How America's first military aviator was an Air Force visionary - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

When it comes to aviation, aircraft are only as good as the pilots behind them, and in the beginning, one man was instrumental in getting military aviation off the ground.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois was one of the first in the military to assume the mantle of aviator as manned flight was still in its infancy, and according to Bob Barlow, U.S. Army Aviation Museum volunteer and former aviator, his efforts helped shape what aviation is today.

Foulois first enlisted in the Army to serve in the Spanish-American War in 1898, but only served for five months before being mustered out, said Barlow. He re-enlisted in 1899 at just 18 years old and quickly ascended through the ranks to become a second lieutenant by 1901.


He was sent to the Army Signal School in 1908 where he wrote the thesis, “The Tactical and Strategically Value of Dirigible Balloons and Aerodynamical Flying Machines,” showcasing his foresight that the future of warfare would be in aviation.

A quote from Foulois’ thesis read, “In all future warfare, we can expect to see engagements in the air between hostile aerial fleets. The struggle for supremacy in the air will undoubtedly take place while the opposing armies are maneuvering for position.”

“He said the military dirigible and the airplane would be responsible for gaining the upper hand in the skies before the battle took place — nobody ever really talked about that before him,” Barlow said.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Major General Benjamin D. Foulois

Foulois was selected as one of three Signal Corps officers to receive flying instruction to become one of the first military aviators, and on July 13, 1912, he became the fifth Army officer to be rated as a military aviator.

“He was one of the first three selected, but he was the first military aviator to stay the course,” said Barlow. “He was taken up by the Wright brothers and sent to Fort Sam Houston to complete his training on his own.

“Around this time, as aviation started taking off more and more, there were a lot of ground commanders who thought it was a lot of nonsense,” he said. “But there were visionaries like Foulois who knew that it was the next big thing.”

Throughout his testing of aircraft in 1911, which included the Wright Military Flyer, he was instrumental and innovating and providing ideas, even inventing the first seat belt, said the museum curator.

“(Later in life) when asked what his inspiration was for creating the seat belt, he said he was getting tired of being thrown out of the aircraft and hitting his head,” said Barlow.

Foulois also could see that the Wright Military Flyer was incredibly outdated and wouldn’t be able to compete on the battlefield.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Lt. Foulois and Orville Wright

“The airplane at the time was a push propeller aircraft that was basically a box kite,” said Barlow. “At the same time, the French were way ahead of us with a tractor aircraft and central seating for the aircraft, which looks more like the proper airplane that we know today.”

After a series of crashes and accidents, Foulois, along with other officers in aviation. condemned the pusher propeller aircraft and began to lean toward the tractor aircraft. In 1913 he joined the 1st Aero Squadron, and by 1914 he was appointed as its commander.

In March of 1916, he reported for duty with Pershing’s Punitive Expedition, and along with Capt. Townsend Dodd performed the first U.S. aerial reconnaissance mission over enemy-held territory in Mexico.

“This was their first foray into getting their feet wet with military combat aviation,” said Barlow, adding that by the time World War I came along, Foulois was probably the most experienced officer in the military in regards to aviation.

Because of his experience, he was tasked with the procurement, production, and development and operations of aircraft.

Initially, the Army wanted several thousand aircraft, 4,800 pilots and twice as many mechanics, all within a year, but with the resources at the time it wasn’t possible.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Brig. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois, Maj. Gen. James. E. Fechet and Brig. Gen. H.C. Pratt

“That didn’t’ happen,” said Barlow. “We weren’t ready for that. Our output was barely 40 aircraft a month on a good month, so, we had to borrow from the British and the French.”

Foulois later deployed to France doing the same job, and in 1917 he become chief of air services in the zone of occupation for the Army Expeditionary Force. It was during his time in WWI that eventually the U.S. produced its own aircraft, the JN-4 Jenny.

Following the war, he was later appointed as the chief of the Air Corps in 1931, and in 1934 then-President Theodore Roosevelt tasked Foulois to head the Army Air Corps Mail Operation, which ended in the Air Mail scandal of 1934 because the Air Corps was ill equipped to take on the mission, said Barlow.

“They flew about 1.4 million miles carrying the mail and they lost a lot of people doing it,” he said. As a result, Foulois ended up taking the brunt of the blame for the program’s failure and was forced into retirement in 1935 with 36 years of service.

Despite the scandal, Barlow said Foulois was instrumental in bringing military aviation to the forefront.

“This is a man who came in the military at 18 … and became one of the first three pilots in the U.S. military. He was there through the birth of all the doctrine, the changes and the clashes with the ground force,” he said. “What we’re doing now we owe to him. He was the first military aviator to stay the course, and he was Army aviator No. 1 as far as I’m concerned.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This pioneer is considered the founder of the Navy SEALs

During WWII, Adolf Hitler knew that American forces would invade somewhere on the coast of France and fight their way inland. To prevent the invasion, the Germans constructed a massive Atlantic wall full of dangerous obstacles along the beachheads to combat amphibious vehicles from pulling up landing onto the shoreline.


U.S. forces had no internal expertise on how to breach Hitler’s solid barriers — so they turned to one man — Draper Kauffman.

After Kauffman graduated from the Naval Academy years before the invasion, he was denied an officer’s commission due to having poor eye-sight. Wanting to serve in the military, Kauffman traveled overseas and became an ambulance driver for the British. After a short period as a German POW, he went to London to join the fight as “The Blitz” was in full swing.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Related: This SEAL was shot 27 times before walking himself to the medevac

On the first day, German bombers had dropped 377 tons of ordnance onto the city — many of the explosives did not detonate. The government asked for volunteers to help with bomb disposal, Kauffman stepped up to volunteer and raised his hand.

Kauffman learned all he could about his new field and rapidly excelled at it. His advanced bomb disposal knowledge earned him a transfer from the British Navy to the American one.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Draper Kauffman (left)

Soon after entering the American Navy, an event took place that would change our history forever — the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Navy gave Kauffman orders to create a bomb disposal unit; he went right to work.

One of his first tasks was to disarm a 500-pound bomb located in the harbor. He completed the deadly mission and received the Navy Cross for his excellent work.

Also Read: This sailor has one of the most impressive resumes you’ll ever see — and he’s not done yet

In 1943, Kauffman received a life-changing phone call during his honeymoon that was to report to Washington as directed. His newest assignment was to create a plan to mitigate Hitler’s beach obstacles.

He would go from disarming bombs to now planting them. Along with a few other Naval officers, the “U.S. Navy Combat Demolition” unit was born.

Kauffman and his officers began training “frogmen” out of the swampy and mosquito infested area in Fort Pierce, Florida — the first BUD/s class started training. Kauffman and the instructors taught the Navy’s bravest men how to sneak up onto an obstacle undetected and take it out.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
U.S. Navy Combat Demolition

In 1962, the Navy SEALs were officially declared when former President John F. Kennedy had them established to conduct Unconventional Warfare — and they’ve been kicking a** ever since.

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7 awesome airpower quotes from General Curtis LeMay

The most powerful weapon in the United States’ Cold War arsenal was likely not its hundreds of nuclear warheads — it was the man whose job it was to deploy them.


There are few men in Air Force history as noteworthy and controversial as Gen. Curtis LeMay. He earned the nickname “Iron Ass” for his stubbornness and shortness once his mind was made up. When he did speak, the stout, cigar-chomping, stone-faced general had a reputation for his outspoken manner. Though not always remembered fondly by history, some of his image as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, caveman may be undeserved.

He was the youngest general to wear a fourth star. When he retired, he had served as a four-star general longer than anyone in American history; a big deal for a general who didn’t go to a service academy, instead graduating from Ohio State. At the height of his career, he was the symbol of American military might. A bit more about one of the U.S. Air Force’s most influential founding generals can be gleaned through his more noteworthy quotes.

1. “We should always avoid armed conflict. But if you get in it, get in with both feet and get out as soon as possible.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Despite his gruff, cold image, every operational goal, in LeMay’s mind, was a means to an end. Ending a war quickly meant saving American lives. During World War II, LeMay was responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cities which completely destroyed most major Japanese cities. It was his command that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Official estimates from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined at least 330,000 killed, 476,000 injured, 8.5 million people made homeless, and 2.5 million buildings destroyed. Almost half of 64 Japanese mainland cities were completely destroyed. The destruction was not lost on LeMay. He acknowledged that if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.

Later he would reveal that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary, given the level of destruction he had already waged on Japan. He said he only dropped them because of President Truman’s authority. After the war, Japan’s former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe confirmed that the decision to surrender was based on the prolonged bombing wrought by General LeMay’s Marianas-based air forces. LeMay took command of the Marianas in January 1945. The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.

2. “War is never cost-effective. People are killed. To them, the war is total.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

He was known as a tough commander, but a fair one. He earned a reputation for being stone-faced, uncaring about the needs of his men but LeMay actually suffered from Bell’s Palsey, which literally immobilized his face. When a Harvard study found Army pilots were aborting bombing missions over Germany out of fear, LeMay personally led every bombing sortie and ordered any crew who didn’t go over the target be court martialed.

The gruff general took combat losses to heart, knowing he’d sent men to die, but firmly believed if the death of one American could save a thousand, then it was the right decision to make. In The Fog of War, a documentary about the life of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, McNamara quoted LeMay: “Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I’ve been there, I know what it is.  But you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo.”

3. “Successful offense brings victory. Successful defense can now only lessen defeat.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

This is an “extremely belligerent, many thought brutal” man who believed in the power, threat and use of nuclear weapons. He wanted SAC to be able to deliver every nuclear warhead in the American arsenal on the Soviet Union at once. This military rationale earned LeMay the image of a cold man who was obsessed with starting any kind of war with the Russians.

It was Gen. LeMay who inspired the character of Buck Turgidson in “Doctor Strangelove,” willing to pay for a victory over the Soviet Union with unlimited American lives. As a bomber pilot, LeMay’s point of view was one of overwhelming force. At its height, the SAC had 1600 bombers and 800 missiles in its arsenal.

4. “We can haul anything.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

As the commander of U.S. Air Forces In Europe, LeMay was asked by the Commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, Lucius D. Clay, about the feasibility of an airlift (later known as the “Berlin Airlift”) to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.

Gen. Clay asked LeMay “Can you haul coal?” Even though he preferred the more aggressive response of an armed convoy backed by bomber aircraft, Gen. LeMay enthusiastically began the 5,000 ton per day airlift operation within weeks. He was so instrumental in its startup, it was initially called “The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service.” LeMay’s response to Clay’s hauling question represents the can-do attitude and spirit of the U.S. Air Force.

5. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Robert McNamara, who served under LeMay during WWII and over him as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, called him the finest combat commander there ever was. While he was convinced a war would happen at some point and believe the U.S. should fight it on the grounds most favorable to it, LeMay’s military upbringing taught him that true readiness required constant training and this readiness was to be in place when the civilian leaders of the military deemed it necessary to use them.

His solution was to create a force so powerful no one would dare sneak an attack. He would always advocate for a heavy military response, most notably during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but always loyally and diligently carried out the orders and policy of his civilian superiors.

6. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

When he took control of Strategic Air Command in 1948, most of his bomber crews couldn’t hit Ohio with a mock atomic bomb during exercises. The SAC under Gen. LeMay became one of the most effective military units in the world on the basis of relentless training.

One officer was quoted as saying: “Training in SAC is harder than war … it might be a relief to go to war.” Within two years, the procedures, checklists, and training implemented by General LeMay gave SAC one of the best safety records in U.S. military history.

7. “The price of failure might be paid with national survival.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay ran with George Wallace on his segregationist party ticket. It led many to conclude that LeMay agreed with Wallace’s racial views. In truth, LeMay agreed to run with Wallace because he believed in a hard line against Communism, and an end to the War in Vietnam, and didn’t see any of the potential candidates doing these things.

LeMay was no racist. During his tenure as a commander in the Air Force, he had actually promoted the integration of units well before Truman’s executive order. Protesters would attend Wallace rallies shouting “Sieg heil” at the man who designed the bombing plans that crippled Nazi war production, even personally leading the most dangerous missions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American naval tech advanced during the Civil War

The land battles of the Civil War, like the Battle of Gettysburg, often draw much of the attention when discussing the war. And they should — many of these conflicts were massive in scope, accounting for tens of thousands of casualties.


However, the Civil War was also notable for the great leaps in naval technology that took place in just four years. At the start of the conflict, navies still relied on wooden ships powered by sails that used wind power to travel the seas. The wood was necessary, as it was light enough to be pushed by gusts at a decent speed.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
The end of the Age of Sail: The frigate USS Cumberland is rammed and sunk by CSS Virginia on March 8, 1862. (Curier and Ives from Wikimedia Commons)

By the end of the conflict, ships were powered by coal-burning steam engines. This effectively liberated ships from the whims of the wind, allowing them to sail direct courses to their destinations. Even though the ships became heavier as a result, they would travel faster using a powerful engine.

The engines also allowed the ships to don armor to protect them enemy fire. Nowhere was that more evident than when the ironclad ram CSS Virginia attacked the Union fleet off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
These plans of USS Monitor show the advanced technology that the Navy adopted in the Civil War: Steam engines, iron armor, and a turret. (U.S. Navy photo)

Even the way naval armament was mounted changed, moving from lines of side-mounted cannon to two-gun turrets. In the old days, a ship had to turn to bring half their main battery’s firepower to bear on the enemy. Turrets allowed a ship to hold its course and still bring all of its firepower to a fight.

USS Monitor was the first vessel to tie all these new technologies together. This made her the most powerful warship on the high seas from the time she entered the United States Navy to the time of her unfortunate sinking during a storm on Dec. 31, 1862.

Learn more about Civil War naval technology in the video below.

 

(Civil War Trust | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the infamous glider regiments quietly fizzled out of history

The United States Military has always prided itself on its legacy. That’s why the historical accomplishments of a unit are almost always passed down from the old-timers to the young bloods. And if a great troop does a heroic deed, you can bet the installation where they were once stationed will have a street named after them.

The history books of the United States Military are extensive and cherished — but you won’t often see mention of the glider regiments. Outside of randomly finding their insignia on “Badges of the United States Army” posters that line the training room, you won’t ever hear anyone sing the tales of the gliders.

That’s mostly because the history of the gliders is a bit… awkward, let’s say.


How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Still though. There was a need that the gliders filled and they got the job done… some times…

(National Archives)

Since their inception, gliders have been at odds with the paratroopers. Instead of having an infantryman jump from an aircraft and float down individually, the gliders would be filled to the brim with infantrymen that could all exit the glider at the same time and location. Gliders could also be filled with heavy equipment or vehicles and moved into the battlefield, remaining fairly silent as it glided to the ground.

And that about does it for the list of benefits to using gliders.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Earlier anti-glider poles had explosives, but the Axis found it a bit of overkill, as the inertia alone did the trick.

(National Archives)

The thing is, all of the functions of the glider were better (and more safely) served by the helicopter. But even before helicopters were ready to take on a primary role, the Army had long abandoned gliders.

There were simply too many problems in the operating of gliders. First, gliders had to be towed by a much larger aircraft. When the time came, the glider would release the line and, as the name implies, glide to its intended destination. It didn’t have its own engine or any completely reliable means of piloting it.

Accidents were frequent. After all, there’s a reason they were unaffectionately called “flying coffins.” The glider needed to remain light (despite the heavy load in the back), so it had barely any kind of protection. The glider was literally made of honeycombed plywood and canvas, meaning air pockets or 40-mph winds could start shredding the exterior.

If the glider did manage to hold together throughout its journey, it was most left to its own devices after the departure of the towing plane. There were no brakes and steering was difficult. The only safe bet was to find a clearing, which were difficult to spot, seeing as the gliders cut the line while still miles away from their destination.

It also didn’t help that the Axis knew about the gliders’ biggest weakness: randomly placed ten-foot poles in giant clearings.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Farewell, gliders. You won’t be missed.

(442nd Fighter Wing Archive photo)

Gliders, in the eyes of the public, were doomed from the very beginning. In August, 1943, the gliders were given their first public demonstration in front for 10,000 spectators in St. Louis. A single bolt came undone and the glider fell like a sack of bricks right in front of the grand stand. Everyone onboard, including the mayor of St. Louis, was instantly killed.

The gliders did land properly more often than not and they played an instrumental role in major Allied invasions, but the fact that a staggering eleven percent of all troops who rode in them would die (and thirty percent were wounded upon landing) was something that the military just wanted to forget about.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 historical events that happened on Christmas

Who’s ready for some holiday cheer? Christmas has been a federal holiday since 1870, so we’re pretty accustomed to having a couple of days off to spend with family and drink too much eggnog. Christmas wasn’t always such a big party, however. Throughout most of human history, important political figures didn’t let a pesky holiday get in the way of their plans. 

Let’s check out a few of the most significant historical events that happened on December 25th. 

1066: William the Conqueror was crowned king. 

Ever heard of William, Duke of Normandy? What about his more ominous nickname- William the Conqueror? The man was a pretty big deal. In October of 1066, he invaded the British Isles and conquered King Harold II at the legendary Battle of Hastings. After his victory, he wasn’t going to keep his boring old title. What better day to get a new one than Christmas? 

On Christmas Day at Westminster Abbey, William was crowned king of England. This was the beginning of a highly influential 21-year long rule. True to his French roots, the Norman king infused his own culture and language with those of the English people he governed. In doing so, he changed the development of the English language. He also offered generous land grants to his French allies, which was partially responsible for the birth of the feudal system that continued throughout most of the Middle Ages. 

1776: Washington crossed the Delaware. 

George Washington wasn’t our first president for no reason. During the American Revolution, he wasn’t about to take a cocoa break on Christmas. No way. At 6 pm, Washington pushed his exhausted, borderline hopeless troops across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania at McConkey’s Ferry. For those who have only seen the Delaware as a blue line on a US map, that might not sound like such a remarkable feat. In reality, the crossing was treacherous and daring to the extreme. 

When Washington first arrived at the riverside, he was short on supplies and at least 1,700 of his soldiers were too ill or injured to fight. Even more of his men were needed to stay back to guard them. That left 2,400 to prepare a variety of boats and ferries for the crossing. The river was over 30 feet deep in some areas and freezing cold. The boats were loaded with cannons and artillery, and the crossing began. Over the course of several hours, the men made picked their way across, dodging floating ice through the night. 

Their eventual success marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War. After the crossing, Washington led a series of attacks while the opposing forces were still off their game from nights of holiday merrymaking. His risky move resulted in victories in Trenton and Princeton shortly after the new year, restoring hope to the weathered Continental Army. 

1814: The Treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812

After the Revolutionary War was won, America was far from finished arguing with the British. Great Britain continued trying to restrict U.S. trade and expand its own territory, and Americans weren’t having it. They took on the naval superpower in a conflict that would last nearly three years. The fighting was destructive and costly, reaching a peak when the British burned down the White House

It wasn’t sustainable for either party, so they met in Ghent, Belgium to negotiate a peace agreement. After four months of arguing, a settlement was finally agreed upon. The treaty basically called the war a truce, and all prisoners and captured ships were returned to their home nations. The Treaty didn’t go into effect until February of 1815, so the war didn’t instantly cease. The Battle of New Orleans actually took place in January after it was signed on Christmas. Still, the Treaty of Ghent was effectively responsible for ending the war. 

1868: Andrew Johnson pardoned confederate soldiers

The Civil War isn’t exactly America’s most shining moment, but after it was over, unifying the country was necessary to restore stability. Lincoln’s vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson, did this by doling out a truly massive Christmas gift: With Proclamation 179, he offered amnesty to every single person who fought against the US throughout the Civil War. 

The proclamation was actually the fourth order of its kind, with earlier agreements reestablishing legal rights to confederate soldiers if they signed oaths of loyalty to the United States. The Christmas proclamation brought the postwar agreements to a close. 

1968: Apollo 8 went into orbit around the moon

Not all holiday historical events were political. Gazing at the winter moon on Christmas Eve sounds romantic enough, but In 1968, three astronauts spent the night orbiting around it. Originally, the Apollo 8 mission was intended to be no more than a test run for a lunar landing. When progress on the lunar module took longer than anticipated, NASA decided to adjust their mission plan, transforming it into a full-blown moon mission. 

The mission was a huge success. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first men to escape  Earth’s gravitational pull, see the Earth from space, and orbit the moon, and it all happened on Christmas Eve! From orbit, the astronauts broadcasted a report back to Earth, ending in, “Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” To date, that moment is one of the most-watched in all of television history. 

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This shows why the battle for Fallujah is so important to Marine Corps history

It still remains one of the bloodiest battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a 48-day house-to-house urban nightmare that left a major city in ruin and an insurgency reeling.


But while Marines (and their Army brothers) lost many men in the fight for Fallujah, Iraq — including 82 Americans killed and more than 600 wounded — it remains a vivid memory for the thousands of Leathernecks who fought there and has earned its place as an iconic battle in the history of the Corps.

Dubbed “Operation al Fajr,” or New Dawn, the battle served as a major test for modern urban fighting in a counterinsurgency and tested many newly emerging theories on how to confront guerrilla armies. It also drew on the Marines’ history, recalling battles like Hue City, and Okinawa.

In the end, it was about the Marines and their brothers, fighting for each and every inch and looking after their own.

Happy 241st birthday United States Marine Corps!

Marines had to engage insurgents in house-to-house fighting.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
A U.S. Marine watches for anything suspicious from a building in Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 10, 2004. The Marine is assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 1st Marine Division. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Trevor R. Gift, U.S. Marine Corps.)

Marines moved in small, squad-sized units to clear buildings block-by-block.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
041126-M-5191K-005U.S. Marines prepare to step off on a patrol through the city of Fallujah, Iraq, to clear the city of insurgent activity and weapons caches as part of Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 26, 2004. The Marines are (from left to right) Platoon Sergeant Staff Sgt. Eric Brown, Machine Gun Section Leader Sgt. Aubrey McDade, Radio Operator Cpl. Steven Archibald, and Combat Engineer Lance Cpl. Robert Coburn. All are assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division conducting security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. (DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan C. Knauth, U.S. Marine Corpss)

For many Marine officers and NCOs, this was their first major test of combat.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
041112-M-5191K-007U.S. Marines, assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 1st Marine Division, confirm map details about Fallujah, Iraq, before continuing patrols during Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Nov. 12, 2004. The 1st Marine Division is conducting security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. DoD photo by Lance Cpl. Jonathan C. Knauth, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

When it came to taking down Fallujah, the Marines used everything they had.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
An Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) drives through a wall and locked gate to open a path for Marines assigned to 2nd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, as they gain entrance to a building that needed to be cleared in Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ryan L Jones)

Once Marines secured a building, they rearmed, reoriented and moved on to the next target.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
U.S. Marines huddle behind walls as they receive instructions about their next move after a M1A1 tank eliminates the Iraqi insurgents in a house the Marines were receiving fire from in Fallujah, Iraq, in support of Operation al Fajr (New Dawn) on Dec. 10, 2004. Operation al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. The Marines are assigned to 3rd Platoon, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. (DoD photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris, U.S. Marine Corps.)

When the Marines were done, the city of Fallujah was in shambles.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Fallujah, Iraq (Nov. 15, 2004) – Iraqi Special Forces Soldiers assigned to the U.S. Marines of 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, patrol south clearing every house on their way through Fallujah, Iraq, during Operation Al Fajr (New Dawn). Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq by units of the 1st Marine Division. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris.)

Leathernecks went on for days without sleep, sometimes grabbing rest only for a few minutes before taking up the fight once more.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
041109- Marines of 1st Battalion 8th Marines search the city of Fallujah, Iraq for insurgents and weapons during Operation Al Fajr.Operation Al Fajr is an offensive operation to eradicate enemy forces within the city of Fallujah in support of continuing security and stabilization operations in the Al Anbar province of Iraq by units of the 1st Marine Division.Official Marine Corps photo by: LCpl J.A. Chaverri


Classic Marine quote…

“We took down the hardest city in Iraq. This is what people join the Marine Corps to do. You might be in the Marine Corps for 20 years and never get this chance again — to take down a full-fledged city full of insurgents,” said Cpl. Garrett Slawatycki, then a squad leader with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “And we did it.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The real-life ‘Chappy’ Sinclair from Iron Eagle was an Air Force legend

Airmen and 80s movie buffs are likely to be familiar with the 1986 cult classic Iron Eagle. Sometimes called the “Top Gun of the Air Force,” Iron Eagle did not have the big budget, box office success or star power that its Naval-based counterpart did (although the soundtrack did have its fair share of great songs). However, the film did feature Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. (of An Officer and a Gentleman fame) as Colonel Charles “Chappy” Sinclair, the wise Vietnam Veteran fighter pilot who gave Top Gun‘s Jester a run for his money. Chappy serves as a mentor to the main character, teenager Doug Masters played by Jason Gedrick, and guides him throughout the film.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Iron Eagle movie poster. (Credit to TriStar Pictures)

As a mentor, Chappy shares his knowledge and experience, gained in the unforgiving skies above Vietnam, with teenage Masters. An accomplished fighter pilot, Chappy helps Masters to acquire intelligence, create a rescue plan and steal two F-16 fighter jets to attack the fictional Middle Eastern country of Bilya where Masters’ father is being held. While these fictional feats are impressive, they pale in comparison to the accomplishments of the real-life Chappy.

Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr. was born on February 20, 1920 in Pensacola, FL. He graduated Tuskegee University in 1942 and received his pilot wings and commission as a 2nd LT at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama on July 28, 1943. He remained at Tuskegee to train pilots for the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron. Having completed training in the P-40 Warhawk fighter, Chappy trained on the B-25 Mitchell bomber and was stationed in Kentucky and Ohio until the end of the war.

Chappy first saw action during the Korean War. In 1949, he went to the Philippines as a flight leader in the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 18th Fighter Wing at Clark Field. In July of the next year, he left for Korea where he also flew with the 44th and 67th Fighter-Bomber Squadrons in P-51 Mustang and F-80 Shooting Star fighters. During the war, Chappy flew a total of 101 combat missions.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Chappy poses with his P-51 Mustang in Korea. (Photo from the United States Air Force)

After the war, Chappy continued his Air Force career, holding commands and serving at a number of bases. In 1954, while stationed at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, Chappy was given the “Young Man of the Year” award by the Massachusetts Junior Chamber of Commerce for his outstanding community relations efforts. In June 1957, he graduated from the Air Command and Staff College.

After serving on staffs, and later as assistant director and director of operations for a number of wings, Chappy went to Thailand in 1966 to support combat missions in Vietnam. He became the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing vice commander under triple (then double) ace Col. Robin Olds. Flying from Ubon Air Base in Thailand, the two men created a strong and effective tactical command, earning them the nickname “Blackman and Robin.” In total, Chappy flew 78 combat missions into North Vietnam during the war.

Following his service in Vietnam, Chappy became the commander of the 7272nd Fighter Training Wing at Wheelus Air Base in the Libyan Arab Republic. Following the coup by radical Libyan military officers, including Muammar Gaddafi, the U.S. announced plans to close Wheelus Air Base. Wanting to see how far he could push the Americans, Gaddafi sent a column of armored half-tracks through the base housing area at full speed. Unamused by the stunt, Chappy closed the base gates and confronted Gaddafi. During their confrontation, Gaddafi kept his hand on the pistol in his hip holster. “I told him to move his hand away,” Chappy recalled having had his own .45 strapped to his hip. The future Libyan dictator complied. “If he had pulled that gun, his hand would have never cleared the holster.”

Chappy’s Air Force career saw him serve as principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, vice commander of the Military Airlift Command, commander in chief of NORAD/ADCOM, and special assistant to the Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force. Chappy retired in 1978 as a four-star general, the first African-American to achieve the rank.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

General Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr. Command Photo. (Photo from the United States Air Force)

The next time you watch Iron Eagle, remember General Daniel “Chappy” James, Jr., the trailblazing African-American pilot who served in three wars, stared down Gaddafi, and dared to see just how far he could go.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Michael F. asks: Are executions really held at midnight like shown in the movies? If so, why?

By the time Rainey Bethea was executed on Aug. 14, 1936, most of the United States had ceased executing people publicly. However, in Kentucky in 1936 an execution could still be held publicly and, according to the jury at his trial, Bethea deserved such an end, though not without controversy given the fact that the whole thing from murder to scheduled hanging took place in only about two months. On top of that, this was the case of a young black man who had previously only been convicted of a few minor, non-violent crimes being sentenced to death for rape and murder without any real defense on his behalf. He also claimed the confessions he gave were given under coercion. Whatever the case, the jury deliberated for less than five minutes and returned with the sentence of death by hanging, a mere three weeks after the crime was committed.


Approximately 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness the execution. When the time came, the trap door was opened and the rope snapped Bethea’s neck. After 14 minutes, his body was taken down and he was confirmed dead. This was the last public hanging ever performed in the United States.

So what does any of this have to do with executions being held at midnight? While a common Hollywood trope is the classic execution at midnight, it turns out for most all of history, this really wasn’t a thing. As with the case of Bethea, executions were largely a public spectacle and, outside of mob murders, people weren’t exactly keen on gathering at night to watch someone be killed; so executions tended to occur at more civilized hours.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

(Flickr photo by Alan Levine)

Interestingly, the fact that people preferred day time executions actually appears to be one of the chief reasons executions were, for a time in the United States, initially switched to late night, giving us the Hollywood trope that has largely endured to this day.

The earliest examples of this change occurred in the late 19th century as certain states began looking to curtail the spectacle that was public executions. As professor John Bessler of the University of Baltimore School of Law states, “There was pickpocketing at these public executions, thefts and sometimes violence. They were trying to get rid of the mob atmosphere that attended these public executions.”

The fix was easy — simply move the execution time to an hour when most people are sleeping, getting rid of the boisterous crowds and accompanying extra media coverage.

Now, given the switch to banning public executions completely, you might at this point be wondering why the nighttime time slot endured and became popular enough for a time to become a common trope?

One of the principal reasons often cited is simply to cut down on potential for more red tape in certain cases. While there are exceptions, in many states in the U.S. death warrants were, and in some cases still are, only legal for one day. If the execution is not carried out on the specified date, another warrant would be required which, as you might imagine for something as serious as killing someone legally (and ensuring the executioner cannot be charged for murder), this is a lot of paperwork and not always a guarantee. By starting at midnight, it gives the full 24 hours to work through potential temporary stays of execution, if any, before the time slot has ended and a new death warrant must be procured.

That said, perhaps more importantly, and a reason cited by many a prison official, is simply the matter of staffing. Executions performed at the dead of night see the inmates locked up in their cells, with minimal guard presence needed. Thus, prison workers don’t have to worry about any potential issues with the inmate populace during an execution. Further, some normal staff can easily be diverted to handling various aspects of a nighttime execution without taxing the available worker pool, a key benefit given prison systems are notoriously understaffed in the United States.

All this said, contrary to popular belief, midnight executions are not really much of a thing anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, but principally this is as a courtesy for the various people processing and working on the appeals. For example, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor notes, “Dispensing justice at that hour of the morning is difficult, to say the least, and we have an obligation … to give our best efforts in every one of these instances.”

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

(Flickr photo by kyle tsui)

Arguments for a switch in time slot have also been made on behalf of the loved ones of both the condemned and victims. These people were formerly made to arrive a couple hours before the execution at midnight, and would then have to stay until after it was carried out if they wanted to witness it. Even with no delays, this tended to see them not processed out the door until a few hours after midnight. And if there were temporary stays of execution, they might have to skip a night’s sleep to be sure they were there to watch someone, perhaps a loved one or potentially the opposite, die.

There is also the issue of overtime. While ease of staffing is generally listed as a positive reason for late night executions, it turns out that as states began to move the executions into the light of day again, issues with the other inmates during daytime executions never really manifested, while overtime costs to keep the necessary staff on hand to process the execution at night were not trivial. For example, in the execution of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, staff assigned to the execution cost just shy of an extra ,000 (about ,000 today) in overtime compared to if the execution had been carried out in the daytime. Some prisons have also taken to simply implementing special modified lockdown procedures during executions to free up normal staff while reducing the risk of issues with the rest of the inmates.

What about the potential paperwork problem? This has easily been worked around by many states who’ve moved to daytime executions. For example, in Missouri they just switched the time limit to 24 hours, regardless of date. What matters is just the starting time. Other states simply have moved to longer periods like a week or ten days granted for such a warrant.

Thus, contrary to what is often depicted in films, midnight executions have gone the way of the dodo in the United States, though there are a few places in the world that still prefer to execute people in darkness. For example, in India executions are typically carried out before sunrise, with the stated reasoning being staffing convenience — as was the case in the U.S., at these hours more staff are available to handle the execution before normal daily activities begin.

Bonus Fact:

  • Botched executions are surprisingly common, for example occurring in about 7% of all executions in the United States. Historically, between 1890 and 2010 in the United States, 276 executions were messed up in some way, sometimes dramatically. One young black teen, who very much appears to have been innocent of the crime he was convicted of, even had to be sent to the electric chair twice. After the first attempt at killing him failed and he had to be brought back to his cell, the subsequent controversy over whether it was legal to try to kill him again brought to light the fact that there really wasn’t any evidence against him other than a forced confession. We’ll have more on this in an upcoming episode of our podcast The BrainFood Show, which you can subscribe to here: (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed)

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-22 pilot told the Iranian Air Force to go home

The opening few minutes of the movie Top Gun make for, arguably, one of the coolest aerial scenes ever caught on film. There’s a reason it’s the enduring air power movie of the 1980s. Too bad for the Air Force that Top Gun featured the Navy.

Except Air Force pilots do that sh*t in real life.


In 2013, two Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms moved to intercept an MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace near the Iranian border. The two IRIAF fighters were quickly shooed away by two F-22 Raptors who were flying in escort.

Except, they didn’t just get a warning message, they were Maverick-ed. That’s what I’m calling it now.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

How an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian-built bomber.

The two F-22 Raptors were escorting the drone because of an incident the previous year in which two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 close air support craft attempted to shoot down a different Air Force MQ-1. In the Nov. 1, 2012, incident, the drone was 16 miles from Iran, but still in international airspace. Iran scrambled the two Su-25s to intercept the drone, which they did, using their onboard guns.

The fighters missed the drone, which captured the whole incident with its cameras. The drone returned to base, completely unharmed. Not surprising, considering the Su-25 isn’t designed for air-to-air combat.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom fighters.

The following year, another drone was being intercepted by Iranian aircraft. This time, however, it had serious firepower backing it up. The Iranians came at the drone with actual fighters, capable of downing an aircraft in mid-flight. The F-4 Phantom could bring what was considered serious firepower when it was first introduced – in the year 1960. These days, it’s a museum piece for the United States and most of its Western allies. Not so for the Iranians, who still have more than 40 of them in service. When the F-4s came up against the MQ-1, they probably expected an easy target. That didn’t happen.

One of the F-22 Raptor pilots flying escort for the drone flew up underneath the Iranian Phantoms. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Raptor pilot checked out the armaments the Iranian planes were carrying, then pulled up on their left wing and radioed them.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’,” Welsh said.

They did.

Articles

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.


In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.

Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Captured German U-boats outside a Norwegian submarine pen. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.

In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.

Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
Lt. Jimmy Launders during the commissioning of the Venturer in Holy Loch, Scotland (Photo Royal Navy)

The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.

Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.

Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary
HMS Venturer in port in 1943, two years before sinking the U-864 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.

Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.

Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.

The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.

In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why World War II veterans are returning captured Japanese flags

It’s not uncommon for troops who overrun an enemy position to take a photo with a captured enemy banner. It’s just as common for them to take that banner home as a souvenir. There are a lot worse things to remove from the battlefield. American troops have been capturing flags since the founding of the republic.

So, why are these World War II veterans returning captured Japanese flags?


The importance of a unit’s standard dates back to antiquity. Roman legions carried standards that took on an almost divine quality, representing the Legion, the Emperor, and even the Gods themselves. They would take extraordinary measures to recover a captured standard, even invading neighboring countries decades after losing the standards just to get them back. The Japanese had a similar tradition with their Yosegaki Hinomaru.
How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

The hinomaru was a blank flag carried by every drafted Japanese soldier. It was signed by everyone in their life; mother, father, sisters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, wives, and children. It was a good luck charm that wished bravery and a safe return home to the carrier. The Japanese troop then marched off to war, the flag folded and tucked somewhere on his person.

These are usually the flags that were captured by American troops in World War II. Because no one enjoys taking photos with the flags of their fallen enemies like U.S. troops.

Read: These 13 photos of US troops with enemy flags show some traditions never die

How America’s first military aviator was an Air Force visionary

U.S. Marines with a yosegaki hinomaru after the Battle of Iwo Jima.

But American troops had no idea these flags were the personal keepsakes of fallen individuals and not unit flags carried by the Japanese army. Now that the men who captured these battlefield trophies are aging and dying, the flags are being sold off or thrown away altogether, but there’s a better way to handle these pieces of history: giving them back.

And that’s what World War II veterans and their families are doing. Through the international nonprofit Obon Society, families and veterans who still possess a captured yosegaki hinomaru are tracking down the Japanese veterans and families of Japanese veterans of the Pacific War to return the family heirlooms and help the aging veterans heal their decades-old, invisible wounds.

If there’s any doubt about the power of these standards, even to this day, just watch below as a Japanese man reacts to seeing his missing brother’s yosegaki hinomaru.

There are no better frenemies than American and Japanese veterans of WWII. In the years that followed, the U.S. and Japan grew ever closer as allies and as people. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the war, the enduring friendships that developed in the years since have been a testament to the idea that peace is always possible, even in the face of such hard fighting. The only thing that remains is handling the losses incurred along the way – brothers, fathers, sons, and friends.

Groups like the Obon Society and its team of researchers make it easy to start healing the pain that remains between families and friends who lost loved ones in the war. If you or your departed veterans have a flag like the ones seen in the photos above, contact the Obon Society to return the flag to its family and maybe even make contact with them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient shot down 7 enemy aircraft on his first time out

After graduating at the top of his flight school class, James Swett decided to join the Navy — until a Marine colonel talked him into flying for the Corps instead.


Once he received his Marine officer commission, Swett shipped out to serve in War World II, where he would mark his mark sooner than he could ever expect.

Stationed on the island of Guadalcanal, Swett’s impressive 450 hours of pre-war flight time was about to be put the ultimate test.

Related: This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

In the early morning of Apr. 7, 1943, a Japanese attack fleet was preparing to bombard the island of Guadalcanal. That day, Swett had embarked on two standard flight patrols that resulted in nothing but clear skies.

But the third scheduled flight was about to turn very deadly. Swett received intel that 150 Japanese planes were en route to his position and he was prepared to defend it. Soon after making his very first enemy contact, Swett managed to shoot down a handful of enemy fighters.

After a several of defensive maneuvers, Swett took a few rounds to his starboard wing. Heading back to base, Swett discovered a series of enemy dive bombers headed toward him — so he engaged with short bursts, scoring additional kill shots.

Also Read: This WW2 Ace fought for both sides of the war

After shooting down seven dive bombers, Swett’s fighter plane was severely damaged and crash-landed into the ocean as he attempted to make it back to Guadalcanal.

Once Swett surfaced, a Coast Guard boat picked up the now salty Marine aviator. Swett shot down a total of seven enemy fighters on his very first day in combat.

Swett was credited with shooting down 15 1/2 enemy planes during his time in the war and received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 10, 1943.

Check out Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear this flying ace retell his heroic story for yourself.

(Medal of Honor Book, YouTube)

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