This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day - We Are The Mighty
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This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

WATM recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Neff, Vice President/Director of Museum & Education at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh to talk about the mission of the museum, what visitors can expect and how COVID has changed the museum’s offerings.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted May 11, 2021. Readers interested in visiting should check the museum website for COVID-19 related policies, as they may have changed since then.

WATM: What made you decide to become a steward of our nation’s heritage?

Right from the beginning, my family has always been interested in history, especially our family’s history. Our family has been in American history for a very long time. Our family genealogy was a big part of me growing up. I think that got me started. I think, like a lot of people, I had an impactful high school teacher, who brought history to life, who made it interesting, really got it away from dates and names and made it more about stories and inspired me to move into a career of history.

Specifically, I had a second class about military history with a different teacher. [Laughs] Maybe the second teacher wasn’t as good as the first one, it was a great combination. I really appreciated that teacher’s delivery and the content of the military history class. You kind of put that together, when I went off to school my goal was to be a high school history teacher. That’s what I wanted to do. Different circumstances pushed me in another direction after college graduation and I ended up working in a history museum for my career. I’m very happy with how it all worked out, that’s for sure.

WATM: The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum Trust is currently open by appointment only, what can attendees expect on their tour?

Our tour right now is a 90-minute experience. Our museum essentially covers the veteran experience from the Civil War to present day. So, our visitors are led through the museum, almost in a timeline. It starts with our Civil War collection, which is the primary reason our museum was built — it is a Civil War Memorial — and our story begins. Since then, other wars have occurred. Our museum, building and memorial have adapted and changed.

When visitors come, they start with the Civil War and then they move through the Spanish-American War, World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and even a little bit on Iraq and Afghanistan and current times. It truly is a comprehensive look at American veterans and their service to our country. Everything we have in our museum has been donated by local men and women who served. When you look at our museum, we have real artifacts donated by local veterans that we use to tell their story and honor their service to our country.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
“The Gettysburg Room”
(image courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: How has COVID-19 impacted the museum experience?

COVID-19 has forced us into the virtual world. To be honest, it was not something that I was too familiar with personally. I had to get used to it, [laughs] and learn as I went along. What we’re delivering is: every month we have what we call our Spotlight On Program. It’s an hour long on the second Thursday of each month. We just had one last night. It was about Memorial Day, the history of it and what it means. (The audience discussed) the different traditions that have evolved about honoring the fallen. (The museum) delivers that the second Thursday of every month. It’s about an hour-long program. We try to bring in guests from other museums, experts from different areas, but of course we always have our curator or myself on the panel as well bringing things back to Soldiers and Sailors and its mission.

Another thing we do is we work with another online organization called Varsity Tutors. My degree is in education. As I’ve said I wanted to be a teacher. I want to deliver content to young people during this time. We partnered with this group because they have a large audience all across the country. We’ve been doing classes once a month geared toward young people and educating them about topics of the military; African-Americans in the military, women in the military, the meaning behind the uniforms such as symbols, patches and ribbons. We did one about Veterans Day, We’re going to be doing one about Memorial Day. It’s kind of interactive, there are questions and games we play that are geared to get the younger audience interested about veterans and the military in general.

WATM: What other virtual content do you have available?

A big one I didn’t mention there is Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a big day for Soldiers and Sailors. Normally, we have an open house, thousands of people come to our museum. We have a ceremony in the morning to respectfully honor the meaning behind Memorial Day and some outdoor fun. Of course, we can’t do that now. This year we will deliver a virtual Memorial Day event.

The ceremony will take place at 11 o’clock on May 31st where people can watch the posting of the Colors, the National Anthem, laying of the wreath by Gold Star Families and we have a slide show we play every year which honors fallen soldiers from the Post 9/11 conflict. There are about 300 or so troops that have been killed from the state of Pennsylvania and we have a solemn tribute via Livestream after the live ceremony in our auditorium.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
A large school field trip visiting the museum (courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: How can someone support the museum’s mission?

The easiest way is a monetary donation. [Laughs] We’re always open to donations. That’s one way. Of course, there are other ways as well, we’re always looking for artifacts to be donated. Our museum is made up of artifacts donated by families and individuals. We do not go out and buy things or solicit things. They’re artifacts that are brought to us.

If there are folks in the Western Pennsylvania region that have items that they do not know what to do with and are looking for a home for, we’re always looking for those items and to see if they would be a good fit for our collection. So, donating artifacts is another way people can help. A third way is people can visit us. If people are in the Pittsburg area they can stop by. Hopefully, we’ll be able to open in the next month or so. Folks passing by the Pittsburg region should stop by and see our museum.

WATM: Do you have anything you would like to say to the veteran audience?

First I would like to say thank you for their service to our country. I am not a veteran myself but I’ve learned about all the sacrifices they have made through the years. We’re here for them. Our mission is to make sure their stories and sacrifices are not forgotten by future generations. I take that responsibility very seriously as an educator. On a normal year, we have thousands of school students coming through the museum and they learn the importance of recognizing veterans. Western Pennsylvania is home to a lot of veterans and to people who have veterans in their families. It reinforces how significant it is what they have done for our country.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Display space in the East Hall explores the War in the Pacific, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, Prisoners of War, Korean and Vietnam War. (courtesy of soldiersandsailorshall.org)

WATM: What is next for you and the museum?

The next big step is opening up to our regular hours and walk-in business. We will always offer guided tours but some people appreciate coming through on their own. We have another big project where we are redesigning and rebuilding our exhibit cases. Our building was not built as a museum. Our museum cases had to be fit in the best way they could. They were done 30 years ago and weren’t done the best way possible. We want to improve that. It is a big project and will take a lot of fundraising efforts but we’re very lucky to have been given some money related towards the Korean War by the Korean Memorial Fund in this region.

We can completely redo our Korean War section of the museum. We are going to have three new Korean War exhibits filled with our artifacts. It will be built by a local firm that does museum exhibits and we’re hoping this time next year we’ll be ready to debut these brand new, state of the art, museum-quality exhibits for the Korean War. In turn, we can use it as a model to raise funds to revamp our other exhibits throughout our museum. It’s really exciting. We can take that next step to achieving a more professional look that people expect at museums. I’m not saying we do not have that now but there is always room for improvement. This is going to be a big part of that.

WATM: I like to throw a curveball at the end of every interview. What is a piece of military history that most people do not know?

That could be a lot of things, unfortunately. That why we’re here [laughs], to make sure people know about them. I’ll tell you one of the most popular stories that people are not prepared for: we have a painting from the Civil War about a dog. His name is Dog Jack. He was a dog of a local regiment of Civil War soldiers. People somewhat affiliate dogs with the military.

Of course, today dogs are in the military. Working dogs, you know. At that time he was just a mascot. It’s an amazing story about trading a confederate prisoner to get him back. It’s something that appeals to everybody. When people come to this museum, especially students as I’ve said, sometimes they don’t want to know everything about military history. What they don’t expect is to get this story about little Dog Jack. Almost everybody identifies with. They love that story and appreciate it. At least when it comes to us, I think people aren’t ready to learn that story when coming in.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

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From cheeseburger pizza to custard pie: the favorite foods of US presidents

It’s not easy leading a country through wars and economic strife. All that hard work can in fact, make any man or woman hungry.


From cheeseburger pizza to custard pie, these are some of the favorite meals of US presidents.

Harry S. Truman

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Public Domain

Famous chefs, including the easily-irritable Gordon Ramsay, have been known to criticize awell-done steak. Not Harry S. Truman though — he was once quoted as saying, “only coyotes and predatory animals eat raw beef.”

The 33rd President also enjoyed chocolate cake, chicken and dumplings, custard pie, and fried chicken.

Source: Food and Wine, First We Feast

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
National Public Radio

Who could be surprised that as a military man, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a sweet side.

Once First Lady Mamie Eisenhower came out with her fudge recipe, it became a newfound favorite.

His staff eventually came out with the President’s cookbook that contained a slew of different recipes.

Source: Fox News, Eisenhower Presidential Library

John F. Kennedy

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Public Domain

Hailing from Bah-stan, John F. Kennedy was known to be inseparable from Bostonian dishes. According to his chef, one of his favorite dishes included New England chowder.

At one of his favorite oyster restaurants he used to frequent, they even have “The Kennedy Booth”,  a table that was dedicated to him.

Source: Food and Wine, First We Feast

Lyndon B. Johnson

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
National Public Radio

As the President, you have at your disposal a button to send the world into a nuclear ice age. Fortunately, Lyndon B. Johnson used that power to instead install a button that was dedicated to have an aide bring him some Fresca.

Earlier in his political career, he was reported to have a hamburger for lunch every day.

Source: Food and Wine, First We Feast

Richard Nixon

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
File photo

If something smelled rotten in the White House, it may not have just been a White House scandal. President Richard Nixon was well-known to love his cottage cheese. It didn’t just end there though — the only President to resign in US history loved to have ketchup with his beloved cottage cheese.

Source: First We Feast

Gerald Ford

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Creative Commons

President Gerald Ford’s favorite food was a savory pot roast and butter pecan ice cream.

As the president to pardon Nixon for his scandal, he seemed to have also forgave him for his offensive choice of food.

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum

James Carter

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The White House

As a Southerner born and bred, President Jimmy Carter loved his corn bread. In addition, the 39th president and Nobel Peace Prize recipient had a fondness for sirloin steak, and nuts.

Source: MSN, Nobel Prize

Ronald Reagan

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Museum

As a hero for many in the Republican party, President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies has been debated for decades. However, he seldom showed his conservative side when it came to his favorite food: Jelly Belly jelly beans.

As a voracious consumer of these little treats, over three tons were consumed during his presidential inauguration in 1981.

He even had a special cup-holder designed for Air Force One so his jar of Jelly Belly beans wouldn’t spill during turbulence.

Source: Jelly Belly, First We Feast

George H. W. Bush

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
History.com

During an interview with Time magazine in 1988, George H. W. Bush mentioned one of his favorite foods was pork rinds with Tabasco sauce.

Afterwards, pork rind sales increased by 11-percent, and he was subsequently awarded ‘Skin Man of the Year’ by the pork-rind industry. Talk about being influential.

Source: Food and Wine

Bill Clinton

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
YouTube

Just like a hot, juicy sex scandal, President Bill Clinton loved his hot and greasycheeseburgers. 

Adorned with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, pickles and onions, his love for burgers was evenportrayed on an episode of Saturday Night Live. After health complications, he decided he would become a vegan in 2011.

Source: Food and Wine

George W. Bush

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
YouTube

In July 2007, then-White House chef Cristeta Comerford revealed that President George W. Bush loves his “home-made cheeseburger pizzas,” which is a Margherita pizza topped with minced meat, cheese, lettuce, and pickles (ew!).

President Bush also enjoys home-made chips, peanut butter, cinnamon bread, and pickles.

Source: SkyNews, The Guardian

Barack Obama

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Flickr

When asked what his favorite snack food is by comedian Jerry Seinfeld on the latest season of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” President Obama quickly said, “nachos.”

“That’s one of those where I have to have it taken away. I’ll have guacamole coming out of my eyeballs.”

Source: Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, Food Wine

 

Articles

Navy fires fleet commander after string of ship collisions

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the United States Seventh Fleet, has been relieved of his command by Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific Fleet. The firing comes within days of a collision between the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and a civilian tanker east of the Straits of Malacca that left 10 sailors missing.


This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin. (US Navy photo)

According to a brief Navy release, Aucoin was relieved by Swift due to “a loss of confidence in his ability to command.” The release went on to say that Aucoin’s planned successor, Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, will assume command immediately. Sawyer was confirmed to the rank of vice admiral and appointed commander of the Seventh Fleet on June 5 of this year, according to the Congressional Record.

An earlier release by the Navy indicates the bodies of some of the missing sailors had been found.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer (US Navy photo)

Since May, there had been three collisions involving vessels in the Seventh Fleet. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) collided with a South Korean fishing boat on May 9, with no casualties involved.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG 178), foreground, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) transit the Philippine Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers)

On June 17, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was rammed by a container ship off Japan. Seven sailors were killed, and a number of others, including the ship’s captain, were injured in the incident. The captain, executive officer, and command master chief on that vessel were all relieved and will face non-judicial punishment.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart)

According to an official biography, Vice Adm. Aucoin’s Navy career included service in five aviation squadrons, command of the aircraft carrier USS Kittyhawk (CV 63), and over 150 combat missions. His awards include the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat Distinguishing Device.

Rear Adm. Sawyer, who will replace Aucoin, is a career submariner whose service included command of USS La Jolla (SSN 701) and Submarine Squadron 15. Prior to taking command of the 7th Fleet, Sawyer served as deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet.

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Marine Aviators will fly in the F-35 Vs. Super Hornet review

A recently launched Pentagon review comparing F-35C carrier-variant Joint Strike Fighters with F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets will involve Marine Corps aviators and aircraft, the Corps’ deputy commandant of aviation said Wednesday.


Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the review, commissioned by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Jan. 26, would study the two aircraft “apples to apples” to determine whether the 4th-generation Super Hornet can fill the shoes of the brand-new F-35C.

Related: A-10 vs. F-35 flyoff may begin next year

“Really, it is — looking across the mission sets — does a Block 3 Super Hornet match up, compare to an F-35C,” Davis said. “It’s for the carrier air wing of the future.”

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 exit F-35B Lightning II’s after conducting training during exercise Red Flag 16-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 20, 2016. This is the first time that the fifth generation fighter has participated in the multi service air-to-air combat training exercise. Lance Cpl. Harley Robinson

The Marine Corps, Davis said, has already purchased 10 of the 67 F-35Cs it planned to buy and has six on the flightline at Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 in Beaufort, South Carolina.

While the Navy is planning to purchase most of the F-35Cs, with a strategy to buy 260, the Corps has gone ahead of the other services to hit a number of F-35 milestones. Its F-35B jump jet variant was the first to reach initial operational capability in July 2015, and it was the first to forward base a squadron overseas in January.

Davis noted that the Marine Corps owns a significant portion of the program’s institutional wisdom as well.

“I probably have the most experienced F-35 pilots in the department of the Navy on my staff right now,” he said.

Mattis’ directive, aimed at finding ways to shave cost off the infamously expensive Joint Strike Fighter program, dictates that the review assess the extent that improvements can be made to the Super Hornet “in order to provide a competitive, cost-effective fighter aircraft alternative.”

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lightning II aircraft and F-18 Hornets assigned to Naval Air Station Pensacola fly over the northwest coast of Florida May 15, 2013. | Department of Defense photo

Davis said that F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet maker Boeing would have opportunities to make their case for the aircraft.

However, he said, he expects the study to validate the need to have the technologically advanced F-35C deployed aboard carriers in the future.

“I think it will be a good study, and my sense is we’ll probably have validated the imperative to have a 5th-generation aircraft out there on our nation’s bow,” he said.

If F-35Cs are taken out of the picture as a result of the review, attrition rates of the 4th-generation Super Hornet may become an issue, Davis said, suggesting such a move would limit the aircraft’s ability to deploy in some situations.

“We’re not going backward in time, we’re going forward in time,” he said. “The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, we’re deployed, naval and expeditionary, and we want to make sure our Marines and our sailors have the very best gear in case something bad happens. And that’s 5th-generation airplanes.”

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How many ‘super nukes’ would it take to destroy the world?

Shortly after the end of World War II, the scientists who developed the atomic bombs dropped on Japan tried to envision the kind of nuclear event that could lead to the destruction of not just cities, but the entire world.


This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The U.S. detonated a ‘super bomb’ in an above ground test in 1954. (Photo: Department of Energy)

A declassified document shared by nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein gives the verdict that scientists at the Los Alamos laboratory and test site reached in 1945. They found that “it would require only in the neighborhood of 10 to 100 Supers of this type” to put the human race in peril.

In 1945, the Los Alamos scientists concluded it would only take between 10 and 100 “Super” bombs to end the world. pic.twitter.com/01I8ypmIP0

— Alex Wellerstein (@wellerstein) December 15, 2014

They reached this conclusion at a very early point in the development of nuclear weapons, before highly destructive multi-stage or thermonuclear devices had been built. But the scientists had an idea of the technology’s grim potential. “The ‘Super’ they had in mind was what we would now call a hydrogen bomb,” Wellerstein wrote in an email to Business Insider.

At the time, the scientists speculated they could make a bomb with as much deuterium — a nuclear variant of hydrogen — as they liked to give the weapon an explosive yield between 10 and 100 megatons (or millions of tons’ worth of TNT).

Also read: That time Jimmy Carter saved Canada from nuclear destruction

For perspective, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a yield of around 15 kilotons, or 0.015 megatons. These theorized bombs were several orders of magnitude more powerful than those that wrought destruction on Japan earlier that year.

The apocalypse brought on by these 10-100 super bombs wouldn’t be all fire and brimstone. The scientists posited that “the most world-wide destruction could come from radioactive poisons” unleashed on the Earth’s atmosphere by the bombs’ weaponized uranium. Radiation exposure leads to skyrocketing rates of cancer, birth defects, and genetic anomalies.

The Los Alamos scientists understood the threat that airborne radiation would pose in the event of nuclear war. “Atmospheric poisoning is basically making it so that the background level of radioactivity would be greatly increased, to the point that it would interfere with human life (e.g. cancers and birth defects) and reproduction (e.g. genetic anomalies),” says Wellerstein. “So they are imagining a scenario in which radioactive byproducts have gotten into the atmosphere and are spreading everywhere.”

Wellerstein says that this fear of widespread nuclear fallout was hardly irrational and that concerns over the atmospheric effects of nuclear detonations were “one of the reasons that we stopped testing nuclear weapons aboveground in 1963, as part of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.”

Taking both of the estimated scales to the extreme — 100 superbombs yielding 100 megatons of fission each — would result in a total yield of 10,000 megatons. As Wellerstein notes, that’s the same amount of fission that Project SUNSHINE determined was enough to  “raise the background radioactivity to highly dangerous levels” in a 1953 study.

That degree of nuclear power — though not necessarily accompanied by the radioactive component critical to meeting the fears documented here — rested in the hands of both the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
A deactivated Soviet-era SS-4 medium range nuclear capable ballistic missile displayed at La Cabana fortress in Havana, on Oct. 13, 2012. (Photo: Desmond Boylan/Reuters)

In recent decades the total yield of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons has fallen, such that “the threat of over-irradiating the planet is probably not a real one, even with a full nuclear exchange,” Wellerstein wrote. “A bigger concern is the amount of carbon that would be thrown up in even a limited nuclear exchange (say, between India and Pakistan), which could have detrimental global effects on the climate.”

Back in 1945 the Pentagon had speculated that it would take a few hundred atomic bombs to subdue Russia.

That thought experiment had a strategic bent. But the 1945 estimate seems to have advised caution in the new,  uncertain nuclear age.

The scientific push to learn more about the destructive weapons that were so hastily researched and used in the 1940s resulted in important insights as to the consequence of their use. Nuclear weapons aren’t just horrific on the intended, local scale. They can carry consequences on the planet’s ability to foster human life, whether that’s by contributing to the greenhouse effect or irradiating it beyond habitability.

These warnings aside, [the] U.S. did end up detonating a “super bomb” in above-ground tests. The U.S. detonated a 15 megaton device in the infamous Castle Bravo test in 1954. And the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba, detonated in 1961, had as much as a 58 megaton yield.

An earlier version of this article was written by Pierre Bienaimé.

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The difference between Trump’s old airplane and Air Force One

President Trump knows how to travel in style when he flies around the world. A home theater system, 24 karat gold plated bathroom fixtures, VIP lounge — just to name a few customize fittings that make up “Trump Force One” built in the 1990s.


Powered by two Rolls-Royce RB211 jet engines, Trump’s Boeing 757 is considered the “mini-me” version of his newly earned class of jetliner — Air Force One.

Air Force One — the Air Force callsign created in 1953 to designate the President’s plane — is a Boeing 747 that measures 231 feet long, seats 100 passengers, and races in at a max speed of 700 miles per hour. It comes fully equipped with enough fuel to fly 7,800 miles.

It also houses an onboard aerial refueling tube. Perfect for those extended trips to Russia.

AF-1 comes standard with amenities like a full medical clinic, a full gym and over 80 lines of communication, so he’ll always acquire that perfect internet signal wherever he is.

That’s compared to his Boeing 757 at 155 feet long, seating 43 passengers and with a top speed of 660 miles per hour which he purchased back in 2010 for close 100 hundred million smackeroos. Considerably smaller— Trump’s 757 does come in as the fancier choice but doesn’t come close to having the defensive capabilities like a full circuit of radar jamming software like AF-1 does.

Unlike any previous president, Trump independently owns his own aerial fleet, including the Boeing 757-200 airliner, a Cessna Citation X and two Sikorsky S-76Bs. Now that Donald Trump is President, he’ll have to keep his amazing fleet in the hanger, and we think that’s just awful.

MSNBC, YouTube

Which plane could you see yourself flying in? Comment below.

Related: Mattis orders separate reviews of F-35, Air Force One programs

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This Army hero was honored by ESPN for being awesome

It’s been a momentous year for Sgt. Elizabeth Marks.


The combat medic and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program swimmer spent the summer garnering international headlines for a grand gesture while winning four gold medals in swimming at the Invictus Games. That led to an appearance at the ESPYs, the awards show that recognizes sports’ highest achievements, to receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service. She followed that up by smashing a world record and winning two medals during her first trip to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Combat medic and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Sgt. Elizabeth Marks. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The list of hardware is already impressive. But it received another addition earlier this week.

Marks was named to the ESPN Women’s Impact25 Athletes and Influencers list Tuesday. The list highlights the top 25 women who made the greatest impact in sports and the societies in which they live. Marks joined names such as Simone Biles, the Olympic gymnastics gold medalist who was also the magazine’s Woman of the Year; Kathryn Smith, the National Football League’s first female full-time coach; and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

“It’s extremely special to even be mentioned,” Marks said on Twitter about being an Impact25 nominee.

Her unveiling as an honoree was marked by an essay written by Prince Harry. The British royal was at the center of the moment that opened the world’s eyes to Marks.

In May, she made international headlines for her gesture at the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida.

Marks was decorated with her fourth gold medal at the Games by Prince Harry, who created the competition, an international Paralympic-style, multi-sport event, which allows wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans to compete. After he placed the medal around Marks’ neck, the 26-year-old gave the award back.

Marks wanted Prince Harry to deliver the medal to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, where she spent the duration of the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014. Marks traveled to London in the fall of that year to compete in the Games when she collapsed with respiratory distress syndrome. Her condition worsened and she was eventually hospitalized and placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, life support to help her breathe. She missed the Games, but Marks said she was fortunate to come back alive. She said donating one of her medals was the only way she could think of to repay the hospital staff. Her request was honored June 1.

“This is an incredible achievement by any standards,” Prince Harry wrote about Marks’ appearance in the Impact25 list. “And I know this is how she wants to be defined, by her achievements and her abilities. But as an Army sergeant wounded in service to her country, her journey to get to this point has been remarkable. To me, she epitomizes the courage, resilience and determination of our servicemen and women. Using sport to fight back from injury in the most remarkable way, she sums up what the Invictus Games spirit is all about.”

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Marks competes for Team USA. (Photo: Army.mil)

For Marks, her ordeal in 2014 wasn’t the first time she had to endure an arduous hospital stay. In 2010, after suffering devastating injuries in Iraq, she grew nervous about the words being bandied about her such as “end of service” or “retirement.” Marks called her father to vent her frustrations. The former Marine told his daughter to write what was most important to her on a piece of paper. She scrawled “FFD” in pencil on a torn sheet of paper. The acronym stood for “fit for duty.” She was deemed fit for duty on July 3, 2012, after several painful surgeries and a grueling rehabilitation. Marks has not stopped trying to live up to the notion, resuming her job as a medic while also competing for WCAP.

She was back in the pool one month after her ordeal in England. Two months after leaving the hospital, she broke an American record in the SB9, a disability swimming classification, 200-meter breaststroke. Fewer than two years later, she set a new world record in the 50-meter breaststroke in the SB7 division.

“I was told it’d be six months before I got into a pool again,” Marks told the audience at the ESPYs where she became the first active-duty Soldier to receive the Pat Tillman Award. “I got into a pool about a month out of my coma. Without those physicians, without their service, I would’ve died. I hope that my service could eventually mean that to someone.”

Also read: Wounded warrior Elizabeth Marks receives the 2016 Pat Tillman award

Marks received a standing ovation after accepting the award on the stage of the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. She thanked her father and the Pat Tillman Foundation for turning an “absolute tragedy into a triumph.” She also thanked her fellow injured service members throughout the world for their support. She said any success she found at the Rio Paralympics would be because of them.

And find success she did. Marks broke her own world record in the breaststroke to win the gold medal. She then had a heroic swim in her leg of the 4×100 medley relay to help the Americans win a bronze medal after getting off to a difficult start.

The feat seemed to cap off a storied sports year for Marks. But this week proved otherwise. And that should suit her desire to inspire her fellow Soldiers just fine.

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4 weird things armies fight over

You get into a mammoth fight with another country, and you both have to go for every advantage you can get. In some cases, that means fighting for resources that most people may not realize are all that important. While everyone knows that steel and oil can make and break campaigns, it turns out that everything from coal to fish oil to guano can be important too:


4. Coal

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The USS Jupiter was a collier ship that carried coal for other American ships before being converted to America’s first carrier, the USS Langley. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

While it’s usually either loved or hated for its role in making electricity, coal was a major fuel source for military operations during the time of America’s Civil War until a little past World War I. Even today, it’s important for industrial processes like forming steel for tanks and ships. And in World War II, Germany exploited a 1920s discovery that allowed them to turn coal into synthetic fuel and oil.

So, that hopefully explains why the Allies and Germans launched raids against coal reserves in and around Europe, often north of the Arctic Circle. The German war machine desperately needed enough fuel to fight on multiple fronts, especially when they began losing their oil fields in North Africa and the Balkans.

3. Diamonds

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
British commandos, like these two in a photo from the St. Nazaire Raid, launched a daring mission to secure Antwerp’s diamonds before the Germans could seize them. (Photo: Public Domain)

Like coal, diamonds are valuable during war for their use in industry. Their physical strength is needed for the manufacture of important items like radar as well as the tools for manufacturing weapons and vehicles.

So, when the Third Reich launched its massive assault through the low countries, Britain sent agents to buy, steal, and capture Dutch diamonds before the Germans could. Most concentrated on buying stockpiles and accepting bags of them from Jewish traders for safekeeping, but one officer actually broke into a massive vault and made away with the jewels just as Nazi paratroopers hit the building.

2. Bat and bird crap

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Guano mines were an important source of saltpeter for munitions production. (Photo: Public Domain)

So, this one is probably the most surprising, but large deposits of bat and bird feces were actually a huge deal from soon after the invention of gunpowder through World War I. That’s because the animals have diets filled with insects and their feces are often filled with saltpeter, one of the key ingredients for gunpowder.

And major countries fought for large crap deposits. Spain invaded Peru and fought an alliance that included Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador over the Chincha Islands in the 1860s. A Confederate regiment had to guard the deposits in Austin, Texas, for use in the Civil War. And one of Japan’s prizes in World War II was Nauru, a crap-soaked island between Hawaii and New Zealand.

1. Fish oil

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
British commandos burn fish oil facilities in the Lofoten Islands in World War II. (Photo: War Office Capt. Tennyson d’Eyncourt, Imperial War Museum)

Not the stuff you get in capsules from nature made, we’re talking about huge vats of fish fats. The chemicals in the fish fat included glycerine, a crucial propellant for modern weapons. And that high flammability turns fish oil fires into massive columns of black smoke.

In World War II, this turned Norway and other countries that relied on the fishing industry into targets for the two sides. The Germans captured Norwegian fishing villages but failed to fortify them well, so the British and Canadian militaries sent commandos to trash the facilities and burn them to the ground, robbing the Germans of needed supplies and forcing them to defend far-flung facilities.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a sailor remembered 250 prisoners of war through song

Douglas Hegdahl walked freely around the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, one of many American prisoners of war held there in 1967. He was sweeping the courtyards during the prison guards’ afternoon “siesta.” The American sailor that fell into their laps was known to the guards as “The Incredibly Stupid One.” They believed he could neither read nor write and could barely even see. But the “stupid” Seaman Apprentice Hegdahl was slowly collecting intelligence, gathering prisoner data, and even sabotaging the enemy.

He even knew the prison’s location inside Hanoi.


Hegdahl was a South Dakota native who was blown off the deck of the USS Canberra as the ship’s five-inch guns fired on nearby targets of opportunity. Once overboard, he floated in the South China Sea for 12 hours before being picked up by fishermen, who turned him over to the North Vietnamese.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Hegdahl’s enlistment photo and a photo of the sailor in captivity.

Certain he could be tortured for information, the Communists tried to get Hegdahl to write anti-American and anti-war propaganda. They showed him similar documents that other captives – higher ranking captives – wrote for the North Vietnam. Hegdahl thought about it for a moment, then agreed. The Communists were amazed. No other captured American did this voluntarily. They went off to get ink and paper.

The young sailor was thinking quickly. He figured the officers who wrote the propaganda material were probably coerced into doing it. He decided the best thing he could do was play dumb. He was very, very successful. The North Vietnamese thought Doug Hegdahl was a developmentally challenged “poor peasant” and set out to teach him to read and write. After failing at that, they decided to write a confession for him to sign, which he did:

“Seaman Apprentice Douglas Brent Hegdahl III United States Navy Reserve, Commanding Officer, USS Canberra.”

The sailor was first put into a cell with Air Force officer Joe Crecca, who taught Hegdahl 256 names of other POWs and then taught him how to memorize the information to the tune of “Old McDonald.” After that, Hegdahl was imprisoned with Dick Stratton, who was the ranking officer for a time.

Because they thought Hegdahl so developmentally challenged, the Hỏa Lò Prison guards essentially gave him free reign to do a lot of the cleaning and sweeping around the prison yard. He was even allowed to go and clean up around the front gates of the prison itself. That’s how he was able to later tell U.S. intelligence where the prison could be found within the North Vietnamese capital.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Hegdahl on sweeping duty at “The Plantation,” Hanoi.

But the sailor didn’t stop there. As the sailor swept the prison grounds, when the single guard assigned to him took his afternoon siesta, Hegdahl would add a little bit of dirt to the gas tank of the nearest truck. Over the course of his captivity, he managed to disable five NVA prison trucks this way.

Eventually, it came time for the NVA to offer early releases to some of the prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Even though there was a strict order among the POWs to not accept any early releases, Hegdahl was ordered to accept an early release — the only Hoa Lo prisoner ever ordered to do so — by his senior officer, Lt. Cmndr. Dick Stratton. He was not only the most junior prisoner in the camp, he also had all the information the U.S. government needed to expedite the release of the POWs — all of them. He didn’t want to, but someone needed to tell the U.S. about the torture they were receiving there.

When he was released, not only did Hegdahl recite the names of the 256 men who were shot down or captured in North Vietnam, he could say their dog’s name, kids’ names, and/or social security numbers. These were the means by which other POWs verified the information given. He picked up all of this information through tap code, deaf spelling code, and secret notes.

Released in 1969, Hegdahl was able to accuse the North Vietnamese of torture and murder of prisoners of war at the Paris Peace Talks in 1970. Flown there by H. Ross Perot, he accused the North Vietnam delegation of murdering Dick Stratton, assuring Lt. Cmndr. Stratton would have to be repatriated alive at the war’s end.

But the prisoners back in Hanoi didn’t have to wait long for treatment to change. Once Hegdahl described the treatment of POWs in public and to the media, the ones he left behind saw their treatment improve, receiving better rations and less brutality in their daily life.

In his memoirs, Stratton wrote of Hegdahl:

“The Incredibly Stupid One,” my personal hero, is the archetype of the innovative, resourceful and courageous American Sailor.
MIGHTY HISTORY

The 10 weirdest military mysteries

The world is full of mysteries and the military world is no exception. Each war has been accompanied by strange stories, potential double agents, secret messages and unsolved disappearances. Scary? Intriguing? You tell me! Keep scrolling to learn about the top 10 mysterious events in military history.


1. The foo fighters were more than a band name. 

Almost everyone has heard of the foo fighters, but few realize the origins of the 90s rock band name. In WWII, the foo fighters were a genuine concern. At night, American and British aircraft pilots frequently spotted bright lights in the distance. At first, they assumed the lights were Russian or German flyers. Until they began to move, that is.

The lights would change direction and speed away faster than any aircraft possibly could. Hundreds of reports were recorded, with some pilots even reporting dogfights with them. Since no one was able to figure out what the crafts were or who piloted them, they were given the nickname “foo fighters.” To this day, it’s one of the biggest military mysteries of WWII.

2. The Red Baron’s killer was never found. 

The Red Baron, a German fighter pilot during WWI, was so famous that even Snoopy knew of his aerial prowess. He was one of the most lethal fighters in history, with over 80 confirmed kills. He was a serious threat to the Allied forces throughout the majority of WWI, until he was mysteriously shot down.

A Canadian pilot named Roy Brown claimed to have shot down his plane, but the details of his story didn’t quite make sense. No one knows for sure who killed him, but whoever it was would have had their name in the history books. The Red Baron was such an amazing pilot that the Allies helped to give him a decent burial in France in honor of his skill.

3. A Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer…and he was never found. 

During WWI, a man named Bela Kiss enlisted in the Hungarian army. He notified his landlord that he would be away for some time, and left for war. Some time later, the landlord heard that Kiss had died in combat, so he decided to rent the house to someone else. When he arrived to clean it out, however, he walked into a house of horrors. Several bodies were inside preserved in alcohol, all belonging to women who had disappeared.

It turns out, Kiss had been tricking women into marriage before killing them and taking control of their finances. Despite an extensive search, and a few reported sightings, he was never found.

4. A plane vanished out of thin air, starting the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. 

It’s hard to imagine that six planes could straight up disappear, but that’s what happened. On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, collectively known as Flight 19, stopped responding to the control tower while on a training flight. A Mariner flying boat was deployed to search for the missing planes, but the Mariner soon vanished too. While no bodies or wreckage was ever found, 27 men and six aircrafts were never seen again.

While many rumors cropped up over the years, the disappearance probably has nothing to do with the supernatural. The most likely explanation is that Flight 19’s leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Taylor, got so disoriented that he led the planes out to sea until they ran out of gas and crashed into the Atlantic. The rescue sea plane is likely to have exploded, as flying boats were prone to catching fire. Still, after all these years the resting place of the planes have never been found.

5. A strange ad was placed in the New Yorker magazine. But who published it? 

Anyone can put an ad in the paper, but one published in the New Yorker was more than a little suspicious. The ad was for a real game called “Deadly Double,” but the copy gave a not-so-secret message: “We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking … it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. … And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.”

A similar ad for the same product included the phrase, “Warning! Alerte! Achtung!” Okay, then. The dice shown in the ad’s images were even more strange. Instead of numbers 1-6, numbers like 7, 20 and 12, were shown. Some believe these bizarre ads were really a hint to American spies that an attack on Pearl Harbor was on the horizon. The creator’s widow has denied any suggestion that the game had any connection with spy activity, but it still seems a little fishy.

6. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis predicted the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 20 years before it happened.

In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis was a bit of an oddball in the Navy. He was known for being pretty solitary and working late into the night. When asked what he was doing in his office so late, he said he was working on “a special project.” A year later, he appeared to go mad. He gave a lengthy prediction of the future, including Japan’s attack on several islands on the Pacific, the targeting of Pearl Harbor, and the use of torpedo planes. Considering torpedo planes hadn’t been invented yet, he sounded crazy…except he was right.

All his predictions were dead on. After his prediction, he asked for a 90-day leave, which was personally approved by the Secretary of the Navy. He was given a sealed envelope and sent off to Europe, but he never arrived. He went to Japan instead, where he mysteriously died. A man who knew him travelled there to search for him…but he was found dead too! It’s a strange story with many loose ends, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details.

7. Ralph Sigler’s death doesn’t seem like an accident. 

Ralph Sigler, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, arrived in America when he was eight. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 and got married to a German woman shortly after while he was stationed abroad. When his tour was over, he brought her back to the states and the couple had a child. Over a decade later in 1966, FBI agents arrived at his doorstep to let him know he had been randomly selected to participate in counterespionage. The family’s ordinary life was turned upside down overnight.

In the following years, Sigler fed a great deal of false information to the SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. When he met Russian officials in person, he quickly earned their trust. He identified 14 SVR agents and over time grew worried that the Russians were starting to suspect something. The FBI approached him by this time, but Sigler made plans to retire from the Army

His first contact with Russian officials came in 1968 in Zurich, and he soon earned their trust. Authorities have speculated that Sigler’s work led to the identification of 14 SVR agents. He was given an estimated 0,000 in compensation, every last penny of which he gave to the Army.In the mid-1970s, Sigler worried that he was “getting in too deep” and the Russians were becoming suspicious, which may have led him to offer extra information under pressure. By this time, the FBI had approached him.

The situation grew complicated, and some American intelligence officers were suspicious of his loyalties too. He was forced to take a polygraph test, which showed he was extremely on edge. Concerned, the Army arranged for Sigler to stay at a motel. Sadly, he never left. His body was found in the motel room after he had been electrocuted by two motel lamps. While the Army ruled his death a suicide, most believe he was killed and possibly tortured by Soviet agents. In his last call to his wife, he ominously told her, “I’m dying. I never lied.” He was later awarded the Legion of Merit cross for his sacrifices.

8. During the Vietnam War, troops on both sides claimed to be attacked by large, ape-like creatures. Vietnam doesn’t have apes.

The Vietnam war was chaotic to say the least, but there’s one mystery that has never been explained. Troops from both sides often reported exchanging blows with a group of human-like creatures who had reddish hair and ape-like features. Strangely, there isn’t a single known species of ape in Vietnam.

Other soldiers reported an enormous snake around 100 feet long with a massive, three-foot head. In Vietnamese folklore, such a creature was known as a “Bull Eater.” For comparison, the largest snake ever recorded is a reticulated python named Medusa, who’s 25’2″ long. Either that was a massive exaggeration or a tall tale…or a 100-foot mystery monster is lurking in the jungle.

9. A Revolutionary War hospital dealt with plenty of death, yet no one knows where the dead were laid to rest.

During the American Revolution, there were obviously a lot of injuries. To serve these wounded soldiers, a hospital was built in the new town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, 18th-century medicine wasn’t the best. While medical records were poorly kept, it’s safe to say that hundreds or thousands died there. The strange part is that there’s no record at all of where they were buried. Since there was no formal grave yard nearby, the easiest assumption is that somewhere around Easton, there’s a mass grave from the Revolutionary War that has yet to be found. If I lived in Easton, I might move.

10. What happened to Paul Whipkey?

Fast forward a few years to the 50s. Lieutenant Paul Whipkey was working in the Air Force at Fort Ord, California. He was one of the first to witness an atomic bomb test, and he was doing pretty well. When 1957 arrived, however, things began to go awry. Whipkey stopped acting like himself, dropped weight, and appeared to be constantly ill. He developed black moles all across his body and lost all his teeth. While he was at work, two men in suits frequently arrived to speak with him, and colleagues reported that he always appeared tense when the men left. On July 10th, he left on a trip to Monterey, but he was never seen again.

The events following are shrouded in secrecy. The army cleaned out his apartment almost instantly, and he was classified as a deserter. The army seemed reluctant to search for Whipkey, and in 1977 they destroyed all files on him, yet his status was updated from “deserter” to “killed in action.” Some believe he died on a secret CIA mission, but most people believe he suffered from radiation poisoning due to the atomic bomb detonation he witnessed. I guess we’ll never know!

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What we know about the Kurds fighting against ISIS with help from Delta Force

A raid to rescue Iraqi Security Forces held hostage by ISIS forces in the Kurdish areas of Iraq on Thursday liberated 70 hostages and resulted in the death of one Delta Force operator. The U.S. airlifted Peshmerga and American special operations forces to the compound where they freed the hostages, captured five ISIS fighters, and killed many more.  The Peshmerga suffered four wounded. By now, most people in the West have heard of the Peshmerga and their bravery and exploits against the fundamentalist Sunni Islamist terror group, but the Peshmerga have a long history and a history of productive cooperation with the United States.


Who are the Peshmerga?

In Kurdish, Peshmerga means “one who confronts death.” Their fighters are among the region’s most able forces because of their warrior culture and dedication to their ethnic and national identity as Kurds. The Kurds have been fighting for independence and recognition for centuries. They fought for the Ottoman Empire in World War I but rebelled shortly after in an attempt to create an official homeland.

Late in the 20th century, Iraqi Kurds fought the forces of Saddam Hussein on a number of occasions, suffering a genocidal campaign from Hussein’s Iraq, through al-Anfal, where the dictator dropped Mustard Gas, nerve agents, and Hydrogen Cyanide on Kurds in 1998. Kurds would rise up against him again after Desert Storm in 1991.

Peshmerga vs. ISIS

American and international media have had much to say about the Kurds in recent years, especially as they emerged as the only force capable of stemming the ISIS advance into Iraq in 2014. But the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Kurds have a long history of cooperation and good relations with the United States and its armed forces.

The Peshmerga are the paramilitary force of Northern Iraq’s Kurdish areas. Since the Iraqi Army is forbidden from entering Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga are responsible for the security and protection of Iraqi Kurds. But the Kurdish military didn’t stop there.

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As ISIS advanced into Iraq, they executed those who disagreed with their brand of strict Sunni Islam. A minority population of Yazidis, whose religion is more closely linked to Shia Islam, were forced to flee to the top of Mount Sinjar, where ISIS forces surrounded them as they faced annihilation. The Peshmerga caught the world’s attention when they intervened on behalf of the Yazidis, saving them from slaughter. Since then American airpower and Peshmerga ground forces have been the main thrust to push ISIS back into Syria, where Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighters are engaged with them.

The Kurdish Homeland

Kurds are a tribal society but unlike many Muslims in the region, recognize their ethnic identity as Kurds instead of first identifying as Sunni or Shia Muslims. A great reason for this is the spread of ethnic Kurds throughout the region. The Kurds recognize their traditional lands extending from parts of Iran in the East, through Northern Iraq, and into Syria in the West. The traditional Kurds also see parts of Turkey as traditional Kurdish lands, which has put some Kurds in direct conflict with Turkey, a NATO ally.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
The Kurdish Peshmerga platoon of the newly-formed Joint Iraqi Security Company marches to class, Mosul, Iraq. The U.S. 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division are jointly training Kurdish and Iraqi forces, to become the first self-sufficient local military force. (wikimedia commons)

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, a Communist terrorist organization in Turkey, has been fighting the Turks for decades. The Syrian counterpart to the PKK is the Kurdish YPG, who are aligned against ISIS forces in Syria. The PKK is recognized worldwide as a terror group, the YPG is not and the links between them are disputed. The YPG does not enjoy the official status of the Iraqi Peshmerga. All three groups are sworn enemies of ISIS everywhere.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
(Feriq Fereç – Anadolu Ajansı)

Kurds and the United States

In the days after the 2003 invasion, Kurds worked with U.S. forces to capture Saddam Hussein. They lent their Peshmerga as intelligence agents to assist Delta Force operators in dismantling terrorist and insurgent networks in Iraq. They were instrumental in the capture of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s Hassan Ghul, who would reveal the name of Osama bin Laden’s messenger, which would lead to the raid which killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.

The cooperation of American forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga is one of the most important and productive relationships in the Global War on Terror. Without this alliance, much of the success against international terrorism would never have been realized.

NOW: Musa the Sniper, Sourge of ISIS in Kobani

OR: Meet the US military veterans fighting ISIS

MIGHTY HISTORY

The M16 wasn’t the only rifle that needed cleaning

You may be familiar with the saga of the M16 rifle. In Vietnam, the rifle got a bad rap for jamming, largely caused because the troops didn’t get cleaning kits. After rectifying that omission and making a few tweaks to the rifle, the M16 quickly became a bedrock for American troops.


But the M16 wasn’t the only rifle troops had to remember to keep clean. The M1 Garand, widely celebrated as a war-winning weapon, was another weapon that needed proper, ongoing care. This, of course, is just plain common sense. In one report on the M16, it was noted that no weapon had ever been maintenance-free.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Brandon Ryder, shooter, Apple Valley Gun Club, fires an M1 Garand while wearing World War II era Army attire during the D-Day Match sponsored by the High Desert Competitive Shooting Club at the Combat Center Rifle Range, June 6, 2015. The D-Day invasion was the largest amphibious assault by Allied Forces in history. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas Mudd)

Now, you’re probably familiar with the specs of the M1. It fired the .30-06 Springfield round, was loaded with eight-round clips into an internal magazine, and weighed in at about 11 pounds, four ounces. Of course, this was a semi-automatic rifle. While that meant a grunt could send more rounds downrange than a German or Japanese soldier armed with a bolt-action rifle, the semi-auto mechanisms are a bit more intricate and, as a consequence, high-maintenance.

If the rifle got dirty, it would likely jam — and as grunts in Vietnam learned with the M16, a jammed rifle can put you in a very bad situation very quickly. In Vietnam, the Army used a cartoon book to help train troops on how to maintain their rifles. When combined with the improved M16A1 rifle, the problems ended.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day
Cover of U.S. Army comic on M16 maintenance. (U.S. Army graphic)

Check out the U.S. Army training film below from World War II about the need to keep the M1 clean. Taking the form of a letter written to a younger brother entering the service, it passes on the hard-earned wisdom from the mistakes of another grunt.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF5MNSp93Aw
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
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WWII nose art motivated airmen with sex and humor

From the court-martial of Billy Mitchell to Robin Olds’ mustache, U.S. Air Force history is filled with examples of Airmen thumbing their nose at authority. So of course what started as a way to identify friendly units in mid-air in World War I quickly evolved into a way of thumbing one’s nose at military uniformity and authority. The unintended consequence of that effort is a gallery of beauty and style — a lasting legacy in the minds of generations to come.


This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

This art form is as old as powered flight. In the context of war, crews created designs to immortalize their hometowns, their wives and sweethearts back home, to earn themselves a name in the minds of their enemies, or provide some kind of psychological protection from death, among other motifs.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Some things were universal. “Mors ab alto” is Latin for “Death from above.” And then some art was based entirely on the record of the plane. Like the B-29 Superfortress Bockscar, below, who dropped the atomic bomb dubbed Fat Man on Nagasaki, Japan, and whose nose art depicts a train boxcar nuking Nagasaki.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Nose art was also a great way to build esprit de corps with the crew and maintainers around a plane, as seen in this photo of the crew of Waddy’s Wagon recreating their own nose art.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Of course, a list of the best WWII nose art would not be complete without the pin-ups.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Nose art wasn’t all sexy women and bombs, though. Some crews used their nose to (deservedly) brag.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Don Gentile, World War II Eagle Squadron member and the first ace to beat Eddie Rickenbacker’s WWI dogfighting record, flew a P-51B famously called Shangri-La, which featured a bird wearing boxing gloves.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

And sometimes, when your war record is long enough, it’s okay to let the world know you’re watching the clock.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Popular cartoons were also featured on World War II-era planes. Walt Disney famously looked the other way (in terms of copyright infringement) for much of the art done in the name of winning the war, notably on bomber jackets and nose art. The RAF’s Ian Gleed flew a Supermarine Spitfire featuring Geppetto’s cat Figaro.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

American pilot and Doolittle Raider Ted Lawson flew a B-25 Mitchell Bomber over Tokyo called the Ruptured Duck, an image of an angry, sweating Donald Duck wearing pilot headphones in front of crossed crutches.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

 

Next time you watch Dumbo with your kids, remember that Dumbo dropped ordnance on Japan and was said to be fairly accurate.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Bomb icons depicted the number of missions flown over the enemy. For some icons weren’t enough. Thumper here took the war personally and marked the name of each city it bombed.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Nose art was also used to complain (as all troops do) as a way to deal with the monotony of deployed life, the lack of supplies, and/or the frustrations of the crew to keep their bird flying, as seen by Malfunction Sired by Ford (below).

461st Bomb Group 767th Bomb Squadron 15th AF. Nose art „Malfunction Sired By Ford

Or it was used to brag that they could keep their girl in the air, with whatever they had lying around.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Some crews definitely brought their A-game to the art form, like the crew of this B-29 Superfortress.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Others tried, but were ultimately (and obviously) better suited to fighting the war than designing the nose of their B-24 Liberator.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

The award for all-around best nose-art in World War II has to go to the RAF’s James Archibald Findlay MacLachlan, who lost an arm to a combat injury early in the war and thus had to fly with a prosthetic limb. His fighter plane’s nose depicted the hand from his own amputated arm making the “V for Victory” sign.

This must-visit museum shows the veteran experience from Civil War to present day

Now: 6 of the most badass US military test pilots of all time

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