Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the 'siren of the South' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Belle Boyd’s spying career began with a gunshot.


In July 1861, Union troops arrived in Boyd’s town and she wasn’t too happy about it. Since her father was a member of the Confederate 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, Boyd (born Isabella Maria Boyd) was “supporting the troops” with Confederate flags in her bedroom.

The Union troops tried to confiscate the flags, then threw up the Stars and Stripes over her house. An argument ensued, a soldier cursed at her mother, and then Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot the guy. She was later cleared of wrongdoing — because in the 1860s it was totally cool to shoot people who cussed at women — but the Union began tracking her activities.

And interestingly enough, she used this to her advantage, and tracked them instead.

From the Encyclopedia Virginia:

Union officials began to monitor Boyd’s movements, but she used conversations with her minders to accumulate detailed information on their movements, sending the intelligence in letters to Confederate commanders. After one such letter was intercepted, Boyd escaped punishment by feigning ignorance. Her parents then sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in even tinier Front Royal (pop. 417), forty miles to the south.

In October 1861, after visiting her father’s camp, Boyd began work as a courier between generals Jackson and P. G. T. Beauregard and was detained briefly for her efforts. Her oft-noted charm was a weapon and, occasionally, a liability. After being captured by a pair of Union soldiers, Boyd claimed to have sweet talked them into escorting her back to Confederate lines, where she promptly had them arrested. When Boyd’s identity was revealed to the two hapless soldiers, they recognized it, suggesting that she already had attained something that spies tend to avoid—notoriety.

Notoriety is exactly what she found, as Boyd appears at least a few times in correspondence between senior Union leaders. While she was getting plenty of hate mail from the Union, she was earning respect from senior Confederates, to include Gen. Stonewall Jackson, who made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp, according to AP.

Perhaps her biggest intelligence “get” came in May 1862, as she spied on a Union general and his staff through a peephole in a closet floor (Great job securing the SCIF, guys). Union forces had recently captured Front Royal, Virginia, but the general was about to pull a large portion of his forces east. It wasn’t long before the town was back in Confederate hands, thanks to Boyd’s messages.

You can check out more about her exploits here

MIGHTY HISTORY

This elite Nepalese warrior fought 40 train robbers all by himself

If a bad guy wants to mess with someone, they should probably make sure that someone is not a Gurkha. Gurkha are a legendary class of Nepalese warriors whose lineage dates back to the Middle Ages. Gurkhas fought first against the British during the colonial era, and the Brits were so impressed by their ability in combat, they decided to enlist them in their military efforts.


They’ve been with the British since the days of the British East India company, through to World War II, and even through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their distinctive knife, the Khukuri, is symbolic of their heroism, bravery, and skill in combat.

 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Gurkhas in Afghanistan

 

A true testament to the ability of these renowned Nepalese warriors is praise for their prowess from friend and foe alike. Indian Army Chief of Staff Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once stated “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.” Prince Charles once said, “In the world there is only one secure place, that’s when you are between Gurkhas.” Osama bin Laden once claimed he would “eat Americans alive” if he had Gurkhas on his side. Adolf Hitler said of them, “If I had Gurkhas, no armies in the world would defeat me.”

 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Gurkhas in the process of defeating Hitler in 1943.

On Sep. 2, 2010, when Bishnu Prasad Shrestha was returning home after a voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, the train incident happened. At around midnight on the Maurya Express train from Ranchi to Gorakhpur, 40 armed bandits boarded the train and started looting the passengers. He allowed himself to be robbed by the gun- and knife-toting train robbers. When they soon began to mess with an 18-year-old girl in front of her parents, who were watching helplessly, he couldn’t sit down any longer. Shrestha lost it.

He took out his Khukuri and fought the entire group of 40 robbers single-handedly, killing three of them and injuring eight others. The rest fled. After the incident, he explained:

“They started snatching jewelry, cell phones, cash, laptops and other belongings from the passengers. They had carried out their robbery with swords, blades and pistols. The pistols may have been fake as they didn’t fire. The girl cried for help, saying ´You are a soldier, please save a sister.’ I prevented her from being raped, thinking of her as my own sister. 

During the fight, he took a serious knife wound on his left hand and the girl took a small cut on her neck. He was able to recover what the bandits stole, 200 cell phones, 40 laptops, a significant amount of jewelry, and nearly $10,000 in cash.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Shrestha in the hospital after the train fight.

 

When the intended rape victim’s family offered him a large cash reward, he refused it, saying:

“Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being.”

Bishnu Prasad Shrestha held himself to the traditions of his Gurkha regiment and training. Today, Gurkhas fight with British, American, Indian, Nepalese, and Malaysian forces all over the world. After their service ends, they usually return to Nepal to become subsistence farmers. In 2009, the United Kingdom granted pensions at settlement rights to any Gurkha who served the UK for at least four years.

Check the WATM podcast to hear the author and other veterans discuss how the Gurkhas became feared Nepalese warriors.

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These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the helicopters of World War II

Think of a military helicopter. Think of it in combat. Is it a Black Hawk dropping off operators in urban combat? A Chinook picking troops up from a remote ridge or rooftop? Maybe you’re old school and you see a Piasecki H-25 or H-19 Chickasaw from the Korean War. But few people will think all the way back to World War II when German and American helicopters all served on the front lines.


Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was one of America’s only helicopters to see active service in World War II, acting predominantly as a rescue and transportation asset in the China-Burma-India Theater.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

America’s military helicopter program was largely carried by two companies, both prominent helicopter manufacturers today who, oddly enough, are now competing to create the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft. Sikorsky’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian-American immigrant who wanted to help his adopted country fight in World War II.

He received financial backing from friends to start manufacturing aircraft, predominantly fixed-wing planes, for the U.S. military. But, off to the side, he was developing new helicopter designs including the VS-500, an aircraft that used one large rotor blade to generate lift and another, smaller rotor blade mounted on a long boom to generate anti-torque. This is the same blade configuration now used on everything from the UH-60 to the AH-64 Apache.

The VS-300 prototype quickly gave way the R-4, a two-seater helicopter that would serve most predominantly with the U.S. Army but also the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Royal Air Force. It first began rolling off the production line in 1942 and was primarily used for observation and to ferry supplies.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The German-made Flettner 282 helicopter was employed against Allied naval assets near the end of World War II, but was then captured by Allied troops. In this photo, it’s undergoing testing with the U.S. military.

(Public Domain)

But, the helicopter was also employed in two daring rescue missions in the challenging terrain of the China-Burma-India Theater. The helicopters could just barely make it through the high mountain passes that planes could easily fly over, but the rotary aircraft could land in small clearings that were impossible for planes to stop in or take off from.

Other helicopters were in development during the war. The Bell Aircraft Corporation, later known as Bell Helicopters and now Bell Flight, created the Bell Model 30 that would see limited use on the home front, but it would not be deployed overseas.

Meanwhile, Germany’s helicopter program was much more advanced than America’s or the Allies’. They debuted experimental helicopter designs before the war and even flew prototypes in front of adoring crowds for weeks in 1938.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The Focke-Angelis Fa-223 helicopter was a German machine popular during the war. It had a heavy lift capability for the day that allowed it to re-position artillery in forward positions.

(U.S. Air Force)

This pre-war research led to the Fa-223, the “Dragon.” Five types were planned with missions from anti-submarine, to search and rescue, to cargo carrying. But it really predicted future developments when it was used to recover crashed aircraft and to move artillery batteries to inaccessible mountaintops where they would have greater range and better defenses.

Meanwhile, the Flettner-282 Hummingbird was designed to seek out enemy submarines at sea and other threats. It was completed late in the war with early models going through testing in 1943. But the first 24 were completed in time for limited deployments to the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean Sea.

A number of other models were in experimental phases during the closing months of the war, but saw limited or no combat use before war’s end. But the American, German, and other designs that didn’t quite make it into the fight would prove influential for decades to come.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German POWs staged their greatest World War I escape

Today, Sutton Bonington campus, part of the University of Nottingham, houses the schools of bioscience and veterinary medicine. But a century ago, during World War I, it was home to a prisoner of war (PoW) camp for German military personnel captured by the British on the Western front. And it was the site of a great escape, when Germans managed to flee the camp on Sept. 25, 1917.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the government took over buildings and sites around the country to convert into PoW camps. Sutton Bonington was a group of buildings completed in 1915 for the Midland Dairy Institute, an agricultural college, but it was taken over by the War Office before the institute’s staff and students could move in. Barbed wire fencing and some additional huts were added to the site and around 600 German military officers moved in.


German officers who were made prisoners of war, by contrast with ordinary soldiers and sailors, were not allowed to work. Many became extremely bored, and sought to relieve the tedium by playing sports such as football and tennis, putting on concerts and plays, and planning how to escape. The preferred escape option was to tunnel under the barbed wire, and to disappear into the countryside beyond.

Two attempts to tunnel out at Sutton Bonington failed, but the third succeeded, and at 1.30am on Sept. 25, 1917, 22 men slipped, slithered and pulled their way along a tunnel, which was less than a metre high. They emerged into a field of turnips, and were hidden from the guards in the sentry posts by a ridge running through a nearby field. It helped their cause that the moon had set before they started, that the search lights were out because of concerns about Zeppelin raids, and that it was not raining.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The main administration block at Sutton Bonington campus. It was used as a prisoner of war camp for German officers between 1916-19.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

In terms of simple numbers, no other breakout was as successful. Usually only two or three men were involved with a tunnel project. The 22 from Sutton Bonington made it the largest breakout in Britain of World War I.

Best laid plans

The men planned to split into groups of four, preferably with an English speaker in each one, and to head for different ports along the east coast. They had maps and a compass with them, as well as food supplies which had arrived in the camp from Germany the previous day. The absconders hoped to stow away on board a vessel passing through the English channel, and return to Germany, re-join their regiment and re-engage with the war.

The breakout was discovered at 4.30am when a policeman patrolling the village of Plumtree came upon Herman Genest walking alone but wearing a German officer’s uniform. He arrested him, took him to the nearest police station, and from there saw him returned to the camp at Sutton Bonington. Genest had been free for approximately three hours.

His arrest led to a roll call at Sutton Bonington which confirmed that 22 men were missing. All police, special constables, and other groups concerned with law and order in the area were ordered from their beds to find the Germans.

Within hours they were reeled in. My own research into the episode has uncovered that three of the German men, claiming to be seeking work in one of Nottingham’s munitions factories, were arrested at Trent Bridge. Two more, including the leader Otto Thelan, were arrested at Tollerton at 11am, and two others later in the day. Also arrested that day was Karl von Müller, a German naval hero from the early days of the war, who was found by children when he was blackberrying at Tollerton.

The rest were picked up over the ensuing days with the last four German officers captured at Brimington Woods, near Chesterfield. A police sergeant found them on September, 30, “and immediately upon being challenged they admitted their identity”, according to a report a few days later in the Derby Daily Telegraph.

Getting out was unlikely

The experiences of these men were typical of other German prisoners who tried to escape during World War I. They were expected to wear their uniforms in camp, but this made them conspicuous if they managed to escape. They had to walk because catching trains was too problematic, and they normally travelled at night and hid in barns and hay stacks during the day. They carried food, but could struggle to find enough liquid, and if they reached the coast there was no guarantee of a passage across the Channel.

Escape was a romantic ideal rather than a rational expectation. Gunter Pluschow, who escaped from another PoW camp at Donington Hall, in Leicestershire, was the only German to make it home in World War I, largely because he managed to adopt a disguise and stow away on board a cargo ship at Harwich.

The Sutton Bonington camp was used for PoWs until February 1919 when those remaining were moved to Oswestry in Shropshire. The site was then cleared and cleaned, including the removal of the huts and barbed wire, and returned to the Midland Dairy Institute, which formally opened in October 1919. In 1946 the institute joined the University of Nottingham as the faculty of agriculture.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

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.)

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

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.”
Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

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.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

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.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

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.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

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.

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How the CIA stole a secret Soviet satellite during the Space Race

In 1967, the Space Race was in full swing. The Soviet Union had made a number of historic firsts, but the United States was racing to catch up while making a few firsts of its own. 

President Kennedy had challenged America to put a man on the moon within the decade. Long after his death, the memory of that challenge was fresh in the minds of everyone, especially those in the U.S. government who were working hard to make that happen. These include agencies such as NASA, the U.S. military and, not surprisingly, the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the United States wasn’t always so close to winning. In fact, for a time, it appeared to be behind — way behind. So far behind, in fact, the Americans were willing to do anything to catch up, even if that meant stealing the Soviet technology. 

They had the world’s first ICBM as well as the first artificial satellite

Declassified CIA documents describe their initial efforts to do just that. While they never conclusively stole Soviet space technology outright, they did have to make a huge effort to get some time alone with the tech. 

Many people know about Sputnik, the first man-made satellite in orbit. Not many others know about Luna (sometimes called Lunik), the first man-made satellite to hit the moon’s surface. Both successful missions took place in 1959. And the Soviets did what any superpower looking to dunk on their Cold War rival would do: they took a victory lap. 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The USSR sent Sputnik and Luna on a world tour that included stops in the United States. The U.S. was losing the Space Race because the Soviets had better booster and rocket technology than they did. So the CIA decided it would learn everything it could about Soviet space tech through the traveling showcase.

Specifically, the U.S. wanted a detailed look at the USSR’s upper stage. Most in the CIA assumed the Soviets weren’t bold enough to bring an actual Luna on a world tour for everyone to see, but there were some who realized the USSR really had brought the real thing. One night, after the traveling exhibition was closed, CIA operatives gained access to the room. They discovered it really was an actual Luna module and the lone Soviet guard had disappeared.

The CIA spent a full 24 hours with the Luna, taking what information they could with them, but they wanted more. They wanted to get inside of it. That’s when they concocted a complex, almost absurd scheme that would have been stupid – if it hadn’t worked. 

That’s when they hatched a plan to steal Luna, get into it, and return the device before it could be found. They knew it usually had a large guard force posted as sentries at almost all times. They needed to get to it when the guard force was at its lowest number and find a way to get to it when no one would miss it. 

The operatives discovered that the Luna went unguarded when moving by train. A guard checked its crate in at the platform, but he didn’t know what was in each of the crates and there was no expected delivery time for its arrival at the show’s next stop.

CIA agents arranged for the Luna to be on the last truck out of an exhibition. When it was on the way, other CIA operatives tailed the truck, looking for when the Soviet guards rejoined their precious cargo. But the Soviets never came. The CIA stopped the truck driver and “held him in a hotel overnight” (the documents don’t mention how he was enticed (booze, guns or prostitutes were likely involved).

With the driver safely dispatched, the truck was parked in a salvage yard and covered up. At the rail yard, the lone guard there didn’t even know the last truck was expected and he knocked off for the night, none the wiser. The CIA kept a tail on him too, just to make sure he didn’t come to work early. 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Hey, not every heist requires a shootout

Back at the truck, CIA officers dismantled and photographed the Luna in detail, working through the night to get everything documented so that the Soviet booster technology could be analyzed.

They sealed everything back together, closed the crate and put the original truck driver back on the job. When the rail yard guard checked the crate onto the train in the morning, he suspected nothing and the secret Soviet space technology was on its way to the next stop.

Feature image: Photo by Sergiu Nista on Unsplash

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a guy hid actual treasure somewhere in the Rockies

Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”

After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.


When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Giphy

Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.

And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”

His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.

That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.

Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.

Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Giphy

Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.

Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.

Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.

Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.

Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.

But nobody has found it yet.

Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.

For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.

Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”

This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.

Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.

A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”

And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”

Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”

So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.

In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Giphy

Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”

Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.

(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.

Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.

As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”

Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.

A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”

It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

9 women have been awarded the silver star

Here are their stories.

The year 1932 was interesting for military decorations. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur successfully revived Gen. George Washington’s Badge for Military Merit of 1782, which became known as the Purple Heart, a medal given to those wounded or killed in combat. 

That same year, the Citation Star was converted into the Silver Star. The Citation Star was a 3/16-inch silver star worn on the ribbon of the service medal for the campaign the service member distinguished themselves in. Exclusively an Army award until 1942, the Silver Star is the third-highest medal of valor behind the branch equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. Members of all branches are now eligible to receive it.

Dating back to when it was called the Citation Star, nine women have been awarded the Silver Star for acts of valor and heroism during war.

JANE RIGNEL, LINNIE LECKRONE, AND IRENE ROBAR

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Chief nurse Jane Rignel, highlighted holding the dog at left; Irene Robar, middle; and Linnie Leckrone, right; each received the Citation Star before it became the Silver Star medal. Composite by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

These three nurses of World War I became the first female recipients of the Citation Star, the predecessor to the Silver Star, for their efforts along the front lines in France.

Jane Rignel was the chief nurse of Mobile Hospital No. 2 attached to the 42nd Division, stationed in Bussey le Chateau. She had 22 nurses under her command on July 14, 1918. That night, the nurses followed closely behind the unit they were supporting as the first impact of an artillery barrage landed at 11:40 p.m. The first ambulances started to arrive at 2 a.m. Rignel led eight operating teams to treat 75 patients in the shock ward, and although artillery seriously damaged two triage and surgical areas, killing five, Rignel’s leadership and bravery prevailed through the chaos and saved many lives that day.

Linnie Leckrone and Irene Robar were both in the Army Nurse Corps and volunteered for Shock Team No. 134, which arrived on July 28, 1918, at the 32nd Division’s 127th Field Hospital near Chateau-Thierry. The role of nurses operating in a shock team was to resuscitate wounded soldiers who had lost too much blood and were unlikely to survive immediate surgery. Leckrone and Robar remained at their stations even after they were targeted by artillery and were subsequently awarded for their gallant efforts under fire.

THE ANGELS OF ANZIO

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Feb. 21, 1944, Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, CG, VI Corps, awarded three Silver Stars to nurses, with the first citation honoring a 56th Evacuation Hospital Army Nurse Corps officer, 1st Lt. Mary Roberts, left. Beside her are likely 2nd Lt. Elaine Roe, wearing glasses; and 2nd Lt. Rita Rourke. A fourth recipient, 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, was honored posthumously, having died from her injuries six days after the attack. Photo courtesy of the WW2 US Medical Research Centre.

More than 59,000 women served in the US Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Within their ranks, 16 nurses were killed as a result of enemy conflict, 67 nurses were taken prisoners of war, and more than 1,600 nurses were decorated for bravery or meritorious service. Only four were awarded the Silver Star: 2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth, 1st Lt. Mary Roberts, 2nd Lt. Elaine Roe, and 2nd Lt. Rita Rourke.

The little city of Anzio, located just 33 miles south of Rome, today is a blossoming resort town known for its seaside harbor setting. In January 1944, the Allies launched Operation Shingle, an amphibious invasion to drive the Germans out of Rome. Along the Anzio beachhead were large field hospital tents belonging to the 56th Evacuation Hospital Unit and other medical units. Despite being marked with red crosses, the tents were frequent targets of strafing planes and artillery barrages. The violence was so intense, the troops began calling it “Hell’s half-acre,” favoring the safety of a foxhole instead.

On Feb. 7, 1944, the hospital tents were dive-bombed by a German Luftwaffe pilot. The bombs killed 28 and critically wounded 28 more. Ironically, after the Luftwaffe pilot bailed from his plane, which was shot down by a British Spitfire, the pilot was brought to the hospital tent and treated as if he were any other patient.

The most devastating attack, however, came only three days later. For 30 minutes, a German long-range artillery barrage targeted the Anzio beachhead. “I wanted to jump under the operating table, but first we had to lower litter cases to the floor,” Roberts told the Dallas Morning News on Feb. 23, 1944. “Pieces of steel already were ripping through tents. There were four litters. I saw a patient on the operating table had his helmet near him so I put it over his head to give him that much protection.” 

Roberts was the chief nurse of the operating tent and instead of diving for the little cover that was available to her, she chose to protect others. While Roberts kept the operating table in operation, Roe and Rourke cut the electrical wires and used flashlights to evacuate 42 patients. Ainsworth was also there when the barrage began. A large piece of shrapnel struck her in the chest, but she continued on to assist in the evacuation. Six days later she succumbed to her wounds. These nurses became known as the Angels of Anzio.

LEIGH ANN HESTER 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
After receiving the Silver Star for valor in Iraq, Leigh Ann Hester became a police officer for the Franklin Police Department in Tennessee and later deployed to Afghanistan as a Cultural Support Team member. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Chomphel/US Department of Veteran Affairs.

The most famous female Silver Star recipient in US military history is Leigh Ann Hester, the only woman to receive the award for engaging the enemy in combat. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, occurred right before Hester left her Nashville home for basic training. In July 2004, her Army National Guard unit received orders to Iraq. For months Sgt. Hester worked as a military police officer in Baghdad, protecting critical supply routes.

“Basically, we would go out in our Humvees and we would clear the route for [improvised explosive devices] or insurgents before the convoys would start coming through,” Hester told NPR in a 2011 interview. 

Getting shot at in Iraq was the norm. Hester estimates it was a daily occurrence, even if women weren’t allowed to be assigned to units where their primary mission “is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Leigh Ann Hester later served as a Cultural Support Team member in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Tennessean/Leigh Ann Hester.

But there was one firefight she would never forget. It was the morning of Sunday, March 20, 2005, and she was supporting a convoy east of Baghdad. As they traveled 3 miles down the road, their convoy got hit. An RPG slammed into one of their vehicles as it was turning down the road, and bullets rained in from nearby insurgents all around them.

Three members of Hester’s team were immediately wounded, and Hester directed the gunner operating an MK19 grenade launcher to fire grenades into a nearby irrigation ditch containing a dozen enemy fighters. Then she and Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein sprinted to a nearby trench line and threw two hand grenades before returning fire. 

“It’s not like you see in the movies,” she said. “They don’t, like, get shot and get blown back 5 feet. They just take a round, and they collapse.”

Hester personally engaged with three enemy combatants with her M4 assault rifle, and after 45 minutes of close-quarters combat, 27 insurgents were declared killed in action, six more were wounded, and one was captured alive. Every member of Hester’s unit survived that day. 

She became an instant hero, but Hester felt there was more to accomplish in her service. She returned home and became a police officer and detective for the Franklin Police Department in Tennessee. In 2014, she rejoined the National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan as a Cultural Support Team member — women who are often attached to special operations forces to interact with and gather intelligence from the women and children on target. In 2017 she was sent to the Virgin Islands as part of the international humanitarian effort in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Thinking about the day she earned the Silver Star in 2005, Hester said, “You know, it’s just something that happened one day, and I was trained to do what I did, and I did it.”

MONICA LIN BROWN 

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Monica Brown gets awarded the Silver Star at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, by Vice President Dick Cheney for her actions on April 25, 2007, during a combat patrol. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Two years after Hester’s actions in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pfc. Monica Lin Brown was thrust into the spotlight for her life-saving actions during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. On April 25, 2007, Brown was serving as a combat medic with the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in Afghanistan’s southeastern Paktika province. While on patrol, the trail vehicle in her convoy struck a pressure-plate improvised explosive device.

“I only saw the smoke from the vehicle when suddenly we started taking small-arms fire from all around us,” Brown said. “Everyone was already out of the burning vehicle. But even before I got there, I could tell that two of them were injured very seriously.”

Brown sprinted through a hail of Taliban gunfire with her medic bag to reach the injured American soldiers. She knelt alongside them and shielded their bodies from exploding shrapnel, counting more than a dozen mortar rounds. Adding to the chaos, the extra ammunition in the burning HMMWV — including bullets, 60 mm mortar rounds, and 40 mm grenade rounds — started to cook off due to the flames’ heat.

“There was small arms coming in from two different machine-gun positions, mortars falling … a burning Humvee with 16 mortar rounds in it, chunks of aluminum the size of softballs flying all around,” Lt. Martin Robbins told the Washington Post in 2008. “It was about as hairy as it gets.”

Although Brown saved the lives of fellow Americans that day, the Army pulled her out of the remote camp where she was serving with a cavalry unit because of Army restrictions on women serving in combat roles. 

“We weren’t supposed to take her out [on missions] but we had to because there was no other medic,” said Robbins, a platoon leader with Charlie Troop, 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, whose men Brown saved, according to the Washington Post. “By regulations you’re not supposed to,” but Brown “was one of the guys, mixing it up, clearing rooms, doing everything that anybody else was doing.”

Brown was presented the Silver Star in 2008, becoming the second woman since World War II to receive the honor.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this Civil War spy became a legendary lawman in the Wild West

Pop culture always tells the stories of the outlaws of the Wild West. Lying, cheating, drinking, robbing banks, holding up train cars, getting into shootouts at high noon — these are all objectively cool things that make for great tales, but they’re often overplayed for the sake of storytelling.

In reality, the Wild West was much tamer than most storytellers make it out to be. You were much more likely to die of some mundane and awful illness, like dysentery, than be gunned down in the streets as part of a duel. This is because the lawmen of the time were experts at what they did. And that’s all thanks to one former spy: Allan Pinkerton.


Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Sometimes, it pays to help out a small-time lawyer with big aspirations.

(National Archives)

Allan Pinkerton first got into detective work before the Civil War. He was living in Chicago when he developed a grudge with the Banditti of the Prairie Gang. They suspected his home was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad, so they sacked it. In response, Pinkerton trailed the Banditti of the Prairie Gang, infiltrated their hideout, and observed their activities. He compiled a detailed report, handed it over to the Chicago Police Department, and they successfully took down the gang.

For his actions, he was given the title of Detective and went on to found the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. His first jobs mostly consisted of protecting abolitionist meetings, aiding John Brown during his raid of Harpers Ferry, and investigating a series of train robberies on the Illinois Central Railroad. His contact for the railroad gig was the company’s lawyer, a man by the name of Abraham Lincoln.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

If you look at the guy’s track record, pretty much all detective, security, and bodyguard work in America can all be tracked to Pinkerton. He was kinda like the real life Sherlock Holmes.

(White House photo by Chuck Patch)

Detective Pinkerton was the first man the then-President-elect Lincoln called when he caught wind of an assassination attempt on his life. The killers planned on striking when Lincoln was en route to his inauguration. But when he successfully made it there in one piece (albeit a bit late), Pinkerton’s skills got national recognition.

He was given command over the Union Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. Despite his high authority, he would often go out on spy missions in the deep South himself. Eventually, Pinkerton handed the reins to Lafayette Baker, who’d later also head the Secret Service (a Pinkerton product, as well).

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

Pinkerton was probably the last man on Earth criminals would want to piss off.

(Library of Congress)

When the war came to an end, Pinkerton went right back to working with the Pinkerton Detective Agency and set his eyes on the Western Frontier. Together with his agency, Pinkerton tracked down the Reno Gang, the Wild Bunch (which included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and the James-Younger Gang, the outfit of the legendary outlaw, Jesse James.

One day, the James-Younger Gang robbed the Adams Express Company, a railroad fund out of Baltimore, and the Pinkertons were hired to recover what was stolen. The gang eluded the Pinkertons for a while, until Allan Pinkerton sent two of his best agents to infiltrate their hideout. Both of Pinkerton’s men were killed in a shootout with the outlaws, but not before taking a few of the Younger brothers with them.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still active today, it’s just rebranded as “Securitas AB.”

(Securitas AB)

The railroad fund pulled the contract, but by that point, it had become a personal vendetta for Pinkerton. He personally led a raid in January, 1875, with nearly every agent at his disposal. They surrounded the homestead hideout and torched it when the gang started opening fire. They captured the gang members who were there, but Jesse James himself was missing.

The raid left the gang in such a terrible state that they were all but disbanded after they tried to recoup their losses with a failed bank robbery. Jesse James’ life as an outlaw was effectively ended with Allan Pinkerton’s raid. From then on, he’d live in hiding, sneaking out for the occasional robbery, until his eventual death at the hands of Robert Ford.

Articles

The ‘Big Red One’ led the fight from WWI to Iraq

The 1st Infantry Division is the oldest continuously active division in the U.S. Army and has served since 1917. During that time, it has often claimed the first honors of different American wars — everything from firing the first American shell against Germany of World War I to breaking through the berm into Iraq in 1991.


In the past 100 years, it has served in almost every American war. The Big Red One was kept in Europe to prevent a Soviet attack during the Korean War, but fought in both world wars, Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Balkans, and the Iraq and Afghan Wars.

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Soldiers with the 1st Division, U.S. First Army, ride on a tank, during their advance on the town of Schopen, Belgium. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Augustine)

The unit was created in May 1917 when Maj. Gen. John Pershing received orders to take four infantry regiments and an artillery regiment to France. Pershing assumed that this meant he was to take a division, and he organized the force as the First Expeditionary Division which was later changed to the First Division. The unit included an additional artillery regiment.

When it sailed to France, the First Division fulfilled America’s promise to help bring Imperial Germany to its knees. They trained quickly in trench warfare side-by-side with their French counterparts and then took over a sector of the frontlines.

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Soldiers of the New York National Guard march through the streets of New York city in 1917. The First Expeditionary Division launched from New York and led the way for U.S. forces headed to France in World War I. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

While in France, the First Division fired the first American shell in the ground war against Germany on Oct. 23, 1917, and suffered the first American casualty of the ground war only two days later.

(The USS Cassin had fired the first shells of the war and suffered the first casualty on Oct. 15, 1917, in battle with the German U-61 submarine.)

The doughboys of the First Division led the first American offensive of the war at Cantigny and fought on through Soissons, the St. Mihiel Salient, and the Meuse-Argonne Forest. In the Argonne, the division fought through eight German divisions despite suffering more than 7,600 casualties.

As World War I drew to a close, the division was authorized its “Big Red One” shoulder patch that it still wears to this day.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Army 1st Infantry Division troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Photo: U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)

For World War II, the division was re-designated the 1st Infantry Division and sent to Africa as part of Operation Torch. America’s first major offensive in the war, Torch helped bring about the Allied victory in North Africa and cut off Axis oil supplies headed into Europe.

Big Red One soldiers pushed on, taking part in Operation Husky on Sicily and Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings at Normandy. That means that the 1st Infantry Division took part in two of the larger amphibious operations of the war, Husky and Torch, and the largest amphibious assault in history, Overlord.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Soldiers with the 1st Infantry Division move up in Germany during World War II. (Photo: U.S. Army Technician 3rd Class Jack Kitzerow)

In the Normandy landings, the Big Red One was assigned to take Omaha Beach where a combination of bad water and worse terrain made the initial invasion plan untenable. Instead of fighting through the five roads leaving the beach, the men were forced to scale 100-ft. tall cliffs and attack German defenses from the rear.

The division fought its way west with the rest of the invasion force, taking Normandy’s hedgerows after weeks of bitter fighting and then making it into Germany just in time for the massive counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. They fought their way back into Germany after the Bulge and liberated two German concentration camps.

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A U.S. Army soldier with the 1st Infantry Division prepares his anti-aircraft gun during World War II. The six swastikas indicate six enemy planes killed. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Bill Augustine)

While the division did not deploy to Korea, it was called on for a number of near misses during the cold War, with units sent to Florida to support the potential invasion of Cuba during the missile crisis and to Berlin to prevent a Soviet invasion of West Berlin.

In July 1965, Big Red One’s second brigade became the first element of any infantry division to arrive in Vietnam. It fought a number of engagements over the next few years, working in early 1966 to capture supplies before an anticipated enemy offensive and capturing a massive weapons stockpile that April, removing 350 firearms and over 300,000 rounds of ammunition from Vietnamese arsenals.

In 1968, the Division helped protect key U.S. positions during the Tet Offensive but tragically lost its commanding general, Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware, when his aircraft was shot down in September.

During Desert Storm, the Big Red One was the spearhead into Iraq. On Feb. 24, 1991, it broke through Iraq’s defensive berm, attacked the Iraqi 26th Infantry Division, and took 2,500 prisoners before allowing other coalition units to pass it. It pressed on and took out a Republican Guard division and other units.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Army 1st Infantry Division soldiers watch for enemy activity in Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Guffey)

It engaged at least 11 enemy divisions and captured more than 11,400 prisoners of war — over twice as many as any other division — before the war ended on Feb. 28.

After serving with other units in the Balkans and Kosovo, the Big Red One was once again sent to full-spectrum combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan where its forces served in task forces across both countries. Their largest contributions came in Iraq were 1st Inf. Div. soldiers helped secure the Sunni Triangle.

Interested in 1st Infantry Division History? A military museum at Cantigny Park, a public space dedicated to education and recreation by a 1st Infantry Division veteran, is looking for a Historic Vehicle Programs Manager who will oversee the First Division Museum’s fleet of tanks, personnel carriers, and other vehicles from American military history.

Candidates should have a bachelor’s degree or higher in history or a related field and a good understanding of U.S. military history as well as experience in the maintenance and operation of historic military vehicles.

Articles

That time drunk samurai didn’t realize they were under attack

In 1560, a Japanese leader attempting to capture the capital of Kyoto lost his head and most of his men when his army got too drunk and loud to realize it was under attack by a much smaller force until the enemy had cut its way to the leader’s tent.


Japanese samurai leader Imagawa Yoshimoto launched an offensive in 1560 to invade to Kyoto, leading approximately 20,000-35,000 samurai west and capturing a series of small castles on his way.

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Oda Nobunaga as painted by an Italian Jesuit. (Painting: Giovanni Nicolao, Public Domain)

Meanwhile, Oda Nobunaga controlled a small garrison approximately 60 miles east of Kyoto, right in the path of Imagawa’s massive force. While other garrisons and castles adopted a defensive posture or surrendered to Imagawa, Oda raised a small force of approximately 2,500 men, between one-twelfth and one-tenth the size of Imagawa’s army, and led it east.

As the two forces marched towards one another, each made its own small stop. Oda stopped to pray at the Atsuta Shrine. The priests there would later comment on how calm the samurai leader was.

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Monuments to the two samurai leaders at the site of the Battle of Okehazama. (Photo: Tomio344456 CC BY-SA 3.0)

Imagawa, however, stopped to loot a few castles.

That night, Imagawa’s forces got hammered and feasted as Oda took advantage of the terrain and confusion.

First, he had a small group set up false battle flags from behind a ridgeline, giving the impression that he was firmly camped for the night. Then, he led most of his men through a careful maneuver under cover of darkness and thunderstorms.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
Painting of the Battle of Okehazama where Oda Nobunaga defeated an enemy samurai against huge odds. (Image: Utagawa Toyonobu, Public Domain)

Oda’s force crept close to Imagawa’s camp and then attacked with its full force. The partying in the camp was so loud and the attack so sudden, that many of Imagawa’s samurai failed to realize they were in a fight.

Imagawa himself is said to have stormed from his tent to yell at his men for their level of drunkenness only to be immediately attacked by a spear-wielding enemy. Imagawa cut through the spear and injured his attacker, but was tackled and beheaded by another samurai.

The battle ended a short time later as Imagawa’s senior officers were cut down. Oda went on to consolidate his own power and ruled half of Japan before he was killed in 1582 by an assassin.

If you’ve ever seen that hilarious video about the history of Japan, Oda’s story is told from 3:15 to 3:40:

The site of the battle is now a park in Japan and a re-enactment is held every year in June.
MIGHTY HISTORY

This attack plane turned the enemy into grease spots

When you hear “Sandy,” maybe you think about Olivia Newton-John’s character in Grease, unless you’re in the Search-and-Rescue community. Even then, most people don’t associate the word with one of the best attack planes of all time. But the Douglas A-1 Skyraider was also a “Sandy” — and one that turned many enemies of the United States into…well…grease spots.


Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
An A-1 Skyraider in 1966, when four planes assigned to USS Intrepid shot down at least one MiG-17. (U.S. Navy photo)

“Sandy” was the callsign A-1s operated under when they escorted the combat search-and-rescue helicopters. You may have seen Willem Dafoe’s character in Flight of the Intruder talking to “Sandy Low Lead.” Well, he was talking to a pilot flying a Skyraider when he called in an air strike on his own position.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
An A-1 Skyraider escorts an HH-3C rescue helicopter as it goes in to pick up a downed pilot in Vietnam in 1966. (Photo from the National Museum of the USAF)

The A-1 had been started in World War II, when it was called the BT2D-1. The Navy, though, was realizing that the air wings on the carriers needed to change. Part of the reasoning was the presence of the kamikaze, which required the presence of more fighters. The Navy even put a plane it rejected, the Vought F4U Corsair, on carrier decks. As such, the plan was to replace the SB2C Helldiver and the TBF/TBM Avenger. The plane later became the AD.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’
An Air Force A-1E Skyraider loaded with a fuel-air explosive bomb. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Skyraider had 15 hardpoints, allowing it to haul 8,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or gun pods. It also packed two or four Mk12 20mm cannon. The latter weapons helped the Skyraider score five air-to-air kills, including two MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters over North Vietnam.

Meet the prolific Confederate spy dubbed the ‘siren of the South’

 

Some of those “Sandys” were Air Force, incidentally — one of a number of Navy bombers used by that service. The Air Force had wanted a version of the plane, which proved excellent at close-air support, since 1949. The Air Force used the A-1 over Vietnam, as did Vietnam, Cambodia, and a number of countries in Africa. The last A-1s were retired by Gabon in 1985.

The A-10 has become a primary airframe flying the “Sandy” CSAR missions, which is one of the reasons the hog is so beloved.

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