'Shoot it down!': The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

It was the fourth day of the 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, one of the world’s most prestigious balloon races and one of the most challenging as well.

Alan Fraenckel, 55, and John Stuart-Jervis, 68, were over the skies of Poland before dawn on September 12, 1995, heading toward Belarus with a real chance of winning.

The two Americans, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, were excited by the prospect of flying over the former Soviet republic, which was mostly off limits until gaining independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Race organizers said Belarusian authorities had been informed about the Americans’ plans and had cleared them, along with four other American racers who were also planning to fly over Belarus in two other balloons.

However, as Fraenckel, an airline pilot by profession, and his copilot, Stuart-Jervis, headed into Belarus, they were tracked for more than two hours by Belarusian air-defense system before a military helicopter sprayed the balloon – which was filled with some 900 cubic meters of highly flammable hydrogen — with machine-gun fire, sending it crashing into a forest in western Belarus and killing both men.

Belarusian authorities said the balloon – registered in Germany as D-Caribbean — had strayed too close to a military airbase and missile-launch site and had failed to respond to radio calls or warning shots.

The International Aeronautical Federation would later say that Belarusian authorities had known about the race since March, had authorized the balloon of Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel as well as those of J. Michael Wallace, Kevin Brielmann, David Levin, and Mark Sullivan. Moreover, race officials said the pilots had provided specific flight plans during the race.

Belarus did express regret over the tragedy, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology. Washington slammed Minsk for dragging its feet on notifying them of the incident and was further incensed when Belarusian authorities issued fines of $30 to the other balloonists – who had been forced to land — for not having visas.

“This is a farce,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns at the time. “We expected an apology from the Belarusian government and instead we got a bill.”

The incident came a year after Alyaksandr Lukashenka — a former collective farm manager who cast himself as a crime and corruption buster — had been elected president of Belarus, a post he would hold for decades as he erected an authoritarian system much like the former Soviet one, crushing all opponents who stood in his way.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (center) with his American and Russian counterparts, Bill Clinton (right) and Boris Yeltsin, shortly after he came to power in 1994.

Spirits High

Hours before tragedy struck, Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were in radio contact with Wallace and Brielmann, who were only 20 kilometers away after more than 60 hours of flight.

“We have 12 bags [of ballast] left,” said Fraenckel, “and all our water. We’re going to do a fourth night.”

“If you can’t find your crew,” answered Wallace, a close friend of Fraenckel’s, “you could still land now. My guys are right under you.” Half joking, half serious, Wallace was aware that the other balloon stood a good chance of winning if it stayed aloft.

“I don’t think so,” chuckled Fraenckel.

The Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, named for the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper, is the premier event among balloon racers. In principle, it is a simple event — the winner is the balloon that flies the furthest from the starting point without landing.

But it is literally a killer, and dozens have fallen victim to it over the years. In the 1923 race, which was held in Europe, five balloonists were killed by lightning, and a half dozen more were seriously injured in storms.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
The 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, which Stuart-Jervis and Fraenckel had high hopes of winning before tragedy struck.

In 1995, the year of the Belarus tragedy, German balloonists Wilhelm Elmers and Bernd Landsmann set the race record for longest flight time, remaining aloft for more than 92 hours before touching down in Latvia on September 13.

That year, the race began on September 9 when 17 balloons lifted away from the starting point at Wil, Switzerland. By the evening of September 10, six of the balloons had landed in various locations in Western Europe, ending their bid for the trophy.

Witness To A Tragedy

As the Americans were traversing the skies of western Belarus, Vasil Zdanyuk, editor in chief of the Belarusian newspaper Svododnye Novosti and a correspondent for the Moscow-based Military Journal, sat down for an interview in his Minsk office with Belarusian Air Force commander Valery Kastenka.

“About 20 minutes into our interview, the operative on duty at the Air Defense Forces called and said: ‘We have the following situation: an unidentified object has appeared not far from our facilities, not far from an airfield.’ There is a military airbase nearby,” recounted Zdanyuk to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

In fact, according to Zdanyuk, Kastenka was at that moment explaining the nuisance that low-flying probes — mostly weather balloons — posed for Belarus’s air defenses.

“Kastenka recounted how one of these balloons flew right over Minsk and almost caused a panic, although there was no danger,” he recalled. “And he says, ‘See how lucky you are. We are discussing it, and there is a balloon in the air.'”

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
The gunship that shot down the balloon was a Russian-made Mil Mi-24 combat helicopter. (file photo)

Kastenka ordered a military helicopter – a Mil Mi-24 — up in the air to check out the object.

As the military gunship got closer to D-Caribbean, Kastenka flicked on the speakerphone, letting Zdanyuk hear the conversation between Kastenka and the helicopter commander.

“After five more minutes, when the helicopter had flown around [the balloon], the operative asked: ‘What should we do with it?’ ‘What should we do? Let’s shoot it down,’ [Kastenka] added a few tough expletives. And I’m sitting there, doing the interview, and all of this is being recorded,” Zdanyuk said.

Zdanyuk said he could even hear the fusillade of machine-gun fire as Kastenka allegedly boasted to him: “You see, this is how we work. This is how we serve.”

The bodies of Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were later found in a forest near the town of Byaroza, after having fallen some 2,000 meters.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
The balloon Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel were traveling in was shot down near the town of Byaroza in western Belarus.

Zdanyuk told Current Time in his December 2019 interview that he was confident Kastenka did not know the balloon was manned, speculating things may not have taken a tragic turn had Kastenka waited some 20 minutes until the other two American balloons appeared.

“Then he would have been more cautious: Why are they flying one after another,” Zdanyuk said. “And it would have become clear that a world ballooning championship from Switzerland was taking place.”

The Other Americans

Of the two remaining U.S. balloons, the first to land was the N69RW, navigated by David Levin and Mark Sullivan.

“At first we stuck to a more northern route: we headed to a small part of Russia near Latvia and climbed over the Baltic. But when in the morning the balloon began to rise due to solar energy, we turned east to Belarus,” Sullivan later recounted.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Competitors line up a the start of the Gordon Bennett Cup in September 1995. Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel’s balloon can be seen in the foreground.

Two hours before crossing the border, the balloonists tried to contact the Minsk air traffic control center. Their signal was confirmed, but they were answered in Russian, although English is normally used in international aviation communication.

Wallace and Brielmann landed in Belarus after being ordered to do so by the Belarusians. Levin and Sullivan ignored a similar order, but also landed in Belarus because of deteriorating weather.

A Mockery?

The Belarusian government expressed regret for the incident but stopped short of offering a formal apology.

“We would call upon the Belarusian government to get its act together and to make sure that all the entities of the Belarusian government…begin to understand that the way they are handling this incident and the way they are treating American citizens is really a mockery,” the State Department’s Burns said on September 16, 1995.

“Whatever the circumstances may have been, and whether or not the balloon was able to answer radio calls from the Belarus military, the shooting was absolutely indefensible,” he said. “Moreover, the Belarus government took 24 hours even to notify us of the incident. We are strongly protesting and demanding a full investigation by the Belarus government.”

The Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — a loose grouping of former Soviet republics — investigated the incident with representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and German aviation authorities also participating.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Balloonist John Stuart-Jervis in 1986.

In its final report, the committee concluded the causes of the shooting were: “Unauthorized flight into the airspace of [Belarus] by an unidentified balloon, with no radio communication [between the balloon crew and Belarus air traffic control (ATC)0],” and “errors by [Belarus] anti-aircraft defense elements in the identification and classification of the airship that violated [Belarus] airspace.”

Yury Sivakou, head of the Belarusian Security Council at the time of the incident, defended Belarus’s actions, telling Current Time in 2019 that any country under similar circumstances would have done the same.

“If an unidentified aircraft appears in foreign space — in any country — first they negotiate with it, then they raise the appropriate air defense forces, which either enter into communication or force it to land,” said Sivakou, now blacklisted by the EU for his alleged role in the abduction and killings of opposition leaders in Belarus in the 1990s. “Even if radio communication does not work, there is a whole range of various [actions]: flapping wings and so on to force it to land, or indicating manually, ‘Follow me.’ In this case, the balloon did not react at all, and that was very strange at the time.”

According to Sivakou, the military assumed there could be “anything” in the balloon gondola. They came to this conclusion because there was an air base and other military facilities nearby.

He dismissed reports that the crew involved in the downing had been awarded medals as “speculation and rumors.”

“People died – it’s a tragedy,” he said. “Who awards anything in such cases? This was no act of aggression. It was just an accident.”

‘Forgive Us’

While families of the victims have never received a formal apology or any compensation from Minsk, many ordinary Belarusians expressed sorrow and shame for how its government had acted.

Alyaksandr Artsyukhovich, studying at a U.S. university at the time, expressed hope the shooting would be the last such tragedy.

“My country is a mess now,” he wrote at the time. “Millions of people feel themselves manipulated and frustrated. I only hope that the [recent] incident [will] be the only tragedy. Only removal of the artificial barriers built by the West to our integration into the world’s community can normalize things in Belarus.”

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, activists in Belarus placed a simple stone at the crash site with a cross, the date of the accident, and the phrase in Belarusian: “Forgive us.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

American rebels returned this British general’s dog after a crushing defeat

Going up against the most powerful army in the world wasn’t easy. And the Continental Army knew all too well the smell of defeat at the hands of British regulars during their war for independence.


‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
What’s this!? A British general’s dog? (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bitterness at suffering a loss could drive most troops to lash out at the victor in any way they could — even to hold a British general’s dog hostage to snub the victorious commander.

But fortunately for the American rebels, their commander had the moral fortitude — and an abiding appreciation for man’s best friend — to do the right thing.

And there’s even a book about the exchange.

After losing the American revolutionary capital at Philadelphia to British forces lead by Gen. William Howe in September 1777, Washington tried to knock out part of the Red Coat force camped at nearby Germantown. The attack launched Oct. 4 collapsed under its own complexity and the Continental troops were driven from the field by Howe’s forces.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
General Howe beat the pants off of Washington, but he lived the rest of his life fighting criticism of his conduct of the war in America. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The Continentals lost an estimated 1,000 men to Britain’s 500 and it was the second defeat of the American army under Washington’s leadership.

But it turns out the rebels captured an important asset of the British general who just dealt them a crushing blow.

“A dog … which by collar appears to belong to [Howe] accidentally fell into the hands” of Washington’s army.

Washington was well known as a dog lover, with a host of precarious pooches kenneled on his estate at Mount Vernon in Virginia. And though his men were inclined to keep Howe’s dog in retribution, Washington would have none of it.

He ordered a courier to take the dog through British lines and deliver him to Howe with a note written by his aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
General Washington’s letter to British Gen. William Howe accompanying his recently-returned dog.(Photo from US government)

“General Washington’s compliments to General Howe, does himself the pleasure to return [to] him a Dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and by the inscription on the Collar appears to belong to General Howe,” the note reads.

It turned out Washington’s good karma paid off, as Howe resigned as Britain’s top general of the Colonial Army not long after his victory at Germantown and spent the rest of his life fighting off criticism of his conduct of the war in America.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last charge of the bicycle brigade

In World Wars I and II, where thousands of tanks clashed on land and hundreds of ships fought at sea, and millions of men charged each other through trenches and across hills and valleys on foot, hundreds of thousands of soldiers fought from their trusty steeds: the bicycle.

Yeah, the two-wheeled contraptions that most kids get for Christmas or a birthday a few times throughout their childhood was once a cutting-edge weapon of war — and they were effective.


‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Indian bicycle troops at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)

 

The modern bicycle, with pedals and two wheels, emerged in the 1860s and slowly turned the “velocipede” from a leisure device of rich gentlemen into a viable method of transport. Fairly quickly, especially after the introduction of rubber tires, military experts saw a role for bicycles in wartime.

The European powers embraced the new technology first — not surprising, since that’s where the bike originated. Most military advocates pushed for the bike as a scout vehicle, allowing observers to get close to the front or ride near enemy units to collect data and then quickly get away with the information to friendly lines.

But, by the 1880s, there were already hotly debated movements to use the cyclists as a sort of alternate mounted infantry. Mounted infantrymen rode horses like cavalry, but generally dismounted and fought on foot when they arrived at the battle. They could cover more ground and often acted as a vanguard, tying down enemy forces until their foot-bound brethren could arrive.

In the late 1800s, cyclists took on challenges to prove their worth in battle. Bicycle infantry covered 40 miles a day with all their gear to prove they were more mobile, and messenger cyclists raced other signal soldiers working with flags and torches to prove who was faster. The cyclists won most of the competitions, and one messenger unit delivered from Washington, D.C. to Denver in just six days, covering approximately 1,700 miles while climbing 5,000 feet in altitude.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
An ad recruiting cyclists for the British military.
(Imperial War Museums)

 

By the time Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 — coincidentally, on June 28, the same day that the 12th Tour de France began — cyclists were an accepted part of warfare.

As The Great War got underway, Allied governments rushed to increase the size of their cyclists corps. Reconnaissance cyclist John Parr, a 17-year-old who had lied about his age to join, was possibly Britain’s first casualty of the war, taking fire from German troops while relaying messages.

As the war ground on, Great Britain bought bicycles and trained troops to ride them, famously advertising that “bad teeth” were “no bar” to joining. Bicycle infantry units rode around the front, quickly reinforcing areas that had suffered unsustainable losses from German attacks or plussing up British positions for major attacks. Cyclists mounted coastal patrols and fought fires in areas raided by German aircraft.

And cyclists were added to standard units with even conventional infantry units getting a few cyclists to ride ahead and get orders, relaying them back to the unit so it could deploy effectively as it arrived. Eventually, even artillery units got cyclists, and some even experimented with towing the guns, especially machine guns, behind the bicycles. (This was one job that bikes weren’t great for. Just watch a dad huffing and puffing away while towing their kid — then imagine the kid weighs hundreds of pounds.)

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
It’s all whimsical and charming until you realize these are Nazi SS soldiers and they likely used the bicycles to more quickly murder people.
(German Federal Archives, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

By the end of World War I, hundreds of thousands of troops were serving in bicycle units or roles, but the increasing role of the automobile threatened their continued use in warfare. Italy even equipped their elite marksmen, the Bianchi, with the bicycle so they could strike faster.

After all, many of the bike’s advantages over walking; the speed and the efficiency, or horseback riding, no animal to care for and feed, were also true of the automobiles. And, except for the need for gasoline, the automobile was simply a better tool. It was faster, could carry heavier loads, and it was less draining on the operator’s mind and body.

So, when World War II rolled around, the bicycle took on a smaller role, but it still served, mostly with scouts and the occasional military maneuver. Britain actually created a special bicycle for paratroopers, but then got larger gliders that could carry Jeeps before D-Day, so the bikes went ashore with Canadian soldiers and others instead of paratroopers.

Bicycle-mounted troops were key for many counterattacks or quick movements, especially where supply lines were long, or the demand for fuel for tanks was high. The fuel problems of Germany led to a greater concentration of bicycles in their units while the Allies, with better logistics and greater natural resources, relied more heavily on vehicles.

After World War II, some European militaries continued to employ these two-wheeled vehicles for reconnaissance and even anti-tank roles. Switzerland even kept its bicycle units around until 2001, nearly a century after standing up their first bicycle unit.

Today, bicycles enjoy a very limited role in special operations and espionage. U.S. operators even used bikes in Iraq and Afghanistan. But don’t expect a sudden increase in bicycle operations unless more guerrilla forces embrace them. A modern military is more likely to increase mobility with helicopters and armored vehicles. And, if necessary, electric motorcycles would provide much of the stealth of bicycles and even better mobility without wearing out the rider.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coastie crossed the English Channel 10 times on D-Day

Gordon Lease was 17-years-old and living in California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day Lease was queued up to join the Navy, but the line was so long, the recruiters told him he wouldn’t be able to join that day. Lease joined the Coast Guard instead. But he ended up with the Navy… in an unexpected way.


Lease, now in his nineties, told SDPB how he ended up as an amphibious sailor on Navy Landing Ship Tanks (LST), designed to land men and material on beaches.

“The Navy found out we were good in small boats,” Gordon said. “And they needed amphibious sailors … that’s where we went.”

After a few years of guarding the West Coast against another Japanese attack and conducting search and rescue operations, the Navy exercised its authority to appropriate Coast Guard assets. In 1943, Gordon learned LST operations, driving the boats onto the shores of Maryland.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Gordon Lease enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

Soldiers, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen trained for amphibious operations in the Chesapeake Bay and then boarded troop convoys bound for Europe and elsewhere. In Britain, Navy and Coast Guard personnel continued training to land men on beaches. LSTs like Lease’s were specially trained to land at certain places at certain times.

It wasn’t long before he was in the fight. Lease trained in February, and, by July 1943, he would land men and tanks on Sicily. He also piloted an LST during the landings at Salerno, Anzio, and Normandy.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Operation Neptune, the naval assault portion of Overlord, remains the largest single combat operation in Coast Guard history. It was more than just landing on the beaches; the Coast Guard managed boat handling, loading and discharging cargo at sea and ashore,  and directing vessel traffic. These landing craft carried up to 30 men and were also charged with taking the dead and wounded off the beaches under fire.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
A Sherman Tank makes its way ashore during the invasion of Salerno, Italy in September 1943. Gordon Lease describes this assault as worse than what he experienced at Normandy on D-Day. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

“It doesn’t do you any good to be scared,” Gordon said. “I’m serious about that. If you want to do your job, forget getting hurt, forget being scared, forget about that aircraft, forget about the guy shooting at you. Just do your job.”

At Normandy, the Coast Guard ran a rescue flotilla, suggested by President Roosevelt himself. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche collected dozens of landing craft, small boats, and patrol ships to do the job. Sixty 83-foot USCG cutters made up “Rescue Flotilla One.” This flotilla saved more than 400 men on D-Day and more than a thousand more by the end of 1944.

Lease took his LST to the beaches of France 10 times throughout D-Day, trips that included picking up wounded men for treatment in England. For his efforts, he received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal and the French Legion of Honor.

Coast Guard Commendation Medal (Wikimedia Commons)

The Coast Guard helped to develop the Mulberry; the artificial harbors used to offload cargo in recently captured ports. Coast Guard Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh also helped plan the occupation of Cherbourg, assessing the condition of the ports there and accepting the surrender of a German-held fortress.

More Coast Guard ships were lost in the days following D-Day than any time in its history. Four landing craft were destroyed on the beaches while another 85 sank offshore. Their losses were not in vain, however. The wrecks of the Coast Guard vessels served as navigation markers, guiding other incoming ships and landing craft. The Coast Guard also lost 15 among the ranks during the invasion. Six of them are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

“I was operating a landing craft. And someone kept count,” Lease recalled. “I brought a-hundred-and-ten people off the beach at Normandy back to our ship to evacuate them to England for treatment.”

Gordon Lease left the Coast Guard after the war and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, where he would remain until 1951. Now 92 years old, Lease still fits into the Coast Guard uniform he wore on LST-381 on D-Day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Rock of Chickamauga’ is the only Union General who never lost a battle

There’s ongoing debate among historians and military history buffs about which general was better, Grant or Lee? Or maybe the question should be Sherman or Jackson? The name you never hear in these debates is George H. Thomas, who is arguably better than all of them, because he would not publicize himself or allow history to give him the credit he richly deserves.


Thomas cut his teeth in the Mexican War under General Zachary Taylor. There, he learned the harsh lessons that come with poor planning and poor logistics. He also learned to trust the fundamentals of fielding an Army and keeping it secure — a lesson that would later earn him the nickname “The Soldier’s Soldier” from enlisted Union Men.

But when Civil War came, Gen. Thomas was not well-trusted by President Lincoln, seeing as Thomas was born a Virginian — and your home state really meant something at the time. Thomas remained a loyal Union man because his wife was born in the North and, considering his skill as a leader, we should be glad he was. Still, his family turned their backs on him, President Lincoln never accepted him, and other officers never trusted him, but that didn’t matter. He did whatever was asked of him with whatever tools his superiors gave him without complaint.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Because real bosses don’t need to talk shit.

The main tool they gave him was the battered, bloodied, and often undisciplined rabble from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, many of whom were basically thrown into the meat grinder at Shiloh by General Ulysses S. Grant (whose mismanagement of the battle nearly lost it for the Union). Conversely, Thomas, known by his fellow officers at the beginning of the war as “Slow Trot,” emphasized planning, preparation, and attention to detail — and how it made a difference when the bullets started to fly.

Thomas did not get an easy start in the Civil War, however. His first opponent was General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s cavalry shortly before the Battle of Bull Run. Though first Bull Run pitted even numbers of Northern troops against Southern, the North performed terribly. They broke and ran in a disastrous rout — all except Thomas’ cavalry. Thomas earned a promotion to brigadier for manhandling Jackson’s cavalry.

His next opponent was Albert Sidney Johnston, the Texan whom Confederate President Jefferson Davis considered the best officer before Robert E. Lee’s rise. The North needed a win — any win — to boost morale. Thomas gave it to them, plowing the Confederates at Mill Springs and pushing them into the Cumberland River. In doing so, he completely smashed Johnston’s hold on Kentucky.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Epic mustaches, all of them.

By 1863, Thomas was moving into Tennessee as second to Gen. William Rosecrans, pushing Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga. Believing Bragg was in full retreat, Rosecrans marched the Army of the Cumberland into a trap. Bragg hit Rosecrans at a place called Chickamauga Creek — “the River of Death” according to the the Cherokee.

As James Longstreet committed his men, veterans returning from the fighting at Gettysburg, to the battle, the Union right flank began to fold. Rosecrans began riding for Chattanooga, some of his officers in tow — but Thomas wasn’t going anywhere. As fleeing men came into his sphere, he reorganized them along a ridge and implored them to hold the line at any cost. With the support and guidance of General Thomas’, or “Old Reliable,” as he was called by his men, they held off the Confederates long enough to save the Army of the Cumberland, along with the Union hold on Tennessee.

Rosecrans lost his job, but Thomas, now called “The Rock of Chickamauga,” inherited the Army.

Grant wrote off Thomas’ army as used-up during the Battle for Chattanooga. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland were to hold until all the attacking armies in position to advance on Chattanooga. But when Grant’s plan fell apart, Thomas had to move his army to support General Sherman’s troops, who were struggling. Not only did Thomas’ men relieve Sherman’s troops, they forced the Confederate Army from the field.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Because once you take one hill, you just can’t stop.

Despite his higher rank and superior ability, Grant instead chose William T. Sherman to lead the march on Atlanta. Still, Thomas commanded most of Sherman’s infantry and protected the column as it moved south into Georgia. After they took the city, Confederate General John B. Hood moved North, deftly avoiding the Union Army and moving into Nashville. Sherman reduced the Army of the Cumberland and ordered Thomas to take the remaining troops north in pursuit.

He destroyed Hood’s entire army, earning the nickname the “Hammer of Nashville.”

After the war, Thomas stayed in the military for the rest of his days. He was never celebrated like his contemporaries and he never bothered to publish memoirs of his time in combat. He even deliberately burned his notes to keep someone else from doing it in his stead. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan would sometimes give him credit, but always with the caveat that he was slow.

“Time and history will do me justice,” Thomas said before his death in 1870.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ultimate military history road trip

This article is sponsored by Super 8 by Wyndham.

From America’s first struggles for survival to the Civil War and on through the World Wars, what stands out most about the rising power of the United States Military is the people who served in it. Many of their stories, interwoven into the wars they fought, have tragically evaporated into history — but they are not all lost. The United States’ dedication to preserving its history means there are hundreds of monuments, statues, and markers intended to keep the memories and stories of service members, past and present, alive for generations to come.

And nothing breathes life into these stories quite like visiting the places where they happened. If you want to better understand this great nation of ours, there’s no better way than to get to know its past. With one long road trip, you can get a great overview of American history — and the essential role the U.S. Military has played throughout.

And with a Super 8 by Wyndham near each of the following important places, you wouldn’t need to spend an arm and a leg to do so. Enjoy redesigned guest rooms — featuring signature black-and-white artwork, stylish bedding, and modern amenities — along with complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, and reserved Veteran parking. With Super 8 as your reliable road companion, you can hit the road and enjoy visiting these military destinations.


‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

1. Fort Ticonderoga, New York

It seems appropriate to start your journey at an important place in the history of two wars: Fort Ticonderoga, New York. First taken from the French by a joint British and Colonial force during the French and Indian War, the guns kept at the fort were captured by the American Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. They were moved via a “Noble Train of Artillery” to Boston, where General George Washington used them to surprise the British and force them to leave the city.

Reenactments of battles and other important scenes in Fort Ticonderoga history are held year-round. Check out the historic site’s website for more information.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

2. Saratoga, New York

The Battle of Saratoga was a pivotal moment in the Revolutionary War. Horatio Gates’ victory over Gen. John Burgoyne was so complete, it forced the evacuation of British Forces in New York and, for a time, made Congress consider naming Gates Commander-In-Chief over George Washington.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

3. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is at the heart of Revolutionary War history. It was the site of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party (reenacted every year in December), the first skirmishes of the Revolution at Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and many, many other significant events. You can visit the Minuteman National Historic Park, Dorchester Heights, which was once occupied by the Continental Army, and a short drive south toward Philadelphia will bring you to the Valley Forge Historic site and the site of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware River.

And don’t forget about naval history — a visit to “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, is worth the trip.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

4. West Point, New York

The home of the United States Military Academy has been a part of history since its inception. It was never captured by the British and was the site at which Benedict Arnold’s treason was uncovered. Its fortifications were ordered by General Washington himself, the military academy was signed into law under the administration of President Thomas Jefferson, and the names of its graduates permeate not just American history, but world history.

Historic sites to visit at West Point include the first national Civil War memorial (The Battle Monument), Fort Putnam, the superintendent’s house, and of course, the West Point Museum.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

5. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

In just four hours, you can drive to the Civil War-era Gettysburg Battlefield, now preserved as a national park site. There, you can tour the battlefield, visit the national cemetery, watch reenactments of the fighting, and even visit the statue of John Burns, a War of 1812 veteran who joined in the fighting.

Also Read: This War of 1812 veteran saw the Battle of Gettysburg from his porch

One day at Gettysburg may not be enough for real military history buffs. You can ride the entire area on horseback and catch a live reading of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, among many other events.

6. Fort McHenry, Maryland

A short drive from Gettysburg sits the Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine in the Baltimore area. The War of 1812 is often overlooked by even the most dedicated military history buffs, but from Fort McHenry, you can watch War of 1812-era reenactments and even see where the Star-Spangled Banner itself was still famously waving after the British bombardment of the fort.

If you want to see the actual Star-Spangled Banner Francis Scott Key wrote about, catch it at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, just an hour or so south.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

7. The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis is the home of the U.S. Naval Academy. Though not as old at the U.S. Military Academy, the Naval Academy has no shortage of history. The USNA Museum is a must-see for any military history buff.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

8. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian is in the National Capital Area, filled with the stories and sites from American military history. It is here you can get a real sense of the foreign wars of the United States, including World War II, the Korean War, and (soon) World War I and the Global War on Terror.

But nowhere else is the lasting human toll of a foreign war more present than at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Even just an hour spent people watching at this hallowed memorial will give you a sense of what those who fight wars really sacrifice — and how that sacrifice can never be forgotten.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

9. Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

There may be no more hallowed ground in U.S. Military history than Arlington National Cemetery, where the United States keeps its greatest heroes, the ones who gave what Abraham Lincoln called, “the last true measure of devotion.”

While the entire cemetery is worth the walk, don’t forget to watch “The Old Guard” Tomb Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

10. Appomattox Court House, Virginia

When Wilmer McLean bought his new house to get away from the Civil War fighting that wrecked his former residence, he would never have dreamt the war would eventually end in his living room. Take a visit to his house in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, where Generals Lee and Grant negotiated the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, effectively ending the Civil War. It’s just a four hour drive from the nation’s capital.

You can even watch a recreation of the event.

Now Read: The Civil War started and ended at the same guy’s house

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

11. Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina

Right on the border between North and South Carolina near Route 221, you can get a glimpse of what the Revolutionary War looked like in the Southern Colonies at Cowpens National Battlefield. Though it may seem far from any area of strategic importance, the colonial victory at Cowpens forced British General Cornwallis to eventually meet the Americans at Yorktown, in Virginia.

Check out: This daring ruse turned the tide of the American Revolution

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

12. National Infantry Museum – Fort Benning, Georgia

Get in the car and drive eight hours south to Columbus, Ga. — the home of Fort Benning and the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. Nowhere else can you see history and legacy of the U.S. Army Infantry come alive like at this amazing museum. They have a giant screen theater and cater to those interested in learning about the story of the Army Infantryman.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

14. New Orleans, Louisiana

A trip through Alabama, Mississippi, and into Louisiana brings you to New Orleans, where the party isn’t the only thing larger than life. The World War II museum in New Orleans is second to none, anywhere else in America. It would take you at least two full days to do a brisk tour of the site.

But if World War II isn’t your thing, there’s no place south of the Mason-Dixon Line that revels in its War of 1812 history like the Crescent City. The unlikely team of Andrew Jackson’s ragtag army and the Pirate Jean Lafitte’s sailors fighting the British to a joint victory will never be forgotten.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

15. The Alamo – San Antonio, Texas

The fighting at the Alamo took place long before Texas entered the Union. In fact, it led indirectly to Texas winning its independence as a sovereign state. But the legendary heroes that fought to their deaths at the Alamo are now a part of American history, as the independence of Texas and its annexation by the U.S. led to the Mexican War and the acquisition of territory that extended the United States from sea to shining sea.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

16. Liberty Memorial – Kansas City, Missouri

The Liberty Memorial, the National World War I Museum, was established as a library dedicated to the memory or World War I on Armistice Day (when it was still Armistice Day), Nov. 11, 1926. In 2004, Congress rededicated the site to be the official museum dedicated to the memory of World War I.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

17. Wounded Knee Museum – Wall, South Dakota

There aren’t a lot of Plains Wars sites more poignant than the Wounded Knee Museum in Wall, South Dakota. Though heralded as a great victory for the United States at the time, the battle is now generally regarded as a massacre of native tribespeople, and a transformative event in their history. The 1890 event was the end of an era for Native Americans and for the United States itself.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

18. U.S. Air Force Academy – Colorado Springs, Colorado

The youngest service academy is a majestic site in and of itself, but nearby are also numerous air and space museums as well as a World War II aviation museum thorough enough to blow any amateur military historian’s socks right off their feet.

Going across this beautiful country, east to west, is a long journey — and if you want to truly soak in the abundant history of our nation, you’ll need to be rested. For a reliably great sleep at a great rate, seek out the comforts of the newly renovated rooms at Super 8 by Wyndham.

This article is sponsored by Super 8 by Wyndham.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The original ‘Iron Mike’ was an Irish firefighter who would not die

The Great Depression was a tough time in America. Today we can see the effects of 10-11 percent unemployment due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19. Imagine what life in the United States would be like if unemployment was around 50 percent.

No one was driving Uber to make ends meet in the 1920s, so they had to resort to some pretty spectacular money-making schemes. One of these schemes was murdering alcoholic bums – which turned out to be pretty lucrative. But you couldn’t do this alone; you needed conspirators.


Michael Malloy was a victim of this kind of scheme but his death would end the lives of four of his conspirators, some former friends. Those “friends” would try to kill him seven different times, seven different ways.

Malloy was an out-of-work firefighter who became the target of his favorite bartender at his favorite speakeasy. The bartender, Joe Murphy, and the owner of the bar, Anthony Marino, decided no one would miss the 50-year-old drunk if he happened to drink himself to death one sad night. With two other customers, Dan Kriesberg and Frank Pasqua (who also happened to be an undertaker), they decided they would help that death along.

But first, the payoff. If they could get Malloy to sign a life insurance policy on himself, they could kill the old fellow and collect the insurance money. No one would be the wiser. So one night they got Malloy so drunk, he signed a petition to help Marino run for office. What the drunk really signed was three life insurance policies that would pay upwards of ,000 in today’s money if he died in an accident.

All that was left was to make sure the old fireman had an accident. But that proved much harder than they thought.

Their first attempt was to simply pour drinks down the old Irishman’s throat. They laughed and joked with him as they fed him free drinks all night. When he passed out, he passed out in the bar, only to wake up to more free hooch. The problem with this scheme was that Malloy’s health actually improved because he was no longer depressed. He didn’t struggle to pay for drinks and he had all the friends he could handle.

The conspirators decided that a new tactic was needed. Bartender Joe Murphy mixed Malloy a new cocktail they just got in – a drink mixed with antifreeze. Malloy remarked at how smooth the beverage was before he went to lie down… only to get back up later for more drinks.

Murphy then began to throw any kind of dangerous substance he could think of into Malloy’s drinks. The old firefighter drank more antifreeze, rat poison and turpentine. They served him food laced with wood alcohol, tin shavings, and rotten sardines. Malloy just loved the attention.

Stupefied, the conspirators began to take more direct actions. They doused him with water while he was blackout drunk and threw him into the snowy New York City streets and left him there. When Malloy showed up at the bar that night, he was wearing a new suit, courtesy of the good samaritans who found him and cleaned him up.

Soon they switched to outright murder. They paid a local cab driver to run the man down with his car and leave him. He survived. They tried to call in a hitman. They tried to substitute another drunk who resembled Malloy and kill him, but he survived. When none of that worked, they killed Malloy themselves.

They got the poor man drunk on wood alcohol – normally fatal for humans – and pumped his lungs full of cooking gas. That did the trick. They hired Dr. Frank Manzella, a local official, to produce a death certificate, Pasqua (the undertaker) arranged a pauper’s funeral, and Malloy was dead and buried within four hours.

The bartender, Murphy, received the first insurance policy. But the other insurers became suspicious and the whole plot started to unravel. First, the gang never paid the cab driver who ran over Malloy. Then, they told the hitman too much about their scheme and he began to talk around town. Finally, the insurers learned about another death under those circumstances surrounding the same speakeasy.

The jig was up and all the conspirators were caught, tried and sentenced to the electric chair at Sing-Sing Prison.

When the story about Mike Malloy’s indestructible nature, the local legend began to earn the nickname “Iron Mike.”

Articles

The 5 greatest warships of all time

The US Naval Institute completed a poll of its readers to determine the best warships of all time. The Naval Institute urged readers to consider vessels from ancient times to now, and with more than 2,600 votes and almost 900 written responses, they’ve developed a diverse list spanning hundreds of years.


‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

In some cases, readers wrote in recommending whole classes of ships, like aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, but the list below will only reflect the five specific ships that made the grade.

5. USS Nautilus

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
The USS Nautilus permanently docked at the US Submarine Force Museum and Library, Groton, CT. | Victor-ny via Wikimedia Commons

Congress authorized the construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine in 1951, and in 1954 first lady Mamie Eisenhower christened it.

The Nautilus changed the game when it came to naval warfare, and it ushered in an entirely new era for submarines. This nearly silent sub could hide among the ocean floor undetected, while offering up substantial contributions to surface warfare with cruise, or even nuclear, missiles.

The nuclear sub would go on to form one-third of the US’s nuclear triad.

4. HMS Dreadnought

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Wikimedia Commons

The HMS Dreadnought ushered in a new era of “all big-gun ships.” Unlike battleships before it, the Dreadnought only had 12-inch cannons aided by electronic range-finding equipment. For defensive, the ship was completely encased in steel.

The Dreadnought presented a suite of technologies so cutting edge that it is often said that it rendered all battleships before it obsolete.

Though the Dreadnought did not have a distinguished service record, it did become the only surface battleship to sink a submarine. It is remembered largely for shifting the paradigm of naval warfare, as opposed to its victories in battle.

3. USS Enterprise

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
USS Enterprise in 1939. | US Navy

Unlike the Dreadnought, the historians remember the USS Enterprise for its outstanding record in combat.

As the sixth aircraft carrier to join the US Navy in 1936, the Enterprise was one of the first craft to respond after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it survived major battles in Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf, and the “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo during World War II.

After the war, the Enterprise was decommissioned as the most decorated ship in US naval history.

2. Korean Turtle Boats

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Wikimedia Commons

Korean Turtle Ships served with the Korean navy for centuries, first coming into play in the Seven Years’ War (1592-1598) between Korea and Japan.

The idea behind the Turtle Ship was to provide an impenetrable floating fortress optimized for boarding enemy craft. The side of the ship is dotted with holes from which the crew can fire cannons and other artillery, while the top of the ship is covered in iron spikes, making it especially dangerous for enemy sailors to board the vessel.

With up to 80 rowers pulling along the heavy craft, the Turtle Ships were brutal but effective.

1. USS Constitution

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
The USS Constitution underway. | Wikimedia Commons

The USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides,” as it is affectionately known, first hit the seas as one of the first six frigates in the newly formed US Navy of 1797.

The Constitution had both 30 24-pound cannons and also speed. Not only was it technologically sound for its time, but it was also simply unparalleled and undefeated in battle.

Famously, in 1812, the Constitution fought against the HMS Guerriere, whose guns could not pierce the heavily armored sides of the Constitution.

The Constitution is still commissioned by the Navy today, considered the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, and the only currently commissioned US Navy ship to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is in every way worthy of the title “greatest warship of all time.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 of the best National Anthem performances in Super Bowl history

Outside of being the most important football game of the year, the Super Bowl gives us the chance to gather with friends and family and also makes for a good excuse why we’re still a little intoxicated the next day.


One of the most exciting parts for many of us, however, is the performing of the National Anthem. It’s a chance for all of us to get patriotic and be awed by some of the best voices in music (most of the time). Here are seven of the best National Anthem performances in the history of the Super Bowl.

7. Jordin Sparks — Super Bowl XLII

Fresh off of her American Idol win, Jordin Sparks showcased amazing pipes while keeping it simple and classy

(muffy223 | YouTube)

6. Luke Bryan — Super Bowl LI

The lone male soloist on this list, Luke Bryan came out and represented country music — and he did it well.

(Atheneum Group | YouTube)

5. Lady Gaga — Super Bowl L

This was a surprisingly great rendition of our country’s anthem. Save for some weird pronunciation (Lady Gaga is from Jersey but found an accent on the way up to the microphone, apparently), Gaga amazed the crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv2f5r5O0-c
(Anything Slays | YouTube)

4. Vanessa L. Williams — Super Bowl XXX

Former Miss America, Vanessa L. Williams, showed her versatility with this impressive performance.

(kramertony | YouTube)

3. Mariah Carey — Super Bowl XXXVI

The highest-selling female recording artist ever didn’t disappoint with this performance.

(StarpeemReturns | YouTube)

2. Combined Armed Forces — Super Bowl XXXIX

One of only two performances in Super Bowl history by anyone directly enlisted, commissioned, or committed to service. This combined chorale demonstration showed what military focus and vocal talent add up to: perfect pitch!

(Lunatic Angelic | Youtube)

1. Whitney Houston — Super Bowl XXV

They didn’t call her “The Voice” for nothing.

(CavBuffaloSoldier | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” — every fighter pilot ever including “Duke” Cunningham, U.S. Navy fighter ace


Lt. Randy “Duke” Cunningham woke up aboard the USS Constellation on the morning of May 10, 1972 with two MiG kills under his belt. He’d used Sidewinder heat seeking missiles to shoot down North Vietnamese opponents on January 19 and May 8 of that year. A recent increase in enemy sorties made Cunningham and the other carrier air wing fighter pilots sure they’d have more chances to bag bandits. Cunningham just needed three more kills to attain “ace” status. The aircraft carrier had plenty of time left on station, so he allowed himself to believe it could happen. He had no idea he’d earn the balance in one flight.

Cunningham and his radar intercept officer Lt. Willie Driscoll launched in a VF-96 F-4J — tactical callsign “Showtime 100” — from the Constellation as part of a strike package against the Hai Dong rail yards in North Vietnam. After dropping its bombs, Showtime 100 took up a combat air patrol position to cover other airplanes on bomb runs.

The American strike package was jumped by a group of MiG-17s. Cunningham downed one of them with a Sidewinder after the MiG pilot overshot him. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and looked down and saw eight MiGs tangled with Navy Phantoms. He rolled in on one that was threatening to shoot his squadron XO, transmitting, “If you don’t break now you are going to die,” after the XO didn’t respond to two previous calls to turn hard. Once his squadronmate complied and was clear, Cunningham loosed another Sidewinder and killed his fourth MiG.

On the way back to the carrier, Cunningham spotted another MiG, which — in spite of his low fuel state — he decided to engage. He wound up flying in front of the enemy airplane, which allowed the MiG to shoot at him with the nose cannon. Cunningham made a hard pull into the vertical, and the bullets missed. To his surprise the MiG followed him up, something MiGs tended not to do because the airplane’s climb performance lagged that of the Phantom.

What followed was one of the legendary dogfights of the jet era. Cunningham and his opponent mixed it up for several minutes, going from a high-speed vertical fight to a low-speed horizontal “rolling scissors” fight. The MiG had more maneuverability in the low-speed regime, and as the enemy pilot pulled his nose up for a shot, Cunningham — in spite of his low fuel state — selected full afterburner and put enough distance between his F-4 and the MiG to avoid getting shot by an ATOLL missile.

Driscoll was in the backseat strongly suggesting they keep heading east to the carrier, which would have been the prudent thing to do, but Cunningham didn’t want to wait any longer to be an ace. He turned back toward the MiG and another rolling scissors ensued. The advantage went back and forth, and finally the MiG — probably low on gas as well — made a move to exit the fight, which allowed Cunningham to make one last-ditch move to fire his last Sidewinder.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
(Painting by Philip West)

It worked. At first Cunningham thought the missile missed, but a few seconds later the MiG started to come apart. Cunningham was an ace, the first of the Vietnam War.

But his problems weren’t over. Before Showtime 100 got “feet wet” it was hit by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. He managed to coax the crippled fighter far enough over the Gulf of Tonkin to avoid falling into enemy hands and winding up a POW. After successfully ejecting, both Driscoll and he were picked up by an Air Force SAR helicopter.

For his efforts on that day, Cunningham received the Navy Cross.

Cunningham left the Navy at the 20-year mark, retiring at the rank of commander after serving as a Top Gun instructor and the commander officer of VF-126, the aggressor squadron based at Miramar. He became the dean of the National School of Aviation and started his own marketing company, Top Gun Enterprises.

Cunningham became one of CNN’s go-to military experts in the late ’80s and early ’90s — especially on the eve of Desert Storm, and that visibility brought him to the attention of Republican power brokers around San Diego, Cunningham’s hometown. The Democratic incumbent of the 44th District, Jim Bates, was vulnerable in the upcoming election because of an ongoing sexual harassment scandal.

He wound up breezing to victory and took office in January of 1991. In short order he established himself as an outspoken conservative champion and in many cases just plain outspoken. He brought the same intemperate disposition that served him as a fighter pilot to the Washington arena, flipping off reporters and calling gay service members “homos” on the floor of the House while arguing with backers of a conservation amendment. That act played well with a majority of his constituents — he was reelected with ease six times — but it also earned him some enemies and the attention of the press.

In 1996 Cunningham criticized the Clinton Administration for being “soft on crime.”

“We must get tough on drug dealers,” he said, adding that “those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly.” He voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers. Four months later his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. Representative Cunningham broke down in court and pleaded with the judge for leniency in his son’s case, which his critics found very hypocritical.

Then in June of 2005 the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a defense contractor named Mitchell Wade had purchased Cunningham’s house in Del Mar in 2003 for $1,675,000 and put it back on the market a month later. (Cunningham was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at the time.) Wade’s company, MZM Inc., started receiving tens of millions of dollars of defense and intelligence contracts.

The Union Tribune later reported that Cunningham was living rent-free aboard one of Wade’s yachts docked in a harbor in Washington DC and that he was throwing parties for young women aboard the yacht on a regular basis.

The FBI raided his home, Wade’s home, and the MZM corporate offices on July 1, 2005. A few months later, Cunningham pleaded guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter’s college graduation party.

Cunningham read the following statement at the press conference where he announced he was resigning from Congress:

When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public – even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is – I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. … In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Vietnam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity.

I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.

Cunningham wound up serving seven years in a minimum security satellite camp near Tucson, Arizona. He was released to a halfway house in New Orleans in February of 2013. He now lives in Arkansas and still receives his Navy retirement pay as well as a pension for 14-plus years as a Congressman. (Legislation introduced to prevent convicted lawmakers from receiving their pensions died in committee.)

The San Diego Union Tribune received the Pulitzer Prize for the reporting surrounding the takedown of Congressman Cunningham.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like being in the military on 9/10

Picture this: You wake up and the first thing you see is the beautiful sunshine of the Aloha State. The smell of the seawater mixed with the joy of being on your own makes serving your country feel like freshman year at college. This was reality for me, an 18-year-old airman living the dream in Hawaii on September 10, 2001. As we all know, the very next morning, at approximately 0845 Eastern Time, things would change for the military, the country, and the world at large.


Also read: 6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

Here’s what people in the military experienced immediately.

4. Getting on military bases got harder.

During my first few weeks as a Security Forces airman, I was planted at the gate.

I stood in the center of a three-lane highway, decked out in short-sleeved blues complete with a crisp white ascot, perched in my small, brick pulpit waving traffic in and rendering salutes according to base vehicle decals. It was fun for a while, and all that saluting actually gave me quite the jailhouse pump.

But I digress.

After 9/11, there were entire teams assigned to the gate. Vehicle searches became an absolute necessity and people started to have a bit more empathy for the gate guard.

 

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
What all gate guards used to look like. (Photo from Joint Base Andrews).

 

3. Separating pretty much stopped.

Two words. Just two words could ruin your day and change your life after 9/11.

“Stop-loss.”

It’s well known that the U.S. Army was heavily affected by stop-loss. What’s lesser known is just how much stop-loss affected the entire military. Suddenly, we found ourselves looking at involuntary active service extensions — we were all stuck in the suck together.

Also, leave was an absolute no-go.

2. Military deployments got longer (a lot longer).

Before 9/11, U.S. Air Force deployments were typically around three months — or less.

In the immediate aftermath following 9/11, it wasn’t uncommon for airmen to be gone for 8-12 months at a time. This pales in comparison to our older brothers in green, but it was quite the change of culture for airmen.

 

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
A long way from home? Check. Isolation? Check. Fatigue? Triple check. (Image by Paul Davis)

Related: 7 reasons the Air Force hates on the Army

1. Life got real.

Obviously, life was completely different after the events of 9/11. For airmen, it meant a lot of changes happening really fast.

Before 9/11, the amount of “in-service” friends deploying was minimal, especially if you weren’t SOF, Security Forces, or Civil Engineering. The tempo was such that we could all properly maintain our duties without augmentation.

Suddenly, family members expressed much more concern than they had prior. This isn’t to say that they didn’t care before 9/11, but when a newfound element of danger cropped up and put everyone at risk, you started to hear from loved ones more often.

Since then, every service member (yes, even in the “Chair Force”) has had to face threats and fight for our country, in some way, day in and day out. There was conflict to be had by all.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus
Some gave all. (USAF photo by A1C Christopher Quail)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Native Americans ended up fighting for the Confederacy

Even after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, one Confederate army refused to acknowledge defeat and for months stubbornly fought on.

It was led not by one of the wealthy white southerners who made up much of the Confederacy’s officer class — but by a Native American chief called Stand Watie.

So how did a leader of a people facing systematic persecution come to fight for a cause founded on racism and the right to own slaves?

The story illustrates how in the Civil War, the presence of a common enemy caused unexpected alliances to be formed, including an alliance Paul Chaat Smith, a curator at the National Museum of the Native American, has characterized as a “mangy, snarling dog standing between you and a crowd-pleasing narrative.”


Watie was himself a plantation holder and slave owner, and had settled in Oklahoma after playing a central role in events that resulted in the eviction of thousands of Native Americans from their land in what is now Georgia.

He was born in 1806 in Cherokee country near what is now Rome, Georgia, and was given the Cherokee name Degataga, meaning “stand firm.”

His father — also a slave owner – was baptized, giving his son the Christian name Isaac S Uwatie. Dropping the ‘U’ and combining it with his Cherokee name, his son took the name Stand Watie.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

General Stand Watie, leader of a Native American army which fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

(National Archives Catalogue)

In 1835, Watie was one of the Cherokee leaders to sign the treaty of New Echota handing over Cherokee ancestral territory to the federal government. In exchange they were granted land to resettle the nation west, in Indian Territory, in what is now Oklahoma.

Some refused to leave and were forcibly removed by the government. It is believed that nearly 4,000 Cherokee died attempting to make the journey to Indian Territory after 1838 in what has become known as the Trail of Tears.

Four years after the treaty, the Cherokee turned against those who had signed away their land, assassinating three of them. Watie survived.

Cherokee chief John Ross, who opposed the treaty, became an adamant enemy of Watie.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

John Ross, Cherokee Chief, Protested Treaty of New Echota, 1835, and Subsequent Forcible Removal of Cherokees to the West During Winter of 1838-39.

In 1861, Georgia ceded from the Union, becoming one of the original seven states that formed the slave-owning Confederacy.

That same year, Watie raised a force of Native Americans to fight for the Confederacy as North and South went to war.

It was the federal government, responsible for robbing Cherokee of their ancestral land, which Watie — in common with many of his people — saw as his main enemy, not the Confederacy.

And shockingly, many Cherokee were themselves slave owners, with some taking their slaves with them to Indian Territory after the forced resettlements west.

Smith has described the Cherokee as “deeply committed to slavery.”

He told the Smithsonian Magazine they “established their own racialized black codes, immediately reestablished slavery when they arrived in Indian territory, rebuilt their nations with slave labor, crushed slave rebellions, and enthusiastically sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War.”

Watie’s force earned a fearsome reputation, performing audacious raids behind enemies lines and attacking Native American settlements loyal to the Union.

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

The surrender of General Lee to General Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865.

Even as the majority of Cherokee repudiated the alliance with the Confederacy in 1862, Watie remained loyal. So successful was he as a military commander that in 1865 Waite was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, one of only two native Americans to achieve the rank in the conflict.

In wasn’t until June 23, 1865 — 154 years ago — that Watie surrendered to Union forces in Doaksville, Oklahoma. In doing so, he became the last Confederate general to lay down his arms in the Civil War.

His force at the time comprised Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians.

Watie led a delegation of his Cherokee faction in Washington DC in 1866 to negotiate a new treaty with US government. Their loyalty to the Confederacy meant the old treaties had been torn up.

The new treaty signed by Watie granted former slaves tribal citizenship.

After the war, Watie spent the rest of his life as a businessman and plantation owner, and collecting his people’s folk tales and legends. He died in 1871.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Jimmy Doolittle nearly revealed the biggest American secret of WWII

He’s famous for leading the nighttime aerial bombing raid on Tokyo in the opening days of World War II, a feat that earned him the Medal of Honor. He commanded the Eighth Air Force and broke the back of the Luftwaffe.


But James H. Doolittle also nearly blew the biggest intelligence advantage the Allies had – ULTRA.

So, how in the world did this hero manage to do that? The big problem was that Doolittle had a habit of leading from the front. In fact, an obituary in the Los Angeles Times revealed how he lead the Tokyo Raid.

Though General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Army Air Corps Chief of Staff, wanted Doolittle to hang back and act as his chief aide, Doolittle made a run around the Army Air Corps staff and got the spot to lead the raid.

Doolittle survived the Tokyo Raid and escaping China ahead of Japanese forces. But he wasn’t quite done going too far forward.

While commanding the 12th Air Force in Africa, he drew the wrath of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to Dik Daso’s biography “Doolittle,” Eisenhower had called Doolittle’s HQ to talk with the general. Doolittle wasn’t in the HQ, he was in a Spitfire taking it for a test flight. Eisenhower expressed his displeasure with his subordinate.

But Doolittle just didn’t take the hint. Even when he commanded the Eighth Air Force, he kept flying missions. Retired Navy Capt. G. H. Spaulding noted that Doolittle would continue to fly even after he was briefed on ULTRA – the Allied codebreaking effort that targeted Germany’s Enigma machine.

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A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

On June 27, 1944, Doolittle allowed his new intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Arthur Vanaman — who also had been briefed in on ULTRA — to fly what was supposed to be a “milk run” over Germany. Doolittle had flown a number of times, and made it back, but Vanaman would not be so lucky.

German flak scored a hit on Vanaman’s plane. The pilot ordered the crew to bail out. About half did before control of the plane was restored. The plane returned to base, with news that Vanaman had bailed out over enemy territory.

In his 2007 book Masters of the Air, Donald L. Miller needed only one word to describe Eisenhower’s reaction to Doolittle’s decision to let Vanaman fly that mission: Furious. Luckily, the Germans didn’t ask Vanaman any questions at all. They kept him as a POW until the end of the war. Vanaman would retire from the Air Force as a major general in 1954, according to the Air Force’s official biography of him.

According to an official biography on the Air Force web site, Doolittle would retire from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1959. In 1985, he would receive a fourth star from President Reagan. A very lengthy and remarkable career for a man who almost blew the biggest secret of the war.

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