Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts - We Are The Mighty
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Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

The United States owes its success in the Revolutionary War to help from France. The chief architect of that help was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette. In America, we simply call him “Lafayette.”

When France needed help during World War I, a squadron of American airmen volunteered their skills to fight against Germany. They called themselves the Lafayette Escadrille. When American troops finally arrived in France years later, their leaders walked into the tomb of the nobleman and announced, “Lafayette, we are here.”

The Escadrille Lafayette in July 1917 (U.S. Air Force photo)

The relationship between the Marquis and the United States has endured for many centuries because of his admiration and service to a country that was not his own. That admiration runs so deep, that the nobleman is buried in American soil – in Paris. 

When the Marquis de Lafayette came to the United States to fight the British in the Revolution, he was so committed to the cause that he volunteered to serve without pay. Unlike other French officers volunteering, Lafayette had the military pedigree to be of use and soon came to be the right hand man to Gen. George Washington himself. 

That pedigree didn’t come with much experience. Lafayette would be learning as he served the American cause. Luckily, as a wealthy man, his personal contributions more than made up for what he lacked in military experience. But as he gained that valuable experience, he proved himself an able commander.

A dedicated Enlightenment thinker, his devotion to the cause of American ideals led him to fight in several battles, to be wounded at the battle of Brandywine, and encourage France to recognize American independence. Most crucially, it was Lafayette’s forces that harassed Cornwallis on his way to Yorktown.

John Ward Dunsmore’s 1907 depiction of Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge (Wikimedia Commons)

This forced the British to move across the James River, where they were eventually trapped by Washington, Lafayette and Comte de Rochambeau  by land and the French fleet by sea. He was forced to surrender his army after an almost three-week siege. It was the beginning of the end of the war, and the start of the American experiment.

Lafayette fought in the Continental Army all over the colonies, from New England to the Mid-Atlantic to the South, and was one of the few things that all the new states of the United States had in common. He so loved the ideals of the American Revolution that he tried to export them to France when he returned home. 

His advocacy for American liberty would serve him and his wife well in the coming years of the French Revolution. The French admiration for American values saved the lives of the noble and his wife. 

Lafayette would return to the United States many times in the years following the revolution. His visits would confirm the idea that the Founding Fathers had created a functioning democracy, based on the egalitarian values of the Enlightenment. He came to love the United States and proclaimed that he wanted to be buried in American soil.

Marquis de Lafayette
Lafayette’s grave (Wikimedia Commons)

On his final visit to the United States, Lafayette filled a trunk full of earth from the land near Boston’s Bunker Hill. When the noble died in 1834, his son interred him in the dirt from America. The American flag has flown over his grave continuously since 1850, a simple site behind an innocuous high stone wall.

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BB King was booted out of the Army for being a tractor driver

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts


Legendary blues guitarist B.B. King died today at the age of 89. King was renowned for his signature playing style and his singing voice. He was also one of the first blues “crossover” artists, making a big dent on the rock music charts with his cover of “The Thrill is Gone,” which became a hit for him in 1969. Over the years King shared the stage with many major acts including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, and U2.

King was also a military veteran, although he only served for a short time. He was inducted into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II but released immediately following boot camp after officials ruled him as “essential to the war economy” based on his experience as a tractor driver.

Here’s a great video about King’s life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqUhdBAJfsk

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5 problems infantry Marines will understand

Marine infantrymen thrive on hardship. Whether it’s training and deploying to austere environments, learning to do more with less, or figuring out how to catch Z’s anywhere, grunt life in the infantry is very different from the rest of the Marine Corps.


There are also some problems specific to the infantry community. We came up with five, but if you can think of some more, leave a comment.

 

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

1. Physical training often consists of “death runs” and they feel just like it sounds.

Physical training is a part of being a Marine, but it’s much more demanding as an infantryman. Life in the grunts usually means waking up early to go on a “death run,” which isn’t that far off the mark. While the Marine physical fitness test (PFT) has a timed three-mile run, grunts can expect to go way beyond that.

On “death runs” that I’ve personally been on — also known jokingly as “fun runs” — our platoon commander or platoon sergeant would take us on runs over the seven-mile mark at an insane pace. And for extra fun, sometimes we wore gas masks. Gotta love it.

2. Your platoon commander is guaranteed to get you completely lost at some point.

When he’s not running you into the dirt, your platoon commander is supposed to be planning missions and leading. But sometimes that means leading you into who-knows-where. It’s a running joke that second lieutenants are terrible at land navigation, but it’s not that far off. He’s guaranteed to get you lost at least once. Let’s just hope it only happens in training.

3. I hope you’re ready for the non-grunt company First Sergeant who wants to “get back to the basics.”

Infantry Marines hold the 0300 military occupational specialty, as do their officers with 0302. But since company first sergeants perform mostly administrative duty (compared to Master Sergeants who remain in their field), they aren’t required to hold the infantry MOS. Although plenty of them do come up from the infantry ranks, some come from completely unrelated fields.

Grunt first sergeants are usually focused on the mission of the infantry (locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy), but first sergeants outside of the MOS sometimes focus on “getting back to the basics” — aka cleaning the barracks, holding uniform inspections, and marching properly. These are all good things for junior Marines to be exposed to in their careers. Just don’t expect them to like it.

4. Excuse me sir, do you have a moment to talk about prickly heat?

Training in the field can lead to some weird physical problems for grunts. In humid places, Marines can expect something called “prickly heat” — a very annoying rash that develops after sweating profusely. When you’re out in the field for days or weeks and not able to take a shower, that tends to happen quite a bit.

Then of course, there’s that terrible smell you develop. But luckily, you’re around a bunch of other people who smell terrible so you don’t even notice. Great success!

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Photo Credit: DoD

5. Range 400.

This legendary training range is a rite of passage for infantry Marines. With machine guns firing over their heads and mortars dropping down in support, grunts rush forward to attack a fortified “enemy” position in 29 Palms, California. It sounds awesome, and it is. It’s also an ass kicker.

“It’s the only range in the Marine Corps where overhead fire is authorized,” Capt. Andy S. Watson explained in a Marine Corps news release. “We are also granted a waiver to close within 250 meters of 81mm mortar fire. Normally, it is only 400 meters. Therefore, Range 400 gives Marines a realistic training experience of closing close into fires. They can’t get that anywhere else in the Marine Corps.”

DON’T MISS: 13 Signs You’re An Infantryman

OR WATCH: Life in the Marine Corps Infantry

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This is why Fallujah is one of the Marine Corps’ most legendary battles

On Nov. 10, 1775, a man named Samuel Nicholas went to Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Penn. There he began a recruitment process to put sharpshooters on Naval vessels to protect them. He also wanted to create a landing force for some of the most intense battles in the Revolutionary War.


Those that signed became the very first United States Marines. Over the centuries, Marines gained status as their very own military branch and earned a reputation as one of the most hardened, violent, and distinguished fighting forces in military history.

Related video:

From here, it would be easy to go into the long and honorable history of the Marine Corps. Instead, it’s important to focus on a more recent Marine Corps birthday, one of which took place during The Battle of Fallujah. Though the Marine Corps’ birthday has landed on many the days of battles over time, Fallujah is the most recent and was called, “the biggest urban battle since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam.”

The Battle of Fallujah was the biggest battle of the Iraq War yet many don’t know about the battle itself, let alone a significant day in this battle. It marked some of the fiercest fighting the U.S. military had seen in some thirty years.

The city had been a stronghold for insurgent forces since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Different coalition forces tried to secure the city and bring order — to no avail; coalition troops backed out of the city and it quickly grew into a bastion for all enemy fighters in the area.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Marines were sent to start taking over the city in early 2004, but many political problems arose and the advance was stopped. They made quite a big push, but were quickly told to pull out. November then came, and the Marines were sent in again to liberate the city and eliminate the enemy from of every inch of it.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

The 10th of November was three days into the second battle. By this time, the enemy inside began to mount a major defense – a complex, formidable one. I started the battle with an entire machine gun squad, until mortars rained down on a street where were pulling security. Once the smoke started to clear, only two of us were what remained of a seven-man machine gun squad.

Many Marines of 3rd battalion 1st Marines engaged in grueling house-to-house fighting. Our platoon crashed through a door of a house and engaged in one firefight after another. It seemed as if everyone was wounded from enemy small arms fire and indirect fire, like RPGs and mortars. Still, we all continued the fight, clearing houses of multiple enemy occupants. Some houses were even leveled to take out any enemy defenses and personnel who might have been hiding within. Why send in men when a single good Bangalore can do the job?

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

But this day felt different from any other day of the battle. That’s when many of us suddenly realized was it was the Marine Corps Birthday, “OUR” birthday. Instead of getting drunk and eating lobster and steak, we were doing the one thing every Marine trains for, thinks about, and begs to do.

We were celebrating our birthday in the heat of battle.

While Marines celebrate our birthday every year with exuberance and tradition, some of us remember Fallujah, the birthday that exemplified what it means to be a United States Marine.

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The US just tested an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile

An unarmed Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile has been launched from a U.S. Air Force Base in California on a flight to a target in the Pacific Ocean.


The missile lifted off at 12:03 a.m. April 26 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

An Air Force statement said the mission was part of a program to test the effectiveness, readiness, and accuracy of the weapon system.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Another unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched during an operational test Dec. 17, 2013 and again on Sep. 5, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Yvonne Morales)

The 30th Space Wing commander, Col. John Moss, said Minuteman launches are essential to verify the status of the U.S. nuclear force and to demonstrate the national nuclear capabilities.

In a Minuteman test, a so-called re-entry vehicle travels more than 4,000 miles downrange to a target at Kwajalein Atoll near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

“Team V is once again ready to work with Air Force Global Strike Command to successfully launch another Minuteman III missile,” Moss said. “These Minuteman launches are essential to verify the status of our national nuclear force and to demonstrate our national nuclear capabilities. We are proud of our long history in partnering with the men and women of the 576th Flight Test Squadron to execute these missions for the nation.”

The 576th Flight Test Squadron will be responsible for installed tracking, telemetry, and command destruct systems on the missile.

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Browning’s great-great-great grandchildren: 3 badass new 1911s (and 2011s)

The venerable 1911 has been in military service for over a century now — in every branch, in every war America’s fought. Once the old Model 1873 Colts proved themselves in the Philippines and the results of the Thompson-Legarde tests became known, the transition to the .45 caliber round was set.


And so it was, as articulated in the recommendation passed on to the War Department.

“…a bullet, which will have a shock effect and stopping effect at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver, should have a caliber not less than .45.”

Enter Saint Browning, hallowed patron of automatic fire; John M. Browning began testing his iconic semi-auto in 1910. It was formally adopted by the Army in 1911, and by the Navy and Marine Corps two years later.

It’s a badass and much beloved pistol, and rightly so — that is, no doubt, why so many manufacturers continue to build them today.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Some are, of course, some better than others. But here are three beautifully crafted and ridiculously rugged modern versions of St. Browning’s famous design.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

1. STI International DVC Tactical 2011 – Texas Proud

That’s correct, they call it the 2011; it’s a 21st century weapon, hand crafted in Texas.

STI International says they designed the weapon with tactical shooters in mind, incorporating the most functional features of their competition guns to do so. It’s coated in a low visibility DLC (Diamond Like Coating) finish, and uses a TiAIN (Titanium Aluminum Nitride), copper-tinted barrel. (We’re not sure if the copper tint is anything more than an aesthetic feature, and we don’t care — these things are sexier than fifty panty-less Suicide Girls in a tight t-shirt).

The DVC Tactical 2011  features slide lightening cuts, a threaded barrel, accessory rail, an aggressively stippled grip, and undercut trigger guard. Sights are standard, so you’d have to change them out if you’re going to put a can on it. Sights are Tritium Fixed Ledge, Trigger is 3.5 lbs with an ambi safety, and it uses a Dawson Precision Tool-Less guide rod.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

It’s available in either .45 or 9mm.

PERFORMANCE FEATURES

•BBL- 5.00 inch Threaded Bull Barrel, TiAIN coating

•FINISH- Diamond Like Carbon, Black Color

•MAGAZINES- 2 ea / 140mm, Black Color

•TRIGGER- 3.5 lbs w/Ambi Safety Lever

•SIGHTS- Tritium Fixed Ledge Sights

•GRIPS- 2011 DVC Stippled, Black Color

•OTHER- Dawson Precision Tool-Less Guide Rod, Tactical Magwell, Thread Protector, Picatinny Under-Rail

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Learn more here.

While you’re on their website, you might also check out their H.O.S.T. series gun, which are built to host sights with an RMR plate. H.O.S.T. stands for Holographic Optic Slide Top. It’s designed to, you guessed it, host a sight, light, and/or suppressors. The slide top is milled to accept a micro-red dot optic, comes with a removable cover plate and adapter plates for a wide variety of pistol optics.

 

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

2. Wilson Combat EDC 9 – Arkansas Goodness for Decades

The Wilson Combat EDC is designed for “…hard use and everyday concealed carry.” It’s built with what they call their Enhanced Reliability System, and like all their guns is built in their facility near a small town in NW Arkansas. Bill Wilson and his outfit have been building guns there since the ’70s.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

It’s a compact, carbon steel frame with a 4-inch Tri-Top slide, 4-inch stainless cone barrel with flush cut reverse crown, a fluted chamber, and fluted barrel. The ERS portion of the EDC9’s features includes a spring-loaded extractor, match grade fluted (single lug) barrel, adjustable elevation sights, and…

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Ah, to hell with it, we’ll just let them tell you . They’ll do it better.

The “ERS” includes: robust spring-loaded external extractor that improves extraction in all conditions with all types of ammunition; A match grade, fluted barrel with single lug geometry to reduce cycling friction, enhance slide velocity, and improve feed reliability; Removal of the frame rails around the mag opening to further reduce friction and promote function in adverse shooting environments; A low mass, Tri-Top slide profile for reduced muzzle flip and enhanced cycling and our Tactical Adjustable Battlesight (TAB) for easy point of impact elevation adjustment. Wilson Combat 

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

SPECS

  • Available Calibers: 9mm
  • Magazine Capacity: 9 rounds
  • Barrel Length: 4″
  • Overall Length: 7.6″
  • Sight Radius: 5.6″
  • Height: 5.1″
  • Width: 1.3″
  • Weight Empty: 38 oz
  • Weight Loaded: 42 oz
  • Accuracy Guarantee: 1.5″ at 25 yds

Learn more about it here.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Image courtesy Greg Skaz Photography

3. The Dan Wesson Discretion – New York State of Style

This 1911 was purpose built for the ever-increasing number of people who enjoy shooting with suppressors. That’s why it comes with an extended, match-grade stainless barrel and high Tritium sights. A ported slide, serrated trigger and competition-worthy trigger (as they describe it) all contrive to make it a pleasure to shoot.

Available in .45 or 9mm, it also features a ball end mill cut, fairly aggressive checkering on both the front strap and mainspring housing, a long, slotted trigger with a serrated face, and a 1913 Pic rail.  The square hammer and top rib running down the slide give it a unique appearance.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Learn more here.

Even if you’re not interested in the Discretion, you should visit that page and scroll to the bottom. Their 360 view is pretty damn cool.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Image courtesy Greg Skaz Photography

They’ve definitely evolved from the 1911s your great grandpappy used to service Nazis — and from the ones in the trenches a couple decades earlier.

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7 incredible stories of heroism on 9/11

The worst terrorist attack in U.S. history turned more than a few ordinary Americans into heroes.


Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on Sep. 11, 2001, after al Qaeda hijackers flew airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York. More than 6,000 were injured.

Tens of thousands of people typically worked in the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and most were able to escape. While all who endured that terrible day can be considered brave, there are some who went above and beyond in trying to save lives, and ultimately prevented the tragedy from becoming even worse.

1. A 24-year-old equities trader helped at least a dozen people get out, and then he went back in with firefighters to save more.

Just a few minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center, 24-year-old Welles Crowther called his mother and calmly left a voicemail: “Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.”

Crowther was an equities trader at Sandler O’Neil and Partners on the 104th floor. But after that call, the man who was a volunteer firefighter in his teens made his way down to the 78th floor sky lobby and became a hero to strangers known only as “the man in the red bandana.”

Via Mic:

Amid the smoke, chaos and debris, Crowther helped injured and disoriented office workers to safety, risking his own life in the process. Though they couldn’t see much through the haze, those he saved recalled a tall figure wearing a red bandana to shield his lungs and mouth.
He had come down to the 78th-floor sky lobby, an alcove in the building with express elevators meant to speed up trips to the ground floor. In what’s been described as a “strong, authoritative voice,” Crowther directed survivors to the stairway and encouraged them to help others while he carried an injured woman on his back. After bringing her 15 floors down to safety, he made his way back up to help others.

“Everyone who can stand, stand now,” Crowther told survivors while directing them to a stairway exit. “If you can help others, do so.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWKPjSirbcU

“He’s definitely my guardian angel — no ifs, ands or buts — because without him, we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down,” survivor Ling Young told CNN. Crowther is credited with saving at least a dozen people that day.

Crowther’s body was later recovered alongside firefighters in a stairwell heading back up the tower with the “jaws of life” rescue tool, according to Mic.

2. A group of strangers teamed up to take back United Flight 93, preventing the plane from killing untold numbers of people in the U.S. Capitol.

At approximately 9:28 a.m. on Sep. 11, 2001, United Flight 93 was hijacked by four al Qaeda terrorists. After the terrorists had stabbed the pilot and a flight attendant, the passengers were told that a bomb was onboard and the plane was heading back to the airport.

But this was after two planes had already hit the World Trade Center, and the passengers on United 93 — huddled in the back of the plane — were beginning to find out what the real plan was. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., several passengers made phone calls to their loved ones.

“Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast,” Deena Burnett told her husband Tom, a passenger on United 93, in a cell phone call at 9:34 a.m. “They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.” In another phone call, Tom learned from his wife that another plane had hit the Pentagon.

“We have to do something,” Burnett told his wife at 9:45 a.m. “I’m putting a plan together.” Other passengers, including Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, and Todd Beamer, were learning similar details in their own phone calls, as the plane was barreling towards Washington, D.C.

The passengers voted on whether to fight back against the hijackers. Led by the four man group, the passengers then rushed the cockpit, with Beamer rallying them in his last words: “You ready? Okay, let’s roll.”

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Photo: US Air Force

From The Guardian:

From 9.57, the cockpit recorder picks up the sounds of fighting in an aircraft losing control at 30,000 feet – the crash of trolleys, dishes being hurled and smashed. The terrorists scream at each other to hold the door against what is obviously a siege from the cabin. A passenger cries: ‘Let’s get them!’ and there is more screaming, then an apparent breach. ‘Give it to me!’ shouts a passenger, apparently about to seize the controls.

Instead of the plane hitting its intended target — believed to be The White House or the Capitol Building — it crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 44 passengers onboard.

3. Two former U.S. Marines put their uniforms back on and searched through rubble that could have collapsed at any moment. They found two survivors.

While the planes were hitting the World Trade Center, 27-year-old Jason Thomas was dropping off his daughter to his mother in Long Island. When Thomas heard what had transpired, he changed into the Marine Corps uniform he had sitting in his trunk — he was a former sergeant who had been out of the Corps for a year — and sped toward Manhattan.

“Someone needed help. It didn’t matter who,” Thomas told AP. “I didn’t even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, ‘My city is in need.'”

Around the same time in Wilton, Connecticut, Dave Karnes was working in his office at Deloitte watching the attack unfold on TV. “We’re at war,” the former Marine staff sergeant said to his colleagues, before telling his boss he might not be back for a while, according to Slate. He went and got a haircut, changed into his Marine uniform, and drove toward New York City at 120 miles per hour.

Once both Marines reached the collapsed towers — the site now covered in ash and debris — they began searching for survivors, but first, they found each other. They had little gear with them besides flashlights and a military entrenching tool, AP reported.

Along with other first responders, the pair climbed over the dangerous field of metal, concrete, and dust, calling out, “United States Marines! If you can hear us, yell or tap!”

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Staff Sgt. Dave Karnes (Photo: USMC)

According to Stripes:

When they reached a depression in the rubble of what had been the south tower, he said, “I thought I heard someone. … So I yelled down and they replied back that they were New York Port Authority police officers. “They asked us not to leave them.” Karnes told Thomas to get to a high point to direct rescuers to the site, then called his wife and sister on his cell phone and told them to phone and give the New York police his location.

The two officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, were on the main concourse between the towers when the South Tower began to fall, but made it into a freight elevator before the collapse. They were alive but seriously injured, trapped approximately 20 feet below the surface.

According to USA Today, once they heard the voices of the Marines, Jimeno began shouting the code for officer down: “8-13! 8-13!” After they were located amid the unstable mountain of debris, it took rescue workers roughly three hours to dig out Jimeno, and another eight to reach McLoughlin, who was buried further down.

An exhausted Thomas, who never gave his first name, left the site after Jimeno was rescued, but returned to Ground Zero for the next 2 1/12 weeks to help. His identity was a mystery until after Oliver Stone’s 2006 film “World Trade Center” chronicled the rescue of the officers, and Thomas emerged from the shadows.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Sgt. Jason Thomas at Ground Zero (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Karnes also left after Jimeno came up, but helped at the site for another nine days. After he returned to Connecticut, he went to his reserve center and reenlisted, and later served two tours of duty in Iraq.

4. Two flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 11 calmly relayed information on the hijackers that would help the FBI determine the perpetrators were al Qaeda.

Fifteen minutes after takeoff from Boston, American Airlines Flight 11 was hijacked by five al Qaeda terrorists and sharply changed its flight path away from Los Angeles to New York City. With the group leader Mohamed Atta at the controls and some flight attendants and passengers stabbed, the terrorists pushed the remaining passengers toward the back of the plane.

Using crew telephones, flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney calmly relayed information to their colleagues on what was unfolding that morning. “Okay, my name is Betty Ong. I’m number 3 on Flight 11. And the cockpit is not answering their phone, and there’s somebody stabbed in business class, and there’s — we can’t breathe in business class. Somebody’s got mace or something.”

Speaking with an American Airlines reservation center, Ong explained that some of the crew had been murdered and hijackers had infiltrated the cockpit. She shared information on the men, including their seat numbers and what they looked like. Her colleague Amy Sweeney did the same.

The New York Observer has more:

Sweeney slid into a passenger seat in the next-to-last row of coach and used an Airfone to call American Airlines Flight Service at Boston’s Logan airport. “This is Amy Sweeney,” she reported. “I’m on Flight 11 — this plane has been hijacked.” She was disconnected. She called back: “Listen to me, and listen to me very carefully.” Within seconds, her befuddled respondent was replaced by a voice she knew. “Amy, this is Michael Woodward.” The American Airlines flight service manager had been friends with Sweeney for a decade, so he didnt have to waste any time verifying that this wasn’t a hoax. “Michael, this plane has been hijacked,” Ms. Sweeney repeated. Calmly, she gave him the seat locations of three of the hijackers: 9D, 9G and 10B. She said they were all of Middle Eastern descent, and one spoke English very well.

Those on the other end of the line were astonished at their calm demeanor and professionalism at the time, according to ABC News. At least 20 minutes before the plane crashed into the North Tower, American Airlines had the names, addresses, and other information on three of the five hijackers, details that would help the FBI get a jumpstart on the investigation.

Nydia Gonzales, an operations specialist with American, later testified to the 9/11 Commission about the calm demeanor of Ong, who asked her to “pray for us.”

5. Rick Rescorla was responsible for saving more than 2,700 lives, and he sang songs to keep people calm while they evacuated.

Rick Rescorla was already a hero of the battlefields of Vietnam, where he earned the Silver Star and other awards for his exploits as an Army officer. Rescorla — once immortalized on the cover of the book “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young” — would often sing to his men to calm them down while under fire, using songs of his youth while growing up in the United Kingdom.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Many more in the South Tower would hear his songs on Sep. 11, where Rescorla was working as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley. When American Flight 11 hit the tower next to him, Port Authority ordered Rescorla to keep his employees at their desks, according to San Diego Source.

“I said, ‘Piss off, you son of a bitch,'” Rescorla told Daniel Hill, a close friend who was trained in counterterrorism, in a phone call that morning. “Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it’s going to take the whole building with it. I’m getting my people the fuck out of here.”

Rescorla, who had frequently warned the Port Authority and his company about the World Trade Center’s security weaknesses, had already issued the order to evacuate. He had made Morgan Stanley employees practice emergency drills for years, and it paid off that day: Just 16 minutes after the first plane hit the opposite tower, more than 2,700 employees and visitors were out when the second plane hit their building.

During the evacuation, Rescorla calmly reassured people. singing “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” over a bullhorn as they walked down the stairs.

During the evacuation Rescorla called his wife, according to The New Yorker:

“Stop crying,” he told her. “I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”

Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower, heading upward to look for any stragglers. His body was never found.

6. Two unarmed F-16s scrambled to stop any other hijacked airliners and the pilots were prepared to give their lives to stop them.

With scant detail of what was happening and no time to do pre-flight checklists, two D.C. Air National Guard pilots quickly scrambled to intercept United 93 after two other planes had hit the World Trade Center.

Except there was a twist: They were unarmed. Via NBC News:

In the days before Sept. 11, there were no armed aircraft standing guard in Washington, D.C., ready to scramble at the first sign of trouble. And with a Boeing 757 aircraft speeding in the direction of Washington, D.C., Penney and her commanding officer, Col. Marc Sasseville, couldn’t wait the dozens of minutes it was going to take to properly arm their respective jets.

“We had to protect the airspace any way we could,” Maj. Heather Penney recalled to The Washington Post in 2011. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.” Before they took off, Penney and Sasseville both planned to ram the aircraft with their F-16s.

Instead, the passengers on United 93 made the intercept unnecessary, ultimately fighting back against the hijackers and downing the aircraft into a Pennsylvania field 20 minutes outside of Washington.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

7. A tour guide at the Pentagon gave medical aid to the injured outside, then went back in to the building while it was still in flames.

Army Spc. Beau Doboszenski was working as a tour guide on the opposite side of the Pentagon when the building was struck by American Airlines Flight 77, and didn’t even hear it. But Doboszenski, a former volunteer firefighter and trained EMT, responded after a Navy captain asked for anyone with medical training, The Army News Service reported.

“Specialist Beau Doboszenski was a tour guide that morning, on the far side of the building,” Vice President Joe Biden said on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. “So far away, in fact, he never heard the plane hit. But he shortly felt the commotion. He could have gone home — no one would have blamed him. But he was also a trained EMT and came from a family of firefighters.”

Doboszenski ended up running around the building to try to get to the crash but was stopped by police. Eventually he went around the barricades to reach a medical triage station, and helped give first aid to numerous victims. Afterward, he joined a six-man team that went back in to look for survivors, while the building was still in flames.

“When people started streaming out of the building and screaming, he sprinted toward the crash site,” Biden said. “For hours, he altered between treating his co-workers and dashing into the inferno with a team of six men.”

NOW: Never-before-seen photos show Bush administration officials right after 9/11

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things to know about the Gallic Wars

Julius Caesar is known as one of the greatest generals of all time. He was so inspiring that he persuaded his army to cross the Rubicon River and march on Rome, to overthrow the politicians who threatened to strip Caesar of his military command. Caesar had to earn their loyalty, though, and he earned his reputation as a brilliant commander in the Gallic Wars. These conflicts were fought between 58 and 50 BC in the land the Romans called Gaul (and we call France). Here are six things to know about the Gallic Wars.

1. Caesar fought the wars to pay off his debts

In the year 59 BC, Caesar served as consul, one of the highest positions in the Roman government. In Roman politics, you won votes through bribery, and Caesar spent so much money that by the end of his consulship he was riddled with debts. There was an easy solution to this problem: give himself a province. Provincial governors could enrich themselves through conquest and plunder, and Caesar ended up receiving a stunning three provinces to govern: Transalpine Gaul, Cisalpine Gaul, and Illyricum (southern France, North Italy, and the western Balkans, respectively). But to the north, there was Gaul, ripe for the taking.

2. The conflict started out small

When Caesar learned that a Gallic tribe called the Helvetii were planning on migrating through Transalpine Gaul, he started to fortify the Rhone River to stall their movement. The Helvetii were denied the right to cross, so they doubled back to find a different route, all the while raiding and plundering other Gauls. These oppressed tribes came to Caesar asking for help defending themselves from the Helvetii, and Caesar obliged. Over the course of a few months, the Romans pursued the Helvetii and whittled down their forces before finally defeating them at the Battle of Bibracte.               

3. Many Gauls wanted Caesar there…

Many Gauls were impressed with Caesar’s defeat of the Helvetii and so asked him to defeat the Germanic tribe of the Suebi that was invading Gaul. Caesar could not declare war just yet because the Suebi king Ariovistus was technically a Roman ally, but repeated harassment of the Gallic tribes gave Caesar the justification he needed to declare war. By the end of the year 58 BC, Caesar had defeated Ariovistus. The next year Caesar and his legions marched to fight the Belgae, a Gallic confederation that was harassing a Roman-allied tribe. The most warlike of the Belgae were the Nervii, who surprised the Romans at the Battle of the Sabis and nearly defeated them. Caesar, however, was able to turn the tide of battle and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Belgae surrendered to Caesar shortly after. Lots of Gauls were happy that Caesar was there to protect them from dangerous tribes, but others were starting to chafe under Roman rule.

4. …until they didn’t

In 54 BC, the Eburones tribe under king Ambiorix revolted against Caesar’s rule, slaughtering thousands of Romans at the fortress of Atuatuca. The Romans responded by attacking Ambiorix’s allies and isolated the Eburones until the rebellion fizzled out. This, however, was only the precursor to a much larger rebellion. Vercingetorix, king of the Averni tribe, had been making alliances with other tribes for a while now, and in 52 BC, Vercingetorix and his united tribes rebelled against Rome. The Romans chased the Gauls throughout Gaul until Vercingetorix holed up in the fortified city of Alesia, which Caesar could not take. On top of that, Vercingetorix summoned his Gallic allies to attack the Romans who were stationed outside Alesia. The Romans were able to defend themselves from Gallic attacks within and without the city until Vercingetorix surrendered. There were more campaigns to wipe out the last elements of resistance, but Caesar had successfully conquered Gaul for Rome.

5. Caesar went as far as Britain and Germany

Back in 56 BC, Caesar started a new campaign against the Veneti tribe, which had taken Roman hostages and threatened to kill them unless the Romans sent them food. The Romans were victorious after a long campaign on sea and land. Afterwards Caesar started two controversial campaigns: one across the Rhine River in what the Romans called Germania, and one across the English Channel in what the Romans called Britannia. Neither campaign yielded much fruit, but the fact that Caesar had crossed into the “barbarian” lands of Britain and Germany left an impression on the minds of many Romans.

6. Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars himself

One of the most important historical sources for the Gallic Wars is the Commentari de Bello Gallico, or Commentary on the Gallic Wars, written by Julius Caesar himself. With this book, Caesar could record the history of the Gallic Wars for posterity, while also defending his actions to the Romans, many of whom were suspicious of his imperialist tendencies. Although Caesar is most famous for his dictatorship over the Roman Republic, his conquests during the Gallic Wars supplied him with the support and resources he would require to change the course of Roman history.

Articles

The 9 worst scams targeting military veterans

Numerous scams often target military members due to their consistent paychecks and many troops being young and financially inexperienced. From predatory lending to online scams, it’s important for service members to learn how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of. Here are 9 scams every military service member needs to be aware of.


1. Social Media Scams (Card Popping)
Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Fake accounts are being created on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, where scammers often impersonate military personnel. They will then friend military troops and begin building a relationship through direct messaging. Eventually they will claim they can make you quick money by depositing money in to your account and in exchange you just send them a fee. They will ask for personal banking information such as your username, password, bank card number, and pin. Once the information is exchanged they deposit fraudulent checks and withdraw the cash, leaving you without money and possibly liable for the losses.

2. Rental Housing Scams

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Scammers will post fake rental properties on classified websites in areas around military bases and communities targeting troops. Service members moving in to the area will be offered fake military discounts and be asked for a security deposit by wiring money to the landlord.

3. Military Loans

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Military car and personal loans that require no credit check, have instant approval, upfront fees, or promise guarantees are highly likely to have hidden fees and terms that take advantage of service members, leaving them with crippling debt.

4. Veterans’ Benefits Buyout Scam

Military veterans hard pressed for cash may be lured into this buyout plan offering a cash payment in exchange for their future disability pension payments and benefits. However, these payouts are only about 30 to 40 percent of what their value is and structured in ways harmful to veterans’ finances.

5. Car Purchase Scams

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Photo: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jennifer Brofer

Using websites that offer classified ads, scammers will create car ads targeting military members. They will pretend they are a service member who is being deployed or moving because they are being stationed somewhere else and need to get rid of their car quickly. They will ask for wire transfers or up front fees and will offer fake claims such as free shipping or discounts.

6. Employment Scams

Veterans and active duty members searching for jobs may come across employers who offer special consideration for their military service. Be wary of employers asking for personal information such as bank account numbers or that want to conduct a credit or background check. Some are scams that use your personal information to steal your identity and/or expose you to fraud.

7. Jury Duty Scam

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Photo: Marine Corps Sgt. Rebekka Heite

Military members will be targeted by callers who claim they work with the court system and tell the service member has a warrant out for their arrest due to not showing up for jury duty. Fearing they can get in trouble by their command, the caller says it can be taken care of by providing personal information such as a social security or credit card number.

8. Veterans Affairs Scam

Military veterans are being targeted by phone scammers who call claiming they work for Veterans Affairs and say they need to update their information with the VA. The VA never calls and asks for your private information by phone.

9. Military Life Insurance Scams

Hard sales tactics are used by agents who target military members. They will make false and inflated claims about life insurance policy benefits which are expensive and most likely unnecessary.

Learn how to protect yourself!

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

To help military members and their families the Better Business Bureau has created a BBB Military Line to educate service members on how to protect themselves. Be sure to follow their Facebook page to keep up to date on all current scams and ways to protect yourselves.

(Note: The BBB has put out a warning about scammers trying to take advantage of the military and veteran community during Memorial Day weekend. Read how you can protect yourself.)

SEE ALSO: Army Captain saves 3 lives while wearing ‘Captain America’ t-shirt

MIGHTY HISTORY

Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to avenge his father’s death

Relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, spoke out in an interview with The Guardian published Aug. 3, 2018, about their family’s dark legacy — and they suggested that the family’s involvement with terrorism hadn’t ended with bin Laden’s 2011 death.

Living sheltered lives as a prominent but controversial family in their native Saudi Arabia, several of the family members opened up about bin Laden’s childhood and his eventual transformation into one of the most notorious figures in recent history.


But while bin Laden’s career as a terrorist and head of Al Qaeda came to an end at the hands of US Navy SEALs in a midnight raid on his hideout in Pakistan, his militancy seems to have taken root in his youngest child.

Bin Laden’s family believes his youngest son, Hamza, has followed in his father’s footsteps by traveling to Afghanistan, where the US, Afghanistan’s national army, and NATO have been locked in a brutal war with Islamic militants since shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

The scene just after United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hamza, officially designated a terrorist by the US, apparently took his family by surprise with an endorsement of militant Islam.

“We thought everyone was over this,” Hassan bin Laden, an uncle of Hamza, told The Guardian.

“Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him: ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.'”

After the September 11 attacks, some members of bin Laden’s family remained in touch while others led a quiet life under the supervision of the Saudi government and international intelligence agencies.

Many of the bin Ladens have sought to put their history behind them by avoiding media and politics, but Hamza’s apparent support of his father’s ideas suggests Osama bin Laden’s embracing of terrorism may have come back to haunt them.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US is obligated by treaty to defend these 67 countries

There are Americans who are sick and tired of the United States playing “policeman to the world.” There’s good news and bad news for these people. The good news is that the U.S. isn’t actually the world’s policeman. The bad news is that they’re actually the world’s policeman, fire department, emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses, and any other global-scale first responder analogy you can think of.

The U.S. military is basically the Avengers.


Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

“Avengers Assemble.”

While the United States doesn’t respond to every trouble spot on the planet they sure respond to a lot of them. Of the 195 officially recognized countries in the world, the United States has military members deployed to 150. So if there is a trouble spot, there’s a very good chance that U.S. troops could go handle a large percentage of them. Luckily, Earth’s mightiest heroes are usually reserved for bigger problems, like keeping North Korea in check, punishing ISIS, and trying to bring food to hungry people.

But some of those countries are actually protected by the United States military, even if that protection isn’t specifically promised. For example, the U.S. military has long been considered a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s stability, because Saudi Arabia’s military can’t invade and win against a much-smaller neighbor, even when 20 other countries are helping them.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Seriously, the Salvation Army could have invaded Yemen and won by now.

But despite how terrible the Saudis are at things like strategy, tactics, and planning, they will never have to worry about being overcome by Iranian interference or military force because they have a substantial force they can rely on to protect their homefront: the United States military. And they aren’t alone.

Treaty obligations tie the U.S. to come to the defense of 67 different countries around the world, going well beyond the 29-member NATO alliance. The U.S. has bilateral defense agreements with six different countries, as well as every individual member of the Organization of American States and the ANZUS agreement.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

While the United States is no longer required to defend New Zealand and West Germany doesn’t exist as West Germany anymore, the United States military still has a pretty big job on its hands. And even though relations with some of the members of the Organization of American States aren’t so hot with the U.S. right now, it’s still a way for Americans to find themselves fighting alongside the likes of Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela or helping defend countries with no military at all, like Costa Rica, Panama, or Haiti.

It might be worth noting that our Venezuelan allies have asked Russia to help with whatever it is they’re planning to do down there, rather than ask the United States. But along with Venezuela, the U.S. has promised to defend a full one-quarter of all the humans on the planet.

That’s a big job.

Articles

12 leadership lessons in the words of Robert E. Lee

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t want to fight the Civil War. He thought the dissolution of the Union would bring about the end of the American experiment.


Yet he led the Confederate Army through all four years of the American Civil War.

For many, Lee’s decision to resign from the U.S. Army and fight for his home state of Virginia demonstrated a flaw in his character.

Some see him trading the principles of American freedom to fight to uphold the institution of slavery. But where Lee saw secession as an act of democracy, the North saw it differently, and Lee chose to fight for that reason alone.

“If Virginia stands by the old Union,” said Lee, quoted in Smithsonian Magazine, “so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will follow my native State with my sword, and, if need be, with my life.”

No matter how one may feel about Lee’s service or legacy, he was a towering figure, a hero of the Mexican war, and one of the best leaders to come from West Point.

There are many books that provide key lessons in leadership from his life that we can apply every day.

1. The importance of ambition.

“It is for you to decide your destiny, freely and without constraint.”

2. Know what you’re up against.

“It behooves us to be on the alert, or we will be deceived. You know that is part of Grant’s tactics.”

3. Your confidence in yourself and the confidence others have in you are both key to success.

“No matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops, disaster must sooner or later ensue.”

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

4. Courage is remembered.

“I recollect the distance [Lee traveled] amid darkness and storm… traversed entirely unaccompanied. Scarcely a step could have been taken without danger of death; but that to him, a true soldier, was the willing risk of duty in a good cause.”

– Gen. Winfield Scott, remarking on Lee’s action in the Mexican War

5. Always finish what is expected of you.

“Duty… is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things, you cannot do more – you should never wish to do less.”

6. Plan for the long term.

“The life of humanity is so long, that of the individual is so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Colonel Robert E. Lee

7. Expect to fail at times.

“We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.”

8. Integrity above all else.

“I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”

9. Hire the right people, then inspire them to greatness.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Lee in 1869, the year before his death.

“You must inspire and lead your brave division that it may accomplish the work of a corps… our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered. They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led.”

10. Be magnanimous in competition. Anything less breeds contempt.

“Madame, don’t bring your sons up to detest the United States. Recollect that we form one country, now. Abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.”

– Lee in a letter to a Confederate widow after the war

11. Loyalty begets loyalty.

“Lee was a phenomenon… the only man I would follow blindfolded.”

– Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

12. Reward discipline in subordinates.

“In recommending officers and men for promotion you will always, where other qualifications are equal, give preference to those who show the highest appreciation of the importance of discipline and evince the greatest attention to its requirements.”

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts
Robert E. Lee’s death mask (Museum of the Confederacy)

MIGHTY HISTORY

These insane defenses allow Switzerland to remain neutral

The tiny mountainous country of Switzerland has been in a state of “perpetual neutrality” since the major European powers of the time declared it as such during the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815.

Why did they do this?

The French conquered Switzerland in 1798, establishing the Helvetic Republic in attempt to make Switzerland something of a strategically positioned French satellite state. Not long after, Austrian and Russian forces invaded the country in their war against France. The Swiss, rather than fighting alongside their French overlords, largely refused. This ultimately led to the Act of Mediation, giving the Swiss back much of their former independence. Twelve years later, they got the rest thanks to the aforementioned Congress of Vienna in which their neutrality in the wars of their neighbors was officially recognised.


Beyond the Swiss themselves having long tried to stay out of the conflicts of Europe (since the early 16th century after a devastating loss at the Battle of Marignano), part of the reason Switzerland was granted neutrality in perpetuity in 1815 is because the European powers of the time deemed that the country was ideally located to function as a “a valuable buffer zone between France and Austria.” Thus, granting their neutrality in wars, so long as they continued to stay out of them, would “contribute to stability in the region.”

Since that time, with a few minor exceptions, Switzerland has steadfastly refused to compromise its neutrality for any reason, though on the war-front they did suffer an exceptionally brief civil war in the mid-19th century resulting in only a handful of casualties. While minor in its scale, this civil war drastically changed the political landscape of the Swiss government, including the establishment of a constitution partially borrowing from the then less than a century old United States constitution.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Swiss officer barracks in the Umbrail Pass during World War I.

In any event, as for those aforementioned “minor exceptions”, Switzerland has occasionally taken part in some global peacekeeping missions and prior to 1860 Swiss troops did sometimes take part in various skirmishes, despite their neutrality.

In more modern times, Switzerland needed to defend its borders from both Allied and Axis (see: How Did the Axis and Allies Get Their Names) air incursions during WW2. For instance, they shot down nearly a dozen German planes in the spring of 1940 alone, as well as shot down some American bombers and forced down countless others on both sides. This included grounding and detaining the crews of over a hundred Allied bombers that tried to fly over the country. When Hitler tried to counter Swiss measures at keeping the Luftwaffe from their skies by sending a sabotage team to destroy Swiss airfields, the Swiss successfully captured the saboteurs before they could carry out any bombings.

You might think it a bit silly for the Swiss to risk war with both sides by shooting or forcing down foreign aircraft from their skies, but on several occasions Allied bombers accidentally attacked Swiss cities, mistaking them for German ones. For instance, on April 1, 1944, American bombers, thinking they were bombing Ludwigshafen am Rhein, bombed Schaffhausen, killing 40 Swiss citizens and destroying over fifty buildings. This was not an isolated incident.

So how exactly did Switzerland, surrounded on all sides by Axis (or Central in WW1) and Allied powers during the wars to end all wars, manage to keep enemy troops at bay without much in the way of any fighting?

Officially Switzerland maintains a policy of “Aggressive Neutrality” meaning that although it actively avoids taking part in conflicts, as evidenced by their air-force activities during WW2, it will defend its own interests with vigour. How vigorous? To ensure other countries respect its neutral stance, Switzerland has long put itself into a terrifyingly over prepared position to fight, and made sure every country around them was, and is, well aware of this fact.

As for specifics, to begin with, a common misconception about Switzerland is that because it doesn’t actively take part in global military conflicts, that it doesn’t have a strong or well prepared military. In reality the Swiss military is a highly trained and competent fighting force, and due to the country’s policy of compulsory conscription of males (today women may volunteer for any position in the military, but are not required to serve) is surprisingly large for a country of only around eight million people.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Swiss border patrol in the Alps during World War II.

In fact, approximately two-thirds of all males are ultimately deemed mentally and physically fit enough to serve in the Swiss military, meaning a huge percentage of their population is ultimately military trained. (Those who are not, and aren’t exempt because of a disability, are required to pay additional taxes until they are 30 to make up for not serving.)

As for what fighting force is actively maintained, the Swiss military today is only around 140,000 men strong and just this year it has been voted to reduce that to 100,000. This is a major downsize from just two decades ago when it was estimated the Swiss military had some 750,000 soldiers. For reference, this latter total is about half the size of the United States military today, despite Switzerland having only about eight million people vs. the United States’ three hundred million.

In addition to this, Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world and many Swiss people are highly competent in handling said firearms due to both compulsory military service and a strong culture of recreational shooting (half a million Swiss children are said to be part of a gun club of some kind).

This said, in recent years the rate of gun ownership has declined somewhat after a series of gun related incidents, such as one where a man shot his estranged wife with his old military issued rifle. Prior to the shooting, military conscripts would take their rifle home with them after their service ended and were expected to keep it ready for use in defending the country should the need arise.

After these incidents, the military curbed this and implemented a new policy stating that any conscript wishing to keep their gun after service must buy it and apply for a permit. As part of this new policy, the Swiss military also no longer provides ammunition with the guns, instead keeping it in secure locations that citizens must get to in the event of an emergency.

Speaking of emergencies, generally speaking, Switzerland is prepared for near any global catastrophe from nuclear fallout to a surprise invasion from an enemy force thanks to a defensive plan it has been implementing since 1880, but which was doubled-down upon during WW2 and later during the Cold War.

Dubbed the Swiss National Redoubt, in a nutshell Switzerland has taken advantage of it unique natural geography, which includes mountains that surround it on nearly all sides, to build countless bunkers, fortifications and warehouses across the country that can be accessed at a moment’s notice. The full scale of the fortifications is a closely guarded secret, but some of them are kept in plain view as part of a comprehensive campaign of deterrence.

Initially the National Redoubt consisted of tunnels bored into the many mountains of Switzerland in key strategic positions for retreating troops and citizens to take shelter in, but over the years these have evolved to encompass a host of ingenious defensive and offensive structures. Along with tunnels and bunkers (which are fully stocked and contain everything from bakeries and hospitals to dormitories), the mountains of Switzerland also hide countless tanks, aircraft, and hidden artillery guns (some of which are pointed directly at Switzerland’s own roads to destroy them in the event of invasion).

Oddly for a landlocked country, Switzerland does maintain an active navy of sorts, though they don’t store any boats in its mountains as far as we could find. The naval branch of the Swiss forces’ primary role is in patrolling the country’s lakes on the border and providing aid in search and rescue operations.

As for more specifically how they kept themselves out of the world wars, during WW1, the Swiss military, under freshly appointed General Ulrich Wille, mobilised well over 200,000 Swiss soldiers and deployed them across its major entry points to deter any outside forces from considering waging war on the country. After it became apparent that Switzerland’s neutrality would be recognised by all powers in the first Great War, the vast majority of the Swiss troops were sent home. (In fact, in the final year of the war, the Swiss military had shrunk its numbers to just 12,000.) Nothing further was required to keep the Swiss out of WW1.

WW2 was a different beast altogether with Switzerland not banking on Hitler respecting their long-held neutral stance in European conflicts. Thus, newly appointed Swiss General Henri Guisan was given the unenviable task of trying to figure out a way to defend the small country from their neighbors, Hitler and his allies, despite that said powers drastically outmatched the Swiss army in a variety of ways.

Towards this end, leading up to the war, the Swiss withdrew from the League of Nations to help ensure their neutrality, began to re-build their military (bringing the number up to 430,000 combat troops within three days of the start of the war), and strongly encouraged its citizens to keep at minimum two months’ worth of supplies on hand at any given time. On top of that, they also began secret negotiations with France to join forces against Germany, should Germany attack Switzerland (a risky move that was discovered by the Germans after France fell to them).

But even with all that, knowing the Swiss couldn’t win if Hitler really wanted to invade, Guisan and co. made the decision to drastically ramp up their WW1 era strategy of making invading Switzerland as unsavory an option as possible. Guisan noted that by utilizing Switzerland’s harsh terrain, a comparatively small amount of Swiss soldiers in a secure defensive position could fight off a massive fighting force if the need ever arose. So the plan was essentially to perpetually defend and retreat to some fortified position over and over again, ultimately conceding the less defensible populated areas of the country once the government and citizens had managed a retreat into secret fortified positions in the Alps. They’d then use the Alps as a base from which to both launch guerrilla attacks to make life miserable for any successful invasion force and to use highly defensible positions there to keep crucial supply lines from the invaders.

More controversially, Switzerland continued to trade with Nazi Germany during the war in order to further de-incentivise Hitler from invading. (There is some speculation that some of the Allies’ “accidental” attacks on Switzerland were really not accidents at all, given that some of the buildings that were blown up were factories supplying the Axis powers.)

The multi-pronged plan worked and, while Hitler did have a detailed plan in place to invade Switzerland eventually, the cost of doing so was always too high given the Axis power’s troubles both on the Eastern and Western fronts. Thus, Switzerland was largely ignored by both Allies and the Axis throughout WW2, despite its amazingly well placed location right next to Germany, Italy, France, and Austria.

Switzerland stepped up their level of defence during the Cold War, again mostly out of a desire to deter any potential invaders. This time, however, the focus was on “aggressively” defending Switzerland’s borders instead of defending them only long enough to cover a retreat into the well fortified mountains.

Towards this end, Switzerland’s roads, bridges and train lines were rigged with explosives that could be detonated at any time. In many cases, the engineers who designed the bridges were required to come up with the most efficient way, using explosives, to ensure the complete destruction of those same bridges. Once the destruction plan was developed, hidden explosives were installed at the appropriate locations in the bridges. On top of that, the military also lined hundreds of mountains flanking major roads with explosives to create artificial rockslides. All total, over three thousand points of demolition are publicly known to have been implemented throughout the small country.

Why this French nobleman’s Paris gravesite is filled with dirt from Massachusetts

Large-scale construction of hangers were conducted by the Swiss military in the 1950s.

With ground attacks covered, the Swiss looked to the skies. Unfortunately for them, attack by air is much harder to defend against for a country so small that enemy air forces could penetrate anywhere within its borders before an adequate defence could be mustered to defend its cities. To protect against this, the Swiss government constructed thousands of bomb shelters in homes, towns and cities to such a degree that it’s estimated that anywhere between 80 to 120 percent of the country’s population could hide in them for extended periods. Many of these shelters also included small hospitals and the necessary equipment to set up independent command centers. In fact, homes built after WW2 were often made with over 40 cm (16 in.) thick concrete ceilings to help them survive aerial bombings. If your home didn’t accommodate such a shelter, you had to pay a tax to support places that did.

It’s also rumoured that much of Switzerland’s gold supply as well as vast supplies of food stores have been similarly squirreled away somewhere in the Alps, which comprise just over half of the country’s total land area.

As a further example of how ridiculously well prepared the Swiss are for any and all threats, there are things like hidden hydroelectric dams built inside of unmarked mountains so that in the event of mass bombings, they’ll still have electricity from these secret facilities. And, remember, these are the things the Swiss government has let us know about. It is thought that there are probably more fortifications and hidden goodies scattered about the country’s landscape.

Since the end of the Cold War (see How Did the Cold War Start and End), similar to how the Swiss government has been slowly disarming its population and reducing its standing army, decommissioning some of these fortifications has begun in order to reduce government spending. The Swiss government is somewhat coy about the extent of this disarming, but it has been reported that many of the more extreme defenses, such as the explosives that used to be hidden inside the country’s bridges and along its road and railways, have been removed. As for the bunkers, unfortunately, simply abandoning many of these facilities is not an option, and it’s fairly expensive to decommission them.

As such, as the head of security policy for the federal Department of Defense, Christian Catrina, said “…in most cases we’d be glad if someone would take them off our hands for no price”.

In some cases, this has resulted in companies using the ridiculously well protected and secure mountain facilities as data repositories and server farms. In one such converted bunker, the servers inside are even completely protected from outside electromagnetic impulses that result from nuclear explosions.

In another, detailed instructions on how to build devices for reading all known data storage formats, even older formats like floppy disks, are kept, so that if that knowledge is otherwise lost, future generations can still decode our data storage devices to access the data within correctly. Essentially, the researchers involved in this particular project have attempted to create a “Rosetta Stone” of data formats and are using a ridiculously secure Swiss bunker as the storage point for that knowledge.

As a result of military downsizing, the fate of the rest of the fortifications is unclear and there are calls to decommission all of them, despite the estimated billion dollar price tag to do so. There is even a growing minority of the Swiss population who would like to see the entire military disbanded, including ceasing mandatory conscription.

But for now, at least, any country that wishes to ignore Switzerland’s long-held neutrality in military conflicts will find the tiny country an exceptionally difficult one to conquer and occupy. And presumably if war ever again threatens Swiss’ borders, regardless of how small they make their military today, they’ll likely keep themselves in a position to rapidly ramp back up their defences as they did for WW1 and WW2.

Bonus Facts:

  • Shortly before WW2, Switzerland passed the Swiss Banking Act, which allowed bank accounts to be created anonymously, in no small part to allow German Jews to squirrel their liquid assets away into accounts that the Third Reich would have difficulty finding out about or getting access to.
  • The term “Swiss Army Knife” was coined by United States soldiers after WWII. The soldiers had trouble pronouncing the original name of “Schweizer Offiziersmesser” (Swiss Officer’s Knife) and thus began calling the multi-tool a “Swiss Army Knife”. The company that makes Swiss Army Knives is Victorinox, named after the founder, Karl Elsener’s, deceased mother, Victoria. The “nox” part comes from the fact that stainless steel is also known as “inox”, which is short for the French term “inoxydable”.
  • Karl Elsener himself was originally the owner of a surgical equipment company. He later took over production of the original Modell 1890 knives, which were previously made in Germany. He moved the production to Switzerland and greatly improved the design of the original multi-tool. His big breakthrough came when he figured out a way to put blades on both sides of the handle using the same spring to hold both sides in place. This allowed him to put twice as many features into the multi-tool as was previously possible.
  • There has been a “fact” floating around that Switzerland has the highest number of guns per citizen and the lowest rate of people killed by firearms per year, but this isn’t correct. Switzerland is actually 4th in number of guns per 100 people (at 45.7 guns per 100), though does maintain a relatively low number of deaths per year due to firearms at just 3.84 per 100,000, which is good enough for 19th place overall. However, it should also be noted that 3.15 of those deaths per 100,000 are suicide. Their homicide rate (.52 per 100,000) is good enough for 31st place, with the rest of deaths from firearms (.17 per 100,000) being either accidental or undetermined.
  • While the United States has by far the most guns per capita at 94.3 guns per 100 residents, it is only 12th in firearm related deaths per capita at 10.3 per 100,000 people. 6.3 of those 10.3 firearm related deaths are suicides. This equates to the U.S. being in 14th place on the number of firearm related homicides per 100,000 and overall 103rd as far as total murders per 100,000 at 4.8. For reference, that’s four times the murders per 100,000 than the United Kingdom, which sits in 169th place in murders per 100,000.
  • Number 1 by far in firearm related deaths per 100,000 is Honduras with 64.8 deaths per 100,000 from firearms. Surprisingly, Honduras only has 6.2 guns for every 100 people in the country. Honduras also has the highest rate of murders per 100,000 overall at 91.6.
  • On average, more people commit crimes in Switzerland who aren’t Swiss citizens than who are every year, which has very recently led to harsher deportation laws. In fact, of the top 25 nationalities to commit crimes in Switzerland, 21 of them commit more crimes than the Swiss while on Swiss soil, with the average of all those immigrants being 390% more crimes than are committed by Swiss citizens. Immigrants specifically from Austria, France, and Germany to Switzerland, however, commit an average of only 70% of the crimes the Swiss do on Swiss soil.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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