Few military leaders in history are as iconic as General Douglas MacArthur. He was a bigger-than-life figure who rose to five-star rank and grew to believe in his own myth so much that he thought he was above the Constitution and ultimately had to be brought down by the President of the United States.
Here are 8 amazing facts about the general known as the “American Caesar”:
1. His parents were on different sides of the Civil War
MacArthur’s father, Douglas Jr., was a Union general, and his mother was from a prominent Confederate family. Two of her brothers refused to attend the wedding.
2. His father and he are both recipients of the Medal of Honor
Douglas MacArthur, Jr. was bestowed the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863. His son received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt in 1942 for defending the Philippines.
3. His mom lived at a hotel on the West Point grounds the entire time he was a cadet
MacArthur’s mom told him he had to be great like his dad or Robert E. Lee, and she made sure he stayed focused by living on campus near him. The semi-weird strategy worked in that he was number one in his class by far. His performance record was only bested in history by two other cadets, one from the Class of 1884 and Robert E. Lee himself.
4. He puked on the White House steps
During a heated defense budget discussion with FDR in 1934, MacArthur lost his temper and told the Commander-in-chief that “when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” He tried to resign on the spot but Roosevelt refused it. MacArthur was so physically upset by the exchange that he threw up on the White House steps on the way out.
5. He wanted to be president
Although he was still on active duty in 1944 he was drafted by a wing of the Republican Party to run against FDR. He even won the Illinois Primary before the party went with Dewey. He tried again in ’48 but quit after getting crushed in the Wisconsin Primary. His last attempt was in ’52 but the Republicans bypassed him for a less controversial (and more likeable) war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
6. He didn’t return to the United States for six years after World War II
Because he was in charge of ensuring post-war Japan didn’t fall into chaos (and became a democracy) and then in command of the Korean War effort, MacArthur didn’t return to the U.S. between 1945 and 1951.
7. He got a ticker tape parade in NYC after he was fired by Truman
MacArthur was defiant in carrying out President Truman’s plan to end the Korean War, and the general carried out a campaign in Congress to authorize the complete takeover of North Korea. Truman was convinced that would result in World War III, and when MacArthur refused to back down the President had no choice but to remove him from command. Although disgraced, MacArthur was so popular he was treated like a hero on his way out, including having a ticker tape parade thrown in his honor down the streets of Manhattan.
8. He designed his signature look
His cover, shades, and corncob pipe were all part of a look MacArthur cultivated himself. The pipe company, Missouri Meerschaum, continues to craft replicas of the general’s customized pipe, and Ray-Ban named a sunglass line after him in 1987.
Luftwaffe navigators flying over 1940s England had few tools to ensure their bombs were striking the right bases and cities. They used maps, compasses, airspeed indicators, and aerial photographs to try and find their assigned targets.
Apparently, the British capitalized on this by building fake cities and airstrips to confuse the bomber crews. The effort was commanded by former British Royal Engineer Col. John Turner who employed set designers from movie studios to create the decoys.
By 1940 the Royal Air Force had already dispersed some of their planes to satellite stations, sparse outposts that hosted a dozen fighters or less with small ammo and fuel dumps. Turner and his men started by creating fake version of these satellite stations. The fake versions were positioned so attacking bombers would reach the decoy station before the real station and hopefully become confused.
Turner’s men would build a fake runway and park about 10 fake airplanes at it. A group of men were assigned to move the aircraft around every day and repair any damage done by enemy bombs. To really sell the ruse to any German spies who might be watching, RAF planes or other aircraft were sometimes sent to land at the fake stations.
After success with the satellite stations, orders for simulated aircraft manufacturing plants provided a greater challenge for the team. Full-size decoys were constructed, complete with cars in the lot. During bombing runs the men would set fires in sections of the fake factory to simulate damage, but they were crafted to be easily put out once the bombers left.
In 1940 and 1941, the British government decided to protect full cities using the decoys. The team knew they couldn’t construct an entire city, but they also knew the Germans were mostly limited to night missions. So, the team came up with a series of scaffolds and lights that looked at night like a city with poor light discipline. It gave the appearance of open doors and unshaded skylights, glowing furnaces, and train depots.
Like the decoy factories, the “cities” were rigged for simulated fires and explosions. The first wave of a German bombing raid was allowed to pass without any fireworks, but diesel fuel and paraffin wax would be dumped onto burning coals ahead of the second wave. The goal was to convince the second wave that the first had found the target and that this burning “town” was it. The second and follow-on waves would then focus on the decoy.
During the Civil War, a strange thing happened at night. In the cover of darkness, the silence of hunkering down during war, soldiers’ wounds would glow. Open, bleeding wounds actually appeared to glow a light, subdued greenish-blue. Almost as though they were human chem lights, only decades before they were even invented.
This phenomenon was noted at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, where both sides were met with heavy losses. Taking place in southern Tennessee, wounded soldiers were left in the mud and rain for as long as two days before they were helped by medics. Due to the sheer amount of wounded soldiers, hospitals were overwhelmed and it took days to reach everyone. This perfect storm of disastrous events meant that for two nights, soldiers watched their glowing wounds in the dark Southern background — they named the phenomenon “Angel’s Glow.”
However, the source of the glow was chalked up to a mystery and left as a strange war story that was passed down to new generations. Not to mention the fact soldiers lived in conditions which normally brought on painful infections and death. Therefore, a legend where Angels seemingly saved the wounded was born.
But in 2001, the mystery was finally solved, once and for all.
The source of the glowing wounds
Two high school students decided to take on the tale for themselves. At the time, student Bill Martin was a Civil War enthusiast, having visited the battle site and learning about Angel’s Glow. Bill’s mother, Phyllis, worked as a microbiologist and happened to specialize in Photorhabdus luminescence, a soil bacterium that produced its own light.
Along with his friend, Jonathan Curtis, Bill began researching the war wounds and the origin of their glow. Bill is noted as saying he remembered his mother’s work and wondered if that was the cause. Meanwhile, Phyllis encouraged the high schoolers to research their theory.
Their findings? P. luminescens, as they are often called, make their home within tiny, parasitic worms AKA nematodes in plants and soil. Not only do they glow a pale blue-green color, they make their home in moist, cool environments. Wounded soldiers would have likely had hypothermia.
The worms survive by vomiting up bacteria to kill other microorganisms living in the area — it’s a survival mechanism to fight off anything that could compete for food sources or living space. An example of the amazing intricate of science, the bacteria attracts worms with its glow. The worms then see the light and help regulate the environment by releasing its chemicals that kill off harmful substances.
In other words, by finding this bacteria within their wounds, helped the wounded soldiers to fight off other, more harmful bacteria that could have caused an infection or another illness.
This, of course, was important as soldiers were able to survive for days before receiving medical care, a phenomenon at the time.
The only discrepancy the pair found was how P. luminescens are unable to survive at body temperature, needing cooler temps to thrive. This was accounted for due to damp and colder conditions of the battlefield.
Phylis Martin, Bill’s microbiologist mother, was quoted in support of their findings, particularly pointing out just how slim the odds were for the conditions to be just right.
“These bacteria [that glow] don’t grow at human body temperature. This had to happen at a particular time when it was cold enough that the body temperature would be lowered by hypothermia, but not so cold that the soldiers would freeze to death,” she told HealthDay in an interview.
Modern science in play
The two high school seniors worked alongside ARS Plant Science Institute in Beltsville, Maryland to create their theory for their project, “Civil War Wounds that Glowed.” Their project took first place at the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Science Fair in San Jose, California.
Of course, there is no way to prove the findings. The soldiers who experienced Angel’s Glow are long-gone and lab samples were years from being developed during the Battle of Shiloh. However, it’s the best explanation we’ve got. And it’s hard to deny the logic that this glowing bacteria fits the bill.
What do you think are major spy targets? Troop movements? Strategic plans? New weapon designs?
Sure, those are all great choices, but what about space shuttles and planetary probes?
Rivals have always kept a close eye on America’s space program, especially after the U.S. edged ahead of the Soviets in the ’60s by first copying their manned orbit of the earth in 1962 and then beating them to the Moon in 1969.
For the Soviet Union, this presented a dire threat.
After all, while NASA and the Soviet’s Federal Space Agency — now reorganized as a corporation and known as Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities — were both scientific enterprises, both did a little moonlighting for spy agencies and provided a lot of important technical know-how to spooks.
The Russians needed their own version of the craft — and quickly — if they were to remain competitive in space. But they burned up four years in bureaucratic squabbling.
In 1976, senior Soviet leadership finally signed the decree authorizing the program, and the Soviet-designed “Spiral” space plane was quickly removed from contention. Russia specifically wanted a weapon with all the same capabilities as the Shuttle, including the imagined ability to bomb enemy capitals.
“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, who worked on the boosters for the Soviet craft. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”
What resulted from all of this was a craft known as the Buran, Russian for ‘blizzard,’ that looked almost identical to the Space Shuttle.
But it actually had some nifty capabilities not found on the American version. For one, the Buran could conduct automated flights with no human occupants. In fact, it did so in its one and only flight in space in 1988.
Second, the Buran used Energia boosters, liquid-fueled boosters that were safer and more powerful — but more costly — than American solid-propellant boosters.
In the year 9 AD, the Roman Empire suffered a devastating military defeat. In the dark forests of Germania, three entire legions were wiped out in the span of a few days, by an enemy that the Empire didn’t even know existed. This battle changed the very course of Roman history. Here are 8 things you didn’t know about the Battle at Teutoburg Forest.
1. It was a revenge plot
Under Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire had conquered large swaths of Western Europe. One of the Empire’s frontiers was the Rhine River, east of which were the “barbarian” Germanic tribes. This arrangement, however, left the emperor Augustus unsatisfied. He sent his adoptive son Drusus to conquer the barbarian land that the Romans called Germania, and Drusus succeeded in subjugating Germanic tribes east of the Rhine. The Romans thought that these tribes were under their control, but only a few short years later, these tribes would strike back at the Empire in the Teutoburg Forest.
2. It was a betrayal
One of the Germanic tribes conquered by the Romans was the Cherusci, whose chief was forced to send his son Arminius to Rome as a hostage. Despite being a barbarian, Arminius was treated well; he acquired a military education and became a Roman citizen, even earning the command of his own forces. Many of these soldiers were Cherusci tribesmen like himself. Because he was a German, Arminius was stationed in Germania, where he could communicate with the Germanic tribes on Rome’s behalf. However, during those visits to the Germanic chiefs, Arminius was plotting with them to attack the Empire that had raised him.
3. It was a trap
In the autumn of 9 CE, Arminius reported to the Roman commander in Germania, Quinctilius Varus, that a rebellion had broken out in northwest Germania. Varus was persuaded to march his legions into unfamiliar Germania to crush the supposed rebels. Arminius was even given leave to rally support from the Roman-allied Germanic tribes. There was, however, no rebellion. In the previous months, Arminius had created an alliance of Germanic tribes and fabricated a rebellion to lure the Romans into unfamiliar territory and decimate them.
4. The Romans were unprepared
Before 6 CE, the Romans had eleven legions in Germania. However, just a few years before the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, there was a revolt in the Balkans that forced the Empire to withdraw eight of those legions. This left only three for Varus, who on the way to the “rebellion” marched all of them through the Teutoburg Forest. The legions were formidable, but their fighting style was suited to wide, open plains, not the dark, claustrophobic German forest. On top of that, they were marching through torrential rainfall, on muddy and slick ground, and not in fighting formation. It was the perfect opportunity for an ambush.
5.The Germans used guerrilla tactics
During his time in Rome, Arminius studied Roman military strategies. He knew exactly how to hit the Romans where it hurt the most. The battle began shortly after the Romans entered the Teutoburg Forest, in a line of men that stretched for miles. Germanic warriors stood on high ground, hurling javelins down on the legions and sending out small bands of warriors to pick off isolated groups of soldiers. Many survived the barrage and were able to set up camp for the night, but spent the next day under continuous barrage of German attacks from the trees.
6. Arminius set a second trap
In order to escape, the Romans had to cross a small strip of land between the Kalkriese Hill and a large swamp. What they didn’t know was that the Germans had already constructed walls along this pass to attack the Romans from above. The Romans tried to storm these walls and failed miserably, and when the Germans came pouring down from these walls, military discipline collapsed. One commander deserted with his men, only for them to be caught and killed; Varus and his commanding officers committed suicide, the only honorable way out for a disgraced Roman commander; and the remaining legionaries were entirely slaughtered.
7. The emperor was personally devastated
By the end of the battle, between 15,000 and 20,000 Roman soldiers were dead. Three entire legions were wiped out. When he heard the news, the emperor Augustus was horrified. He was said to have beat his head against the walls, crying out “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!” It was one of the greatest Roman military catastrophes of Augustus’ long rule.
8. It changed European history
The Germanic tribesmen under Arminius succeeded in sweeping their territory clean of Roman soldiers and outposts. The Rhine River became the boundary between the Roman Empire and the free Germanic tribes for hundreds of years. The Romans’ inability to conquer the Germans laid the foundations for the Western Empire’s fall, when Germanic tribes started carving their own kingdoms out of Roman territory. The Battle of Teutoburg Forest occurred nearly half a millennium before the Romans started to fall, but in an interesting way, the Western Empire’s collapse in 476 AD was sealed all the way back in 9 AD.
Peggy Harris was married for six weeks when her husband went missing in action over France during World War II. No one ever tried to tell her about her husband’s fate. A fighter pilot, Billie Harris’ last mission came in July 1944. That’s when the confusion started, a confusion that is much more circuitous than the regular fog of war.
Billie Harris was listed as Missing in Action when he failed to come home from a mission over northern France that day in 1944. Then, the Army Air Forces informed his wife that he was alive and coming home. They then rescinded that as well. To her horror, he was killed and buried in a cemetery in France. And then they told her he was in a different cemetery. Then she was informed by the War Department that they weren’t even sure if the remains they had were Billie’s.
His devoted wife waited and waited, for years and decades, waiting for news about her husband. Until she finally decided to write her Congressman about the issue. Over and over for decades she waited and wrote to members of Congress – all the way through 2005.
In 2005, she got an answer from the Representative from the Texas panhandle, Mac Thornberry. His office informed Peggy that Billie was still listed as MIA, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. Billie’s cousin took it upon himself to look for Billie’s remains personally, to give Peggy some peace. His first stop was requesting the service and medical records for his missing cousin. The records that came back actually revealed his final resting place: Normandy.
First Lieutenant Billie D. Harris died July 17, 1944, the day he went missing. His headstone is one of the hundreds of bright white crosses that adorn the grounds of Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. So what happened? A CBS report found that Thornberry’s office never searched for the record. When CBS did the search, they found Harris listed as KIA.
Thornberry would later send Peggy an apology for bungling the search.
Ever since discovering her husband’s final resting place, she sent his grave a bouquet of flowers ten times a year. Cemetery officials say Peggy Harris is the last widow of World War II’s killed in action who still visits the grave of her departed husband. But that’s not the only news the family discovered in their investigation.
His plane was shot down over Les Ventes, a small French town and he was a legend among the locals of the town – Billie D. Harris managed to avoid crashing into the village and instead went down in the nearby woods. The villagers buried him in their local cemetery, so grateful for his sacrifice. Ever since, the residents of the small town have walked down the main street of Les Ventes every year – a street called Place Billie D. Harris – to remember his sacrifice.
Ever since Peggy discovered her husband’s final hours and gravesite, she’s visited the cemetery and Les Ventes every year to celebrate her husband’s life and talk to the people who remember Billie D. Harris as a fallen hero.
For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.
But believe it or not, painting has hung on.
During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.
According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.
The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)
Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.
Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)
The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.
James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.
(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)
The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.
What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.
So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.
When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.
Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.
The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.
Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.
B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe. At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)
As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.
Two US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopters from the 20th Special Operations Squadron fly into Cambodia, around 1970 US Air Force/Capt. Billie D Tedford
Fifty-four years ago, a group of American and indigenous commandos fought for their very lives in a small, far away valley in one of the boldest special operations missions of the Vietnam War.
Codenamed Oscar-8, the target was the forward headquarters of the North Vietnamese Army’s 559th Transportation Group and its commander, Gen. Vo Bam, located alongside the Ho Chi Minh trail complex, which ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam and passed through Laos and Cambodia.
U.S. commanders had intelligence that Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s top general, was visiting the area. A plan was quickly hatched to kill or capture Giap. U.S. commanders gave the mission to a highly secretive special operations unit.
The secret warriors of a secret war
Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified unit that conducted covert operations across the fence in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.
Successive U.S. administrations claimed American troops didn’t operate outside of South Vietnam, so SOG was a tightly kept secret.
It was a standard operating procedure for any commandos who went across the border never to carry anything that could identify them as U.S. servicemembers. Their weapons didn’t have serial numbers, and their uniforms didn’t have names or ranks.
During the Vietnam War, about 3.2 million service members deployed to Southeast Asia in combat or support roles. Of them, 20,000 were Green Berets, and out of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with only 400 to 600 running recon and direct-action missions across the fence.
Although only the best served in SOG, luck and constant vigilance were necessary to survive. Many seasoned operators died because their luck ran out or because they became complacent.
A bold mission
Oscar-8 was a bowl-shaped area in Laos, only about 11 miles from the U.S. Marine base at Khe Sahn in northern South Vietnam. The area was about 600 yards long and 2 miles wide and surrounded by thick jungle.
The mission was given to a “Hatchet Force,” a company-size element that specialized in large-scale raids and ambushes. It was composed of a few Special Forces operators and several dozen local Nung mercenary troops, totaling about 100 commandos.
Several B-52 Stratofortress bombers would work the target before the SOG commandos landed.
The Hatchet Force’s mission was to sweep the target area after the B-52 bombers had flattened it, do a battle damage assessment, kill any survivors and destroy any equipment, and capture or kill Giap. The plan was to insert at 7 a.m., one hour after the B-52 run, and be out by 3 p.m.
To support them, SOG headquarters put on standby several Air Force, Marine, and even Navy fixed- and rotary-wing squadrons.
All in all, there were three CH-46 Sea Knights helicopters to ferry in the Hatchet Force, four UH-1 Huey gunships for close air support, two A-1E Skyraider aircraft for close air support, four F-4C Phantom fighter jets for close air support, two H-34 choppers for combat search and rescue, and two forward observer aircraft to coordinate tactical air support.
Disaster at Oscar-8
As the sun began rising, nine B-52 bombers dropped 945 unguided high-explosive bombs, more than 236 tons of munitions, on the North Vietnamese headquarters and the adjoining positions.
Minutes after the B-52s finishing refurbishing the area, a forward air controller flying overhead spotted North Vietnamese troops coming out of the jungle and putting out the fires.
The enemy numbers continued to swell, and it quickly became clear to the seasoned SOG operators who were coordinating the fight from above that the North Vietnamese had largely managed to escape the onslaught from above.
Sgt. Maj. Billy Waugh, a legendary Special Forces operator and later a CIA paramilitary officer, radioed headquarters and advised aborting the inbound Hatchet Force, which was due to touch down 15 minutes after the last B-52 bomber had bombed the target. He was too late.
The first two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters full of men were shot down, as were two UH-1 Huey gunships that were providing close air support. An H-34 chopper attempting a rescue was also shot down.
The SOG force was immediately pinned down and had to take shelter in the bomb craters that pockmarked the area. Only the Hatchet Force’s firepower saved them from being overrun by the vastly numerically superior enemy.
Meanwhile, a pair of F-4 Phantom jets came in low to cover the survivors, but they also took heavy anti-aircraft fire, and one fighter was shot down, the pilot going down with his plane.
A pair of A-1E Skyraiders then came in to provide close air support, but they too received overwhelming anti-aircraft fire, and one of them crashed.
There were about 45 SOG commandos taking cover inside two craters under heavy fire from the enemy on the ground. The American team leader requested napalm and cluster bombs to be dropped within 100 feet of their perimeter.
Meanwhile, another Hatchet Force was quickly assembled to act as a quick reaction force, while aircraft bound for North Vietnam on unrelated were redirected over Oscar-8 to keep the battered SOG commandos alive.
The North Vietnamese continued to fend off or shoot down any aircraft that tried to exfiltrate the SOG commandos, which prevented the quick-reaction force from inserting. But two days of concentrated air attacks against the NVA allowed the Hatchet Force to stay alive, and the commandos were eventually able to exfiltrate.
Twenty-three men from SOG and its supporting air units and about 50 of the indigenous fighters were wounded or killed, went missing, or were captured during the operation.
In addition, two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, one UH-1 gunship, one H-34 transport chopper, one F-4 Phantom jet, and one A-1E Skyraider were shot down.
During the fight, one seriously wounded American, Sgt. First Class Charles Wilklow, was captured by the North Vietnamese, who used him as bait for a rescue force for four days. Wilklow not only managed to survive his wounds but also escaped, getting picked up by a combat search and rescue chopper five days after the battle began.
Oscar-8 was a disaster for SOG. The Hatchet Force failed to achieve any of the mission’s goals, and if it weren’t for the sheer will and grit of the commandos and the aircrews, it would have been a lot worse.
Indeed, the operation highlights the dangers SOG operators faced on every mission. With the odds always against them, it’s miraculous that their successes outweighed their failures.
Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.
At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.
The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.
He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.
A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.
Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.
What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.
I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.
Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).
His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.
This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.
They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?
Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.
His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.
Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.
The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.
(Library of Congress)
Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.
It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.
He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.
When Europe went to war in 1939, America knew it was only a matter of time before it was dragged into another global conflict. To prepare, the country recruited and drafted hundreds of thousands of men in 1940 and held a series of exercises the next year that helped define how the U.S. would fight the Axis over the next six years.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Regular Army consisted of 190,000 poorly equipped soldiers and 200,000 National Guardsmen who had it even worse. That was simply not enough men to fight the war. So Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recruited and drafted their way to a 1941 active force of 1.4 million soldiers.
To prepare to face the corrupt Germans abroad, the Army’s top trainer, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, ordered a modern workup plan.
After learning individual and small unit skills, large units were sent to “General Headquarters Maneuvers” in Louisiana and the Carolinas.
It’s in Louisiana that the Army tested new combined arms doctrines established in 1940 and 1941. About 472,000 soldiers participated in the Louisiana training exercises across thousands of square miles of maneuver space.
But many of the Army’s new fighting methods weren’t going to work against the Axis powers, with the Army Air Force retaining control of its planes in Air Support Commands that often ignored requests by ground commanders, for example.
Tanks were also controlled by infantry and cavalry units who often squandered the advantage that the modern machines gave them. Instead of using the tanks to conduct vicious thrusts against enemy formations like Germany had famously done in Poland and France, American commanders used tanks as spearheads for infantry and cavalry assaults.
But while the exercises exposed a lot of what was wrong with Army strategy mere months before Pearl Harbor, it also gave careful and attentive leaders a chance to fix problems with new doctrine and strategies.
First, tank warfare advocates met secretly in a Louisiana high school basement on the final day of the maneuvers in that state. Then-Col. George S. Patton spoke with general officers and tank commanders who agreed on a plan for creating a new Army branch dedicated to developing modern armored strategies.
A member of the group, Brig. Gen. Frank Andrews, took the recommendation to Marshall who agreed and created the brand new “Armored” branch. The infantry and cavalry were ordered to release their tanks to this new branch.
In Africa and Europe, these armored units would prove key to victory on many battlefields. Patton put his tank units at the front of the Third Army for much of the march to Berlin.
The cavalry lost much more than just its tanks. It was in the 1941 maneuvers that Army leaders ordered the end of horse units in the cavalry and ordered them to turn in their animals and move into mechanized units instead.
The air units also went through changes, though markedly fewer than ground commanders asked for. Ground units desperately wanted dive bombers that could conduct operations in close proximity to their own forces, breaking up enemy armor and infantry formations like the Luftwaffe did for Germany.
The Army Air Forces did respond to these requests, finally buying new dive bombers developed by the Navy and practicing how to accurately target ground units. But the AAF still focused on strategic bombing and air interdiction to the detriment of the close air support mission which was a distant third priority.
But the greatest lessons learned in the maneuvers may not have been about doctrine and strategy. Marshall and McNair kept a sharp eye out during the war games for top performers in the officer corps who could be promoted to positions of greater leadership.
A number of young officers were slated for promotions and new commands. Colonels Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower were scheduled for promotion to brigadier general. Lieutenant Col. Omar Bradley held the temporary rank of brigadier general during the maneuvers and proved his worth in the exercise, allowing him to keep his temporary star. He would hold the temporary rank until Sep. 1943 when it was made permanent.
While the 1941 maneuvers were imperfect and the Army still had many tough lessons to learn in World War II, the identification of top talent and outdated or bad strategies allowed the force to prepare for global conflict without risking thousands of lives, reducing the cost they would pay in blood after war was declared at the end of the year.
The Army wrote a comprehensive history of the Maneuvers which was updated and re-released in 1992. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 is available here.
In May, 1988, smack in the middle of the Iran-Contra Affair, the Reagan Administration, nearing its sunset, weathered a very different kind of affair: the release of his former Chief of Staff’s book, which claimed that Nancy Reagan controlled the schedule in the White House through the use of astrology.
Donald Regan had been officially let go from his position as Chief of Staff due to his botched handling of the Iran-Contra affair. Throughout his tenure, he’d reportedly often clashed with the First Lady and couldn’t reconcile her grip on the president’s schedule.
When her astrology-based scheduling approach came to light, it threw the media into an uproar and sent news networks tracking down the San Francisco astrologer that Mrs. Reagan supposedly consulted. The White House eventually admitted that yes, the First Lady did indeed regularly speak with Joan Quigley, who was a high-profile astrologer at the time, but that her influence had been limited to non-political decisions and never touched policy.
Using the positions of the planets, Quigley (indirectly) chose when Air Force One took off and landed, when to give the State of the Union address, and when to hold state dinners and meetings. However, according to Quigley’s sister, Ruth, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, this influence did, in fact, reach public policy, including international relations.
Throughout much of Ronald Reagan’s tenure as President, the Cold War teetered at a boiling point, and that didn’t seem likely to change. President Reagan, who had referred to the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” in 1983, had no intention of engaging in diplomatic relations with Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Soviet Union. According to Ruth Quigley, sister of the famed astrologer, it was a three-hour phone conversation with Joan that convinced the First Lady to push her husband toward negotiations. Joan Quigley used the horoscopes of both President Reagan and Gorbachev as evidence that chemistry could, in fact, exist between them.
Ruth also says that her sister helped plan the Reykjavik Summit, and convinced President Reagan to remain at the summits as long as he could. Though it didn’t immediately pan out, this summit was credited with laying the foundations for the eventual 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The Reagans already had ties to astrology from their days in the acting industry. Carroll Righter, a high-profile astrologer with whom many Hollywood stars consulted in the 1950s and ’60s, was named in Reagan’s 1965 autobiography as a close friend, and it was reported that both Ronald and Nancy read his daily newspaper horoscopes for their respective signs (he was an Aquarius; she was a Cancer). There had also been rumors that Reagan had used astrology to pick the time of his inauguration as the governor of California: January 2nd, 1967, at ten minutes past midnight.
First-hand accounts from three different memoirs — Donald Regan’s For the Record, My Turn by Nancy Reagan, and What Does Joan Say?: My Seven Years As White House Astrologer to Nancy and Ronald Reagan, a testimonial from Quigley herself — suggest increasingly larger roles of astrology in the Reagan White House.
Mrs. Reagan’s account attributes her use of astrology to seeking a coping mechanism; she had claimed that she’d first turned to Quigley after the assassination attempt made on her husband. Most of her concern, she says, was for her husband’s safety, and she used the positions of the solar system to assuage her fears that he might get hurt again — and her consultations with Quigley did, in fact, include choosing the timing of a cancer surgery he underwent in 1985.
Quigley contradicts this, claiming that she’d worked for the Reagans for much longer than that, even claiming to contribute to the Reagan campaign in 1980 by choosing the time of his debate with Jimmy Carter.
While it’ll never be clear whether Mrs. Reagan was attempting to downplay her use of astrology or if Quigley wanted to boost her own importance within the administration, there is very little doubt that astrology did have some kind of influence on the Reagan White House.
The Cold War was one of the most trying times for both Americans and Russians, who constantly lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. If they only knew about the other weapons the superpowers were coming up with, no one would ever have slept at night. The struggle against Communism was a field day for weapons manufacturers and government war planners. It seemed the military was open to almost anything that could kill or stymie the Russian menace.
Even if that meant getting a little creative.
The Blue Peacock
Land mines are a dangerous, tricky business for a couple of reasons. The first is that they’re hidden, of course, and no one knows where they are until it’s too late. With the Blue Peacock, “too late” came with a lot of baggage – eight to ten kilotons worth. In the Cold War, everyone wanted their special atomic weapon, it seemed. For the British, that came in the form of denying the Soviets an area to occupy in the event of World War III. Blue Peacock was a large atomic weapon that would have been buried in areas around Northern Germany and set to trigger if someone opened the casing or if it filled with water.
The idea was for the bomb to be left unattended, so on top of its itchy trigger finger, it could be set off with an eight-day timer or just detonated by wire. What’s truly silly about this weapon is that British engineers didn’t know how to address the extreme cold of the North German Plain, so their plan was to either wrap the bombs in blankets or keep live chickens with them to keep them warm.
Chrysler TV-8 Tank
Is this the goofiest tank you’ve ever seen? Me too, but it’s an American-engineered nuclear tank, imported from Detroit. This behemoth was nuclear in that it was powered by a nuclear reactor that was designed to use closed-circuit television for the crew to see. The crew would reside in the tank’s massive pod area, along with the engines and ammunition storage but the pod design would also allow the TV-8 to float, along with two water jet pumps, giving it an amphibious landing capability.
Along with the tank’s main turret, the TV-8 carried two manual .30-caliber machine guns along with a remote-controlled .50-cal mounted on top of the pod. At 25 tons, this incredible hulk was still half the mass of the M1 Abrams.
Still riding high from the possibilities of nuclear power, American engineers thought going to Mars and beyond would be possible with the use of an atomic engine. But this isn’t an engine that is propelled by some sort of atomic chain reaction or any kind of vacuum energy, no. This engine was powered by atomic bombs. Nuclear bombs were supposed to give the spaceship lift and, once in space, the energy needed for an interplanetary excursion.
The only problem was it left nuclear fallout and radioactive waste spread throughout the atmosphere.
“Rods from God”
Finally, someone decided that nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons were being a little overdone (probably, anyway) and came up with the idea to design a weapon that could hit with the force of a nuke, but without actually nuking a city.
If there was ever a contest for the biggest “f*ck you” weapon of the Cold War, the United States’ Project Pluto is the top contender. The weapon was an unmanned ramjet loaded with nuclear weapons that, once launched, would fly around for as long as it could at supersonic speeds. This jet engine was special, though, because it was heated by a nuclear reactor, so that turned out to be a very, very long time. Once the nuclear drone bomber delivered its payload to targets, it would just fly around, dropping its nuclear waste on everyone it flew over.
The Pentagon scrapped the idea because there was no known defense and they didn’t want the Soviets to develop a similar weapon and use it on the United States.
Soviet Ekranoplan – “The Flying Boat”
Unlike a couple of the other crazy superweapons of the Cold War that made this list, the Ekranoplane was actually built by the Soviet Union. Faster than any ship and bigger than any plane, the Flying Boat could carry anything from troops to cargo to nuclear weapons, all at a crazy speed. And just 13 feet off the ground. Its engines were some of the most advanced of the time, each producing thrust equal to the F-35’s engines.
It could carry some two million pounds, flying low over water to evade detection, moving small, portable D-Day invasions across the globe. Luckily only one was ever built, and the Soviets lost the Cold War anyway.