Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.

Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama

Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.

Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.

Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame

A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.

“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame

No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.

Related: Read How the Soviets Stole the Space Shuttle

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the surviving nutjobs will actually find in Area 51 raid

If you haven’t heard about the planned Area 51 raid yet, then shut up. You have definitely heard about this crap. (And if you really haven’t, then I am so sorry. Basically, 1.6 million people have signed up for a Facebook event to rush Area 51 en masse because “They can’t kill all of us.”)


Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug, & Mason Ramsey – Old Town Road (Area 51 Video)

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Now, this raid will almost certainly never happen. Most of the people who are “going” probably just find the idea funny. But that begs the question of, “If a bunch of as-holes attempted to Naruto-run onto Area 51, what would happen? What would they see?”

Well, they would honestly find nothing and wouldn’t get inside any facilities because the Air Force isn’t likely to conduct any sensitive outdoor tests while a bunch of civilians are rushing the fences. They’re gonna button up the base and try to protect their secrets without having to kill civilians by the thousands.

But if they did somehow get past a bunch of blast doors or the Air Force left sensitive equipment out, the runners would most likely find the same sort of experiments that Area 51 became famous for during the Cold War. No, not alien biopsies. The actual experiments that the Air Force did at Area 51, many of which are now public knowledge: aircraft testing and experimentation.

It’s easy to forget almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union that, when America wasn’t the only superpower, it took a lot of work and quite a bit of secrecy to stay ahead of them. The Soviet Union had a decent spying apparatus and a robust research and development industry of its own.

And the U.S. and the Soviet Union both knew that aircraft would be important in a potential war. That’s why we worked so hard to steal each other’s aircraft and radar prototypes and more. We wanted to know what their radar could detect, and we wanted our radar to be able to detect all of their aircraft and missiles. And, we wanted to develop aircraft that could outmaneuver and fight the enemy even if it was outnumbered.

So, scientists needed to work on radar, stealth technologies, and on aircraft designs and engines. All of those benefit from having lots of open space, but aircraft designs and engines require literally hundreds of square miles to adequately test an aircraft. So, the Air Force needed a big, secret base to test their new goodies in.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

The dry lake bed at Groom Lake was near the center of Area 51. The area is valuable for weapons testing and pilot instruction, but probably doesn’t host aliens.

(Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)

And guess where many of those projects went? An old Army Air Force training area at Groom Lake in Nevada known as Area 51. It’s fairly common for old training areas to be re-purposed when the government goes shopping for an area to do some classified crap. In general, and in Area 51 in particular, these are areas where civilians already don’t live or work, where the few residents nearby are already used to loud and weird noises, and where a few light shows will be ignored.

And the Air Force went to extreme lengths to keep Area 51 secret. Nothing was allowed to leave the base, and you needed a security clearance to even get on the base. Even once you were on the base, if something was being tested that you weren’t cleared to see, you had to go sit in a building with the windows covered until the test was over.

We know all of this from court cases. People who worked at the base came down with weird cancers and material poisonings and so forth from all the weird chemicals used on the base. The military wouldn’t admit that the base existed for years before it finally said, “Yeah, it existed.” Then decades later, “Yeah, we played with planes there.”

But there are still all those rumors about aliens, right?

Well, yeah, there are rumors. But believing in aliens at Area 51 is literally insane. It requires that you believe that the government can keep massive, reality-changing secrets to itself for decades and generations of workers. And that there was either only one alien crash ever or that each crash was successfully controlled by the government. And that the government wants to keep all this secret in the first place.

So, what would the raiders find if they actually get into the testing range? Maybe aliens. But, way more likely, they’ll find some hypersonic missile prototypes, and maybe a B-21 Raider airfoil with some radars pointed at it. There’s a slight chance that they find a Stealth Hawk or some other piece of custom kit like that. But that’s only if you can find the good stuff on the 575 square mile base.

I mean, that stuff would be pretty cool to see. But is it really worth risking being shot by U.S. Airmen? Sure, they probably won’t hit you with the first round, but those dudes have A-10s. You’re not getting through that, not even if you run like Naruto.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome machine guns America took to WWI

World War I was known as the first war of the industrial age, with modern nations sending their best weapons to the front in massive numbers. Modern inventions like the machine gun forced changes to tactics and strategy.


America entered the war late, allowing it to pick and choose its favorite weapons from its allies while manufacturers at home tried to close America’s materiel gap. Here are seven of the machine guns America employed during the Great War:

1. Lewis Machine Gun

 

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
American Marines dire the Lewis Machine Gun during tests. (Photo: U.S. Library of Congress)

The Lewis Machine Gun was invented by Army Col. Isaac Newton Lewis and pitched to the service in 1911. It was turned down at the time, and a few years later the newly-retired officer showed his weapon to European buyers who were highly interested.

A factory was built in Belgium, and approximately 100,000 of the automatic weapons chambered for .30 caliber rounds saw service in World War I, including many purchased by the U.S. after its 1917 adoption of the machine gun. It could spit 500-600 rounds per minute and was especially valued in air service due to its minimal recoil.

2. Hotchkiss Model 1914

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
A Royal Army chaplain poses with a captured Hotchkiss Model 1914 during World War II. (Photo: Royal Army)

Derived from machine gun models developed in 1900 and 1897, the Hotchkiss Model 1914 was one of the most popular heavy machine guns of the war and was carried by French and U.S. troops. It was typically deployed with a tripod, though it was also used in tanks and on fortifications.

The machine gun fired up to 450 rounds per minute and was chambered for 8mm rounds. Oddly enough, the French weapon was named for an American industrialist who owned the company which manufactured it.

3. Vickers Medium Machine Gun

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
British soldiers fire the Vickers Machine gun during the Battle of the Somme. (Photo: United Kingdom)

The water-cooled Vickers Medium Machine Gun fired rounds chambered in .303 and could spray 450 of them per minute at full speed. The Vickers did suffer from being excessively heavy for assaults at 44 pounds. But it shined in defense positions.

4. Colt-Browning M1895

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
A U.S. Army captain fires the Colt-Browning M1895 Machine Gun during a demonstration. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Often known as the potato digger, the Colt-Browning M1895 was chambered for a range of calibers and typically weighed 22.5 pounds and fired 600 rounds per minute. A number of variants were introduced during the war, including vehicle-tank and aircraft versions manufactured by Marlin.

The American Expeditionary Forces rarely used the original infantry versions, typically opting for the aircraft version, the Marlin Gun.

5. Browning M1917 Gun

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
(Photo: US Marine Corps)

The Browning M1917 — a water-cooled, heavy machine gun — saw limited use in World War I because it was developed and manufactured late in the conflict.

It could fire .30-cal. rounds at 450-600 rounds per minute and, in one impressive test, fired over 20,000 rounds without a single malfunction.

6. Browning Automatic Rifle

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Army 2nd Lt. John M. Browning stands with the Browning Automatic Rifle designed by his father. (Photo: Army Heritage and Education Center)

The Browning Automatic Rifle, commonly known as the BAR, was developed late in the war but was rushed to the front in 1918. The air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed automatic rifle commonly used in infantry assaults and counter-sniper roles. It could fire 550 rounds per minute but was typically fired in bursts.

The weapon designer’s son, 2nd Lt. John M. Browning, carried the weapon during some of his missions on the front.

7. Chauchat Light Machine Gun

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The Chauchat machine gun had a reputation for unreliability. (Photo: Bukvoed CC BY 4.0)

The Chauchat was known for being unreliable, especially an American version re-chambered from 8mm to .308 cal. But, it was mass produced and weighed only 20 pounds allowing it to be carried by infantry on the assault.

American quality control tests on the Chauchat produced a 40-percent rejection rate.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This sea battle claimed the lives of 5 brothers in World War II

On November 13, 1942, the USS Juneau went down in the Pacific Ocean after being struck by a Japanese torpedo in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only 10 members of the over 700-man crew survived. Onboard were the five Sullivan brothers. They all perished in the battle.


George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert Sullivan joined the U.S. Navy out of Waterloo, Iowa in January 1942. George and Francis were prior service enlistees, serving on the USS Hover before the war. During the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the brothers lost five friends in combat.

 

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The Sullivan brothers pose on the USS Juneau. Photo: US Navy

George and Francis immediately began preparations to rejoin the Navy and convinced their brothers and two friends from a motorcycle club to enlist with them. They wrote a letter to the secretary of the Navy asking to be allowed to train and serve together.

The boys went through training together and the Sullivans were later assigned to the USS Juneau, an Atlanta-class light cruiser completed in October 1941. Meanwhile, back home, the Sullivans bonded with each other and the Navy. Albert’s wife and son lived with the Sullivan parents and Alleta Sullivan, their mother, sponsored a ship for the Navy, the USS Tawasa.

As the U.S. Navy tried to halt Japanese advances in the Pacific and began pushing them back, modern cruisers like the Juneau were needed to protect carrier groups from air attack as well as bombard shore positions. The Juneau saw action first in the Atlantic but was sent to the Pacific where it protected the USS Wasp, USS Hornet, and USS Enterprise in fierce combat against the Japanese.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The USS Juneau in 1942. Photo: US Navy

The Juneau was tasked with protecting reinforcements being ferried ashore to Guadalcanal on November 12, 1942. In the early afternoon, 30 Japanese planes attacked the ships and the Juneau went into action. The gunners picked off six torpedo planes and helped drive off the Japanese attacks.

The American ships prepared for a surface attack. The next day, 18-20 Japanese ships bore down on the small U.S. force. Juneau and the USS Atlanta teamed up and successfully brought down a Japanese ship but the Juneau was struck by an enemy torpedo shortly after. The Juneau withdrew with the damaged USS San Francisco but was engaged again by Japanese torpedoes.

A Japanese sub fired a three-torpedo spread and the Juneau avoided two of them, but the third either passed through the earlier damage into the center of the ship or struck in almost the same spot.

Witnesses described a massive explosion that nearly disintegrated the center of the ship. The two remaining pieces sank in only twenty seconds while the captain and most of the crew, including at least two of the brothers, were killed.

Around 100 sailors made it to the life rafts, including George Sullivan and possibly two other Sullivans. Over the next eight days, sailors died as sharks, exhaustion, and dehydration claimed them. According to a survivor on the same raft as George, he fell into the ocean and was claimed by the sharks.

Only 10 survivors were found and rescued from the USS Juneau and none of the Sullivan brothers were among them. Back home, rumors of the Juneau’s sinking had reached Waterloo and Alleta was desperate to learn whether or not her sons had survived. She wrote to the Bureau of Naval Personnel.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
National Archives and Records Administration

Only days later, she received a personal letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt that expressed his condolences for her sudden loss.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
National Archives and Records Administration

 

The Sullivan Brothers were survived by both of their parents. Albert also left behind a wife, Katherine, and a son, Jim.

Alleta Sullivan continued to be a friend to the Navy after the death of her sons, christening the USS Tawasa as promised but also participating in war bonds drives, encouraging ship builders, and volunteering with the USO to make service members’ lives easier.

 

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
USS The Sullivans fires a Standard Missile-2 during a training exercise. Photo by US Navy Information Specialist 1st Class Steven Martel

The Navy was since named two ships for the Sullivan brothers. USS The Sullivans (DD 537) was a destroyer that now serves as a museum in Buffalo, New York. USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) is an Aegis-class guided missile destroyer that served in Operation Enduring Freedom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s most successful World War II sub also killed an enemy train

The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.

They did all of this without losing a single man.


On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.

But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.

They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.

That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.

They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.

Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is actual footage of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,300 American military personnel and catapulting the America into World War II. After nearly four years of fierce fighting, the Japanese surrendered to allied forces.


General Douglas MacArthur flew into Okinawa on his C-54 Skymaster to officially accept the Japanese surrender — his crowning achievement. Meeting up at the USS Missouri, the victor finally meets face-to-face with his defeated Japanese foes at the surrender ceremony on Sept. 2, 1945.

As thousands of fighting men stood witness to this historic event, MacArthur accompanied Adms. Chester Nimitz and William Halsey as they greeted the Japanese delegation aboard the Navy vessel.

The delegation in attendance signed the document which brought the grueling conflict to a halt. After the Japanese were led away, allied forces conduct one more flight maneuver to seal their victory — 1,500 planes roar across the sky over the bay in what many called a “victory lap.”

Related: This Air Force jet landed itself after the pilot ejected

Check out the Smithsonian Channel video below to see the historic surrender in color.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

Also Read: This legendary Navy skipper sank 19 enemy ships

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Coast Guardsman earned a Silver Star at Guadalcanal

Douglas Carlton Denman was born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, in February 1922. At the age of 18, he decided to join the Coast Guard and travelled to Atlanta’s recruiting office where a Coast Guard chief boatswain filled out his paperwork. Early on, he must have shown promise as a boat driver. He was sent to New Orleans to train at Higgins Industries, builder of landing craft, and in less than a year of enlisting, he was advanced from seaman first class to coxswain.

In November 1941, less than a year after enlisting, Denman was assigned to the Number 4 landing craft aboard the fast attack transport USS Edmund Colhoun (APD-2) known as an APD or “Green Dragon” by the Marine Corps’ 1st Raider Battalion. The Colhoun was a World War I-era four-stack destroyer converted to carry a company of marines. The Navy designation of APD stood for transport (“AP”) destroyer (D”). These re-purposed warships retained their anti-submarine warfare capability, carried anti-aircraft and fore and aft deck guns, and could steam at an impressive 40 mph. Their primary mission was rapid insertion of frontline marine units in amphibious (often shallow-water) operations, so they were equipped with landing craft.


Each APD carried four landing craft designated LCPs (Landing Craft Personnel). Also known as “Higgins Boats,” the LCP was the U.S. military’s first operational landing craft. It had a snub nose bow supporting two side-by-side gun tubs with each position holding a .30 caliber machine gun. The helm and engine controls were located behind the tandem gun emplacements. Diesel-powered, the LCP measured 36 feet in length, could hold 36 men, and had a top speed of only nine miles per hour. This early landing craft carried no front ramp, so after it beached, troops debarked over the sides or jumped off the bow. The LCP required a crew of three, including a coxswain, an engineer and a third crew member that both doubled as gunners. The LCP exposed its crew to enemy fire, so its crew members braved serious upper body, head and neck wounds when landing troops.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Douglas Carlton Denman, at age 18, in his original recruit photograph, including suit and tie.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The Colhoun was one of four APDs that comprised Transport Division 12 (TransDiv 12). TransDiv 12 ships inserted the Marine Raiders on the beaches of Tulagi, on Aug. 7, 1942. The amphibious assault of Tulagi was the first U.S. offensive of World War II. It was also the first battle contested by entrenched enemy troops, giving the Americans a taste of the horrors to come in island battles like Tarawa, Saipan and Palau. Colhoun’s sisterships Francis Gregory (APD-3) and George Little (APD-4) took up station 3,000 yards offshore and served as guard ships marking a channel into the landing area. TransDiv 12’s slow-moving Higgins Boats plowed up the slot to land the Marine Raiders in the face of enemy fire. Within two days, the marines had taken the island eliminating nearly all its garrison of 800 Japanese troops.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The APD USS Colhoun refueling in the Pacific. Notice this fast attack transport’s camouflage paint scheme and Higgins Boats hanging from davits on the port side.
(U.S. Navy photo)

After landing the Marine Raiders at Tulagi, Colhoun continued patrol, transport and anti-submarine duties in the Guadalcanal area. On August 15, the TransDiv 12 APDs delivered provisions and war material to the Marine 1st Division on Guadalcanal Island. It was the first re-supply of the marines since their August 7 landing. On August 30, Colhoun made another supply run to Guadalcanal. After completing a delivery to shore, the Colhoun steamed away for patrol duty. As soon as the APD reached Iron Bottom Sound, the sound of aircraft roared from the low cloud cover overhead and Denman and his shipmates manned battle stations.

A formation of 16 Japanese bombers descended from the clouds and Colhoun’s gunners threw up as much anti-aircraft fire as they could. The first bombers scored two direct hits on the APD, destroying Denman’s Higgins Boat, blowing Denman against a bulkhead and starting diesel fires from the boat’s fuel tank. Denman suffered severe facial wounds, but he returned to what remained of his duty station. In spite of stubborn anti-aircraft fire, the next bombers scored more hits. Colhoun’s stern began filling with water and the order was passed to abandon ship. Denman remained aboard and, with the aid of a shipmate, he carried wounded comrades to the ship’s bow and floated them clear of the sinking ship. He and his shipmate also gathered dozens of life jackets and threw them to victims struggling to stay afloat on the oily water.

Colhoun’s bow knifed into the sky as it began a final plunge into the fathomless water of Iron Bottom Sound. Denman managed to jump off the vessel before the ship slid stern-first below the surface. The time between the bombing and the sinking had taken only minutes, but during that time, Denman saved numerous lives while risking his own. In spite of his severe wounds, Denman survived along with 100 of Colhoun’s original crew of 150 officers and men. Coast Guard-manned landing craft from USS Little and the Coast Guard boat pool on Guadalcanal raced to the scene to rescue the survivors.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Chart of Iron Bottom Sound showing Tulagi (off Florida Island) and location of final resting place of Colhoun off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal.

After the battle, Denman could not recall the traumatic events surrounding the bombing. He was shipped to a military hospital in New Zealand and diagnosed with “war neurosis.” However, after a month, medical authorities reported, “This man has gone through a trying experience successfully and may be returned to duty . . . .” For the remainder of the war, Denman served stateside assignments and aboard ships, including an attack transport, LST and a U.S. Army fuel ship. In early September, APDs Little and Gregory were sunk in night action against a superior force of Japanese destroyers and the fourth TransDiv 12 APD, USS William McKean (APD-5) was lost in combat in 1943.

For his wounds and heroism in the face of great danger, Denman received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. During his career, he completed training for port security, intelligence specialist, and criminal investigation specialist. He also qualified in handling all classes of small boats and buoy tenders and was recommended for master chief petty officer. However, he retired as a boatswain senior chief petty officer to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Georgia with a major in animal science. He was one of many combat heroes who have served in the long blue line and he will be honored as the namesake of a new fast response cutter.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Photograph of a Fast Response Cutter underway.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘indomitable determination’ of John Paul Jones lives on in the Navy

April is a great month to remember the namesake of one of our Pearl Harbor guided-missile destroyers, USS John Paul Jones, named for a founding hero of our Navy and proudly known by the crew and their families and friends as “JPJ.”

On April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord lit the match of Revolution against British tyranny. At the time Great Britain had more than 250 warships with nearly half having 50 or more guns – cannons. Our tiny naval force consisted of a few ragtag privateers and some humble sailing vessels. Even before our nation began, the founders commissioned 13 frigates and recruited warfighters, including immigrants like John Paul Jones.


In April 1776, Jones was aboard the large converted merchant ship Alfred, taking the fight against the British with a contingent of Continental Marines. On April 6 the colonial mariners attacked and heavily damaged the British cruiser HMS Glasgow, which had been harassing the colonies’ shipping. It was our Navy’s first sea battle.

After that victory Lt. Jones was awarded with an assignment to captain of the Providence. A year later he was assigned to the sloop Ranger. Jones bristled at the state of readiness and combat capability of his new ship. Throughout his career he demanded the best, deadliest and fastest; he trained, equipped and operated with precision and rigor.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Depicting the capture of the HMS DRAKE by the Continental ship RANGER after a sea battle off Cerrick-Fergus in the Irish Sea on 24 April 1778. The RANGER was under command of Captain John Paul Jones.

On April 24, 1778, Jones, aboard Ranger, captured HMS Drake after thunderous fusillades of cannons and muskets and bloody close combat with cutlasses and boarding pikes.

We remember John Paul Jones for his courage and tenacity against all odds. His heroism aboard Bonhomme Richard and his bold attacks against the British homeland are well-known. He owned the fight, willingly going in harm’s way.

That legacy continues.

On April 5, 1956, the Navy commissioned USS John Paul Jones (DD-932), which made a shakedown cruise to Europe. The Forrest Sherman-class destroyer was re-designated DDG-32 and served our navy for more than 25 years.

Our current JPJ, DDG 53, was launched in October 1991, and ten years later – less than a month after 9/11 – fired the first Tomahawk missiles in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
PEARL HARBOR (Aug. 15, 2014) The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) prepares to moor at her new homeport, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, following a homeport swap with the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro)

JPJ is the first Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer to be stationed in the Pacific Fleet, and in the summer of 2014 became one of our go-to Ballistic Missile Defense System supporting ships in Hawaii, with the latest SM-3 missiles and updated, advanced Aegis capabilities.

During JPJ’s four years home ported in Pearl Harbor, the ship has participated in numerous operations and exercises, working closely with our Pacific Missile Range Facility test and training range, and cooperating with the forces of key allies like Japan and Republic of Korea. Here in Hawaii we are uniquely able to put new innovation to the test so our fleet can have proven, effective weapons systems.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Japan Ministry of Defense, and U.S. Navy Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jonesu00a0successfully conducted a flight test.
(U.S. Navy photo by Leah Garton)

JPJ helps the Navy determine the accuracy of weapons systems, detect potential system anomalies and demonstrate advances in surface force lethality and defensive capabilities. At the same time, JPJ, along with our other nine gray hulls in Pearl Harbor, conducts effective community outreach.

Back in 2006, Sailors of USS John Paul Jones and USS Preble (DDG 88) participated in the 99th Rose Festivalin Portland Oregon. One imagines gentlemanly Capt. John Paul Jones, who was known for writing poetry, being pleased to be part of the festival.

As with many of our Navy’s namesakes, Capt. John Paul Jones was not without his flaws. He was a complicated man with conflicting personality traits, both sensitive and tough, reflective and extremely vain, paranoid and exceptionally self-assured.

In the words of Navy veteran Sen. John McCain, writing about Jones, “I challenge you to show me someone flawless who has made a significant contribution to history. It is not perfection that characterizes greatness. It is, rather, the ability to achieve great things in spite of ourselves.”

In many ways resilient warfighting John Paul Jones serves as a namesake for our entire Navy.

One final April reference: On April 24, 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke at Annapolis at a re-interment ceremony commemorating John Paul Jones:

“Every officer in our Navy should know by heart the deeds of John Paul Jones. Every officer in our Navy should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows.”

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson addresses the crew aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones during their 240th Navy birthday celebration.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Martin L. Carey)

Today our men and women of JPJ, along with their shipmates everywhere, continue to emulate their namesake’s resilience and willingness to fight, with the ability to survive and return, and with the commitment to adapt and overcome. Our Sailors are able to go in harm’s way, if necessary, with indomitable determination and the will to win.

Articles

The Army bought this tiltrotor aircraft over 30 years before the Osprey flew

When the military adopted the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft in 2007, there were legions of naysayers who thought the military’s first tiltrotor was too unsafe and too expensive to be added to the fleet.


But while the V-22 did have a spotted history during development, it wasn’t the first military tiltrotor aircraft. A few such aircraft were in the early stages of development during World War II, and the U.S. Army bought a tiltrotor aircraft in 1956 — over 30 years before the first V-22 flew in 1989.

Video: YouTube/AIRBOYD

The Doak Model 16 was a vertical take-off and landing aircraft that used ducted tilt-rotors to generate forward thrust and — in the vertical flight mode — lift. Like the V-22, the Model 16 only rotated its rotors when transitioning between flight modes.

The Doak company spent years developing VTOL technologies before it sold a single Model 16 to the Army for further testing and development. For its part, the Army dubbed the Model 16 the VZ-4 and flew it for three years, evaluating its flight characteristics and the potential for full production and deployment.

Cobbled together with parts from other planes and using still experimental tiltrotor technologies, the VZ-4 had fairly impressive stats. It was capable of flying at 229 mph and had a 229-mile range.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
The Doak VZ-4 hovers during flight testing. (Photo: U.S. Army)

But, the plane struggled with some “undesirable characteristics,” especially during the transitions between vertical and horizontal flight. The most problematic was a tendency for the nose of the aircraft to rise in relation to the tail during the switch between flight modes.

Ultimately, the Army passed on purchasing more of the planes and loaned its single Model 16 to NASA for continued tests. When NASA was finished with it, the aircraft was sent to the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Nowadays, the performance of the CV-22 and MV-22 Osprey has left little doubt that there’s a place in the military inventory for tiltrotor aircraft. The Ospreys can fly from patches of dirt or relatively small ships at sea that traditional planes could never operate from. And they can fly for over 1,000 miles without refueling, over twice the range of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

These traits have earned the Ospreys spots in special operations units and Marine air-ground task forces around the world. And for the U.S. military, the road to tiltrotor aircraft all started with a single plane purchased in 1956.

popular

A former Confederate general led cavalry in combat in Cuba

It’s easy to forget that most Confederate officers were pardoned after the war, either en masse for rebellion or individually if they were accused of other crimes, and returned to lives of business or started new careers in politics. Relatively few of them would see combat in the American-Indian Wars. But one famous general offered his skills to America during the Spanish-American War and led all cavalry units in Cuba, including Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and Buffalo Soldiers.


Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Confederate Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler during the Civil War.
(Library of Congress)

 

Joseph “Fighting Joe” Wheeler got his start as a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1859 and was sent west to fight Native Americans. But the Civil War broke out in 1861, and then-2nd Lt. Wheeler resigned his U.S. commission and joined the Confederacy.

And the Confederacy was trying to stand up a national military, from scratch, to defend itself. So state militia officers and former U.S. Army officers with good training saw themselves quickly promoted. Wheeler became a colonel of infantry, then the head cavalry officer for the Army of Mississippi. By the end of the war, he was a lieutenant general.

During the conflict, Wheeler made a name for himself as a fighter. At one point in 1863, he conducted a stunning raid against Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosencrans. Rosencrans was under firm orders to hold Chattanooga, but all of his beans and bullets had to pass down 100 miles of rail and 60 miles of mountain paths. His force was nearly encircled and so low on vital supplies that soldiers were on half rations and had enough ammo for only one day of fighting.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Wheeler, front, stands with some of his subordinate cavalry officers including then-Col. Theodore Roosevelt at his left. (U.S. National Archives)

 

Wheeler took advantage of this. Despite having his own shortage of battle-ready men and horses, he took on a mission to conduct a massive raid against Rosencrans. He hand-picked what men and horses were ready to fight and took them out from Oct. 1-9, 1863. They cut through the Union lines, destroyed hundreds of Union wagons, and choked off Rosencrans.

But battles like the Great Sequatchie Valley Raid made Wheeler a hero to the Confederacy and a villain to the Union, and the end of the war saw Wheeler out on his butt. But he embraced the reality post-war and ran for office in Alabama, serving for years in Congress as a leader of North-South reconciliation.

When the Spanish-American War started in 1898, Wheeler was 61-years-old, but he offered his services as a military leader to the Army and was accepted. He left the House of Representatives and shipped to Cuba.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Wheeler, at left, sits in consultation with other men during the Siege of Santiago in Cuba.
(William Dinwiddie)

 

While he wasn’t the only former Confederate to fight in Cuba, he does seem to be the only former Confederate general to serve as a general for the U.S. Army in combat after the war. In Cuba, he commanded all cavalry forces; even the famed Rough Riders put together by former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and future President Theodore Roosevelt.

As a Maj. Gen. of Volunteers, Wheeler led his men against Spanish troops at Las Guasimas, participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill, and then fought at the siege of Santiago in Cuba. He was even placed over the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, Buffalo Soldier units.

He performed well enough that, despite his age, he was offered a commission in the regular Army as a brigadier general and led troops in the Philippine-American War. While he wasn’t often fighting on the front lines, the brigadier general was still competent and valuable as a battlefield leader.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How 3 paratroopers earned the Medal of Honor in Korea

In response to the crisis in Korea, the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment was brought up to full strength and made a Regimental Combat Team on Aug. 1, 1950. The Rakkasans – a nickname of the 187th, from the Japanese word for “falling”–  conducted two combat jumps in Korea. During the heavy fighting seen by the regiment, three members were awarded the Medal of Honor.


Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Let Valor Not Fail.

Richard Wilson

Beginning on Oct. 20, 1950, the 187th Regimental Combat Team began landing on drop zones around Sukchon and Sunchon as part of the larger Battle of Yongju. Richard Wilson, a combat medic attached to I Company, landed on Drop Zone William south of Sukchon.

The next morning, October 21, Wilson along with the rest of I Company moved out to clear the railway between Sukchon and Yongju. That afternoon the company was ambushed by a battalion-sized element of North Koreans.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Richard G. Wilson. (U.S. Army photo)

As mortars and machine gun fire rained down on the paratroopers from three sides, numerous Americans became casualties. Wilson undauntingly began administering first aid to the wounded, ignoring the furious fire surrounding him. Disregarding his own safety, he continually treated casualties and assisted wounded men from the field.

When the company commander ordered the unit to withdraw, Wilson continued to evacuate the wounded and assured himself that no living men had been left behind.

However, word soon reached Wilson that a fellow soldier, thought to be dead, was seen trying to crawl to safety. Disregarding the protests of the other soldiers and his own safety Wilson returned to the battlefield to retrieve his stricken comrade.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
A U.S. M4 Sherman Tank at The Battle of Yongu.

He never returned.

Two days later, a patrol returned to the area and found Wilson lying beside the man he had returned to help. He had been shot several times attempting to administer aid and provide comfort. The two men died together.

Wilson received the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Rodolfo Hernandez

On Mar. 23, 1951 the 187th Regimental Combat Team once again donned parachutes and dropped into enemy territory. A week after landing, Company G was ordered to occupy Hill 420. That evening, the inevitable onslaught of Communists came for the paratroopers.

Bearing the brunt of the assault was the platoon of Cpl. Rodolfo Hernandez. As the enemy swarmed the hill under a barrage of artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire, Hernandez held his ground and poured fire into the oncoming enemy.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Hernandez (far right) after receiving the Medal of Honor from President Truman.

The withering enemy fire wounded many of the men and forced the paratroopers to fall back. But Hernandez held firm. He exchanged grenades with the infiltrating enemy – receiving a painful wound in the process – and kept up the fire with his rifle.

As Hernandez continued to blast Communists with his rifle, a round exploded in the chamber, rendering his rifle inoperable. But Hernandez was undeterred. He fixed his bayonet and charged headlong into the enemy.

In the brutal hand-to-hand combat that ensued, Hernandez was indomitable. Shot and bayoneted multiple times, he dispatched his foes with bayonet and buttstroke. After killing six – and looking for more – he was finally taken out when an enemy grenade exploded nearby, delivering a grievous head wound and knocking him unconscious.

Hernandez’s sacrifice had halted the enemy advance. When friendly troops retook the position, they initially thought Hernandez was dead, but a medic noticed him moving his fingers and realized he was still alive.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Hernández in 2009.

Hernandez was presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman in 1952.

Lester Hammond

In June 1951 the 187th left Korea for Japan where it would serve as the strategic reserve. But the Rakkasans were called back to Korea in 1952 to assist with quelling the Goeje POW camp uprising. After securing the camp, the paratroopers were recommitted to combat operations.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
(U.S. Army photo)

Sent to the hill fights near the 38th Parallel, the 187th began conducting combat patrols in support of operations there. On Aug. 14, 1952, a six-man patrol left for a deep penetration of enemy lines. Manning the radio that day was Cpl. Lester Hammond.

After going some 3,500 meters into enemy territory, the patrol made contact with a large hostile force. It was nearly surrounded and taking heavy fire. The men returned fire and attempted to break contact. They made their way to a small ravine that offered at least some cover but could go no further. They were trapped and several among them were wounded – including Hammond.

As the rest of the patrol sought shelter in the ravine, Hammond made the decision to stay in the open where he could observe the enemy and use his radio to massive effect. He began calling for fire on the encroaching enemy.

As the Communists picked up his position, Hammond held fast and continued to call for deadly accurate fire, breaking up several attempts by the Communists to overrun the paratroopers’ position. Hammond was wounded again but still refused to leave his position. His friends were in danger and he held their best chance for survival.

As friendly forces worked their way towards the beleaguered patrol, Hammond kept pounding the enemy with artillery. But the enemy was closing in and would soon overrun him and his teammates.

With no other choice, Hammond sent one last fire mission – on his own position. Maj. Walter Klepeis was on the other end and asked Hammond if he knew what he was asking for. Hammond knew full well what his actions would mean but his friends would have a chance at escape.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
U.S. Army artillery in support of combat operations during the Korean War.

The final fire mission rained down on Hammond’s position and broke up another attack. A platoon from A Company soon arrived and evacuated the remainder of the patrol and recovered Hammond’s body.

For his selfless actions Hammond was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Two months later the Rakkasans ended their combat operations in Korea.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City

This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Veterans are writing eulogies to ‘the buddy they’ll never forget’

Few things in this world are stronger than the bonds forged by troops who fought together in combat. Those who survive life-threatening ordeals on the battlefield become closer in ways that others may never understand. When one of them loses their closest friend, it’s a tragedy that hurts forever.

What could be a more fitting for the coming Memorial Day than to write about what that friend means to you?


This memorial day, AARP is collecting stories about the friendships forged in war. Close friendships forged on the front lines of Vietnam and in the Nazi POW camps of World War II all the way to the remote combat outposts of Iraq. Veterans are writing stories of the best friends they met during these trying times. Two crewman stationed aboard the ill-fated USS Indianapolis, Marines fighting in the frozen wastes around the Chosin Reservoir, a young lieutenant and his radioman in the jungles of Vietnam.

Some survived the war. Many did not. What they have in common is that they’ll never be forgotten. Corporal Charles Thomas was that buddy for Lt. Karl Marlantes.

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Marlantes in Vietnam after an eye injury.
(Courtesy of Karl Marlantes)

If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Marlantes is the author of two books, What It Is Like to Go to War and the critically-acclaimed Matterhorn.

Marlantes was a newly-christened Marine in Vietnam when Thomas was assigned to be his radioman. Like any good young officer, Marlantes listened to his more experienced corporal when he made suggestions. The young man even saved his lieutenant’s life on a mission in the mountains near the DMZ. Marlantes told AARP The Magazine:

“In early December 1968, we were on a long mission, high in the mountains, and it was monsoon time. We couldn’t get resupplied and were without food for three or four days. It was also cold, but we had no extra clothes, just the stuff rotting on us. One night I got hypothermic, really hypothermic. I couldn’t think and started shivering. Everybody knew hypothermia kills you. And Thomas just laid me on the ground and wrapped a quilted poncho liner around us and hugged me. And then his body heat got me back. Saved my life.”

Alabama’s new unofficial Motto Needs to be Rocket City
Marlantes receiving the Navy Cross.
(Courtesy of Karl Marlantes)

Corporal Thomas was an outstanding Marine in combat and a talented radioman. Sadly, during an assault on an NVA position in 1969, Marlantes had to send Cpl. Thomas around the hill to set up an ambush. Following his orders, Thomas left the safety of his cover and made a dash for the objective with his squad. That’s when three rocket-propelled grenades struck, killing him and one other. Marlantes, now 73, recalled the moments afterward for AARP:

“I had to go through all the guys’ bodies to pull out, if you can believe this, anything like pictures of naked girls, so their parents wouldn’t be upset — it’s bad enough that their kid comes home in a body bag. And I pulled a letter out of Thomas’ pocket from his mother and remember it said, “Don’t you worry, Butch.” We knew each other only by last names and nicknames. I never knew he was Butch, that his mother called him that. “Don’t you worry, Butch, you’ll be home in just 11 more days.”

Watch Karl Marlantes look back and tell the story of Cpl. Charles Thomas.

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