A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

After enduring countless hardships and overcoming unimaginable obstacles, Airman 1st Class Guor Maker, a dental assistant currently in technical training, found his way out of war-torn South Sudan, Africa and into the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.


Surviving

As one of roughly 20,000 children uprooted by the gruesome Second Sudanese Civil War, Maker’s childhood was far from normal. After losing 28 family members, including eight of his nine siblings, 8-year-old Maker set out on foot from South Sudan to live with his uncle.

“The country I came from was torn apart by war,” said Maker. “It was all I knew growing up, nothing else. I’ve seen people die in front of me, but I knew no matter what, I had to make it.”

During his harrowing journey, Maker was captured and enslaved twice: once by Sudanese soldiers, and once by herdsmen.

Also read: Seven soldiers will compete in 2018 Winter Olympics

“When I was captured, I was forced to be a slave laborer,” said Maker. “I would wash dishes or do anything else needed to get by. I slept in a small cell and rarely got to eat… but not always.”

Both times, Maker successfully escaped from enslavement and was finally able to join his uncle in Khartoum after three perilous years. However, his journey to safety was far from over.

During a nighttime attack on the perceived safety of his uncle’s home, Maker sustained serious injuries when he was beaten unconscious by a soldier who smashed his jaw with a rifle.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

“My mouth was shut for two months and I could only consume liquids because my jaw was broken,” he said. “We fled to Egypt after that, and the United Nations treated my injuries.”

After two years of filling out paperwork at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Egypt, Maker and his uncle’s family were finally granted permission to enter the United States.

“I was very excited to come to the U.S.,” said Maker. “Looking back at everything my family and I endured, it is a miracle that we made it out of there.”

Dreaming

When Maker first arrived in the U.S. in 2001, he settled in Concord, New Hampshire. Not only did he want to survive, but he wanted to thrive.

“I wanted to change my life, help my parents back in South Sudan, and give my future children a better childhood than the one I had,” he said. “And the only way to do that was through education and determination.”

Maker started with the basics and began learning English by watching children’s cartoons and spending plenty of time with other high school kids just listening to their conversations and absorbing all that he could.

More: Blinded by flak shrapnel, this airman helped save his B-17 crew

“Within a short amount of time, I was able to communicate with effectively with other students and teachers, order food, and really get by on my own,” Maker said.

While learning English was a crucial step in his personal journey, Maker’s high school career really took off when one of his teachers introduced him to running.

“Running was always just natural and easy for me,” said Maker. “It was a great high school experience and it helped me meet a lot of friends, build confidence and it was genuinely fun.”

After winning the National High School indoor two-mile title, Maker received a scholarship to compete at Iowa State University, where he allowed himself to dream of things that had never been done before.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
Guor Maker, a trainee at Air Force Basic Military Training, supports a wingman taking a physical fitness test Jan. 30, 2018 at the 324th Training Squadron’s physical training pad at Join Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Maker was selected as a physical training leader for his time at BMT, his duties include leading the flight during warm-ups and providing support for struggling trainees. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Parker)

“When I got to college in 2005, I remember hanging a piece of paper on my wall that said I was going to run in the Olympics in 2012 for South Sudan,” said Maker. “I thought ‘Why not me? Why can’t I do it?'”

Maker graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and reached All-American status as a student-athlete, Ready to start his new life. Maker planned to head to Flagstaff, Arizona to train for the 2012 Olympics.

The same day he left for Arizona in 2011 was the day South Sudan officially gained its independence.

“I drove the whole way celebrating and it was a very special day that I will always remember,” said Maker.

Following his year of training, Maker qualified to run the marathon in the 2012 Olympics in London.

Even though South Sudan officially gained its independence, the country was not yet a member of the International Olympic Committee and Maker was still not an official U.S. citizen.

Related: An Army officer is gunning for his next Olympic bobsled medal

“State senators from New Hampshire and Arizona presented my case to the Senate in Washington D.C. so the International Olympic Committee allowed me to run in the Olympics without a country,” said Maker.

Even though his dream of running for South Sudan had not yet come true, Maker accomplished a great deal as an unaffiliated Olympian.

“All of the people in South Sudan knew where I was from,” said Maker. “I wanted to be the inspiration for the children to say, ‘Hey, if Maker can do it, you know what, I can do it too.'”

After the 2012 Olympics, Maker was undeterred and set a new goal for himself and his country.

“I said to myself, ‘In 2016, I’m going to bring South Sudan to the Olympics for the first time,'” said Maker. “I wanted to try to do more for my country and the 2012 Olympics only strengthened my conviction to accomplish my goal.”

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
Gour Maker, a trainee at Air Force Basic Military Training, completes the one and a half mile run portion of the Air Force physical fitness test Jan. 30, 2018 at the 324th Training Squadron’s physical training pad at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Maker finished his run with a time of 7:31, earning the top fitness score for males in his graduating class. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Dillon Parker)

This time around Maker’s dream became a reality in Rio de Janeiro 2016 when he became one of three athletes to be the first to represent South Sudan in an Olympic games, as well as South Sudan’s flag bearer for the opening ceremony.

“Walking into that stadium, carrying the South Sudan flag was just indescribable,” said Maker. “The people of South Sudan were in my mind the whole time I was running into the stadium with that flag and it meant so much to me.”

While it was a truly incredible and improbable moment for Maker, his thoughts were filled with the people of his home country while he was running with that flag.

Also read: This determined soldier will compete in 2018 Olympics

“Over 50 years of civil war and my country finally got independence,” said Maker. “So many lives were lost for our freedom, it was just ringing in my head that we have done it, we have done it. On that day, everyone in South Sudan was at peace watching the Olympics for the first time.”

The 2016 Olympics were an enormous accomplishment for the former slave and South Sudan native that went far beyond his 82nd overall finish.

“I couldn’t have accomplished any of it without all the support I received from my family and the opportunity the United States gave me. It’s the highlight of my athletic career so far and a moment I’ll treasure forever.”

Serving

The next chapter in Maker’s life began when he decided to join the U.S. Air Force to serve the country that gave him so many opportunities.

“All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me,” said Maker. “When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”

The staff at basic military training had no idea who Maker was, but he quickly stood out to leadership at the 324th Training Squadron.

“I went out to the track and saw the instructors were putting their attention on one trainee in particular,” said Maj. John Lippolis, director of operations for the 324th TRS. “I could see him running noticeably faster than everyone else and the instructors explained to me that we had a two-time Olympian at BMT.”

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

In addition to Maker’s Olympian status, his unique personal story also stood out Lippolis.

“I was just absolutely floored when I talked to him about what he went through to get to where he is today,” said Lippolis. “Not only did he get survive, he wanted to better himself and he has accomplished so much. He has an amazing story and the drive he has displayed to succeed like that in the face of such adversity is truly inspiring.”

Maker not only inspired Lippolis, but other members of his flight were inspired too.

More reading: These are the 3 soldiers going to the 2018 Winter Olympics

“All of his wingmen said the same things when I talked to them,” said Lippolis. “They told me what an inspiration he was within the flight; that the flight rallied around him and he doesn’t do anything he’s supposed to do for himself until he helps out everybody else.”

While Maker has accomplished a great deal in his lifetime, he’s not done dreaming.

Maker hopes to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, a program designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete in national events to make the Olympics. He also wants to make the 2020 Olympics where he’ll have the opportunity to represent his new home and the country that gave him so much.

“Joining the greatest Air Force in the world has been an absolute miracle,” said Maker. “I can’t wait to see what this next chapter holds for me.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marines tried to use this missile for close support

The Marines have always tried to ensure that the grunts on the ground get reliable support from other assets, whether that asset is naval gunfire, artillery, or aircraft. Historically, they’ve been willing to consider solutions that might seem completely outside the box in order to get the grunts the support they need to survive — and win — a firefight.


In the earlier years of the Cold War, the Marines turned to a ballistic missile for close support — the MGM-18 Lacrosse. This missile was to supplement artillery by taking out specific targets on the battlefield.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
The MGM-18 Lacrosse on the back of a truck. (U.S. Army photo)

To get this missile into the theatre of operations, the Marines developed a mobile ballistic missile that could be mounted on the back of a truck. The Lacrosse had a range of 12 miles and could be armed with a selection of warheads — either a 540-pound shaped charge or a W40 nuclear warhead. Regardless, whatever this missile hit was sure to feel it.

The United States Army was intrigued by the MGM-18 and quickly took over the program — though the Marines stayed involved. The Lacrosse was guided by forward observers using radio control. Not bad for the late 1950s, but it was very cumbersome, and if the signals were jammed, it could put friendly troops at risk.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
The MGM-18 Lacrosse was retired in 1964. (Photo by White Sands Missile Museum)

The MGM-18 Lacrosse was decades ahead of its time. Ultimately, the Marines decided not to buy the system, but the Army put it to work from 1959 to 1964. Today, sophisticated evolutions of this concept are still used. Troops can designate targets for laser-guided missiles, like the AGM-114 Hellfire, and artillery rounds, like the Copperhead. They also have weapons like the BGM-71 TOW missile and the FGM-148 Javelin. The Lacrosse may not have been the right solution at the time, but today, the idea behind it is going strong.

Learn more about this advanced missile by watching the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DRhtqM3jx8
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
Articles

Today in military history: Winston Churchill becomes prime minister as Germany invades

On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe while Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain.

Marking the beginning of Hitler’s Western offensive, German bombers struck Allied airfields in Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France while paratroopers rained from the sky at critical junctures. Ground forces invaded along two main routes, a northern route that was expected by the defending armies, and a southern thrust through the Ardennes forest that was not.

The Allies did not know about the southern attack and rushed most of their defenders to the north. The southern thrust quickly broke their backs. Luxembourg fell on the first day while Belgium and the Netherlands surrendered before the end of May. France would survive until June.

The war in Europe would continue for five more brutal years.

England knew the continent was doomed and accelerated their preparations for defending the isles. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, known for his policy of appeasement, was replaced by Winston Churchill, a man known for his bulldog temperament and military vision.

Churchill would go on to serve as Conservative Prime Minister twice, from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955. A war veteran himself, he was active in both administrative and diplomatic functions during World War II, as well as giving rousing speeches that are credited with stimulating British morale during the hardship of war.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
Churchill in 1904 when he “crossed the floor“. (Public Domain)

He would live until Jan. 24, 1965, dying at the age of ninety and receiving the first State Funeral given to a commoner since the Duke of Wellington’s death more than a century before. 

“It has been a grand journey — well worth making once,” he recorded in January 1965 shortly before his death, possibly his last recorded statement.

Featured Image: “The Roaring Lion” photograph by Yousuf Karsh depicting Winston Churchill on Dec. 30, 1941.

MIGHTY HISTORY

US Marine Jacklyn Lucas was impossible to kill

Jacklyn Lucas did not live forever, but his memory might. He died of leukemia in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, probably because death had to wait until Lucas was 80 years old before working up the courage to come get him.

Lucas joined the Marine Corps at age 14, after bribing a notary and forging his mother’s signature. He had already been in military school for four years at this point, attending the Edwards Military Institute since he was 10. 

He trained for years to become a heavy machine gunner and by 1945 was based at Pearl Harbor. Seeing that the war might end soon and itching to get into the fight, he deserted his unit and stowed away aboard the USS Deuel. The Deuel was transporting the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to a little island called Iwo Jima.

The young boy turned himself in to rifle company commander Robert Dunlap, who took Lucas to see the battalion commander. As punishment for his desertion, Lucas was sentenced to join Dunlap’s rifle company and land on Iwo Jima.  

Five days later, the men of 1/26 Marines landed on the beaches of the island and Jaclyn Lucas was with them. 

While moving to assault an airstrip, his four-man fire team came upon a pillbox and series of trenches occupied by Japanese soldiers. To clear the pillbox, they first had to clear the trenches of soldiers. Fire erupted immediately and both sides lobbed grenades at one another. 

Lucas dove on the grenades, smothering them with his body in order to save his fellow Marines. One of them did not explode, while the other blew Lucas into the air and onto his back, gravely wounding the entire right side of his body. 

“I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades,” he told President Truman at his Medal of Honor ceremony. 

Jacklyn Lucas

Stunned but alive, he lay motionless. The other Marines pressed on and cleared the enemy out of the area and left Lucas there. They thought he had died of his wounds but more Marines would soon follow. Noticing he was alive, the Marines called for a Corpsman, who had Lucas removed from the battlefield. 

Jaclyn Lucas survived the grenade blast, but not before being filled with fragmentation. After more than 20 surgeries, doctors had to leave 250 pieces of the metal frag inside his body. There was so much that it would later set off metal detectors at airports. 

Lucas received the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on those grenades, becoming the youngest Marine and the youngest person in World War II to receive the medal. 

After the war, Jaclyn Lucas was still a young man and he decided to join the U.S. Army in 1961. He was afraid of heights, so he chose to go to the 82nd Airborne. On one of his early training jumps, his parachute failed to open. Then his reserve chute failed to open. He hit the ground without one. He told reporters that his “stocky build” and his last-second parachute landing fall saved him that day. 

At the end of his life, Lucas was fighting leukemia and was on a kidney dialysis machine. Knowing full well what would happen if he was taken off of dialysis, he decided to finally let death have a go at him. He asked doctors to remove the machine. 

He is still the youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Civil War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.


During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.

 

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
Marines from the 6th Marine Division on a patrol during the Battle of Okinawa. (USMC photo)

The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.

During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
With the captured capital of Naha in the background, Marine Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepherd, commanding general of the 6th Marine Division, relaxes on an Okinawan ridge long enough to consult a map of the terrain. (Marine Corps)

 

Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This false flag attack triggered world’s largest war

We in the west have a tendency to focus on the European tensions that led to World War II. And while the rise of Mussolini and Hitler caused a massive conflict that rocked Europe and Russia, open fighting was going on in Asia for years before Germany’s encroachment into Sudetenland. And Japanese officers triggered a round of fighting in 1931 by attacking their own railroad.


A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

Japanese troops enter Tsitsihar, a city in northeast China.

(Japanese war camerman, public domain)

The Mukden Incident took place in 1931. Japan had ambitions on the Asian continent, but the Japanese political establishment was, shall we say, less aggressive about it than the Japanese military would have preferred.

There was a railroad running through the Liaodong Peninsula near Korea. It connected key cities in the peninsula to the rest of the continent. Japan acquired the railroad and peninsula after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, giving it a much larger foothold on the continent. The railroad became one of Japan’s most economically important assets on the continent.

But that wasn’t enough for the nation of Japan, and the troops stationed there were especially hawkish. They wanted Japan to take much more of China (Korea, too, for that matter). But the government kept focusing on increasing political and economic power over the surrounding area. But economic and political expansion takes time and doesn’t include artillery.

And, worse, China was politically unifying at the time. It created a real risk that China may become resilient to further expansion. There was even a possibility that Japan would eventually be kicked off the continent.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

The site of the 1931 railway sabotage that became known as the Mukden Incident and kicked off the fighting in Asia that would become World War II.

(Public domain)

So, in the middle of all this tension, someone blew up a short section of the railroad on Sept. 18, 1931. An under-powered bomb did little lasting damage, and the railway was operating again almost immediately.

But even more immediate was the counter-attack. In just a day, Japanese artillery was sending rounds into Chinese-held territory. In just a few months, Japan had conquered the most resource-rich areas bordering the peninsula. The limited damage, the quick Japanese retaliation, and the brutal invasion has led some historians to believe that mid-level Japanese Army officers conducted the bombing to give themselves a pretext for invasion.

It has become known as the Mukden Incident.

Japan occupied the area for the next 14 years, and its troops continued to conquer China. It attacked Shanghai in 1932, threatening European and American interests as well as, obviously, Chinese security and sovereignty.

The American and European navies stepped up their game in the Pacific, reinforcing Pacific outposts and building new ships. Meanwhile, Japan remained on the march, continuously expanding until 1942. It would conquer vast portions of China and all of Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma, and more.

And it all started with a shady as hell attack against its own railroad in 1931.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This battle shows Canadians are almost unbeatable when fighting a battle together

Here in the United States, we often like to joke about our kind-hearted affable neighbors to the north. Often we see them as gregarious and fun, never threatening. But those of us who read history books or have fought alongside our Canadian brothers and sisters know a different side of Canadian Forces.

That side is not to be trifled with. 

When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany during World War I, Canada came along with it, whether it wanted to or not. That’s just how the Canadian government worked in tandem with the British Crown back then. 

Britain was lucky to have the Canadians on its side and nowhere was that more apparent than at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 

In April 1917, three German divisions met 4 divisions of the Canadian Corps in the Pas-De-Calais region of northern France. The Canadians were trying to draw the Germans away from a larger French offensive further south down the front lines. 

Their main target was Vimy Ridge, high ground that would protect other elements of Entente forces from taking heavy enfilading fire. The Germans would put up a stiff resistance but what they didn’t know was about to hurt them: this was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were fighting together with one objective.

The ridge itself was a heavily fortified, seven kilometer (4.3 miles for you American types) ridge that held what the Candians called a “commanding view” of the British and Canadian forces. To take it required weeks of specialized training, not just in attacking the high ground, but also in special roles required by individual troops. 

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman
The Canadians attacked the high ground for three days – and won. (Library and Archives of Canada)

Artillery pounded the German defenders for a full week before the battle was launched on Apr. 9, and 1,000 pieces of artillery would provide a moving blanket of fire to keep the Germans under cover.

Over three days, 15,000 Canadians overwhelmed the Germans in the face of trenchworks, dugouts, and machine gun nests. They rolled the Germans back further than they’d ever been since the start of the war in 1914. The Canadians captured more prisoners and more artillery guns than any allied offensive in the war up until that point. 

One Canadian General at Vimy Ridge called the battle “a birth of a nation.”

Today, the site of the battle is memorialized forever, as France gave the land to the government of Canada. On that land stands a tall, white marble monument to the more than 3,500 Canadians who died there and the 7,000 who were wounded. 

The surrounding lawn, well-manicured, still carries a taste of the terrible dangers posed by unexploded bombs and mines leftover from the war, even 100 years later. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

A rare look beyond the gates at Ellsworth AFB

Ellsworth Air Force Base just northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota includes a section called the Munitions Storage Area. You’re probably picturing your average weapons depot, right? Turns out, the reality is more explosive than you might think. The Ellsworth Munitions Storage Area has been nicknamed the “Bomb Dump,” and for good reason. 

Even bombs need to have a home somewhere

The 28th Munitions Squadron is in charge of every single explosive at the base as well as making sure that B1 launching equipment is always ready to go. That means no accidents can occur here or the whole thing could blow up. 

The outside world rarely gets to see this part of Ellsworth, which makes sense. Severely limiting access is necessary because it is such a dangerous place. How dangerous, you ask? Well, there are 678,500 pounds of net explosive weight. That’s why the Munitions Storage Area is far, far away from any populated areas of Ellsworth. 

ellsworth
A 122nd Fighter Wing munitions storage facility sits under a fresh coating of snow, Jan. 10, 2016, at the Indiana Air National Guard Base, Fort Wayne, Ind. The aging facility was originally constructed in 1991 and has served as munitions storage for both F-16 and A-10C aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. William Hopper)

Clumsy folks beware

Strictly speaking, munitions are anything that contain explosives. Small things like bullets, bomb bodies, and grenades are stored at the Ellsworth Munitions Storage Areas. However, so are a five-hundred-pound bomb body, a two-thousand-pound bomb body, and loaded cruise missiles. In other words, if you’re clumsy, this place is probably not for you.

To enter the Munitions Storage Area at Ellsworth, you have to pass through additional security beyond the gate. The Bomb Dump is so exclusive that many of the base’s employees have never even been inside of the 647 acres of the Munitions Storage Area. 

Talk about a no-risk area

If you do find yourself in this volatile area, first you’ll have to give up your cell phone, as their signals could accidentally set off sensitive explosives. After all, the risks here are no joke, and they’re not taking any risks. 

Inside, you’ll find 86 facilities. They are all neatly in a line and aptly named Long Row. The structures are built beside one another, but they don’t touch. Long Row was specifically designed for extra security, just in case there is a problem. For instance, if a bomb exploded in one of the buildings, the building beside it won’t sympathetically detonate. 

One bomb, two bomb, red bomb, blue bomb

The Munitions Storage Area also includes free-standing carts out in the open loaded with non-explosive bombs used for training. They are color-coded blue to indicate that they are trainers. 

On the Munitions Storage Area grounds, you’ll also find a bunch of “igloos” covered in earth. They were built in the 1950s with the idea that they would last quite a while. They sure are living up to their goals. 

A minimum of 24 inches of soil plus a concrete topper covers each igloo for protection from what’s inside: many different types of explosives. At least one of the igloos serves as munitions inspection, where every single explosive device that enters Ellsworth must pass through.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Mattis was obsessed with a certain day in history

Everyone who is a fan of veteran Marine Corps General and onetime Secretary of Defense James Mattis knows of his affinity for reading, for consuming as much knowledge on a subject as he can before giving his opinion. His lifestyle of eschewing a family in favor of a lifetime of learning and dedication to duty even earned him the moniker “The Warrior Monk.” This well-known devotion to knowledge makes it all the more interesting to discover Mattis was “obsessed” with the date August 1914.


A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

From the Iraq War to the Trump Administration, Mattis is always the man for the job.

In journalist Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear: Trump in the White House” one Trump Administration official who spoke highly of then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis told Woodward that the former general was “obsessed with August 1914… the idea that you take actions, military actions, that are seen as prudent planning and the unintended consequences are that you can’t get off the war train.”

Specifically, Mattis was “obsessed” with historian Barbara Tuchman’s World War I history book, “The Guns of August,” which has a spot on every reading list he ever published for the troops.

In June 1914, as we should all know by now, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot by an assassin in Sarajevo. Austria-Hungary issues an ultimatum to Serbia as European allies began to muster their troops throughout the continent during July of 1914. At the end of July, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declares war on Serbia, shelling Belgrade just days later. As July turns to August, Serbia’s ally Russia begins to mobilize for war. That’s when Germany demanded Russia stop preparing for war, which Russia ignored.

On Aug. 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. Russia’s allies began preparing for war in response to their mutual defense treaties. Germany then declared war on France and invaded neutral Belgium, forcing Great Britain and its Empire to declare war on Germany. Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. By Aug. 7, 1914, much of the world was at war. By the end of August, the fighting had spread to Africa and the Chinese mainland. What started as a regional dispute that could have been mediated led to millions of lives lost in a brutal, industrialized war machine.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

German defenders of Tsingtao, China, who were fighting against the Japanese invaders because a Serbian shot an Austrian archduke in Bosnia.

In this context, Mattis was trying to keep the United States and NATO out of a war with Russia, which (according to Woodward’s book) seemed like a real possibility if the Trump Administration had enacted some of its more sweeping changes to American defense policy. Mattis was also trying to convince Trump that the U.S. needed to be in NATO, and if NATO didn’t already exist, it should be created – because Russia could not win a war against NATO, in Mattis’ opinion.

Russia had privately warned Mattis that if a war broke out in the Baltics, the Russians would use tactical nuclear weapons against NATO forces. Mattis and Gen. Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, began to think Russia as an existential threat to the United States. Even so, Mattis was determined to keep Russia and NATO from sliding into a similar war via a web of alliances.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Five Air Force officers volunteered to be nuked and survived

Unless there is a lead-lined refrigerator lying around, we’re guessing none of you reading this would be too keen on standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. But it turns out this is exactly what six men chose to do with their afternoon in July of 1957 — five of them even volunteered, with the sixth not told what he’d be ordered to do that day until he showed up to work… So who were these men, why were they there, and what happened after?

As the Cold War began heating up and the U.S. and Soviets were each attempting to set a record for money spent stock piling thousands of weapons not intended to be used, the general public were getting a little nervous about both the testing of said weapons and what would happen if one of the two super powers decided to take things to the next level, particularly as rockets and missiles tipped with nukes started to become a thing. Despite assertions that there was nothing inherently dangerous about a rocket with a nuclear warhead detonating directly above you, the citizens of the United States weren’t buying it.


Putting their money where their mouths were, Colonel Arthur Oldfield of the Continental Air Defense Command decided to prove the assertion, ordering to have just this sort of thing filmed happening. This particular test, named John, was a part of the five month long Operation Plumbbob series of nuclear tests.

A former slave and two-time Olympian just became an Airman

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

Besides the men involved with John, these tests also included over 18,000 other members of the military being put in relatively close proximity to nuclear blasts, with the point being to determine how troops would react in battle with nukes detonating nearby. The tests also included over a thousand pigs being used to study the biological effects of the detonations when the subjects were much closer to the blasts than officials were comfortable putting humans. (Squeal piggy!!!)

The five men who volunteered to insert themselves into John were Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Colonel Donald Lutrell. The sixth individual was a cameraman named Akira “George” Yoshitake — simultaneously the only one who did not volunteer for the gig and the only one who had a job to do during the blast. His job, of course, was to capture the entire event for a nice little propaganda film to demonstrate that these nuclear tipped rockets were perfectly safe to use in air combat scenarios above populated regions.

And so it was that on July 19, 1957, the five exceptionally brave men and one cameraman, no doubt re-evaluating his career choices and decision making paradigm, found themselves standing around 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the crow flies, or about 100 miles by road, in the Yucca Flats in the Area 10 Test Site. Next to them was a sign that read “Ground Zero. Population 5”, casually disregarding the key contributions of Yoshitake, which has been a theme for the few hundred filmmakers who were so critical to these nuclear tests and data gathering, yet have been largely ignored by history.

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Soon enough an F-28 jet flew overhead, shooting a Genie rocket equipped with a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. This was actually the first test of a live nuclear tipped Genie rocket, but, thankfully for the men, the unguided rocket did not malfunction and instead flew straight for about two and a half miles at a height of around Flight Level 180 (about 18,000 feet or about 5.5 km). It then detonated almost directly above them.

Said Major Bodey as it happened, “We felt a heat pulse. A very bright light. A fireball it is red. The sky looks black about it. It is boiling above us. It is rapidly losing its color…”

Then a massive blast sound could be heard, at which point Bodey stated, “There is the ground wave! It is over folks, It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! It is a huge fireball. … Wasn’t that a perfect, perfect shot.”

Seemingly remembering the whole thing was to be a propaganda film showing it was just good family fun to stand under a nuclear blast, Colonel Bruce then stated, “My only regrets right now are that everyone couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.” Shortly thereafter he no doubt thanked the Academy and noted he felt humbled to be there.

You might at this point be thinking that while the blast itself didn’t do them any harm, other than maybe a stubborn case of tinnitus — the little talked about silent killer associated with nuclear blasts — surely these men must have been exposed to copious amounts of ionizing radiation. But this turns out not to have been the case. It was later determined they were exposed to negligible amounts of such radiation. In fact, less than the pilot of the F-89 jet and significantly less than the pilots ordered to fly through the region of atmosphere the blast occurred at a mere ten minutes later.

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A formation of three F-89Ds.

(US Air Force photo)

The blast occurring reasonably high in the atmosphere also ensured that no ground materials were sucked up, thus no large cloud of radioactive particles was present. And as for the radioactive materials from the bomb and any dust already in the atmosphere nearby, these would have spread out quite widely before coming down.

Ironically, however, while the whole thing was meant to show the safety of such nuclear rockets detonating high over head, radioactive particles from these tests frequently settled on nearby towns, even as far away as Utah. As you might expect from this, the U.S. government has paid a pretty penny, to the tune of around a billion dollars to date, to the inhabitants of these regions who later had health problems possibly related to being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation during the tests.

All this said, it is noted that every one of these six brave men did later in life get cancer at one point or another. However, it’s not thought this test in particularly probably contributed much to that. All of them were involved in a number of nuclear tests, many of which saw them exposed to far more ionizing radiation, with the cumulative effect of it all probably also not helping matters.

In the end, Major Hughes lived to the age of 71, dying of cancer in 1990. Lt. Col. Ball lived until 2003, dying at the ripe old age of 83 of cancer. Colonel Bruce actually made it to 86, dying in 2005 of, you guessed it, cancer. Major Bodinger also died of cancer, we believe in February of 1997, though it’s not clear here as his grave is not listed in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs grave site locator. But we found a grave in Oklahoma for someone that appears to match up with what we know about Bodie. Next up, Colonel Lutrell at one point got colon cancer, though it isn’t clear whether this is what he died of. Whatever the case, he seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2014 at the age of 91. As for the cameraman George Yoshitake, while he did have to battle stomach cancer to do it, he lived to 84, dying in 2013 of a stroke.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This entire room made of amber was stolen by Nazis before it disappeared forever

Witnesses reported seeing the 24 crates containing what has been called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” at a railroad station at Königsberg, Prussia in 1943. They had earlier been seen in the courtyard of Königsberg Castle.


They were never seen again.

Inside the crates, was an all-amber room that was built by Prussia’s Frederick I between 1701-1706 and later given by Frederick’s son, Frederick William I, to Peter the Great of Russia. The chamber, when assembled, was completely enclosed with amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors and garnished with mosaics, nymphs, cupids and angels, inlays, landscapes, and miniatures — all in amber.

Its construction nearly broke the Prussian economy when it was built, and its worth today, if it were ever found, is estimated to be near $200 million.

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Can’t imagine why it was stolen…

Peter accepted Frederick Wilhelm’s gift, something, he said in a letter, he had “dreamed of for a long time.” The Amber Room was disassembled and moved to Russia, but nothing was done about reassembling it there — largely because no one was able to figure out how the badly-marked pieces went together — until the woman who would become Catherine the Great ascended the Russian throne in 1767.

Catherine, who originally came from the amber-mining region near the Black Sea, added another 900 pounds of amber to the room and implemented the work done by an Italian sculptor who had worked on the reassembly problem.  She also added large windows to the room and had it assembled at her Tsarskoye Selo palace.

The completed room was said to come alive in candlelight.

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An early photo of the original Amber Room.

The room languished in the St. Petersburg — later Leningrad — Palace until June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia. Ten weeks after the invasion, Germany laid siege to Leningrad. As the siege continued, Russians in the city struggled to save what historic treasure they could, including the Amber Room. Because of the fragility of the amber and the resulting difficulty in removing and storing it, a false room was built inside the Amber Room that hid it from view. But when the Nazis took the palace in September, they discovered the room, disassembled it, and stored it in crates. Those crates were then moved to Königsberg, again reassembled, and displayed in the town’s castle, the former home of the Teutonic Knights.

As the war wound down, Königsberg became the target of frequent Allied bombing raids and the room was again disassembled, loaded in crates, and stored in the castle’s cellar. The crates containing the Amber Room were seen in the castle’s courtyard in January 1945 and later at the railroad depot in Königsberg.

From there, they disappeared.

Since the war, searches have all been unsuccessful in locating any trace of the missing crates and their contents. Numerous theories as to what happened to the famous Amber Room have also been broadcast — all unsubstantiated.

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A colorized photo of the original Amber Room.

As recently as 2008, radar scans detected a large amount of metal believed to be too dense to be copper in an abandoned copper mine in Deutschneudorf, Saxony that some people, including Hans-Peter Haustein, mayor of Deutschneudorf, claim is the burial site of the Amber Room.  Others believe the Amber Room was hidden 2,000 feet down in a salt mine near Gottingen, Germany that has since been flooded. Still other researchers have speculated that the Amber Room was loaded aboard the German liner Wilhelm Gustoloff, which was being used to move refugees across the Baltic Sea, and went down with the ship when it was sunk in January 1945.

Or — perhaps the most likely of all — it was simply destroyed during the Royal Air Force bombing raids in early 1945.

Fortunately, the curious can still get a glimpse of the room’s splendor.

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A Black and White photo of the Amber Room, taken before the war.

A copy of the room has been created based on black and white photos that were taken of it. Russian President Vladimir Putin dedicated the room at a celebration of the 300-year anniversary of the city of Saint Petersburg in 2003. That copy is currently on display at the Tsarskoye Selo Palace.

MIGHTY HISTORY

France just found a huge bust of Hitler beneath Paris

For the past 75 years, the French Senate has claimed Paris’ lush Luxembourg Palace, former home of Marie de Medici, mother to King Louis XIII, as its home. During that entire time, rumors swirled about a large bust of Adolf Hitler, the man who once tried to burn Paris to the ground, hiding beneath the Senate chambers.

It turns out the rumors are not only true, but other Nazi paraphernalia are down there with the Führer’s giant head.


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The Luxembourg Palace Gardens in World War II.

When Nazi troops were forced to abandon Paris in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler ordered the last commander of the Nazi occupation, Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz, to level the city. Hitler said the city must not be given to the Free French except laying in rubble. When the Germans finally abandoned the city, Choltitz surrendered 17,000 men to the Free French and left Paris the way it was. Hitler was furious.

During the German occupation, the Luxembourg Palace was the headquarters building for the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force. After the Germans left, the palace was turned into the home of the French Senate, where the legislative body has been ever since – and ever since, the rumors of the Nazi leader’s bust have persisted but never been proven.

Until Sept. 5, 2019.

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The Luxembourg Palace today.

The French newspaper Le Monde and reporter Olivier Faye conducted a serious investigation into the persistent rumor, finding not only the bust of Hitler, but a 10×6.5-foot long Nazi flag along with various other documents left over from 75 years ago. The only thing is, besides the palace’s history of headquartering the Nazi Air Force general staff, no one really knows how the Nazi memorabilia came to be in the basement of the French Senate.

In the waning days of the Nazi occupation, Luftwaffe personnel made a fast break for the exit, leaving the Luxembourg Palace in a state of disrepair and outright chaos. The Free French forces looted everything they could from the Nazi occupiers, and Nazi memorabilia became very valuable on the black market (it still is today). It’s believed these particular pieces of Nazi culture were hidden away by someone intent on selling them, hiding the pieces in the basement until a buyer could be found. That clearly never happened.

None of the Senators interviewed by Le Monde knew of the Nazi bust or flag in the basement – and no one knows what to do with them now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the 1950 Navy explain ‘vertical envelopment’

Generals “rediscover” vertical envelopment every few years, and even fairly casual followers of military news are sure to have heard the phrase. Even still, it’s a fairly wonky term that plenty of folks, even regular readers, military game players, and history buffs won’t necessarily know.

Luckily, it’s not too hard to explain. The Navy created a video in the 1950s to explain the concept — and its importance in Atomic-Age warfare — to its officers and sailors.


www.youtube.com

A quick bit of background that the Navy would’ve expected Marine and Navy officers to know, but average readers might not: Vertical envelopment is an evolution of an ancient strategy known as “envelopment.”

The idea was to surround (or envelop) your enemy, and it’s not exaggeration when we call this tactic “ancient.” One of the greatest historical uses of the strategy came at the Battle of Cannae, which, according to some sources, may have been the bloodiest battle in the history of the world. A massively outnumbered Hannibal of Carthage managed to draw Rome’s legions against his formation’s center. Then, Hannibal sent more mobile units around the Roman legions, hitting them on the flanks and rear.

The Roman legionnaires, now surrounded, were slowly whittled down by Carthaginians, leading to one of Carthage’s greatest victories. A few thousand legionnaires escaped, but the vast majority of them were killed.

The famous “pincer” movement, when an attacking force hits its enemy from two sides, is sometimes known as the “double envelopment.” It’s two forces working to surround the enemy at once.

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A screenshot shows the final maneuvers of Hannibal’s envelopment of Roman legions at Cannae. Hannibal’s forces are in blue, the legions in the large red block.

(Screenshot from TitusLabienus)

And, since most military units and hardware are directional, meaning that tanks and infantry are better at fighting what’s in front of them than what’s behind, envelopment leaves the surrounded force at a huge disadvantage as they try to re-direct forces to counter all the threats.

So, what’s vertical envelopment? It’s the use of aircraft to surround an enemy all at once by passing over them vertically and then coming down. While it was adopted as doctrine in the Marine Corps just before the Korean War, Allied and Axis paratroopers had conducted a sort of “light” version of vertical envelopment during World War II.

During some battles, including Operation Overlord on D-Day, paratroopers and glider troops were dropped into Nazi occupied Europe miles behind the German front line. As troop carriers were hitting the Germans on the beaches, the paratroopers were cutting off German supply lines and forming blocking positions behind the beaches.

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British glider troops unload gear on June 6, 1944.

(Imperial War Museum)

But there’s a key difference between the vertical envelopment of battles like D-Day and what the Marines figured out for the Korean War and later copied in Vietnam, Panama, and across the world.

During World War II, airborne and glider assaults were typically launched to seize key objectives behind enemy lines or eliminate deadly artillery. They typically hit their targets, seized the objectives, and then waited for the forward line of troops to catch up with them or fought their way to a rally point.

In true vertical envelopment, troops land at pre-planned areas behind enemy lines and might seize some objectives, but the focus still on surrounding an enemy force and forcing it to fight in 360 degrees.

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Airborne troops in Carentan, France, June 1944. If the paratroopers were used in a true vertical envelopment strategy, they would’ve landed in German-occupied France and then headed back towards the beaches, assisting the troops landing in the amphibious assault. Instead, they were sent deeper into the country, securing key crossroads and waiting for the troops on the beaches to make their way south and east.

(U.S. National Archives)

So, on D-Day, a true vertical envelopment strategy would’ve seen paratroopers landing miles behind German positions and possibly still seizing some key objectives to the rear of the German force. But the paratroopers would have also fought their way back west and north, hitting the Germans on the landing beaches from the rear.

That seemingly small but extremely important detail was the big change that the Marines introduced in the late-1940s and proved in Korea with helicopters. Rather than dropping troops behind enemy lines solely to capture objectives, they also dropped Marines behind enemy lines to isolate and overwhelm the enemy’s forward lines. Defenders suffered a full, 360-degree envelopment, achieved thanks to vertical maneuvering.

That sounds great, bravo Marines — but what does that have to do with the Atomic Age and nuclear warfare? Well, the Marines knew in 1948 that the Soviets would soon get “the bomb.” Spoiler: The Soviets got it in 1949.

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U.S. Marines land in Vietnam. The Marines used vertical envelopment, surrounding an enemy using airborne or heliborne troops, heavily in Korea and Vietnam.

(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant R. B. Williams)

The big strength of tactical nuclear weapons — weapons made for use on a battlefield as opposed to strategic nuclear weapons made to bring down cities or bases on their own — is that they can quickly destroy troop concentrations with just a few shots. D-Day relied on a huge troop concentration and a single nuclear weapon could’ve killed everyone, according to Dwight D. Eisenhower, a president and, ah, yes, the architect of D-Day.

So, the Marines came up with a plan. Disperse the troops before they reach an enemy’s nuclear range. Instead of sending out a concentrated thrust of landing forces in amphibious vehicles, send out dozens of helicopters with a squad in each in addition to the amphibious vehicles.

An enemy nuke would still be catastrophic, but it could only down a few helicopters at once if they were properly dispersed.

Meanwhile, enemy forces would be surrounded by dozens of squads of U.S. Marines, all fully armed, supplied, and on the attack. The Marines proved the value of the concept in Korea and the Army used it heavily in Vietnam. Today, it’s still used across the world, and paratroopers have adopted the tactic in many of their operations and exercises.

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