The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.
D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Market Garden; no matter the campaign and no matter the battle, our nation’s bravest men fearlessly surged forward to defeat the German threat in World War II.
Although each infantryman was responsible for various duties throughout the war, they were all issued similar gear.
The basic issue wasn’t anything like what troops receive today, but they made it work. Here’s what they carried to victory:
This was also typically attached to the cartridge belt for quick access. Troops never knew when the call to “fix bayonets” was coming, so they had to be ready, sharp, and easily reached.
This pouch includes a canteen, canteen cup, and mess kit — all made of aluminum. It wasn’t uncommon for a forward-deployed troop to eat and drink all of his rations from this container, as many meals served on the front lines came from a large, communal pot.
Also known as an entrenching tool or shovel, the E-tool was used for digging fighting holes and for driving stabler stakes into the ground. This tool was famously worn on troops’ backs and doubled as a fighting stick when sh*t hit the fan.
The average WW2-era helmet was comprised of a plastic liner and a steel shell. The liner helped the helmet fit on a troop’s head properly and, of course, the steel shell offered the troop some protection from incoming shrapnel.
This pack contained a half of a tent, tent pins, and a blanket. Many troops decided not to haul this practical pack around and simply brought a raincoat instead.
Check out the video below to watch a complete breakdown of what these heroes carried into battle.
In 1917, British codebreakers intercepted a message from the German Foreign Minister bound for the German Legation to Mexico. The infamous message, now known as the Zimmerman Telegram, offered Mexico the territory it “lost” to the United States if they joined the ongoing World War I on the German side should the Americans join with the British. They very nearly did when one border clash almost sparked a full-scale war.
The U.S. never forgot the message (once the British showed it to them… and it was published in the United States press). It would turn President Wilson’s sentiment against Germany and help lead the Americans into the European war.
At home, it exacerbated tensions in towns on the American-Mexican border, which were already feeling tense because of Pancho Villa’s raids across the border and Gen. John J. Pershing’s “Punitive Expedition” into Mexico.
Nogales, Sonora, Mexico (left) and Nogales, Ariz., USA in 1899. Arizona was not yet a U.S. state. (National Archives)
In 1918, the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Division began receiving reports of “strange Mexicans” explaining military tactics and movements to the Federal Mexican garrison stationed in and around Nogales. After the publishing of the Zimmerman Telegram, these reports warranted seriously attention.
Even some of Pancho Villa’s former troops, who were disgusted by men they called Germans, addressed crowds and agitated the Mexican populace against the United States. The Army began to suspect German influence was at work and moved elements of the 10th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – into Nogales.
The tension boiled over on Aug. 27, 1918, when a Mexican carpenter was trying to cross the border. He ignored U.S. customs officials who ordered the man to stop (because he was listening to Mexican customs officials ordering him to continue).
Shots were fired by the Americans. The Mexicans returned fire. The Battle of Ambos Nogales had begun.
Between two and five Mexican customs officers and an Army private were killed (the carpenter was not) as citizens in Mexico ran to their homes to grab their weapons and ammo. Meanwhile, the Buffalo Soldiers arrived and captured the hills overlooking the city. Mexican snipers also began to take shots in the streets of American Nogales.
Mexican troops began to dig trenches as American troops began to move house-to-house. By this time, the American soldiers were taking heavy fire from the Mexicans, both regular troops and citizens. So, American citizens took to their homes – and their guns – to take firing positions near the border. The U.S. 35th Infantry even fired a machine gun into the Mexican positions.
Suddenly, a lone figure walked among the bodies of Mexicans and U.S. troops in the street, waving a white handkerchief tied to a cane, the mayor of Mexican Nogales tried to de-escalate the situation by pleading with his citizens to put down their arms. He was shot from the Arizona side of the border.
It wouldn’t be until 7:45 that day, after just over three hours of fighting, that the Mexicans waved a white flag from their customs house. American buglers sounded “Cease Fire” and order was, eventually, restored.
In order to prevent such violence from happening again, the town constructed the first-ever border fence between Mexico and the United States.
In 1989, Denzel Washington won his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Private Silas Tripp, a runaway slave-turned-freedom fighter, in Glory. Although Private Tripp was not a real person, the movie took its inspiration from a real-life volunteer unit in the Civil War — the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
The first African American regiment to serve in the United States military, the 54th Massachusetts was led by a 25-year-old abolitionist. The men were a pivotal part of the frontal assault of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, one of the Civil War’s most memorable battles. Made up of hundreds of volunteers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment achieved incredible things — easily meriting their nickname, the “Glory” regiment.
Established in February 1863, just one month after the Emancipation Proclamation officially authorized the recruitment of African American soldiers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment spent the next three months recruiting and training their soldiers before going on to become one of the most iconic units ever to serve in the U.S. military.
The 54th was comprised of 1,100 soldiers, the majority of whom were recruited by local abolitionists — white and black alike. The likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass boosted morale, helping recruit black Americans into military service for the first time. Douglass even contributed two of his own sons to the cause, both of whom enlisted in the 54th.
The Northern states knew that strong African American enlistment could help turn the course of the war, as both a symbol and as additional manpower for the bloody conflict. President Lincoln’s Secretary of War personally charged John Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, with staffing the officer corps of the 54th regiment. Andrew selected a bright-eyed, 25-year-old man, the son of abolitionists, to lead the 54th. His name was Robert Gould Shaw. Although Shaw was only a captain at the time, he was quickly promoted to colonel, and his second-in-command, Norwood Penrose “Pen” Hallowell was promoted from captain to lieutenant colonel–just a few days after his 24th birthday.
At first, the all-white officers were controversial. Both white and black citizens were dismayed that a black regiment would have to be led by white men. But the recruiting efforts of men like Douglass soon turned the tide, and volunteers began showing up in larger and larger numbers.
Morale was strong during enlistment, and the 54th received an influx of hopeful recruits — so much so that the unit implemented a “rigid and thorough” medical exam, with the aim of enlisting only the most physically and mentally fit into its ranks. The company trained at Camp Meigs just outside of Boston, for a period that lasted only several weeks.
On May 28th, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts regiment marched out of Boston on its way to Beaufort, South Carolina. They did so despite a December 1862 proclamation by President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, which stated that any captured African American soldier or white officer in charge of an African American company would be put to death.
As portrayed in Glory, the 54th Massachusetts’s first action was the looting and burning of a small town in Georgia. The action came on the orders of Colonel James Montgomery, a rabid abolitionist and controversial officer in the Northern Army who often implemented extreme tactics when dealing with pro-slavery populations.
Montgomery had been charged with raising an African American regiment around the same time as Colonel Shaw. His 2nd South Carolina unit rampaged through the South with their most famous battle, the Raid at Combahee Ferry, coming just before they linked up with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts. With the help of Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Montgomery and his men freed nearly 800 slaves at Combahee Ferry.
But Colonel Shaw wasn’t impressed with Montgomery’s tactics. He wrote a sternly-worded letter to the military higher-ups, complaining of Montgomery’s rampant destruction of Confederate towns and wanton cruelty towards their civilians. As a result, the 54th was shipped off to fight in a skirmish on James Island, South Carolina, in which they repelled a Confederate assault.
It was then that the 54th entered into its most famous battle: the raid on Fort Wagner, just outside of Charleston, South Carolina.
The climactic scene of Glory, depicting the Battle of Fort Wagner.
Charleston was considered a prize by many in the North, having been the birthplace of the Confederate rebellion. Charleston’s Fort Sumter was where the Confederacy fired its first shots, overtaking a Union garrison and precipitating the Civil War.
Colonel Shaw was tasked with leading the 54th Regiment on a dangerous frontal assault of Fort Wagner, with the aim of keeping the 6,000 men garrisoned inside occupied long enough for a rear-guard attack to penetrate the fort’s walls. It was a bold proposition, and the 54th was a mere 48 hours removed from their battle at James Island. Yet on July 18, 1863, the men of the first African American regiment bravely charged the battlefield and made history in the process.
The raid on Fort Wagner was ultimately a failure and led to the loss of many lives. No unit was more decimated than the 54th Massachusetts. 270 of its 600 men who charged the fort were killed, wounded, or captured. Colonel Shaw was among the dead, having been shot three times through the chest just outside the fort’s parapet.
Despite the heavy losses, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was commended for its valor. Tales of the unit’s bravery spread far and wide, prompting many African Americans to enlist in the Union army. President Lincoln ultimately cited the mobilization of African American troops as a key ingredient in the North’s victory over the South.
Many decades later, in 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, then 60 years old, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Fort Wagner. Carney had spotted the flag bearer fall during battle, and quickly rushed over to raise the American flag. Carney then led troops to the parapet, waving the flag high to boost morale despite receiving multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds in the process. Upon the Union’s call to retreat, Carney somehow escaped with the flag intact, and crawled back to his encampment. As he handed the flag off to fellow soldiers, he famously told them, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground.”
The 4th United States Colored Infantry, mustered in Baltimore, Maryland
Although numerous African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor prior to Carney, his actions at the Battle of Fort Wagner preceded theirs. As such, he is considered the first African American to be granted the military’s highest honor.
Despite the bravery of the many men amongst their ranks, the 54th Regiment had still often been treated as second-class soldiers. Upon enlisting, the men who joined the 54th Massachusetts regiment were promised the same wages as white men who enlisted: a month, with food and clothing included. But as soon as the regiment arrived in South Carolina, they discovered that they would only be paid — and three of those hard-earned dollars would be taken by the Department of the South to pay for their clothing. Rather than accept this, the men of the 54th refused all pay. It would not be until late September 1864 that equal pay for the regiment was issued. Most of the men had served 18 months at this point.
After the Battle at Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts continued to fight in several more battles and skirmishes, with and without pay, right up until the end of the war. The regiment gained international fame after the war, and was immortalized by poets and artists both in America and Europe. A memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th was erected on the Boston Common as part of its Black Heritage Trail. The bust serves as the closing shot of Glory, over which the final credits roll.
On Nov. 21, 2008, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was reactivated as part of the Massachusetts National Guard. Today, the unit conducts military honors at funerals and state functions.
Known as one of the bloodiest campaigns of all of World War II, nearly one million people lost their lives during the Battle for Stalingrad.
The battle was a colossal matchup between European dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Throughout the campaign, thousands of bombs were dropped, killing innumerous innocent civilians and leaving nothing but ruins and a massive maze of defensive positions for the Soviets.
As the Germans moved forward, they came within meters of their Russian enemy and, in some cases, combat devolved into hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, talented snipers set themselves up in burned-out buildings and would egress out immediately after taking a single shot — discovery in such close quarters was otherwise inevitable.
Although the Germans took heavy casualties during their push into the city’s high ground, their losses couldn’t compare to the enormous dent they made in Russian personnel.
It would take nearly four weeks of intense and grueling combat for the Germans to reach the Mamayev Hill.
As the Germans continued to push forward, the Russian frontline began to rapidly collapse. Members of the Red Army began retreating from their positions en masse, some even forfeiting their weapons to nearby troops.
Many Russian troops felt the battle was unwinnable. Their iron-fisted dictator, however, refused to back down. Today, many military strategists feel that if Stalin had ordered a retreat and had given his men time to regroup, they could have successfully reestablished defenses sooner.
Although it appeared Stalingrad would soon fall, Hitler’s infantry was spreading a little too thin.
Then, the Russian’s introduced their well-engineered T-34 tank, which struck fear in the Germans. The armored vehicle was a sturdy as Stalin’s confidence. As time went on, what once felt like an easy victory for the Germans become a titanic beating.
Although the Russians were regaining ground, they continued to suffer heavy casualties throughout. For Hitler, losing a city named after his nemesis was unacceptable.
After five months of carnage, the Battle of Stalingrad finally came to a halt. It officially ended on Feb. 2, 1943, with a Soviet victory.
Just 60 years ago, there were no man-made objects above the planet Earth. Now, there are nearly 500,000 objects circling over Earth in various orbits. These include debris, inactive, and active satellites.
The tiny Sputnik, which means “satellite” or “fellow traveler” in Russian, was the first man-made satellite to be launched into Earth’s orbit on Oct. 4, 1957, and it changed the course of human history.
The 58cm diameter, 83.6kg metallic orb, with four antennae that transmitted radio pulses, that was launched by the Soviet Union heralded the space race between the USSR and the US – ushering in an era of scientific advances, not only in military, but also in communications and navigation technologies.
There are approximately 1,500 active satellites currently orbiting the Earth. Modern society is heavily dependent on satellite technology, which is used for television and radio broadcasting, telephone calls, GPS navigation, mapping, weather forecasting, and other functions.
Class of satellite orbit
Low Earth Orbit
80km – 1,700km
Communications, Earth observation, development (International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope)
Medium Earth Orbit
1,700km – 35,700km
2 – 24 hrs
Navigation (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo)
Communications (Sirius Satellite Radio)
The US share of satellites
US government and private entities own over 40 percent of all satellites currently in orbit. Most operational satellites currently in orbit are for used for communications, Earth observation, technology development, navigation, and space science.
They have lifetimes ranging from months to 30-plus years after launch.
The Queen is likely one of the single best protected people on the entire planet. But on June 13, 1981, a 17 year old young man who held a marksman’s badge from the Air Training Corps somehow managed to circumvent the endless layers of security put in place to protect the Queen and fired a revolver at her from about 10 feet or 3 meters away. In the process, he managed to get not just one shot off, but a half a dozen, completely emptying his gun. So how is the queen still alive today? Well, thanks to strict gun laws in the UK, the young man, one Marcus Sarjeant, could only get his hands on a gun that shot blanks…
So why did he do it? According to Sarjeant, he was inspired to try and kill the Queen thanks to the deaths of John Lennon, JFK, and the attempts on the life of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In particular, Sarjeant was intrigued by the subsequent notoriety and fame Mark David Chapman achieved after shooting Lennon and endeavoured to do something similarly shocking so that he’d be remembered as well. Not unique in this, humans have been doing this sort of thing seemingly since humans have been humaning, with perhaps the most notable ancient example being about two thousand years ago when Herostratus destroyed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World just so history would remember him.
A modern model of the Temple of Artemis.
Going back to Sarjeant, prior to trying to shoot the Queen, he had received military training, reportedly joining and then quickly quitting both the Royal Marines and Army after 3 months and 2 days respectively. In the former case, he claims he couldn’t take the bullying from his superiors. It’s not clear why he left the Army. After this, Sarjeant tried and failed to become both a police officer and firefighter before working briefly at a zoo — a job he quit after just a few months reportedly because, as with seemingly all teens, he didn’t like being told what to do.
After deciding that shooting the Queen was his ticket into the history books, Sarjeant wrote in his journal, “I am going to stun and mystify the world with nothing more than a gun… I will become the most famous teenager in the world.”
Decision made, Sarjeant set about trying to get a hold of a gun with which to accomplish the task. Fortunately for the Queen, he was unable to do this thanks to strict UK laws related to gun ownership and the sale of live ammunition. Thus, he was both unable to acquire bullets for his father’s revolver and unable to acquire one of his own, even after successfully joining a gun club. Eventually, he did manage to purchase a Colt Python replica, which was modified to fire only blanks.
Despite the unmistakable handicap of not having a working gun, Sarjeant charged ahead with his plan to assassinate the Queen anyway, posing for pictures with his newly acquired firearm, as well as his father’s that he had no bullets for. He then sent these to a couple magazines along with a letter about what he was going to do. He also reportedly sent a letter to the Queen stating, “Your Majesty. Don’t go to the trooping of the color today because there is an assassin waiting outside to kill you”. This is a letter we should note didn’t arrive until 3 days after Sarjeant tried to shoot the Queen.
Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II riding to trooping the colour in July 1986.
As for the day of the Trooping the Colour ceremony, Sarjeant waited patiently for the Queen who he knew would be vulnerable due to the fact that she would be riding a horse in the open, and not in her usual well-guarded carriage. As soon as Sarjeant spotted her Majesty, he rushed forward and fired all 6 blanks his gun held at her, something that understandable startled the Queen’s 19-year-old horse, Burmese.
The Queen, showing why she is often considered an ambassador for British stoicism, didn’t really react much other than calming her horse and then continuing on all smiles as if nothing had happened.
If you watch the live news reporting of the event, the BBC broadcaster likewise exhibits this same stereotypical British reaction, directly after the shots were fired calming saying, “Hello, some little disturbance in the approach road… Burmese receiving a reassuring pat from her Majesty Queen, but he’s a very experienced, wise old fellow…” And then, much as the Queen had done, continuing on as if nothing significant had just happened.
Prince Charles reflects on Trooping The Colour in 1981 – Elizabeth at 90 – A Family Tribute – BBC
Of course, seconds after the shots were fired, the Queen’s personal guard tackled Sarjeant and began treating him as you might expect her guard would a man who had just seemingly tried to kill their charge. Sarjeant reportedly later told the guards his reasoning for the assassination attempt: “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody.”
Sarjeant was ultimately taken to jail where he had to be held in solitary confinement for his own protection, as apparently even British prisoners don’t take kindly to someone taking pot shots at the queen.
When it came to the trial, because Sarjeant’s gun only held blanks, he couldn’t technically be tried for attempted assassination. As a result, Sarjeant was instead tried under Section 2 of the Treason Act of 1842, for “wilfully discharging at the person of Her Majesty the Queen a cartridge pistol, with intent to alarm her”.
Funny enough, this act came about in the first place because of people taking pot shots at Queen Victoria, most notably when one John Francis on May 29, 1842 chose to point a gun at the Queen, but not fire. The next day, he did the same thing, but this time discharging his weapon, but without apparent attempt to actually hit her, at which point he was arrested and tried for treason. A mere two days later, another individual, John William Bean, did the same thing, except, again, there was no risk to the queen. In this case, Bean had loaded the weapon with paper and tobacco.
The problem here was that, while neither of these instances were individuals actually trying to kill the queen, they nonetheless were being charged with treason, a conviction of which meant death. This was something Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, thought was too harsh, which ultimately led to the passage of the Treason Act of 1842. This had lesser penalties for discharging a fire arm near the monarch with intent to startle said monarch, rather than kill. As for the sentence if convicted, this included a flogging and a maximum prison sentence of 7 years.
Going back to Sarjeant, said Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane to Sarjeant during the trial,
I have little doubt that if you had been able to obtain a live gun or live ammunition for your father’s gun you would have tried to murder her majesty. You tried to get a license. You tried to get a gun. You were not able to obtain either. Therefore, for reasons which are not easy to understand, you chose to indulge in what was a fantasy assassination…. You must be punished for the wicked thing you did.
Or to put it another way, Sarjeant won’t be remembered by history as the guy who tried to kill the Queen, but the guy who tried (and utterly failed) to mildly startle her.
In the end, while Sarjeant did apologize for what he’d done in court and would later write a letter to the queen apologizing directly, he was nonetheless sentenced to five years in prison, though at least got out of the flogging part of the possible punishment. Sarjeant ultimately only had to serve three years, the majority of which was spent at Grendon Psychiatric Prison in Buckinghamshire.
After he got out of prison in October of 1984, he changed his name and very deliberately disappeared from the public eye, his desire for fame evidently having been quashed during his time being held at Her Majesty’s leisure
The USS Hancock burns after being struck by a kamikaze pilot.
Everyone knows that, in World War II, you couldn’t find nearly as much information on Twitter or Google. No, if you wanted to learn what was happening on the frontlines of the war in the early 1940s, you had to rely on newsreels played before movies and newspapers.
The battleship USS Tennessee bombards Okinawa as troops move forward to land.
(U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command)
But the newsreels were the much more visceral way to learn about the conflict. Often, censors would tone down depictions of combat and remove reports of some ship sinkings. But at other times, particularly when personnel were especially heroic, the military would allow reports of a ship sinking and even release the footage.
That was the case with this footage of the fighting on Okinawa and the near-sinking of the USS Franklin, an aircraft carrier hit by a kamikaze strike. The Franklin erupted in flames after the explosion ripped through it, but hundreds of sailors remained at their post even after the fleet’s admiral gave the captain permission to abandon the ship.
Instead, the crew evacuated non-essential personnel and got to work battling the flames and securing volatile ammunition and fuel stores to prevent further explosions. The ship’s chaplain even stayed on duty, performing last rites for the hundreds of young men dead and dying in the stricken ship.
WWII OKINAWA INVASION & SAGA OF AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS FRANKLIN NEWSREEL 72352C
And this footage, much of it shot by military combat cameramen, was released by the military in order to show the heroism of the sailors to moviegoers back home. And, it was combined with footage from the action ashore where soldiers and Marines enjoyed a lightly resisted landing but then had to fight fiercely for every additional yard as cave after cave after cave was found to contain fanatical defenders, well-armed and well-trained to bleed the landing forces dry.
A quick warning before you play the footage, though: This is some of the most visceral footage released by the military during the war, and it contains images of combat on Okinawa and at sea. There are multiple shots of combatants on both sides of the fight as they are dead or dying. So, only forge ahead if you’re prepared to see all of that.
Winning the lottery has likely never crossed your mind to be anything short of a celebration of newfound riches. Yet, for American men born before 1958, finding your number selected at random on television didn’t generally translate to wealth.
Ever wondered how the Vietnam draft actually worked? We’re combing through the history pages to find out just how birthdates and the Selective Service System mattered throughout the 20th century.
Your grandfather, father and I
Coming of age doesn’t come close to holding the same meaning as it did for the nearly 72 million “baby boomers” born into the Vietnam era draft. Requirements for registration varied over the decades, ranging from eligible age ranges beginning at 21 and eventually lowering to age 18.
Uncle Sam had called upon its fighting-age citizens as far back as anyone alive could recall, as both World Wars and the Korean War utilized draftees. The Selective Service Act of 1917 reframed the process, outlawing clauses like purchasing and expanding upon deferments. Military service was something that, voluntary or not, living generations had in common.
Low was high and high was low
When the lottery took effect, men were assigned a number between 1 and 366. (365 days per year plus one to account for leap year birthdays.) In 1969, a September 14birthday was assigned a number 001. Group 001 birthdays would be the first group to be called upon. May 5 birthdays were assigned number 364 or would have been the 364group to be required to report. Even if called upon, screenings for physical limitations, felony convictions or other legal grounds resulted in candidate rejection.
This method was determined to be a “more fair and equitable process” of selecting eligible candidates for service. Local draft boards, who determined eligibility and filled previous quotas for induction, had been criticized for selecting poor or minority classes over-educated or affluent candidates.
Grade “A” American prime candidates
In addition to a selection group, eligible males were also assigned a rating. These classifications were used between 1948 and 1976 and are available to view on the Selective Service System’s website.
1-A- eligible for military service.
1A-O- Conscientious Objector. Several letter assignments are utilized for various circumstances a conscientious objector may fall under.
4-G- Sole surviving son in a family where parent or sibling died as a result of capture or holds POW-MIA status.
3-A- Hardship deferment. Hardship would cause undue hardship upon the family.
Requests for reclassification, deferments, and postponements for educational purposes or hardships required candidates to fill out and submit a form to the Selective Service.
Dodging or just “getting out of dodge”
Options for refusing service during Vietnam varied. Frequently called “draft dodgers” referred to those who not just objected, but literally dodged induction. Not showing up, fleeing to Canada, going AWOL while in service or acts such as burning draft cards were all cards played to avoid Vietnam.
Failing to report held consequences ranging from fines, ineligibility of certain benefits, to imprisonment. In what has widely been viewed as a controversial decision, President Jimmy Carter pardoned hundreds of thousands of “draft dodgers” eliminating the statuses like “deserter” from countless files.
Researching the history of “the draft” in American history dates back to that of the Civil War. While spanning back generations and several wars, the Vietnam era draft is still viewed as the most controversial and widely discussed period in its history.
In case you’re wondering, The Selective Service System’s website still exists, as men are still required to register even today.
You might know Alex Haley from his works of historical fiction: Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Maybe you know him as the person who helmed a series of Playboy interviews and later earned a Pulitzer Prize. Or perhaps, you know him as the retired Coast Guard veteran who got his earliest start writing for newspapers in the military. No matter what you know about Haley, we’re sure there’s more for you to learn.
Who was this dynamic man?
Alex Haley was born in 1921 in Ithaca, New York. His father, Simon, was a WWI veteran. At the time of Alex’s birth, his father was a graduate student at Cornell, studying agriculture. His mother, Bertha, was a musician and teacher of both elementary and high school students.
During his early years, Alex, who was called Palmer, lived with his grandparents Will and Cynthia in Henning, Tennessee, so his father could concentrate on finishing his graduate work. However, when his grandfather died, Haley’s parents returned from Ithaca. There, Simon resumed his studies at Lane College.
An early achiever
With two stellar role models, Alex grew up understanding the value of education. He graduated from high school at 15 and enrolled directly at Alcorn AM College in Mississippi. After a year there, he transferred to Elizabeth City State Teacher’s College in North Carolina. His early successes at school did not transfer to collegiate life, and Alex had a difficult time keeping his grades up.
USCG Alex Haley (Wikimedia Commons)
Writing with the Coast Guard
Three years later, in 1939, Alex quit school and joined the Coast Guard. He enlisted as a seaman, but because of the rife discrimination present in the Coast Guard’s ranks, Alex was forced to work as a mess attendant. To relieve his boredom on ship, Haley brought a typewriter onboard and typed letters for his shipmates. It was at that time Alex also started writing short stories and articles, which he then sent out for publication to magazines and newspapers. As with most writing endeavors, Alex’s attempts at publication were largely met with rejection letters, but a handful did manage to place in reputable journals. This early encouragement reinforced Alex’s passion to continue writing.
By 1949, Haley was permitted to transfer into the field of journalism with the Coast Guard and had achieved the rank of First Class Petty Officer. He was soon promoted to Chief Journalist with the Coast Guard. This is the position he held until his retirement in 1959 after 20 years of service.
During his time in the Coast Guard, Haley received the American Defense Service Medal, the WWII Victory Medal and an honorary degree from the Coast Guard Academy. Later, a Coast Guard cutter was named for him: the USCGS Alex Haley.
After the Coast Guard
After retiring from the Coast Guard, Haley set out to make his way as a freelance writer and journalist. It took three years for Haley to get his break when he interviewed famous trumpet player Miles Davis. The interview was published in Playboy, and the piece was so successful that Playboy commissioned Haley to write a series of pieces that would eventually be known as “The Playboy Interviews.”
This collection of work featured an interview with prominent Black activists, musicians, actors and others. Following an interview with Malcolm X, Haley got the idea to write a book about the famous activist. Two years later, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, was released. This seminal book of the Civil Rights Movement helped memorialize the life of Malcolm X, thanks in part to Haley’s efforts.
The success of The Autobiography of Malcolm X transformed Haley’s role as a writer. He began to receive offers to lecture at universities and write. Instead, he chose to embark on a new project that aimed to trace and retell the story of his ancestors’ journey from Africa to America as slaves.
It took Haley a decade to research the book. During that time, he traveled back and forth to three continents, examining slave ship records at archives in the United States, England and Gambia. Despite his strong journalism experience as a Coast Guard journalist, Haley later said that it would have been impossible for him to completely recapture the true spirit and harrowing experience of those aboard the slave ship. Roots was finally published in 1976 and went on to sell millions of copies.
An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.
Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.
The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.
In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.
Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.
Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.
The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.
The Crew of the ARLIGH BURKE-class USS COLE (DDG 67), escort their wounded ship aboard Navy tug vessel, USNS CATAWBA, to a staging point in the Yemeni harbor of Aden awaiting transportation by the Norwegian-owned semi-submersible heavy lift ship MV BLUE MARLIN back to their homeport, during Operation DETERMINED RESPONSE, on October 29, 2000. (Photo by: SGT DON L. MAES, USMC)
The US Navy released a powerful video Monday of retired sailors and a Gold Star mother recounting the deadly bombing of the destroyer USS Cole twenty years ago today.
In one heartbreaking scene, retired Master Chief Paul Abney breaks into tears as he remembers the loss of fellow sailor Operation Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders. Abney said he stood watch with Saunders every day.
“Both of his legs were busted up so bad,” he recalled. “They were out of shape, they were all twisted on the Stokes stretcher they were carrying him on.”
Tears fill his eyes as he continues. “Still the same cheery personality, he gives me two thumbs up and says, ‘They’re taking care of me, master chief,’ as they were carrying him off on a Stoke stretcher.”
“He was the only shipmate who made it off and to the hospital that passed away over there,” he said. “Every other one that we got off the ship and triaged to get off soon enough they made it. The rest of them died before we ever got them off the ship.”
USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in a boat packed with explosives while in port in Yemen on October 12, 2000. The explosion tore a hole in the ship so large the crew spent several days containing the flooding that endangered the ship. “We almost lost her,” retired Command Master Chief James Parlier said in the video.
“The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair,” Abney said. “Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing that I can really recall from the blast was this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was kind of hard to breathe. Everybody was choking from the smoke.”
Seventeen sailors were killed, and another 39 others were injured in the attack.
Among the deceased was James McDaniels. His mother, Dianne McDaniels, learned about the attack on the news. That evening, she was informed that her son was gone. “I’m glad he did what he did as far as serving because that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.
“These were young men and women that you knew personally. We had a crew of 275,” Parlier said. “Respectfully, to put them in a body bag is the worst thing I can ever think of.”
The attack was attributed to al Qaeda, which carried out attacks in the US a little over a year later on September 11, 2001.
It took a little over a year to repair USS Cole and return her to sea. Parlier said that when the ship was finally fixed and sailing again, he felt pride “because we told them son of a b——s that we were not defeated and that we were coming back.”
Remembering the Terrorist Attack on USS Cole (DDG 67), Oct. 12, 2000
The involvement of females in the military goes back to the start of United States forces themselves. From lending a consulting ear, to helping create uniforms, to eventually being allowed to join the ranks themselves, women have undoubtedly been a big part of U.S. forces.
Join us in this trip down memory lane outlining how their roles originated and changed over time.
During the Civil War, women were not allowed to fight in the war. More than 400 got around this rule Mulan-style by disguising themselves as men and fighting anyway. This is most notable because, years prior is referred to the Cult of True Womanhood by historians. (Think Antebellum period.) This is a term that describes women who worked inside the home, wore intricate dresses, and spent their time socializing and keeping up with the housework. In other words, a far cry from helping in a war — let alone fighting within it.
They also played a huge role in helping the sick and wounded. With or without proper medical training, thousands of women worked as nurses where they helped those who were stricken with illness or who were hurt in the war. Later, in the war they did so officially with the Union’s United States Sanitary Commission. Inspired by trailblazer Florence Nightingale, they helped ensure conditions were as sanitary as possible.
Women also helped by providing food for soldiers and gathering supplies in the North and South.
This is noted as the first war in history that women held a true and significant role within the war. It’s also said that women’s position within the war advanced women’s rights by 50 years.
World War I
During the first World War, the U.S. was in “total war efforts,” meaning it was all hands on deck. As many men went overseas to participate in the war, that left many women at home to help fill their shoes. Farm work especially was taken on by women, as was household work, child rearing (alone or sharing responsibilities with family members left behind), and earning income to help supplement solider pay, which was not always enough to raise a family.
This was the first “class-less” war, where those of all income levels worked in the same jobs. Women joined efforts in which they could travel overseas, including the YWCA. Nationwide propaganda also encouraged women to get a job working in the factories. Meanwhile, one of the most popular jobs was working as a switchboard operator; they were known as Hello Girls.
The U.S. employed more than 21,000 women as nurses in hospitals stateside and overseas.
Russia was the only major country of the war to send women to the front lines. However, in the U.S., 13,000 women joined the Navy working stateside and receiving the same pay as men. They were welcomed into the ranks of the Marines as well.
World War II
This go-round, all major participating countries heavily recruited women into their respective militaries. In most cases, women held clerical or office jobs, including the majority of female soldiers. In the U.S., around 400,000 women served through these support positions. With this installment, women became seen as a permanent part of military forces, formalized by the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948.
WWII also saw the start of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. It began as an auxiliary unit but was converted to active duty just one year later.
Like in WWI, women were heavily relied upon to pick up duties and home and take on labor jobs. This led to the movement of Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII. She is still credited today to advancing women working manual jobs and helping supply war efforts with equipment and ammunition.