These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The American Civil War was a bloody, brutal time in the history of the United States. It not only pitted “brother against brother,” as the saying goes, it was a fight over the soul of the country for (at least) the next 150 years.


But while most people know the broad brushstrokes of the war’s causes and conflicts, there are some little known facts that for some might cast America’s bloodiest war in a whole new light.

1. The first soldier killed in the war died entirely by accident.

The opening salvos of the Civil War were fired during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. When P.G.T Beauregard accepted the surrender of the fort, there were zero fatalities on either side. When the Union troops lowered the American flag, they gave it a 100-gun salute.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The Battle of Fort Sumter

 

An accidental discharge from a cannon firing that salute killed Pvt. Daniel Hough of the 1st U.S. Artillery.

2. The Civil War began and ended at the same guy’s house.

While the opening shots of the war were in Charleston Harbor, the first major battle was fought nearly three months later at the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as “First Manassas.” General Beauregard used the house of Virginian Wilmer McLean as his headquarters during the fight. McLean moved his family away from the area shortly after to a two-story house at a place called Appomattox Court House.

It was at McLean’s house that Gens. Grant and Lee met to discuss the South’s surrender on April 9th, 1865.

3. Battles have multiple names because the of the backgrounds of their soldiers.

The bulk of the Union troops were city dwellers and townspeople. When they talked about a battle, the notable things they saw were the natural features of the battlefield. Confederates were by and large from rural areas. When they remember a battle, their inclination is to talk about the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
2nd Bull Run (Manassas), by Currier and Ives.

 

For example, both times the two forces met near Manassas Rail Station, the Southerners dubbed the fights First and Second Battle of Manassas, while the Union troops named it after Bull Run, the nearby stream. At least 230 such Civil War combat actions are known to have multiple names.

4. Black soldiers refused their pay in protest for 18 months.

When black soldiers began enlisting in 1863, they were paid $10 while white troops were paid $13 (officers, naturally, earned more). The black troops were also charged a monthly fee for their uniforms. They refused to be paid unequal wages by not accepting their pay at all – but still fought with valor the whole time.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The 4th U.S. Colored Infantry (Library of Congress photo)

 

In 1864, Congress ordered they be paid equal wages, with full pay, retroactive to the start of their enlistment. In a seemingly odd historical contrast, black soldiers fighting for the South were paid equal wages from the start of the war.

5. A disproportionate number of black men and immigrants fought the Civil War.

It may surprise someone new to the history of the American Civil War that black men fought for the Confederacy, but it’s true. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 fought as soldiers while another 100,000 supported the armies of the South as laborers and teamsters (though their motivation is in dispute). By the end of the war, 10 percent of the Union Army and Navy was made up of black men.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Library of Congress photo

 

Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of recruits for the Union army were immigrants. By 1860, 13 percent of Americans were born overseas and 43 percent of the armed forces were either immigrants or the sons of immigrants. Foreigners lined up at U.S. diplomatic legations abroad to join the Union cause — so many that the U.S. minister to Berlin had to put a sign up to tell people his office was not a recruiter, for example.

6. Slavery didn’t end until eight months after the war ended.

President Lincoln outlawed slavery in U.S. territories in 1862. He freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in rebel states. The President worked to eliminate slavery from the U.S. in the most piecemeal fashion he could. There was no formal law abolishing slavery until the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery — except by punishment of a crime.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Slave trader’s business in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864.

 

The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, but that didn’t end slavery there. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the States – including those in rebellion. When the war ended in April 1865, the amendment needed 27 of the 36 states, but only had 22. Georgia became the 27th when it ratified the 13th amendment on December 6th, 1865. About 45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states (Delaware and Kentucky) 12 days later.

7. Men drafted by the Union during the Civil War could hire a substitute.

The first-ever forced conscription in American history was enacted by the Confederacy. White men between ages 18 and 35 (and later, 45 as the war dragged on) had a three-year mandatory service obligation. The Confederate draft was very unpopular because it was viewed as a government violation of personal rights — the reason the South was fighting the Civil War.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
New York draft riots in 1863.

 

In the North, the Enrollment Act allowed for able-bodied, military-age men to defer their service by paying for a substitute to take their place. The cost was $300 ($8,243.91 adjusted for inflation).

8. Lincoln’s first War Secretary thought Gen. William T. Sherman was insane.

It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that won Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, ending the Democratic Party’s call for peace talks. His March to the Sea and subsequent uncontested sweep through the Carolinas devastated the South and hastened the end of the war.

But in 1861, Sherman wasn’t himself. When then-War Secretary Simon Cameron asked Sherman how many men he needed to defend the North, the general’s request for 260,000 men caused Cameron to remove Sherman from command and send him to Kentucky under the command of a Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers, Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman had a nervous breakdown and was considered unfit for duty.

After Grant’s rise to prominence in the Union Army, Sherman was moved to Grant’s old command and the rest is history. When Congress moved to have Sherman elevated to Grant’s position, Sherman wrote to them:

General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.

9. Neither side could actually afford to fight the war.

The Union, as any high school history class teaches us, was the manufacturing center of the United States in 1861, while the South had a mostly agrarian economy. With this industrial base, the North was able to produce the goods needed to fight the war while the South had to make do with what it could scrape together.

But history shows neither side could really afford the war. The Union’s total income through taxes could only account for 15 percent of its spending. Even with increased tariffs, the first income tax, and other excises taxes, the Federal government only ever made a quarter of what it spent. The Union was forced to take on foreign debt to finance itself – $2.7 billion worth.

The South fared no better, of course. Its tax revenues only earned 11 percent of its fiscal needs. A third of its revenues came from printing money, as opposed to 18 percent in the North. Where the North’s borrowed money would lead to a post-war boom, the interest on Confederate debt being bought in England and the Netherlands began to cost more than the war itself. Tax revenues in the South actually declined as the war continued.

10. The Civil War killed more American troops than any other war, and 2/3 died of disease.

An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A Union field hospital at the Battle of Antietam (National Park Service photo)

 

The number one killer of Civil War troops was disease – the most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots, and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted medical practice.

11. The Rebel Flag isn’t really the Confederate Flag.

The now-controversial and highly recognizable rebel flag, or “Dixie Flag,” wasn’t the official banner of the Confederate States of America. The crossed bar flag was actually just the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

A few states still base their flag on different iterations of the actual, official CSA flag, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. The “Stars and Bars” flag that represented the Southern states features three bars and seven stars. The battle flag was used to make it easier to distinguish it from the North’s flag in combat.

12. The U.S. government is still paying a Civil War pension.

“Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child.” Thus reads the text of Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding the rules for veterans’ benefits to spouses and dependents of former soldiers.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The motto of the VA

 

In 2014, the Wall Street Journal found Irene Triplett, the 86-year-old daughter of Civil War veteran Mose Triplett (a rebel, in case you were curious, who deserted and joined the Union). Mose died in 1938, but his daughter continued receiving the $73.13 owed to her from Department of Veterans Affairs.

She is the last known Civil War beneficiary.

Articles

This was how the military reacted after terrorists attacked on Sept. 11

On the day that 19 terrorists from the radical Islamic group al-Qaeda attacked the United States using airliners as cruise missiles, the U.S. military jumped to respond.


And it was a response that began even before the Pentagon was hit.

Some stories of 9/11 are well-known, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld racing to the scene of devastation at the Pentagon to aid victims of the attack, or the pilots plan to ram Flight 93 foiled hadn’t by passengers on the plane.

But there were other heroic deeds during the attack.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
When Flight 93 hit the Pentagon, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ran to the scene to assist victims rather than remain in relative safety. (PentagonMemorial.org)

According to the 9/11 Commission report, when word reached North American Aerospace Command, also known as NORAD, of the first hijacking, two F-15 Eagles from the Massachusetts Air National Guard were scrambled to try to intercept the planes. They took off just as Flight 11 hit the North Tower – WTC 1 – at 8:53 AM on that Tuesday morning.

NORAD had last dealt with a hijacking in 1993. One thing that worked against NORAD during that terrible day was the fact that that there were very few sites from which interceptors could launch.

During the Cold War, the 9/11 Commission Report noted, there had been 26 sites.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
NORAD Command Center. (Wikimedia Commons)

Other military jets — F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton Virginia, and F-16s from the District of Colombia Air National Guard based at Andrews Air Force Base — had also scrambled. Pilots from the latter unit were armed only with dummy rounds for their M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.

The F-15 pilots, according to the commission report, didn’t even know they were looking for hijacked airliners. The lead pilot would later be quoted in the report as saying, “I reverted to the Russian threat. …I’m thinking cruise missile threat from the sea.”

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Maj. Gen. Marc Sasseville, who was the lead F-16 pilot, and prepared to ram a hijacked airliner. (USAF photo)

It as a credit to NORAD, that even though they were unable to keep the airliners from hitting targets, military personnel were able to face an unprecedented threat and challenge with an improvised air-defense system cobbled together in a matter of hours, despite having never trained to face that threat.

On the first day of what one unidentified officer called “a new type of war,” they reacted with skill and professionalism.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 Facts about the Korean War: 70 Years Later

June 25, 1950 saw troops from North Korea pouring across the 38th parallel into South Korea. This began a short, yet exceptionally bloody war. There are those that refer to the Korean War as, “the forgotten war” as it did not receive the same kind of attention as did World War II or the Vietnam War. However, despite the lack of attention given to it, the Korean War was one of great loss for both sides involved – both civilian and military. Even now, 70 years later, the Korean War is given less notice than other conflicts and wars in history. It is just as important and just as worthy of remembrance as anything else.


To honor those that fought, those that died, and those that were wounded in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953, here are 5 facts about the Korean War:

38th Parallel still divides the two countries:

The 38th Parallel was the boundary which divided the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the North and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South. Despite the original desires of the UN and the U.S. to completely destroy communism and stop its spread, the Korean War ended in July 1953 with both sides signing an armistice which gave South Korea 1,500 extra square miles of territory, and also created a two-mile wide demilitarized zone which still exists today.

It was the first military action of the Cold War: 

After World War II ended, the world entered a time period known as the Cold War. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990. It was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies. The Korean War was the first military action following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.

American leaders viewed it as more than just a war against North Korea:

North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. By July, U.S. troops had joined the war on South Korea’s behalf. This is partly due to the fact that President Harry Truman and the American military leaders believed that this was not simply a border dispute between two dictatorships, but could be the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world. President Truman believed that, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one place after another.” They sent troops over to South Korea prepared for war against communism itself.

General MacArthur was fired from his post:

By the end of summer 1950, President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Asian theater, had set a new goal for the war in Korea. They set out to liberate North Korea from the communists. However, as China caught wind of this, they threatened full-scale war unless the United States kept its troops away from the Yalu boundary. The Yalu River was the border between North Korea and communist China.

Full-scale war with China was the last thing President Truman wanted, as he and his advisers feared it would lead to a larger scale push by the Soviets across Europe. As President Truman worked tirelessly to prevent war with China, General MacArthur began to do all he could to provoke it. In March 1951, General MacArthur sent a letter to House Republican leader, Joseph Martin stating that, “There is no substitute for victory,” against international communism. For President Truman this was the last straw, and on April 11 he fired General MacArthur from his post for insubordination.

Millions of lives were lost:

Between June 1950 and July 1953, approximately five million lives were lost. Somewhere around half of those were civilian casualties. American troops saw approximately 40,000 soldiers die in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded. These numbers made the Korean War known as an exceptionally bloody war, despite the fact that it was relatively short.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why all Soviet jokes needed to be approved by the Department of Jokes

There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.


He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.

 

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Because, as you know, jokes by a Communist committee are totally hilarious.

(Courtesy Photo)

Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.

Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.

“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”

Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
In Soviet Russia, jokes censor you!

(Courtesy Photo)

Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.

This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.

“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Who is buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

It’s Armistice Day, November 11th, in the nation’s capital. It is a brisk day at Arlington National Cemetery. Dignitaries stand silently on the third anniversary of the ending of World War I, watching as a single white casket is lowered into a marbled tomb. In attendance is President Calvin Coolidge, former President Woodrow Wilson, Supreme Court Justice (as well as former President) William Howard Taft, Chief Plenty Coups, and hundreds of dedicated United States servicemen. As the casket settles on its final resting place in the tomb, upon a thin layer of French soil, three salvos are fired. A bugler plays taps and, with the final note, comes a 21 gun salute. The smoke clears and eyes dry as the Unknown Soldier from World War I is laid to rest; the first unknown soldier to be officially honored in this manner in American history.


Also read: Here’s what it takes to guard the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’

The United States’ allies in World War I, France and Britain, were the first countries to practice the concept of burying an “unknown soldier.” World War I was, at the time, the most destructive global war in human history. A staggering 37 million people (about 1 in 48) were killed, wounded, captured, or missing in action across both sides in what was called “The War to End All Wars.” (Interestingly, around this same time, the Spanish Flu killed between 50-100 million people and infected around a half a billion around the globe, roughly 1 in 4 humans.)

Even before the end of the war, the idea of finding a way to properly commemorate the lost, missing, or unable-to-be-identified French soldiers who died fighting for their country was conceived. Around November 1916, a full two years before the war ended, the city of Rennes in France performed a ceremony to honor those local citizens who were lost and unable to be found. Upon hearing of this ceremony, three years later, France’s Prime Minister approved a tomb dedicated to France’s unknown soldier to be installed in Paris. He originally proposed that the tomb be placed in the Pantheon, with other French historical figures like Victor Hugo and Voltaire (the latter of which made his fortune by rigging the lottery). However, veterans organizations wanted a location that was reserved solely for the Unknown Solider. They agreed upon a tomb under the Arc de Triomphe, originally completed in 1836 to commemorate other lost French military members.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
The tomb of the unknown soldier, Paris, France. (Photo by Jérome BLUM)

With the help of a 21-year-old French baker turned “valiant” soldier named August Thin, a representative unknown soldier was settled upon. On November 11, 1920, his casket was pulled down the streets of Paris, before settling under the Arc de Triomphe, where he was laid to rest. To this day, the tomb is still there with a torch by its side, rekindled every night at 6:30 PM.

That same day, two hundred eighty-five miles away in London, Great Britain was holding a similar ceremony. “The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior,” as it is called in London, is housed at Westminster Abbey. It is the only tombstone in the Abbey that it is forbidden to walk upon, and bears this inscription, “Beneath this stone rest the body of a British warrior unknown by name or rank brought from France to lie among the most illustrious of the land and buried here on Armistice Day 11 Nov: 1920.”

Related: Watch this guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns get stabbed and carry on

Many countries worldwide adopted this symbol of commemoration, including the United States of America. In December 1920, Congressmen Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York introduced in Congress a resolution that asked for a return of an unknown American soldier from France for proper ceremonial burial in a to-be-constructed tomb at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The measure was approved a few months later for a “simple structure” that would eventually serve as a basis for a more elaborate monument. Originally set for Memorial Day in 1921, the date was pushed back when it was noted that many of the unknown soldiers in France were being investigated and may be identified, rendering them no longer qualified to be the unknown soldier. The date was then changed to Armistice Day, 1921.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

An important qualification to be selected as the “unknown soldier” is, of course, that the soldier is truly unknown, for they are meant to symbolize any soldier. Thus, there could be no ID on the body, no personal records of the deceased, no family identifications, and no information anywhere at all about who this person was. It also meant that certain precautions needed to be taken to make sure the selected would never be identified. For example, in France, when eight bodies were exhumed from eight different battlefields, they mixed up the coffins to make sure no one knew who came from where.

When August Thin, the young soldier who was given the honor of selecting the Unknown Soldier, walked around the caskets and delicately placed flowers upon one of them, he legitimately had no idea who he was choosing. In Britain, six bodies were chosen from six different battlefields. Not told of any order to the bodies, Brigadier L.J. Wyatt closed his eyes and walked among the coffins. Silently, his hand rested on one — the Unknown Warrior.

More: New monument will honor Vietnam helicopter crews

In America, the process was even more ceremonious. Four unknown Americans were exhumed from their French cemeteries, taken to Germany, and then switched from case to case, so not even the pallbearers knew which casket they were carrying. The honor of choosing exactly which casket was then given to Sgt. Edward F. Younger of Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 50th Infantry, American Forces in Germany. Placing one rose on top of the chosen casket, the Unknown Soldier was selected and sent to the U.S. on the ship Olympia. Later, that rose would be buried with the casket.

Arriving on the shores of America, the casket was taken to the Capitol, where it was laid out under the rotunda. President Warren G. Harding and the first lady, Florence, paid their respects, with Mrs. Harding laying a wreath she made herself upon the casket. After visits from many notables and military, a vigil was kept overnight. The next day, the rotunda was opened up for public viewing. It was reported that nearly 100,000 people came to commemorate the Unknown Soldier.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
(Official DoD photo)

Around 10 AM on Nov. 11, the funeral procession began, passing by the White House, the Key Bridge, and the construction of the Lincoln Memorial (which would be finished six months later). Arriving at Arlington National Cemetery and the Memorial Amphitheater, the ceremony began rather quickly. In fact, it was reported that the President, who was traveling by car, got stuck in a traffic jam on the way there and would have been late if it wasn’t for his driver’s quick decision to cut through a field.

The beginning of the ceremony featured the singing of the National Anthem, a bugler, and two minutes of silence. Then, President Harding spoke, paying tribute to the Unknown Soldier and asking for the end to all wars. He then placed a Medal of Honor upon the casket. Congressman Fish followed with laying a wreath at the tomb. Next, Chief Plenty Coups, Chief of the Crow Nation, laid his war bonnet and coup stick. Finally, the casket was lowered into the crypt as the saluting battery fired three shots. Taps was played with a 21 gun salute at the end. The ceremony for America’s first Unknown Soldier was finished.

Related: Construction of the National WWI Memorial begins 100 years later

Many elements for this ceremony were repeated in 1956, when President Eisenhower made arrangements for unknown soldiers to be selected from World War II and the Korean War. In 1984, President Reagan presided over the ceremony for the Unknown Soldier for the Vietnam War. Acting as next in kin, he accepted the flag presented at the end of the ceremony. In 1998, a mini-controversy occurred when, through DNA testing, it was discovered that the remains of the Unknown Soldier from Vietnam was Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. Due to this, it was decided that the crypt that once held his remains would remain vacant with only this inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

Today, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America is under ceremonious guard 24/7, with the changing of the guard happening up to 48 times a day. It is truly one America’s most somber, affecting, and patriotic memorials.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Vietnam vet worked to bring home missing troops for 40 years

Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.

As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.


When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.

“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
upper right, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, sits with team members during a recovery mission in Papua New Guinea in 1978.

While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.

“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”

Vietnam veteran

Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.

Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.

“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.

During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.

His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”

A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Johnie Webb holds a stainless steel bracelet given to him by the father of a Soldier whose remains were found by the agency.

The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.

At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.

It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.

“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”

Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.

The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Johnie Webb points to a photo of him published in a book on U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations after the war inside his office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 13, 2018.


The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.

Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.

“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”

North Korea

While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.

Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.

They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.

“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”

As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.

About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.

“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.

With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Johnie Webb stands next to then-President Bill Clinton during his visit to an excavation site.


“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.

McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.

“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”

Family advocate

Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.

“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”

The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.

While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.

“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”

When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Johnie Webb consoles a grieving family member.


Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.

The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.

A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.

“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.

Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.

When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.

“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”

A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.

“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why this Coast Guard cutter was one of the most legendary ships in the service

We opened fire. . . The battle was a warm one while it lasted. . . While the fight was on, there was nothing to see but Spanish ships burning and sinking.
Ship’s Bugler Harry Neithercott, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service McCulloch, Battle of Manila Bay, 1898

The quote above by an eyewitness to the Spanish-American War’s Battle of Manila Bay attests to the fury of this naval conflict as well as the damage inflicted by U.S. warships, including the revenue cutter McCulloch.


The cutter McCulloch was commissioned on Dec. 12, 1897, under the command of U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Capt. Daniel Hodgsdon. Built in Philadelphia, the McCulloch was named for two-time Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch. At 220 feet in length and 1,300 tons displacement, the ship was the largest revenue cutter built up to that time. A “cruising” cutter for high seas deployments, it boasted a main armament of one 15-inch bow-mounted torpedo tube and four 3-inch guns, and had an advanced composite hull design with steel planking sheathed with wood.

Before the Spanish-American War commenced, McCulloch made history by steaming from the East Coast to its first station at San Francisco the long way around the globe. This was the first cutter to sail the Mediterranean and transit the Suez Canal. It was also the first to pass through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the first revenue cutter to visit the Far East. Upon arrival at Singapore on April 8, 1898, two weeks before the United States declared war with Spain; orders directed McCulloch to report to Commodore George Dewey and the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong. As was common with foreign warships in the Far East at the time, McCulloch hired several Japanese and Chinese men to serve as stewards and in the engine room.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Water color illustration of the McCulloch in combat during the Battle of Manila Bay. Notice the inaccurate hull color of white rather than the navy gray worn at the time of the battle.

(U.S. Coast Guard collection)

On April 27, the squadron stood out of Mirs Bay, China, approaching the Philippines three days later. Dewey’s squadron consisted of cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore and Raleigh; and gunboats Concord and Petrel. McCulloch steamed at the rear of the squadron to protect the storeships Nanshan and Zafire. In the midnight darkness of April 30, Olympia had approached Manila Bay followed by the squadron and McCulloch with the storeships. Just as McCulloch passed El Fraile Rock at the entrance to Manila Bay, built-up soot in the cutter’s smokestack caught fire and lit-up the night. Soon, a Spanish battery on El Fraile opened fire on McCulloch, but USS Boston and McCulloch returned fire and silenced the Spanish gun. During the engagement, McCulloch’s chief engineer, Frank Randall, worked feverishly to quell the blaze and died from the heat and overexertion.

As he entered Manila Bay, Dewey slowed the squadron to four knots. He did this to time his opening salvos to daybreak. He ordered McCulloch to guard the storeships, protect U.S. warships from surprise attack and tow any disabled warships out of enemy range. A little past 5 a.m., the battle commenced with Dewey’s famous command, “You may fire when ready [Capt.] Gridley.” Eyewitnesses to the battle recalled that McCulloch found no need to tow U.S warships out of the battleline. When its duty to protect the storeships and rescue damaged warships had ceased, McCulloch joined the fight firing some of the final rounds of the battle.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Chief engineer Frank Randall of the McCulloch died of a heart attack trying to put out a smokestack fire. His was the only death associated with the Battle of Manila Bay and he was buried at sea.

In the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey’s warships destroyed the Spanish forces as Manila Bay. Before surrendering, the Spanish had lost their entire fleet including 400 officers and men. No American warship was seriously damaged, eight Americans were wounded and chief engineer Randall the only loss of life. Due to the cutter’s superior speed, Dewey dispatched McCulloch to the closest cable facility at Hong Kong bearing news of the victory and the surrender of Spanish forces. In a message to the secretary of the Navy, Dewey commended Hodgsdon for the efficiency and readiness of the cutter.

In January 1899, over a year after departing the East Coast, McCulloch finally arrived at its new homeport of San Francisco. From San Francisco, McCulloch patrolled the West Coast from Oregon to the Mexican border. During part of this time, the ship sailed under the command of famed cutter captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy. Beginning in 1906, the crew undertook the annual Bering Sea patrol duty. During these 20,000-mile cruises, McCulloch became well known for humanitarian relief and its mission as a floating court trying legal cases in towns along the Alaskan coast. McCulloch also enforced fur seal regulations patrolling the waters around the Pribilof Islands and seizing poaching vessels of all nationalities. After returning to San Francisco in 1912, McCulloch resumed patrol operations along the West Coast.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Members of McCulloch’s crew pose with a Spanish shore gun disabled during Battle of Manila Bay.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The 20-year-old cutter joined the fight a second time on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I. At 6 p.m., McCulloch received telephone instructions from the division commander to put into effect Mobilization Plan Number One. By 7:25, the cutter received a similar “ALCUT (all cutters)” message from Coast Guard Headquarters. In response, the McCulloch transmitted to the local Navy commander a coded radiogram reading “Commanding Officer, U.S.S. OREGON. Mobilization orders received. Report MCCULLOCH for duty under your command.” McCulloch was one of nearly 50 Coast Guard cutters that would serve under the direction of the U.S. Navy.

On June 13, 1917, still a year before the war’s end, McCulloch was lost in an accident. The cutter collided in dense fog with the Pacific Steamship Company steamer Governor and slowly sank off Point Conception, California, with the loss of one crew member. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remotely operated underwater vehicles identified a ship lying in deep water off the California coast. The outline and size of the image closely resembled that of the McCulloch. In October 2016, a joint NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard underwater survey positively identified the wreck as the famous cutter. The discovery was announced to the public in mid-June of 2017, 100 years after its final plunge.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

McCulloch was one of five ships lost during World War I. In 1917, the ship sank after a collision in the fog off the coast of California.

(San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)

During the ship’s 20-year career, McCulloch performed the missions of search and rescue, ice operations, law enforcement, environmental protection, humanitarian relief, and maritime defense. The ship recorded many firsts, such as the first cutter to steam through the Mediterranean and Red seas, transit the Suez Canal, and visit the Far East by way of the Indian Ocean. In addition, its West Coast cruising territory extended from the Arctic and Alaska to southern California. Cutter McCulloch and the men who sailed it remain a part of the legend and the lore of the long blue line.

This article originally appeared on the Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Nazis developed a ‘wonder weapon’ that the Allies couldn’t stop and changed the face of future wars

On the morning of September 8, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the southeastern outskirts of recently liberated Paris. The blast killed six people and wounded 36 more. Nearly eight hours later, two more explosions occurred in London, killing three people and wounding 17.

One of the explosions in London left a crater 30 feet wide and 8 feet deep. The site was closed to the public, and censors barred journalists from reporting on it. The blast was blamed on a faulty gas main and quickly hushed up.


Hundreds of explosions in the following weeks forced the British to admit the truth. The Germans had launched a horrifying new type of weapon at France and England: the V-2, the first guided ballistic missile in history.

For almost a year, more than 3,000 V-2s would be launched at civilian and military targets in Belgium, Britain, France, and the Netherlands.

A vengeance weapon

Development of the V-2 started in 1934. The German Wehrmacht had a keen interest in rockets, and some of Germany’s best engineers were tasked by the military to create this new “Wunderwaffe” or “wonder weapon.”

The missile had its first successful test flight in October 1942. Traveling over 118 miles and reaching an altitude of 277,200 feet, or 52.5 miles, it was the first rocket to reach the edge of space.

The project was repeatedly downgraded and upgraded during the war, but in 1943 it became one of the largest weapons projects of the Third Reich.

Hitler, angry at the destruction Allied bombing was causing in Germany, wanted to strike Allied cities in revenge. The missile became the second in Hitler’s series of “Vergeltungswaffen,” or “vengeance weapons,” and was designated V-2.

About 6,000 V-2 rockets were built. They were intended to be launched from hardened complexes similar to modern missile silos, but Allied bombing and advances on the ground forced the Germans to rely on mobile launch platforms.

V-2s were much more complex and larger than their predecessor, the V-1. They were about 46 feet tall and were equipped with a 2,000-pound amatol warhead at the tip. They also had a range of 200 miles.

After launch, the missile rose over 50 miles into the air and reached a speed of over 3,000 mph, enabling most to reach their targets in just five minutes. V-2s were so fast that they could hit their targets at up to 1,790 mph.

A program of death and destruction

Their speed and operational ceiling made them impossible to intercept, and Allied attempts to jam the V-2’s guidance system were useless, as the missile did not use radio guidance. (Its guidance system was an innovation in its own right; gyroscopes and an analog computer in it constantly tracked and adjusted its course to a preprogrammed destination.)

Up to 100 V-2s were launched each day, and they wreaked havoc on Allied cities. Over 2,700 people were killed by the missiles in Britain alone.

One V-2 struck a packed cinema in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, killing 567 people, including 296 Allied soldiers — the deadliest strike from a single piece of aerial ordnance in the European theater.

There is no complete official toll, but it is estimated that V-2 attacks killed anywhere from 5,000 to 9,000 people. Together, V-1 and V-2 attacks caused over 30,000 civilian casualties and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

That number does not include the deaths of 10,000 to 20,000 people who were used as slave labor in V-2 construction at the underground Mittelwerk factory and various concentration camps.

Desperate to stop the strikes, the Allies launched Operation Crossbow — a series of operations and bombing campaigns aimed at destroying the V-weapon program. The Allies were aware of the V-2 as early as 1943 and even managed to obtain V-2 parts with the assistance of the Polish Home Army.

A lasting legacy

In the end, the V-2, like many of Nazi Germany’s so-called wonder weapons, was too little, too late. Though the civilian body count was high, it was smaller than that caused by other weapons.

Moreover, V-2s did almost no significant damage to military targets, and by 1944 the Allied war machine was just too large for Germany to fight off.

The Wehrmacht spent so much money and resources on the V-2 for such minimal military gain that Freeman Dyson, a Royal Air Force analyst during the war, later likened it to “a policy of unilateral disarmament.”

But the V-2 left a lasting legacy. Combined with the advent of nuclear weapons, it proved that the most important weapons of the future would be ballistic missiles.

The Soviets and the Western Allies scrambled to collect as much of the V-2 program as possible when the war ended, and some of the earliest ballistic missiles on both sides of the Cold War were essentially copies of the V-2.

Many scientists from the V-2 program, including its leader, Wernher von Braun, were also directly involved in the US space program, ultimately helping NASA land on the moon in 1969.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about the Battle of Midway

Just six months after the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. and Japanese forces clashed once again in the Pacific. For three days, Navies battled near the Midway Atoll, located roughly half way between Hawaii and the Japanese mainland. From June 4th to the 7th, brilliant minds orchestrated incredible naval feats in hopes of destroying the other side.

Although an Allied victory here is seen as a key turning point of the war, there are so many important details that some are lost even on the most staunch historians. Here are five things you likely didn’t know about this momentus battle.


These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Adm. Yamamoto saluting his Japanese naval pilots.

Japan wanted to mirror the successes of Pearl Harbor

Japanese Adm. Yamamoto wanted to once again employ the element of surprise to defeat Allied forces stationed at Midway. To distract the U.S., Yamamoto sent many ships toward the coast of Alaska in hopes of baiting American reinforcements to defend against a non-existent attack.

Things did not go as they planned.

America’s code-breakers

Military intelligence had intercepted Japan’s plot, including the time and location of a planned attack. Adm. Nimitz decided to take on the challenge of defeating the Japanese by using his well-trained pilots, launched from perfectly placed ships behind the atoll.

Japan thought they’d catch the Americans off-guard and cornered, but Nimitz had other plans.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

A PBY Catalina scout plane, similar to the one that first spotted the incoming Japanese.

The Japanese had strict radio silence

Japan decided to maintain radio silence as they sent their ships toward the coast of Alaska. During a recon flight, a Naval pilot spotted the incoming enemy while flying through the heavy Pacific fog. The pilot thought he had located the main body of attack — in reality, it was a secondary Japanese attack on Midway. In response, the U.S. sent out nine B-17 Bombers to take out the invading force.

Due to strict orders to maintain radio silence, the Japanese ships took on the American bombers alone, instead of letting superior command know.

The American fighters were outnumbered

The Japanese sought to destroy the installations built on the Atoll by Allied forces with bombers launched from carriers. Navy, Marine, and Army pilots took to the skies to fight off the bombers and their sizable fighter escort. The Americans were extremely outnumbered — still, they held fast.

After 27 minutes of bombing, the Japanese ended their first aerial attack. Then, an enemy pilot broke radio silence to alert command that they needed more fighters to sustain their offensive. Before the enemy could make a decision, knowing that they didn’t have guns in the air, American bombers followed the Japanese back to their carriers and began their air raid.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

What shifted the battle in favor of Americans

American pilots went on an offensive, heading straight toward a reported location of Japanese forces. When they arrived, they found nothing but empty seas. Instead of returning to base, aviators made what Admiral Nimitz would later call “one of the most important decisions of the battle.”

The pilots then proceeded to an unlikely secondary location. There, they found the Japanese carriers — unprepared. Immediately, fighters destroyed one of the four Japanese vessels. Other Americans rushed onto the scene to continue the attack. This event shifted the tide of battle to favor the Americans, wresting victory from Japanese hands.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Kitty Hawk rammed a Soviet sub

Sinking an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would be quite a feat for any vessel or aggressor. Not only because they each carry an air force greater than the air forces of most countries, and pack a punch with more power than anything most countries could ever hope to bring to bear, but also because they’re really, really hard to sink. American carriers are the biggest warships ever built and move fast enough to outrun submarines.

But that didn’t stop one Soviet sub from trying.


In March 1984, the USS Kitty Hawk was part of Team Spirit 1984, a massive naval exercise in the Sea of Japan, along with the navy of South Korea. The carrier’s 80 aircraft and eight escorts were so engaged in the exercise that they didn’t detect a Soviet Submarine chase the Kitty Hawk into the area. The submarine, K-314, was noticed by the carrier much later than it should have been. The Kitty Hawk turned on its engines to outrun and outmaneuver the Soviets.

It was the height of the Cold War, and both ships were carrying an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Games like this could have ended with a spark that ignited World War III. Instead, it ended in one of the most unforgettable naval engagements of the entire Cold War.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The 5,200-ton Soviet Victor I-class attack submarine chased the American carrier for a week or so until the Yellow Sea began experiencing some pretty foul weather. K-314 would eventually lose sight and all contact with the Kitty Hawk and the other American ships. The skipper of the sub, Captain Vladimir Evseenko, decided to rise up to periscope depth and assess the situation from 10 meters below the surface. What he saw surprised him – the American carrier strike group was only four or five kilometers from his boat.

And the submarine and the Kitty Hawk were approaching one another very, very fast. At those speeds, it would be very difficult for any two ships to avoid a collision. Capt. Evseenko ordered an emergency dive as fast as he could, but it was all for naught. The 80,000-ton Kitty Hawk hit the sub at full speed.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

“The first thought was that the conning tower had been destroyed and the submarine’s body was cut to pieces,” recalled Evseenko. “We checked the periscope and antennas – they were in order. No leaks were reported, and the mechanisms were ok. Then suddenly another strike! In the starboard side! We checked again – everything was in order…. We were trying to figure out what happened. It became clear that an aircraft carrier had rammed us. The second strike hit the propeller. The first one, most likely, bent the stabilator.”

“I was on the bridge at the time of the incident, monitoring one of the two radars,” Capt. David N. Rogers told reporters aboard the carrier. “We felt a sudden shudder, a fairly violent shudder. We immediately launched two helicopters to see if we could render any assistance to them but the Soviet sub appeared to have suffered no extensive damage.”

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

The carrier ran over the submarine’s stern, a point in the Victor I-class where the submarine’s sonar is blind due to the sounds of its own engines. The submarine, it turns out, failed to turn on its navigation lights. The Kitty Hawk suffered no damage when running over the sub. The Soviet Union had no response.

Navy officials were quick to point out that in a wartime setting, a Soviet submarine would never have gotten so close to a carrier strike group. In peacetime, losing a Soviet submarine’s location was fairly common. Ramming an adversary, during war or peace, has never been all that common.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This oiler saved the American carriers at Coral Sea

The humble fleet oiler doesn’t get a lot of attention. Today’s version of this vessel, the Henry J. Kaiser-class replenishment oiler, is still relatively slow (capable of reaching a top speed of 20 knots), but it is huge (displacing over 40,000 tons). It makes sense that the ship responsible for hauling gas enough to fuel an entire carrier strike group — both ships and planes — would be a lumbering sea giant.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, however, one humble oiler did more than provide fuel for the ships in the fight.


That oiler, the USS Neosho (AO 23), saved the American carriers. The Neosho was a Cimarron-class vessel that joined the fleet in 1939. She wasn’t as big (displacing 7,500 tons) or fast (capping out at 18 knots) as today’s oilers, but she was still able to top off the fleet’s tanks.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

USS Neosho (AO 23) refuels the carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5) before the Battle of the Coral Sea.

(U.S. Navy)

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Neosho fulfilled her primary mission prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea, refueling USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Astoria (CA 34) after planes had carried out strikes against Japanese-occupied Tulagi. It was on the first day of the coming battle, however, that she would do much more than provide fuel.

At the time, the Navy was so short on hulls that she had only one escort, USS Sims (DD 409). A Japanese plane found the Neosho and her lone escort on May 7. The enemy pilot mistook the ship for a carrier. So, the Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, sent their air groups after the oiler. The Sims was quickly sunk and Neosho took seven bomb hits and had a Japanese plane crash into her.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

USS Neosho (AO 23) pictured while taking the Japanese attack meant for the carriers USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Yorktown (CV 5).

(Japanese Defense Agency)

The vessel stayed afloat for four days when Allied search planes finally found her. The destroyer USS Henley (DD 391) arrived on the 11th. The 123 survivors that were taken off of the oiler then learned that the United States Navy had turned back the Japanese — in no small part because the Neosho took a strike intended for Lexington and Yorktown.

The Neosho was scuttled, but two other fleet oilers have since borne the name.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why America’s first purpose-built nightfighter was named for a spider

In World War II, aerial warfare became a 24-hour-a-day thing. The bombers came first, carrying out devastating raids, like the December, 1940 bombing of Coventry or the Blitz over London. The British, of course, returned the favor by sending RAF Bomber Command over Germany at night.


Neither side liked having their cities bombed in the middle of the night, but stopping them proved incredibly difficult. The United States watched from afar and got technical briefings on radar during the Battle of Britain. The United States Army Air Corps turned to Northrop to help develop a specialized nightfighter, while also turning the existing A-20 into an interim nightfighter.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
A Northrop P-61 Black Widow at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

What emerged was the P-61 Black Widow, named after the deadly spider that inspired its black coat of paint. The first thing that jumps out at you is the size. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, this fighter was about as big as some bombers! Like the P-38, it was a twin-engine plane. Its armament was very heavy: four Hispano 20mm cannon in the belly and four M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a turret on the top. It could also carry over three tons of bombs.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War
Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter had pilot, radar operator, and gunner. (USAF photo)

Despite the plane’s size and weight, it proved to be very maneuverable. By the time it reached the front in June, 1944, much of the Japanese and German opposition had been destroyed. Still, the Smithsonian Institute notes that the P-61 scored 127 air-to-air kills of enemy aircraft (plus 18 V-1s).

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Despite being designed to kill enemy planes, the P-61 also proved to be very good at “night intruder” missions. In short, this plane proved very capable when it came to shooting up enemy airfields, trains, supply convoys, tanks, and other ground installations. But World War II had seen the rise of the jet age, and a month before the Korean War, the last P-61s were retired.

Learn more about this plane with a lethal bite in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZtg29VNTHM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Survivor recalls 48 hours in Moscow during October 1993 crisis

It has been 25 years since the culmination of the so-called Russian constitutional crisis, when the country’s president, Boris Yeltsin, sought to dissolve the parliament and then ordered the military to crush opposition led by the vice president at the time, Aleksandr Rutskoi, and the chairman of parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov.

I was working in Central Asia when the crisis broke out in September 1993, and heard bits and pieces from Radio Mayak every now and again from the Uzbek village I was working in at the time.

I traveled regularly to Moscow for my job — heading a Central Asian sociology project for the University of Manchester and the Soros International Fund for Cultural Initiative — to hand over material from our Central Asian colleagues, pick up their salaries, and restock my own household supplies for the next period of village life.


By chance, I arrived in the Russian capital on October 1. Friends there explained the rapidly changing situation. (I was more interested in the party that some friends told me was set for the Penta Hotel on Saturday night, October 2.)

I had my first look at the Russian parliament building, known as the White House, on the way to the Penta. It was surrounded by trucks, the Soviet-era tanker trucks that had big letters on the sides showing they carried moloko (milk) or voda (water), or something. There was also barbed wire around the building. Small groups of people were milling about on both sides of the barricade.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Boris Yeltsin.

Sunday, October 3, was shopping day for me. There were always too many people at the Irish store on the Arbat on the weekend, but there was another Irish store on the Ring Road. There was a smaller selection but I was only looking for basic products, like toilet paper.

‘Some snap drill’

Just before I reached the store, a convoy of Russian military trucks full of soldiers drove by. They were moving rather fast. I didn’t think too much of it. I’d seen military convoys drive through cities before, especially in Moscow. “Some snap drill,” I thought.

I hadn’t been back at my accommodation long when the phone rang. It was an Italian friend, Ferrante. He was doing business in Russia and lived not far from the flat I stayed in when I was in Moscow. We knew each other from parties and had seen each other at the Penta on Saturday night.

Our conversation went something like this:

“Are you watching this?” he asked.

“Watching what? I just got back,” I replied, “What’s going on?”

“There’s shooting at Ostankino,” Ferrante said in reference to the TV tower. “It’s on CNN. Come over.”

Now I knew what the military trucks were doing. I hurried over to Ferrante’s place and sat down to watch.

“Here,” Ferrante said, handing me a shot of vodka.

We both downed the shot and watched, then downed another shot, and watched.

We were also listening to a local radio station, and Ferrante was getting calls from people around Moscow. It was clear Ostankino was not the only place where serious events were unfolding.

Ferrante poured us both another shot. We downed it and Ferrante started speaking.

“You know,” and he paused. It seemed like a long pause, then he said exactly what I was thinking: “I always wished I was here in 1991,” a reference to the events that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Something big is happening. Let’s go out and see.”

Ferrante called his Russian driver to come over and get us, and we headed to the parliament building just as the sun was setting.

And then it got weird

We had trouble reaching the area. Some streets were blocked off. Once, our car turned a corner and there was a group of around 50 men marching toward us carrying sticks and crowbars. “Go back,” Ferrante yelled, though the driver was already trying.

We parked by the Hotel Ukraina, across the Moscow River from the parliament building. The bridge across the river was barricaded on the side near the parliament building but pedestrians could pass easily enough. We walked around watching apparent supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov turn over those tanker trucks, light fires, and rearrange the barbed wire.

These 12 facts might give you a new perspective on the Civil War

Aleksandr Rutskoi.

There was lots of drinking everywhere.

The crowd was growing. Men in military uniforms had arrived carrying a Soviet flag, and they were trying to form a column of several hundred of the seemingly hard-drinking supporters of Rutskoi and Khasbulatov. It was clear things were about to get ugly.

We noticed and were already talking, in English, about departing. I lit a cigarette, and a Russian man who had obviously had a few shots of vodka himself approached me and asked for a light. After I lit his cigarette, he stared at us and said, “Well guys, are we going, or are we going to sit here taking a piss?”

“Sit here taking a piss,” I replied immediately. “Sorry, we’re foreigners and this isn’t our fight.”

That was enough for him, and he left.

So did we. Back across the river to the Metro, which, amazingly, was working. It was packed, but we were easily able to make it to Tverskoi Boulevard, where the pro-Yeltsin side was assembling. They were drinking, too, but there were places where the atmosphere was more party than political upheaval. I remember a truck lay overturned and there was a guy on top of it playing the accordion and singing with a voice like iconic balladeer Vladimir Vysotsky. A lot of people were just sitting around on the street, drinking and talking.

I got back to my apartment at about 3:00 a.m. “What would daylight bring?” I wondered.

The phone woke me up on Monday, October 4. It was Ferrante again.

“I just got back from the center. I was on the bridge when the tank fired at parliament,” he said quickly.

A lot to digest

It was a lot for me to digest, first thing out of bed. There was an assault on the parliament building, a lot of shooting, people killed…

As I sat at the table drinking tea, more calls came in from friends. Did I know what happened? Had I heard? What had I heard? They told me what they heard.

Several people called just to see where I was, since they knew I was in Moscow but I had not answered the phone all Sunday night.

I remember best the call from my friend Samuel. “Where were you last night?”

When I told him I had been out roaming around in both camps, he screamed, “Are you totally stupid? People are getting killed out there.”

The call ended with me promising I wouldn’t leave my apartment. And I would have kept that promise if I had not run out of sugar for my tea.

I figured the odds of finding someone selling sugar were probably not so good in such times, but I don’t like tea without sugar, so I headed out and got on the subway, which was still running, and went to the Arbat stop.

There was no traffic on the road. I tried walking to where the Irish store on the Arbat was located, but that side of the street was blocked off. On the other side of the street, there was a long line of people behind metal barriers, so I crossed to see. The crowd stretched all the way down the road in the direction of the Moscow River until the about the last 100 meters from the intersection where the Aeroflot globe was. The other side of the intersection was the road that sloped down to the parliament building.

There were several thousand people behind this barrier, and I made my way toward the intersection, where eventually I could see four armored vehicles parked in the center of the road.

I made it to where Dom Knigi (House of Books) used to be. Across the street was that massive block of stores that included, at the time, the Irish store, the Yupiter furniture and appliance store, the Aeroflot office, and dozens of other businesses. Some of the windows were shot out. On top of the building, in plain sight, were OMON, the elite Interior Ministry troops, in their black uniforms gazing down at the streets. There were a lot of police and OMON troops on the other side of the road, at street level also.

Snipers, tracer rounds

But behind the waist-high metal barricades on my side of the street it was a carnival atmosphere. People were talking about snipers where the intersection was, but no one seemed particularly concerned. At least until a sniper finally did take a shot at the armored vehicles.

One of the armored vehicles turned in the direction of a building on the cross street and unloaded. The tracer rounds could be seen flying toward it and dust was kicked up off the side of the building from the bullets.

The crowd roared like it was a sporting event. “Give it to them!” people yelled.

The shooting stopped, the crowd calmed, and then a thoroughly inebriated, shirtless young man jumped over the metal barrier and danced around with his arms outstretched.

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Burned facade of the Russian White House after the storming.

Two OMON troops jumped over the barrier on the other side of street, ran to the drunken dancer, and beat him with their clubs, each grabbing one of the now-unconscious drunk’s ankles and dragging him over the curb to their side of the street.

Another shot at the armored vehicles, another volley of return fire, and more cheering from the spectators on my side of the street.

About that time, I was thinking this was too bizarre and decided to leave. But just as I was making my way back, a roar went up from the direction I was headed and the ground started rumbling. A column of armored vehicles, including many tanks, was making its way up the road toward the intersection.

People were calling to the soldiers: “Be careful!” and “There are snipers there.”

I took one last look at the intersection. Two of the armored vehicles were peppering a building with bullets.

The Metro train I took was on a line that briefly emerged from underground to cross a bridge, and everyone looked out the window at the White House, whose upper floors were on fire.

I got my sugar, went home, and had tea. I went to Ferrante’s place that evening to drink more vodka. There were many people there, some with spent shell casings they had gathered after the raid on the parliament building. Everyone had a story to tell.

I packed my bags the next day and by October 6 I was safely back in Central Asia.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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