Max Beilke was in the Army for 20 years already by the time he deployed to Vietnam in 1972. His time there would be much shorter than the many others who did tours in the Vietnam War. His last day in Vietnam was the U.S. military’s last day in Vietnam. What made his last footstep on Vietnamese soil so unique was that it was captured on tape for the world to see.
On March 29, 1973, Master Sgt. Beilke was given a rattan mat before he boarded a C-130 bound for home. The giver of the gift was Bui Tin, a North Vietnamese observer, there to ensure the last hundred troops at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport left as agreed. Back home, his family watched live as the man they loved, drafted to fight in Korea in 1952, headed for home from the next American war.
His service didn’t stop when he landed back in the United States. Beilke retired from the Army and, in the next phase of his life, he worked to support American veterans. Eventually, he became the deputy chief of the Retirement Services Division, with an office in Virginia. But it was part of his duties that brought him to the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Max Beilke’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
Beilke was meeting with Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude and retired Lt. Col. Gary Smith. Just as they were sitting down to begin talking, United Airlines flight 77 hit the outer ring of the Pentagon. The three men never knew what hit them. They were all killed instantly. Traces of their remains could only be found through DNA tests on the disaster site, according to the Beilke family.
Max Beilke was 69 years old. Three months later, his remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The man who had survived the ends of two American wars was one of the first casualties of a new one, the longest one in American history. He left behind a legacy of gentleness and fondness for everyone who met him – including the North Vietnamese colonel sent to ensure he and the other Americans left Vietnam.
According to his biography on the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial site, he traveled extensively for his work and ended every presentation with the same Irish blessing,
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
During the Cold War, the U.S. government was hell-bent on one upping the commies in any way possible. In the process, they came up with a number of outlandish plans, such as that time they proposed nuking the moon, interestingly enough a project a young Carl Sagan worked on. There were also many more down to Earth projects like the development of what would become the internet in order to ensure ease of sharing information among the nation’s scientists. This brings us to a project that unfortunately went into history’s dustbin — the U.S. Army’s plan to build a massive military installation on the moon.
Known as Project Horizon, the impetus for the plan came when the Soviets set their sites on the moon. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “The Soviet Union in propaganda broadcasts has announced the 50th anniversary of the present government (1967) will be celebrated by Soviet citizens on the moon.”
U.S. National Space policy intelligence thought this was a little optimistic, but still felt that the Soviets could probably do it by 1968. Military brass deemed this a potential disaster for the United States for several reasons.
Concept art from NASA showing astronauts entering a lunar outpost.
To begin with, if the Soviets got to the moon first, they could potentially build their own military base there which they could use for a variety of secret projects safely away from the United States’ prying eyes. In the extreme, they could potentially launch nuclear attacks on the U.S. with impunity from that base.
Naturally, a military installation completely out of reach of your enemies both terrified and tantalized military officials.
Next up, if the Soviets landed on the moon first, they could try to claim the entire moon for themselves. If they did that, any move by the U.S. to reach the moon could potentially be considered an aggressive act, effectively making the moon off limits to the United States unless willing to risk war back home.
This was deemed to be a potential disaster as the moon, with its low gravity, was seen as a needed hub for launching deep space missions, as well as a better position to map and observe space from than Earth.
Beyond the practical, this would also see the Soviets not just claiming the international prestige of an accomplishment like landing and building a facility on the moon, but also countless other discoveries and advancements after, as they used the moon for scientific discovery and to more easily launch missions beyond.
Of course, the Soviets might do none of these things and allow the U.S. to use the moon as they pleased. But this wasn’t a guarantee. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “Clearly the US would not be in a position to exercise an option between peaceful and military applications unless we are first. In short, the establishment of the initial lunar outpost is the first definitive step in exercising our options.”
The threat of having the moon be in Soviet hands simply would not stand. As Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson would famously state in 1964, “I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon.”
Thus, long before Kennedy would make his famous May 25, 1961 declaration before Congress that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”, military brass in the U.S. were dead-set on not just man stepping foot on the moon, but building a military installation there and sticking around permanently.
And so it was that in March of 1959, Chief of Army Ordnance Major General John Hinrichs was tasked by Chief of Research and Development Lieutenant General Arthur G Trudeau with developing a detailed plan on what was needed to make such a moon base happen. A strict guideline of the plan was that it had to be realistic and, towards that end, the core elements of the plan had to use components and equipment either already developed or close to being completed.
To facilitate the outline for the project, Major General John B. Medaris stated, “We grabbed every specialist we could get our hands on in the Army.”
The resulting report published on June 9, 1959 went into an incredible amount of detail, right down to how the carbon dioxide would be scrubbed from the air at the base.
So what did they come up with?
To begin with, it was deemed the transport side could be accomplished using nothing more than Saturn 1 and Saturn 2 rockets. Specifically, 61 Saturn 1s and 88 Saturn 2s would transport around a total of 490,000 lbs of cargo to the moon. An alternative plan was to use these rockets to launch much of the cargo to a space station in high Earth orbit. These larger sections would then be ferried over to the moon using a dedicated ship that would go back and forth from the Earth to the moon.
The potential advantage here was that for the Saturn rockets to get equipment to the moon, they were limited to about 6000 pounds per trip on average. But if only transporting something to orbit, they could do much greater payloads, meaning fewer rockets needed. The problem, of course, was that this version of the plan required the development of a ferrying rocket and an orbiting space station, which made it the less desirable option. Again, a strict guideline for the project was that the core of the plan had to use existing or near existing equipment and technology in order to expedite the project and get to the moon before the Soviets.
Whichever method was used, once everything was on the moon, a pair of astronauts would be sent to inspect everything and figure out if anything needed replaced. The duration of this first moon landing by man was slated to be a 1-3 month stay.
Next up, whatever replacement items that needed to be sent would be delivered, and then once all that was set, a construction crew would be sent to complete the base. The general plan there was to use explosives and a specially designed space bulldozer/backhoe to create trenches to put the pre-built units into. Once in place, they would simply be attached together and buried in order to provide added protection from meteorites and potential attacks, among other benefits.
As for the features of this base, this included redundant nuclear reactors for power, as well as the potential to augment this with solar power for further redundancy. Various scientific laboratories would also be included, as well as a recreation room, hospital unit, housing quarters, and a section made for growing food in a sustainable way. This food would augment frozen and dehydrated foods supplied from Earth.
The base would also have extensive radio equipment to facilitate the moon functioning as a communications hub for the U.S. military back on Earth that could not be touched by any nation on Earth at the time. On a similar note, it would also function as a relay for deep space communications to and from Earth.
Beyond the core base itself, a moon truck capable of transporting the astronauts and equipment around was proposed, as well as placing bomb shelters all around the base for astronauts to hide in if needed. Water, oxygen, and hydrogen would ultimately be provided from the ice on the moon itself, not only sustaining the astronauts but potentially providing any needed fuel for rockets, again to help facilitate missions beyond the moon and transport back home to Earth.
Of course, being a military installation, it was deemed necessary for the 12 astronauts that were to be stationed at the base at all times to be able to defend themselves against attack. Thus, for their personal sidearms, a general design for a space-gun was presented, more or less being a sort of shotgun modified to work in space and be held and fired by someone in a bulky suit.
The astronauts would also be given many Claymore like devices to be stationed around the base’s perimeter or where deemed needed. These could be fired remotely and more or less just sent a hail of buckshot at high speed wherever they were pointed.
Thanks to the lesser gravity and lack of tangible atmosphere, both of these weapons would have incredible range, if perhaps not the most accurate things in the world.
Artist concept of a lunar colony.
But who needs accuracy when you have nuclear weapons? Yes, the astronauts would be equipped with those too, including the then under development Davey Crockett nuclear gun. Granted, thanks to the lack of atmosphere, the weapon wouldn’t be nearly as destructive as it would be on Earth, but the ionizing radiation kill zone was still around 300-500 meters.
Another huge advantage of the Davey Crockett on the moon was that the range was much greater, reducing the risk to the people firing it, and the whole contraption would only weigh a little over 30-40 pounds thanks to the moon’s lesser gravity, making it easier for the astronauts to cart around than on Earth.
Of course, being a space base, Project Horizon creators naturally included a death ray in its design. This was to be a weapon designed to focus a huge amount of sun rays and ionizing radiation onto approaching enemy targets. Alternatively, another death ray concept was to build a device that would shoot ionizing radiation at enemy soldiers or ships.
As for space suits, according to the Project Creators, despite being several years before the character would make his debut in the comics, they decided an Iron Man like suit was the way to go, rather than fabric based as NASA would choose. To quote the report,
For sustained operation on the lunar surface a body conformation suit having a substantial outer metal surface is considered a necessity for several reasons: (1) uncertainty that fabrics and elastomers can sustain sufficient pressure differential without unacceptable leakage; (2) meteoroid protection; (3) provides a highly reflective surface; (4) durability against abrasive lunar surface; (5) cleansing and sterilization… It should be borne in mind that while movement and dexterity are severe problems in suit design, the earth weight of the suit can be allowed to be relatively substantial. For example, if a man and his lunar suit weigh 300 pounds on earth, they will only weigh 50 pounds on the moon.
Along with death rays, nuclear guns, and badass space suits, no self respecting moon base could be governed by anything as quaint as a simply named committee or the like. No, Project Horizon also proposed creating a “Unified Space Command” to manage all facets of the base and its operation, along with further exploration in space, including potentially a fleet of space ships needed to achieve whatever objectives were deemed appropriate once the base was established.
As to the cost of this whole project, the report stated,
The total cost of the eight and one-half year program presented in this study is estimated to be six billion dollars (*about billion in 2019 dollars*). This is an average of approximately 0 million per year. These figured are a valid appraisal, and, while preliminary, they represent the best estimates of experienced, non-commercial, agencies of the government. Substantial funding is undeniably required for the establishment of a U. S. lunar outpost; however, the implications of the future importance of such an operation should be compared to the fact that the average annual funding required for Project HORIZON would be less than two percent of the current annual defense budget.
Of course, the reality is that the entire Apollo program ended up costing a little over billion, so this billion estimate likely would have ballooned to much greater levels had the base actually been built. That said, even massively more expensive, given the number of years, this would have still represented a relatively small portion of the United States’ annual defense budget, as noted.
Sadly, considering the initial plan was explicitly to make this a peaceful installation unless war broke out, meant mostly for scientific discovery, and considering what such a moon base would have meant for the direction of future space exploration, neither President Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor the American public had much interest in even going to the moon at all, let alone building a base there.
NASA conceptual illustration of a lunar base.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Greatest Generation was pretty non-enthusiastic about the whole space thing. In fact, even after Kennedy would make his famous speech before Congress and then at Rice University, a Gallup poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans were against the plan to land a man on the moon, generally seeing it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Sentiments did not greatly improve from there.
But Kennedy was having none of it, as outlined in his September 12, 1962 speech at Rice University:
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war… But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…
As for the U.S., as the initial glow of the accomplishment of putting a man on the moon rapidly wore off, and with public support almost nonexistent for further missions to the moon, it was deemed that taxpayer dollars would be much better spent for more down to Earth activities like spending approximately SEVEN TIMES the Apollo program’s entire cost sending older taxpayer’s children off to kill and be killed in Vietnam… a slightly less inspiring way to counter the communists. Thus, efforts towards the moon and beyond were mostly curtailed, with what limited funds were available for space activities largely shifted to the space shuttle program and more obviously practical missions closer to home, a move the Soviets quickly copied as well unfortunately.
A little talked about facet of Kennedy’s goal for landing on the moon was actually to have the Soviets and the U.S. join together in the effort. As Kennedy would state in the aforementioned Rice speech, “I… say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”
Unfortunately, each time Kennedy proposed for the U.S. and Soviets join efforts towards this unifying goal, which seemingly would have seen the Cold War become a lot less hot, the Soviets declined. That said, for whatever it’s worth, according to Sergei Khrushchev, the son of then Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev, while his father initial thought it unwise to allow the U.S. such intimate knowledge of their rocket technology, he supposedly eventually changed his mind and had decided to push for accepting Kennedy’s proposal. Said Sergei, “He thought that if the Americans wanted to get our technology and create defenses against it, they would do that anyway. Maybe we could get (technology) in the bargain that would be better for us…”
Sergei also claimed that his father also saw the benefit of better relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as a way to facilitate a massive cutback in military spending that was a huge drain on Soviet resources.
Sergei would further note that Kennedy’s assassination stopped plans to accept the offer, and the Johnson administration’s similar offer was rejected owing to Khrushchev not trusting or having the same respect for Johnson as he had developed for Kennedy.
Whatever the truth of that, thanks to declassified documents after the fall of the Soviet Union, we know that the Soviets were, in fact, originally not just planning to put a human on the moon, but also planning on building a base there as well. Called Zvezda, the planned Soviet moon installation was quite similar to the one outlined in Project Horizon, except instead of digging trenches, this base would simply be placed on the surface and then, if needs be, buried, but if not, the base was to be a large mobile platform to use to explore the moon.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
One of the Marine Corps’ greatest heroes had to earn his “butter bars” (as the rank of second lieutenant is called because the devices are yellow/gold in color) not once or twice, but three times before it stuck.
Lewis B. Puller dropped out of college in 1918 and joined the Marines in an attempt to get to France before World War I ended, but he was assigned to training new Marines in the states instead. He attended noncommissioned officer training as a corporal and was appointed to the Marine Officers Basic School. Upon graduation in 1919, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the reserves- butter bar #1.
Unfortunately, the war had wrapped up and the Marine Corps was downsized only 10 days later. Puller was placed on the inactive list.
In Nicaragua, Puller earned his first and second of five Navy Crosses and began climbing the officer ranks. After tours of the Pacific and a period training new Marine officers, he returned to combat in World War II and earned two more Navy Crosses. He also fought at Korea, leading the 1st Marine Regiment during the breakout from Chosin Reservoir and earning his fifth Navy Cross.
Over this 27-year period, Puller had made it to the rank of major general. He retired amid medical problems in 1955 and was granted a “tombstone promotion” to lieutenant general. These were promotions given selectively to troops with combat citations to confer extra prestige upon leaving the service, but they didn’t entitle the service member to any additional retirement pay. He died in 1971.
The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.
(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)
The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)
First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.
You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.
When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.
Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.
And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.
And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.
So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.
If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.
And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.
But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.
Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)
This may come as a surprise to anyone who is not a Vermont native: Back during the Revolutionary War, Vermont was its own free country, similar to how Texas, California, and Hawaii once governed themselves before eventually joining the Union. During its fourteen-year tenure, Vermont and its militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, served as a key ally in aiding against the British.
The Green Mountain Boys were led by one of the founders of Vermont, Ethan Allen. Allen’s legacy, as recorded in American history books, showcases his military prowess, his leadership in an independent Vermont, and an undying hatred for the man that is now synonymous with treason, Benedict Arnold — a hatred that started well before his infamous betrayal.
In spirit, the Green Mountain Boys still exist today as the Vermont National Guard
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Avery Cunningham)
Once upon a time, control of the lands between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River was fought over by New York and New Hampshire. Both sides had claims to the land, but both were highly disputed (though many sided with New Hampshire).
Allen had been traveling the northern portion of the lands when he heard of a small, pro-independence riot that ended with the British killing two colonists in Westminster. Allen and the Boys marched on Westminster to demand that the King remove the oppressors — but bigger problems were brewing.
The issue of who Vermont belonged to was put on hold when the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain. In the meantime, the people of Vermont opted to rule and defend themselves. The only real military within their borders was Allen’s Green Mountain Boys.
Which means Benedict Arnold’s entire career is based off of a guy saying “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, an irregular Connecticut militia asked Allen and his boys to join them in taking Fort Ticonderoga. Allen realized joining the colonies was the right thing to do for Vermont and mustered his men to the assault himself.
On May 9th, the day before the assault, Allen first met Benedict Arnold. One of the very first things to come out of Arnold’s mouth was a demand that Allen relinquish control of his men to him. The Green Mountain Boys may not have been a standing army at the time, but they were excellent fighters and they were fiercely loyal to Allen.
They argued all throughout the night. Allen believed he should lead his men because, for the last seven years, they had trained, fought, and died together. Arnold believed he should lead because he received a commission from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, which meant he was totally capable of leading troops into battle.
At that point, who can really say no?
The assembled men refused to acknowledge Arnold’s authority, but Allen agreed to allow Arnold to be in the front of the formation with him — a decision that meant Arnold could be seen as a leader on paper, but not be responsible for any of the heavy lifting.
The Green Mountain Boys moved on Fort Ticonderoga at 2 a.m. while the British were sleeping. They managed to sneak through the fort undetected (except for a lone sentry who was knocked out) and Allen pulled his cutlass on the Fort’s commander as he slept. Allen demanded complete surrender.
So, Fort Ticonderoga fell to the colonists without a single shot fired and only one concussion.
Shortly afterwords, Allen and Arnold went on to take Fort Crown Point and Fort St. John. It was the success of the Green Mountain Boys that gave the colonists the foothold they needed to begin the Revolutionary War.
Allen and Arnold remained at odds with each other. Benedict Arnold kept asserting his authority over Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point to the Continental Congress. Allen was willing to step down under the provision that his men would be paid the same as Continental Army soldiers, which they were. And so Benedict Arnold was given the credit for the work of the Vermonters.
Benedict Arnold would urge the Continental Congress to invade Quebec next. Both Allen and Arnold lead men into Quebec. There, Ethan Allen’s forces lost at the Battle of Longue-Pointe and were subsequently imprisoned. While Allen rotted in prison, Benedict Arnold’s name was heralded as a great military mind — that is, until he made his offer to surrender West Point for £20,000.
A U. S. Army Photographer and assistant climbing through the devastated landscape on Dong Ap Bia after the battle. (Melvin Zais Photograph Collection). (Photo Credit: USAMHI).
Hamburger Hill, also known as Hill 937, was a 10-day battle that was considered one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Vietnam war. The battle resulting in over 400 U.S. casualties and sparked controversy back home.
Dubbed Operation Apache Snow, the mission was to disrupt the North Vietnamese from penetrating Laos and cutting them off from access to the key cities of Da Nang and Hue.
General Melvin Zais, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, ordered allied forces to commence an assault on a well-fortified North Vietnamese 29th Regiment on May 10, 1969.
The hill was considered by many not to have any real significant military value.
Both sides took heavy casualties during the fighting in the Ap Bia mountains, which includes heavy airstrikes, massive waves of artillery bombardments, and nearly of a dozen ground assaults. Most of the battle took place during the Vietnamese monsoons.
At one point, reports indicated a friendly-fire incident involving U.S. troops and the gunships that were meant to provide air support.
The battle that took place at Hill 937 was referred by reporters covering the story as “Hamburger Hill.” After the 10 brutal days of fighting, allied forces successfully secured the hill.
Unfortunately, just five days after the U.S. claimed victory on the hill, troops abandoned the remote location, forcing many to wonder why so many died to take a hill that was abandoned shortly after victory.
The bloody attack was recreated and brought to the big screen in 1987’s “Hamburger Hill” directed by John Irvin.
Check out History Channel’s video to see this intense Vietnam war combat footage for yourself.
In retrospect, Germany’s decision to attack merchant ships and carry out unrestricted submarine warfare seems incredibly stupid. They knew – or should have known – that killing citizens of a neutral country (specifically the United States) even unintentionally was a damn good way to get America in the war on the side of the Allies.
Well, it turns out that Germany was relying on submarines to throttle British commerce. When the war started, the Germans had their submarines play by what had been the accepted rules of warfare when it came to merchant ships.
You approached them, you got them to stop, and you allowed the passengers and crew to abandon ship before you sank the ship. When it came to warfare, it was reasonably civilized, given that you were sending those people from a relatively safe merchant vessel and into open lifeboats and rafts, with only oars and the ocean current for travel and not that much in the way of supplies.
As you might imagine, the folks on those merchant ships didn’t want to go through that kind of ordeal of they could avoid it. So, the British started by arming merchant ships. Soon the submarines were being fired on as they surfaced. The invention of the Q-ship made following the rules for submarines even more hazardous – and a good way for the sub to be sunk. When subs sank, the casualty rate amongst the crew often was 100 percent.
German sub commanders didn’t want to have that sort of end-of-life experience. Nor did their crews, for that matter. So, the Germans decided to carry out unrestricted submarine warfare where they shot the merchant ships on sight. And thus began the chain of events that would bring the United States into World War I on the side of the Allies.
Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.
Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted.
This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.
“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History
Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson.
She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case.
The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.
“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org
This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.
In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.
By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.
In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.
If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:
“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.
Destroyers, in general, don’t get as much love as they deserve for their contribution to World War II. The USS Aylwin is not different, even though her crew managed to do what few others could, which was to take the fight to the sucker-punching Japanese Navy and naval air forces during and after its attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite having only half the necessary crew and being commanded by an Ensign, the Aylwin was out on patrols immediately.
The Aylwin was moored at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, with other ships from her Pacific squadron. Like most ships, roughly half of its crew were out on liberty or leave when the Japanese arrived in Hawaii. She had only one boiler going, strong enough to power only a few of the ship’s systems. That’s when the Utah was hit by a torpedo.
Even with only half her crew and being under the command of Ensign Stanley B. Caplan – that’s an O-1 for you non-Navy folks – the Aylwin was returning fire within three minutes of the Japanese attacks. A few minutes after that, her remaining boilers were lit. And a few minutes after that, Aylwin was making her way into the channel and into the open sea. This destroyer wasn’t going to be a sitting duck if she could help it.
As she left the harbor, Aylwin maintained a deadly, continuous rate of fire that would have dissuaded even the most daring of pilots from pressing their attack on the destroyer. Pearl Harbor, at that moment however, was a target-rich environment for both sides. The skies were filled with Japanese planes, and the grounds and harbor area were littered with military targets, planes, ships, and more. Zero after Zero came after the U.S. ship but were chased away as Ensign Caplan and his men fired everything they had at their pursuers. The machine gunners on the decks of the Aylwin claimed to have downed at least three enemy fighters.
Caplan and company began an immediate combat patrol, looking for enemy submarines in the area, as were her standing orders in case of such an attack. An unknown explosion and an attempt to depth charge an enemy submarine were the most notable events of the next few days. For 36 hours, Ensign Caplan knew what it meant to be the captain. The ship and the rest of its crew joined the task force around the USS Lexington and headed to Wake Island by Dec. 12.
The Aylwin would survive the war mostly intact, but with 13 battle stars for her contributions to the fighting at Midway, Attu, and Okinawa, just to name a few.
From the American Revolution and beyond, Black service members have had an irreplaceable role in the trajectory and success of the United States military. Their contributions have helped shape the outcome of individual battles and missions, as well as paved the way for changes regarding equality in the armed forces. Here are three service members who each played unique and incredibly important roles during their time in the service.
Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.
Pilot and instructor of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, history’s first Black military pilots, Gen. James has an untouchable legacy of accomplishments. From the time he was young, Chappie, a nickname gifted by his brother, had always wanted to be a pilot. At 19, he would become a Tuskegee graduate and respected instructor. In July of 1943, as a Second Lieutenant, he became a pilot and member of the Tuskegee Airmen.
His time as a fighter pilot only bolstered his reputation. During the Korean War, he flew over 100 combat missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1950, for his leadership over a flight of F-51 Mustangs (a 1947 re-designation of the legendary P-51) during a close air support mission for U.N. troops, which saved U.S. soldiers from a serious and fatal threat.
Following the Korean War, James quickly began rising in the ranks, and by 1967, as a colonel, he became Vice Wing Commander of the Eighth Tactical Fighter Wing in Thailand, and flew 78 combat missions over North Vietnam. The most notable of which being Operation Bolo, which is considered to be one of the most successful tactical missions against Vietnamese fighter forces during that time.
In addition to all of James’s war efforts, he made an important impact on issues of racial equality, both within and outside of the military. One of his first assignments with the Tuskegee Airmen involved training in B-25 Mitchells at the Freeman Field in Indiana. Here, a group of Black service members were arrested and charged with mutiny and disobeying orders when they entered a “white only” officers’ club. When asked to sign an order supporting the need for racial segregation, James, along with 100 other Black officers, refused to do so. James, who was a Lieutenant at the time, was instrumental in aiding communication between those who were arrested and those in the public, in order to bring attention to what was happening. This incident led to Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, to ban access to facilities based on race, including officers’ clubs.
In 1975, James became the first Black four-star general in the armed forces. He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993. Prior to his death in 1978, he was asked to reflect on his life and service in the United States military, to which he responded, “I’ve fought in three wars and three more wouldn’t be too many to defend my country. I love America and as she has weaknesses or ills, I’ll hold her hand.”
Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown
Following President Truman’s ban on segregation and discrimination in the military in 1955, Johnson-Brown joined the U.S. Army, having previously graduated from the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing. She served in the Army from 1955 to 1983, becoming the first Black female Brigadier General in 1979.
Her unparalleled skills as a nurse as well as her leadership capabilities contributed greatly to her successes throughout her career. Her ability to lead was evident when, over time, she was named both Director of the Walter Reed Army Institute School of Nursing as well as Chief Army Nurse in South Korea. She was also named the first Black Chief of the United States Army Nursing Corps, which granted her the distinguished responsibility of not only overseeing 7,000 Army nurses, but also the entirety of eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 freestanding clinics both in the United States and around the world.
During her time in the Army, she received numerous awards and recognition for her work and contributions. Among them were the Army Commendation Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Award, Legion of Merit as well as being named Army Nurse of the Year twice. Her time in the service was spent at a variety of medical facilities, some of the most notable being Valley Forge General Hospital and the 8169 Hospital, Camp Zama, Japan.
Johnson-Brown’s ability to lead and inspire continued in her life as a civilian following retirement. She was a professor of nursing at Georgetown University, as well as George Mason University in Virginia, where she played a large role in developing and implementing the Center for Health Policy, which aimed not only to educate nurses in health policy and policy design, but to also actively involve them in the process.
She was also an advocate for racial equality, and was said by many to have challenged the inequalities she witnessed. In reference to a recent promotion, Johnson-Brown was asked about the potential impact of her race on her advancement, to which she responded “Race is an incidence of birth. I hope the criterion for selection didn’t include race but competence.”
Doris “Dorie” Miller
A perfect example of an unsung hero, Dorie Miller’s bravery and actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor saved countless lives and helped change history. As a means to provide more financial stability for his family, Miller enlisted in the Navy in 1939. He received training in Virginia and was promoted to Mess Attendant Third Class which, due to existing segregation in the Navy, was one of the few ranks afforded to Black service members at the time.
In 1940, Miller was transferred from the USS Pyro, to the USS West Virginia, which was where he was on December 7th, 1941. What was a normal work day for him, which began with gathering laundry, quickly shifted to what would become his defining moment. Upon hearing an alarm sound, Miller then went to his assigned battle station, which had already been destroyed by a torpedo, so he returned to seek reassignment.
Since Miller had the well known reputation of being the ships heavy-weight boxing champion, he was tasked with helping wounded soldiers to safety, which included the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Mervyn Sharp Bennion, who had been severely injured.
Following that, Miller was ordered to begin feeding ammunition into an unmanned .50-caliber Browning machine gun, despite having never been trained to use them due to his rank. He manned not one but two of these weapons until he ran out of ammunition and the USS West Virginia began to sink. He was one of the last three men to abandon ship.
In recognition of his actions and heroism, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, by Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. At the time, this was the third-highest combat related Naval award, and Miller was the first Black sailor to be awarded the medal. He was also the recipient of a Purple Heart, World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacifc Campaign Medal and the American Defense Service Medal.
While it has never been definitively proven just how tactically effective Miller’s manning of weapons was, his dedication to protection and service in the face of adversity is what makes him such an integral part of history. Miller continued his service until November 24th, 1943, when he and two-thirds of the crew of the USS Liscome Bay died or went missing following a Japanese torpedo strike. The USS Miller, a U.S. Navy Knox class destroyer, was launched in 1972, with its name honoring Dorie.
When our nation was young and yearned to be free from the shackles of tyranny, she relied on its patriots to defend the hopes and dreams of generations to come. In a time when the promises of their generals could not be counted on, the infantryman relied on this weapon the most.
The ‘Brown Bess,’ or the Long Land Pattern Musket, and its variations were designed and produced from the year 1722 into the mid-1800s by the British Empire.
It was used in service by both sides during the Revolutionary War and most civilians already had one in their home, as American colonies required, by law, that every male own one for militia duties. The fact that Continental Army troops and militia recruits would bring their rifles from home was paramount to success in the war.
The English had standardized armaments while the Colonies welcomed anything that fired into service. This created a logistical nightmare in getting munitions to the frontline (get your sh*t together, supply!). American troops would scavenge these muskets from battles or from compromised British supply lines.
The Brown Bess weighs 10.5 lbs. and is 58.5 inches long, with 42 of those inches accounted for in the length of the barrel alone.
The musket was mostly inaccurate, which is why it was utilized by tightly packed lines of infantry that fired only when dangerously close to the enemy. Its max effective range at the time was about 100 meters in good weather. Its smooth bore and flint lock firing mechanism made it difficult to fire in the rain – if it fired at all.
To make matters worse, fighting in a tight firing line added the additional danger of incurring concussions from musket fire immediately to one’s left and right.
Later models would see a steady increase in range, the replacement of the flintlock with a percussion cap, and manufacturing standardization. However, those changes wouldn’t be made until long after the rebellion was won.
The firing rate is, technically, 3 to 4 rounds per minute, but in the face of a bayonet charge, one would be lucky to fire a second shot before engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
The Brown Bess fired an 18mm musket ball made of lead with the option of fixing a bayonet to defend against infantry and cavalry charges.
The Brown Bess may have been inaccurate, susceptible to misfires, and costly to reproduce, but in the hands of patriots, standing shoulder to shoulder, each volley brought the upstart nation a step closer to independence.
Louis A. Strange was a British Pilot who would lead aerial forces in World War I and World War II, eventually rising to the rank of wing commander and earning top British awards like the Distinguished Service Order and Officer of the Order of the British Empire, which is lucky, because he almost died as a young pilot when he fell out of his plane and was left hanging from the machine gun.
It happened during World War I when the young pilot became a pioneer by being one of the first pilots to strap a machine gun to his plane in 1914 (he might have even been the first allied pilot to do so). But early aviation machine guns were literally just machine guns designed for the trenches, and they didn’t always lend themselves well to aerial combat.
In 1915, Strange was flying his Martinsyde S.1 scout plane with a machine gun mounted when he spotted a German observer and began trading fire with it. Strange quickly ran through the ammo in his weapon’s drum and attempted to reload it, but the drum was jammed on the weapon.
He attempted to pry it off to no avail, and finally stood up to get better leverage on the drum. He was attempting to keep the plane steady in the process, but made some mistake. The plane flipped upside down, and Strange slipped out of his seat and found himself dangling from the machine gun, high in the air.
In John F. Ross’s Enduring Courage, Strange is quoted as saying:
Only a few seconds previously, I had been cursing because I could not get that drum off, but now I prayed fervently that it would stay on forever.
But that wasn’t the only problem for Strange. His plane’s engine wasn’t designed to run upside down with no pilot at the controls, and so the engine quickly shut off.
So he was dangling by a faulty machine gun drum from a slowly crashing airplane in an active combat zone. But he kept a cool head, watching for where he might crash while also attempting to get his feet back into the cockpit. He managed to hook an ankle on the plane and then get a leg on the stick and flip the plane back over.
He fell back into the plane, which was welcome, but he also fell too hard and fast, crashing through his seat in a way that jammed the stick, making it impossible for him to steer, a big problem since he was still heading for the ground. And then the engine turned back on, speeding his descent.
He had to shove the remnants of the seat out of the way, but was then able to move the stick and raise the plane’s nose, gaining altitude with little room to spare over the trees. He headed back for home and slept for 12 hours.
But, as mentioned before, the survival of Strange would prove to be a great boon to Britain. He had previously earned one award for valor in World War I, and he would go on to earn three high medals over the rest of World War I and II.
During World War I, France created the Croix de Guerre to decorate its bravest troops, and it gave the decoration to members of foreign armies who took great risks or who achieved great things in service of liberating France from German occupation.
In the years following the Battle of Verdun, France issued the Croix de Guerre to units with 2,500 White Company trucks and named the vice president of the company, Walter C. White, as a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in recognition of how important a humble truck was in France’s ultimate victory over Germany, especially at Verdun.
White Motor Company trucks at Fort Riley. Full panoramic image available here.
(Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General)
The story of the White Motor Company is a strange one. In 1902, it was the White Sewing Machine Company, and the Surgeon General proposed that the Army Quartermasters purchase a motor vehicle to serve as an Army ambulance in future conflicts. R. H. White, already looking to diversify the company’s offerings, pushed the company to take part in the competition.
But the company wasn’t done. They developed more truck designs and, in 1916, one of their trucks was upgraded with armor and sent on the Mexican Punitive Expedition. By the time World War I rolled around, White trucks were trusted by plenty of military men.
The automotive business proved to be a great investment for the company, and the White Sewing Machine Company opened itself a second company, the White Truck Company. This particular confederation of engineers and businessmen found themselves a ready market for reliable trucks and sold thousands of Model A trucks to France and other allied militaries.
From 1914 onward, France was sending these “Little trucks” into combat and seemed to have been more than pleased with the trucks’ performance. In the 1916 Battle of Verdun, the trucks were used to transport supplies and troops. At the Battle of Château-Thierry in 1918, the trucks moved U.S. troops into position in time to stop a German advance.
But it was at the 1918 Battle of Verdun, when many of the same trucks returned to that blood-soaked stretch of land, that the trucks earned their major laurels.
White Trucks of Cleveland advertisement
(Thoth God of Knowledge)
It was there that France needed to move hundreds of thousands of troops to the front over a stretch of just a few days, and they turned to the 2,500 Model A trucks of Great Headquarters Reserve No. 1. The drivers and trucks carried 200,000 troops to the front, some for over 100-mile stretches.
The task was tremendous, the crisis very grave. A supreme effort was necessary to stop the German advance last March on the British front. Without this unprecedented movement of French reserves right into the teeth of the fighting, the issue might have been serious indeed for the Allies.
According to the same article, drivers often drove for 24 hours straight. One unit averaged driving 20 hours a day, and another pulled 60 hours straight of duty.
It was the only time that a motor convoy unit would be awarded the medal, and some chalked it up to the service of the trucks. According to Time Magazine in 1932, the only White trucks to break down in the battle were those disabled by shells and so, “The result was that 2,500 of them received the distinction of France’s Croix de Guerre.”