This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Full of sediment from the bottom of the sea, a gray metal basket slowly rose out of the turquoise water. While it appeared to only contain muck, it offered hope to the U.S. military divers waiting to inspect its contents.

The divers — mainly from the Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Detachment — were archaeologists of sorts. As they sifted through the mud the consistency of wet cement, the divers searched for personal effects or aircraft wreckage to prove they were on the right path.


The ultimate discovery, though, would be the remains of the six Soldiers who went missing after their Chinook helicopter crashed off the coast here during the Vietnam War.

Each year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency oversees more than 70 joint missions around the world in search of the remains of American service members at former combat zones. In Vietnam, there are still over 1,200 service members who have not yet been found.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Spc. Douglas Adams, a diver with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, puts on his diving helmet before he heads 80 feet below the surface as part of an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


Some of those operations are underwater recovery missions, which rely heavily on the Army’s small diving force.

“Everybody in the military signs up to go to war. We fight the nation’s battles. That’s what we do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Kratsas, the agency’s only master diver. “But I know if I ever got killed in battle somewhere, I would want my remains brought home to my family and I know they would want the same.”

Zero visibility

As the most senior diver on the recent 45-day mission near Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, Kratsas helped ensure the safety of the divers who plunged 80 feet into the dark waters.

Depending on the weather, four two-man teams from the dive detachment spent about an hour each day on the sea floor. While hidden beneath the waves, they used 8-inch vacuum systems to dredge sediment within specified grids of the archaeological site.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Staff Sgts. Thomas Hunnicutt, center, and John Huff, monitor two divers in a decompression chamber following their dive as part of an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

At times, the divers stood on the sea floor buried in thick silt up to their shoulders. Divers sucked out the silt until they reached the hard-packed seabed, where pieces of the helicopter had been resting for decades.

The next day, much of the silt had to be dredged out again due to the sea currents that brought in more.

The painstaking efforts of these underwater missions, especially in the murky waters off the coast of Vietnam, are repeated daily in hopes to reunite those lost in war with their loved ones.

“We do exactly what the land team does,” said Kratsas, 46, of Lordstown, Ohio. “We dig a hole in the earth, we put it in a bucket and we screen it. The same exact process that they do, except ours is at 80 feet and we can’t see it.”

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
A floating barge where Army and Navy divers worked from as they searched for the remains of Soldiers lost in a Chinook helicopter crash during the Vietnam War near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Side-scan sonar and magnetometer work helps pinpoint metal objects on the sea floor to better focus diving operations. But sites can often cover a vast area, particularly if an aircraft or ship has broken into pieces.

A site’s depth can also limit how long a diver can safely stay under the water. At 80 feet below, the Army divers only had 55 minutes to work during each dive. Once back on the floating barge, they were rushed into a pressurized chamber to ward off chances of a decompression illness by gradually returning them to normal air pressure.

“Bottom time is definitely a premium,” said Spc. Lamar Fidel, a diver with the detachment, which falls under the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. “That’s where we make our money.”

In a previous mission, Fidel said they were able to dive for about six hours at a time. That site, which was in search of two pilots from an F-4 Phantom fighter jet that crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin near northern Vietnam, was only about 20 feet deep.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
A Navy diver dredges with a venturi vacuum system during an underwater recovery mission in search of missing American service members from World War II near Palau, Jan. 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


It was also Fidel’s most memorable diving mission so far.

For 14 years, he said, the agency had gone to the site unable to recover any human remains. Then last year, using the work of past missions, his team discovered a bone that led to the identification of one of the missing pilots.

“As soon as you see that, that hits you right in the heart,” said Fidel, 28, of Atlanta. “It makes you realize what you did … wasn’t all for nothing.”

Exclusive group

While DPAA depends on Army divers for many of its missions, there are only about 150 of them across the service.

The small, elite career field has a high failure rate of roughly 60 to 80 percent for those training to become a diver. Much of the reasoning behind the tough entry course is that lives are always at stake during missions.

“Every time we get in the water, you have a chance of having a diving-related casualty,” said Staff Sgt. Les Schiltz, a diving supervisor assigned to the agency.

The deeper a person dives, the more at risk they are to suffer from a decompression illness. The two main problems divers face are decompression sickness, or the “bends,” and an arterial gas embolism. While the “bends” results from bubbles growing in tissue and causing local damage, the latter can have bubbles travel through the arteries and block blood flow. It can eventually lead to death.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Staff Sgt. John Huff, a diving supervisor with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, briefs fellow divers before they dive 80 feet to the sea floor to collect sediment in search of the remains of American Soldiers near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Divers also need to watch out for sharks, jellyfish and other dangerous marine life.

“There are a lot of things in the water that can hurt you,” Schiltz said. “You plan accordingly, you look ahead to where you’re going to be, and you try to mitigate all those risks as much as you can.”

The thrill of diving often outweighs the dangers for many of the Soldiers. When under the water, Schiltz, 28, of Vernal, Utah, says it is like being in a different world.

“It’s probably the same reason someone will explain to you why they skydive or why they snowboard off cliffs,” he said. “There’s always a danger to it and that just makes it even better.”

Army divers are tasked to do a variety of missions that can have them repairing ships and ports or conducting underwater surveys. For many divers, though, the recovery missions have the most impact on them.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
A pair of Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment jump into the water during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

“It takes you to a more emotional point in your life,” Schiltz said.

While every diver wants to be the one who discovers the remains of a service member, the master diver describes the somber event as a shared win whenever it happens.

“Everybody’s out here to do one job and just because you happen to be the one diver on the job when you find something, it’s not you that found it,” Kratsas said. “It was a team effort.”

When not diving, Soldiers have several side jobs to keep operations afloat. They monitor oxygen levels and depth of fellow divers or serve as back-up divers to assist in an emergency. They also tend to umbilical cords that connect divers to the barge or help run a water pump for the suction hose.

When a basket is brought up to the barge, they all scoop out the sediment into buckets and screen it.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Spc. Timothy Sparks, a diver with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, monitors the air levels of two divers during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Some divers are surprised by the condition of some items pulled from the water. Even if items are buried at sea for a long time, salt water can sometimes preserve them better than at land sites where the acidity of soil breaks them down faster.

“A lot of times the wreckage is in such good condition, you can still read serial numbers,” said Capt. Ezra Swanson, who served as the team leader for the recent mission.

Pieces of an aircraft can also put things into perspective for the divers when they hold them in their hands.

“The last time someone was with that, it was the aircrew when they were going down,” said Swanson, 30, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “It’s like a connection between you and that crew.”

Archaeological site

Decades of sediment often buries human remains in an underwater tomb. To unearth them, dig sites are properly logged with historical data from previous missions.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Members of a joint team, the majority of whom were Army divers, screen sediment from the sea floor as they search for the remains of American Soldiers from the Vietnam War near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Dive teams may pick up where they left off before or continue another team’s work at a site. An underwater archaeologist will direct a team where to dredge using grids, typically 2 by 4 meters wide, which are marked off on the seabed.

Similar to the guessing game of “Battleship,” if a certain grid has a successful hit with evidence being dredged up from it, divers will concentrate on nearby grids.

Even one fragment, such as a bone or tooth, could solve a case if it can be identified by laboratory staff back at the DPAA headquarters on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
A member of the underwater recovery team inspects a 7.62 mm cartridge, which was found while screening sediment from the sea floor near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

“Sometimes you only find small fragments, but with today’s technology and with DNA [testing], we can still get a lot of information even from tiny little bits,” said Piotr Bojakowski, an underwater archaeologist with the agency.

Personal effects, such as rings, wallets or dog tags, can also produce a strong case for identification.

Since the recovery process can be slow and methodical, Bojakowski will remind divers to stay patient to ensure no evidence is overlooked.

“Take your time, don’t rush the process,” he tells them. “It’s more important that you do screening properly and find this small piece than to rush it through. Because once you lose it, we will never find it again.”

If years of careful research do not provide clues of human remains at a site, the agency may be forced to redirect efforts elsewhere.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Pieces of possible wreckage from a Chinook helicopter crash site are inspected by members of a joint team during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


“It’s a difficult, difficult decision to make,” Bojakowski said. “The ideal situation is to find the remains and material evidence. But providing an answer that the remains are not at the site is also an answer to some degree. Sometimes that’s the only answer we can get.”

Despite the long, hot days that had baskets come up empty during their recent mission, the Soldiers still kept at it for weeks. And when the time comes again, they will likely return to the same spot to do the same work.

To them, the mission is bigger than themselves.

“They know the cost and the sacrifice and have a very high appreciation for the guys who lost their lives,” said Swanson, the team leader. “They’re willing to push through the challenges and make sure they do everything they can to bring those guys home.”


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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Air Force lost four nuclear bombs in a single crash

This Day In History: January 17, 1966

On this day in history, 1966, at around 10:30 a.m. a B-52G Bomber collided with a KC-135 Stratotanker, accidentally scattering its payload of four nuclear bombs, 70-kilotons each. Three of the bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares, Spain, and the fourth landed in the Mediterranean Sea, taking a full 80 days to locate and recover.

The B-52G had been attempting to refuel from the KC-135, but came in too fast. Normally, if a collision might appear to be imminent, the boom operator on the refueling tanker is supposed to notify the other plane to break away immediately, which they will then do. However, in this case, for whatever reason, the boom operator said nothing, which ended up costing himself and the rest of the Stratotanker crew their lives as the B-52G collided with the refueling boom. This resulted in the KC-135’s fuel payload exploding and the B-52G breaking apart shortly thereafter. It also resulted in three of the seven aboard the B-52 bomber dying, with the other four managing to parachute to safety. One of them managed to make it to land, but three of them landed in the sea and were later picked up by fishing boats at sea.


Aside from losing the two aircraft and the destruction of four nuclear bombs valued at around billion each (according to the Secretary of Defense’ valuation at the time), the area around Palomares was also subjected to high levels of ionizing radiation. While the nuclear bombs didn’t detonate fully, the traditional explosives (the high explosive igniters) in the bombs did detonate with two of the bombs when they hit the ground. This resulted in their core radioactive materials being spread about in the air and contaminating an area around 1-2 square miles. The third bomb was found mostly in-tact in a river bed nearby.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

A B-52 Stratofortress approaches the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Zach Anderson)

The fourth was significantly harder to locate due to the fact that its parachute had deployed (the parachute tail plate was all that was initially found, which led them to believe it had deployed) and so they presumed it had landed somewhere in the Mediterranean. After 80 days of searching, it was finally located and, after a botched first attempt at recovery resulting in them losing it again for a time, it was successfully recovered. Interestingly, salvage rights for it were claimed by Simó Orts. This customarily grants the locator of the item 1-2% of the value of that which was found. Given that the bomb was valued at around billion, Orts asked for the lower 1% amount of million. It isn’t known how much he actually ended up getting, but the Air Force did eventually settle with him, paying him an undisclosed amount of money.

Incidentally, one of the divers who was working on finding and recovering the missing nuke, Carl Brashear, lost his leg when it was crushed in an accident during the search. Apart from being an important event for the unlucky Carl Brashear, this was also the inspiration for the movie “Men of Honor” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert De Niro, and Charlize Theron.

Also of interest is that the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker line of aircraft has now been in service for 55 years. What’s even more impressive about these planes is that they are projected to still be fully operational up until around 2040, giving them a total service life of around 83 years, at which point they will be phased out in favor of the Boeing KC-46. These planes currently cost the U.S. government in maintenance and operations cost around – billion per year and rising every year as they age and maintenance costs go up.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You’ll still get taxes and mail after a nuke

Think of all the parts of the U.S. government that can and should have a plan to keep working after a nuclear attack. The Department of Defense? Sure. Congress? Yup. FBI, NSA, and CIA? Yeah, they seem necessary in the aftermath. But there are two groups you may not have thought of who plan to dig in and get the job done: The IRS and the USPS.


Yeah, you’re almost certain to keep getting taxed after a nuclear attack, and you might even be getting notices through the mail (though, not if you were in the city that got hit).

But the IRS and USPS weren’t focused on that, and they were actually working with the Parks Service for a good reason: Those three agencies were key to a rebuilding plan.

If your city is hit by a hurricane or crippled by an earthquake, you’re evacuated to cities outside of the danger zone. But if multiple cities or dozens are hit with nuclear bombs, then there likely won’t be suitable infrastructure to support all the refugees in nearby cities. So, the plan was to move them to the national parks.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

A role player pretends to be injured during Exercise Scarlet Response at Guardian Center, Georgia.

(U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Dylan Bowyer)

But what then? Hundreds of thousands of lives would be gone, and billions of dollars in buildings and infrastructure destroyed. Even in the midst of the grief, the government would have a job to do. There would be millions of people living in the parks, and it would fall to the USPS to process who had remained in the city, who had escaped, and who had died.

And, once they could begin to wrangle all that, they would begin delivering mail, again, though the postal leaders conceded in 1982 that the delivery plans would’ve been useless in an all-out nuclear exchange.

And that could include delivering notices of new tax plans. If only one or two cities were lost then, as crazy as it sounds, that would mean the IRS could get back to business as usual with few major changes. It would be horrible, but the American economy would shake itself off and get back up.

But a more extensive attack would’ve changed the way the U.S. worked for generations. There would be no guarantee that income and corporate taxes could cover the insane costs necessary to rebuild lost cities, decontaminate hundreds of square miles of terrain, and support the war being waged against the attacker.

So the Treasury Department had a plan to restart the economy and to help the IRS develop a new collection plan within 30 days of an attack. The new tax plan could be something as simple as a flat sales tax (congratulations, libertarians!) That would greatly simplify the IRS’s job, something that would be pretty necessary if their offices in Washington D.C. were hit.

And it would be necessary in a cash-based economy. Yes, cash-based. The plan was to slowly release stockpiled billion in cash until they could get back to printing money. In an odd twist of fate, that was mostly two-dollar bills. A 1970s printing run of the currency had failed to impress the public, so the government just used the unpopular bills to create their stockpile.

The government’s Cold War plan was largely exposed thanks to the extensive journalism of Garrett M. Graff, one of the first journalists to find the Raven Rock facility where the government would retreat to in case of nuclear war. His book Raven Rock is one of the foundational works on the post-nuclear government.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What does ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ mean anyway?

Outside of the Merrimack fighting the Monitor, the U.S. Navy doesn’t get a lot of attention when it comes to histories of the Civil War. But it deserves some. And maybe its finest moment came at the 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay, where Adm. David Farragut forced his way through a Confederate minefield and fought the Confederate Navy to a standstill.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Admiral David Farragut, from wet collodion glass negative.

His victory over the last port on the Mississippi River completely cut the South off from moving cargo that could be sold abroad or importing critical weapons and supplies. It also helped secure an election victory for President Lincoln, ensuring the war would continue until the Federals won. 

The enduring memory of the Navy at Mobile Bay is Adm. Farragut’s order, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” But if submarines weren’t exactly a common thing in 1864, what did he mean by that? The answer starts with his order to sail through the minefield.

Farragut was the U.S. Navy’s first Admiral – a Rear Admiral, to be exact – and after 53 years in uniform by that time, one could argue that he deserved the title. Mobile Bay was the Confederacy’s last port on the Gulf of Mexico, so taking it was critical to the North’s plan to cut the South off from the rest of the world. It would be no easy undertaking. 

The harbor was defended by three forts that guarded the entrance to the bay, as well as three smaller gunboats, the ironclad CSS Tennessee, and a large minefield made up of what was then called “torpedoes.”

During the Civil War, underwater mines were referred to as “torpedoes” after the seagoing electric ray, known then as a torpedo fish, that could deliver electric shocks. Civil War-era mines were often modified beer barrels filled with gunpowder. If they stayed in the water too long, they could get waterlogged, and the gunpowder rendered useless. 

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Sailors stream the L L sweeping gear used to detonate magnetic ground mines out of the back of Motor Minesweeper 1023 during operations in the North Sea.

Farragut was attacking the defenders with 18 ships of many different types. Some were wooden hulls, others were ironclads, a mix of sail and steamships. When the flotilla steamed into Mobile harbor on August 5, 1864, the Confederate ships took positions just beyond the minefield. 

Leading the charge was the USS Tecumseh, an ironclad monitor which was ordered to stay east of the minefield. For whatever reason, the Tecumseh ran right into the minefield and was immediately struck by a torpedo. The ship sank in just two minutes, and so did the hearts of the Union sailors. But Farragut wasn’t deterred. He ordered the fleet to continue sailing. 

Farragut had been in Navy uniform since he was nine years old and he knew a thing or two about naval combat, whether it was sails or steam, iron or wood. When he ordered his ships to sail into the minefield, he knew two things many others may not have. The first is that the torpedoes were marked by floating black buoys. Their intent wasn’t necessarily to sink ships, it was to steer them closer to the guns of the coastal defenses.

Secondly, even though the torpedoes had just sunk the Tecumseh, he knew that they had been submerged for so long that they were likely going to be ineffective in the fighting. The crew did hear the sound of barrels hitting their hulls, but as Farragut predicted, they did not explode.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford

During the crossing of the minefield, Farragut had lashed himself in the upper rigging of the USS Hartford, so that he could better see the fighting unobscured by the smoke of the battlefield. Farragut didn’t give his now-famous order until after the Tecumseh sank (if he did at all). 

According to lore, Farragut noticed the USS Brooklyn slow as it approached the remains of the Tecumseh, apparently hesitant to enter the minefield. That’s when Farragut shouted the famous phrase, “”Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” which later, through a historical game of telephone, became, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

The latter is likely just easier for landlubbers to understand.

Farragut’s order was successful and the Union Navy hit the gunboats and the CSS Tennessee so much that they all struck their colors eventually. It was still a gamble for the admiral, however. Not all of the mines had become waterlogged. When clearing the minefield the next day, one exploded, killing some of the sailors sent to clear them. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Real declassified CIA docs provide guidance for ‘UFO Photographers’

The past few years have seen a massive resurgence in UFO research and discussion, both throughout the media and, publicly speaking, from elements of the nation’s own defense apparatus. From 2017’s revelation that the Pentagon had been directly funding investigations into unusual sightings (along with a litany of other unusual phenomena) to last month’s announcement that the U.S. Navy was formalizing UFO reporting procedures, it seems clearer now than ever that something unusual is going on in the skies above our pale blue dot, and that Uncle Sam wants to know what it is.


Of course, for those that have served in high ranking positions throughout America’s defense and intelligence apparatus over the decades, that comes as no revelation at all, as the U.S. Government actually has a long and illustrious history of covert and semi-covert investigations into the unknown.

Some of these efforts, like Project Blue Book, aimed to explain away sightings of strange lights in the skies, while others, like these declassified documents from the CIA’s archive, had a different aim. These documents were meant to serve as a how-to manual to capture the best possible images of flying saucers (or whatever they may be) for further examination. These documents may not prove the existence of alien visitors, but they certainly prove that even America’s foreign intelligence service has long had their eye on the skies.

The CIA readily acknowledges its involvement in UFO investigations dating all the way back to its very inception in 1947, which UFO buffs will be quick to note was the same year as the now-legendary Roswell incident. According to the CIA, they closely monitored Defense Department UFO initiatives throughout this era, even going so far as to draft up the document shown below offering ten tips to UFO investigators who had been struggling to capture clear images of the strange phenomena. This included an attached “UFO Photographic Information Sheet” to be filled out by the photographer whenever a sighting occurred.

The CIA’s guidance for UFO Photographers was, according to the CIA, first published in 1967 and remained classified until December of 2013, though it wasn’t until three years later that the document was uploaded to the CIA’s digital archive, making it readily available to readers from all over the world.

According to the CIA, these are the tips you need to follow in order to get the best possible evidence of your UFO encounter:

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

“Guidance to UFO Photographers” was first published in 1967 and declassified in 2013.

(Courtesy of the CIA Archive)

1. Have camera set at infinity.

2. Fast film such as Tri-X, is very good.

3. For moving objects shutter speeds not slower than one hundredth of a second should be used. Shutter and f-stop combination will depend upon lighting conditions; dusk, cloudy day, bright sunlight, etc. If your camera does not require such settings, just take pictures.

4. Do not move camera during exposure.

5. Take several pictures of the object; as many as you can. If you can, include some ground in the picture of the UFO.

6. If the object appears to be close to you, a few hundred feet or closer, try to change your location on the ground so that each picture, or few pictures are taken from a different place. A change in position of 40 or 60 feet is good. (This establishes what is known as a base line and is helpful in technical analysis of your photography.) If the object appears to be far away, a mile or so, remain about where you are and continue taking pictures. A small movement here will not help. However, if you can get in a car and drive l/2 to a mile or so and-take another series of pictures this will help.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Single images of UFOs don’t offer much in the way of context (the photographer of this UFO believes it may be a bird)

(Image captured by James Havard on Flickr)

7. After pictures of UFO have been taken, remain where you are: now, slowly, turning 360 degrees take overlapping, eye level, photography as you turn around. By this technique the surrounding countryside will be photographed. This photography is very valuable for the analysis of the UFO you have just photographed.

8. Your original negative is of value. Be sure it Is processed with care.

9. If you can, have another negative made from the original.

10. Any reproductions you have made for technical study and analysis should be made from the original negative and should be printed to show all the picture including the border and even the sprocket holes, if your film has them.

Articles

4 battles where paratroopers could have made a big difference

In the brief period of time since their inception the American paratrooper has seen combat and spearheaded assaults all over the world.


Despite their usefulness, however, there have still been numerous times when paratroopers were not used in which they could have had a significant impact on the battle. These are four of those battles:

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
U.S. paratroopers awaiting orders to jump. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1942)

1. The Battle of Bastogne

In December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes forest that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.

As the situation deteriorated, Gen. Eisenhower decided to commit his strategic reserves, primarily the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, in an attempt to blunt the German attack. In the ensuing melee, the 82nd helped hold back the Germans at Elsenborn Ridge while the 101st became encircled holding Bastogne.

The effort to relieve the 101st fell to Patton’s Third Army to drive through the Germans and reach Bastogne.

However, Eisenhower had one remaining airborne division in reserve in England.

On Dec. 23, the same day Pathfinders landed in Bastogne to guide in supply drops, the 17th Airborne Division flew to France in order to join Third Army in its counter-offensive.

A more decisive move would have been to have the paratroopers of the 17th jump into the perimeter of Bastogne in order to shore up the lines and bring much needed relief to the beleaguered paratroopers of the 101st. This tactic had been used to great effect during Operation Avalanche in Sicily in which 82nd paratroopers reinforced the Allied beachhead at Salerno.

This would have then allowed the defenders to affect a breakout towards friendly lines or to go on an offensive of their own to drive the Germans back and break the siege.

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Waves of paratroopers fill the skies during a combat exercise. (U.S. Army)

2. The Landing at Inchon

On Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces as part of Operation Chromite assaulted the beaches and harbor of Inchon — then well behind enemy lines.

In a coordinated effort with the forces encircled at Pusan, the United Nations forces delivered a striking blow against the North Koreans driving them back towards the 38th Parallel and recapturing Seoul.

The attack was a textbook amphibious assault comparable to those undertaken in Europe during World War II in which paratroopers spearheaded an assault followed by seaborne infantry. However, MacArthur had been in command in the Pacific and thus had utilized airborne forces much differently. His assault plan did not include the use of paratroopers.

Though only the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was available, they could have been put to good use.

Their first order of business could have been the seizure of Kimpo Airfield, a task not completed until Sept. 18 by a battalion of Marines. The early capture of the airfield would have allowed American fighters a forward base sooner and would have allowed follow-on forces to be flown in.

Other elements of the 187th could have also been used to cut off the forces retreating from Pusan. Though the UN was able to eliminate nearly half of the 70,000 North Koreans in the South, the other half was able to regroup in North Korea.

Had paratroopers been employed they could have potentially stopped more — if not all — from reaching North Korea, leaving the communists with virtually no military.

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(U.S. Army paratroopers conduct an airborne operation on Oct. 20, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez)

3. The Siege of Khe Sanh

Just before the launch of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked and laid siege to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Though they held their positions in the hills around the base and the base itself, they were soon cut off from ground support and resupply when Route 9 was closed. The Marines in and around the combat base — mostly the 26th Marine Regiment as well as 1st Battalion, 9th Marines — held out against the North Vietnamese for 11 weeks before finally being relieved by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division as part of Operation Pegasus.

However, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade was alerted and deployed to Vietnam in early February 1968 in order to shore up defenses against the Tet Offensive.

The brigade could have instead been dropped into the Khe Sanh Combat Base in order to strengthen the defenses there and improve the offensive capabilities of the defenders. The paratroopers could have been used to seek out the NVA artillery that continually pounded the base and silenced it. This would also have freed up other units that were instead used to break the siege.

Furthermore, the paratroopers would have brought with them valuable assets such as artillery, engineers, and intelligence that would have improved the fighting ability of the defenders.  

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A Paratrooper from the 173rd Airborne Brigade prepares to land. In the background, a C-130 Hercules. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Paolo Bovo)

4. Operation Iraqi Freedom

Although there was one large and several smaller airborne operations during the invasion of Iraq the role of paratroopers in the initial assault should have been much greater. Another operation, a likely jump by the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Ranger Battalion onto Saddam International Airport, was scrapped after an overzealous journalist revealed the plan on public television.

However, there were many other targets of opportunity and uses for the available paratroopers. Much like the Rangers’ seizure of H-1 Airbase in Western Iraq, the paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade could have opened an airhead just north of Baghdad with an airborne assault of Balad Air Base.

Reminiscent of WWII operations in Europe, they could have cleared the way for the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division as they made their way toward Baghdad. The seizure of key infrastructure was vital to keep Saddam from repeating his scorched earth retreat from 1991.

This could have been more quickly facilitated if paratroopers had been employed. With air superiority from the beginning, the possibilities for airborne assaults were great though unfortunately under-utilized.

When the paratroopers did enter the fight they proved their mettle when they earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at As Samawah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet was nominated for the Nobel Prize 84 times, but never won

Personally nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was one of the most influential physicists of all time, both because of his own accomplishments in the field and the many dozens of his students who turned into superstars in the world of science (including having four doctoral students go on to win the Nobel Prize, along with three of his other postgraduate students also taking home the award- the most eventual Nobel laureates all taught by one person).


Born on December 5, 1868 in Königsberg, East Prussia, Sommerfeld began his career as a student of mathematics and the physical sciences at Albertina (aka University of Königsberg) in his hometown, where he received a Ph.D. on October 24, 1891.

After a year of compulsive military service ended in 1893, unlike so many academics of his era, Sommerfeld continued to serve as a volunteer for the next eight years on the side. Physically impressive, with a Prussian bearing and wearing a fencing scar on his magnificently mustachioed face, while in the service, Sommerfeld was famously described as managing “to give the impression of a colonel of the hussars,” rather than a book-worm academic.

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Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times. (Image Wikicommons)

As for that scar, in his first year of study, the near “compulsory drinking bouts and fencing duels” not only resulted in said scar, but also hindered his studies significantly, which he later came to regret as wasted time.

Apparently making up for lost efforts in his youth, Sommerfeld left Königsberg for the University of Göttingen and after two years as an assistant to more experienced mathematics professors, he earned his Privatdozent (authorization to teach at the university level) in 1895. Rapidly moving up the ranks, he was appointed to chair the mathematics department at the Bergakademie in Clausthal-Zellerfeld in 1897. The following year, he became editor of the famous Enzyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften, a post he held through 1926.

Sommerfeld moved on to become Chair of Applied Mechanics at the Königliche Technische Hochschule Aachen, and it was in Aachen that he produced his theory of hydrodynamics. Also at Aachen, Sommerfeld mentored Peter Debye, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936 for “his contributions to the study of molecular structure.”

In 1906, Sommerfeld accepted the position as director of the new Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Munich, where he mentored Werner Heisenberg in hydrodynamics theory; Heisenberg later won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

While in Munich, Sommerfeld also mentored Wolfgang Pauli on his thesis on quantum theory, and Pauli also went on to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1945, for his discovery of the eponymous Pauli exclusion principle (which stated that two or more identical fermions can not be in the same quantum state within a quantum system at the same time).

If all that wasn’t enough, he also mentored Hans Bethe while at the University of Munich; Bethe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis (i.e., when chemical elements in stars change due to nuclear fusion).

While his own direct contributions to advancing the world of physics were prodigious, including his pioneering work in quantum theory, it was arguably for his teaching ability that Sommerfeld was most revered in his lifetime, with Albert Einstein once remarking, “What I especially admire about you is that you have, as it were, pounded out of the soil such a large number of young talents.”

Mathematician Morris Kline further stated of Sommerfeld that he “was at the forefront of the work in electromagnetic theory, relativity and quantum theory and he was the great systematizer and teacher who inspired many of the most creative physicists in the first thirty years of this century.”

Famed Jewish mathematician, physicist, and Nobel Prize winner Max Born (who was forced to flee Germany in 1933) went on about Sommerfeld’s talent for cultivating young minds who so often went on to great scientific achievements of their own:

Theoretical physics is a subject which attracts youngsters with a philosophical mind who speculate about the highest principles without sufficient foundations. It was just this type of beginner that he knew how to handle, leading them step by step to a realisation of their lack of actual knowledge and providing them with the skill necessary for fertile research. … He had the rare ability to have time to spare for his pupils, in spite of his duties and scientific work. … In this friendly and informal way of teaching a great part was played by invitations to join a skiing party on the ‘Sudelfeld’ two hours by rail from Munich. There he and his mechanic … were joint owners of a ski hut. In the evenings, when the simple meal was cooked, the dishes were washed, the weather and snow properly discussed, the talk invariably turned to mathematical physics, and this was the occasion for the receptive students to learn the master’s inner thoughts.

Going on about the man himself, Born stated,

Arnold Sommerfeld was one of the most distinguished representatives of the transition period between classical and modern theoretical physics. The work of his youth was still firmly anchored in the conceptions of the nineteenth century; but when in the first decennium of the century the flood of new discoveries, experimental and theoretical, broke the dams of tradition, he became a leader of the new movement, and in combining the two ways of thinking he exerted a powerful influence on the younger generation. This combination of a classical mind, to whom clarity of conception and mathematical rigour are essential, with the adventurous spirit of a pioneer, are the roots of his scientific success, while his exceptional gift of communicating his ideas by spoken and written word made him a great teacher.

Adding to his list of achievements, Sommerfeld eventually became chair of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft in 1918, a position previously held by Albert Einstein.

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Arnold Sommerfeld at Stuttgart on the occasion of a physicists congress, 1935. (Photo via wiki user GFHund)

With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, however, Sommerfeld was forced to watch many of his esteemed colleagues have to flee the country. As the aforementioned Morris Kline notes,

Sommerfeld’s life was saddened toward the end of his career by events in Germany. Anti-Semitism, always present in that country, became virulent in the Hitler period and Sommerfeld was obliged to witness the emigration of famous colleagues, including Einstein. All he could do was use the friendships he had built up during a one-year stay in the United States and a one-year round-the-world trip to help place the refugees. The loss of so many of its best men in this way together with World War II, destroyed the scientific strength of Germany, and Sommerfeld felt obliged to continue teaching until 1947, long after the usual retirement age of 65.

On that note, Sommerfeld had intended to retire much earlier, in 1936, putting forth one of his prized pupils, the aforementioned Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg, as his hoped successor. However, as Heisenberg, like Sommerfeld, was considered by the Nazi party to be a Jewish sympathizer, ultimately the decidedly unaccomplished anti-Semite Wilhem Muller, with a lot of help from the Reich Education Ministry, was very controversial appointed to replace Sommerfeld as Professor of Theoretical Physics, despite Muller not even being a theoretical physicist. (Unsurprisingly, Muller was dismissed from the position in 1945 as a part of the denazification process that followed WWII.)

As for Sommerfeld’s once patriotic views, he wrote to Einstein shortly after Hitler took power,

I can assure you that the misuse of the word ‘national’ by our rulers has thoroughly broken me of the habit of national feelings that was so pronounced in my case. I would now be willing to see Germany disappear as a power and merge into a pacified Europe.

In any event, as for his own Nobel Prize aspirations, as alluded to, Sommerfeld’s contributions to theoretical physics were many and included groundbreaking work in quantum theory (including co-discovering the Sommerfeld-Wilson quantization rules in 1915), electromagnetism and hydrodynamics, and significantly advanced knowledge of X-ray wave theory, among other things.

Among his many awards were the Max-Planck Medal, the Lorentz Medal and the Oersted Medal, and he was also a member of the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

However, although he was nominated an astounding and record setting 84 times (the only other person close is Otto Stern, who was nominated 82 times before finally winning in 1943), Sommerfeld never won a Nobel Prize. His nominations for Physics were made in 1917, 1918, 1919 (twice), 1920, 1922 (four times), 1923 (twice), 1924, 1925 (six times), 1926 (three times), 1927 (three times), 1928 (three times), 1929 (nine times), 1930 (four times), 1931 (twice), 1932 (five times), 1933 (eight times), 1934 (six times), 1935, 1936 (twice), 1937 (eight times), 1940, 1948, 1949 (three times), 1950 (three times) and 1951 (four times).

Sommerfeld died on April 26, 1951 at the age of 82 as a result of a traffic accident that occurred while taking his grandchildren for a walk. At the time, he was quite hard of hearing and did not hear shouted warnings before he stepped in front of a moving truck. The distinguished scientist died two months later as a result of the injuries sustained in that incident.

Originally published on Today I Found Out in November 2017.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The reason Army helicopters are named after native tribes will make you smile

The Army’s helicopters have a number of names you recognize immediately: Apache, Black Hawk, Kiowa, Lakota, Comanche. They are also known as the names of Native American tribes. This is not a coincidence.


According to GlobalSecurity.org, this was originally due to Army Regulation 70-28, which has since been rescinded. Today, while the regulation is gone, the tradition remains, and there is a procedure to pick a new name. The Bureau of Indian Affairs keeps a list of names for the Army to use. When the Army gets a new helicopter (or fixed-wing aircraft), the commanding officer of the Army Material Command (the folks who buy the gear) comes up with a list of five names.

Now, they can’t just be any names. These names must promote confidence in the abilities of the helicopter or plane, they cannot sacrifice dignity, and they must promote an aggressive spirit. Those names then have to be run by the United States Patent Office, of all places. There’s a lot more bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to go through, but eventually a name is picked.

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Then comes something unique – the helicopter or aircraft is then part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders, who bestow tribal blessings. You might be surprised, given that the Army and the Native Americans were on opposite side of the Indian Wars – and those wars went on for 148 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Don’t be. The fact is, despite the 148 years of hostilities, Native Americans also served with the United States military. Eli Parker, the only Native American to reach general’s rank, was a personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Most impressively, 25 Native Americans have received the Medal of Honor for heroism.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Gen. Abidin Ünal, Turkey’s Air Force Chief of Staff, waves during takeoff in a UH-1N Iroquois at Joint Base Andrews, Md., April 6, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ryan J. Sonnier)

In other words, the Army’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who also have fought well as part of the United States Army. That is a legacy worth remembering and honoring with some of the Army’s most prominent systems.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Delta Daze: The ‘ghosts’ Delta Force saw after the Cold War

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

“Well, they sure favor their Earth tone clothing over here; every color is … dark, dingy, and just… gray. It’s like this whole city is trapped inside a gray balloon,” my brother observed and commented. “What the hell is with all the dark clothing, seriously?” he puzzled. “I mean is there some kind of extra import tariff on $hit that is red, yellow, or orange — the longer wavelength colors — always with the shorter waves, Moriarity; ALWAYS WITH THE SHORTER WAVES!”


Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina in former Yugoslavia. The boys and I came here shortly after a United Nations (UN)-induced cease-fire. The tide of homicide, genocide, fratricide, and suicide along the countryside… had all just become so, so, so over the top for the world theater’s pallet.

The suffering on the ground was hellish but what the real world didn’t know and we only learned on the ground was that we were here because of a doll. Yep, that’s right journalists were placing dolls in the scenes of carnage which when seen by coffee-talkers around the world sparked global outrage — time to send in some troops!

“They’re ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and then gunning both down right there in the streets… and I think that’s just wrong, you know?” bleat the crestfallen Gladys Pumpernick of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Oh, but what of the children??”

And so it went; that’s how me and the boys ended up in a C-130 Herc out of Germany, junked-up with body armor and helmets. Ground fire was an indeed thing in and around the Sarajevo airport. No slow shallow glide to the flight line; that would lend undue exposure of the aircraft to ground fire. Ours was a fast approach with a sudden steep dive and flare onto the tarmac.

Air Force likes to tell you that a dive gives you a chance. The Army tells you to throw on body armor. Despite both schools of wisdom, you’re still stuck in a metal tube with absolutely nothing you can do. We looked and felt stupid in our armor, with nothing protecting us from bullets coming up through the floor of the aircraft.

“In Nam the Air Cavalry sat on their steel pots!” recalled a brother, and we all quickly removed our armored vests and helmets. We lay our vests on our red nylon seats, the K-Pot helmets on the vests, then sat on top of the combo, grinning back and forth at each other the grin you grin when you have saved your testicles for yet another day.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Once on the ground, were attached to the in-country commanding general’s group of the UN-titled Implementation Force (IFOR). All soldiers from all nations wore the IFOR badge on their uniforms. Our badges, being with the command element read “ComIFOR” the Command of IFOR, a title that lent prestige in countless areas as well as free parking spots.

We wore only functionally rugged civilian clothes and carried a concealed M-1911 pistol on our person. Parking along a curb on our first day we were immediately approached by a fireplug of a hateful U.S. Military Police person. She huffed and she puffed and sought to blow us down:

“You can’t park there!”

Our team lead, D-man, neatly closed the driver’s door of our SUV as he replied: “Yes we can.”

“No you can’t — IFOR!” huffed the MP as she jammed an indicating index finger into the IFOR badge on her chest.

D-Man tapped his badge on his chest: “Yes we can — ComIFOR.”

The MP’s eyes flashed a “been-got” flash, and she stewed momentarily. “Well, don’t take all damned day!” was all she had.

“Yeah, we’ll be sure and not take all damned day, sweetheart,” was how D-Man dismissed our host.

I can tell you that it was dark in Sarajevo at night, so dark. My first night there I counted from up high a grand total of five lights coming from some sources in the city, not even bright ones. Two of them were traffic lights… just two traffic lights on main street in the entire city. It was dark in Sarajevo at night, yeah.

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Night in a shopping district of modern-day Sarajevo

The country’s infrastructure was simply destroyed from the years of bombing and shelling. There was no dependable electric grid, fuel or transportation was rare. People were forced to spend long days well into night, mostly on foot just trying to take care of their basic needs.

And at night our headlights revealed the ghost people as they moved through the streets. Clad mostly in black; light black and dark black. A splash of gray to compliment the dark something-or-other, an ensemble pulled together with a black pleather jacket.

And the women, dark on dark with pallid skin, long raven hair, black lipstick, and dark eyeshadow… looking like a hoard of listless Morticia Addams’ sulking their way to somewhere. They shuffled as singletons or couples arm in pleather arm. Goth was just the untimely trend for the young there. It just made for an even more macabre ambiance in the city at night.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

The original Morticia Addams

Back at our little compound, I had a chance to meet one of the ghost people face to face: Rado, short for Radovan, had been a newspaper editor before the war in just his early 20s. He was since rounded up by Serbian troops and held for many months in a barn with the other men of his neighborhood and tortured beyond logical description, to the brink of a ghost person.

Subject to his calamity he became as simple as a little child in both thought and action. He did odd jobs around the American Embassy for food and pennies. He smoked like a meat house and wore the same unlaundered pullover sweater the entire three months I was there.

The team and I really came to question the ghost people: why were they walking in the street at night in dark clothes, in the middle of the street even?! It’s like they’re begging to be killed… they’re stoned freaking crazy — all of them! Yes, it sure seemed that way to me too. I have to reckon that after all they have been through these last years nothing really lights their fuses.

What can I tell you? These souls have been treading in Lucifer’s backyard for over four years now, the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Day after day of pacts with the devil to stay alive, scratching and screaming to stay living, promising all and everything to the Creator for just one more day above ground… do we honestly expect them to worry over their dark wardrobe while they stroll the street shoulders of their peace-time home??

An American Colonel gave Rado his used New Balance running shoes the day he signed out; he just walked up and stuffed them in Rado’s chest and walked away. Rado stood stunned, gradually sinking to the ground crying and hugging his now most prized possession, his (used) American shoes. “Even and they are my number!” he cried out in fractured English, meaning they were just his size, “Even and they are my same number!”

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Driving on patrol or even on the base was always a challenge for us with the Ghost people lurking in the shadows. “I swear to God “Sarajevo” is the Bosnian word for ghost people! They need to move out of the freakin’ way!!” =HONK — HONK — HOOOOOONK= “I’m going to run one of these sons-of-bitches over and it’s not going to be my fault!” Tough talk, but we would continue to always yield to the ghost people, our rage notwithstanding.

Rado got hit by an IFOR HMMWV (hummer) and died on Alipašina Ulica (street). It was night, and the street was dark. Rado was dark and too simple, the driver American and so irate, irate with the ghost people of Sarajevo.

I didn’t see the accident, but I raced there when I heard the news, as it was very close by. Rado lay still where he died, wearing his same rancid pullover sweater, and now the Colonel’s used running shoes, his same number, Rado’s, the simple child… Rado, the ghost of Sarajevo.

Radovan Bozhić served his sentence in Hades. He was finished with his sentence, and now it was time for him to live; it was someone else’s turn to stagger the green mile to death for a fair spell.

Somewhere, somehow, some clerk made an errant entry in the wrong row, the wrong column of a divine dispatch log, and mistakenly put Rado wrongfully back on the mortal path… my, but I did hate it so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A World War II widow discovered her husband is a hero in France

Peggy Harris was married for six weeks when her husband went missing in action over France during World War II. No one ever tried to tell her about her husband’s fate. A fighter pilot, Billie Harris’ last mission came in July 1944. That’s when the confusion started, a confusion that is much more circuitous than the regular fog of war.


Billie Harris was listed as Missing in Action when he failed to come home from a mission over northern France that day in 1944. Then, the Army Air Forces informed his wife that he was alive and coming home. They then rescinded that as well. To her horror, he was killed and buried in a cemetery in France. And then they told her he was in a different cemetery. Then she was informed by the War Department that they weren’t even sure if the remains they had were Billie’s.

His devoted wife waited and waited, for years and decades, waiting for news about her husband. Until she finally decided to write her Congressman about the issue. Over and over for decades she waited and wrote to members of Congress – all the way through 2005.

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In 2005, she got an answer from the Representative from the Texas panhandle, Mac Thornberry. His office informed Peggy that Billie was still listed as MIA, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. Billie’s cousin took it upon himself to look for Billie’s remains personally, to give Peggy some peace. His first stop was requesting the service and medical records for his missing cousin. The records that came back actually revealed his final resting place: Normandy.

First Lieutenant Billie D. Harris died July 17, 1944, the day he went missing. His headstone is one of the hundreds of bright white crosses that adorn the grounds of Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. So what happened? A CBS report found that Thornberry’s office never searched for the record. When CBS did the search, they found Harris listed as KIA.

Thornberry would later send Peggy an apology for bungling the search.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Ever since discovering her husband’s final resting place, she sent his grave a bouquet of flowers ten times a year. Cemetery officials say Peggy Harris is the last widow of World War II’s killed in action who still visits the grave of her departed husband. But that’s not the only news the family discovered in their investigation.

His plane was shot down over Les Ventes, a small French town and he was a legend among the locals of the town – Billie D. Harris managed to avoid crashing into the village and instead went down in the nearby woods. The villagers buried him in their local cemetery, so grateful for his sacrifice. Ever since, the residents of the small town have walked down the main street of Les Ventes every year – a street called Place Billie D. Harris – to remember his sacrifice.

Ever since Peggy discovered her husband’s final hours and gravesite, she’s visited the cemetery and Les Ventes every year to celebrate her husband’s life and talk to the people who remember Billie D. Harris as a fallen hero.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the Navy’s newest warships is named after this Marine hero

One of America’s newest warships, the USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) was commissioned during the last week of July 2017— it’s the 65th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to have been built for the US Navy.


Brimming with the latest in naval warfare technology, DDG-115 is named after Sgt. Rafael Peralta, a US Marine whose story continues to inspire long after his passing in Iraq in 2004.

Born in Mexico City, Rafael Peralta immigrated with his family to the United States where he would attend high school in San Diego in 1993, and be awarded a green card in 2000. Upon receiving his green card, the young Peralta immediately walked into a recruiting station, enlisting with the Marine Corps.

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The future USS Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) successfully completed acceptance trials after spending two days underway off the coast of Maine. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

According to family and friends, it was no surprise that Peralta would join up — the 21-year old was fiercely patriotic, just as his father was before him. Peralta received his citizenship after finishing basic training, placing his boot camp graduation certificate on the walls of his childhood bedroom next to a copy of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Rafael Peralta’s boot camp graduation picture (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

In 2004, Peralta would be deployed with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment to Iraq, seeing combat during Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah. It was during Phantom Fury that the young Marine would give his life for his comrades in arms, etching his name in Marine Corps and Navy history forever.

After clearing three houses during a patrol, Peralta was hit multiple times with enemy fire in a fourth house. Alive, though critically injured, Peralta dropped to the floor in order to clear the way for other Marines to engage hostiles inside the building.

Shortly after, a grenade bounced near Peralta and the Marines returning fire, about to detonate in just a matter of seconds. Without hesitation, Peralta yanked the grenade underneath him, allowing his body and gear to absorb the brunt of the grenade’s deadly detonation.

Though Peralta was killed immediately, the lives of the other Marines in that house were spared.

Then-commander of 1st Marine Division Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski recommended the fallen Marine for a Medal of Honor, basing his request in no small part on the accounts of Marines who were there when Peralta sacrificed his life by falling on the grenade. However, it was announced that Peralta would instead receive the Navy Cross, second to in precedence to the Medal of Honor.

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Sgt. Peralta’s family with then-SecNav Ray Mabus during his Navy Cross ceremony in 2015 (Photo US Navy)

An upgrade for Peralta’s award was not considered between 2008 and the present day due to conflicting perspectives on whether or not Peralta was already clinically deceased when the grenade was thrown, or was fully conscious and deliberate in his actions. New evidence recently brought to light might be what finally proves Peralta worthy of the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.

Fellow Marine and current congressman Duncan Hunter has been championing Peralta’s Medal of Honor cause for years, having introduced legislation to have Peralta’s award upgraded in 2012, and filing a petition with Secretary of Defense James Mattis in February of this year for the same.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
The Rafael Peralta, prior to commissioning (Photo US Navy)

Hunter was, however, successful in helping cement Peralta’s legacy of service with the naming of a destroyer, officially announced in 2012 by then-SecNav Ray Mabus. The destroyer will carry his Navy Cross in a display case.

Peralta is the second Marine killed in action during the Iraq War to have a ship named after him. Corporal Jason Dunham, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, was killed after shielding his comrades from a grenade blast by smothering it with his helmet and body. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor, and in 2010, the USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109) was commissioned and remains in active service today.

Articles

This Marine batted the enemy’s grenades back at them

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Hector Cafferata, Jr. was a semi-professional football player serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He received just two weeks of additional training before being shipped overseas.


Assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines just days before landing at Inchon, he, along with the rest of the 1st Marine Division, battled his way into North Korea. By November 1950, Cafferata and the Marines were preparing for an offensive in the vicinity of the Chosin Reservoir.

As the Battle of Chosin Reservoir began, the Marines of Fox Company were defending the Toktong pass. On the night of Nov. 28, the Chinese attacked to dislodge them.

What happened next is a legendary story in the Marine Corps — and Cafferata had a large role to play in that.

The Marines of Fox Company had been unable to properly dig in due to the frozen ground and instead cut and gathered tree branches and whatever else they could find to provide cover and concealment.

Due to an intelligence failure, the Marines were unaware that the entire Chinese 9th Army was advancing on their position. That night they crawled into their sleeping bags with minimal security on watch.

At around 0130, the Marines of Fox Company were awoken to a terrible surprise as all hell broke loose around their position. An entire Chinese division, the 59th, were attacking into the Toktong pass to cut off the 1st Marine Division.

The only things standing in their way were Cafferata and the rest of Fox Company.

Hearing the sounds of the attack, Cafferata sprung from his sleeping bag and hurried into the firing line. In his rush to get into the action, he left behind his boots and heavy coat.

In the opening minutes, most of Cafferata’s squad became casualties so he rushed from position to position gathering ammo and pouring fire into the attacking Chinese.

This video is an animation produced by Veterans Expeditionary Media that depicts the battle conditions that night.

He was joined by another Marine, Kenneth Benson, who was temporarily blinded after a grenade explosion had ripped his glasses right off his face. Together they made their way to a small depression and set up to make their stand against the Chinese onslaught.

As the Chinese pressed forward, Cafferata, a crack shot with his M-1 Garand, would empty his clip into the advancing infantry — eight shots, eight communists down.

He would then hand the weapon to Benson to reload while he threw grenades. When the Chinese attacked with their own grenades, he threw them back.

At one point he picked up his entrenching tool and batted the enemy’s grenades right back at them. According to a 2001 interview, Cafferata said he “must have whacked a dozen grenades that night.”

As the Chinese continued to advance, threatening to breakthrough his thinly held portion of the line, he gave them everything he had. He fired his weapon so much he had to pack snow on it to cool it off.

Eventually, Cafferata’s luck began to run out. As he hurled back yet another Chinese grenade, it went off just after leaving his hand. The explosion severed part of his finger and severely damaged his right hand and arm.

Though he was injured, Cafferata’s quick reaction saved several of his comrades.

Despite his wounds, he fought on. The Chinese couldn’t get past him.

Finally, just after daybreak, Cafferata was wounded by a sniper’s bullet and evacuated from the line. When the medics brought him to the aid station, they realized he was suffering from frostbite after fighting in subzero temperatures in his socks all night.

Despite Cafferata being out of action, the rest of Fox Company and the Marines at Chosin Reservoir still had quite a fight on their hands.

According to the Medal of Honor citation for Capt. William Barber, Fox Company’s commander, his 220 Marines held out “5 days and 6 nights against repeated onslaughts by fanatical aggressors.”

And of those 220 Marines, only 82 “were able to walk away from the position so valiantly defended against insuperable odds.” They carried their wounded out with them, including Cafferata and Barber who were both wounded on the first day of fighting.

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs
Cafferata receives his Medal of Honor. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Cafferata’s wounds earned him 18 months of recovery in various hospitals. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor.

The day after Cafferata’s amazing stand, the Marines “counted approximately one hundred Chinese dead around the ditch where he fought that night,” but according to one source, they “decided not to put that figure in their report because they thought no one would believe it.”

Cafferata was officially credited with fifteen enemy kills.

Cafferata, always humble, would later state, “I did my duty. I protected my fellow Marines. They protected me. And I’m prouder of that than the fact that the government decided to give me the Medal of Honor.”

Hector Cafferata, Jr. passed away on April 12, 2016 at the age of 86.

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