The battle for Shal Mountain, named Operation Rugged Sarak, went from October 8-15, 2011. Shal Mountain sat above Shal Valley and controlled two important supply routes, one vital to coalition forces for resupply and one critical to insurgent smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The insurgents controlled the mountain for years, but the men of Bastard Company, 2-27th Infantry Regiment, decided to finally take it from them after the insurgents used it to attack two convoys, killing one Bravo soldier in each of the attacks. The battle for the summit would rage for eight days.
Spc. Jeffrey A. Conn was the medic that responded to the second convoy attack as well as the medic on top of Shal Mountain during the fight for the summit. On the mountaintop, he would earn a Silver Star for saving the lives of at least nine U.S. and Afghan soldiers while also taking the lives of many insurgents — at least 12 in a single attack.
Conn began the climb up the mountain on Oct. 8 with the rest of first platoon. While a dozen men ran up the mountain carrying minimal gear to begin constructing an outpost that morning, Conn and the bulk of the American platoon arrived on Oct. 11 after fighting up the mountain with the platoon’s heavy weapons and special equipment. Americans on the mountaintop still only numbered 23.
The enemy had made multiple attempts to take the summit before the rest of the platoon arrived, but on the night of Oct. 11 they attacked hard to try and keep the new arrivals from digging in. Using the terrain to sneak up in the dark, insurgents closed to within five meters of the perimeter and began an attack that opened with 12 machine guns firing into the small base. RPGs and recoilless rifle rounds pelted the defenders as they took cover and attempted to return fire.
Conn climbed a Hesco barrier on the southern flank and began throwing grenades at enemy positions before initiating claymores positioned around the base. The platoon was ordered to collapse the perimeter. As Conn fell back, he saw RPGs striking the platoon’s Mk-19 fighting position, so he rushed to it and looked for wounded before moving to cover. Conn’s actions are credited with preventing the southern flank from collapsing and saving the lives of 30 Afghan and American defenders.
Enemy fire throughout the day had harassed the American forces, but the main effort to push the Americans from the mountaintop began in the late evening. Conn was nearly taken out in the opening salvo as RPGs and machine gun fire impacted within inches of him, according to his Silver Star citation. Conn moved first to the command and control position when he saw that the platoon’s radio was unmanned. He sent reports to the headquarters so they could coordinate the battle until he saw enemy fighters maneuvering their way into the outpost. Conn moved to a nearby 60mm mortar tube, put it in direct fire mode, and began engaging the fighters. He killed 12 of them.
On this day, another U.S. soldier struck two insurgents with a TOW missile, killing both of them. One was an Afghan commander whose death would become a rallying cry for the insurgents.
The following afternoon, the enemy launched its strongest attack of the battle after a funeral for the dead commander. Enemy elements managed to stage a base 100 meters from the OP, hiding in dips in the terrain. Enemy mortar and machine gun fire rained down onto the base. Two 82mm mortar rounds struck a fighting position on the northern flank, severely wounding five U.S. and three Afghan soldiers.
Conn rushed to the position from the opposite side of the OP, exposed to fire the entire way. He quickly stabilized the worst Afghan casualty. As the enemy focused on the new weak point in the flank and sniper fire pelted the ground near him, Conn engaged the assaulting forces with grenades before throwing smoke and pulling the casualties back to the casualty collection point. The casualty collection point gave little cover to the medic, but he stabilized his nine patients, the eight from the northern flank and another from elsewhere on the OP. All nine patients survived and Conn’s actions were again credited with preventing the collapse of a flank, saving the OP.
Late that evening, amid accurate sniper fire from a nearby mountain, an air ambulance tried to evacuate some of the wounded. The flight medic, Staff Sgt. Robert B. Cowdrey, approached the helicopter from the front while bringing the casualties to the bird and was struck by a rotor blade. Conn arrived on site first, stabilizing the other medic and recovering the five other wounded on the flight line. The helicopter had left the landing zone amid enemy fire, and Conn kept the injured soldier alive for thirty minutes while waiting for another Medevac. Staff Sgt. Cowdrey later died of his wounds.
After the fierce attacks of that day, every member of the platoon showed signs of traumatic brain injury.
On Oct. 14, first platoon was finally being relieved of their duties on the mountain, but the enemy wasn’t ready to let them go. While the platoon sergeant was supervising the removal of equipment down the mountain, the insurgents sent ten suicide bombers under machine gun and sniper cover fire against the OP.
Conn took fire inside his firing position, but still further exposed himself by climbing out of it to check on other members of the platoon. After making a circuit to treat the wounded in their positions, he moved to the mortar pit and assisted in firing 60mm rounds against enemy positions while fully exposed to the continuing sniper fire. When the enemy came within range, he again threw fragmentation grenades into the advancing forces.
Combined with M4 fire from the platoon sergeant, this effort killed the suicide bombers before they could breach the OP. The enemy survivors soon began retreating into Pakistan.
There are very few accomplishments in existence more highly regarded than the Medal of Honor. Actually, I’m not 100% sure that there is anything that would impress me or other former service members more than a Medal of Honor.
Although the recognition is typically bestowed following a singular, overwhelmingly courageous deed, there is a precedent for receiving a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievements. But what exactly needs to happen to receive the highest honor in the land, not for punctuating heroism but for extended, meritorious service?
Throughout American history, there have been approximately 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients. 19 of those are dual recipients and a little under a third of all recipients were awarded posthumously. When compared to the millions of men and women who have served, those numbers are absolutely minuscule.
Even rarer a feat than being a double Medal of Honor recipient is receiving a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement — there have only been two such recipients ever! Those two recipients are Sergeant Major Frederick William Gerber and Major General Adolphus Greely.
Frederick William Gerber
Gerber was the very first Sergeant Major from the Army Corps of Engineers in history. He enlisted in the regular Army before the Mexican-American War and is credited with saving the life of then-Second Lieutenant George B. McClellan, who would go on to be General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.
Gerber received the Medal of Honor in 1871, making him the first to receive the citation for accumulative service.
Greely enlisted in the volunteer Army during the American Civil War and worked his way up to the rank of First Sergeant after about two years. He went on to receive a commission and work his way up to the rank of Major before being mustered out of the volunteer Army and almost immediately into the regular Army.
He would eventually achieve the rank of Major General just before retiring in 1908 at the mandatory retirement age of 64. His career highlight is the infamous Greely Expedition. The expedition yielded many invaluable meteorological, magnetic, biological, and oceanographic records, and ultimately ended with all but six of his crew members dead.
Greely was awarded the Medal of Honor for a career that began in the mid-19th century and lasted until the early 20th. It took nearly 30 years post-retirement for Greely to get his citation — just a few months before he passed in 1935.
The rules for the Medal of Honor have changed since the early 20th century and they are no longer authorized for non-combat actions. So, the simple answer is: no.
Since 1963, the prerequisite actions for a Medal of Honor have been redefined as someone having “distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” By virtue of this very definition, the chance that we see a modern service member — or any of our brethren from yesteryear — receive a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement is slim.
For a lot of sailors serving in the Vietnam War, especially those on aircraft carriers, the war effort was a matter of routine. For many, that daily routine didn’t involve much combat. But for the Navy’s river force, among a few other units, it was a different story. The pilots who flew from carriers or land bases, the SEALs and members of the Underwater Demolition Teams, and Navy corpsmen all saw plenty of action, among others.
One other group of sailors who often saw combat was the Navy’s riverine force. This force, known as the “Brown Water Navy,” took on the Viet Cong (and later, the North Vietnamese Army) in the Mekong Delta. These days, there are much newer, riverine combat vessels in service, and “brown water” sailors have seen action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In Vietnam, two classes of vessel primarily carried out operations. The first were PBRs (Patrol Boat Riverine). The Navy bought 32 of these 32-foot long vessels, each of which displaced seven tons. For small ships, they packed a huge punch: Three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher came standard. These small boats could be loaded up extras, too, including 7.62mm machine guns, 60mm mortars, and even flamethrowers!
Whatever configuration, these river force boats brought a lot of firepower for a crew of four to unleash on the enemy.
A crewman rests near the forward gun turret of a PBR.
The other vessel was the Patrol Craft Fast, known as the PCF or “Swift Boat.” This vessel, famous for being served on by former Secretary of State John Kerry (whose service drew controversy in 2004), packed three M2 .50-caliber machine guns and had a crew of six. 193 were built, and while they’re most famous for their service in Vietnam, the PCF was also exported.
Swift Boats take South Vietnamese Marines to their infiltration point.
While the sailors who went into harm’s way deserve our thanks, they could never have done it without the help of those who carried out maintenance on the vessels that brought them to the fight.
See how those maintainers kept the PBRs and Swift Boats in service and in action below!
They brought the herd of camels into unfamiliar territory as part of an experiment, but when things went wrong, they accidentally let them loose to terrorize the countryside. No, that’s not the plot of a campy, direct-to-DVD horror film, that’s a true piece of US Army history.
Following a siege at Camp Verde, Texas, just before the onset of the American Civil War, nearly forty camels escaped US Army custody. These camels turned feral, reproduced, and roamed the southwest for years, damaging farms, eating crops, and generally wreaking havoc wherever they went. A few of them even ended up as the basis for a handful of ghost stories.
The sad and bizarre history of the U.S. Army Camel Corps
I mean, if it worked for the Ottomans, it’ll work for us… right?
(Imperial War Museum)
The experiment technically started back in 1836 when U.S. Army Lt. George H. Crosman came up with a brilliant solution to traversing the stark deserts of the American Southwest before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Horses could only take them so far through the sands and would eventually refuse to work in extreme heats. His solution? The Arabian camel.
In 1855, his plan began to take shape. In theory, the imported camels were to replace horses in the region. They were far more accustomed to heat, they could go great distances with little water, and they preferred to eat the shrubbery that other livestock and horses wouldn’t.
Unfortunately, they were still camels. Giant, goofy, smelly camels. As it turned out, they weren’t any faster or able to carry any more weight than a horse or mule — and they had a tendency to scare smaller livestock nearby. But they were able to go more than a few hours without water, so the plan was labelled technically a success.
The Army gave it the stamp of approval and the Camel Corps was unofficially green-lit.
Even today, troops aren’t the biggest fans of camels.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James Clark)
The camels were housed in Camp Verde, Texas, which is roughly half way between San Antonio and El Paso. Since camels were very expensive to buy and maintain and had niche applications, the Camel Corps never really went anywhere.
Instead of being useful assets in the desert, the camels were more something that soldiers stationed at Camp Verde just had to deal with. Their smell wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, and were generally apathetic towards doing anything useful. When camels get agitated, which would obviously occur when their handlers mistreated them, they tend to spit, kick, and will outright refuse to do anything. The camels were basically just contained within either Camp Verde or at Fort Tejon, wherever the guy advocating their use was stationed.
Imagine you were a 19th century pioneers would have absolutely no knowledge of what the a camel was and you see one out of your ranch… You’ve got yourself a recipe for many horror stories.
(Photo by Pelican)
Then, just months before the Civil War broke out, Confederate troops overthrew Camp Verde on February 28th, 1861. In the chaos of the battle, the camels were set free to cause a distraction. They did exactly that and the camels scattered. Of the over one hundred original camels stationed there, the Confederate troops were only able to capture 80 of them — meaning plenty were scattered to the wind.
The camels were said to be spotted all across the west. Sightings were reported from Iowa to California to even British Columbia. In the following decades, the camels would periodically destroy and the locals would look on, many of whom had no idea what a camel even was. To them, these were odd, giant, humped beasts that occasionally spat at them.
These camel sightings continued until 1941. For the most part, their sightings were often met with confusion or wonder as they would happen upon a random farm here and there. Weird, but they are gentle giants, after all.
Just because there’s a logical explanation for it doesn’t mean it’s not creepy.
As the story goes, two ranchers went out for the morning and left their wives back home with the kids. The dogs started barking at something and one of the wives went to go check on it. There, she saw a terrifying, reddish monster (one of the Camel Corps’ camels) stampeding through the farm. It is said that the woman’s dead body was found trampled on with hoofprints left behind were larger than those of nearby horses.
A few nights later, a group of nearby prospectors were awoken to thunderous stomping and a terrifying scream (if you haven’t heard a camel make noise, I guess it’d sound creepy on a moonlit night.) They saw the beast and corroborated the ranchers’ tale. Of course, as with all tall tales, there was a good deal of exaggeration involved — one miner said they saw the “Red Ghost” kill a grizzly bear. Camels are tough, but they’re not that tough.
The story continued to evolve until, eventually, storytellers spoke of a ghostly figure riding atop the red beast — but this part might have been true. The “Red Ghost” was eventually tracked down and killed by a hunter nine years later. Oddly enough, the hunter found the beast with a saddle attached. Attached to those straps was a long-deceased corpse.
Who that person was or how long the camel was carrying them is still shrouded in mystery.
Writer’s Note: Some of the information about camels in the original version of this article were a bit incendiary towards the lovable goofy beasts. As a few people who’ve worked with camels have informed me, they’re rarely aggressive unless seriously agitated.
What may have also been a contributing factor to their aggression past that was left out of the original version was their extremely poor handling and maltreatment by the troops at Camp Verde. If you treat them well, they really are gentle giants. If you beat the camels, as was done by their “handlers” in those times, it will definitely win that fight.
The universe has been finding ways to mess with people long before Edward A. Murphy uttered his famed statement in the aftermath of Dr. John Paul Stapp strapping himself onto a rocket powered sled. One of the earliest instances of this “law” being stated explicitly happened in 1877 where Alfred Holt, in an address to the Institution of Civil Engineers, said, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later…”
By 1908, it had become a well-loved maxim among magicians as well, as explained by Nevil Maskelyne in The Magic Circular: “It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion . . . everything that can go wrong will go wrong…”
This was reiterated by Adam Hull Shirk in The Sphinx in 1928, “It is an established fact that in nine cases out of ten whatever can go wrong in a magical performance will do so.”
This all brings us to our unsung hero of the hour, Dr. John Paul Stapp — a man whose work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since, and who Joseph Kittinger — who famously did a high altitude jump from 102,800 ft — called the “bravest man I’ve ever met… He knew the effects of what he was getting himself into… And he never hesitated.”
Dr. John Paul Stapp.
Born in Brazil, the son of American missionaries there, Stapp eventually became an English major in college, but he changed career paths due to a traumatic incident that occurred during his Christmas break of 1928 when a 2 year old cousin of his was severely burned in a fireplace. Stapp helped to try to nurse the child back to health, but efforts failed and, 63 hours after getting burned, the toddler died. Said Stapp, “It was the first time I had ever seen anyone die. I decided right then I wanted to be a doctor.”
Unable to afford to go to medical school initially, after he earned a Master’s Degree in Zoology, he instead started teaching chemistry and zoology at Decatur College in Texas while he saved up money. Two years later, he attended the University of Texas where he got a PhD in Biophysics. Next up, he went to the University of Minnesota Medical School and got a Doctor of Medicine degree while working as a research assistant there.
Initially planning on becoming a pediatrician, Stapp changed career paths after joining the Army Medical Corps during WWII. While working as a flight surgeon, among other things, he was heavily involved in designing high altitude oxygen systems as well as studying the effects of high altitude/high speed flight on the human body. The end goal of all of this was to create better safety systems for pilots. During this time, he became puzzled at how some people would survive crashes, even extreme ones, while others in similar or lesser crashes would receive fatal injuries.
This all brings us around to Project MX-981 at the Edwards Air Force Base in 1945.
Up until this point, the prevailing theory was that a human body could not withstand more than 18Gs of force without suffering a fatal injury. The problem here was that airplanes of the age were flying faster and higher than ever. As such, the military wanted to know if their pilots could safely eject at these high velocities without being killed, as well as to try to design the safest possible system for doing so.
Testing towards this end was overseen by Dr. Stapp, using a rocket powered sled called the “Gee Whiz”. This was placed on rails on a 2000 foot track, at the end of which was an approximately 50 foot long section where a hydraulic braking system would stop the 1500 lb sled in its tracks.
Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
The passenger aboard the cart was to initially be a 185 lb dummy named Oscar Eightball and then later chimpanzees. Stapp, however, had other ideas. He wanted to see what an actual human could handle, stating of Oscar Eightball at the project’s onset, “You can throw this away. I’m going to be the test subject.”
David Hill, who was in charge of collecting the test data throughout the experiments and making sure all the telemetry gear stayed working, said of this, they all thought Dr. Stapp must be joking as “We had a lot of experts come out and look at our situation. And there was a person from M.I.T. who said, if anyone gets 18 Gs, they will break every bone in their body. That was kind of scary.”
Dr. Stapp, however, used his extensive knowledge of human physiology, as well as analyzing various crashes where people must have survived more than 18Gs of force, and determined the 18G limit was absurdly low if a proper restraint system was designed and used.
That said, Dr. Stapp wasn’t stupid, but rather an excellent and meticulous researcher, who would soon earn the nickname, “The Careful Daredevil”.
Thus, step one was first to design a proper restraint system and work out all the kinks in the testing apparatus. Towards this end, they conducted nearly three dozen trial runs using the dummy, which turned out to be for the best. For example, in test run number one, both the main and secondary braking systems didn’t work owing to the triggering teeth breaking off, and, instead of stopping, Gee Whiz and Oscar Eightball shot off the tracks into the desert. Funny enough, after the teeth were beefed up, the braking cams engaged, but themselves immediately broke…
In yet another catastrophic failure, the forces were so extreme that Oscar broke free from his restraints. The result of this was his rubber face literally being ripped off thanks to the windscreen in front of his head. As for the rest of his body, it went flying through the air well over 700 feet (over 200 meters) from where the Gee Whiz stopped.
This brings us to about two years into the project on December 10, 1947 when Dr. Stapp decided it was his turn to be the dummy.
Initially strapping himself in facing backwards — a much safer way to experience extreme G-forces — the first run with a human aboard was a rather quaint 10Gs during the braking period.
After this, they continued to improve the restraint system as Dr. Stapp slowly ramped up the Gs all the way to 35 within six months of that first run. He stated of this, “The men at the mahogany desks thought the human body would never take 18 Gs; here we’re taking twice that with no sweat!”
And by “no sweat”, of course, he no doubt meant that throughout the tests, he’d suffered a hemorrhaged retina, fractured rib, lost several fillings from his teeth, got a series of concussions, cracked his collarbone, developed an abdominal hernia, developed countless bloody blisters caused by sand hitting his skin at extreme velocities, severe bruising, shattering his wrists, and fracturing his coccyx. But, you know, “no sweat”.
While recovering, if further tests needed conducting in the interim, he did begin allowing other volunteers to do the job, but as soon as he was healthy enough again, Dr. Stapp was back in the seat instead. One of his coworkers on the project, George Nichols, stated that Stapp couldn’t bare the idea of someone being seriously injured or killed in experiments he was conducting, so whenever possible made himself the guinea pig instead.
Of course, in order for the research to be as useful as possible and for other scientists to believe what Dr. Stapp was managing to endure, extremely accurate sensors were needed, which is where one Captain Edward A. Murphy comes in.
For a little background on Murphy, beyond very briefly helping out on this project, the highlights of his career included working on the SR-71, XB-70 Valkyrie, X-15 rocket plane, and helping to design the life support system for the Apollo missions.
Going back to Dr. Stapp’s project, at the time Murphy was working on a separate project at Wright Field involving centrifuge, including designing some new sensor systems in the process. When Dr. Stapp heard about this, he asked if Murphy wouldn’t mind adapting the sensors for use in Project MX-981, to which Murphy happily complied. More specifically, Murphy’s sensor system would allow them to directly measure the G forces on the passenger, rather than relying on measuring the G forces on the sled body itself.
Now, before we go any further, we should point out that exact details of what occurred over the two days Murphy was directly involved in the project have been lost to history, despite many first hand accounts from several people. You might think it would make it easy to sort out given this, but human memory being what it is, the accounts from those who were there vary considerably.
This acrobatic airplane is pulling up in a +g maneuver; the pilot is experiencing several g’s of inertial acceleration in addition to the force of gravity.
Illustrating this point in the most poignant way possible we have a quote from Chuck Yeager, who was good friends with Dr. Stapp. In the quote, Yeager was responding to the widely reported idea that Yeager had sought out Dr. Stapp to clear him for his famous flight where he broke the sound barrier. As to why he chose Dr. Stapp, Yeager supposedly felt that no other doctor but Stapp would clear him on account of Yeager’s supposedly broken ribs.
Yeager’s response to this almost universally reported story is as follows: “That’s a bunch of crap!… That’s the way rumors get started, by these people…who weren’t even there…”
He goes on,
that’s the same kind of crap…you get out of guys who were not involved and came in many years after. It’s just like Tom Brokaw’s book if you’ll pardon the analogy here, about the best of the breed or something like that. Well, every guy who wrote his story about World War II did it fifty years after it happened. I’m a victim of the same damn thing. I tell it the way I remember it, and that’s not the way it happened. I go back and I read a report that I did 55 years ago and I say, hmm, I’d better tell that story a little bit different. Well, that’s human nature. You tell it the way you believe it and that’s not necessarily the way that it happened. There’s nothing more true than that.
During this impressive and extremely accurate rant about how difficult it is to get an accurate report of some historic event, even from those who were there, he notes of those writing about these things after, “Guys become, if you’ll pardon my expression, sexual intellectuals. You know what the phrase is for that? Sexual intellectuals. They’re fucking know-it-alls, that’s what.”
And, we’re not going to lie, we mostly just included that little anecdote because we’re pretty sure “Sexual Intellectuals (Fucking Know-It-Alls)” is the greatest description of the staff and subscribers of TodayIFoundOut we’ve ever come across, and we kind of wish we’d named the channel that (and are pretty sure we’re going to make a t-shirt out of it…)
In any event, that caveat about the inherent inaccuracy of reporting history out of the way, this finally brings us around to the story of how Murphy and his law became a thing.
The general story that everybody seems to agree on is that Murphy or another worker there installed Murphy’s sensors and then a chimpanzee was strapped into the sled to test them out. (Note here, that years later in an interview with People Magazine, Murphy would claim it was Dr. Stapp that was strapped in.) After the test run, however, they found the sensors hadn’t worked at all, meaning the whole expensive and dangerous test had been run for nothing.
As to exactly why the sensors hadn’t worked, there are a few versions of this tale. As for the aforementioned David Hill, he states that it was one of his own assistants, either Jerry Hollabaugh or Ralph DeMarco, he couldn’t remember which, who installed the sensors incorrectly. As Hill explained in an interview with Nick T. Spake, author of the book A History of Murphy’s Law, “If you take these two over here and add them together. You get the correct amount of G-forces. But if you take these two and mount them together, one cancels the other out and you get zero.”
Cover of “A History of Murphy’s Law.”
George Nichols, however, claimed Hill and DeMarco had both double checked the wiring before hand, but had missed that it had been wired up backwards. That said, Nichols stated it wasn’t DeMarco nor Hill’s fault, as the wiring had been done back at Wright Field by Murphy’s team.
Said Nichols, “When Murphy came out in the morning, and we told him what happened… he was unhappy…” Stating, “If that guy [his assistant] has any way of making a mistake… He will.”
Nichols, however, blamed Murphy as Murphy should have examined the sensor system before hand to ensure it had been wired correctly, as well as tested the sensors before they were ever installed in the sled, and on top of it all should have given them time to test everything themselves before a live run on the sled. However, as Murphy was only to be there for two days, he’d supposedly rushed them. Nichols stated this inspired the team to not repeat Murphy’s mistakes.
Said Nichols, “If it can happen, it will happen… So you’ve got to go through and ask yourself, if this part fails, does this system still work, does it still do the function it is supposed to do? What are the single points of failure? Murphy’s Law established the drive to put redundancy in. And that’s the heart of reliability engineering.”
Hill also claims this ultimately morphed into the mantra among the group, “if anything can go wrong, it will.”
As for Murphy himself, years later in an interview with People Magazine, he would state what he originally said was, “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.” He then claimed when Dr. Stapp heard this, directly after the failed sled run, he shortened it and called it “Murphy’s Law”, saying “from now on we’re going to have things done according to Murphy’s Law.”
In yet another interview, Murphy painted an entirely different picture than accounts from Hill and Nichols’, stating he’d sent the sensors ahead of time, and had only gone there to investigate when they’d malfunctioned. He stated when he looked into it, “they had put the strain gauges on the transducers ninety degrees off.”
Importantly here, contrary to what the other witnesses said of how Murphy had blamed his assistant, in the interview, Murphy said it was his own fault, “I had made very accurate drawings of the thing for them, and discussed it with the people who were going to make them… but I hadn’t covered everything. I didn’t tell them that they had positively to orient them in only one direction. So I guess about that time I said, ‘Well, I really have made a terrible mistake here, I didn’t cover every possibility.’ And about that time, Major Stapp says, ‘Well, that’s a good candidate for Murphy’s Law’. I thought he was going to court martial me. But that’s all he said.”
Murphy then went on to explain to the interviewer that he actually didn’t remember the exact words he said at the time, noting “I don’t remember. It happened thirty five years ago, you know.”
This might all have you wondering how exactly this statement that nobody seemed to be able to remember clearly came to be so prevalent in public consciousness?
John Paul Stapp Fastest man on Earth – rocket sled Pilot safety equipment 1954
It turns out, beyond being incredibly brave, brilliant, and hell-bent on saving lives, even if it cost him his own, Dr. Stapp was also hilarious from all accounts from people describing him. He even wrote a book with jokes and various witty sayings called For Your Moments of Inertia. For example, “I’m as lonely as a cricket with arthritis.” or “Better a masochist than never been kissed…”
Or how about this gem from an interview where he was asked about any lasting effects on him as a result of the experiments — Dr. Stapp wryly responded, the only residual negative effect was “all the lunches and dinners I have to go to now…”
Beyond all this, he was also a collector of “Laws”, even coming up with one of his own, Stapp’s Law — “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
When collecting these laws, he would name them after the person he heard them from, though often re-wording them to be more succinct, which, for whatever it’s worth, seems to align most closely to Murphy’s own account of how “his” law came about.
And as for this then becoming something the wider public found out about, during one of his interviews about the project, Dr. Stapp was asked, “How is it that no one has been severely injured — or worse — during your tests?”
It was here that Stapp stated, he wasn’t too worried about it because the entire team adhered to “Murphy’s Law”. He then explained that they always kept in mind that whatever could go wrong, would, and thus, extreme effort was made to think up everything that could go wrong and fix it before the test was actually conducted.
Going back to Project MX-981, having now reached 35 Gs after 26 runs by himself and several others by 11 volunteers, Dr. Stapp needed a faster sled. After all, at this point humans were flying at super sonic speeds and whether or not they could survive ejecting at those speeds needed to be known.
Enter the Sonic Wind at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. This sled could use up to 12 rockets capable of producing a combined 50,000 pounds of thrust, resulting in speeds as high as 750 mph. The track was about 3,550 feet long, with the braking system using water scoops. The braking could then be varied by raising or lowering the water level slightly.
This now brings us to December 10, 1954, when Dr. Stapp would pull off his most daring and final experiment.
Previous to this run, Dr. Stapp stated, “I practiced dressing and undressing with the lights out so if I was blinded I wouldn’t be helpless”, as he assumed he would probably be blind afterwards, if he survived at all. He would also state when he was sitting there waiting for the rockets to be fired, “I said to myself, ‘Paul, it’s been a good life.'”
In order to stop his arms and legs from flapping involuntarily in the wind during the test, they were securely strapped down and a mouth guard was inserted to keep his teeth from breaking off.
All set, he then blasted off on his 29th and final sled run, using nine solid fuel rockets, capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
As an interesting aside here, beyond ground based cameras, none other than Joe Kittinger piloted a T-33 over head with a photographer in back filming it.
As for the sled, it accelerated from 0 up to 632 miles per hour (1,017 kilometers per hour) in a mere 5 seconds, resulting in about 20 Gs of force on the acceleration phase. Then, in the span of just 1.4 seconds, he came to a full stop, experiencing 46.2 G’s of force in the other direction, meaning his body weighed almost 7,000 pounds at the peak G force! In the process, he had also set the record for highest landspeed of any human.
Col. John Paul Stapp aboard the “Gee Whiz” rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
(Air Force photo)
Said Kittinger of watching this, “He was going like a bullet… He went by me like I was standing still, and I was going 350 mph… I thought, that sled is going so damn fast the first bounce is going to be Albuquerque. I mean, there was no way on God’s earth that sled could stop at the end of the track. No way. He stopped in a fraction of a second. It was absolutely inconceivable that anybody could go that fast and then just stop, and survive.”
Nevertheless, when he was unstrapped from the chair, Dr. Stapp was alive, but as Nichols would observe, “His eyes had hemorrhaged and were completely filled with blood. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”
As for Dr. Stapp, he would state, it felt “like being assaulted in the rear by a fast freight train.” And that on the deceleration phase, “I felt a sensation in the eyes…somewhat like the extraction of a molar without anesthetic.”
He had also cracked some ribs, broken his wrists, and had some internal injuries to his respiratory and circulatory systems.
And on the note of his eyes, he was initially blind after, with it assumed that his retinas had detached. However, upon investigation, it was determined they had not, and within a few hours his sight mostly came back, with minor residual effects on his vision that lasted the rest of his life.
Apparently not knowing when to quit, once he had healed up, he planned yet another experiment to really see the limits of human endurance via strapping himself to that same sled and attempting to reach 1,000 mph this time…
When asked why, he stated, “I took my risks for information that will always be of benefit. Risks like those are worthwhile.”
To lead up to this, he conducted further experiments, going all the way up to 80Gs with a test dummy, at which point the Sonic Wind itself ripped off the tracks and was damaged.
It is probably for the best that it was here that his superiors stepped in. As you might imagine given his end goal was seemingly to figure out the extreme upper limit of G forces a human could survive with a perfected restraint system, and to use himself as the guinea pig until he found that limit, Dr. Stapp had previously run into the problem of his superiors ordering him to stop and instead to use chimpanzees exclusively. But while he did occasionally use chimpanzees, he went ahead and ignored the direct order completely. After all, he needed to be able to feel it for himself or be able to talk to the person experiencing the effects of the extreme Gs to get the best possible data. And, of course, no better way to find out what a human could take than use a human.
Rather than getting in trouble, he ultimately got a promotion thanks to the extreme benefits of his work. However, after his 46.2G run, they decided to shut down the experiment altogether as a way to get him to listen. After all, he had already achieved the intended goal of helping to develop better restraint and ejection systems, and proved definitively that a human could survive ejecting at the fastest speeds aircraft of the day could travel.
Now, at this point you might be thinking that’s all quite impressive, but that’s not Dr. Stapp helping to save “hundreds of thousands” of lives as we stated before. So how did he do that?
Well, during the experiments, Dr. Stapp became acutely aware that with a proper restraint system, most car accidents should be survivable, yet most cars of the age not only didn’t have any restraint systems whatsoever, they also were generally designed in ways to maximize injury in a crash with unforgiving surfaces, strong frames and bodies that would not crumple on impact, doors that would pop open in crashes, flinging occupants out, etc.
In fact, Dr. Stapp frequently pointed out to his superiors that they lost about as many pilots each year to car accidents as they did in the air. So while developing great safety systems in the planes was all well and good, they’d save a lot of lives simply by installing a restraint system into the cars of all their pilots and requiring they use them.
The military didn’t take this advice, but Dr. Stapp wasn’t about to give up. After all, tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S. alone were dying in car accidents when he felt many shouldn’t have. Thus, in nearly every interview he gave about his famous experiments almost from the very beginning of the project, he would inevitably guide the conversation around to the benefits of what they were doing if adopted in automobiles.
Not stopping there, he went on a life-long public campaign talking to everyone from car manufacturers to politicians, trying to get it required that car manufacturers include seat belts in their vehicles, as well as sharing his team’s data and restraint system designs.
Beyond that, he used his clout within the Air Force to convince them to allow him to conduct a series of experiments into auto safety, test crashing cars in a variety of ways using crash test dummies and, in certain carefully planned tests, volunteer humans, to observe the effects. This was one of the first times anyone had tried such a scientifically rigorous, broad look into commercial automobile safety. He also tested various restraint systems, in some tests subjecting the humans to as high as a measured 28 Gs. Results in hand, in May of 1955 he held a conference to bring together automobile engineers, scientists, safety council members and others to come observe the tests and learn of the results of his team’s research.
He then repeated this for a few years until Stapp was reassigned by the Air Force, at which point he requested Professor James Ryan of the University of Minnesota host the 4th annual such event, which Ryan then named the “Stapp Car-Crash and Field Demonstration Conference”, which is still held today.
Besides this and other ways he championed improvement in automobile safety, he also served as a medical advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in both heavily pushing for better safety systems.
It is no coincidence that not long after Dr. Stapp started these campaigns, car manufacturers started installing seatbelts as a matter of course, as well as started to put much more serious thought into making cars safer in crashes.
In the end, while Dr. Stapp got little public credit for helping to convince car manufacturers to prioritize automobile safety, and provided much of the initial data to help them design such systems, he was at least invited to be present when President Johnson signed the bill that made seat belts required in cars in 1966.
Besides ignoring direct orders to stop using himself as a guinea pig, other ways Dr. Stapp apparently used to frequently flout the rules was to, on his own time, freely treat dependents of people who worked at Edwards’ who were nonetheless not eligible for medical care. He would typically do this via doing house calls to airmen’s homes to keep the whole thing secret, including apparently attending to Chuck Yeager’s sons in this way according to Yeager.
It turns out Murphy was also good friends with none other than Lawrence Peter, remembered today for the Peter Principal — people inevitably get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. According Murphy’s son, Robert, at one point Peter and Murphy tried to get together with Cyril Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law — “Work expands to meet the time and money that is available.” However, Robert claims that fateful meeting ended up getting canceled when other matters came up to prevent the get together.
One other strong safety recommendation Dr. Stapp pushed for, particularly in aviation, was to turn passenger seats around to face backwards, as this is drastically safer in crashes. And, at least in aviation would be simple to do on any commercial airline, requiring no modification other than to turn the seat around in its track. As Stapp and subsequent research by NASA shows, humans can take the most G-forces and receive fewer injuries overall with “eyes back” force, where the G-forces are pushing you back into your seat, with the seat cushions themselves also lending a hand in overall safety. This also insures tall people won’t smack their heads and bodies against anything in front of them in a crash. Despite the massive safety benefits here for people of all ages, outside of car seats for babies and toddlers, nobody anywhere seems interested in leveraging the extreme benefits of rear facing passengers to increase general safety.
If you’re wondering about the safest place on a plane to sit, funny enough, that’s the rear. In fact, you’re approximately 40% more likely to survive a plane crash if you sit in the back of the plane, rather than the front. The other advantage to the rear is that most passengers choose not to sit in the back. So unless the plane is full, you might get a row of seats to yourself. (Of course, a bathroom is also often in the rear on planes, soooo.) Another factor to consider is where the closest exit is. As a general rule, studies examining accidents have shown you’ll want to be within six rows of an emergency exit to maximize your survival chances. So if the plane doesn’t have a rear exit, that’s something to be factored in.
During Joe Kittinger’s then record leap from about 102,800 feet on August 16, 1960, the following happened during the ascent:
At 43,000 feet, I find out [what can go wrong]. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; its air bladder is not inflating. The prospect of exposing the hand to the near-vacuum of peak altitude causes me some concern. From my previous experiences, I know that the hand will swell, lose most of its circulation, and cause extreme pain…. I decide to continue the ascent, without notifying ground control of my difficulty… Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, which feels stiff and painful… [Upon landing] Dick looks at the swollen hand with concern. Three hours later the swelling disappeared with no ill effect.
His total ascent took 1 hour and 31 minutes, he stayed at the peak altitude for 12 minutes, and his total decent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds, so his hand was exposed to a near vacuum for quite some time without long term ill effects. Incidentally, during his fall, he achieved a peak speed of 614 mph, nearly as fast as Dr. Stapp had managed in his little rocket sled. His experience, however, was very different than Dr. Stapp’s. Said Kittinger,
There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
When you think “military beverage,” three things typically come to mind: coffee, beer, and energy drinks. But did you know that around the turn of the century, grape juice was the drink of choice among troops? That’s right. For roughly twenty years, everyone from sailors to soldiers to Marines couldn’t get enough of the purple stuff.
Grape juice reigned supreme during the times of the temperance movement and Prohibition, but it wasn’t just because troops couldn’t drink booze. There were plenty of other reasons for troops to reach for the good stuff.
Seems fitting. Every time you drink your “cup of Joe” you’re actually mocking a much despised and highly controversial Navy secretary.
Welch’s grape juice first came about in 1869 when the American physician and dentist, Thomas Bramwell Welch, invented a method of pasteurizing grape juice to halt the fermentation process, preventing it from turning into wine. The result was non-alcoholic and more suitable for church services. Then, it caught on with the temperance movement crowd — long before Prohibition took effect.
On June 1st, 1914, General Order 99 — which banned alcohol on all Navy vessels and installations — was instituted and, as you might expect, sailors lost their minds. They were left with two options: coffee or juice.
From that moment on, sailors referred to their coffee as “cups of Joe,” named after the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. The slang was adapted as an insult to the man who took away their booze. But sailors couldn’t just constantly chug java — they needed something rich in much-needed vitamins, and fruit juice was the answer.
Welch’s caught on to the trend and doubled down in lending support to the troops. It was a massive success. The sailors loved grape juice and it quickly became a coveted commodity aboard naval vessels.
A few years later, during World War I, Welch’s turned their Concord grapes into a jam called “Grapelade” and sent it to the troops overseas. Once again, the delicious, fruity goodness was a smash hit among the troops. When the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution was put in place in 1919, effectively disallowing booze across all branches of service, troops took a page from the Navy’s playbook and turned to grape juice.
But troops weren’t just drinking it for the taste — it provided a number of health benefits, too, as outlined in the video above.
The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.
The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.
A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.
Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.
The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:
Ed Tipper, a member of the famous D-Day-era “Easy Company,” died at his home in Lakewood, Colorado, Feb. 1.
He was 95.
According to a report by the Denver Post, the former paratrooper with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, spent over 30 years as a teacher before retiring in 1979. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service in World War II.
The Daily Caller noted that Tipper suffered severe wounds during the Battle of Carentan, including the loss of his right eye, when a German mortar shell hit while he was clearing a house. The opening credits of the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” shows Tipper, played by Bart Raspoli, being comforted by Joe Liebgott, played by Ross McCall, in the aftermath of that hit.
“So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years and really six days starting on D-Day,” his daughter, Kerry Tipper, told the newspaper. “Teaching was 30 years.”
Most notable, though, is that despite the wounds, which included two broken legs, Tipper managed to carry on a very active life.
“He just refused to accept people’s limitations,” his daughter Kerry told the Denver Post. The newspaper reported that Tipper took a list of things doctors said he couldn’t do and made it a checklist. He was known to be an avid skier well into his 80s.
His daughter also added that Tipper, like many in Easy Company, felt, “a little embarrassed that their group got attention, that theirs was spotlighted when there were so many other groups that did incredible things and made sacrifices.”
According to the Denver Post, Tipper is survived by a wife who he married in 1982, a daughter and a son-in-law. A public memorial service is scheduled for June 1.
Below, see the Battle of Carentan as portrayed in “Band of Brothers.” Ed Tipper is wounded at around 7:14 into the video:
In 1775, Captains Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan recruited men in a popular Philadelphia bar, promising them beer and adventure on the high seas. Just a few months after that November gathering at Tun Tavern, some five companies of the finest Marines landed on the island of Nassau and handed the stunned British a gleaming defeat.
Marines across the Corps maintain that the two newly-commissioned officers were in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern that chilly November day to create a cadre of warriors who would serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy. Former Quaker and onetime pacifist Samuel Nicholas managed to raise two battalions of Marines out of Philadelphia. They would need all the help they could get because while the Army was fighting the British off at home, the Marines were going to take the fight to the enemy.
This 1803 map of Nassau is very similar to its 1776 defenses.
In the early days of the American Revolution, the colonial government of Virginia moved its stores of gunpowder to a “safer” location, to keep it out of the hands of rebel forces — who were desperately low. That location was in the Bahamas, supposedly safe from marauding rebel ships and fighters.
When word reached Congress about the large stores of gunpowder in the Crown Colony of the Bahamas, the body sent secret instructions to Commodore Esek Hopkins to lead a flotilla of eight ships and 220 Marines (led by Capt. Samuel Nicholas) to Nassau and capture the large gunpowder supply in March, 1776. Consisting of two forts, Nassau and Montagu, the island’s defenses were a wreck. Fort Nassau could not support firing its 46 cannons. Fort Montagu controlled the entrance to the harbor, but most of the gunpowder and ammunition on the island was held at Nassau.
After a brief council, Hopkins decided the landing party would land near Fort Nassau aboard three ships at first light. The invaders would capture the town of New Providence before the alarm was raised among the island’s defenders.
They were spotted by the British, who then fired guns from Fort Nassau to arouse the island’s defenses. The landing team was forced to withdraw back to the ships and the ships left to rejoin the rest of the flotilla to determine their next move. The aborted raid did have a positive effect for the nascent Americans however: The Governor of the Bahamas almost had the extra gunpowder moved aboard one ship for safekeeping, but that idea was abandoned. The gunpowder stayed put and Fort Montagu was reinforced with only 30 mostly unarmed militiamen.
Back aboard the rebel flotilla, a new plan was hatched. The Marines, bolstered by 50 Continental Sailors, would land on Nassau via three ships and backed by the USS Wasp for firepower. In two hours, the Americans landed their entire force east of Montagu unopposed. This was the first amphibious landing of the U.S. Marine Corps.
After landing, the Marines encountered a British reconnaissance force as Fort Montagu was reinforced with another 80 militiamen. Word soon got out that the invading force was sizably larger than the island’s defenses, Montagu fired only three shots before giving up, and the militiamen simply returned to their homes. The Marines occupied the fort that night. The next morning, they occupied Fort Nassau without a shot.
Unfortunately for the invaders, the governor managed to sneak 150 barrels of gunpowder out of the harbor that night because none of the American ships were guarding the harbor. They did take the remaining gunpowder stores and all the weapons and guns the flotilla could carry. These weapons were later used by the Army under Gen. George Washington.
The Korean War was a massive success for America and democracy, though the numbers may say different. The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir was one of the defining battles of the war and of the Marine Corps. Today, the events of that battle serve as a major history lesson for young Marines. Throughout boot camp, recruit will hear all about the heroics of this battle, instilling that “never-give-up” mentality that defines a Marine.
From this battle comes some of the Corps’ greatest Chesty Puller quotes. Sayings such as, “We’re surrounded. Good, that simplifies the problem” and, “we’re not retreating, we’re attacking in a different direction.”
Even against overwhelming odds, Marines fought till their last breath.
America and its U.N. allies dealt a huge blow to the North Korean and Chinese militaries — and Communist expansion. But it came at a great cost. U.N. forces, led by the United States, almost captured the entirety of North Korea — until China entered the war.
The terrain was mountainous, but worst of all, it was cold. Freezing cold. By this time in the war, the winter had arrived in force, freezing over the landscape and creating many problems for troops, including disabling bouts of frostbite. The piercing cold was so unbearable, Marines at the reservoir said, “it would sink right to your bones.”
At the beginning, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army pushed the 7th Army Infantry Division back, allowing the PVA to encircle the Marines on the mountain. The mentality of the Marines continues to inspire, more than 60 years later: “Never retreat, die where I stand or lay, but never retreat.”
A Chinese invasion was not expected, especially in the dead of the winter storm, but it came all the same. A three-pronged attack hit the unprepared men of the X Corps, consisting of the 1st Marine Division, 7th Army Infantry Division, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army. Chairman Mao sent 10 Chinese divisions across the border with orders to destroy X Corps.
The fighting lasted 17 days. By the battle’s end, the fighting was hand-to-hand. Men were using their teeth, rifle butts, and anything else they could get their hands on to fight the Chinese onslaught.
Chinese units attacked countless times and countless times the PVA was forced back. With each attack, the PVA gained some ground, but at a great cost. With the ground frozen and foxholes impossible to dig, Marines used the bodies of the Chinese attackers as sandbags to help protect them from incoming fire.
The men in the battle had seen the fiercest fighting of the entire Korean War. With the ever-growing presence of the PVA, Marines were forced to start fighting back towards South Korea.
Still surrounded and with elements of the PVA in the way, Marines had to fight their way out against a 360-degree front as they moved south. They were heading to the port of Hungnam, where the men of X Corps could be evacuated.
By the end of the battle, U.S. Marines suffered 836 dead and around 10,000 wounded. The Army had 2,000 dead and 1,000 wounded. The Chinese had the most catastrophic losses. Intelligence reported the Chinese as saying American forces could beat any Chinese effort, no matter the size.
Six Chinese divisions were completely wiped out. Of the ten that attacked, only one would ever see action again. Though the exact numbers are not clear, historians estimate Chinese losses anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 killed. The numbers of Chinese wounded may never be known.
Chosin was technically a loss for the Marines. But it was a Pyrrhic victory at best for the Communists. Despite the loss, this battle instills in every Marine the ability to find strength.
You never give up, did those men give up?
This statement is made by almost every Marine who has ever served since. When faced with overwhelming odds, we use the thoughts of the Frozen Chosin to remind us to never retreat, never surrender, and raise hell.
In this day and age, allowing a minor to enlist in the military and be sent off to war is practically impossible — especially with our modern tracking systems.
But at the start of the 20th century, an accurate method of recording individual troop movement hadn’t been invented; thousands of soldiers would eventually go missing through the course of the war, many of whom were actually children.
After WWI reared its ugly head, military recruiters were paid bonuses for every man they enlisted. Countless young men, many of them orphans or just seeking adventure, would simply lie about their ages to join up.
The recruiters saw dollars signs and looked past any age issues as they wrote the coercible young boy’s names down, signing them up on the spot. Many feared the thought of going off to war but thought they would look weak if they didn’t take part with their friends — the ultimate peer pressure.
These young boys swear in to join the fight. (Source: The Great War/ YouTube/ Screenshot)
The idea was extremely controversial at the time, but it didn’t stop the boys from volunteering as they showed up to the local recruiting offices in droves. It’s estimated that 250,000 boys under the age of 18 served in the British Army alone.
Once they signed up, they were sent through some basic infantry training then whisked off the front lines.
Most famously was John Condon, an Irishman who is believed to have been the youngest combatant killed; at the age of 14, he died during a mustard gas attack in Belgium while serving in the third battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.
According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.
Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.
A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.
Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.
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.
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.
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.
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.