Ada Lovelace, daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, has been called “The first computer programmer” for writing an algorithm for a computing machine in the mid-1800s.
Here’s how that program impacts us — and our military — today.
Nicknamed the “Enchantress of Numbers,” Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, on Dec. 10, 1915. Her mother, Annabella Byron, was referred to by Lord Byron as “Princess of Parallelograms,” and she insisted on an education for her daughter that included mathematics and science. Some suggest that Lady Byron hoped to quell the Byron tendency toward imagination and moodiness, but Lady Byron also described their daughter as “chiefly exercised in connection with her mechanical ingenuity.”
On June 5, 1833, at a party, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the famed mathematician and mechanical engineer who originated the concept for the first automatic digital computer. There, he spoke of a “Difference Machine,” an invention of his that served, essentially, as an automated calculator — the first of its kind.
Though the prototype was incomplete at the time, Lovelace went to his home a few days later to see the device in person. The two began a profound correspondence that would last nearly twenty years.
When Babbage began exploring a new design for what he called the “Analytical Engine,” Lovelace contributed her own notes and translations in extensive detail. Her translation of a paper written by Luigi Federico Menabrea on the machine elaborated the original writings from eight thousand words to twenty thousand, which was published in 1843.
Her paper is still considered one of her greatest contributions to computer science, distinguishing it from the science of mathematics. One of her notes within the piece included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. Known as “Note G,” it is considered the first computer program in history.
Lovelace’s diagram from ‘Note G’ from Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by Luigi Menabrea with notes by Ada Lovelace
“The science of operations, as derived from mathematics more especially, is a science of itself, and has its own abstract truth and value,” Lovelace wrote.
Biographer James Essinger, author of A Female Genius, said of Lovelace: “Ada is here seeking to do nothing less than invent the science of computing, and separate it from the science of mathematics. What she calls ‘the science of operations’ is indeed in effect computing.”
Computer science has grown exponentially since Babbage and Lovelace first began to imagine complex automated algorithms specifically designed for machine implementation. Her groundwork contributed to the development of advanced computing machines that would change the very face of warfare — and our world today as we know it.
By February 1945, the cruel and inhumane treatment by the Japanese against their enemies was well known. As the Allies liberated the Philippines, the decision was made to attempt a rescue effort at the Cabanatuan Prison.
This rescue, often referred to as the Great Raid, liberated over 500 prisoners from Cabanatuan on Jan. 30, 1945. These prisoners then described their horrific treatment as well as the atrocities of the Bataan Death March.
This convinced the Allied commanders to attempt more rescue operations in order to save the lives of those held by the Japanese.
A plan was quickly drawn up, this time using paratroopers from the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The first phase involved inserting the 11th Airborne’s divisional reconnaissance platoon along with Filipino guerrillas as guides.
Prior to the attack they would mark the drop zone for the paratroopers and landing beach for the incoming Amtracs. Others from the platoon would attack the sentries and guard posts of the camp in coordination with the landing of the paratroopers.
The second phase consisted of the landing and assault by the paratroopers. These men were from Company B, 1st Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment along with the light machine gun platoon from battalion headquarters company. They were led by 1st Lt. John Ringler.
Simultaneous to the landing of the paratroopers, Filipino guerrillas from the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment would attack the prison camp itself.
Together these two groups would eliminate the Japanese within and the Americans would gather them for transport from the camp.
The third phase of the operation would bring the remainder of the 1st Battalion, 511th PIR across the Laguna de Bay in Amtracs. These would then be used to transport the prisoners to safety.
Finally, another 11th Airborne element, the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment, would make a diversionary attack along the highway leading to the camp. The intent would be to draw the Japanese attention away allowing the paratroopers to escape with the prisoners.
All of this would happen nearly simultaneously. The amount of coordination of forces was tremendous.
Everything was set to go off at 7 AM on Feb. 23, 1945.
The first to depart for the mission were the men of the division reconnaissance platoon who set out the night of Feb. 21 in small Filipino fishing boats. Once across the Laguna de Bay, they entered into the jungle and made their way to hide sites to wait for the assault to begin.
On the morning of the 23rd at 0400, the 1st Battalion minus B Company boarded the 54 Amtracs of the 672nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion and set out across the bay toward their landing beach.
At 0530 the men of B Company boarded the C-47’s for the short flight to Los Baños. By 0640 they were in the air toward their destination.
Lt. John Ringler was the first man out the door of the lead C-47 coming low at 500 feet.
Having already marked the drop zone, the reconnaissance platoon and their accompanying guerrillas, spotting the incoming troop transports, sprung from their hide sites and attacked the Japanese guard post and sentries. Many were quickly overwhelmed.
At the same time, the 45th Hunter’s ROTC Regiment of Filipino guerrillas attacked three sides of the camp. As this was happening, the paratroopers were assembling on the drop zone and the lead elements were breaching the outer perimeter of the camp.
Many Japanese were caught in the open, unarmed, preparing to conduct morning physical training. They were cut down by the gunfire of the assaulting forces.
Some Japanese were able to mount a defense but many simply fled in the face of the charging Americans and Filipinos. By the time the balance of the 1st Battalion arrived at the camp in their Amtracs, the fight was all but over.
In very short order the raiding force had overwhelmed and secured the prison.
Out on the highway, the 188th GIR was making good progress against the Japanese and had successfully established blocking positions by late morning. The sound of their battles reminded the men at the camp that time was of the essence — the Japanese were still nearby.
Due to their harsh treatment, many of the prisoners were malnourished and extremely weak. Those that could walk began making their way towards the beach for evacuation. Others were loaded into the Amtracs at the camp and transported back across the lake.
It took two trips to get all the internees across the lake and a third to evacuate the last of the assault troops, but at the end of the day 2,147 prisoners were liberated from the Los Baños prison camp. The cost to the Americans and Filipinos was just a handful of casualties — no paratroopers were killed in the raid.
Among those evacuated was Frank Buckles, a World War I veteran, who would go on to be the last living veteran from the conflict.
“I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid,” said Gen. Colin Powell. “It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.”
It’s the mission of all branches of the U.S. military to protect all citizens, defend liberty and uphold the Constitution. Being a good citizen entails giving back to each branch in every way we can.
The Green Berets, founded in 1952 by John F. Kennedy, are celebrating their 68th birthday today. Take a moment to honor some special members of the “warrior-diplomat” ranks as they continue to protect and honor our country.
Look to the heroic acts of Sergeant Matthew Williams, who took heroic action to save the lives of his fellow soldiers in the Battle of Shok Valley, which took place in Afghanistan in 2008.
According to other Berets who had been in Williams’ regimen, Williams helped to evacuate two soldiers who had been shot from the battle. Williams saved the soldiers’ lives and endured minimal casualties.
Williams had been deployed multiple times, serving in Afghanistan and in other areas of need. Trump upgraded Williams’ Silver Star, which he earned in 2008, to a Medal of Honor on October 3, 2019.
Regarding Williams’ actions, Trump noted that, “Matt’s incredible heroism helped ensure that not a single American soldier died in the battle of Shok Valley.” Further, he noted that,””Matt is without question and without reservation one of the bravest soldiers and people I have ever met. He’s a brave guy. And he’s a great guy.”
Williams added, “”I hope I can wear the Medal with honor and distinction and represent something that’s much bigger than myself, which is what it means to be on a team of brothers, and what it means to be an elite Special Forces soldier.”
Ronald J. Shurer
Additionally, another Special Forces Soldier who fought in the same battle was also awarded a Medal of Honor: Ronald J. Shurer. Shurer, a medic, ran through open fire to aid a soldier who had shrapnel stuck in his neck. In total, Shurer aided four wounded soldiers despite suffering gunshot wounds himself.
The deep moral dedication needed to selflessly aid others in the face of a surprise attack by 200 soldiers is astounding and something to be proud of.
Humbert Roque “Rocky” Versace
The valor of the Green Berets stretches back to their inception. Humbert Roque Versace (nicknamed “Rocky” by his colleagues) joined the Armed Forces in Norfolk in 1937, and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bush for his heroic actions as a prisoner of War in Vietnam.
In addition to his prestigious Medal of Honor, Versace was honored in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes by Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki.
Like Versace, a number of Green Berets have been awarded a Medal of Honor for heroic action in Vietnam. However, soldier Melvin Morris was awarded a MOH not for heroic action as a prisoner of war, but for retrieving the body of a fallen sergeant after pushing back enemy lines single handedly with a bag of grenades. The Beret even was able to free his battalion from the enemy forces that oppressed it in this crusade.
Morris was shot three times in the endeavor but survived after being rushed to medical care. He was awarded a MOH by President Obama in 2014 and was later indicted into the Hall of Heroes.
The Green Berets are not only heroes – they are also innovators. 10th Group Special Forces soldier Kyle Daniels was tired of seeing the American Flag burned in times of trial, such as the ones we’re in now, and invented a flag that physically won’t burn. The Firebrand Flag Company now proudly boasts fireproof flags, a symbol of the America we know and love. Fire and oppression won’t bring us down.
Each member of the U.S. Armed Forces, before being indicted to the military, pledges to:
“Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; [that I will] bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and [that I will] obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”
President Kennedy established the Green Berets with the promise that the elite unit of the military would be, “A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” The Green Berets are not just capable of their mission, they are excellent in upholding their duty to our country.
Honor any Green Berets you may know, today and any other day. It’s all too easy to forget that the life of an American soldier is dedicated to the well-being of our country, something which, in good conscience, should not be forgotten and honored in every way possible.
The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.
However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.
His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.
McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.
Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).
Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).
The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.
As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.
At its climax, the dominion of ancient Rome comprised one of the largest territories in history. Most of western and southern Europe, as well as the entire Mediterranean periphery, awoke and went to sleep under the rule of the SPQR flag (Senatus Populusque Romanus: the Senat and People of Rome). The discipline and the efficiency of its army is key to Roman expansion. In return for their precious service to Rome, the soldiers received some handsome benefits upon retirement.
The army consists of wealthy Roman citizens who serve for a short duration for the Roman Republic (509BC-27BC). The need of a particular campaign or to defend a territory under immediate invasion did not need a standing army. Recruitment and discharge to civilian activities is based on the needs of the army. Because of the short military service, benefits and pensions were unnecessary. However, in 108BC, Consul Gaius Marius initiated the professionalization of the army.
Roman military benefits
In order to entice citizens under the dominion of Rome into military life, they were offered rewards in land, work animals, or a pension of equal value after ten years of service. Roman citizens became legionnaires and non-Roman citizens became auxiliaries. Auxiliaries earn a third of the legionnaires’ salary and is often fight on the front lines during battles. However, upon completion of their service, they would receive full Roman citizenship, thus giving them the right to vote, to hold property, to marry a Roman citizen, or to stand for civic and public office.
Retired soldiers sometimes settled together in military towns or conquered territories, making them a great tool for the Romanization of these lands. In this case, administrative positions are available to veterans to become prominent members of the local society. The veterans are a reserve force (evocati in Latin) in case of emergency, although retired soldiers no longer took part in the army’s activities. Even after long years in the army, they never completely left the service of Rome.
Pension like rewards
It is impractical to award all soldiers with land as the army grows in number. At this point the reward is converted into apraemia, a pension-like cash prize. Under Augustus Caesar, adopted son of Julius Caesar and first leader of the Roman Empire (27BC-286AD), the Aerarium Militare, a pension fund for retired veterans paid by special taxes, is created and the length of service to qualify for the pension was extended to twenty-five years. The praemia reached 12,000 sesterces for legionnaires and 20,000 sesterces for the Praetorian guards. That sum was the equivalent of twelve years of salary in the army.
Upon retirement, Roman soldiers did not only receive a sizeable cash prize, but also their savings, any bonus for the campaigns they had fought, donations from the emperor, the senate, or the generals, and the share of loot earned during conquests. Some soldiers were able to retire as wealthy men and build a comfortable life for themselves. By law, Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry while in active service. Naturally, that rule proved very difficult to enforce and was often ignored. Retirement also became the occasion for the soldiers to officially recognise their wife and children and to settle with them.
You can check out but never leave
In the early 3rd century AD, under Caracalla and Septimius Severus, the praemia rose to 20,000 sesterces for legionnaires. By then, the Empire was facing frequent crisis and needed to increase the incentives to convince the Roman citizens to join the army’s ranks. However, due to these crises, it was not infrequent for evocati to be called back to service. Additionally, disabled Roman veterans were exempted from paying taxes.
Some historians trace the beginning of the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Senate’s decision to reduce the soldiers’ pension. With less incentive to join the army, the Roman citizens turned to different careers. The Senate then filled the ranks of the army with Barbarians, diminishing the cohesion and discipline. These decisions are major contributing factors that lead to the fall of Rome. A cautionary tale to not mess with a veteran’s pension and post service benefits.
Here we go. Rounding out the list of the most patriotic, most ‘Murican moments of every U.S. Presidency are the presidents of our age, numbers 35 through 44. Abraham Lincoln is already the all-time best, James Buchanan is the all-time worst — and no one gives a sh*t about Rutherford B. Hayes.
Since we’re approaching today’s era, it’s important for me to remind you all that We Are The Mighty is an apolitical organization and the last time we sided with a political party, the Whigs dissolved like… a week later. This is about America, and no matter how much you dislike(d) one of our Chief Executives, they all led the country to moments of American Glory.
This list is for the Presidents who have completed their time in office, so Trump won’t be on here — perhaps his most patriotic moment is yet to come.
John F. Kennedy
JFK’s time in office was tragically cut short, but his effect on American life is one that endures for the ages. In May, 1961, he addressed Congress to discuss America’s urgent national needs. In that speech, he challenged the United States to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the next decade — calling for a plan that would find success after Kennedy left office (if he had lived).
But it wasn’t just that challenge that inspired America. It was Kennedy’s re-assertion of that challenge the next year while speaking at Rice University where he described the spirit of the United States. This is where he delivered the immortal line about why the United States takes on challenges like going to the moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Johnson was a man of action, ready and able to push business through the political machine of the United States Congress at any cost. This made Johnson an extremely capable Chief Executive, whether you liked him or not. In the middle of the Cold War, during the very hot Vietnam War, amidst all the cultural revolutions that swept the U.S. in the 1960s, everyone could count on calm, collected leadership in the White House.
But his most American moment was forcing the passage of Civil Rights Acts through a Congress that didn’t always agree with that kind of legislation. Johnson, a Texan and devout Christian since age 15 believed in equal rights for all Americans and that it was the duty of Christians everywhere to deliver social justice in God’s name. So he put his infamous temper to work to pass Civil Rights legislation, even though it cost him and his party dearly.
Richard Nixon took office during one of the most tumultuous times in American history ever. The year 1968 was a turning point for the people and culture of the United States and, despite his overall failure to maintain the solemnity of the office of president, Richard Nixon wasn’t a bad president at all. Had he not tried to cover up his role in the Watergate Scandal, he might have been remembered more fondly by history.
But while he was in office, he was the master of American foreign policy and used his skill to manage the Soviet Union and Communist China (which, by this time, were much less than friends) and use them to bring North Vietnam to the negotiating table. Where Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev trounced Kennedy in their first meeting, he couldn’t kick ol’ Nixon around. And, as they still say sometimes, “only Nixon could go to China.”
This is how cool you think you look while smoking a pipe. You don’t, but he does.
Ford is, interestingly, the only President who was never elected to the White House. He ascended to the vice-presidency after his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 and became president the next year. Ford’s most American moment will also forever be his most controversial. As representative, as house speaker, and as vice president, Ford faced very little (if any) in the way of scandals, but one of his first acts as President was to pardon Richard Nixon for any wrongdoing associated with Watergate.
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice, but mercy. … let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.
The pardon was highly controversial at the time but history proved President Ford correct, so much so that incoming President Jimmy Carter thanked Ford for it as his 1977 inauguration.
“For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
President Jimmy Carter is considered an unsuccessful President by most – including the former President himself. Carter always said his post-presidency was way more successful than his presidency. Carter’s administration was plagued by high inflation, an inherited energy crisis, and, of course, the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Carter’s most American moment came when he was originally supposed to address the nation about energy for the fifth time. Instead of rehashing what he’d said before, Carter laid out everything that was really plaguing the United States: mistrust in government, disrespect for American institutions, petty Washington politics, failures of his own leadership — a crisis of confidence. He told Americans the sad truth, unusual for a politician seeking re-election to any office.
This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth … and it is a warning.
But Carter also discussed how Americans could best the Crisis of Confidence. The Chief Executive and baptist minister implored Americans to have faith — faith in each other, faith in American institutions, and faith in our ability to govern ourselves. Although the speech was initially well-received, the “malaise” speech was a downer and came to be associated with his failed presidency.
President Reagan was elected in a landslide over Carter, whose Presidency was marked by economic trouble and hostages in Iran, which Carter seemed impotent to free. Reagan offered Americans a new morning, augmented by his near-trademark humor and sunny disposition.
The only people who seldom saw that disposition were the Soviets, who were often on the receiving end of Reagan’s stellar speech-making abilities. Nowhere was this more apparent than during a speech late in the President’s second term where Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, site of the infamous Berlin Wall, and called out Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s new openness policy, saying if he truly desired peace he would come to the gate and “tear down this wall.”
George H.W. Bush
President Reagan’s Vice-President George H.W. Bush was Reagan’s successor who handily won the election of 1988. But during the run-up to the election, Bush — a World War II aviator and former head of the CIA — was labeled a “wimp” by Newsweek Magazine.
Yet, when Iraqi troops poured across the Kuwaiti border and the rest of the world told him sanctions would bring Saddam to his knees, it didn’t take the President long to decide to check Saddam Hussein’s aggression. He moved so many troops to Saudi Arabia to prevent an Iraqi invasion that an offensive move seemed imminent. In 1991, Desert Shield switched to Desert Storm and expelled the Iraqis from Kuwait in some 40 days. Not only were the United States and her allies victorious, the looming shadow of military failure in Vietnam was broken.
Love him or hate him, no one felt the pressure of partisan politics like Bill Clinton. After the 1992 election, his party controlled the White House and the Congress but two years later, he felt a wave of pressure as the opposition swept Congress in the midterms. To say the rest of his time in office was “rocky” would be the understatement of the century.
Still, despite the scandals that rocked his administration, Clinton was the first real post-Cold War president and his administration was the first to deal with being the world’s only superpower. Though he faced serious foreign policy challenges over eight years, he used the opportunity to turn attention to America’s domestic issues, including child health care, federal investment in local law enforcement, and securing a balanced budget (and surplus) before leaving office.
George W. Bush
Another “love him or hate him” President, the younger Bush was able to enjoy the Pax Americana for just a few short months before the whole world changed before all our very eyes. George W. Bush was known for a lot of things, but being a fantastic public speaker was not one of them — few would ever dispute that fact. But his most American moment came right after the attacks that changed the world, when he was trying to talk to the American people.
Bush was in the middle of a speech at Ground Zero, delivering his perspective on where the United States would go from here, when, from the background, people complained of not being able to hear what he was saying. Bush’s off-the-cuff response was just f*cking great.
The election of Barack Obama was a historic first that foretold a shift away from the policies of the previous administration. But there was one policy of the United States that remained unchanged since the years of Bill Clinton – the hunt to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
The day finally came on May 1, 2011. Then, President Barack Obama was able to inform Americans that forces of the United States finally got to the world’s most wanted terrorist. Jubilant crowds gathered everywhere, not just in front of the White House, but at baseball games, at Times Square, and in towns across America. If you’re not a fan of Obama’s measured tone and think it calls for more celebration, you can see what happened when John Cena broke the news to WWE fans in Tampa, Florida at about the same time.
Long before Britney started her Las Vegas residency at the Planet Hollywood Casino, visitors and residents got their nightly entertainment elsewhere – likely from a member of the Rat Pack but every so often, they would get a thrill watching the United States Air Force. Not the Air Force rock band Max Impact, they were there to see mushroom clouds.
Between 1951 and 1992, the United States military conducted more than 900 atomic explosion tests, setting off nuclear bombs at what we now call the Nevada National Security Site. Back then, the same area in nearby Nye County was known as the Nevada Test Site. Some 100 of those nuclear tests were atmospheric detonations, and from just 65 miles away, the blasts and the resulting mushroom clouds could easily be seen from Las Vegas.
So obviously, the nuclear detonations, the brilliant flash of the detonation, along with the seismic tremors were great Las Vegas entertainment. And while the best views were supposedly from the downtown Las Vegas hotels, that didn’t stop visitor and locals alike from driving to the best views of the blast along the desert horizon.
That’s not the sunrise in the background.
In the 1950s, the population of Las Vegas more than doubled in size, as tourists and visitors moved to take advantage of the casino gaming industry as well as the hospitality industry in the city. Some tourists flocked to Vegas just to see the magnificent nuclear explosions in the distance. The nuclear tests were always done in the early morning hours, and hotels and bars would create Atomic Parties, where guests drank until dawn, finishing the night with a blast.
Johnie Webb’s corner office is full of memories from a grim but fulfilling mission.
As the Army veteran leans over his desk — strewn with gifts given to him over the course of a 40-year career — he grabs a wooden box and pulls out a modest bracelet. Engraved on stainless steel reads the name of a staff sergeant killed in the Vietnam War.
When he begins to share the story of how he received it, his light blue eyes well up with tears.
“I keep it on my desk, because this is what we’re all about,” said Webb, deputy of outreach and communications for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Since 1975, Webb has traveled dozens of times to former combat zones as a Soldier and later as a civilian for the joint agency or one of its predecessors. The agency is responsible for locating the remains of the more than 82,000 Americans who are still missing from past conflicts.
While much of his time had been in search of those fallen service members, Webb, 72, is now an advocate for their families who continue to wait for updates.
“I’m not going to say closure, because I’m not sure if there ever is closure when you lose a loved one. But at least [we can] provide them answers and give that loved one back,” he said. “That’s extremely important and I’m honored to play a small part.”
Early in his Army career, Webb, a retired lieutenant colonel, led convoys as a logistics officer all over Vietnam to ensure bases had fuel for operations during the war.
Under the constant threat of roadside bombs and ambushes, he briefed his Soldiers to move their vehicle out of the road if it were ever hit so other vehicles could escape.
“If you block the road, then we’re all done,” he recalled saying.
During one of those missions, a Soldier did just that after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cab of his 5-ton vehicle and left him with severe burns.
His sacrifice was something Webb never forgot.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t survive,” he said. “But he probably saved the rest of us by doing what we were trained to do and that was to get his truck off the road.”
A few years after his tour, the Army assigned Webb to the Central Identification Laboratory-Thailand, which was later moved to Hawaii and consolidated into DPAA.
The role of the new unit was to find the remains of Americans from the Vietnam War.
At first, he was confused, he said, since he knew nothing about the organization or its mission. In the Army’s eyes, though, he was qualified for the job because as a young lieutenant he once took a course on graves registration.
It would eventually come full circle for Webb in 1985, when he was chosen to lead the first recovery team into Vietnam only a decade after the end of the war.
“It became very personal for me,” he said, regarding the sacrifices made by fallen comrades. “We couldn’t let them be forgotten.”
Being back in Vietnam was initially “unnerving,” he said. After all, he had once fought an enemy there and it was uncertain how his team would be treated.
The mission was to search for human remains from a B-52 bomber crash site near Hanoi. But the team’s visit to Vietnam was also an opportunity to rebuild the diplomatic relationship between the former warring nations.
The Vietnamese still distrusted Americans then, he said, and even photographed his team with cameras that were crudely hidden in briefcases.
Now, more than 30 years after that first mission, Vietnamese officials work closely with the DPAA teams that rotate in and out of the country each year. The agency is even permitted to permanently base one of its detachments in Hanoi to support teams as they search for roughly 1,600 Americans missing from that war.
“We were there before we had diplomatic relations. We were there before an embassy was ever established,” Webb said. “A lot of groundbreaking effort went into getting us to where we are today.”
While the agency’s mission started with the work to account for those lost in Vietnam, it grew to include sites from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War and other conflicts.
Webb was again behind another pioneering effort, but this time in North Korea. He and others took several trips to the country and helped negotiate with the North Koreans so teams could conduct missions at former battle sites from 1996 to 2005.
They even traveled from the capital, Pyongyang, to the Chosin Reservoir, where a decisive battle had taken place in the winter of 1950. As they were driven through the country, Webb recalled seeing how desperate the North Koreans had lived.
“It was very interesting times,” he said, “but it made sure you were really appreciative of being an American.”
As U.S. and North Korean governments currently aim to thaw relations between each other, Webb hopes it will lead the reclusive country to reopen its borders to the agency’s teams.
About 7,700 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, with the majority believed to be in North Korea.
“If we want to get answers to the families, and we definitely want to get them answers, we’re going to have to get access back into North Korea,” he said.
With the days of digging at excavation sites now behind him, Webb maintains a pivotal role in keeping families, distinguished visitors and veterans service organizations apprised of agency efforts.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about Johnie Webb and the fact that he is literally one of the staunchest contributors to this mission,” said Kelly McKeague, the agency’s director.
McKeague, a former Air Force major general, credits Webb’s “Texas roots” for his compassion and calm demeanor. There is no better person, McKeague said, to speak with families struggling with loss.
“Johnie has a sense about him to be able to communicate with them, to be empathetic to them, and to literally not just be their friend but be their confidant,” he said. “They have so much confidence in him.”
Whether in a foreign country or back at the headquarters in Hawaii, Webb said the younger troops at the agency have always impressed him.
“Most of them weren’t even born when the guy who they are trying to recover was lost,” he said. “Still, they feel that kinship to that military buddy who wore the uniform for them.”
The “grunt work” these troops — many of whom are Soldiers — do at an excavation site can take months to years to find remains, if there are any. Once recovered, it can take even longer to identify them by lab staff.
While the long process sometimes leaves families irritated, the agency wants to ensure human remains are properly excavated and identified.
“Not only is it frustrating to the families, it gets frustrating for us as well because we want to provide those answers,” Webb said. “We want to return that loved one, but we want to do it right.”
When the answers do come, some family members do not want to believe them.
Inside a wooden box on his desk, the engraved bracelet reminds Webb of one such family member.
The father of the staff sergeant whose name is on the bracelet often spoke to Webb about his missing son before he was found. He had hoped his son was still alive and pleaded to Webb to bring him back.
A team then discovered remains from a site of a crashed helicopter, which the staff sergeant was on. Shortly after, Webb advised the father to prepare to receive his son’s remains so he could honor his life.
“It was clear that he was not wanting to hear that,” Webb remembered.
Webb asked other families who knew the grief-stricken father and had also lost loved ones to talk to him so he could come to terms with the news. He finally did.
When his son’s remains were returned to the family, there was a huge outpouring of public support. The funeral had full military honors and even dignitaries showed up to it.
“It was a day of celebration for this young man to come back home,” Webb said. “I was happy that he had honored his son the way he should have been honored.”
A few weeks later, a brown envelope addressed to Johnie Webb came in the mail. In it, there was a “thank you” note along with the bracelet, which the father always wore.
“I’m giving to you the POW bracelet that I have worn since my son was lost,” Webb said, recalling what the father wrote. “I finally took it off when he came back home. I want you to have it as a token of my appreciation.”
The problem with being a rising star in a dictatorship where the only rules are the whims of one individual is that you tend to attract a lot of attention. This, of course, could put a target on your back. If you outlive the dictator, the purges, and the possible wars, however, it could be you occupying the big chair when the dust settles. Nowhere is this more clear than in the life of Nikita Khrushchev.
Before rising to the top of the Soviet Union’s oligarchy, Khrushchev started his Communist career as a political commissar during the Russian Civil War, was then sent to Ukraine to carry out Stalin’s purges, and somehow survived World War II’s Eastern Front, where Communist Commissars were specifically targeted by the Third Reich. After the war, he spent much of his time very close to Stalin…and survived.
He even told the USSR that Stalin was stupid and his policies sucked. Not in those words, but that was the gist.
Khrushchev implemented many of Stalin’s policies without question, and did as he was told throughout his ascendancy. He also didn’t make any move against his boss while he was alive. Instead, Khrushchev waited until after the death of Stalin to denounce the “Man of Steel,” along with his domestic policies, his personality cult, and probably his mustache. But while Stalin was alive, Khrushchev was the best salesman for global Communism Stalin could have had.
During his time as the leader of the Soviet Union, he met with everyone who would have him, including famed anti-Communist Richard Nixon. He even managed to avoid a nuclear war with the U.S. President Kennedy. He didn’t need the bravado the Red Army wanted him to show during the Cuban Missile Crisis – Khrushchev already showed his by surviving every deadly situation thrown at Russia.
If you can survive Stalingrad, you can survive anything.
Khrushchev survived Stalin because he’d proved his mettle many times over. Khrushchev was the epitome of the Soviet worker class. He was from a poor family of peasants, he went on strike against the Tsarist government as a metal worker in World War I, and he chose the right brand of Communism when the time came. When given a choice between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, he chose the group who prioritized winning over everything else. He was so loyal to Communist ideals that he refused to allow his wife a religious funeral after she died. That’s dedication.
He immediately joined every Communist government program and school he could, using connections to get into everything, like a good oligarch. When it came time for Stalin to purge, Khrushchev was in a trusted position. To maintain that trust, Khrushchev was willing to send his closest friends and coworkers to the gulag and the executioner.
In case you were wondering, he killed a lot of people. Like, a lot.
So to survive the dictator’s whimsy, you have to prove you aren’t out to topple the dictator. The best way to do that is help kill the dictator’s enemies… before someone else accuses you of being the dictator’s enemy. The second best way is not to make waves. When Khrushchev appealed to Stalin to help fight the famine in Ukraine, Stalin thought Khrushchev was getting weak and sent him an overseer from Moscow. Khrushchev promptly became “ill” and all but disappeared for two years.
Not annoying Stalin about starving people probably saved his life and career. In Stalin’s last days, Khrushchev was called to be near Stalin and in the dictator’s inner circle. Here, the future Soviet leader survived many long nights of drinking and dancing at Stalin’s command, coining the saying: “When Stalin says dance, a wise man dances.”
Krushchev learned to take a nap in the afternoon so he wouldn’t fall asleep in front of his boss.
These guys killed several hundred thousand people, maybe more. That’s not even counting the famines.
After Stalin died, his inner circle vied for power and fought amongst one another publicly. Not Khrushchev – he was demoted and accepted his situation. He soon found the others had fought themselves out of a job while “humble” Khrushchev was elevated to the title of First Secretary of the Communist Party. By not overstepping his bounds as his rivals did, Khrushchev became the least objectionable choice. It didn’t hurt that he was generally very good at whatever his job was.
He was so good even after he was ousted from power, Khrushchev managed to avoid being murdered by enemies like most powerful people in dictatorships so often are. He retired to a dacha in the countryside and died of a heart attack.
Vietnam-era Marine and Hue City veteran John Ligato once remarked that the most ferocious fighting machine the world has ever seen is the 19-year-old pissed off Marine. In the case of John J. Kelly, he couldn’t be more right.
Kelly joined the Marines in May 1917, just one month after the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany. The Chicago native was soon in France with 78th Company, 6th Regiment, 2d Division. That’s where he would earn the Army and Navy versions of the Medal of Honor — at the same time.
In October 1918, Kelly was in Blanc Mont Ridge in France, which the Germans occupied since 1915. The French were joined by two divisions of the U.S. Army and Major General John Lejeune’s 2d Division of Marines — including Pvt. John Kelly.
At the start of the near-monthlong battle, Kelly ran through no-man’s land, 100 yards ahead of an allied artillery barrage — straight toward a machine gun nest.
He chucked a grenade into the nest, killing one of the Germans. Then he took out the other using his sidearm.
The American advance at St. Etienne turned the tide of the Battle of Blanc Mont against the Germans. By Oct. 28, the area they occupied since the very start of the World War was now firmly in Allied hands.
Kelly was awarded both the Army and Navy Medals of Honor by General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, in 1919. With the war over, Kelly left the military and returned to civilian life.
He returned to his native Illinois, where he died in 1957.
Ever wonder where planes go to die? After their last mission, Air Force aircraft doesn’t just disappear. They retire to Arizona. And, if they’re salvageable, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) makes sure they get recycled. If you were to fly over the Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, know what you’d see? The resting place of thousands of retired aircraft. Davis is nicknamed “The Boneyard” for good reason – the base houses nearly 2,600 acres of aircraft, many of them retired and disassembled.
AMARG Air Force Graveyard’s location in Arizona has very good reasons. The desert climate is perfect for storing this vast quantity of aircraft. The risk of corrosion or other damage from the elements is low.
Parked at The Boneyard are more than 4,000 aircraft. If they were still in use, this number of planes would make up the second-largest air force in the world. Pretty wild to think that they’re all just sitting at the Boneyard, aging gracefully. Some of the aircraft are full-on retired, ceremony and all. But the rest are in storage. Sometimes those aircraft get repurposed for training and other uses.
Retired Aircraft Save Taxpayers Money
The US Air Force, along with most other US government agencies, sends their retired aircraft to this Arizona location to be “recycled.” They are either disassembled for parts to use in other aircraft or sold as scrap metal.
The goal of this program is to save taxpayers money. We’ve been doing it this way since WWII. For every dollar that is spent on AMARG’s mission, almost $11 is returned to the national treasury. That’s a pretty solid return.
The Boneyard is Full of Military History
Not long after WWII ended, the surplus of aircraft around the globe was astounding. Some of them still had use for parts or scrap, while others, entire fleets even, became obsolete. Then there are also the planes that simply needed regeneration and storage until their next use. The problem was, there was nowhere to put all these aircraft. That’s when they started ferrying them over to Arizona.
Since 1962, Davis Monthan AFB has been the complete storage facility for all government aircraft. This includes Coast Guard, NASA, Border Patrol, Marine, and Navy aircraft, plus Reserve and National Guard units.
For the aircraft historian, Davis presents a bounty unlike anything else. The variety, age, and rarity of aircraft calling the Boneyard home is astounding. So many a budding historian will eventually find themselves walking the lanes, exploring the aircraft.
These days, our aircraft production isn’t nearly what it used to be. So fewer types of aircraft are produced. At some point, the Boneyard might not exist, – all the more reason for aircraft and military history buffs to get their fill in now.
Captain Lawrence Dickson was just 24 when his red-tailed P-51 Mustang fighter was downed in 1944. He was an African-American fighter pilot, trained at the Army’s famed Tuskegee Army Airfield. Of the more than 1,000 black pilots trained at Tuskegee’s segregated flying school, Dickson was one of 27 to go missing in action over Nazi-occupied Europe. Presumed dead, his remains went missing for more than 70 years.
Dickson was leading an escort for a photo reconnaissance mission that day, taking off from an Allied airfield in Italy, bound for Prague. But Dickson’s plane began to have engine trouble. No sooner did the pilot radio his squadron about the issue did his wingman report Dickson clearing the canopy of his fighter to bail out, according to the Washington Post. He made the jump at 26,000 feet.
No wreckage or parachute evidence was ever found.
Before taking off for the last time on Dec. 23, 1944, Lawrence Dickson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Since it was his 68th mission, he was just two shy of getting to go back to the U.S. for leave from the war. Considering the war in Europe would end less than six months later, he very likely would have survived.
In August, 2017, a team of researchers in the Austrian Alps came across the wreckage of a P-51 Mustang and some human remains. They contacted the U.S. Army. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency analyst Joshua Frank found a crash site similar to Dickson’s listed in captured Nazi downed aircraft records. The DoD agency tested the DNA of the body found at the site against those of his now-75-year-old daughter, Marla Andrews.
Lawrence E. Dickson (second left), pictured in 1942 with other airmen at Tuskegee Army Army Air Field.
It was a match.
Sadly, Dickson’s wife Phyllis did not live to the see his remains repatriated to the United States. All she was ever told was that his body was nonrecoverable in 1949. But his daughter Marla still decorates her home with photos of her heroic father, his training certificates, and his medal citations.
She also keeps the letter from her father’s wingman, written 50 years after the war’s end.
“The act of writing to you so many years after … brings to me a sadness. And yet I hope it will bring you a moment of peaceful remembrance of a loving father whom you lost.”
Before women were allowed to join the military, Cathay Williams decided that she wouldn’t let her gender, or the color of her skin, get in the way of her ambitions. She became the first known African American woman in American history to join the armed forces by disguising herself as a man.
Williams was born into slavery in the year 1842 in Independence, Mo. She was a house slave for William Johnson, a planter in Jefferson City, Mo. During the beginning of the Civil War, Williams was claimed to have been “freed” by Union soldiers, but was forced to work for the Federal Army as a paid cook and laundress.
During her time serving in the Federal Army, she gained an insight into military life by answering directly to two Union Generals, one of whom was General Philip Sheridan. After the war ended, Williams did not have the means of supporting herself, but she wasn’t about to let her newly garnered freedom get snuffed out like a flame.
In November 1866, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the U.S. Army as William Cathay. Full-on medical exams weren’t mandatory at the time, and Williams was able to pas a quick, general health check before filing in among the ranks.
She was found fit for duty and assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A, an all-black regiment in St. Louis, Mo. which, eventually, became a part of the renowned Buffalo Soldiers. Apparently, the only two people knew her secret — a friend and a cousin — both of whom served alongside her in the same regiment. They never divulged her charade.
Williams traveled with her regiment and helped protect miners and immigrants from Apache attacks at Fort Cummings, Mo. Unfortunately, military service took its toll on Williams. She was in and out of the hospital for most of her service due to neuralgia (pain caused by a pinched nerve). Surprisingly, it was six months after her first hospitalization when they found out that she was a woman.
After the truth was revealed, Williams was discharged from the Army honorably on October 14, 1868. Little of her life is known after she was discharged, except for her attempts to get a pension for the disabilities that she incurred from military service.
Sadly, Williams never received compensation for her medical issues. The Pension Bureau claimed her illnesses were pre-existing and, because she was a woman, her service was not considered legal, disqualifying her from pension pay.
She may not have intended to become a prominent figure in history, but one thing is for sure, Cathay Williams will forever be regarded as the first and only female Buffalo Soldier to have served in the U.S. Army.