This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

From November 1947 to December 1948, Camp Pine, which would evolve into Fort Drum, hosted the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division for Exercise Snowdrop. The exercise was the largest over-snow airborne maneuver that the Army had undergone at the time and was designed to validate equipment, logistics and tactics for airborne operations in a sub-zero combat environment like the one that the paratroopers would experience if the United States were to go to war with the Soviet Union. Sadly, not all of the soldiers that participated saw the exercise through to its end.

During Snowdrop, building T-2278, a two-story wooden building, served as an officer barracks. The building housed many WWII veterans like Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, Lt. Rudolph Feres and Capt. Francis Turner. Swilley had earned two Purple Hearts during the war, and Feres and Turner each earned three Bronze Stars.

In the early morning hours of December 10, 1947, the officers in building T-2278 were awoken by thick smoke and loud shouts from the second-floor hallway. The shouts came from Turner, who was first alerted to the fire by the smoke at approximately 0230 hrs. “Turner could have escaped at that point, having done his duty to warn his fellow Soldiers, but he did not,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander. “Ignoring his own safety, Capt. Turner chose to remain in the building to ensure each officer heard his alarm and to help the wounded among them to escape. Only after every wounded man was out of the building — which by this time was completely engulfed in flames — did he turn his attention to his own safety.”

The burned-out of building T-2278 after the fire (U.S. Army)

Survivor accounts lead Army historians to believe that, after Turner ran through the building to alert his comrades of the danger, he attempted to jump to safety from a second-story window. Tragically, his wedding ring got caught on a nail in the window and Turner was left hanging amidst the searing flames. He was eventually rescued by Pine Camp firefighters, but was left with severe burns; nearly 90 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns.

Thanks to Turner, six officers escaped the flames unharmed. In addition to Turner, four other officers were injured but managed to escape. Capt. Robert Dodge, Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, and Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the building. While the other injured officers were treated and sent home, Turner had been so badly burned that he remained at Pine Camp hospital for treatment. After 18 days, he succumbed to his wounds.

Many factors contributed to the tragedy of the Pine Camp barracks fire. First, the roving fire watchman saw smoke but believed that the fire was in a different building. Second, the fire department took about 45 minutes to arrive on site. Third, two-thirds of the firefighters had less than three months of experience. Fourth, the barracks fire was determined to be a quick and violent “flash-fire” that burned rapidly and with very little notice. It took three hours, three fire engines, and 1,950 feet of water line to extinguish the blaze.

The death toll would have been much higher if not for Turner (U.S. Army)

The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Duane Quates, an archaeologist with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Branch, speculates that the fire could have been started by a faulty boiler or a careless cigarette. “This fire is the only structural fire on Fort Drum that had fatalities,” Quates said. “Every other structural fire may have had injuries, but they never had fatalities.” He also noted that the fire was a catalyst for modern fire safety measures like self-closing doors, permanent escape ladders, and heat raiser alarms.

On August 19, 1948, the four widows of the Pine Camp barracks fire sued the United States, claiming that their husbands’ deaths were the result of negligence due to a faulty heater. Their cases were dismissed by a Northern New York District Court judge who stated that the government was not liable for injuries that service members sustain while on active duty under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The next year, Lt. Feres’ widow, Bernice Feres, brought her case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the case was dismissed. Feres persisted and, the next year, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The rulings of the previous courts were upheld and her case was dismissed again. This series of cases led to the controversial Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from collecting damages for injuries sustained while on active duty and prohibits family members from filing wrongful death suits in the case of a service member’s death. To this day, service members and their families continue to challenge the Feres Doctrine.

Col. Rosenberg unveils the historic marker with Carolyn Leps and Elizabeth Barbee, Turner’s two surviving daughters (U.S. Army)

On August 27, 2013, Fort Drum dedicated a historic marker to the memory of the men killed in the Pine Camp barracks fire. Still, knowledge of the fire and Turner’s heroic actions are largely unknown. Years of historical research into the event continues today. Joseph “Sepp” Scanlin, the Fort Drum Museum director, says that the museum remains dedicated to its efforts for Turner to receive a military award for his actions during the fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The USSR won an advanced jet engine from Rolls-Royce in a bet

The MiG-15 was the jet fighter that shook the West out of its delusion of automatic air superiority. Before the MiG-15, B-29 bombers could raid North Korean cities at will — in broad daylight. After the introduction of the MiG-15, the bomber fleet was grounded because the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Stars were too slow to protect them.


A strange, new plane was strafing American aircraft in the skies over the Korean War, and it was 100 mph faster than anything the United Nations forces had in the air. It was also killing dozens of UN pilots and planes — and it had to be stopped.

It might be hard to believe, but the source of the Russians’ new fighter’s monstrous speed was a Rolls-Royce design, which was pretty much supplied by the British themselves.

It wasn’t very often that anyone pulled the wool over the eyes of the British during the Cold War. The Soviets were a clever bunch, though.

In 1946, the Soviets were invited to a Rolls-Royce factory. The delegation in attendance included Artem Mikoyan (the man who put the ‘Mi’ in ‘MiG’) himself. Mikoyan was then invited to visit the house of a Rolls-Royce executive, where they played billiards.

Artem Mikoyan was great at billiards. In fact, he may have used a textbook shark move, losing the first game and then raising the stakes on the second. Here’s the bet he made: If the Russian wins, Rolls-Royce will have to sell jet engines to the Soviets. Find out who won at around 9:00 in the video below.

If it sounds surprising that the deal was made over a bet or that the British would supply the Russians with Rolls-Royce engines, you’re not alone. Stalin himself was incredulous, reportedly saying, “what idiot would sell us their jet engines?”

The Russians agreed to use the acquired engines for non-military purposes exclusively, which they did… until they were able to make a Russian copy of the Rolls-Royce engines, then called the Klimov RD-45. The engine was fitted into the MiG-15 and was fully operational in time for the Korean War, taking to the skies with weaponry designed to take down B-29 Superfortress bombers.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A B-29 Bomber in the gunsights of a MiG-15.

It was the dominant fighter over Korea until the introduction of the American F-86 Sabre. The Sabre was more than a match for the new MiG, garnering a 10-to-1 combat victory ratio in the war. It was also the plane flown by all 39 United Nations fighter aces.

Sabres and MiG-15s would be at each other’s throats for the duration of the Korean War. The last Sabre was retired from the U.S. military in 1956 whereas the MiG-15 saw service around the world throughout the 1960s. In fact, the plane is still flying with the North Korean People’s Air Force to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the only father-son pairs to receive Medals of Honor

At only two times in American history have father-son pairs both earned Medals of Honor. One pair was based in the Civil War and then World War II combat, and the other pair in the Spanish-American War and World War I combat. All four would make their last names famous for generations to come.


This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Arthur MacArthur earned his fame rushing the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge.

(Images: Public domain; Graphic: WATM)

Arthur MacArthur receives the medal for actions in 1863

First Lt. Arthur MacArthur was only 18 and an adjutant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry when the regiment was arrayed against stiff defenses on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee near the border with Georgia. The Confederates had used this position to harass and attack Union forces for some time, and it was the last great barrier to the invasion of Georgia.

But the Confederate forces had a line of rifle pits at the base of ridge and trenches and other defenses at the top. The Union attack was ordered against the ridge, and confused orders led to a successful melee in the pits, but then a sporadic and faltering attack up toward the trenches.

It was during this attack up that MacArthur saw the Regimental color bearer go down, and he leaped forward to get the colors back up so the men would continue attacking. He was wounded twice while rushing the colors up the hill, but he still planted the flag and then fought to defend it, effectively leading an attack that took the ridge as well as the land 2.5 miles past it in a single day. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, promoted to major, and later took command of the regiment.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in World War II.

(Public domain)

Douglas MacArthur defends the Philippines until all is lost

Arthur would retire as a lieutenant general, but one of his sons would eclipse him in valor awards and rank. Douglas MacArthur was already a full general, and the recipient of seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses when Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941.

It was quickly apparent that Japan would have the upper hand, but Douglas was at least as tenacious as his father. He had his men establish defensive line after defensive line, conducting a controlled withdrawal that soaked the ground in blood for every inch they gave up. Eventually, he was forced to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula, allowing his men to defend themselves in more mountainous terrain, but also cutting off further escape and giving up the cities.

This whole time, Gen. MacArthur was often at the front, often under enemy fire. But his calmness under fierce attacks helped his men keep their cool in their desperate defense. It was only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to order the general off of the islands on February 22, 1942, to prevent his capture that Douglas withdrew. And he did so with a promise to return. He would receive the Medal of Honor in April for his tenacity, but his men would suffer a death march.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Col. Theodore Roosevelt as the commander of the Rough Riders.

(Public domain)

Teddy Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt campaigned hard for war with Spain, and when the U.S. declared that war in April 1898, he wasn’t about to leave the fighting to everyone else. But, he knew the war might be short and that he was not yet ready to command a regiment. So he agitated for the creation of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, but he used his connections to be the second-ranking officer, not the commander.

He got his wish and was brought into the Volunteer Army as a lieutenant colonel and sent to Cuba, but only 8 of the 12 companies were able to get space on the ships, and none of their horses were brought over. Still, they performed well and, on July 1, 1898, were sent against the defenses on San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba. By this point, Roosevelt had been promoted to commander.

The attack plan said they must move slow, but the unit was coming under heavy fire, and Roosevelt felt the battle would be lost to attrition before it could take the heights. So he rushed his men forward in a series of bursts despite the fierce defense, and they succeeded. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for these actions in 2001.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

At left, Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., he would later serve in World War II as a brigadier general and earn the Medal of Honor.

(Library of Congress)

His son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would never attain the presidency like his father did, but he would fight in World Wars I and II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in World War I, and then came back into service in World War II as an almost 60-year-old man. But still, he earned another two Silver Stars in combat in North Africa near one of his own sons (who also earned a Silver Star, there).

In the preparations for D-Day, he pushed repeatedly for permission to go ashore with the first wave, but his division commander kept denying it on the basis of the brigadier’s rank and age. So, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote to his distant cousin, then-President Franklin Roosevelt. Before the reply came back, the division commander finally relented and gave Roosevelt, Jr., permission, certain he would never see him again.

The 4th Infantry Division, like nearly everyone else that day, landed out of position, but they were lucky to have their deputy commanding general there to take charge. Roosevelt, Jr., personally led infantry waves into position under fire multiple times while walking with a cane. His re-making of the division landing plan was credited with keeping Omaha Beach open, and the commanding general gave his compliments when he landed with a later wave.

Roosevelt Jr. was nominated for promotion to major general, the Medal of Honor, and command of the 90th Infantry Division, but he died of a heart attack just hours before Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called to give him the news. The medal was awarded posthumously.

Articles

The bagpipe-playing soldier who killed a Nazi sergeant with a longbow

So this guy is one of my favorite people ever.  His life story sounds like a Dos Equis commercial. His full name is John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, better known as Jack Churchill or “Mad Jack”.  A few of my favorite qualities and accomplishments of his up front:


  • Officer in the British Army from 1926-1936 and 1939-1959.  During WWII, he was a Lieutenant-Colonel.
  • Worked as a newspaper editor and male model in Nairobi, Kenya between 1936 and 1939.
  • His motto was, “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.”
  • When the war in Europe ended, he was sent to Burma to fight the Japanese but by the time he arrived, the war was over. He really, really didn’t like this because he wanted to keep fighting.
  • After the war he served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, he became an avid surfer.
  • After retiring from the army in 1959, he regularly scared train conductors and pedestrians by throwing his briefcase from the train. Why? He threw it into his own backyard because he didn’t want to carry it home from the train station.

So now for my favorite part: he carried bagpipes, a Scottish broadsword, and a longbow with arrows into most battles. His unusual gear choices followed him into battle wherever he went, and even played a key role in the Battle of France.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
‘Mad Jack’ Churchill with his War Bow; 6′ tall, with an 80-lb pull. The only documented archer to inflict casualties in WW2.

When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Mad Jack Churchill gave up his roles as a male model and newspaper editor in Kenya to resume his service in the British Army.  As part of an expeditionary force to France, he led his unit – the Manchester Regiment – into battle in May 1940.  Near the Belgian border, Churchill and his men set up an ambush on a German patrol, where he instructed his men to begin the ambush once they saw his arrow fly.

As a Nazi sergeant came into range, he fired an arrow from his traditional longbow and killed the German officer.  In doing so, Churchill became the last known person to kill an enemy in battle using a longbow.

In 1941, Churchill was second in command for a raid on a German garrison on the west coast of Norway.  As the landing craft hit the beaches and the ramp went down, Churchill was standing there blasting his bagpipes.  When he finished his song, he launched a grenade toward the German fortifications and sprinted into battle.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Far right: Mad Jack storms a beach with his Scottish broadsword

Churchill’s bagpipe skills were on display again as the Allies invaded Sicily and also when they invaded the Italian peninsula near Salerno.  At the latter, Churchill led an attack on a German observation post and captured 42 German soldiers with only the help of a Corporal.

In 1944, Churchill’s forces were tasked with assisting Tito’s Partisan forces in Yugoslavia.  Here they were expected to retake the island of Brač.  While the Partisan forces remained on the beach, Churchill and six others reached the objective alone.  While he again played his bagpipes, his six fellow soldiers were killed by a mortar and he was knocked unconscious by a grenade and captured.  He was then sent to Berlin for interrogation, after which he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just north of Berlin.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Wikimedia Commons photo

You would think that was the end of his hilarious eccentricity, but it wasn’t.  Being the badass he was, Churchill and another British officer escaped from the concentration camp and headed north to the Baltic coast.  He was captured again just before he got to the coast and sent to an SS-guarded prison in Tyrol, Austria in April 1945.  Once released, he walked over 90 miles to Verona, Italy, where he ran into an American armored group, who helped him get back to Britain.

That was the last action he’d see in World War II, as his arrival in the Pacific was too late.  Churchill then went on to serve in British Palestine until 1948, after which he moved to Australia to be an instructor at the land-air warfare school.  He eventually retired from the Army in 1959, and lived to the age of 89 in Surrey, England.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Iron Eagle movie poster. (Credit to TriStar Pictures)

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

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

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

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

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

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

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

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

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

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 games World War I soldiers played in the trenches

100 years ago, our great-great grandfathers were in the trenches of France, and fighters on both sides of the war had to while away their time when they weren’t actively working or fighting. And it takes a lot to keep your morale up and your terror down when your work hours are filled with enemy mortars, artillery, and machine guns.

Here are six games and other activities they turned to:


(Note that this article uses information from the letters of British soldiers written in 1915. Unless there’s another link cited, the letters are pulled from this digital file from the British National Archives.)

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A large crowd of World War One soldiers watching two boxers sparring in a ring during the boxing championships at the New Zealand Divisional Sports at Authie, France, in July 1918.

(Henry Armytage Sanders)

Boxing

Unsurprisingly, some of the top activities were a little violent, and boxing was a top activity. These could be tournaments where one company or platoon fought another, but they were also often just quick, relatively impromptu matchups. Soldiers talked about the fights in letters, and it seems that the more violent the fight was, the better. One British soldier wrote:

“We are having a good time here in the way of concerts, sports, boxing tournaments etc. The latter was great especially the bout between a Farrier Sergeant and a cook’s mate. They biffed at one another until neither could stand, it was awfully funny.”
This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

The “Christmas Truce” took place around Christmas, 1914, and included some sports events, like football matches.

(Illustration by A. C. Michael of the Christmas Truce created for “The Illustrated London News”)

Football (American and European)

Football was also popular, but was obviously a team-based event that lent itself well to one unit playing against another. American and European football were both played in the trenches, though it’s obvious that European football would be more popular everywhere but the American Expeditionary Force.

The famous Christmas Truce soccer game was part of this tradition, but games were commonly played between allies rather than adversaries. One soldier wrote in a 1915 letter that his unit played against a rival battery in an old cabbage patch. The patch made a bad football pitch, but the letter-writer won, so he wasn’t sore about it.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

World War I Gurkhas wrestle on the regimental transport mules.

(H. D. Girdwood, British Library)

Wrestling (sometimes on mules)

Wrestling, like boxing, was popular for the same reasons, but there is a special, odd caveat that wrestling matches were sometimes held on mules. Yeah, like the animals. This activity was featured during a special sports day in October, 1917, but it didn’t include details of the sport.

Likely, it consisted of two riders wrestling until one knocked the other off the gallant steed, but I like to imagine that the mules were combatants as well, because cartoons don’t become real as often as I would like.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Scottish troops and other onlookers watch troops taking part in an organized sports day.

(British photo from the National Library of Scotland)

Wheelbarrow racing, pillow fights, and other improvised events

Other events on that sports day included pillow fights and “wheelbarrow” races. The events were organized to improve morale, but anyone who has spent time with troops in the field knows that games like these are common any time infantrymen get bored.

These games could include pretty much anything the soldiers could think of. The easier it is to play the game without specific gear, the better.

Plays and other performances

But when troops needed to entertain themselves in an organized way, they had more choices than just sports and fighting one another. Sometimes, this resulted in soldiers holding their own plays and concerts, but they could also enjoy performances by professionals when they came around.

Another British letter written in 1915 but digitized in 2014 was penned by a soldier who gave a short, blow-by-blow of the barracks activities. While he was writing, one soldier did a performance where he acted like a dancing monkey with a small cup for change and another soldier started playing the accordion.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A 1929 edition of “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” a game that led to the American game of “Sorry.” The German became popular in Central Powers trenches in World War I.

(Vitavia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Don’t Get Annoyed With Me” and other board games

Troops on both sides of the trenches used board games to pass the time because, obviously, video games weren’t a thing yet. Plenty of games were popular in the war. Checkers could be played with bits of metal or buttons on a hand-drawn board, or a travel game of Chess could be popular. And no war has been fought without playing cards since someone figured out how to paint faces on bits of paper.

But German troops could enjoy a game that had been invented just in time for the war, “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” which translates to “Don’t Get Annoyed With Me.” Players moved game pieces around a board and tried to get them “Home,” but the opposing player could knock a piece off just before it reached safety and thereby piss off the other player.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because the game “Sorry” is a close descendant.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The heroic four chaplains and the sinking of the USAT Dorchester

During World War II, a troop transport ship made from a converted luxury coastal liner was hit by a German torpedo on its starboard side in 1943, dooming the ship and many of the men aboard. Amid the chaos, four chaplains representing three Christian sects and the Jewish faith moved between the wounded and scared, comforting them, distributing survival gear, and ultimately sacrificing themselves.


This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

The USAT Dorchester.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The USAT Dorchester had been converted from a luxury coastal liner during World War II and was sent on a cross-ocean journey carrying 902 crew, troops, and civilian personnel to Greenland. The ship had to cross through submarine-infested waters.

The passengers were under orders to sleep clothed and in life jackets in case of an attack, but while the upper decks and outer air were cold, large sections of the ship were hot from the engines that propelled the ship. Those housed on the lower decks typically slept in their underwear or just a shirt or pants. Across the ship, life jackets were unpopular off duty because they were uncomfortable.

But on February 3, 1943, 150 miles from Greenland, a German U-boat spotted the convoy which consisted of the Dorchester and two other transport ships as well as three Coast Guard cutter escorts. U-223 was on the hunt for Allied shipping, and troop transports were choice targets. The German vessel fired a spread of three torpedoes.

Two missed, but the third shoved through the hull and exploded in the boiler room.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Coast Guard cutter Escanaba rescues Dorchester survivors

(U.S. Coast Guard image)

The ship lurched, knocking men from their beds. The electrical systems failed instantly, and the ship began filling with water. Throughout the ship’s dark passageways, disoriented men stumbled from racks and the ground, struggling to dress and get to the open deck in time.

Some men forgot to get dressed until they emerged into the frigid, open air.

In the middle of the fear and danger, four men emerged as a center of calm. Four chaplains were assigned to the ship. Army Lt. George L. Fox was Methodist, Lt. Alexander D. Goode was Jewish, Lt. John P. Washington was Catholic, and Lt. Clark V. Poling was a Dutch Reformed minister.

Two of the men had struggled to join the military. Goode was rejected by the Navy before joining the Army, and Washington had to cheat on his eye exam because a BB gun accident had robbed him of most of his sight in one eye.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Lt. George Fox, a Methodist; Lt. Alexander Goode, a Jewish Rabbi; Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic Priest; and Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister, on the deck of the USAT Dorchester as it sinks.

(U.S. Army)

On the deck of the Dorchester, the men ministered to the scared and wounded. They helped organize the men up top, and Goode, the rabbi, gave his own gloves to Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, a sailor who had forgotten his belowdecks. Mahoney would later say that he believes Goode already knew he would stay on the ship.

The extensive damage to the hull and the boiler room ensured that the ship would sink quickly, so the men were rushing survivors off the ship as quickly as possible. The life jackets ran low, and all four chaplains gave their vests up to save others.

Back in the open, the chaplains ministered to the men as the ship sank into the waves only 20 minutes after the torpedo hit. Two Coast Guard cutters were scooping men out of the water and into lifeboats, but it wasn’t fast enough. The last survivors to escape the ship said that their last view of the chaplains was of them on deck, standing arm-in-arm, singing hymns and reciting religious passages to comfort both survivors and those who would drown with them.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

1948 stamp commemorating the four religious leaders.

(U.S. Air Force)

Approximately 672 men died, and 230 from the Dorchester survived the attack and sinking. The American public and Congress pushed for the men to receive Medals of Honor, but the medal requires that the heroic actions take place under enemy fire.

The chaplains were posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Crosses instead, and Congress later created a new, one-time medal named the Four Chaplain’s Medal that was awarded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his final days in office in January 1961, almost 18 years after the sinking of the Dorchester.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Can you find proof of UFOs in the National Archives?

Ever wonder if we are alone in this universe?


Over the years, many researchers and scientists have scoured government documents at the National Archives in search of proof that life exists beyond Earth.

The National Archives and Records Administration is actually home to several collections of documents pertaining to unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or “flying disks.” And over the decades, those resources have been thoroughly probed and scrutinized for even a hint of more information and proof of alien existence.

One set of documents, known as Project Blue Book, includes retired, declassified records from the United States Air Force (USAF), currently in the custody of the National Archives. It relates to the USAF investigations of UFOs from 1947 to 1969.

Also read: The Navy keeps encountering mysterious UFOs

According to a US Air Force Fact Sheet, a total of 12,618 sightings were reported to Project Blue Book during this time period. Of those, 701 remained “unidentified.” The project — once headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio — officially ended in 1969.

The subject of UFOs has long fascinated National Archives staff members as well. In a July 15, 2017, National Archives The Text Message blog post, “See Something, Say Something”: UFO Reporting Requirements, Office of Military Government for Bavaria, Germany, May 1948 archivists Greg Bradsher and Sylvia Naylor share a brief history of Project Blue Book, the project’s alternative names over the course of its existence, and some information on the infamous Roswell, New Mexico, UFO incident.

 

 

All of Project Blue Book documentation is available on 94 rolls of microfilm (T1206) with the case files and the administrative records. These records are available for examination in the National Archives Microfilm Reading Room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Motion picture film, sound recordings, and some still pictures are maintained by the Motion Picture Sound Video Branch and the Still Picture Branch. There is even a Project Blue Book webpage so researchers can access online more than 50,000 official U.S. Government documents relating to the UFO phenomenon.

Richard Peuser, chief of textual reference operations at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, said the agency has seen a steady amount of interest in files dealing with UFOs, responding to “a few hundred or so requests” over the years.

Related: This is what happened when a P-51 Mustang chased a UFO over Kentucky in 1948

“Sometimes the same person would write multiple times hoping for a different answer,” Peuser continued. “Many felt that the records were too benign and that the Government [must be] ‘hiding’ the real stuff. Often there were allegations of coverup, of deliberately hiding or destroying the documents.”

Peuser said, “The National Archives still gets a fair amount of inquiries relating to UFO’s and folks have come in looking for other records in accessioned US Air Force records in particular. So, Roswell, Area 51, Majestic-12, Projects Mogul, Sign, Grudge, and Twinkle continue to fascinate and draw researchers to examine our holdings for aliens.”

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

The National Archives catalog yielded 37 catalog descriptions, organized under flying saucers, saucers, flying UFO phenomena, UFOlogy, or UFOs.

Over the years, as records have been processed and cataloged at the National Archives, other documents have come to light.

Just a few years ago, as archives technician Michael Rhodes was processing hundreds of boxes of Air Force records, he came across a drawing in the corner of a test flight report document that caught his eye.

The drawing — Rhodes said in the July 8, 2013 National Archives Pieces of History blog post, Flying Saucers, Popular Mechanics, and the National Archives — caught his attention because of its striking resemblance to the flying saucers in popular science fiction films made during that era. Researchers can look through the entire series in person or read the Project 1794 Final Development Summary Report of 1956 online.

More: Watch this crazy video of a Navy F-18 intercepting a UFO

The National Archives online catalog includes a series of records from the Federal Aviation Administration that document the sighting of a UFO by the crew of Japan Airlines Flight 1628 while in Alaskan airspace. National Archives records include simulated radar imagery and an article that appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine on May 24, 1987, about the incident.

Records in this collection also include notes from interviews with the three crew members who spotted the UFO and are available in the online catalog. The records were discovered as part of the Alaskan digitization project, according to Marie Brindo-Vas, a metadata technician at the National Archives in Seattle, Washington.

Another interesting record from National Aeronautics and Space Administration files includes the Air-to-Ground transcripts from Gemini VII. Found in the National Archives online catalog, the records include the transcript of a conversation between Houston control and astronauts who “have a bogey at 10 o’clock high.” Bogey was often the term used to refer to UFOs. The conversation goes on to explain that the astronauts are seeing in a polar orbit “hundreds of little particles going by from the left out about 3 or 4 miles.”

 

 

The National Archives also has audiovisual records pertaining to UFOs such as the video of Maj. Gen. John A. Samford’s Statement on “Flying Saucers” from the Pentagon, Washington, DC, on July 31, 1952, in which the military leader discusses the Army’s investigation of flying disks. Another video issued by the Department of Defense highlights USAF Lt. Col. Lawrence J. Tacker and Maj. Hector Quintanilla, Jr., discussing Project Blue Book and the identification of UFOs.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum possesses a document relating to UFOs composed by Ford when he was House Minority Leader and Congressman from Michigan. The original document is located in Box D9, folder “Ford Press Releases – UFO, 1966” of the Ford Congressional Papers: Press Secretary and Speech File at the Ford Library.

Read more: Boeing’s SR-71 Blackbird replacement totally looks like a UFO

In this memorandum, then-Congressman Ford proposed that “Congress investigate the rash of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in Southern Michigan and other parts of the country.” An attached news release to that memorandum goes on to say “Ford is not satisfied with the Air Force explanation of the recent sightings in Michigan and describes the “swamp gas” version given by astrophysicist J. Allen Hynek as flippant.”

In October 1969, the then-Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, saw a UFO over the skies of Leary, Georgia. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, Georgia, has the full report that he submitted into the International UFO Bureau.

As more documents are searched, processed, and declassified, what evidence might be found of alien and UFO existence at the National Archives? That remains to be seen, but based on past history, it’s clear that researchers and UFO enthusiasts will continue to dig for more information. The widespread fascination with the possibility of the existence of alien life forms and UFOs continues to arouse great passion and controversy all over Earth.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why America’s first purpose-built nightfighter was named for a spider

In World War II, aerial warfare became a 24-hour-a-day thing. The bombers came first, carrying out devastating raids, like the December, 1940 bombing of Coventry or the Blitz over London. The British, of course, returned the favor by sending RAF Bomber Command over Germany at night.


Neither side liked having their cities bombed in the middle of the night, but stopping them proved incredibly difficult. The United States watched from afar and got technical briefings on radar during the Battle of Britain. The United States Army Air Corps turned to Northrop to help develop a specialized nightfighter, while also turning the existing A-20 into an interim nightfighter.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
A Northrop P-61 Black Widow at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (USAF photo)

What emerged was the P-61 Black Widow, named after the deadly spider that inspired its black coat of paint. The first thing that jumps out at you is the size. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, this fighter was about as big as some bombers! Like the P-38, it was a twin-engine plane. Its armament was very heavy: four Hispano 20mm cannon in the belly and four M2 .50-caliber machine guns in a turret on the top. It could also carry over three tons of bombs.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter had pilot, radar operator, and gunner. (USAF photo)

Despite the plane’s size and weight, it proved to be very maneuverable. By the time it reached the front in June, 1944, much of the Japanese and German opposition had been destroyed. Still, the Smithsonian Institute notes that the P-61 scored 127 air-to-air kills of enemy aircraft (plus 18 V-1s).

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Despite being designed to kill enemy planes, the P-61 also proved to be very good at “night intruder” missions. In short, this plane proved very capable when it came to shooting up enemy airfields, trains, supply convoys, tanks, and other ground installations. But World War II had seen the rise of the jet age, and a month before the Korean War, the last P-61s were retired.

Learn more about this plane with a lethal bite in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZtg29VNTHM
(Dung Tran | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why gladiators of Rome didn’t die as often as you thought

Flamma, Spartacus, and Carpophorus are just a few of the deadly gladiators that saw many victories while fighting in Rome’s famous arenas.


The vicious sport of gladiator fighting was just as popular back then as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was much more gangsta, though. Crowds would swarm to see mighty warriors beat the crap out of one another until only one man was left standing — or the match ended in a draw.

Most people believe that once you stepped foot into one of Rome’s great arenas, chances were, you weren’t coming out alive.

That’s almost true.

Related: These 4 Gurkha stories will make you want to forge your own kukri knife

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings, as a way to provide entertainment at wealthy aristocrats’ funerals. It’s reported, that roughly only one in nine of the competitions ended in death. Many of the warriors who lost the bloody brawls were granted mercy — for financial reasons.

“If a gladiator was lost in the arena, that represented an enormous loss of an investment.” Professor Michael J. Carter explains.

If a rented gladiator was killed in the games, the sponsor was looking to forfeit nearly 50 times the cost of the rental.

Also Read: This soldier took on enemy troops with the sword that took off his arm

In fact, gladiators were the sports celebrities of their time and were awarded exclusive access to the best doctors and trainers to prepare them for the next bout.

Regardless of the quality treatment, however, a majority of gladiators would eventually fall in the arena — or they earned their freedom.

However, even in death, many of the gladiators lived on as stories engraved onto ancient Roman halls and statues.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Spartacus was a rebel gladiator who raised an army against Rome.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to get the complete breakdown of how these ancient warriors were treated.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Asian-Americans have served in the Coast Guard for 165 years

Asian-American men and women have participated in the U.S. Coast Guard for over 165 years, playing an important role in the history of the service and its predecessor services.

Cultural contact with Asian peoples came only as the nation’s borders expanded to the Pacific Rim. The first documented case of an Asian man serving aboard a Coast Guard asset took place in 1853, when the San Francisco-based cutter Argus rescued the lone survivor of the dismasted junk Yatha Maru, fed and clothed him, and enlisted him into the crew. The cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. William Pease, phonetically spelled this first Asian recruit’s name as “Dee-Yee-Noskee.”


Cutter muster roles tell the rest of the story of Asian participation in the 19th century. Ethnically Asian names begin to appear on cutter muster rolls just after the Civil War. Expanded revenue cutter operations in the Pacific and the purchase of Alaska in 1867 presented an opportunity for more Chinese, Japanese and Filipino men to enter the rolls on West Coast cutters. As with other minorities, these men initially filled positions in food service or non-ranking enlisted rates. By the end of the century, virtually every Pacific-based cutter employed Asian crew members.

Two notable Asian service members defied the West Coast pattern and enlisted on the East Coast. Chiaio-shung Soong emigrated from China to Boston as a teenager to work in his uncle’s teashop. Dissatisfied with this work, Soong enlisted aboard the cutter Schuyler Colfax in 1879 and transferred to the North Carolina-based cutter Gallatin a year later. After his brief career in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, Soong attended Duke and Vanderbilt universities before returning to China as a missionary. He became a wealthy and influential power broker in Chinese politics and his children were among early 20th century China’s most powerful military, political and economic leaders. In addition, April 1904 saw 37-year-old F. Miguchi, of Kobe, Japan, enlist as a cook aboard the cutter Gresham. Before he left the service in December 1905, he had advanced in rate from ship’s cook to wardroom steward; saved the life of a drowning cutterman; and received the first Silver Lifesaving Medal awarded to a minority Coast Guardsman. Little else is known about Miguchi and even his first name remains a mystery to this day.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Photo of Chiaio-shung Soong during his years in the United States. This image was taken at his church in Wilmington, N.C.
(Courtesy of the 5th Avenue Methodist Church, Wilmington)

Wars in the Pacific had a major influence on Asian-American service in the Coast Guard. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Asian recruits continued to serve mainly on cutters based out of the West Coast. However, the 1898 Spanish-American War altered the service’s recruiting and the early 1900s saw countless Asian enlistments from captured territory, primarily the Philippines. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were excluded from participating in the Coast Guard bringing to a temporary close an 85-year record of ethnically Japanese service members. That policy was later rescinded and Japanese-Americans returned to the service.

During World War II, Filipinos comprised the largest Asian group to serve in the Coast Guard. Most of these men were American citizens, but many native Filipino military men transferred to the Coast Guard after the Japanese captured their homeland in 1942. The exiled president of the Philippines even transferred the patrol boat Bataan and its crew to the Coast Guard for the duration of the war. Native Filipino Florence Finch worked for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence office before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. After the fall of the island nation, she smuggled supplies to American prisoners-of-war and Filipino guerrillas. The Japanese arrested Finch, but American forces freed her in early 1945 and she boarded a Coast Guard-manned transport bound for the U.S. She next enlisted in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, or SPARs, becoming the first Asian-American woman to don a Coast Guard uniform.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Florence Smith Finch supplied food and medicine to American prisoners of war in the Philippines then became a Coast Guard SPAR late in World War II.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Asian-Americans were also the first minority graduates of the Coast Guard Academy. In 1949, Chinese-American Jack Ngum Jones became the first minority officer to graduate from the Academy. Native Chinese Kwang-Ping Hsu graduated from the Academy in 1962. He was the first foreign-born Academy graduate and one of the Coast Guard’s first minority Coast Guard aviators, flying missions primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic. Harry Toshiyuki Suzuki graduated in 1963. In 1979, Filipino Wilfredo Tamayo completed the Academy’s International Cadet Program. He was one of the first graduates of the program and he later became the 22nd commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard. The year 1980 saw Japanese-American Moynee Smith become the first minority female graduate of the Academy and, in 1982, Jeanien Yee became the second Asian-American graduate. In 1986, Hung Nguyen became the first Vietnamese-American graduate of the Coast Guard Academy.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Kwang-Ping Hsu, born in mainland China was one of the service’s first minority aviators and became known for polar aviation missions.
(Coast Guard Collection)

Recent decades have seen Asian-American service members enter senior officer and enlisted levels in all branches of the service. For example, 1958 saw Manuel Tubella transfer from the Marine Corps to become the service’s second minority aviator and advanced to the rank of captain. In 2013, Rear Adm. Joseph Vojvodich became the Coast Guard’s first Asian-American flag officer and, in 2016, Rear Adm. Andrew Tiongson became the service’s second Asian-American flag officer.

For over 165 years, thousands of ethnically Asian men and women have served with distinction in the U.S. Coast Guard. They have been diligent members of the long blue line and they will play an important role in shaping the service in the 21st century.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @uscg on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Civil War revolutionized artillery

Want to win a war game? Plan carefully, work hard, and get lucky. Want to win a war? You need to get good (or, Git Gud, as you Fortnite players might say). That was the challenge facing military leaders at the start of the Civil War. Industry and daily life had changed year by year over the preceding decades, and if military leaders didn’t evolve and rise to the challenges brought on by the new conflict, they and their men would be lucky to get shallow graves.


This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A railway gun used during the U.S. Civil War during the Siege of Petersburg, June 1864–April 1865.

(Library of Congress)

The Industrial Revolution took a while to get started and into full swing, but by the 1850s, it was raging across North America with wooden (and, quickly, steel) railroads crisscrossing the country while horses and engines, were pressed into service to pull the train cars. Steam-powered shovels dug canals, and ships crossed the oceans in record time with coal-heated boilers pushing them along.

So, when rebels fired on Fort Sumter in 1861, it was time to use the new manufacturing techniques and technology to improve the weapons of war and produce them on a grand scale. When it came to artillery, the growing industrial might of the U.S. was full of things that could improve cannon design.

Improvements in metallurgy and machining had allowed for more powerful pistons for steam engines, but if you used the same techniques to create cannons, you could safely pack more powder per shot and create more cannons in total. And, the massive improvements in the understanding of iron mining and smelting meant fewer weapons made of brass.

And since machining and interchangeable parts had also improved, it had become possible to manufacture rifled cannons in large numbers. Rifled cannons were more accurate, more destructive, and could deliver explosives into stone masonry.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

30-pounder Parrot rifle at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

(Public domain)

These changes had, obviously, begun before the war actually broke out. For instance, the Parrot rifle was created in 1860. It was designed by a former Army captain who had left the service in 1836. It was actually a cannon and relied on a cast-iron barrel, a then-recent development in cannon design, but far from revolutionary.

Cast-iron barrels have better accuracy than those made of wrought iron, but cast iron is brittle and has less tensile strength, essential for surviving repeated firings. Parrot wrapped the cast-iron barrel in wrought iron with a focus on the breech where the worst pressures were experienced. The addition of rifling helped improve accuracy and range.

But the 1861 outbreak of war drastically increased the market for the Parrot rifle and similar weapons. And, it also created a market for new artillery munitions.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A display with different rounds for the Parrot rifle.

(Dr.Stew82, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Explosive shells, chained shot, heated shot, all had been around for a while, but the industrial war had created industrial demand. Again, new manufacturing techniques allowed for many more rounds to be created. But, even better, when well-made explosive shells were fired from rifled cannons, they could pierce walls, drilling feet into the surface before exploding.

This destroyed stone walls and timber fortifications with ease. While Parrot rifles and other long-range artillery, were able to fire up to 1.5 miles or more, wrought-iron, rifled cannons firing smaller shells could reach out over 2 miles.

For defenders, that was a guaranteed catastrophe. Traditionally, forts counted on altitude to outrange their opponents. If opposing artillery had similar weapons, the fort’s defenders gained a considerable range advantage because they were firing from 15-feet above the ground or potentially higher.

But if the attacker showed up with wrought-iron, rifled cannons with reinforced breeches, they’d likely have a huge range advantage. With a cast-iron barrel reinforced by wrought iron, they lose a little range but pick up some serious accuracy.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Parrot rifle and carriage.

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

And when the attacker’s shells buried into the walls before exploding, they could shred straight through the defenses while staying outside the range of the fort’s smoothbores.

And this was decidedly in the Union’s favor because it had the factories and money to manufacture these technological marvels.

When artillerymen got into duels with the new weapons, it was an interesting if lethal exchange. But for infantrymen sent against these new guns, meant they could have to march under fire for over a mile to get into range of their attackers. It took 15 to 20 minutes for infantry to cross the distance while each gun’s crew was pushing out two rounds per minute.

Between that and breakthroughs in rifle technology (similar story to artillery, improved manufacturing techniques combined with improved range and rate of fire) made an infantry attacker’s job nearly impossible. The worst was Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg where 15,000 Confederates tried to cross .75 miles of open field under artillery and rifle fire. Nearly 6,000 men died, and the rest retreated.

Articles

How green troops became professional warriors during Vietnam

For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.


This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Paratroopers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team fighting on Hill 823 during the Battle of Dak To. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.

Either way, they were expected to grow from boys to men quickly. For the three men in this video, that growth would be harder than most. The veterans fought at the Battle of Dak To, one of the bloodiest American battles of the war. Hill 875, the single costliest terrain feature of the war, was captured there.

A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.