Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII.... and 12 other crazy Christmas facts - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY CULTURE

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

Christmas has been around for over two millennia. Two thousand years is plenty of time for funky traditions, tall tales and strange stories to pop up. Hallucinating reindeer?  Carols in outer space? Illicit Christmas dinners? Which tales are true? Keep reading to separate Christmas facts from festive fiction. Some may surprise you. 

  1. Gaining a pound just from Christmas dinner is totally possible.

    Technically, you can gain almost two over the course of the day without breaking a sweat. Just add up an indulgent breakfast with all-day appetizers, honey-baked ham, buttery mashed potatoes, rolls, and pie, and you’re already getting up there. Cocktails add even more, and eggnog? The average 8 oz cup has about 343 calories. And who has just one? According to Associated British Foods, the average person eats more than 7,000 calories on Christmas day. 
  1. Santa’s signature style was shaped by the Civil War and Coca-Cola.

    Originally, Santa resembled a saint. Then, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast drew him to drum up support for the Union. Santa suddenly became a lot more cheerful looking, and a lot more American. About three decades later, Coca-Cola decided to step up their holiday ad game. They hired an artist named Haddon Sundblom to design Santa-themed print ads, which painted the chubbiest, most wholesome version of Santa yet
  1. Beware…Christmastime is peak breakup season.

To be more specific, two weeks before Christmas is the most frequent period for couples to split. A couple of weeks post-Valentine’s day is another popular time, as is spring break. While the Facebook data didn’t define why, it’s safe to say that our relationship expectations often rise over the holidays, as do our odds of disappointment. Sigh. On the upside, Christmas Day was the least popular breakup day. If you make it that far, you’re probably in the clear! 

  1. “Xmas” doesn’t take the Christ out of Christmas. 


Some Christians worry that the abbreviation “Xmas” removes the religious significance from the holiday, but a quick lesson in Greek should relieve any concerns. The letter X is the first letter of the Greek spelling of the word Christos, aka Christ. That said, not everyone who celebrates Christmas is Christian. The holiday represents warmth, generosity, and gratitude, and that’s a wonderful reason to celebrate the season too!

  1. Jingle Bells was the first song played in outer space.

    A few days before Christmas in 1965, astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford decided to pull a clever prank on Mission Control. They were aboard Gemini 6 when they called in with a concerning report; an “unidentified flying object” was traveling from north to south, potentially entering Earth’s atmosphere. The broadcast was interrupted by the sound of sleigh bells and the tune of “Jingle Bells” played on Wally’s harmonica. Mission Control wasn’t amused, but Santa probably was. 
  1. Mistletoe was originally a symbol of fertility.

    The Druids believed the holiday weed was an aphrodisiac. While this one’s more myth than fact, if someone invites you to meet under the mistletoe, kiss with caution! Why people thought mistletoe was so *ahem* invigorating remains a mystery, especially considering the word’s roots; the Germanic version of the word means “poop on a twig”. Really adds to the ambiance, don’t you think? 
  1.  “Jingle Bells” was written for Thanksgiving, not Christmas.

    Written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857, the song was originally written to be performed in the school’s Sunday school class around Thanksgiving. It was called “One Horse Open Sleigh”, and it wasn’t about Santa or Christmas at all. It was about the famous local sleigh races, and with talk of picking up girls and living while you’re young, the original was considered risque!
  1. Decorating can be dangerous.

    When you’re putting up last-minute lights, do yourself a favor and have someone hold the ladder. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that holiday decorating accidents account to over 14,000 trips to the ER each year, all in the span of two months. 
  1. For awhile, Christmas was illegal.

    Puritans settled in Boston quite early on, and they weren’t huge fans of Christmas celebrations. From 1659-1681, it was actually forbidden by law, with fines doled out to rogue carolers. Even a century later, Christmas wasn’t all that popular. After the American Revolution in 1789, Congress even held its first session on Christmas. It remained nondescript for some time, not earning federal holiday status until June 28th, 1870
  1. Santa has an official Canadian postal code.

    Where do letters to Santa go? Canadians have quite the reputation for being good-natured and kind, and they definitely live up to the hype at Christmastime. Canadian Post Office workers started replying to letters themselves, and eventually they gave Santa an official address: Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO, Canada. While it’s been tough to keep up, the Santa Letter-Writing Program there does its best to respond to as many letters from kids as humanly (or elfishly?) possible. 
  1. Tinsel used to be pricy and poisonous.

    Invented in Germany in 1610, tinsel was originally made of actual silver. It was considered an item of luxury, but it was also a bit dangerous. It often contained lead, leading to widespread bans on its production. Today, it’s much cheaper and made of harmless plastic. Just don’t let the cat eat it and you’re good. 
  1. Were flying reindeer actually on shrooms?

    Probably not, but one scholar named R. Gordon Wasson thought they might have been. Reindeer in Siberia used to consume Amanita muscaria mushrooms, supposedly leading them to hallucinate and leap about. He believed this was the root of the flying reindeer myth. While other scholars agreed there may be a connection, there’s little proof. “Flying” reindeer became a popular pop culture origin story nevertheless.
  2. Christmas gifts helped POWs escape during WWII.

    This one sounds fake, but it’s not. The US Playing Card Company teamed up with Allied intelligence agencies for a noble cause: helping allied prisoners of war reach safety. They created decks of cards as “Christmas gifts”, but the cards came with a secret. Some of them could be peeled apart when wet, unveiling detailed escape routes. The map decks were a closely-kept secret for years after the war ended, but they likely helped more than one prisoner get home safely. What Christmas gift could be better than that? 
MIGHTY CULTURE

How you can help Navy SEALs fight veteran homelessness — and swim the Hudson!

On Saturday, Aug. 3, a team of over 30 Navy SEALs will swim across the Hudson River to honor military veterans and their families, as well as those who died during the 9/11 attacks and the wars that followed.

It will be the first Navy SEAL Hudson River Swim and Run — and the first ever legally sanctioned swim across the Hudson River. The event has the full support of New York City and state officials as well as the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority of New York, New Jersey Police Department, and New Jersey State Police.

The benefit will help the GI Go Fund, which supports veterans and their families with housing, health care, employment services, and financial aid.

Swimming over two and a half miles in the currents of the Hudson is a great challenge — but that’s how the frogmen like it.


Former Navy SEAL Swims Across Hudson River

www.youtube.com

Former Navy SEAL Swims Across Hudson River

“We get nowhere in life by staying in our comfort zone. Results come when we get uncomfortable, challenge ourselves and push pass our perceived limits. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t apply that lesson, and I won’t get to where I need to be in life if that trend doesn’t continue,” shared Remi Adeleke, a SEAL embodying the idea of service after service.

There are nearly 38,000 homeless veterans in the United States. The SEALs, through GI Go Fund, are helping to give back to their community of service members — and they could use your support.

“The route we chose is important,” said Kaj Larsen, one of the Navy SEAL swimmers. “We are swimming to the Statue of Liberty because it is an iconic symbol of freedom, the same thing we fought for overseas. Ellis Island represents the diversity that makes us strong as a nation. And finally the Ground Zero memorial, which has deep significance for the country, the SEAL teams, and me personally.”

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

Larsen and his team train beneath the Statue of Liberty.

Larsen was in First Phase of SEAL training on 9/11. His roommate LT Michael Murphy, a Medal of Honor recipient, was from New York. His father was a New York firefighter and when Murphy was killed on June 28, 2005 in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, he was wearing an NYFD t-shirt under his uniform.

“There is an inextricable connection between the SEAL community and New York. Our fates were intertwined on September 11, so it is an honor to come back here with my fellow SEALs and compete in this event and give back to the city,” said Larsen.

First the frogmen will swim from Liberty Park to the Statue of Liberty. From there they head to Ellis Island. Finally they swim to Battery park and run as a unit to the Freedom Tower and the site of a new memorial dedicated to Special Operations Forces.

At each stop they will perform a series of push-ups and pull-ups culminating in a ceremony at the SOF memorial.

So far they have raised over ,000 to benefit homeless and transitioning veterans in NYC, but they’re not stopping there.

Check out details about the event and help spread the word — or maybe pitch in a few bucks — right here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

More leaders need to get punched in the face

“Kick his ass!” was one of the multiple jeers I heard through the litany of booing as I stepped on the mat at Dragoon Fight Night, the 2d Cavalry Regiment’s combative showcase. A few weeks prior, I had posted a video on social media to over 4,000 Dragoons challenging any Soldier to fight their Command Sergeant Major. My opponent, Sergeant Zach Morrow, stood across the ring, he was 50 pounds heavier, nearly 20 years younger, and had a cage fighting record. I was about to be punched in the face.

Getting punched in the face is exactly what I needed and what the 700 people in attendance and those watching online needed to see. Often young leaders hear, “Never ask Soldiers to do something you are not willing to do,” but how do leaders, echelons above the most junior Soldiers on the front line, demonstrate this?


As NCOs and officers move up in positions the number of opportunities to exhibit leadership by example diminishes. Getting past the fear of failure, identifying opportunities to highlight priorities with action, and understanding Soldiers are always watching their leaders provides us the chance to inspire and positively impact the formation.

As leaders, we cannot be afraid of failure. When Sergeant Morrow approached me about my challenge, I knew the odds were against me. I was overmatched and fully understood I could be twisted into a pretzel or even worse, knocked out in front of my entire formation. But why shouldn’t I step into the ring? I didn’t make it to this position without losing a few battles or failing occasionally. Fear of defeat or failure cannot dissuade leaders from setting the example, it should inspire them to be better!

Recently, two majors in the 2d Cavalry Regiment attempted to get their Expert Soldier Badge (ESB). As they passed event after event the staff buzzed with excitement. Here were two staff primary officers who had taken time out of their schedule, risking failure to earn something they didn’t even need. They accepted risk and delegated responsibilities to ensure they could accept a challenge. Even after they failed on the third day of testing, their peers and subordinates saw them with a level of respect and admiration.

It would have been easier for those officers to avoid a challenge or risk of failure using busy work schedules as an excuse. Their evaluations were already written by their senior rater at that point. But they stepped in the ring and took a punch in the face earning respect and loyalty of their Soldiers even in failure. Any leader taking a risk and puts their reputation on the line is more inspirational than one who just shakes Soldiers’ hands after a fight.

There are many ways officers and NCOs can set the example at all echelons of leadership. As leaders accept challenges, it provides them with an opportunity to highlight command emphasis. Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Fortenberry (United States Army Infantry School) earned his Ranger Tab between battalion and brigade command. It echoed the importance his command team placed on the fundamentals and leadership lessons all Soldiers, regardless of rank, can learn at Ranger School.

Recently, Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Lopez (Brigade Support Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division) earned his ESB. He didn’t need it for a promotion or another badge on his chest. By earning it, he demonstrated to the NCOs and Soldiers the ESB is important and if he is willing to take a figurative punch in the face, so should every subordinate below him.

Soldiers always watch their leaders. They see the ones who “workout on their own” instead of joining them for challenging physical fitness training. Soldiers notice leaders who are always in their office while they face blistering wind during weekly command maintenance in January or scorching heat during tactical drills in July. In addition, senior leaders have fewer chances to lead from the front. They must actively look for opportunities to get punched in the face.

After three brutal rounds, Sergeant Morrow connected with a perfect strike to my upper eye. While the physician assistance superglued my eyebrow back together an unsettling quietness took over the gym. When I stepped back onto the mat the crowd erupted, it wasn’t about the Sergeant Major getting his “ass kicked” it was about a leader who accepted a challenge and wouldn’t quit or accept defeat. A few minutes later, I stood beside Sergeant Morrow, the referee raised his hand. The standing ovation was the loudest of the evening. The audience didn’t care their Command Sergeant Major was defeated, they were excited to see a good fight and a leader enter the ring and take a punch to the face.

MIGHTY CULTURE

US Green Berets honor WWII legacy with stunning jump

More than one hundred Special Forces soldiers celebrated their World War II heritage this past weekend with a jump into the fields just outside the stunning Mont Saint Michel in France.

Here’s what it looked like.


Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

U.S. Army Special Forces with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) leap out of an MC-130J airplane near Mont Saint Michel, France on May 18, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Cooper)

135 US paratroopers with the US Army’s 10th Special Force Group (Airborne) jumped from three US Air Force MC-130J Commando II special mission aircraft.

Source: US Special Operations Command Europe

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

U.S. Army soldiers descend on a field outside Mont Saint Michel.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham)

The drop zone was two kilometers outside Mont Saint Michel, an ancient commune in Normandy that is one of France’s most impressive landmarks.

Source: US Special Operations Command Europe

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

U.S. Army soldiers descending on a field outside Mont Saint Michel.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham)

The jump celebrated the 75th anniversary of jumps by three-man “Jedburgh” teams ahead of the Allied invasion of Normandy during WWII. Around 300 Allied troops dropped behind enemy lines to train and equip local resistance fighters.

Source: Stars and Stripes

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

A paratrooper comes in for a landing.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexis K. Washburn)

The “10th SFG(A) draws [its] lineage from the Jedburghs. We’re celebrating their combined effort to liberate Western Europe with local forces,” a senior enlisted soldier assigned to 10th SFG (A) said in a statement.

Source: US Special Operations Command Europe

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

A Special Forces soldier carrying an American flag comes in for a landing.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexis K. Washburn)

The history of the US Army Special Forces is tied to the Jedburgh teams. The 10th Special Forces were created in the early 1950s and forward deployed to Europe to counter the Soviet Union.

Source: US Special Operations Command Europe

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

A US soldier collecting his parachute after landing.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Alexis K. Washburn)

“Overall it was a great jump. It was smooth and went as planned,” one soldier who made the jump explained, adding, “It’s an outstanding experience to be able to honor the paratroopers who jumped into France during World War II.”

Source: US Special Operations Command Europe

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier packs his parachute.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Avery Cunningham)

June 6, 2019, will mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the Allied spearhead into Europe to liberate territory from the Nazis.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

The power of hope and determination

Never say “all.”

If 36 years in the Army hadn’t taught me that, then the culmination of the first two weeks of my job as the City Manager of Panama City, Florida certainly did. From Iraq to Afghanistan to posts across the U.S., I have been extremely fortunate to serve our country as an officer in the U.S. military – and thought I’d seen it all.

I was wrong.


With an impact like a hammer on a plate glass window, Category 5 Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018, with a force not seen since Hurricane Andrew leveled parts of South Florida 26 years earlier. And although I had accepted my new job in February – the city gave me a grace period so that I could finish my service in the Army, conclude a civilian job as a church business administrator, and donate a kidney to one of my fellow parishioners – nothing prepared any of us for this hurricane and its brutal aftermath.

Yet, even as the clouds parted and the enormity of the challenge ahead became clear, so too did the community’s resolve to take control of its future. Devastated as the city was, the sense of inspiration to rebuild Panama City with renewed opportunities for all was palatable.

From the outset, we adopted twin fundamental tenets: we would surpass the pre-storm status quo, and this initiative would only be successful if it was truly driven from the “bottom up” and not dictated from the “top down.” And every undertaking had to deliver tangible benefits to improve the safety and security, quality of life, vital infrastructure, and/or economy of the newly reimagined Panama City.

The series of citizen-driven public events we kicked-off in June 2019 to shape anew the city’s historic downtown and waterfront are perfectly illustrative of this effort. Neglected over the years, there was now a once-in-a-century blank canvass on which everyone in Panama City could paint. Embracing this opportunity, hundreds of neighbors joined the design teams to ideate around their vision, join the process via open microphone sessions, surveys, and hands-on work with maps to render a key part of the blueprint for a new Panama City. Earlier this year, we (virtually) staged additional events across other equally historic neighborhoods within the city.

Often, the simplest of statistics brings definition to particularly important, albeit unglamorous, accomplishments. As a case in point, in the 18 months following the storm we removed the equivalent of 40 years’ worth of debris (3.9 million-plus cubic yards) mostly in the form of downed trees and limbs, compared to a pre-hurricane average annual collection of 100,000 cubic yards per year.

Indeed, there is nothing more foundational to rebuilding a community than housing. I am especially proud of the almost million we secured in State funding to establish the ReHouse Bay initiative to help Panama City and Bay County residents secure affordable housing. With direct financial assistance of up to ,000 for down payments and closing costs, to repair and recovery aid, to help preventing foreclosure and short-term mortgage assistance, to short-term rental assistance, these programs are key to the city’s long-term vibrance and resolution to its acute shortage of housing stock. This effort has already provided help to more than 300 applicants, with hundreds more in the pipeline – and more than 5,000 houses currently in development or under construction.

Equally important, we’ve seen a surge in economic opportunities for our residents. Post hurricane, we have supported the opening of 436 new businesses, for a total of 3,288 – which is 171 more than existed before the storm.

With companies from Suzuki Marina Technical Center to Clark and Son Inc. moving to Panama City, existing employers like Eastern Shipbuilding expanding, Verizon inaugurating 5G service (making the city one of the first in the country equipped with this high-speed service), and the St. Joe Company announcing a long-term land lease to bring a new hotel and restaurant to the historic downtown waterfront district, the city’s growth is only accelerating.

For those who ask, “are we done yet?” – the answer is an unequivocal “not by a long shot.” Two years on from the storm, our community’s steadfast joy of hope for a better and brighter future simply wouldn’t permit this collective commitment to stall. Not even for a moment. We press on to become the Premier City in the Florida Panhandle.

Mark McQueen is the City Manager in Panama City, Florida. Prior to his service with the City, he spent 36 years with the U.S Army, retiring as an Army Major General.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Geo-baching no more

A dual-military family is adjusting to life under the same roof after almost two years apart.

It’s not uncommon in the military community to have a unique story of how you and your spouse met. But for Army Sgt. Jared Jackson and his wife, Spc. Christina Jackson, their happily–ever after didn’t start with being pronounced husband and wife. They’ve spent their entire courtship and marriage living thousands of miles apart — until now.


When Christina and Jared were introduced by a mutual friend, they hit it off quickly. But the fireworks were strictly plutonic. For three years, they – along with a mutual friend — were inseparable, referring to themselves as “the three amigos.”

“We did everything together,” Christina said.

And becoming a couple wasn’t even a thought. It wasn’t until Jared moved to Hawaii that they entertained the idea of having a romantic relationship.

“We tested the waters and we decided to start dating,” she said.

Having established a strong friendship, the main challenges presented with dating for Jared was the distance and three–hour time difference.

“We communicated well, but trying to find the right time to call would be hard,” he said.

He couldn’t build the consistency he wanted with both Christina and her 8–year old daughter because all they had were phone calls and short visits.

“I wanted to make sure they know I’m here to stay,” Jared said.

The Jacksons both craved stability for their new family. Christina says her daughter, “wanted this father figure. And when she finally got him it was hard on her because he would come and go. He would come see us, then he would leave.”

After dating for a year, they married with the expectation of being stationed together.

“My mindset was thinking that the military was going to put us together and it wouldn’t be that long,” Jared said, but waiting for approval dragged on. “It’s bothering me because I’m married but yet I still feel like I’m kind of a bachelor because I’m here by myself.”

Christine was also losing hope and eventually wanted to get out of the military. She was told by her NCO that she’d get orders right after being married. That didn’t happen. And she was further stressed by all of the paperwork requirements and chasing after people for answers.

Each service branch has a program for assigning married couples to the same duty location or within 100 miles of each other, according to Military OneSource. Couples can look into joint assignments through offerings like the Air Force Joint Spouse Program and the Married Army Couples Program. But for the Jacksons, this wasn’t a smooth process.

After almost a year of not knowing when they could be together, they were finally given orders to the same duty station. Now they had new challenges to tackle.

For the first time in his life, Jared was a full–time parent. Christina’s daughter is adjusting to a two-parent home where they both share an equal role in raising and disciplining her.

“I’ve been trying to give him more of that responsibility in that role and just say whatever he says goes,” Christina said.

Jared wants to establish a good father/daughter relationship, with Christina’s support of his role helping to ease the adjustment.

“I appreciate that Christina always validates me and tells me ‘you’re doing a good job.’ It keeps me motivated,” he said.

One thing they did not do was leave their family cohesiveness to chance, so they attended premarital counseling.

“We went into this already knowing how we both wanted to parent. He knew what I expected and I knew what he expected,” Christina said.

And now the family will be adding a new member, a son, in July.

Throughout their time apart, they kept communication fluid and honest, sharing their hopes and frustrations without hesitation. This put the relationship in a healthy place during their entire transition.

Christina says for help and support if you’re are dealing with a similar situation, to find a military spouses club. Share your experiences and find others who have gone through the same thing.

Jared advises, above all, make sure that even when you get discouraged keep the communication strong. Also do your research so that you know what should be happening with job assignments.

When it comes to their parenting advice on blending a family, they simultaneously agree that the answer is patience.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘The Off-Islander’ sees a Vietnam vet turned private investigator looking for a missing man in 1982 New England

Growing up, my stepdad kept a series of paperback books high up on the shelf. They were novels by an author named John MacDonald with distinctive color-based titles like The Green Ripper and The Scarlet Ruse. They featured a unique sort of private investigator named Travis McGee. When I was old enough to reach them, they became my entry point into the mystery genre.

Travis McGee was a departure from the hardboiled detective stories of an earlier era. The classic noir private investigator was a world-weary gumshoe navigating dark streets and negotiating femme fatales, corrupt cops, and mobsters to close the case. Mcgee was different. Travis was a bon vivant and knight-errant, a handsome man who saw life as something to be enjoyed rather than endured as he cut a swath through both Florida’s prettiest women and its most colorful villains to close cases. Think 1980’s Magnum PI set in Fort Lauderdale and you get the picture.


All of this is my way of saying I was feeling a little bit of that MacDonald vibe when I read Peter Colt’s debut novel, The Off-Islander.

For sure, Colt’s Andy Roark is a different character than MacDonald’s McGee. Andy is a good bit rougher than McGee due to his military and cop background and as he describes himself, ‘doesn’t always conform to rules and regulations’. But Roark, much like McGee has a sensitive core with an appreciation for books and music, good food and drink, and a preference for educated women who appreciate art. He even partakes of marijuana though he rather stick to beer and bourbon.

The plot of the novel isn’t a complex one. It is a missing person case, which sees Andy travel through Boston and Nantucket Island looking for someone who obviously does not want to be found. Like most mystery novels, there are some complications as Andy works the case. Only some of those complications are resolved by the end of the novel but the loose strings do not otherwise affect the resolution of this procedural.

That is not to say I did not enjoy this novel. I enjoyed it very much. The plot is dripping with New England atmospherics. Where McGee’s novels were all Florida sun, Colt sets his story in the bleak windswept bogs and shores of Massachusetts. Andy’s investigation takes him from the gray environs of Boston to charming Cape Cod store fronts besieged by whipping rain and wind. It is the perfect setting for hard-edged people with secrets they’re willing to kill to keep. The book is also informed by Peter Colt’s real life experience as a veteran, police officer, and former resident of Nantucket Island. This lends the text an added layer of authenticity and intimacy in his description of the setting and Roark’s detective deductions.

In addition, notable in this book was Andy’s military past. Though McGee was also a veteran, MacDonald left McGee’s service ambiguous and it never really played much of a role in how portrayed his character. Colt on the other hand keeps coming back to Andy’s service in Vietnam in just about every chapter of the book. Roark is still clearly dealing with his unresolved feelings towards his service and in a melancholic touch, it seems to be the shadow that ruins his relationships with the women in his life. The title of the book, ‘The Off-Islander’ is not just descriptive of Andy’s alienation from the closed community of Nantucket Island – it also speaks to his personal post-war isolation from polite civil society.

Ultimately, this is a good debut novel which launches what I help to be a great series of adventures featuring an appealing private investigator. It was an easy afternoon and evening read set in the part of the country which I reside and love. I enjoyed my time sleuthing with Andy. I ended the novel hoping to see him get a Vietnam-free night of sleep, a good stiff drink, and a healthy relationship with a good woman in the second book.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The best Halloween memes that describe 2020

This year has undoubtedly been a doozie. One we don’t wish to repeat any time soon. However, as the calendar dates continue to drone on, we can look into the next few months and realize that soon, we’re starting a New Year. (We can only hope 2021 can be much kinder.)

Until then, we can endure whatever the world continues to throw at us. Sit back and enjoy some of the most relatable memes that we can link back to how this year has gone.


Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts


MIGHTY CULTURE

What happens to your stuff if you’re declared dead…then turn up alive

ScrobTheFancyTurtle asks: Love your video on what happens when people are accidentally declared dead. But it got me wondering, what happens if you make a will, go missing, so your will is executed, then turn up alive later? Do you get your stuff back?

As we discussed in our article on what happens to a person who is accidentally declared dead and the process in getting declared alive again, tens of thousands of people die each year across the globe by a simple clerical error, at least as far as their respective governments are concerned. However, what we didn’t mention is that many thousands more people are more purposefully declared “dead in absentia” each year.


As you’ve probably surmised from the term used to describe these deaths, being declared dead in absentia occurs after a person goes missing. When this happens, their will is probated and estate settled. But what happens if they aren’t dead at all and turn up later, perhaps after helping a tempestuous, but lovable bunch of vertically challenged individuals reclaim their homeland from the clutches of the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities? How do they go about getting their stuff back, or do they even have any rights to it at all anymore?

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

To begin with, how does one go about getting declared “dead in absentia” in the first place? After all, in most countries adults are perfectly within their rights to uproot and go start a new life somewhere else without telling anyone, or even go on a lengthy adventure with a wizened grey wanderer.

Before we jump into the meat of all this, just a quick note, as this particular topic deals with estate distribution and the like, we’ll focus primarily on adults who disappear, though many elements of what we’re about to cover does also technically apply to children.

As with many things, there’s no uniform, worldwide policy concerning what exact set of circumstances need occur or even how long a person needs to be missing to be declared dead in absentia, though there are many similarities in the process from country to country.

In general, the courts will have to be directly involved in these cases and they will almost always err towards presuming the person is actually alive. However, if the person has been missing for a specific length of time, with no one who would otherwise normally hear from them having contact, and a diligent (unsuccessful) search has been conducted to find them, the courts will ultimately determine that the person indeed must be deceased, even if there is no direct, hard evidence that they are, in fact, dead.

As to the search, to dispel a popular notion frequently perpetuated by Hollywood, a person does not have to be missing for more than 24 hours before authorities in most countries will act. In fact, while almost all missing person cases are resolved of their own accord in relatively short order, in rare more legitimate missing person cases, every hour that passes reduces the probability that said missing person will be found and nobody is more aware of this than the authorities who deal with this stuff every day. Thus, they often actually recommend reporting missing people as soon as the person is determined to be missing.

That said, given there is only so much manpower available at any given time and, again, most missing person cases resolve themselves of their own accord rather quickly, the appropriate authorities do have to prioritize what cases they take on immediately. Thus, rather than strictly going by how much time has passed before an investigation is opened, they’ll weight a number of factors including the probability that the person is truly missing, and not just off doing something without telling anyone. If the disappearance is highly unusual given the person’s normal daily habits and no good explanation can be thought up for the disappearance, this will bump the case up in the priority list as a potential legitimate missing person case. Just as important in getting the authorities to look into the matter immediately is the probability that the person missing might be in some sort of peril given the known facts of the case.

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
Giphy

Once an investigation is started, if nobody in the person’s life seems to have heard from them or knows where they are, authorities usually resort to monitoring the person’s digitally trackable life, for example where applicable monitoring financial accounts, cell phone, email, social media accounts, etc., as well as checking if the person has attempted to go through any border check points. As you might imagine, disappearing without a trace in the modern world has become increasingly difficult, meaning these days authorities are much more frequently able to locate the person if they are indeed still alive, compared to even just a few decades ago.

It also helps that many people who are choosing to disappear from their previous lives are not trying to hide from authorities, so the use of personal bank accounts and the like tends to continue.

If they are found, the authorities will typically respect the person’s right to disappear from a former life, unless there are legal reasons not to, such as someone running from financial obligations or the like. As Miranda Napier of the Missing Persons Bureau notes,

If someone has elected to leave their friends and family… and we find them and they express this wish, then we would close the missing report and advise those making it that they were safe and well, but we would not be able to tell them where they were.

Speaking of financial obligations, when trying to decide if some missing person might actually be dead, authorities will also analyze whether the person missing might have had motive to go missing in the first place. For example, if they were having extreme financial difficulties, were in legal trouble, having relationship or family problems, etc.

As they move along in the process, authorities will also usually check with local coroners to see if any unidentified bodies have been found that match the description of the missing person.

But what about if all of this turns up nothing? Next, it becomes a waiting game. In regards to the length of time needed, as noted, this varies, but a commonly observed rule of thumb is that the person has to have been missing for at least 7 years, unless circumstances of their disappearance seem to indicate imminent peril, thus a high probability that the person is, in fact, deceased.

For example, many bodies couldn’t be identified or recovered when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, so people who worked there who went missing directly after would have an extremely high probability of being declared dead in absentia almost immediately should their loved ones request such of the courts.

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

The World Trade Center towers.

Few cases are so cut and dry, however, and in all cases you generally need to get a judge to agree with you, with the burden of proof lying with the people trying to get someone declared dead earlier than the required number of years. The judge in these cases will then determine if, given the evidence, the probability has shifted from presuming the person is alive to it being reasonable to presume they are dead, again usually erring on the side of assuming the person is still alive.

As former assistant attorney general of Illinois, Floyd Perkins notes, “Before seven years, anyone who wants you declared legally dead has to offer evidence that you’re not alive. But after you’ve been missing seven years, anyone who wants you declared alive has to offer evidence that you’re not dead.”

As for more specifics, in the United States the authority to declare someone dead in absentia falls to the states themselves, each of which have their own specific rules. For example, while most states go with the seven year general rule, states like Georgia and Minnesota instead go with four years.

Moving around to the other side of the world, in Italy, it actually takes 20 years for someone to be declared dead in absentia, barring compelling evidence to decree this sooner. In Poland, the time span is 10 years. In Russia, it’s 5. Like in many states in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, in the UK, there is a 7 year waiting period before the authorities can make this call.

It should be noted here that until the authorities declare the person dead, the missing person’s financial affairs are basically in a state of bureaucratic limbo. To illustrate the issues here, consider the case of Vicki Derrick, a woman whose husband Vinny went missing in 2003. After an investigation to locate Vinny turned up nothing, he was presumed missing by the police.

The problem was that in the eyes of the law Vicki’s husband was still alive and, thus, she was still married to him with all obligations that implies, still shared a mortgage on a house she could no longer afford with just a single income, but could also not sell because her husband wasn’t around to put his signature on the necessary paperwork to sell it.

Furthermore, Vickie couldn’t claim her husband’s life insurance policy nor access his personal accounts to settle his various financial obligations until the courts finally decided enough time had passed to declared him dead in 2011.

In a bizarre twist, Vinny’s body was found just two months after he was finally declared dead in absentia. As Vicki would later recount,

There was a huge sense of relief, which I felt guilty about. But at the same time I had already grieved. Deep down I think I knew the day he disappeared he wasn’t coming back. It was so out of character that something terrible must have happened for him not to come home.

It turns out that in the UK alone, while about 98% of the 250,000 or so people that go missing each year turn up within a week of their disappearance, about 1% of these people go missing for at least a year. In a little over half of these 1% cases, the person is ultimately either found dead or eventually declared dead in absentia, but the other half, over 1,000 missing people annually, turn up alive in the end.

As a direct result of cases like these, the government passed the Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act in 2017 which, 90 days after the disappearance of the individual, allows the loved ones of a missing person to assume some degree of control over their affairs. Thanks to this, many of the problems people like Vickie faced can be avoided, mitigating the potential damage to a missing person’s financial situation as well as providing a degree of help in cutting through a lot of red tape for their loved ones during a tumultuous time.

No such nationwide laws exist in the United States and, thus, for example if any benefits would otherwise have been paid, the beneficiaries involved usually simply have to wait the required period for the death in absentia to be declared before they can begin receiving them, assuming they can’t offer a sufficient body of evidence to get the person declared dead early.

Alright, so that’s how you could potentially be declared dead and have your estate pass to others without actually being dead. So let’s now talk about your stuff.

In a nutshell, a person declared dead in absentia is, by the letter of the law, dead.

Shocker, I know.

As such, the actual process of probating their will is functionally identical to a more straightforward death in most countries. Likewise, death benefits will similarly be paid out in a timely manner, though some insurers may require a person making a claim in these cases to jump through a few additional hoops, such as providing evidence a good faith effort was made to locate the person before death in absentia was declared. With this information being necessary to declare a person dead in absentia anyway in most cases, this usually is a pretty easy hurdle to jump over at that stage of the game.

But let’s say after all this happens the “dead” person turns up very much alive and wants all their stuff back from the clutches of the Sackville Baggins. What happens then? This is a far more thorny legal issue and there’s little universal precedent in law to say what exactly should happen, though in the vast majority the court cases we could found, the heirs typically weren’t required to give anything back.

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

Sackville Baggins.

In the US especially what happens in this unlikely scenario varies slightly from state to state, with some dictating that the person has no right to any of their stuff back and others adding caveats, including Pennsylvania who deals with the matter perhaps most sensibly of any region we looked at.

Another example of a state with a caveat is Nevada, where a missing person has up to a year after legal proceedings to divide up the estate have begun to veto the whole thing and get their money and property back, despite having been previously declared dead in absentia. If a missing person turns up after this grace period, they will no longer have any claim to their former assets.

To give the missing person as much of a chance as possible to prevent this from happening if they are indeed still alive, a person laying claim to the estate to the missing person in this case must “give notice by publication”. This mostly just means doing something like putting an ad in a local paper or the like that they are going to make a claim on the estate, which is sure to be read by no one but the intern who processed the notice, but at least gives the appearance of accomplishing something, so is a bureaucrat’s dream law.

Moving on to Pennsylvania, the state law very sensibly requires anyone laying claim to a person’s estate who has been declared dead in absentia to secure a refunding bond before assets will be distributed. As Pennsylvania-based attorney Patti Spencer states, “The person entitled, a spouse or kid, has to post a refunding bond, before the property is distributed. If the person comes back… and someone else has her property, they have to give it back, and if they can’t, then this bonding company has to make it right.”

This is something that happened relatively recently as 2013 when a woman named Brenda Heist returned after her presumed death in 2003. She’d actually been living on the street for the last decade and hadn’t even been aware she had been declared dead.

UK law, as with many other countries we looked at, seems to more or less handle things about the same as the general U.S. court systems. If the person has been declared dead in absentia and sufficient time has passed, which is usually needed to get declared dead in absentia in the first place, the courts will usually rule that the heirs aren’t required to give anything back, though, of course, any heirs are free to do so at their own discretion. The courts simply usually won’t require them to do so if a lawsuit is raised over the matter, though, as with all things in life, their are exceptions.

But what about life insurance and various death benefits? As you might imagine, the insurance companies will almost always seek to get their money back, unless the cost to do so exceeds the amount paid out. But from whom do they try to get the money back from? While, as with so much of what we’ve just discussed it’s not universally true, if a missing person’s loved ones have them declared dead in absentia and then claim against their life insurance policy in good faith (and thus aren’t involved in any fraud here), they won’t generally be sued for the money back, or, even if they are, the courts are unlikely to side with the insurance company in these cases.

The life insurance companies tend to have much better luck going after the person who was incorrectly declared dead in absentia. After all, the missing person knows they are still alive and usually went missing on purpose, setting off the chain of events that required the insurance company to eventually pay out on a policy when they otherwise shouldn’t have been obligated if the missing person had just told someone they weren’t dead.

For example, consider the case of John Burney who disappeared, in this case in a way that made it seem very likely he was dead, in 1976 after getting in some rather hot water owing to mismanagement of his company, causing it to go bankrupt. About six years later, in 1982, he was found to be alive when he decided to return home to visit his father who had been seriously injured. Although Burney’s insurance company initially filed suit against the beneficiaries of his life insurance policy – specifically his wife and business partners – the courts ruled that they didn’t have to return the money. Burney, however, who didn’t receive a dime of that insurance money, did, to the tune of 0,000 (about id=”listicle-2632878398″.2 million today).

So to sum up, if you do happen to mysterious disappear and then turn up again after being declared dead, chances are your stuff will be gone unless your beneficiaries are feeling particularly generous and choose on their own to give it back. And should they have cashed in on a life insurance policy you had, assuming they really thought you were dead when they did it, you are likely going to be the one on the hook to pay that back, even if you didn’t benefit from it in any way. To add insult to injury, particularly if you live in the United States, prepare yourself for quite the lengthy ordeal in getting yourself declared alive again in the first place, with a number of rather severe consequences while you try to prove to everyone that you are, in fact, not dead.

Thus, unfortunately for the owner of a certain estate along Bagshot Row, given his disappearance most definitely was out of the ordinary for his normal behavioral patterns and, beyond that, he was last seen, at least in the film adaptation, noting he was “going on an adventure” (always a dodgy business), in either case those seeking his estate seem perfectly within their rights to have had him declared dead in absentia. Assuming Shire law did not have a grace period for legal right to recover an estate after such a declaration, like Nevada, it seems likely all property already auctioned off would not have been obligated to have been returned.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Vietnam Veteran Reflects On Service, Then and Now

As a young man growing up in the 60’s I wrestled with some of the same issues many young people did at that time. What was I going to do with my life?  What was really important to me and what were my priorities? I had difficulty narrowing it down to a specific path, so I decided to go to college. I figured I may find something that would pique my interest and give me a little more definition to my search.

Little did I realize that definition would come from negative experiences and not positive ones. I graduated from high school in June of 1967 and attended college that fall. It was a time of great protest against the Vietnam war and the nightly news showed the intensity these protestors showed towards their country. It was a confusing time for myself and some of my best friends.  On campus, I discovered the professors mostly felt the same way as the protestors and they showed favoritism towards those with the same views and condemnation towards those that differed from their own.

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts
John Ruehle and a buddy in Vietnam.

Having traveled out of the country some during my teenage years, I could not understand how individuals could burn the flag of their own country when that very same country provided so much more protection and freedom than others. Especially while young men were dying overseas to help protect that very freedom that seemed to be taken for granted. It turned out that one of my best friends at another college was feeling the same way, and that summer of ’68 we decided that we would quit college, join the Marines and serve our country. We felt it was our obligation as a citizen and that we needed to do our part.

The Marine Corps turned out to be everything I had hoped for and then some. In boot camp I was one of just four individuals out of 80+ in my platoon who had enlisted. The vast majority of the rest were there because they had a choice of jail time or the Marines. It made for an interesting melting pot.

Through all the training, one learned to depend on others, considering myself an independent cuss, this concept was quite difficult to grasp but once bitten, it develops a feeling of camaraderie that lasts a lifetime. I was accepted into the Scout Sniper group and we shared a building with the Recon group. Even though we were all in the Marines, we brawled with each other about once every 3-4 weeks in the common area in the middle of the barracks. But when we were outside that area, we were brothers to the core.

Regardless of whether we were enlistees or draftees, we all felt a common respect for our flag and detested those that would defile it. With no TV’s or radios allowed, conversations at night became very intense and focused. But that respect was a common thread.

In Vietnam, the respect for the flag did not change but respect for some of the leadership took different courses. In the Scout Snipers, there were only some 20-or-so of us per regiment so we were a pretty tight group. Typically, we worked in 2-man teams and were assigned to companies as needed. Those assignments rotated and so there was never much time to develop close friendships with others outside the Sniper community. But we were all Marines and that bond never goes away.

This was proven to me on many occasions but was definitely driven home to me the night I was wounded. It was a nighttime attack and bullets and explosions were coming from every direction. My partner was trying to navigate with me to an aid station and a young Marine grabbed us and pulled us into his hole for some protection. It was not big enough for the three of us so he climbed out and laid across the edge of the hole, offering us more protection while seriously exposing himself. I was evacuated to a hospital ship that next morning and never had a chance to properly thank him or get his name.  That is my only regret of the war.

Returning home, I was not prepared for the disdain I was to receive from so many different quarters of society. I proudly wore my Marine Corps patch on my favorite jacket but after so many fights and arguments that ensued, I had to finally decide to take it off. That was a tough decision. I was still proud to have served my country, but I felt a little like I was betraying my brothers by not wearing my patch.

I returned to college and started over as a freshman. (Of course, those upperclassmen, who liked to haze freshman, got a little different response this time, then they were used to) I also found that the issue with professors had actually gotten worse over time. But this time I had the foundation, confidence, and independence to fight back, and I decided to slug it out with them and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes successfully and sometimes not. While attending college I wanted to still serve in some capacity, at that time the Reserve and National Guard seemed to me somewhat of a joke, so I steered clear.

After getting married and starting a family I volunteered with the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts. I also volunteered with several community agencies as my career progressed. After my children were grown and gone, I volunteered with the U.S. Forest Service, work which I still do.

Then I discovered Team Rubicon, and everything I have been trying to accomplish has seemed to come together in one organization: Volunteer work that can actually make a difference. The camaraderie of shared experiences and the desire to serve. Respect for flag, country, and individuals. All that which I have sought, from various channels throughout my career, I have found in one organization: Team Rubicon.

Editor’s Note: John Ruehle was featured in our 4th of July 2020 story “Life, Liberty, and the Freedom to Serve.”

This article originally appeared on TEAM RUBICON. Follow TEAM RUBICON on Twitter @TEAM RUBICON.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Pompeo warns Taliban against attacking U.S. troops

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has held a video conference call with the Taliban during which the top U.S. diplomat warned the insurgents against attacking American troops in Afghanistan, the Department of State says.

A statement said Pompeo and the Taliban’s Qatar-based chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, on June 29 discussed implementation of a February agreement between Washington and the militants.


Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

“The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Earlier, the Taliban said Baradar reaffirmed during the call the group’s commitment to the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated a pledge not to strike U.S. forces.

The call comes as U.S. President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain his actions after being reportedly told that Russian spies last year had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.

The White House has said Trump wasn’t briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified and were not deemed credible actionable intelligence.

U.S. – Taliban deal

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Taliban deal is at a critical stage at a time violence in Afghanistan has continued since a three-day cease-fire at the end of May. The Afghan National Security Council said June 30 that, since February, the Taliban had on average staged 44 attacks per day on Afghan security forces.

Under the accord, the United States agreed to reduce its forces in Afghanistan from 12,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July. If the rest of the deal goes through, all U.S. and other foreign troops will exit Afghanistan by mid-2021.

Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

The New York Times reported last week that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops.

Subsequent reports by The New York Times and Washington Post reported several American soldiers may have died last year as a result of the bounties.

In particular, U.S. officials are investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

At the time of the attack, the Defense Department identified those killed as Marine Staff Sergeant Christopher Slutman, Sergeant Benjamin Hines, and Corporal Robert Hendriks.

The Taliban and the Department of State did not specifically say whether Pompeo and Baradar spoke about the report.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a series of tweets that the two sides discussed “foreign troop withdrawal, prisoner release, start of intra-Afghan dialogue, and reduction in [military] operations.”

“We are committed to starting inter-Afghan talks, as we have said before, but delays in the release of prisoners have delayed inter-Afghan talks,” Shaheen tweeted, referring to a pledge by Afghan authorities to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as a condition to start the negotiations.

Baradar “noted that according to the agreement, we will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the security of the United States and other countries,” he also wrote.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here are the 2020 USPS holiday shipping deadlines

Whether you hit Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday or just a random Tuesday night after a cocktail because #quarantine, tis the season to be jolly … and to make sure you meet the 2020 military mail holiday shipping deadlines. Deadlines are quickly approaching to get those care packages put together and in the mail for your loved one to open in time for the holidays.

Here are the USPS holiday shipping dates for military mail:

2020 USPS holiday shipping deadlines for military mail

For a full list of USPS holiday shipping deadlines this season, visit USPS.com. And to see what items your service member actually wants in their care packages, click here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How to make it through Special Forces selection

Wondering what it takes to cut the mustard in Special Forces selection?

The time of my first (just) two-year enlistment in the Army was coming to an end. I originally enlisted for the shortest amount of time in the Army in the event that if I really hated it too much I only ever had two years to endure. There were two things that I was positively certain of:

  1. I really DID want to stay in the Army
  2. I really did NOT want to stay right where I was in the Army

    It wasn’t a matter of being so fervent about wanting to excel into the ranks of Special Forces soldiers at that time; rather, it was the matter of getting away — far away — from the attitudes and caliber of persons I was serving with at the time in the peace- time Army as it was. I understood, so I thought, that the way to ensure I could distance myself from the regular army aura was to go into Special Forces, namely the Green Berets.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (Special Forces Regimental insignia)

    That was a great path forward, but with a near insurmountable obstacle — you had to be a paratrooper! Jumping from an airplane in flight was fine by me, the problem associated with that was that most airplanes had to be really high up before you jumped out of them. I was then as I am still horrendously terrified of heights — woe is me! My fear of altitudes was keeping me from going to Airborne Jump School and stuck in my current morass of resolve.

    Well, just two short years in the regular “go nowhere, do nothing” Army and I was ready to jump out of high-in-the-sky airplanes parachute or no parachute. I was ready to jump ship!

    Jump School was indeed terrifying despite the small number of jumps, just five, that we were required to make. All of the jumps were in the daytime though mine were all night jumps. All that is required to qualify as a night jump is to simply close one’s eyes. I did. I figured there was nothing so pressing to see while falling and waiting for the intense tug of the opening of the parachute, so I just closed my eyes.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (Every jump can potentially be a night jump, so says I — Wikipedia commons)

    There were 25 of us paratroops headed to the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) upon graduation from Jump School. I was the highest ranking man even as an E-4 in the group, so I was designated the person in charge of the charter bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg, NC for the course — of course! I imagined that duty would not entail much on a bus ride of just a few hours. I was shocked when approached by two men from my group who wished to terminate their status as Green Beret candidates.

    Well, the course certainly MUST be hard if men are quitting already on the bus ride to the course.

    “Sure fellows, but can you at least wait until we get to Bragg to quit?” I pleaded.

    Once at Ft. Bragg, it was our understanding that we were on a two-week wait for our SFQC class to begin. Our first week we tooled about doing essentially nothing but dodging work details like cutting grass and picking up pine cones. The second week was an event that the instructors called “Pre-Phase,” a term that I didn’t like the sound of and braced for impact.

    “Pre-Phase,” in my (humble) opinion, was a pointless and disorganized suck-athon. It was a non-stop hazing with back-breaking, butt-kicking, physical events determined to crush the weak and eliminate the faint of heart. In the end we had a fraction of the number of candidates that we started with. I noted that of the 25 men I brought over from Jump School, only me and one other very reserved soldier survived. We nodded at each other and shook hands at the culmination of the mysterious Pre-Phase.

    “Good job, brother-man!” I praised him.

    “Thank you; my name is Gabrial, you can call me Gabe,” he introduced.

    “Great job, Gabe — George is my name — please, call me Geo!” I invited.

    The documented entry-level criteria included the ability to pass the standard Army Physical Readiness Fitness Test (APRFT) in a lofty percentile, though one I am loath to admit I do not remember. There was also a swim test that was required of us to perform wearing combat fatigues, combat boots, and carrying an M-16 assault rifle.

    We did it in the post swimming pool. It was a bit of a challenge but by no means a threat to my status as a candidate. I was nonetheless dismayed at several men who were not able to pass it after having gone through all they had. It was sad.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (Special Forces have a charter for conducting surface and subsurface water operations — Wikipedia commons)

    The first month of the SFQC was very impressive to me as a young man barely 20 years old. It was all conducted at a remote camp in the woods where we lived in structures made of wood frames and tar paper — barely a departure at all from the outdoor environment. We endured many (MANY) surprise forced marches of unknown distance, very heavy loads, and extreme speed that were hardly distinguishable from a full run.

    Aside from the more didactic classroom environment learning skills of every sort, there were the constant largely physical strength and endurance events like hand-to-hand combat training, combat patrolling, rope bridge construction with river crossings, obstacle course negotiating, living and operating in heavily wooded environments. We learned to kill and prepare wild game for meals: rabbits, squirrels, goats, and snakes. Hence the age-old term for Special Forces soldiers — “Snake Eaters,” a moniker I bore with proud distinction.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (Survival skills are essential in Special Forces — Wikipedia Commons)

    We all had to endure a survival exercise of several days alone. There were dozens of tasks associated with that exercise that we had to accomplish in those days: building shelter, starting and maintaining a fire for heat and cooking, building snares and traps to catch animals for food, and building an apparatus to determine time of day and cardinal directions.

    Since the same land was used time after time by the survival training, it was understood by the cadre that the land was pretty much hunted out, leaving no animals to speak of for food. Therefore there was a set day and time that a truck was scheduled to drive by each candidate’s camp to throw an animal off of the back. When the animal hit the ground it became stunned and disoriented. We had just seconds to profit from the animal’s stupor to spring in and catch it before it ran away… or go hungry for the duration.

    Hence the sundial I built and my track of the days, to have myself in position to capture my animal when the time came. The time and the truck came. I crouched along the side of the terrain road. The cadre slung a thing that was white from the truck. It hit the ground and was stunned. I pounced on what turned out to be a white bunny rabbit.

    “Oh… my God!” I lamented earnestly in my weakened physical and mental capacity, “I’ve stumbled into Alice in Wonderland’s enchanted forest… I can’t eat the White Rabbit!”

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date — Wikipedia Commons)

    Some men were unfortunately unable to capture their rabbits in time before they ran away. One man was overcome by grief at the prospect of killing his rabbit — his only source of companionship. He rather built a cage for it and graced it with a share of the paltry source of food that he had. Me, I was a loner and swung my Cheshire rabbit by the hind legs head-first into a tree. I ate that night in solace and in the company of just myself.

    Men who could no longer continue sat on the roadside each morning and waited for a truck, one that I referred to in disdain as the hearse, to be picked up and removed from the course. One of them was carrying a cage lovingly constructed from sticks and vines in which sat therein a nibbling white rabbit. The man was washed out of the course for failing tasks, backed up by quitting. There was no potential for a man to return for a second time if he had quit on his first try — quitting was not an option.

    The event that cut the greatest swath through the candidate numbers was the individual land navigation event. It lasted a week or so with some hands-on cadre-lead instruction, some time for individual practice, culminating in a period of several days and nights of individual tests. The movements were long, the terrain difficult, the stress level very high. Every leg of the navigation course was measured on time and accuracy — we had to be totally accurate on every move, and within the speed standard.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    (SF troop candidate during Land Navigation Phase of SFQC moves quickly with heavy loads — DVIDS)

    I recall a particular night when all of us lay in our pup tents waiting for our release time to begin our night movements. Just as the hour was on us a monumental torrent of rain began to gush down. The men scrambled and clambered back to their tents like wet alley cats. I performed a simple mathematical equation in my head:

    • time equals distance
    • hiding in a tent for an undetermined period equals zero time
    • zero time equals zero distance
    • choosing one’s personal comfort over time equals failure

    I had a Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked cigar clenched tightly in my teeth; it was lit before the rain but no more, and I assure you most fervently that it was never in any way Cuban! Plowing through the vegetation for many minutes I came to a modest clearing that I came to be very familiar with over the days. It told me that I was thankfully on course for the moment. The rain was tapering off generously and I felt a leg up on the navigation for the night.

    I reached for my cigar but there was none there save the mere butt that remained clenched in my teach. To my disgust the waterlogged cigar had collapsed under its weight and lay in a mushy black track down my chin and neck edging glacially toward my chest. There would be no comfort of the smoke, nor deterrence of mosquitoes by the smoke of the Grandma Whipple’s rum-soaked positively non-cuban cigar that night.

    Gifts helped POWs escape during WWII…. and 12 other crazy Christmas facts

    More than five months later I sat on my rucksack (backpack) of some 50 lbs just having completed a timed 12-mile forced ruck march, nothing any longer between me and graduation from the SFQC course. There were plenty of things to think of that had happened or did not happen to me over the nearly half-year, though I somehow chose the bus ride from Jump School to Ft. Bragg to ponder. How rowdy and arrogant the crowd had been, all pompously sporting green berets that they hadn’t even earned yet. Me, I had chosen to wear my Army garrison cap — nothing fancy.

    I filtered through the events that had taken each man who had not already quit from that arduous bus ride from Jump School. I remember how they had all failed or quit one by one except that one brother whose hand I shook at the end of pre-phase.

    Buses pulled up to move us back to some nice barracks for the night, some barrack at least 12 miles away by my calculation. Usually everyone snatched up his own rucksack by his damned self, but on this occasion the brother next to me pulled up my rucksack to shoulder height for me in a congratulatory gesture of kindness.

    I in turn grabbed his rucksack in the same manner though with a deep admiration and respect for the man who had come all the way with me from Jump School through the SFQC fueled by reserved professionalism. His name was Gabriel, but I just called him Gabe.

    By Almighty God and with honor, geo sends

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