Coffee is, without question, one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. Service members around the globe wake up every morning to enjoy a tasty cup of Joe and drink it throughout the day to get a critical mid-day boost.
It’s reported that coffee was discovered centuries ago on the Ethiopian plateau — which covers the majority of the country and the Horn of Africa — by a goat herder named Kaldi. After his goats ate the beans from a nearby tree, they had crazy energy that kept them from falling asleep. Humans gave it a shot and, unsurprisingly, felt the same things.
Since then, the bean has been sold throughout the world. People of all ages consume countless gallons of the special drink we commonly refer to as a “cup of Joe.” But have you ever wondered where that nickname came from?
Turns out, it was used long ago as a way to talk sh*t about a man who changed Naval history forever.
Way back in the day, drinking alcohol on Navy ships was the norm for sailors. However, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Josephus Daniels was appointed as the newest Secretary of the Navy.
After he took the position, Daniels decided that the United States needed to clean up a negative image surrounding sailors. To do this, he increased the number of religious chaplains in service, (officially) banned prostitutes from Naval bases and, worst of all, banned personnel from consuming alcohol on vessels.
Although sailors hated the idea (big shocker), General Order 99 was issued on Jun. 1, 1914.
Because of the alcohol ban, sailors found their beverage options very limited on ships — but they had plenty of coffee to sip on. In the absence of anything stiffer, a cup of black coffee was strongest option for sailors. So, they began referring to it as a “cup of Josephus Daniels” as a bitter reminder of the man who took the booze away.
As time passed, the insult was shortened to, simply, a “cup of Joe” — a term we use today.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
When we talk about stealth fighters today, the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II usually spring to mind. There was one plane, though, that started it all, paving the way for all future stealth aircraft — and did so over a quarter-century ago. That plane was the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.
The Nighthawk was actually a hard sell to legendary aeronautical and systems engineer Kelly Johnson, the man behind aviation hallmarks, like the P-38 Lightning (the plane Tom Lanphier flew to kill Isoroku Yamamoto), the SR-71 Blackbird, and the U-2 Dragon Lady. Lockheed’s website reports that Johnson famously told Ben Rich the plane would “never get off the ground.” But the F-117 wasn’t designed to look pretty or to have high performance. It was meant to be invisible.
The F-117 first flew in 1981 and became operational in 1983. The plane was flown only at night to keep prying eyes away — and many of the RD efforts were done in the Nevada desert. In 1989, the plane took some heat after its involvement in Operation Just Cause, where it dropped what were to be, essentially, 2000-pound stun grenades. It didn’t work.
But it was Desert Storm that made the F-117 a legend. On the opening night, F-117s, each with a radar cross-section the size of a marble, slipped into Baghdad and hit vital command and control targets. Saddam’s thugs had no idea that these planes were coming — they had left the city’s lights on.
F-117A.com notes that even though only 36 F-117s were in the theater of operations, they hit 31 percent of the targets. There was no other plane the coalition dared to send over downtown Baghdad.
The F-117 serves for 17 years after Desert Storm, seeing action in Operation Allied Force and the Global War on Terror. It was retired in 2008, arguably too soon for this legend to fade away.
In the 109 years of Marine Corps aviation, there have been significant accomplishments, happenings and many global conflicts. However, there’s one moment that’s considered the defining moment in Marine Corps aviation history. Marine 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham was the first Marine on record to report for flight instruction all the way back in 1912. Over the course of the last 109 years, the most defining moment of aviation came on August 7, 1942, when members of the First Marine Division landed ashore on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
Marine Corps aircraft weren’t on the scene that day, but that doesn’t mean aviation wasn’t central to the operation. In fact, it was explicitly because the Japanese were constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal that the Marine Corps participated in the first Allied offensive action in the first place.
The Japanese airfield was a direct threat to Australian communication. When the Marines captured it, it remained Henderson Field, after Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 commanding officer Maj. Lofton Henderson. Henderson had been killed at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Once captured, the airstrip became the object of destructive and concentrated assaults by Japanese ground forces, complete with repeated bombings by enemy ships and air attacks by Japanese airplanes.
Navy, Army Air Corps, and Allied forces all joined in the battle to assist and aid the Marines. However, it was Marine pilots and aircrew who were directly involved with the operations of Cactus Air Force, the Allied codename for Guadalcanal Island. Like the rest of the Allied forces, the Marines came with one central mission in mind – to decimate the enemy and take control of the island and the airstrip.
After the first Marine aircraft landed on the island on August 20, 1942, there was no stopping what they could do. Between first landing in August and six months later in February when the island was considered secure, five Marine aviators performed such heroic acts that they all received the Medal of Honor for their bravery. Additionally, several Marines received the Navy Cross, including famous fighter ace pilots Capt. Marion Carl and Maj. Jack Cram.
When enemy ships threatened to overtake Guadalcanal, Maj. Cram jumped into Brig. Gen. Roy Geiger’s assigned PBY Catalina and used the lumbering flying boat to make a torpedo attack against a Japanese transport carrier.
The Battles of the Eastern Solomons and the Battle of Santa Cruz both reduced the number of aircraft carriers operating in Guadalcanal’s waters. As this shift occurred, land-based aviation became more critical than ever to help provide defense against the Japanese ships that were attempting to gain back control of the land.
World War II encompasses so many firsts for military strategy, aviation and geopolitics. But nowhere during the war did Marine aviation personnel operate under such hardship conditions as they did during the six month Guadalcanal campaign. Combat aside, the island’s living conditions were absolutely terrible, and many Marines became ill with unfamiliar tropical diseases. Supplies were scarce, so there were reduced rations, inadequate medical supplies, and virtually no help from outside the island. For those who participated in the combat, Guadalcanal got a new name – Operation Shoestring.
The Battle of Midway helped to blunt the Japanese conquest of the Pacific and initiate offensive actions, but it was the protracted offensive actions at Guadalcanal that proved to be the turning point for the Pacific Theater. The flying leathernecks were no match for the Japanese crews that they encountered in the skies.
In the 245 years that our Marine Corps has existed, there are several battles that epitomize what it means to be a Marine – Iwo Jima, Chosin, even Chesty Puller all bring to mind what it means to serve the Corps. But in terms of sterling Marine aviation, nothing compares to the efforts of the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal.
A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.
But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.
Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.
The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.
Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.
Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.
In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.
By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.
Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.
“They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.”
Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world since 1909, and is used as a day to laud the important contributions women make.
Women have long-since served in the U.S. military, even before they were officially allowed to enlist. From covert spy operations to battles on the front lines, women have been there for all of it.
Nancy Morgan Hart
During the American Revolution, Hart was supposed to stay and take care of her children at their Georgia home while her husband fought in the war, like many military spouses today do. However, Nancy couldn’t sit idly by while a war raged around her.
Pretending to be a crazy man, Hart was able to gain access to British camps in Augusta, where she successfully gathered intelligence and reported it back to the Continental Army. Hart also wasn’t afraid to defend her home against the enemy, as evidenced when six Loyalist soldiers entered her home and demand she feed them. While they were occupied with food, she hid their weapons and held them hostage with one, killing two when they tried to overpower her, until her husband and a neighbor came home.
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Walker volunteered her expertise as a surgeon with the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, despite women not being allowed to serve as doctors. She was captured and became a prisoner-of-war after she was caught crossing enemy lines to treat wounded soldiers. She was considered a spy by the Confederates and was held until eventually released in a prisoner exchange.
For her bravery and willingness to confront the enemy to save Union soldiers, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, after a recommendation by Gen. William Sherman, becoming the first and only women ever to be awarded the highest military honor.
Col. Eileen Collins
Collins became the first female to pilot a shuttle in space in 1995, and was also the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft in 1999.
During her time in the Air Force, Collins served as an instructor for the T-38 Talon at Vance Air Force Base, and eventually transitioned to an assistant professor role at the U.S. Air Force Academy, teaching mathematics and instructing T-41 pilots.
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Edmonds fled to Michigan from Canada, escaping an abusive marriage. While traveling, she found that dressing like a man made life considerably easier, and eventually joined the military as a male nurse out of a sense of obligation. Edmonds used the alias “Franklin Thompson,” and served as a spy for Union soldiers until she was confronted with a bout of Malaria. Knowing she would be punished if Army doctors discovered she was a woman, Edmonds abandoned her male disguise and continued to serve as a female nurse in Washington D.C.
After she wrote a memoir about her time as a spy, Edmonds contributions to the war were accepted, and she received an honorable discharge, as well as a government pension for her service.
The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.
For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.
1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.
The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.
Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.
The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.
Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.
2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.
Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.
The US invaded Iraq 15 years ago on March 20, 2018.
The invasion was approved by Congress and had majority support among the American public, but is now considered one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in US history.
Former President George W. Bush’s administration sold it on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had, or was trying to make, weapons of mass destruction (most notably nuclear weapons), and that Iraq’s government had connections to various terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.
While Hussein’s links to terrorism and nuclear ambitions turned out to be untrue, the US occupied the country for nearly eight years before pulling out, creating a power vacuum that ISIS filled.
Two years later, the US military was back in the country — this time fighting a completely different enemy.
Here’s a look back at the last 15 years:
“The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade,” Bush said during the 2002 State of the Union Address.
For more than a year after 9/11, the Bush administration made similar comments about Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, and also his ties with terrorism.
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002.
“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said on CNN in September 2002.
These statements, and others made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, turned out to be based on faulty intelligence.
Some disagreed with the Bush administration’s intelligence assessments, including former Commander of US Central Command Gen. Anthony Zinni, and even argued that the administration lied about Hussein’s nuclear ambitions and links to terrorism.
On March 20, 2003, after Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to relinquish power, the US launched Tomahawk cruise missiles on Baghdad in a strategy the Pentagon called “shock and awe.”
The “shock and awe” bombing strategy was followed by an invasion of about 130,000 US troops.
In early April 2003, Baghdad fell, symbolized by the toppling of a state of Hussein in Firdaus Square.
In May 2003, Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in a fighter jet while wearing a flight suit, and announced that major combat operations in Iraq were over.
A large sign reading “Mission Accomplished” hung behind him as Bush spoke, but in reality, the US military would fight a long, brutal insurgency for years after his speech.
In March 2004, a few months after Saddam Hussein was captured near Tikrit, four Blackwater contractors were killed and hung by insurgents from a bridge in Fallujah.
The incident led to a nearly year-long battle for Fallujah.
The insurgents that US troops battled over the coming years were a diverse group, composed of criminals, former Iraqi soldiers, Sunni militias, and eventually foreign fighters such as al-Qaeda.
In 2004, and in the coming years, US troops battled insurgents not just in Fallujah, but all across Iraq, including Mosul, Samarra, Najaf, Abu Ghraib (where it was discovered US troops were torturing and abusing detained Iraqis), and many more.
In January 2005, photographer Chris Hondros captured US troops accidentally killing the parents of 5-year-old Samar Hassan seen below.
The incident shined light on a growing concern that US troops were often accidentally killing civilians.
One of the most egregious incidents came in 2007 when Blackwater contractors killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad.
By 2007, as Iraq was in chaos and US troops were battling a bloody insurgency that some characterized as a game of whack-a-mole, the US decided to deploy 30,000 more troops to the country in what became known as the “surge.”
With nearly 900 killed, 2007 was also the bloodiest year for US troops in Iraq, which added to the growing anti-war sentiment among the American population.
Some of the sentiment, however, had been tempered over the previous four years by Bush’s decision to not allow the media to photograph the coffins of returning US troops — something they knew helped the Vietnam protesters in the 1970s.
Growing anti-war sentiment led not only to the Republicans losing Congress in 2006, but also the election of President Barack Obama in 2008.
Shortly after Obama’s inauguration, he announced the drawdown from Iraq, which culminated in the last troops leaving in December 2011.
In total, the war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, 4,500 American troops, and cost over $2 trillion.
But the Iraqi government and army could not fill the power vacuum left behind by the departing US military. In 2014, a new terrorist group called ISIS began taking large swaths of northern Iraq.
ISIS, which was founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2004, entered Mosul in June 2014.
In 2014, a few thousand troops were sent back to Iraq to dislodge ISIS, but this time the US had a new strategy.
Whether learning from old mistakes or simply because there was a new administration with a different agenda, US troops this time were deployed mainly to train and support Iraqi security forces and Kurdish militias battling ISIS.
Future-President Harry S. Truman was a hero in World War I who technically broke orders when, as a captain, he ordered his men to fire out of sector during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, eliminating German artillery batteries and observers in order to protect U.S. troops. But his first battle saw his men break ranks until Truman, shaking from fear, rallied them back to their guns.
Capt. Harry S. Truman’s ID card from the American Expeditionary Forces.
(Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)
The fight came in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. Truman had recently been promoted to captain and given command of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment. His battery was known as a smart, athletic, but undisciplined lot. He managed to wrangle influence over them.
But he was still untested in battle when his battery moved into position Aug. 29, 1918, and began their bombardment of German positions. The battery’s four 75mm guns sent rounds downrange, and it was great—at first. As Pvt. Vere Leigh later said, “We were firing away and having a hell of a good time doing it until they began to fire back.”
Truman had been in command for less than two months, and his men began to melt away under the cover of rain and darkness. Rumors that the German shells contained gas agents sent the men scrambling to get masks on themselves and their horses.
Truman’s map of the roads through the Vosges Mountains.
(Courtesy Harry S. Truman Library Museum, Independence, Missouri, map number M625)
In all this chaos, it was easy for the artillerymen, especially the support troops, to run into the woods and rocks of the area. Truman was afraid himself and had to struggle to remain in place. He would later write to his wife, “My greatest satisfaction is that my legs didn’t succeed in carrying me away, although they were very anxious to do it.”
Truman was on his horse, trying to keep his unit organized and in place until he rode into a shell crater and tumbled with his horse to the ground. A soldier had to help get him out from under the horse, and Truman watched the fleeing men around him and had to decide whether to run as well.
But he did hold position, and he began insulting and cajoling his troops to get them back on the guns. “I got up and called them everything I knew,” he said. The language was surprising coming from the relatively small and bespectacled captain, but it worked. Gun crews began shifting back to their weapons, other troops got horses back in line in case the battery needed to move, and American rounds screeched through the air to thunder home in German positions.
“Truman’s Battery” depicts Battery D in battle in World War I.
Most of his men, of course, refused to admit if they ran. So the men began referring to it as the “Battle of Who Ran.”
Truman’s poise under fire helped endear him to the men, even if he had secretly been terrified. This would later help them stick together in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive when Truman ordered them to kill German artillery batteries and observers that were technically out of the division’s sector. Truman got in trouble for firing out of sector, but he protected his men and the armored units of Lt. Col. George S. Patton Jr. that Battery D was supporting.
Seems like the behavior should’ve been expected from the guy who managed to wrangle Battery D into a unit that would stand and fight.
The history of Communism goes way far beyond the rise of Vladimir Lenin and the Soviet Union. The idea of a class struggle had been kicking around before Marx even started writing Das Kapital. In fact, the idea of a worker’s paradise was much more popular in even the United States before the Bolsheviks went and killed the Americans’ friend Tsar Nicholas II. There were even avowed Communists in the Union Army fighting the Civil War.
J. Edgar Hoover does not approve.
In the days well before the Communist revolutions that put the Red Scare into everyday Americans, everyday Americans weren’t totally against the idea. One such American was Johann August Ernst von Willich, a Prussian-born American who emigrated to Ohio in 1853. Less than a decade after coming to his adopted homeland, the Civil War broke out, and the man who dropped his noble Prussian titles and settled on being August Willich, a newspaper editor from Cincinnati soon took up the Union blue as Brigadier General August Willich.
Before coming to the United States, however, he led a very different life.
Okay, maybe a similar life but for different reasons.
Born into a military family, Willich’s father was a Prussian captain of the Hussars, an elite light cavalry regiment. His father was killed in the Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He was sent to live with a relative who sent him to military schools in Potsdam and Berlin. He was soon a distinguished Prussian Army Artillery officer. But his experiences in wartime Europe began to change his political views.
At a time when much of Europe was still raging over the idea of republicanism and democracy versus long-established monarchies, Willich was just turning Republican when he decided to leave the Prussian Army. After a brief court-martial, he was allowed to resign. Then he lent his martial skills to the wave of political uprisings engulfing Europe in 1848. From Spain in the West to Hungary in the East, and Sweden in the North to Italy in the South, regular working people were tired of the conditions of their daily lives, under the boot of absolute monarchs and began to rise against their entrenched kings and queens – with varying degrees of success.
Thomas Jefferson approves.
But Willich’s views were much further to the left than mere Republicanism allowed. Willich was forced to flee to London after the uprisings of 1848 were largely put down. That suppression only strengthened his resolve and pushed him further. He became a Communist to the left of even Karl Marx, a man considered by Willich and his associates to be too conservative to be the face of the movement. While Willich’s friends plotted to kill Marx, Willich simply insulted the writer publicly and challenged him to a duel. Marx declined, but a close friend of Marx decided to fight the duel – and was wounded for his troubles.
Willich then came to the United States working in Brooklyn before making the trek to Ohio. When the Civil War broke out, the onetime Prussian field commander raised an army of Prussian-Americans and took the field with the Union Army at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain, among other places. Willich would rise to the rank of Brevet Major General, having fought in the entirety of the Civil War.
During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or “wonder weapons” (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning “spherical tank”). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.
What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.
Powered by a single cylinder, two-stroke engine, Kugelpanzer has a slit in the front (presumably a driver’s view port), and a small arm and wheel in the rear (perhaps for stability and/or maneuvering). Its hull is only 5 mm (.2 in.) thick, and it isn’t fully clear what type of metal comprises its armor (no metal samples are currently allowed to be taken from it).
Popular theories of its purpose include reconnaissance, as a mobile observation post for managing artillery fire, and as a cable-laying vehicle; however, there is little evidence to support any of these hypotheses, since there has never been any documentation found that explains the vehicle or its design.
Given the dearth of evidence, as you would expect, speculation is rampant, and one intriguing theory even posits that it was commissioned by the Japanese as part of their kamikaze strategy of suicide missions.
By August 1944, the ailing Japanese military had been at war in the Pacific for 7 long years, beginning with the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. During this period, rather than being captured, and wanting to get in one last lick, some Japanese pilots had begun the practice of crashing their mostly disabled planes into enemy positions (and killing themselves in the process).
Through most of the Pacific War, this was an informal, voluntary act; however, as the war was winding down, the desperate Japanese command (who were running out of qualified pilots and whose aircraft at this point in the war were outdated) decided that they would get the most out of their unskilled personnel and obsolete machinery by incorporating planned suicide missions into their battle strategies. As such, in the fall of 1944, Japanese forces began a series of kamikaze strikes. (Click here for more on the origin of the kamikaze and how pilots were chosen for this duty.)
In addition to improvised devices, such as simply strapping bombs onto existing aircraft, the Japanese military began manufacturing specialized equipment. These included the aircraft Ohka (“cherry blossom”), as well as suicide boats, such as Shinyo (“sea quake”). Even tiny submarines were made, including a modified torpedo named Kaiten (“returning to heaven,”) and Kairyu (“sea dragon”), a two-manned craft.
A Japanese Ohka Model 11 replica at the Yasukuni ShrineYūshūkan war museum.
Given this mindset of many Japanese military leaders, it has been theorized by some that the Kugelpanzer was a part of this plan, with a few key points often put forth to support this theory. First, like all of the other suicide machines, it was small and designed to be operated with a limited (1-2 man) crew; second, it wasn’t equipped with any apparent offensive weaponry, though it has been speculated that it was meant to have a machine gun mounted in the front; and third, its hull was rather flimsy (5 mm thick) when compared to that of other armored vehicles, but on par with that of at least one other suicide craft.
For instance, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, said to be the “most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II,” had 26 mm thick armor on the sides of the turret and 33 mm thick armor on its gun shield. On the other hand, the Long Lance torpedo from which the Kaiten manned torpedo was developed had a comparably thin shell at 3.2 mm (.13 in.) thick – much closer to the width of the Kugelpanzer outer housing, than the strong armor of the Type 97 tank.
For further reference, the thickness of a common World War II helmet (the M1) was at .035 to .037 inches (just under 1 mm), sufficient to (at least sometimes) stop a .45 caliber bullet. So, essentially, the 5 mm thick walls of the tank would have been sturdy enough to relatively reliably stop many types of enemy bullets from getting in, but thin enough to give way easily from a blast within, to do maximum damage. At least, so this particularly theory goes.
Whatever its intended use, the Kugelpanzer certainly has gone down as one of the more unique weapons developed during WWII.
The aforementioned Japanese one manned torpedo-like submarines called kaitens were just modified torpedoes that allowed the person inside to control them. They also featured a self destruct mechanism if the person failed in their mission. This was necessary as there was no way for the person inside to get out of the torpedo once sealed in. Early models did include a mechanism to escape once the torpedo was aimed correctly, but not a single soldier seems to have ever used this feature, so it was quickly abandoned. Each person who died as a kaiten pilot would earn their family ¥10000 (about 0 today). Kaitens were ultimately not very successful primary because they could not be deployed very deeply and were stored on the outside of the submarines. This isn’t so much a problem for the kaitens as it was for the submarines carrying them who would have to stay very near the surface. This resulted in an average of about eight submarines carrying kaitens being destroyed for every two ships destroyed by the kaitens. Each kaiten was about 50 feet long; could reach a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour; and contained a warhead at the nose.
The Japanese were not alone in making suicide attacks a part of their 20th century battle strategy. During the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese soldiers of the “Dare to Die Corps” effectively detonated suicide bombs at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938), the Defense of the Sihang Warehouse (1937) and the Battle of Shanghai (1937).
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
It sounds like a big job description: “Queen’s Champion and Standard Bearer of England.” Although these days, the title seems more ceremonial than functional, it still sounds like a big deal. Since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, whomever holds the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, England, also has to fight for the monarch at their coronation, should a challenger arise in the middle of it.
Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke is the current champion, but this is his father, the previous champion. A World War II veteran, he died in 2015.
The Dymokes have been the standard bearers for the reigning English monarch since the mid-14th Century, and would ride into Westminster Abbey in full shining armor, on a horse, in full plumage and regalia. To repeat, they ride a horse into Westminster in the middle of a coronation. They then throw a gauntlet – they literally throw a gauntlet – on the ground and announce that whomever dares challenge the King or Queen’s right to the throne must face him in combat. When no one does, the new monarch then drinks wine from a golden cup to honor his or her Champion.
The King or Queen could not fight in such combat unless it were someone their equal who would challenge them, and that usually meant a war.
The tradition has taken a few different forms over the last few monarch coronations, and was left out of Queen Victoria’s coronation entirely.
And sadly, at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the Champion did not get to throw the gauntlet or threaten the crowd, but he did his duty to carry the Royal Standard in the procession. When Prince Charles (or at this rate, William) takes the throne, this is a tradition we in America would like to see revived to its full former glory.