shulkin also previously served as president and chief executive officer of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and completed his internship at Yale University School of Medicine, and residency and fellowship in general medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center.

Articles

This Norwegian missile could make the LCS a lot deadlier

The Littoral Combat Ship is often criticized for being under-armed. In fact, its main weapon for anti-surface warfare is reportedly a version of the AGM-114 Hellfire (after several false starts with other missiles). Now, don’t get us wrong. The Hellfire is a good missile, and it has made plenty of enemy tanks and terrorists go boom.


But against an enemy ship on the high seas, it’s an iffy option.

But the Hellfire may soon be a secondary option.

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A model of the Freedom-class littoral combat ship with two quad NSM launchers at the SeaAirSpace Expo 2017. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

At this year’s SeaAirSpace Expo, Kongsberg and Raytheon have proposed a solution – using the Naval Strike Missile on the LCS. According to a U.S. Navy release from 2014, the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) test-fired the NSM during RIMPAC 2014.

NSM offers longer range than the Hellfire (at least 100 nautical miles compare to the Hellfire’s 4.85), and a much bigger warhead (265 pounds to the Hellfire’s 20). In other words, this missile has a lot more “stopping power” against any threat the LCS could face.

But the missile is also relatively light, coming in at 770 pounds overall. The Mk 54 MAKO Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo comes in at 608 pounds. This means that the embarked MH-60R Seahawk helicopters on a littoral combat ship could also carry these – and Kongsberg demonstrated that with a model at the display.

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission
This model of a MH-60R Seahawk at SeaAirSpace Expo 2017 shows it carrying the NSM. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

“Helicopter sold separately,” the representative said, jokingly. But the joke could very well be on an adversary – as the helicopter extends the stand-off reach the LCS would have. The helicopter capability would also add the ability to launch from an offset – complicating the targeting for an enemy.

NSM is already in service with Norway, equipping the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, the Skjold-class corvettes, and is in use on Norway’s F-16 Fighting Falcons. It replaced the Penguin in Norwegian service.

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A mock-up of the Joint Strike Missile – a big brother to the NSM – at the SeaAirSpace Expo 2017. (Photo by Harold Hutchison)

Kongsberg also displayed a mock-up of the Joint Strike Missile, a slightly larger version of the NSM, featuring a range of at least 150 nautical miles. Even with the increased size, a handout provided by Kongsberg reps at SeaAirSpace 2017 indicated that the missile can still be carried internally by the F-35 Lightning II.

In one sense, this would be going “back to the future.” In the 1990s, the United States Navy equipped the SH-60B Seahawks with the AGM-119 Penguin anti-ship missile – also from Kongsberg. The Penguin also was a mainstay of Norway’s military during the 1980s and 1990s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what different berets mean in the Army and Air Force

Spend any amount of time on or around an Army or Air Force post and you’ll be sure to find a number of beret-wearing service members around you.


Hell, you’re going to be greeted by a blue beret each and every time you get to an Air Force gate (SecFo HUA!) and, if you were on any Army post between 2001 and 2011, you saw black berets everywhere you went, as they were a part of standard Army uniform.

Got it — but what about the less commonly seen berets? The green, the tan, and the maroon?

This is what berets of all colors mean in the Army and Air Force.

Black — U.S. Army

A black beret is worn by all soldiers in service dress unless they are otherwise authorized to wear a different, distinctive beret.

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The black beret is authorized for wear in service dress for the entire Army. (DOD Photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn)

Black — U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party

A black beret is the official headgear of the Air Force TACP. They’re about as operator as you get in the Air Force without becoming pararescue or combat control.

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Black berets look good in Air Force Blue, too. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Blue — U.S. Air Force Security Forces

The most common beret across all branches of service as of writing. Security Forces (the Air Force’s version of Military Police) wear the blue beret with every uniform whenever not deployed or in certain training.

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The second most common beret on this list: Security Forces HUA! (Image from Paul Davis).

Green — U.S. Army Special Forces

This is the cream of the crop of the U.S. Army. The green beret is the single most recognizable sign of a badass.

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They could still probably kick your ass… (Image via Reddit).

Grey — U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

These guys teach most of the other badasses on this list how to survive in the worst conditions. That definitely qualifies them for their own beret.

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A new wave of survival specialists. (USAF photo by Airman 1st. Class Melissa L. Barnett).

Maroon — U.S. Army Airborne

Aside from the Army’s green beret, the maroon beret of Army airborne is one of the easiest to recognize.

These guys drop into any situation with complete operational capability.

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Oh, just a bunch of badasses in the midst of random badassery… (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Maroon — U.S. Air Force Pararescue

In the Air Force, the maroon beret means something completely different. While being Army Airborne is an amazing distinction, the Air Force Pararescuemen are truly elite.

The introductory course has one of the highest failure rates of all military schools and the ones that do complete it go on to become the kind of guy that you do not want to fight in a bar.

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Ever see a wave of kick*ss? (Image by Stew Smith)

Pewter Grey — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather

These guys do weather in the most undesirable conditions. I know that may not sound very operator, but just take a quick look at the training they endure and the types of operations they conduct and you won’t ever question their beret again.

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A surprising badass, Air Force Special Operations Weather. (Image from Combat Survival Magazine).

Tan — U.S. Army Rangers

The Army Rangers began wearing tan berets in 2001 when the Army made the black beret the standard headgear for the entire Army.

Prior to that, they owned the black beret.

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It’s safe to say the tan beret has grown on us all. (Image from 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs Office)

Scarlet — U.S. Air Force Combat Control

The scarlet beret is the headgear of the U.S. Combat Controller. Their beret is one you’ll rarely see because they’re always on the go, doing what they were trained to do… which is classified.

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A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

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6 times American troops fought in foreign militaries

Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.


But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.

That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.

1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille

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American pilots Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy pose with a plane of the Polish 7th Air Escadrille. (Photo: Public Domain)

As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.

The unit started with eight pilots but conducted more than 400 combat sorties. American Capt. Merian C. Cooper was awarded Poland’s highest military honors, the Virtui Militari, for his service there after he was shot down and escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp.

2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua

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U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.

3. Eagle Squadrons

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American pilots in the Royal Air Force pose in front of a Hawker Hurricane in 1941. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)

Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.

Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

4. The Lincoln and Washington Battalions

When a fascist military coup failed to topple the Spanish government in 1936, a bloody civil war erupted that saw approximately 40,000 international volunteers, including 2,800 Americans, fight on behalf of the Spanish Republic. The American volunteers formed the “Lincoln” and “Washington” battalions, that were part of a larger, international brigade known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.

5. The Flying Tigers

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Members of the Flying Tigers volunteer squadron maintain a P-40 in China during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.

Once in country, they crewed Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and devastated the Japanese aviators. The Flying Tigers started with 99 planes and destroyed 297 enemy birds. The unit boasted 20 ace pilots and helped China keep Japan occupied until the U.S. could start operations in the Pacific.

6. The Lafayette flying corps

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The Lafayette Escadrille at Verdun. (Photo: Public Domain)

Soon after the onset of World War I in 1914, American volunteers began flying over the skies of France and serving on the ground against the Central Powers. One of the most famous American units in the war was the Lafayette Escadrille — a flying squadron named for the French hero of the American Revolution, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette.

The pilots’ exploits were covered in U.S. newspapers and they became heroes at home and in France. Thirty-eight U.S. pilots would eventually serve in the unit and it earned 57 aerial kills before it was turned over to American control in February 1918.

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This is how Robert E. Lee’s house became Arlington National Cemetery

Before the Civil War, Robert E. Lee’s mansion was part of a Virginia estate on the Potomac River, across from the nation’s capital. It was land his wife inherited from her father. At 1,100 acres, it was an idyllic area to raise George Washington’s adopted great-grandchildren (his father-in-law, was George Washington Park Custis, the adopted son of the first Commander-in-Chief and our nation’s first First Lady).


They must have been really upset when the Union Army came by in May of 1861 and seized it from them.

 

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Taking photos at the enemy commander’s house was all the rage. Probably.

 

Also Read: The Civil War started and ended at the same guy’s house 

The previous month, South Carolinian contingents of the Confederate Army fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Civil War had begun. President Lincoln called up the U.S. Army, who came to the capital and took control of the Arlington side of the Potomac. The area was a prime position for Union Artillery.

In April 1861, Lee was appointed commander-in-chief of Virginia’s military forces. Though the state had not yet seceded, it was widely expected to do so. When Virginia left the Union, Lee was appointed to a Brigadier General’s rank in the Confederate Army in May 1861. That’s when the U.S. government took his land and home. Lee was with his army in nearby Manassas when the U.S. Army came knocking on May 24th.

Though the war started well for Lee and Virginia, it didn’t end well. After his defeat at Gettysburg, the Army of Northern Virginia would never recover and Lee would be forced to surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865. In the meantime, the land was used by Lee’s (and other) former slaves to grow food to feed the Union Army.

 

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General Irvin McDowell and staff, Arlington House 1862. I told you it was all the rage.

 

Related: Robert E. Lee may have lost Gettysburg because of a heart attack 

After the war, the Lee family decided to try to get their land and home back through a series of legal battles. The main sticking point? Lee’s unpaid tax bill. The U.S. government charged the Lees $92.07 in taxes on their land ($2,130.52 in today’s dollars). Mary, Lee’s wife sent her cousin to pay the bill, but the U.S. would only accept the payment from Lee herself. When she didn’t show, they put the property up for sale.

 

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Then they hoisted a giant American flag on it, just for funsies.

Now that the land was delinquent on its taxes the government could purchase it, which it did. For $26,800, the equivalent of just over $620,156 today. Except in 2017, 1100 acres of Arlington, Va. is worth millions. But in 2017, that specific 1100 acres is actually priceless, because it’s now called Arlington National Cemetery. It’s where the United States inters its honored war heroes.

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The first graves in Arlington National Cemetery were dug by James Parks, a former slave. Parks was freed in 1862 but still lived on Arlington Estate for the duration of the war.

 

The U.S. long ago turned it into a cemetery for those troops lost in the Civil War. Union troops were buried there beginning in 1864, partly to relieve the overflowing Union hospitals and partly to keep the Lee family from ever returning. As late as 1870, the year Gen. Lee died, Mary Lee petitioned Congress to get her home back and remove the dead. The petition failed and Mary Lee died in 1873.

Her son, however, sued the government, claiming its 1864 tax auction was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the government to either remove the bodies from the cemetery or pay the Lee estate a fair market price for the land. The government paid $150,000 for the now-priceless land.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An ‘undead’ general thrashed the Spartans after his execution

Spartans have a weird reputation for being the undeniable kings of Classical warfare while in reality, they get a lot of really great press from the Battle of Thermopylae, but they weren’t really better or worse than any of the other Greek city-states. In fact, for 17 years, the Army of Messenia, led by King Aristomenes, handed the Spartans their asses for 17 years until he was captured and executed by Spartans.

And he soon appeared again at the head of the Messenians, ready to kick more Spartan ass.


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Can’t stop, won’t stop.

A lot of U.S. military veterans are gonna have a hard time hearing this, but there was very little that was special about Sparta. Contrary to popular belief, the upbringing of Spartan boys had nothing to do with military training and everything to do with being a good citizen and obeying the law. Between 550 BC and 371 BC, Sparta’s win rate in pitched battles was 1-1, and the loss to Thebes in 371 really did them in. For good. Even at Thermopylae, yes 300 Spartans made a brave last stand, but Herodotus (and later, Frank Miller) forgot to mention the 700 Thespians who were also there, along with the 900 other lightly-armed infantry who couldn’t afford the gear to be a hoplite.

The Spartans, while perhaps brave, weren’t the bearded Hellenic crack team of ancient special operators they somehow get credit for being today. What they were was aggressive and present. The Messenians, sick of being slaves to stupid Spartans, rose up against their overlords and fought them at the Battle of Deres. Though no one really won that battle, one man stood out above the rest – Aristomenes. He fought so well the Messenians declared him their leader.

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Aristomenes would be captured after a night of carnal delights with Spartan priestesses.

Aristomenes took the fight to Sparta and immediately took their temple to Athena. The Spartans returned and fought him again, only to lose once again. Aristomenes and the Messenians routed the Spartans over and over at Boar’s Grave and Great Trench. After these victories, it was said that Aristomenes was captured and taken to Sparta, where he was sentenced to die a warrior’s death. The Spartans led him to a cliff where he would be thrown off. But the sentence of a warrior’s death meant Aristomenes would be tossed over while still wearing his armor. He was tossed over, and the Spartans went home, certain that a Messenian army without Aristomenes was no match for them.

The Messenian King, however, was still very much alive. Using his shield, which the Spartans gave him to die with, he slowed his fall against the side of the cliff. The descent itself wasn’t even that far, considering he landed on the bodies of hundreds of his former fellow Messenian warriors who were sentenced to a similar fate. Using the bones of his comrades, Aristomenes climbed back up the cliff and walked back to his forces.

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission

Some sources say a fox led Aristomenes away from the cliff. Either way, he survived.

As the two forces met up the next day, the legend goes, Aristomenes strode to the front of his forces. The Spartan Army was so surprised at seeing the reanimated corpse of the king they killed the day before that they broke ranks and fled. The Messenians would next move on the fortress at Mount Eira, one they would hold for some 11 years, from which they would conduct guerrilla raids.

Of course, time was not on the side of the Messenians holed up in the fortress. The siege ended Aristomenes when he led a column of women, children, and refugees out of the fortification and to safety on the island of Arkadia while 500 of the remaining defenders launched a diversionary attack on the Spartans. The refugees escaped and the defenders were killed to a man. Aristomenes left the Army for Rhodes, where he later died.

But this time, he stayed dead.

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A former physics teacher favored by Osama bin Laden is now leading ISIS [Report]

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission


A former physics teacher from Mosul has been installed as a new temporary leader for the Islamic State after the terror group’s leader was reportedly injured in an airstrike in March, an Iraqi government adviser told Newsweek.

Newsweek describes Abu Alaa Afri as a “rising star” within Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh), and the Iraqi government adviser, Hisham al Hashimi, said Afri had become even more important than the injured “caliph” of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

“More important, and smarter, and with better relationships. He is a good public speaker and strong charisma,” Hashimi told Newsweek. “All the leaders of Daesh find that he has much jihadi wisdom, and good capability at leadership and administration.”

Afri will become ISIS’ new permanent leader if Baghdadi dies, Hashimi said. He is reportedly a follower of Abu Musaab al-Suri, a prominent jihadi scholar, and used to teach physics in the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

Having a caliph with a background of religious education is important to ISIS, which has shaped its self-proclaimed caliphate around a strict interpretation of sharia law. The group recruits people to come live in its territory by marketing it as an Islamic utopia.

Der Spiegel reported recently that early leaders of ISIS, many of whom are former Iraqi intelligence officers from ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, decided to make Baghdadi caliph because he, as an “educated cleric,” would “give the group a religious face.”

Afri reportedly became Baghdadi’s right-hand man after Baghdadi took a step back from decision-making for security reasons, Newsweek reports. He has served as a link between ISIS’ top leaders and its lower ranks and helps with coordination between the upper ranks and the emirs in different regional provinces.

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ISIS trucks driving around Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: ISIS sources on the web)

Osama bin Laden reportedly tapped Afri to run Al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’ predecessor, after the death of senior officials in 2010, according to Newsweek. Afri became a senior member of the group and was known to be “very strict,” Hashimi said.

Newsweek reports that Afri is thought to desire reconciliation with Al Qaeda and its affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as Nusra Front, a chief rival of ISIS in Syria.

ISIS used to be aligned with Al Qaeda, but Al Qaeda leadership denounced ISIS after the group defied its directives and continued releasing brutal propaganda. The two terror groups have been competing for territory in Syria since then, and Western airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria have hurt that group while allowing Nusra to rise, the Associated Press reported last month.

And Nusra has faced pressure from its members to reconcile with ISIS so the two groups can join together to fight a common enemy: the West.

The Pentagon reported earlier this month that ISIS had since August lost thousands of miles of territory it once controlled, though nearly all of that lost territory is in Iraq, not Syria.

Afri also reportedly wants ISIS leadership to be made up half of Arabs and half of foreign fighters, which is a departure from its current structure.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that nearly all of ISIS’ leaders were former Iraqi officers, not foreign fighters. The foreign fighters have proved valuable for ISIS’ media strategy — the group used the now-infamous “Jihadi John,” a British extremist, in some of its beheading videos to gain more attention from the West — but seem to have so far been kept out of the upper echelons of leadership.

ISIS’ leaders operate largely in the shadows. Since rising to power as the leader of ISIS, Baghdadi has rarely appeared on video, and few photos of him have been released.

The Pentagon has denied reports of Baghdadi’s injury. US defense officials told The Daily Beast that the airstrike that reportedly wounded him was not aimed at a high-value target and that they “have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi.”

Martin Chulov at The Guardian reported that the strike targeted multiple cars in the town of Baaj in northwestern Iraq and that officials didn’t know that Baghdadi was in one of the cars.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The unsung African-American heroes of D-Day

The salty spray of the ocean battered their faces as the boat rocked with the waves. High above in the thick grey clouds, the thunderous drone of Allied planes could be heard. In the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, these men were, “about to embark on the Great Crusade.”

Operation Overlord, D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, Omaha beach—these words invoke the memory of the events of June 6, 1944 when the combined allied nations assaulted the Western Front of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. As a result of media entertainment, the images that are associated with these words are often historical films of men running ashore through the high surf, John Wayne and Henry Fonda in The Longest Day, and Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, this remembrance of D-Day omits the contributions of the African-American troops who supported the invasion at Normandy.


The 621 men of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion were split up amongst the thousands of troops who would storm the beaches on June 6. Their job was to go ashore and raise hydrogen-filled barrage balloons to protect the landings from strafing runs by enemy aircraft. Despite their defensive mission, these men were not immune to the merciless fire of the German guns.

“…the 88s hit us. They were murder.” Waverly Woodson Jr., a corporal and medic with the 320th, recalled during a 1994 interview with The Associated Press. “Of our 26 Navy personnel, there was only one left. They raked the whole top of the ship and killed all the crew. Then they started with the mortar shells.” Woodson was wounded in the back and groin by a mortar shell. After receiving aid from another medic, he went on to tend to the other wounded men aboard the landing craft.

Despite his own injuries, Woodson went ashore and continued to provide medical aid to his wounded comrades. For the next 30 hours on the blood-soaked beach, Woodson removed bullets from wounds, dispensed blood plasma, reset broken bones, amputated a foot and saved four men from drowning. Only after he collapsed from exhaustion and his own wounds, was Woodson evacuated to a hospital ship.

For his actions on D-Day, Woodson received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Woodson’s commanding officer had originally recommended him for a Distinguished Service Cross, and a memo from the War Department to the White House uncovered in 2015 revealed that Woodson had been recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The push to upgrade Woodson’s award continues to this day.

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Waverly Woodson in his Army photograph (photo provided by Joann Woodson)

Another corporal in the 320th, William Dabney, had his barrage balloon shot out above him. Without a replacement balloon to raise, Dabney dug in and did everything he could to survive. “The firing was furious on the beach. I was picking up dead bodies and I was looking at the mines blowing up soldiers…I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” Dabney recalled in a 2009 interview with The Associated Press. Dabney survived D-Day and continued the war providing barrage balloon cover for an anti-aircraft gun team. “I followed the big gun wherever it went. I went to Saint Lo, then near Paris, and then later to Belgium and Holland.” In 2009, Dabney was awarded the French Legion of Honor at the 65th Anniversary D-Day Ceremony at Normandy.

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William Dabney and his son, Vinnie Dabney, at the French Embassy in Washington D.C., before their trip Normandy in 2009 (photo provided by Vinnie Dabney)

The men of the 320th that survived the invasion of Europe were eventually reassigned to the Pacific Theater. They trained at Camp Stewart, Georgia, to fight the Japanese and protect friendly forces from the suicidal kamikaze planes. The 320th made it as far as Hawaii before the war ended.

Johnnie Jones, Sr. was a warrant officer responsible for unloading equipment and supplies at Normandy. As he came ashore, Jones and his men came under fire from a German sniper. “The bullets were going in front of you, back of you, side of you, everywhere,” Jones recounted. He grabbed his weapon and returned fire with his fellow soldiers. As he attempted to suppress the sniper, Jones witnessed another soldier rush the pillbox concealing the enemy. “I still see him, I see him every night. I know he didn’t come back home. He didn’t come back home but he saved me and he saved many others.” Jones is one of the last surviving African-American veterans of D-Day.

The contributions of these men and their African-American comrades was invaluable in saving lives and achieving victory in WWII. Though many of them have passed away, their memory lives on in our remembrance of D-Day as their stories are finally told.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this crazy video of kids testing gas masks for the government in the 1960s

During World War II, the U.S. and Russia fought together as allies against Hitler and his massive German army. That “friendship,” however, quickly soured after the elimination of their common enemy. The relationship was fraught with trust issues.

The U.S. started to get nervous, thinking the Soviet Union would one-day attack American soil with chemical weapons. So, to prepare for that awful possibility, the government needed to test gas masks (even on children) to ensure safety from chemical agents. To do so, the United States Chemical Corps developed a mask strictly for civilian use that looks like something out of Star Wars.


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The gas masks and that battle droid from ‘Star Wars.’

It’s easy to look back at the U.S. and see paranoia, but this video suggests that the U.S.S.R. did, in fact, have a stockpile of chemical weapons.

The masks’ manufacturers put filter pads inside to screen out radioactive dust and particles. In theory, the idea was sound but, like anything, the apparatus needed some practical testing.

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Let the government testing begin!
(HISTORY)

The kids who would take part in the tests were fitted via with masks after a series of measurements of their faces were taken. Once each test subject — *cough* I mean child — was equipped with a masks, government workers escorted them into a chamber. The door was sealed behind them.

Then, the testing chamber was filled with a “fine” aerosol spray as the children read books and fun magazines to stay occupied. During the 10-minute period of exposure, the small room was filled with a large quantity of organisms.

Green Beret writes about secret Cold War mission
It this experiment gets us out of fourth-period math class, we would volunteer too.
(HISTORY)

After the test ended, the children were led out of the sealed room and the experiment was deemed a success.

So, that’s cool.

According to the video, the masks were expected to “cost no more than several dollars.” We bet the taxpayers were happy to hear that!

Check out HISTORY‘s video below to watch one hell of an interesting experiment.

MIGHTY HISTORY

It took this Green Beret 48 years to get the Medal of Honor he deserved

In 1966, the U.S. Army’s Sgt. 1st Class Bennie Adkins fought the North Vietnamese Army for almost four days, using whatever was at his disposal: mortars, machine guns, small arms, and hand grenades. He killed as many as 175 enemy troops and was wounded 18 times. Over the course of the battle all of the men of his unit were either killed or wounded.


For his gallantry and bravery, the Army presented him with … the Distinguished Service Cross.

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The Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second highest military honor, is no small award, but after all was said and done, after all the participants were interviewed and the communications during the fighting were scrutinized, Adkins actions that day in Vietnam called for the highest honor the U.S. can bestow on its armed forces. Why he did not receive the Medal of Honor back then is unclear.

After a lot of lobbying by Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers and then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the award was upgraded in 2014. Adkins, having achieved the rank of Army Command Sergeant Major, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony.

Here’s an excerpt from Adkins’ Medal of Honor citation:

When Adkins’ camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours of March 9, 1966, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.

Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.

When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue.

When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies.

During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.

Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp.

While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.

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During the ceremony, Adkins, who used a cane for mobility, stood at attention, unassisted, as the president put the Medal of Honor around his collar. He saluted the crowd and then walked off stage. “This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he said.

Adkins passed away in April 2020 following complications with COVID-19.

Articles

The only time the Soviet Union officially fought the US was in brutal air combat

In October 1944, WWII was still raging all across Europe. On the Eastern Front, Red Army troops in Yugoslavia were making their way to bolster other Soviet forces in the region when American P-38 Lightning fighters started raining lead on them.


In response, the Soviet Air Force launched two groups of its premiere fighter of the time, the Yakovlev Yak-3. The Yaks fought the Yanks for a good 15 minutes over the Yugoslav (now Serbia) town of Niš. No one knows exactly how or where the error started, but each side fought the other viciously, thinking they were fighting Nazis.

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Soviet Yak-9s in flight. ‘The pilots who flew it regarded its performance as comparable to or better than that of the Messerschmitt Bf-109G and Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-3/A-4. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Americans’ small taste of the brutality of Eastern Front combat cost dozens of Soviet and American lives.

The Soviets claimed the American fighters were 400 kilometers off course, and thus saw the Red Army ground forces as an unknown German force. Others believe the meetup was intentional, but that the Red Army moved faster than anticipated. When the Americans encountered a significant force 100 kilometers ahead of the expected Allied position, they engaged.

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(Norwich University)

No matter what, the result was an intense air battle that both countries have kept classified for decades. Norwich University calls it the 8th largest air battle in history, even though the exact number of American fighters is unknown.

In fact, most official details are still classified, but both the United States and Russia admit the event occurred. An estimated 30 Soviet ground troops and airmen died in the fighting and Soviet accounts tell of P-38 fighters being shot down.

Another account of the battle, from Soviet Colonel Nikolai Shmelev, details American fighters strafing the airfields near Niš as Russian Yakovlev-9 planes were taxiing to fend off the U.S. Lightnings.

This would not be the only time Soviet and American fighter pilots would tangle with each other in the coming years. They would also fight (unofficially) over the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam, not to mention the numerous Cold War incidents of airspace violations and interceptions.

Enjoy some WWII gun camera footage from the P-38:

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