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.
What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here, during the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.
The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.
After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.
This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.
Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.
You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.
Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).
After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.
Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.
But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.
But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.
Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?
The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.
If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.
The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.
At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.
Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.
But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.
While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.
The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.
The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.
But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.
During World War I, France created the Croix de Guerre to decorate its bravest troops, and it gave the decoration to members of foreign armies who took great risks or who achieved great things in service of liberating France from German occupation.
In the years following the Battle of Verdun, France issued the Croix de Guerre to units with 2,500 White Company trucks and named the vice president of the company, Walter C. White, as a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in recognition of how important a humble truck was in France’s ultimate victory over Germany, especially at Verdun.
White Motor Company trucks at Fort Riley. Full panoramic image available here.
(Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General)
The story of the White Motor Company is a strange one. In 1902, it was the White Sewing Machine Company, and the Surgeon General proposed that the Army Quartermasters purchase a motor vehicle to serve as an Army ambulance in future conflicts. R. H. White, already looking to diversify the company’s offerings, pushed the company to take part in the competition.
But the company wasn’t done. They developed more truck designs and, in 1916, one of their trucks was upgraded with armor and sent on the Mexican Punitive Expedition. By the time World War I rolled around, White trucks were trusted by plenty of military men.
The automotive business proved to be a great investment for the company, and the White Sewing Machine Company opened itself a second company, the White Truck Company. This particular confederation of engineers and businessmen found themselves a ready market for reliable trucks and sold thousands of Model A trucks to France and other allied militaries.
From 1914 onward, France was sending these “Little trucks” into combat and seemed to have been more than pleased with the trucks’ performance. In the 1916 Battle of Verdun, the trucks were used to transport supplies and troops. At the Battle of Château-Thierry in 1918, the trucks moved U.S. troops into position in time to stop a German advance.
But it was at the 1918 Battle of Verdun, when many of the same trucks returned to that blood-soaked stretch of land, that the trucks earned their major laurels.
White Trucks of Cleveland advertisement
(Thoth God of Knowledge)
It was there that France needed to move hundreds of thousands of troops to the front over a stretch of just a few days, and they turned to the 2,500 Model A trucks of Great Headquarters Reserve No. 1. The drivers and trucks carried 200,000 troops to the front, some for over 100-mile stretches.
The task was tremendous, the crisis very grave. A supreme effort was necessary to stop the German advance last March on the British front. Without this unprecedented movement of French reserves right into the teeth of the fighting, the issue might have been serious indeed for the Allies.
According to the same article, drivers often drove for 24 hours straight. One unit averaged driving 20 hours a day, and another pulled 60 hours straight of duty.
It was the only time that a motor convoy unit would be awarded the medal, and some chalked it up to the service of the trucks. According to Time Magazine in 1932, the only White trucks to break down in the battle were those disabled by shells and so, “The result was that 2,500 of them received the distinction of France’s Croix de Guerre.”
President Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and the national cemeteries are inextricably connected in American history. Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 2019, is especially noteworthy this year because a historic tablet cast with his Gettysburg Address was recently installed in the lobby of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs headquarters. This meaningful object exists only because the nation observes Lincoln’s birthday.
President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, on a battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over three days of Civil War fighting on July 1-3 that year, more soldiers died here than any single battle fought in North America before or since. In just 272 words, Lincoln conveyed the importance of the proposition “all men are created equal” to America’s past, present and future. Thousands had gathered to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Lincoln did not know that his brief but poignant words would become one of the most famous speeches in American history.
The Gettysburg Address tablets were placed in national cemeteries in 1909 when the nation celebrated the centennial of Lincoln’s birth as an official observance. Efforts included designating Feb. 12 a national holiday and a memorial highway connecting Lincoln-related sites. Publishers printed colorful postcards. The Federal government issued the first penny featuring an historic figure and a 2-cent stamp.
Congress also authorized the original Gettysburg Address tablets, 77, to place in the national cemeteries. They were produced and delivered in 1909—but not by Feb. 12. “The delay was almost entirely due to difficulty in determining the text of the Gettysburg Address,” according to the [Washington D.C.] Sunday Star (May 30, 2018). Lincoln had produced five versions of the speech. The government chose Memorial Day to announce it would use the Col. Alexander Bliss version, the only copy dated and signed by Lincoln, to become the “standard use of the Lincoln Gettysburg Address.” The large tablets (56 inches x 33 inches) became an essential feature in the national cemeteries.
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, taken on Nov. 8, 1863, eleven days before his famed Gettysburg Address.
For the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, the federal government purchased 62 additional tablets. At the same time, a damaged tablet at Los Angeles National Cemetery was removed and secured in the NCA History Collection. Both original and replica tablets were produced through the U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. This NCA project assured that Lincoln’s words and the tablet remains a relevant part of the cemeteries as the system continues to grow. Re-installation of the un-restored Gettysburg Address tablet from California at VA headquarters marks the first time one has been displayed outside of a national cemetery — and this was realized for Veterans Month 2018.
Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg and cast in metal are part of national cemetery heritage. VA employees and visitors are invited to stop by this historic object and learn more at NCA History Program website.
With the Cold War raging and the Soviets securing victory after victory in the Space Race, America’s CIA wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Soviet Union’s space technology was beating America’s in just about every appreciable way, and America’s intelligence agencies were working overtime to monitor and decipher data spilling out of Soviet rockets as they poured into the sky. It was a time of uncertainty–and perhaps even a bit of desperation–for the burgeoning superpower that was America in the 1950s. So, when a Soviet Lunar satellite was sent out on a global tour to parade their successes before the world, it offered a unique opportunity for the CIA to hijack the satellite for a bit of research while it was still firmly planted on the ground.
From our vantage point in the 21st century, we have a habit of looking back on the Space Race as though America’s ultimate victory was a sure thing. After all, in the decades that followed World War II, America was uniquely positioned to help rebuild the Western world, gaining diplomatic, economic, and military leverage around the globe and rapidly ascending to the lofty position of the planet’s only remaining superpower by the close of the century.
But the truth is, to paraphrase famed Marine general James Mattis, America had no pre-ordained right to victory in the Cold War, and perhaps least of all in the Space Race that ran in parallel to the America-Soviet military arms race of the day. The Soviet Union didn’t just beat America and the rest of the world into orbit with Sputnik in 1957, they proceeded to pummel the United States’ space efforts without mercy for years to come.
The Sputnik Crisis and Soviet space supremacy
Let there be no mistake, the importance of Sputnik in terms of how it framed America’s contemporary perception of the Soviet threat, both military and ideological, can’t be overstated. Immediately following Sputnik’s beeping transmissions from low earth orbit, the United States, and indeed much of the Western world, plummeted into what has since come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis.”
In no uncertain terms, early Soviet space victories were seen by many around the globe as a clear argument in favor of the efficacy of the Soviet communist model of government and societal structure. With each subsequent win at the technological forefront of human reach, the Soviet Union wasn’t just proving what could be done through their approach to economics and policy, they were also demonstrating what America’s capitalism couldn’t do… or at least, couldn’t do as quickly.
That overarching fear that the communists were not only winning in terms of nuts and bolts but also in terms of hearts and minds directly led to the establishment of NASA, the reshuffling of resources toward rocket and orbital sciences, and of course, a flood of funding into both defense and prestige programs meant to offset the Soviet advantages that were becoming manifest on multiple fronts. In the New York Times alone, Sputnik 1 was mentioned in articles an average of 11 times a day between October 6 and October 31 of 1957, so pronounced was America’s general fear regarding the Soviets in space.
It didn’t get better from there. In November of 1957, the Soviet Union became the first nation to put a living animal in orbit with Sputnik 2 carrying Laika the dog. The following month, America made its first attempt to put a satellite into orbit with the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard TV3 (Test Vehicle 3). The rocket made it approximately four feet off the launch platform before collapsing back down onto itself and exploding.
The following month, however, America would make it into space with Explorer 1, and later that year, NASA would replace the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and help to steer the nation toward its eventual space supremacy–but that supremacy wasn’t to come for some time yet. In 1959, the technically failed Soviet Luna 1 rocket flew further than any platform before it, escaping the moon’s orbit and finally settling into orbit around the sun. Later that same year, the Soviets claimed yet another first with Luna 2; the first spacecraft ever to reach the surface of the moon.
Soon, Luna 3 would send back images of the moon’s surface from orbit and by 1960, the Soviets were the first to send animals (two dogs, Belka and Strelka) and plants into space and bring them back alive. Within just another year, they would secure their crowning achievement to that point: Putting an actual human being in space with Yuri Gagarin.
There was no doubt, no debate, and no uncertainty. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union wasn’t just leading the Space Race, it was dominating it. If America wanted to turn the tables on the Reds, they’d need a closer look at what they were packing under the hoods of their rockets.
How to plan a spacecraft heist
In 1959, the Soviet Union decided to leverage their recent technological victories for a little PR, choosing a number of technologies, vehicles, and equipment that represented the very cutting edge of Soviet advances for a traveling exhibit. You might expect that the Soviet Union would know better than to send their actual top-tier tech for what amounted to little more than a bit of show-and-tell, and the CIA thought so too… but with the Soviets continuing to extend their lead in space, the opportunity to take a closer look at the crown jewel of the exhibition, a Lunic spacecraft very similar to Luna 2, housed within a modified rocket upper stage, was simply too great.
After a few plain-clothes agents got as close as they could without drawing any suspicion, they were surprised to see that the spacecraft tucked away behind glass-covered cutaways in the rocket housing appeared to be the real deal. Declassified reports have a habit of sucking the humanity out of a situation, but one has to assume this revelation came with some open mouths, raised eyebrows, and perhaps even a bit of covert intelligence officer hand-wringing within the CIA when word reached Langley.
Immediately, plans began to form to get an even closer look at Lunic, but the Soviet’s seeming naivety in parading a real satellite around didn’t extend to the security at their exhibitions. Soldiers guarded the satellite at all times while on display, including during off-hours when the museums and exhibition halls housing it were closed. It seemed clear that accessing Lunic while it was on display would be practically impossible, so the CIA turned their attention to how it was transported from exhibition to exhibition.
While all of the items were transported from city to city by rail car (with accompanying guard), the CIA identified some vulnerability in the way each item was transported from each exhibition to that rail car. The items were simply placed in unassuming crates and loaded into trucks that would drive them to the train station for loading. This transition was not heavily monitored by Soviet security, with items arriving at the train at random intervals and little coordination between drivers and the train personnel to speak of. In fact, the guards at the rail depots weren’t even provided with a list of what deliveries to expect, perhaps as a part of compartmentalizing information, but it was this specific shortcoming in the Soviet security strategy most of all that granted the CIA the opportunity they needed.
Hijacking a rocket is easier from the highway
Intelligence operatives are often thought of as superhuman, as though it takes a unique biology to be a truly successful spy. The truth, as history so often reveals, is that spies are most often regular people like the rest of us; superhuman not in capability, but arguably perhaps, in audacity.
When the night came to enact the CIA’s plan, the agents responsible were hopelessly lacking in James Bond-esque gadgets to assure victory. It began, quite simply, with agents in plain clothes following the crate containing Lunic out of an exhibition, looking intently for signs of supplemental Soviet security. Surprisingly, despite their air-tight security during showings, no guards manifested and it soon became clear that the unassuming box truck carrying a nondescript crate full of Soviet state secrets would be making its short trip to the train station utterly unaccompanied.
So as the truck approached its turn off toward the train station, the CIA simply pulled the vehicle over and escorted the driver to a nearby hotel. From there, an agent hopped in the driver’s seat and guided the truck into a nearby salvage yard that had been chosen specifically for the high walls intended to hide the interior scrap from the rest of the neighborhood. It was one of the most daring espionage capers of the Cold War, and certainly had the potential to ignite a conflict between the planet’s two nuclear powers… But at the point of execution, the best the CIA could muster was little more than a carjacking and a local junkyard. Sometimes, it really is audacity that makes all the difference.
For thirty long minutes, CIA agents hovered in the shadows surrounding their freshly stolen truck, waiting for some sign that the Soviets had noticed Lunic’s absence. Once it seemed the coast was sufficiently clear, they descended upon the truck, and the 20 foot long, 11 foot wide, and 14 foot-deep crate housed inside. For their plan to work, it wasn’t enough to get to the satellite, disassemble it, and photograph what they could–they also had to re-assemble it, tuck it back inside its crate, and deliver it to the train station before morning, to keep the Soviets from knowing anything had even taken place.
Take off your shoes and hop in the rocket
To their relief, the crate itself had been re-used a number of times, making it fairly easy to open without leaving any clear signs of tampering. However, with no means to pull the rocket stage out of the crate, the team soon realized they’d have no choice but to do their work inside the wooden box. Agents took off their shoes and split into teams, climbing to the bottom of the crate using rope ladders they’d brought specifically for the job, and delicately removing hardware and panels to gain access to the secrets held within.
Soon, their plan hit a snag, however. The Lunic spacecraft wouldn’t be hard to access through the rocket stage it was housed in, but as they attempted to make entry, the CIA agents found a small, plastic seal with a Soviet logo emblazoned on it. In order to get to the spacecraft, the seal would have. to be broken, but doing so would almost certainly reveal their meddling to Soviet authorities. Quickly, calls were made to CIA assets in the area, who assessed that they could replicate the seal and get their replacement to the salvage yard in time to re-assemble and return the rocket by morning.
Although the engine had been removed, its mounts, as well as tanks for both fuel and the oxidizer remained, granting the CIA enough information to extrapolate the rocket’s engine size and payload capabilities. With the seal removed, Lunic itself was pulled out, prodded, disassembled, and photographed extensively. Information gleaned wasn’t only valuable from a design perspective, it also offered important context regarding the Soviet rocket program. Having measurements and weights recorded for a Luna 2-esque payload, the CIA would be able to make more sense of telemetry data they were gathering around each Soviet launch. It was a significant intelligence victory for the United States, and would go on to shape plans and policy regarding America’s own space efforts for years to come.
But getting the information was only part of the job. Getting it back unnoticed would require a similar degree of good luck and proper planning.
With the moonlight waning, CIA operatives working with hand tools and clad in their socks feverishly re-assembled Lunic and its rocket housing, adding the replica seal, removing their rope ladders, and re-securing the top of the crate. By 5 a.m., the original driver was reunited with his truck and payload, and he delivered it to the train station in time to beat the first guard’s arrival at 7 a.m.
The information gleaned from the operation gave America a fuller understanding of what the Soviets were capable of, which allowed them to plan their own efforts accordingly. No longer was America operating under the looming anxiety of the Sputnik Crisis without the real data they needed to make an honest assessment of the situation. And one could argue, it was in that newfound knowledge that America’s future space dominance would begin to sprout. In order to beat the enemy, you have to know where they are and what they can do… and the CIA learned more about that in the back of a stolen truck, with their shoes off and their flashlights on, than they had through the rest of their combined efforts to that point.
Less than ten years later, the United States would declare victory in the Space Race when Apollo 11 landed on the moon right before a Soviet lander crashed into the other side. A bit more than twenty years after that, the Soviet Union would collapse, and the Cold War would officially come to an end.
For hundreds of years, military cadences have been used as an iconic tool to keep service members upright during formation runs and marches.
Structurally designed to keep each man or woman properly covered and aligned, a cadence helps a formation of troops in PT land each step at the exact same time as everyone else, preventing a massive falling domino effect.
Military cadence is a preparatory song performed by the leader of the formation during the marches or organized runs. Many parts of these running songs are so catchy, they will be forever embedded into our heavy left feet.
Take a listen and let yourself be transported back to the good ol’ days of the little yellow bird and the days of sitting in the back of your truck with Josephine.
1. “Down By The River”
2. “Pin My Medals Upon My Chest”3. “C-130 Rolling Down The Strip”4. “Hey, Hey Whiskey Jack”5. “How’d Ya Earn Your Living?” Cadences tend to cross-breed through the different branches and change words to make them service-specific. We salute everyone for their originality.
In 1967, a 77-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower ascended to the top of the famed St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the West. It wasn’t a planned trip, but the former President decided to go visit it anyway. And he wanted to go to the top, something the Secret Service forbids Presidents, past and present, to do. But Ike was the one who signed off on the construction of the Arch in 1954 and besides – who was going to tell the Supreme Allied Commander “no?”
In case you were wondering about the answer to that question, it’s “no one.”
But he was the only one and even Eisenhower, a former President by the time he ascended to the highest peak of the 630-foot archway, had to do some sneaky work to be able to get to the top over the objections of his contingent of bodyguards. Eisenhower’s visit to the Gateway Arch came after hours, so there were no other tourists around, and it wasn’t a scheduled part of his itinerary, so potential assassins wouldn’t ever have known he would be there. He took the famed tramway up the arch over the objections of the Secret Service.
While Ike isn’t the only President to overrule the objections of the those who protect him, he’s the only one who forced his way up the St. Louis Arch. By the time he came to visit the city on the Mississippi River, two more Presidents had occupied the Oval Office after his tenure. It was a pretty safe bet.
The view inside the top of the arch.
Getting to the top is actually a pretty cleverly designed tram that is part elevator and part Ferris wheel. But the top of the arch is a very small, cramped space that doesn’t make for a lot of room to maneuver or for a lot of people to spend any significant amount of time. It also keeps people relatively close together, which is a problem for a protective unit trying to keep people out of arms reach of the world’s most powerful person.
Despite the cramped space, some 160 people can fit in the top of the arch, and a complete trip to the top takes about 45 minutes on average. That’s a lot of time, space, and opportunity to give a would-be threat.
But in reality, the Leader of the Free World is actually the one in charge, and they can do whatever they want, but the USSS really doesn’t want the President up in the Arch.
You may be familiar with the saga of the M16 rifle. In Vietnam, the rifle got a bad rap for jamming, largely caused because the troops didn’t get cleaning kits. After rectifying that omission and making a few tweaks to the rifle, the M16 quickly became a bedrock for American troops.
But the M16 wasn’t the only rifle troops had to remember to keep clean. The M1 Garand, widely celebrated as a war-winning weapon, was another weapon that needed proper, ongoing care. This, of course, is just plain common sense. In one report on the M16, it was noted that no weapon had ever been maintenance-free.
Now, you’re probably familiar with the specs of the M1. It fired the .30-06 Springfield round, was loaded with eight-round clips into an internal magazine, and weighed in at about 11 pounds, four ounces. Of course, this was a semi-automatic rifle. While that meant a grunt could send more rounds downrange than a German or Japanese soldier armed with a bolt-action rifle, the semi-auto mechanisms are a bit more intricate and, as a consequence, high-maintenance.
If the rifle got dirty, it would likely jam — and as grunts in Vietnam learned with the M16, a jammed rifle can put you in a very bad situation very quickly. In Vietnam, the Army used a cartoon book to help train troops on how to maintain their rifles. When combined with the improved M16A1 rifle, the problems ended.
Check out the U.S. Army training film below from World War II about the need to keep the M1 clean. Taking the form of a letter written to a younger brother entering the service, it passes on the hard-earned wisdom from the mistakes of another grunt.
In February 1942, Army units defending Los Angeles launched a devastating barrage of anti-aircraft fire into the sky, sending up 1,433 rounds against targets reported across the city in the “Battle of L.A.”
Fortunately for the occupants (but unfortunately for the egos of everyone involved), the City of Angels wasn’t under attack.
In the months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the American Navy was largely in retreat across the Pacific, and the West Coast was worried that it was the next target of a Japanese attack.
In reality, the chances of a Japanese attack on the West Coast were low since the Navy was pulling back from far flung outposts in order to secure ground they knew they had to hold, like California, Oregon, Washington, and vital bases on Pacific islands.
The very next night, a light was spotted over the ocean off the coast, possibly a signal flare sent up to guide Japanese planes or carriers to their target. Then, a few hours later, blinking lights were spotted and an alert was called. When no attack materialized, the alert was called off.
Army Air Force crews rushed from their beds to await launch orders and gun crews ran to their stations. Volunteer air wardens fanned across the city to enforce the blackout.
At 3:06 a.m., the first gun crews spotted their targets and began firing into the sky. For the next hour, a fierce barrage lit up the night as searchlights and shells looked for targets. In all, 1,433 rounds would be fired by gun crews.
But the embarrassing reality started to become clear at headquarters. With no reports of bomb damage and few reports of downed aircraft — none of which could be confirmed — either both sides were engaging in the least effective battle in the history of war or there were not actually any Japanese bombers.
A 1983 military investigation of the incident found a possible explanation. A swarm of meteorological balloons had been released that night with small lights attached to aid in tracking. It’s possible that the gun and radar crews saw these balloons and, in the nervous atmosphere, mistook it for an attack.
In the military, everyone loves to compare their job with others as part of a pissing contest to see who has it worst. Some cite their terrible living conditions, others tell horror stories of intense training, and the rest point to the awful, boring tasks handed to them. But there’s only one clear winner of the Absolute Worst Job contest — and that goes to the U.S. Navy’s loblolly boy.
Now, we’re not saying this to discredit your terrible MOS or rating — we’re sure yours is perfectly horrible — but unless your job is centered almost entirely around handling the medical waste that accumulated out at sea in the 1700s, then you probably can’t compete.
If reading about medical waste makes you a bit squeamish, we wouldn’t blame you if you’d instead like to check out our article about cute animals greeting returning troops. No? Alright, weirdo — but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Which also involved a lot of cleaning. Pre-Industrial Era medicine wasn’t known for its cleanliness.
The loblolly boy was the junior-most enlisted surgeon’s assistant back in the day. While the average operating table on a vessel consisted of the surgeon and a surgeon’s mate or two, all of the work that was deemed “below the officer” was shoveled directly onto the loblolly boy.
The name comes directly from the English slang term ‘lob,’ which meant ‘bubbling’ or ‘boiling,’ and ‘lolly,’ which was a soup or broth. This is in regards to one of the more lighthearted tasks assigned to these troops: to feed soup or stew to the injured sailors and Marines.
But since they were the lowest-ranking member of the medical team, they also had to handle the other tasks associated with nursing the wounded, like cleaning chamber pots, organizing medical supplies, cleaning medical instruments, and, of course, assisting in surgery.
We’re not talking the cleanest of working environments here, but at least they tried their best.
Back in the 18th century, amputation was a go-to answer for a lot of dire medical situations. Wound too bad? Amputation. Infection looks like it’s spreading? Amputation. Bone shattered too much? Amputation. Skin starting to turn green after you ignored a simple scrape? Amputation. It’s a pretty grim solution, but there’s no denying its effectiveness when the alternative was often death.
This was also long before anesthetics or analgesics, so the operations had to be done quickly — because, you know, that was the most “humane” way to cut someone’s leg off. They’d have the loblolly boy hold them down while Doc sawed it off. Problem is, the loblolly boy was often just a kid or young adult, which made restraining a fully grown Marine who’s getting parts cut off a significant challenge.
Old Victorian English surgeons in a hospital got the process down to 30 seconds flat. Civil War surgeons in the midst of a battle would clock in at around the same time, but the process was a whole lot messier. The loblolly boy, of course, had to clean up the inevitable splatters before the next patient came in. Disposing of amputated limbs was one of the primary duties of the loblolly boy.
If you’re a corpsman, now you know you can always win the debate of how’s job has been historically worse.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The job wasn’t the most glamorous, but it did open the doors for loblolly boys to work their way up in the medical field. This gave an opportunity to those who would otherwise not have it — for social, economical, or racial reasons. Many of the first African American surgeons got their start in the military as loblolly boys.
Ann Bradford Stokes, an escaped slave, was taken aboard the USS Red Rover during the Civil War and became both one of the first women to enlist and one of the first African Americans to enlist in the United States Navy. Though she could not read or write during her time of service, she did her job dutifully for years and became the very first woman in U.S. history to receive a military pension.
This terrible job evolved throughout the years, later known as surgeon’s steward, apothecary, and bayman, before becoming what we today know: the hospital corpsmen.
It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.
Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.
WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.
A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup
World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.
The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.
The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.
Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.
More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.
Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.
They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.
In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.
Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.
“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”
Still, Shields kept fighting.
“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”
But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.
“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.
The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.
Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.
“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.
Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.
At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”
The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”