After enlisting in the Army in June of 1941, Vernon Baker was assigned to the 270th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division — the first black unit to head into combat during WWII.
After completing Officer Candidate School, Baker was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Soon after, he landed in Naples, Italy, and had to fight his way north through the enemies’ front to the central portion of the country.
His unit was then ordered to attack a German stronghold in the mountains of Viareggio. Several allied battalions before them were unsuccessful in taking the enemy region, but Baker was up to the task.
The mountain-top consisted of three hills, “X, Y, and Z.” Baker and his troops began taking the heavily fortified area one hill at a time.
Facing fierce opposition, Baker often came in close enemy contact and managed to survive each deadly encounter as it presented itself.
“Somebody was sitting on my shoulder,” Baker says.
Full of adrenaline from taking the first hill, Baker was handed a submachine gun from a superior officer and instructed to proceed on to the next area.
Patroling nearly on his own, Baker spotted a small German firing position built into the side of the mountain. Armed with a few grenades, he chucked one and landed a perfect strike.
After it detonated and the smoke cleared, a German soldier stuck his head to look around. Baker quickly engaged the troop, killing him on the spot.
Baker continued to maneuver his way around the mountain and spotted two more firing position — tossing grenades inside each one — killing the enemy troops inside.
After learning the company commander was egressing for resupply, Baker knew he was on his own to lead his remaining troops. Carefully moving through the dangerous terrain, Baker and his men managed to secure the area after several intense firefights.
The next morning, Baker and his men moved through the dangerous terrain and secured the area after several hours of allied bombardment.
52-year later, Baker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and courage from former President Bill Clinton.
England also had a lengthy track record of success in competitive shooting, including winning the Leech Cup — the oldest competitive shooting trophy in the United States.
England rates as perhaps the most obscure of the snipers who out-shot Hathcock. Aside from some photos taken during the 2011 Memorial Day Parade in Union County, Georgia, few, if any, photos of this legend are publicly available.
Second Place: Chuck Mawhinney – 103 confirmed kills
Chuck Mawhinney served from 1967-1970 in the Marine Corps. According to a 2000 Los Angeles Times article, he spent 16 months in Vietnam. After leaving the Marine Corps, he worked in the United States Forest Service.
Mawhinney’s youth was spent hunting, and he chose the Marines because they allowed him to delay his entry until after deer season. Some Marine recruiter did his country a service with that call.
Mawhinney noted that every one of his kills had a weapon — with one notable exception: A North Vietnamese Army paymaster who he took out from 900 yards away.
Today, Mawhinney is talking about what he has done, seeking to dispel the many stereotypes of snipers that are in people’s minds.
1st Place: Adelbert Waldron — 109 confirmed kills
America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War wasn’t a Marine. He served with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army. Yeah, you read that right. Marines got all the press and the glory, but an Army guy was the top sniper shot of the Vietnam War.
Waldron had served in the United States Navy for 12 years before going to civilian life. In 1968, he enlisted in the Army. SniperCentral.com noted that Waldron spent 16 months in Vietnam. Waldron primarily used the M21 Sniper Weapon System, a modified M14.
Waldron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice. He also was awarded the Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. Still, he never talked about his service with the media, and died in 1995. His total would be the top score for an American sniper until Chris Kyle totaled 160 during the Global War on Terror.
So, when it comes to Vietnam War snipers, the legendary “White Feather” ranks at number four.
The man who would construct American armored units in France in World War I and lead combined arms units, with armor at the forefront, in World War II got his start leading cavalrymen and cars in Mexico. In fact, he probably led the first American motor-vehicle attack.
Pancho Villa, 5, Gen. John J. Pershing, 7, and Lt. George S. Patton Jr., 8, at a border conference in Texas in 1914.
He attended West Point, became an Army officer, designed a saber for enlisted cavalrymen, and pursued battlefield command. When Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing was sent to Mexico to capture raiders under Pancho Villa, Patton came along.
Patton was on staff, so his chances of frontline service were a bit limited in the short term. But he made his own opportunities. And in Mexico, he did so in May 1916.
U.S. Army soldiers on the Punitive Expedition in 1916.
(U.S. Department of Defense)
Patton led a foraging expedition of about a dozen men in three Dodge Touring Cars. Their job was just to buy food for the American soldiers, but one of the interpreters, himself a former bandit, recognized a man at one of the stops. Patton knew that a senior member of Villa’s gang was supposed to be hiding nearby, and so he began a search of nearby farms.
At San Miguelito, the men noticed someone running inside a home and Patton ordered six to cover the front of the house and sent two against the southern wall. Three riders tried to escape, and they rode right at Patton who shot two of their horses as the third attempted to flee. Several soldiers took shots at him and managed to knock him off his horse.
An Associated Press report from the 1916 engagement. Historians are fairly certain that this initial report got the date and total number of U.S. participants wrong, believing the engagement actually took place on May 14 and involved 10 Americans.
(Newspapers.com, public domain)
It was a small, short engagement, but it boded well for the young cavalry officer. He had made a name for himself with Pershing, America’s greatest military mind at the time. He had also gotten into newspapers across the U.S. He was his typical, brash self when he wrote to his wife about the incident:
You are probably wondering if my conscience hurts me for killing a man [at home in front of his family]. It does not.
Patton’s bold leadership in Mexico set the stage for even greater responsibility a few short years later.
Lt. col. George S. Patton Jr., standing in front of a French Renault tank in the summer of 1918, just two years after he led a motor-vehicle charge in Mexico against bandits.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps)
When America joined World War I, Pershing was placed in command of the American Expeditionary Force.
Patton, interested in France and Britain’s new tanks, wrote a letter to Pershing asking to have his name considered for a slot if America stood up its own tank corps. He pointed out that he had cavalry experience, experience leading machine gunners, and, you know, was the only American officer known to have led a motorized car attack.
Pershing agreed, and on Nov. 10, 1917, Patton became the first American soldier assigned to tank warfare. He stood up the light tank school for the AEF and eventually led America’s first tank units into combat.
On Sept. 6, 2005, Air Force Pararescueman Master Sgt. Mike Maroney plucked 3-year-old LaShay Brown out of flood-ravaged New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
And for a decade after that, they lost touch.
At the time of the rescue, Maroney had spent six days on missions, and was battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
“When we were going to drop [Brown] off she wrapped me in a hug…that hug was everything. Time stopped,” Maroney said in a 2015 Air Force release. “Words fail to express what that hug means to me.”
The hug was captured in an iconic photo by Veronica Pierce, an airman first class at the time. Maroney didn’t know who Brown was, or how she’d fared.
The PJ went on to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, keeping the photo to inspire him during tough moments. But according to a 2015 Air Force release, he always wondered what happened to the girl, especially around the anniversary of the rescue.
In 2015, they were reunited after 10 years on an episode of “The Real.” Since then, they’ve have stayed in touch.
Two years later, LaShay, now a Junior ROTC cadet, invited Maroney to her school’s JROTC ball. And Maroney accepted.
“I’m going because I would do anything to repay the hug to LaShay and her family. They mean as much to me as my own,” Maroney told People.com.
LaShay has intentions of joining the military but hasn’t decided which branch she will choose, a decision Maroney supports.
“I am proud of her no matter what she does and will support her in everything she does,” he told People. “I think she understands service and I believe that she will do great things no matter what she chooses.”
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant faced a quandary in his Overland Campaign driving towards Richmond. Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee were dug into what seemed like an invulnerable network of trenchworks and rifle pits near Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia. Several initial attacks had been bloodily repulsed, and even the weakest point of the Confederate line, a bulge around Laurel Hill known as the Muleshoe, seemed like an impossible nut to crack.
Grant, seeing that an assault on the Muleshoe was his best bet despite its formidable fortifications, decided try the unorthodox suggestion of Col. Emory Upton, a brash young officer who had distinguished himself earlier in the war. Standard infantry tactics of the day had long lines of infantry attacking in a wave, with reserves to exploit whatever breach happened in the enemy line.
Upton instead arranged his 12 regiments, composed of roughly 5,000 men, in one long tight column of only four ranks, with three regiments to a rank. They would charge at full speed toward the west side of the Muleshoe, without stopping to reload or help the wounded until they breached the Confederate fortifications. They would essentially function as a human battering ram.
Just after 6 p.m. on May 10, 1864, the plan went forward. With a wild yell, the column sprung from its concealment in the woods and charged over 200 yards across open ground. The enemy rifle pits studding the fortifications only had time to get off a few volleys before the Union column breached their earthworks, and they even overran the half-built second line 75 yards behind the first. Lack of coordination with supporting Union units to exploit the breach and a ferocious Confederate counterattack forced Upton to retreat, but the attack had netted over a thousand Confederate prisoners and seemed to prove that Upton’s tactics could work.
Grant was impressed with the initial success of the attack and decided to repeat Upton’s idea, but on a far grander scale and with better coordination. Over 20,000 men from Gen. Winfield Hancock’s 2nd Corps would attack the northern tip of the Muleshoe, each of his three divisions forming a similar long column to overwhelm a single point of the Confederate line.
The attack launched during a pouring rain on the dawn of the May 12. The Confederate troops guarding the northern point had heard the rumble of thousands of troops assembling the night before and were on alert, but the pouring rain prevented many of their muskets from firing and they were overwhelmed by the sheer force of the bayonet assault. More than 4,000 Confederate prisoners were taken and Hancock’s attack seemed on the verge of splitting the Confederate army in half, but a Confederate reserve division desperately thrown into the mix managed to stop the Union assault, which had become hopelessly tangled and confused in the elaborate fortifications. Lee himself came riding up to personally lead the counterattack, but his frantic troops, terrified that the famed general would be killed or captured, urged him back to the rear.
The supporting Union attack composed of 15,000 troops hit the northwest point of the salient 300 yards from Hancock’s attack, moving against where the Confederate fortifications formed an angle to support 2nd Corps. This 200-yard stretch of ground turned into a hand to hand slugfest in pouring rain and mud several feet deep in some points. Waves of troops fired point blank into each other’s faces and clubbed each other with muskets, with many wounded drowning in the mud. The ferocious fighting continued for over 20 hours long into the night. The survivors of the engagement later called the spot the ‘Bloody Angle.’
Lee had quietly begun withdrawing troops to a hasty new line in the rear, and by 3 a.m. the fighting had ended with Union soldiers too exhausted to pursue. In the abattoir of the Bloody Angle there had been over 17,000 casualties from both sides, and though there were other skirmishes in the coming days Grant eventually withdrew his battered army to the southwest to force Lee out of his fortifications, for a later battle under hopefully more favorable circumstances.
The Bloody Angle was an example of an innovative idea that had turned into a disaster when implemented on a larger scale. Attacks in long columns against heavy fortifications were too apt to get tangled up amongst enemy obstacles and their own numbers, leaving them extremely vulnerable to enemy counterattack unless supporting assaults were perfectly coordinated. Enemy defenses in depth blunted whatever initial gains could be made. Upton’s tactics, however promising, could not solve the perennial Civil War problem of the superiority of defensive firepower against the frontal assault, a problem that would loom its head again 50 years later in World War I.
At only two times in American history have father-son pairs both earned Medals of Honor. One pair was based in the Civil War and then World War II combat, and the other pair in the Spanish-American War and World War I combat. All four would make their last names famous for generations to come.
Arthur MacArthur earned his fame rushing the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge.
(Images: Public domain; Graphic: WATM)
Arthur MacArthur receives the medal for actions in 1863
First Lt. Arthur MacArthur was only 18 and an adjutant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry when the regiment was arrayed against stiff defenses on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee near the border with Georgia. The Confederates had used this position to harass and attack Union forces for some time, and it was the last great barrier to the invasion of Georgia.
But the Confederate forces had a line of rifle pits at the base of ridge and trenches and other defenses at the top. The Union attack was ordered against the ridge, and confused orders led to a successful melee in the pits, but then a sporadic and faltering attack up toward the trenches.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in World War II.
Douglas MacArthur defends the Philippines until all is lost
Arthur would retire as a lieutenant general, but one of his sons would eclipse him in valor awards and rank. Douglas MacArthur was already a full general, and the recipient of seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses when Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941.
It was quickly apparent that Japan would have the upper hand, but Douglas was at least as tenacious as his father. He had his men establish defensive line after defensive line, conducting a controlled withdrawal that soaked the ground in blood for every inch they gave up. Eventually, he was forced to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula, allowing his men to defend themselves in more mountainous terrain, but also cutting off further escape and giving up the cities.
Col. Theodore Roosevelt as the commander of the Rough Riders.
Teddy Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt campaigned hard for war with Spain, and when the U.S. declared that war in April 1898, he wasn’t about to leave the fighting to everyone else. But, he knew the war might be short and that he was not yet ready to command a regiment. So he agitated for the creation of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, but he used his connections to be the second-ranking officer, not the commander.
He got his wish and was brought into the Volunteer Army as a lieutenant colonel and sent to Cuba, but only 8 of the 12 companies were able to get space on the ships, and none of their horses were brought over. Still, they performed well and, on July 1, 1898, were sent against the defenses on San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba. By this point, Roosevelt had been promoted to commander.
At left, Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., he would later serve in World War II as a brigadier general and earn the Medal of Honor.
(Library of Congress)
His son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would never attain the presidency like his father did, but he would fight in World Wars I and II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in World War I, and then came back into service in World War II as an almost 60-year-old man. But still, he earned another two Silver Stars in combat in North Africa near one of his own sons (who also earned a Silver Star, there).
In the preparations for D-Day, he pushed repeatedly for permission to go ashore with the first wave, but his division commander kept denying it on the basis of the brigadier’s rank and age. So, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote to his distant cousin, then-President Franklin Roosevelt. Before the reply came back, the division commander finally relented and gave Roosevelt, Jr., permission, certain he would never see him again.
The 4th Infantry Division, like nearly everyone else that day, landed out of position, but they were lucky to have their deputy commanding general there to take charge. Roosevelt, Jr., personally led infantry waves into position under fire multiple times while walking with a cane. His re-making of the division landing plan was credited with keeping Omaha Beach open, and the commanding general gave his compliments when he landed with a later wave.
On every map of the European Union, there’s a gray blob right in the middle. That’s Switzerland, a country synonymous with political neutrality. During both World Wars, they hid away in the mountaintops and watched from the sidelines. They don’t really care to join the EU, but are apart of the Schengen Area because “meh.” And even their citizens share the same “whatever” mentality about everything. Switzerland is probably the last country you’d expect to invade Liechtenstein, a country smaller than Washington D.C., three different times.
In Switzerland’s defense, it was all on accident and Liechtenstein was surprisingly cool after each trespass. A spokesman from Liechtenstein said, “It’s not like they invaded with attack helicopters.”
1. December 5th, 1985
The first time was probably the only aggressive accident of the bunch. During an artillery exercise, the Swiss Army had launched munitions in the middle a winter storm. Instead of landing on the designated target, the wind took the munitions and they landed way off course, in the Bannwald Forest of Liechtenstein, and started a forest fire.
No one was injured and the Swiss paid several million Swiss Francs in compensation for damages.
2. October 13th, 1992
The second invasion of Liechtenstein was by two Swiss recruits. They were given written orders to establish an observation post and set up a perimeter in Triesenberg — and they followed their orders to a ‘T.’
The problem being: Triesenberg isn’t in Switzerland.
3. March 2nd, 2007
On a rainy March night, 171 Swiss troops were training near the border, doing land navigation training. The company commander took his men through the Alpine forest near the border, leading his men about 2 km (about 1.25 miles) into Liechtenstein before realizing he caused an international incident.
Everything would have been forgotten if the Swiss Armed Forces hadn’t apologized for it. Liechtenstein had no idea it had even happened, but accepted the apology nonetheless.
Photographical journey through the Allied snipers of World War II. Most are British and, or Canadian Snipers using the British Lee Enfield.
The first photograph shows a sniper demonstrating his camouflage (note: German Waffen-SS Camo Pattern: named unofficially “Early Plane Tree”) at a sniper school in a French village, July 27, 1944. The lesson here was probably “Know Your Enemy” to demonstrate how German Snipers were clothed.
A sniper applying camouflage face cream at a sniper school in a Normandy village, July 27, 1944.
A British sniper takes aim through the telescopic sights of his rifle on the range at a sniper training school in France, July 27, 1944.
Snipers training at the same sniper school as the photographs above, somewhere in a French village, July 27, 1944.
A 6th Airborne Division sniper on patrol in the Ardennes, wearing a snow camouflage suit, January 14, 1945.
A British sniper, Private Sutcliffe, seated at a window of a house in Caen watching for enemy snipers through telescopic sights.
A camouflage suit for a sniper of the British Army.
A sniper from C Company, 5th Battalion, The Black Watch , 51st (Highland) Division, in position in the loft space of a ruined building in Gennep, Holland, February 14, 1945.
A sniper from the Seaforth Highlanders takes aim from behind a carrier as 15th (Scottish) Division troops deal with German resistance in Uelzen, April 16, 1945.
Lance Corporal A P Proctor, a sniper with 56th Division, cleaning his rifle, November 24, 1943.
Canadian Sniper, Pte. L. V. Hughe in World War II.
Sergeant H.A. Marshall of the Calgary Highlanders Sniping Platoon. Kapellen, Belgium.
Image Credits: Imperial War Museum and Canadian War Archives under C.C. License
There’s no doubt that Air Force continues to advance its air-power capabilities. In 2015, the Air Force introduced its new multi-role fighter jet, the F-35A Lightning II. Once all the particulars are fine-tuned, this airframe is slated to eventually replace the F-16 and A-10. But along with its strides in technological advancement comes the breaking of gender-biased boundaries.
That same year, the first female F-35 pilot was assigned as the deputy commander of 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group at Eglin Air Force Base. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Mau was appointed one of 88 pilots qualified to fly the F-35. Graduating from the Air Force Academy and having a family history of pilots is what led Mau towards becoming a pilot herself. Today, she is still the only female F-35 pilot.
Before Mau took on the F-35, she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was a part of the first all-female maintenance and planning crew. During this time, she flew the first all-female combat sortie and aided in successfully launching an F-15E Strike Eagle combat mission against insurgents in Kunar Valley, Afghanistan.
Mau’s combat experience played a crucial role in putting the F-35 through its test runs and maintenance. The first squadron of combat-ready F-35s were given the all clear in 2016. Essentially, only the most qualified pilots handle the responsibility of ensuring these jets live up to their functionality and potential.
Although women have been a part of combat aviation for the past twenty years, Mau’s accomplishment is nothing short of history in the making. Some might think that gender plays a role in the ability to fight in war, but Mau has proved that sentiment false.
One thing is for sure, Mau doesn’t let her gender stop her from reaching her goals nor from inspiring others to achieve theirs. In an interview with CNN, Mau states,
The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support. You just have to perform. That’s all anyone cares about when you’re up there — that you can do your job, and that you do it exceptionally well.
From the punitive expedition to Mexico before World War I to the mountains of Korea, American service members relied on one iconic pistol above any other, the Colt M1911. In fact, some special operators still carry modified and reworked versions of the same sidearm today.
The famous pistol came, like many of the best weapons, from an urgent battlefield necessity. Soldiers and Marines fighting the Spanish in the Phillippines during the Spanish-American War ended up in combat with a rebel group that had been active in the islands for years, the Moro.
The Moro fighters were known as fanatics and used opiates to keep going even if they were hit. The troops engaged in combat with them found out quickly that their pistols, .38-caliber weapons, often needed a few hits to bring down a fighter. This gave attacking Moro fighters time to get an extra couple knife swings or trigger pulls in before they were killed.
Soldiers reached back to their last sidearm, the Colt Model 1873 Revolver which fired a .45-caliber round. The .45 got the job done, and the Army put out a call for a modern weapon that fired it, preferably with semi-automatic technology and smokeless powder.
After a long competition, the winner was a Colt pistol from famed designer John Browning. It was a semi-automatic weapon that fired the desired .45-caliber cartridge packed with smokeless powder, allowing troops to defend themselves with lots of firepower on demand without giving away their position.
The Army designated the weapon the M1911 for the year it was adopted and got it out to the field. The gun got a trial with the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916 where it performed admirably, but it cemented its place in troops’ hearts in 1917 when the American Doughboys carried it with them to Europe.
In World War I, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps carried the weapon. Army Cpl. Alvin C. York was part of an attack through German lines to destroy or capture some enemy machine guns. The initial attack was successful but everything went sideways and York was the highest ranking of the survivors.
Army Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., another Medal of Honor recipient, used the pistol after he was shot down in an attempt to fight off the German infantry trying to take him prisoner. While Luke was eventually killed, he took seven of the infantrymen with him.
Love for the M1911 spread to America’s allies. Great Britain, for instance, bought the guns for the Navy and the Flying Corps. In World War II, the Colt M1911 was once again the pistol of choice and Americans were lucky enough to get it as standard issue.
Through Korea and Vietnam, the M1911 was the standard sidearm and a favorite of troops who cited its stopping power, ergonomics, and reliability.
But the weapon’s .45-caliber ammunition made it less operable with NATO allies and when the U.S. encouraged standardizing weapons and ammo across the alliance, it was sent to the chopping block. In 1992, the military branches transitioned to the Beretta M9 and its smaller 9mm ammunition.
But some M1911s are still floating around as special operations units reworked the M1911A1 variant introduced in 1926, allowing them to use the .45-caliber ammunition.
History has shown that all American spies are not created equal in terms of the damage their efforts have done to military readiness. Here are 11 of the worst:
1. Julius Rosenberg gave Russia plans for nuclear bombs.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in 1950 for espionage thought to date back to 1940. They were most famous for giving the Soviet Union atomic secrets, specifically the design for the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The spy ring Julius operated was also responsible for giving the Soviets proximity fuses and radar tubes, two technologies key to effective air defenses which would have played a large part if the Cold War had ever turned hot.
Documents from the Venona Project have shown that Ethel may not have been involved. Her brother, who was caught before the Rosenbergs and testified against both of them, later said that Ethel was not part of the ring. Julius and Ethel were both executed in 1953 after a controversial trial. The trial was called a sham, especially the case against Ethel Rosenberg. It was so hotly contested, it soured America’s relationship with France.
2. Noshir Gowadia gave B-2 Stealth technology to China.
Noshir Gowadia is an Indian-American who was an engineer on early stages of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Though Gowadia was paid $45,000 for his work, he was angry that he wasn’t kept on the project for future phases that were worth much more money. Gowadia wrote to a relative about his dissatisfaction and started his own consulting company.
In 2005, federal investigators arrived at his Maui, Hawaii home to collect evidence that he had knowledge of an effort to help China develop stealth technology for their cruise missiles. Gowadia admitted to many of the accusations, though he claimed he had only used declassified materials. A jury disagreed, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison, disappointing prosecutors who had sought life imprisonment.
China is too closed off to know for sure which stealth designs use information from Gowadia, but China now has a stealth fighter and multiple cruise missiles that are hard to detect on infrared.
3. Chi Mak’s betrayal put modern sailors in jeopardy.
Chi Mak’s activities are hard to get exact, since much of his espionage career is still unknown. The FBI began investigating him in 2004, and the case went to trial in 2007. Mak had worked on Navy engines as an engineer for a defense contractor and had collected sensitive information from other engineers before sending collections of it to China.
When the FBI raided Mak’s home, first in secret and later after arresting Mak and his wife, they found stacks and stacks of classified information relating to naval technology, much of it still going into new Navy ships. The exact nature of what was released has not been made public since the technologies are still classified.
Mak is serving a nearly 24-year, six-month prison sentence after his conviction in 2007. The other spies who worked with Mak plead guilty, receiving shorter prison sentences and deportation orders.
4. Ana Montes deliberately misled the joint chiefs while leaking secrets to Cuba.
From 1984 to 2001, Ana Montes was slipping classified information to Cuba. Hers was a case of spycraft straight out of a novel. She’d don disguises to slip into Cuba, listen in South Florida to shortwave radio broadcasts from Cuba, and slip packages to handlers. And, she did all of it with two FBI siblings and another FBI agent as a sister-in-law. Ana’s sister was a hero of an FBI crackdown in southern Florida that netted other members of Ana’s spy ring, including her handler.
Montes operated by memorizing documents at her desk, first in the Department of Justice and later in the Defense Intelligence Agency, and then typing them on her personal computer at night. She received medals from both the U.S. and Cuba for her activities, though only Cuba gave her a contracted lover. Before she was caught, she had become a regular briefer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. When she was finally arrested, she was pending a promotion to the CIA Security Council. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence.
5. Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames dimed out every American spy they could name.
Though they’re combined on this list because their main damage to the U.S. military was in exposing an American spy in Soviet Russia, Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames were two of the most damaging spies in U.S. history. Ames only operated from 1985 to 1993, while Hanssen spied from 1979 to 2001.
6. John Anthony Walker told the Russians where all the U.S. subs were during the Cold War.
John Walker was a Navy Warrant Officer who made some bad investments and found himself strapped for cash. So, in late 1967 he copied a document from the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. and carried it home. The next morning, he took it to the Soviet Embassy in Washington where he leaked it.
For the next 18 years, Walker would leak the locations and encryption codes for U.S. assets as well as operational plans and other documents. He even recruited his son into the operation and tried to recruit his daughter who served in the Army, but she was pregnant and separating from the service. There are even claims that the sinking of the nuclear armed USS Scorpion was due to Walker’s espionage.
Walker and his son were finally caught after Walker’s ex-wife told everything to the FBI. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said the Soviet Union gained, “access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics” as a result of Walker’s spying. It’s thought that some advances in Russian naval technology were given to them by Walker. He died in prison last year.
7. Larry Chin may have made the Korean War go on much longer.
Larry Wu-Tai Chin was a translator for the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he became a translator for the CIA until his arrest in 1985. During this time, Chin passed many documents and photographs along to his Chinese handlers.
Some experts claim Chin’s actions during the Korean War, when he gave the Chinese government the name of prisoners he interrogated, made the Korean War last longer. Chin told the Chinese government everything that was revealed during the interrogations. He was arrested in 1985 and convicted of all charges, but he killed himself before he was sentenced.
8. James Nicholson sold the intelligence team roster to Moscow.
Harold James Nicholson’s espionage weakened U.S. observation of the Russian Federation during the mid-’90s. Nicholson was the head of CIA officer training program for two years, and he is believed to have sold the identities of all new officers trained during his tenure. In addition, he sold the assignment information for new officers headed on their first assignment.
In an affidavit discussing the case against Nicholson, the lead investigator pointed to two ways that Nicholson directly compromised military operations. First, he gave away the identity of a CIA operative heading to Moscow to collect information on the Russian military. Second, he gave the Russians the exact staffing requirements for the Moscow CIA bureau, allowing them to better prevent leaks to the U.S. of classified military information.
Nicholson was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 25 years. From prison, he doubled down on espionage by teaching his son spy tradecraft, telling him state secrets, and then having his son meet up with old Russian contacts to collect money. He confessed to this second round of espionage in 2010.
9. James Hall III sold top-secret signal programs to the Soviets.
U.S. Army signal intelligence warrant officer James Hall was assigned to a crucial listening post in West Berlin from 1982 to 1985. While he was there, he was feeding information on key programs to his Soviet handlers. Hall released tons of documents, intercepts, and encryption codes, exposing many operations to Soviet eyes.
Arguably his most damaging action was letting the Soviets know about Project Trojan. Trojan would have allowed, in the case of war, the U.S. and its allies to target Russian armored vehicles, missiles, and planes by tracking their communication signals. Since Russia had the clear advantage in armored warfare at this point, the success or failure of Trojan could have decided who won the start of a war.
Hall had more limited access to crucial information when he was reassigned to the United States. In 1988, he bragged about his 6 years of spying to an undercover FBI agent. Hall was tried and sentenced, serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas until his release in 2011.
10. Col. George Trofimoff gave it all to the KGB through his brother the archbishop.
When George Trofimoff was finally arrested in 2000, he was just a bag boy. As a retired Army Reserve colonel though, he is the highest-ranking American ever convicted of espionage. Trofimoff spied for the Soviet Union from 1969 to 1994, a 25-year career.
The worst of the damage was done while Trofimoff was the chief of the U.S. Army’s operations at a NATO safe house where Soviet defectors were debriefed. The safe house had copies of nearly all U.S. intelligence estimates on Soviet military strength. Most weekends, Trofimoff would takes bags of documents home from the safe house, photograph them, and return them to the office before giving the photos to his brother, a Russian Orthodox priest who would go on to become the Archbishop of Vienna.
Trofimoff was arrested at his home at 1427 Patriot Drive and tried for espionage in 2000. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
11. Benedict Arnold tried to abort America.
A traitor who almost strangled America in her crib, Gen. Benedict Arnold is so infamous that his name is used to mean treachery. He was once a hero of the revolution though, attaining multiple victories through brilliance of maneuver. His greatest feat was his victory at the Battle of Saratoga, which convinced France that it was worth it to come out in support of American independence.
Arnold lost his wife during the war and found himself the target of personal and professional attacks from politicians. Convinced that the war would fail and harboring deep resentment of the American political system, Arnold handed over the plans to West Point and agreed to surrender the defenses in exchange for 20,000 British pounds (approximately $3 million today).
But the plans were intercepted and Arnold fled to England. The Revolutionary Army was shaken by the loss of a major hero while they were still fighting against the better equipped and trained British Forces. Arnold would live out his life in England as a rich man, but forever be known as a traitor.
Bonus: Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden
While not technically spies since they didn’t work for a foreign government, the classified intelligence revealed by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are the two most famous leaks in recent memory. Both released tons of documents embarrassing to the U.S. and damaging for foreign relations.
Manning stole documents from his work in Army intelligence by storing them on an SD card and sending the files to Wikileaks. The leak included state department cables, detailed event logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a video of an Apache mistakenly engaging Reuters journalists.
Snowden’s leak was the more damaging. Roughly 200,000 thousand stolen documents were given to journalists, some leading to the compromise of U.S. intelligence operations abroad. Approximately 1.7 million documents were stolen, though Snowden has given conflicting reports on whether they’ve been destroyed or are stored.
Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence while Snowden is living in Russia to avoid prosecution in the U.S.
Imagine looking out your window to see an eerie green glow resonating from your neighbor’s shed. Or seeing government trucks being loaded with barrels marked radioactive by men dressed in hazmat suits outside your home.
The residents of Golf Manor, Michigan, don’t have to imagine it, because in 1995, a young teenage boy built a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother’s potting shed, an idea he came up with while working on his Atomic Energy merit badge in attempt to earn Eagle Scout status.
At an age when most adolescents are consumed with sports, friends, or dating, Hahn spent his free time conducting chemical experiments. Much to the chagrin of his parents, he had several chemical spills and even created an explosion that rocked their tiny house and left David “lying semi-conscious on the floor, his eyebrows smoking.”
Even his scout troop was not immune to his scientific curiosity. David once appeared at a scout meeting, “with a bright orange face caused by an overdose of canthaxanthin, which he was taking to test methods of artificial tanning.” Then there was the night at camp where his fellow scouts accidentally ignited a pile of powdered magnesium he had brought to make fireworks.
There’s no question that David was increasingly bold in his attempts to learn more about the chemical compounds of our world, but even with the goal in mind to build a nuclear breeder reactor, you have to wonder how he obtained the radioactive elements.
David worked a series of jobs at fast-food joints and grocery stores after school to finance his experiments. He admitted to Harper’s that he used several aliases and a string of mail communications with individuals working for agencies that control nuclear elements. None were as helpful as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where David was able to engage the agency’s director, Donald Erb.
Erb provided David with a list of contacts who provide commercial sale of some elements and how to harvest others. David broke apart smoke detectors to obtain americium-241, commercial gas lanterns provided him thorium-232, and with the help of a Geiger counter, he found an antique luminous clock that contained a vial of radium paint used to keep the clock face glowing. He even purchased $1000 worth of batteries to extract the lithium.
After several attempts to create energy, David was finally successful but he soon learned that his small reactor was producing so much radiation that it was spreading through his neighborhood. Unfortunately, his safety precautions only consisted of wearing a makeshift lead poncho and throwing away his clothes and shoes following a session in the potting shed. So he took apart the reactor.
Stashing some of the more radioactive elements in his house and the rest in his car, he was later found by the police after a call was made about a young man trying to steal tires. The police opened his trunk to find an array of scientific materials and a tool box locked with a padlock and sealed with duct tape. The police were rightly concerned about the box, and after David advised that it was radioactive, they were worried he had a nuclear bomb.
While being questioned by the police, David’s parents became afraid that they would lose their house, so they ransacked his room and his “laboratory” and tossed everything they could find. This left the authorities with nothing but what was in the car.
“The funny thing is, they only got the garbage, and the garbage got all the good stuff,” Hahn told Harper’s.
David never went back to his experiments and later served four years in the U.S. Navy – including service aboard the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. He also briefly served in the Marine Corps before returning home to Michigan. In 2016, David died from alcohol poisoning – not from exposure to radiation.
Though David Hahn is gone, the small town of Golf Manor will never forget their “Radioactive Boy.”
From the time he was a boy, Merian C. Cooper wanted to be an adventurer, a wish that propelled him into journalism, the National Guard, military aviation, two world wars, and the cinematic killing of King Kong. During that time, he took part in historic events, like the hunt for Pancho Villa, and contributed to others, like the Doolittle Raid.
When he was six, he read a book by a French explorer who traveled Africa, and he was hooked on the idea of adventure. In 1916, that led the journalist and Georgia National Guardsman to Mexico, where he took part in the punitive expedition against Pancho Villa.
That only fueled his desire more, so he got a billet at a military pilot school in Georgia and graduated in time to go to France for World War I. He became a bomber pilot, but was shot down over Germany and declared dead until the American officers learned he had survived and been taken prisoner.
But he wasn’t done with Europe, soon heading to Poland as a captain and taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. He formed a new squadron, the Polish 7th Air Escadrille, with volunteers from France. The men saw protracted combat, and Cooper himself was shot down two times. The second time, he was captured by the Soviets and sent (a second time) to a prisoner of war camp.
After two attempts, he successfully escaped and was rewarded for his wartime service with Poland’s highest decoration for valor.
After returning to a peaceful America, he became a movie producer and writer, working on some cinematic classics, including the game-changing King Kong of 1933. He even played one of the pilots in the film.
But war came knocking again when the U.S. entered World War II. So, Cooper returned to service as a colonel and was sent to India where he served as a logistics expert for the Doolittle Raid, the legendary attack by carrier-based bombers against Tokyo itself in 1942. He was even eventually invited to see Japan’s surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri.