How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The Post Office is in dangerous peril right now, and like most Americans, you might be wondering what you can do to help. Well, the most obvious thing is to send more mail. Buying a pack of Forever stamps helps, and so does sending little notes in the mail. It’s fun to send postcards and notes and equally exciting to receive something besides junk mail or bills, plus you’re doing your civic duty in helping prop up a bona fide American institution. One other thing you can do is get a clear understanding of how our post office came to be and what factors contributed to its formation.

The USPS got its start in 1775 during the Second Continental Congress. During the Revolutionary War, American colonies relied on communication via horseback riders who transported messages between cities, towns, and the battlefields. Making sure the mail was delivered quickly and efficiently was difficult. Still, it was also critical to the survival of the colonists and the service personnel who were fighting the Revolutionary War. Because of its vast importance to the earliest days of America, it’s often said that the post office helped create American democracy. Though the earliest Americans might not have realized it at the time, introducing a standardized postal service was the first step in creating a connected and unified country.


Three months after the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord, the Continental Congress looked to Benjamin Franklin to formally establish a postal service. As the first Postmaster General, Franklin had a lot of work to do, with limited time and a limited budget. But one thing he did have on his side was the support of leadership and the early American public’s support. Everyone understood that there was something very important to be gained by establishing a national postal service and something critical that would be lost without it.

Franklin was the publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette, and the year he was appointed postmaster, he leaned into a distinct fringe benefit of his new role. He was able to send his newspaper to readers at no cost. This helped the Pennsylvania Gazette gain a large circulation and helped serve another purpose as well – it educated the public on what was happening with the war. In 1753, Franklin was appointed the postmaster of all 13 colonies. During his tenure, he traveled extensively along the postal routes to find the most reliable and efficient route for riders. This helped lay the groundwork for our current post office, and it helped create a system of communication for everyone living in the country at the time.

The connections Franklin created on postal routes also allowed battle messages to reach leadership faster. Being up to date on troop movements, morale, and supply needs helped command chains stay ahead of the British and contributed greatly to the Revolutionary War effort.

Of all the founding institutions introduced during the earliest days of forming America, the Post Office is incredibly overlooked and undervalued, underappreciated, and unstudied. For many decades, the post office served as a de facto connection between citizens and the government. Prior to introducing the post office, knowledge of public affairs had always been limited to a specific and elite population. America needed something new, something that would allow news to be circulated throughout the entire country. The founding members of the Continental Congress wanted something different for the country they were creating and realized early on that a post office would be the central network by which they could spread information and provide access to knowledge.

Unlike other post offices in mainland Europe, Franklin wanted the American post office to transport not just mail but also ideas. In addition to delivering letters and cards, the post office creation subsidized the delivery of newspapers, which helped create an informed electorate. This was unmatched at the time and helped bind together the early colonists and set the expectation that Americans should always have open access to information. Now more than ever, that open access to information is important, just as Franklin knew two hundred years ago.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why the 1st Marine Division ships out to ‘Waltzing Matilda’

When considering music that we’d want to play as we ship out to a combat zone, very few of us would think of choosing a 19th century Australian folk song about a hobo who stole a sheep. And yet, that’s exactly what the Marines of the 1st Marine Division do en masse. It may seem odd that United States Marines choose to deploy using Australia’s unofficial national anthem, but a closer look at the history of the unit (and how the song ends) helps make sense of it all.

During World War II, the Marines of “the Old Breed,” the 1st Marine Division, famously began the first Allied offensive against Japan in the Pacific at Guadalcanal. Armed with old Springfield M1903 rifles and meager stores of food and ammunition, the Marines wrested control of the island from Japan in just over six months, earning them their first of three Presidential Unit Citations in WWII and a well-deserved rest in Australia.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

Say “no” to Bull Halsey. See what happens.

After the months of fighting and privation, the Marines were looking worse for wear. Sick from dysentery and weak, the men were just worn out. When they first docked in Brisbane, they were housed in what amounted to a series of shacks in swampland.

When the Marines’ commander, General Alexander Vandegrift, ordered that the entire division be moved, the Navy told him there was no way to spare the number of ships needed — and they had nowhere to go, anyway. That’s where Admiral William “Bull” Halsey and the city of Melbourne came in. Australia’s second-largest city offered to take them with open arms and Halsey would get them there.

Camps of already-pitched tents and bunks were waiting for them as they landed in Melbourne. The sick and wounded were transferred to a newly-finished hospital in nearby Parkville and the rest were given unlimited liberty for the next 90 full days. One account says the citizens of Melbourne opened their homes to the Marines. It was a mutual love affair for the guys who left their homes in the U.S. to fight with and for the Aussies.

On George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, 1943, the Marines marched a parade through Melbourne. During this parade, the 1st Marine Division Band decided to play the Australian folk favorite, Waltzing Matilda. The Australian onlookers loved it and cheered loudly for the procession.

Thus began the love affair between the 1st Marine Division and Australia.

When winter came, the Australians even gave the Marines their winter jackets, which were soon adopted by the USMC uniform board (no small feat). This is also where 1st Marine Division’s now-famous blue diamond patch was designed. Aside from the the red “one” and “Guadalcanal” markings, the patch also features the constellation Southern Cross, which is a symbol of Australia.

Every camp set up by the 1st Marine Division is called “Matilda.”

Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

(National Archives)

The Australians were jubilant for the Marines’ victory on Guadalcanal. It was bad news for the Japanese who had invaded nearby Papua New Guinea, an Australian protectorate. After their rest, the Marines’ next move prevented the Imperial Japanese Navy from invading mainland Australia by taking the war to them yet again, invading New Guinea via Cape Gloucester.

As for the sheep thief in Waltzing Matilda, he was confronted by police for his theft and refused to surrender, instead throwing himself into the nearby body of water, a billabong, to evade capture.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s most successful World War II sub also killed an enemy train

The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.

They did all of this without losing a single man.


On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.

But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.

They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.

That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.

They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.

Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.


MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the UK’s massive “earthquake bombs”

The Second World War saw the creation, fielding, and use of some of the most powerful weapons. From massive battleships armed with guns that will never again be matched in size to the atom bomb, these weapons were built to cause shock and awe and bring about destruction like we’ve never seen. England’s legendary “earthquake bombs,” or seismic bombs, were one such invention.

Barnes Wallis was an engineering graduate of the University of London and an incredibly creative mind. Well known for his bouncing bomb of Dambusters fame, Wallis was an integral part of British and Allied war machine programs, churning out improvements in aircraft and munitions design. He came up with the concept of the earthquake bomb in the early years of the War.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

These bombs arose out of a need to hit “hardened” targets — reinforced structures designed to withstand heavy bombardment — and underground installations. Before the deployment of the earthquake bomb, these targets were, in theory, impenetrable.

Wallis took their impregnability as a challenge.


At the time, area bombing was the prevailing method employed by Allied forces to hit German targets in the European Theater. Large cells of bombers would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of bombs with the hope that at least a few would hit their mark. This did little to destroy or even inflict damage upon hardened targets.

Instead, Wallis hypothesized that the ideal way to take out these structures and military installations was with an accurate, concentrated attack using a smaller number of extremely powerful munitions.

Speed and momentum would be the new bomb’s method of penetration. Extremely heavy and built with an armored casing and guiding fins, once dropped from its bomber, the munition would reach near-supersonic speeds as it hurtled toward the ground. This force would be more than enough to punch through the layers of thick concrete used by German military engineers to protect their facilities.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

After boring through the ceiling of its target, the seismic bomb would fall as far as its momentum would take it. Only then would it detonate, giving whoever was inside or nearby a glimpse of utter hell. Aircrew who dropped these bombs reported that, at first, it looked as though the bomb merely punched a hole in the target. Within seconds, entire targets seemed to crumple in on themselves and fall into a sinkhole.

When the seismic bomb detonated deep within its target, the shock waves from the gargantuan warhead didn’t just obliterate anything nearby, it destabilized entire structures, shaking and moving the very earth beneath them, destroying and collapsing their foundations. Soon, a new term for these weapons would surface — “bunker busters.”

The Royal Air Force fielded two types of seismic bombs over the course of the Second World War — the Tallboy and the Grand Slam. Both were used against submarine pens, factories, and underground German bunkers to great effect. The US Army Air Force followed suit not too long after with similar bombs of their own. Tallboys were famously used to disable and sink the legendary Bismarck‘s sister battleship, the Tirpitz, in 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

Unless you are a member of special ops, most U.S. military members these days are not allowed to rock a beard. Which is a damn shame, because it wasn’t always this way.


After shaving every day of their time in, some veterans make growing a beard their first order of business once they get out of the military. But there were times — we’ll refer to them as “the good ol’ days” — when you could grow a beard. In fact, it was often encouraged.

For about the first 66 years of its existence, the Navy didn’t really have much of a standardized grooming standard. Many sailors during the Revolution opted for clean shaves, until sideburns became a thing around 1812. The Navy finally implemented grooming standards in 1841 that mandated “hair and beards had to be cut short,” according to the US Naval Institute.

In the early years of the Army, beards were expressly forbidden and soldiers were required to shave at least three days per week, according to this article at Defense Media Network. This of course dramatically changed during the Civil War, when everyone from Pvt. Joe Schmoe to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was seen rocking face armor.

 

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
I’ll try and shave when I’m not too busy beating the hell out of the Confederacy.

The Navy slightly modified its rules in 1852 to ban officers from wearing mustaches and imperials — a larger ‘stache featuring whiskers styled upward over a man’s cheeks — but it was later relaxed to allow “neatly trimmed” beards. Much like the Army during the Civil War, there was some pretty interesting interpretations of “neatly trimmed.”

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
I trimmed this very neatly, I swear.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
My beard is certainly neat, and I trimmed it two years ago.

Many sailors of the late 19th and 20th century followed the prevailing fashions of the day, dropping their beards for the mustache and goatee, according to Navy History. Some continued to wear beards, which was generally allowed as long as they were trimmed.

There were some notable exceptions: Sailors operating in colder climates could have full face jackets, and those on submarines didn’t have to shave more as a necessity, since fresh water was usually scarce.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Sailors on the USS Pensacola give their best Popeye impressions, 1944. (Photo Credit: USNI)

 

For soldiers on the ground, the death of the beard came along with the need for gas masks. The first World War saw the widespread use of chemical weapons, and gas masks needed to maintain a proper seal against the skin to be effective. Having whiskers didn’t exactly inspire confidence when chlorine gas was involved.

“They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks,” Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, told the BBC. “Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield.” The clean-shaven soldier eventually became the norm for the World Wars and beyond.

Although some didn’t really get the memo, like one unit of soldiers stationed in the Phillipines in 1941 which actually held a beard-growing contest. They are all winners, in our eyes.

Still, the reasoning against soldiers having beards has often boiled down to maintaining a uniform appearance and keeping a good seal on a gas mask, and it continues to this day.

In 1970, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came in and basically said to hell with grooming and uniform regs in attempt to raise morale. Zumwalt — a wearer of his own sweet set of sideburns — issued one of his famous “Z-grams” in Nov. 1970, which directed the Navy to “adapt to changing fashions” of the day, which meant beards, mustaches, and sideburns, my man.

Beards were a staple of the Navy for quite a time, although even Zumwalt figured out his changes to the regs were a bit too permissive, USNI notes:

It did not take long before Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.

Besides the surface fleet, Navy SEALs operating in Vietnam were allowed to rock beards, and the “Vietnamese regarded beards as a reflection of wisdom gained with age,” wrote Maury Docton at Quora.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

 

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the beard (even on submarines) became a thing of the past under Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James D. Watkins, who outlawed them in Dec. 1984. Beardos were outraged at the time: “‘It’s rotten,” Petty Officer Richard New told The New York Times. “I don’t think they can tell you everything to do.”

It turns out they can, and the order still remains in effect today. Across all the military services, beards are no longer allowed and even mustaches need to be trimmed within the corners of the mouth — a look so terrible even Hitler would say “what in the hell?”

The only men lucky enough to be allowed beards now are special operations units such as Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs (as long as they are in Afghanistan at least).

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Marine Raiders saved the day at the Battle of Edson’s Ridge

By October 1942, American Marines and the Japanese were fighting a vicious battle around Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. Marines held a perimeter around Lunga Point while the Japanese controlled the remainder of the island.


The Marines guarding the perimeter mostly consisted of those from the 1st Marine Division. Holding a small ridge along the Lunga River, known as Lunga Ridge, were Marines from the 1st Raider Battalion and the 1st Parachute Battalion.

Those Marines were led by the indomitable Lt. Col Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, commanding officer of the 1st Raider Battalion. Edson was already on his way to becoming a legend having earned two Navy Crosses during his career. He would cement his status on Guadalcanal.

The fact that the Marines were even in place to meet the Japanese was due to Edson’s foresight. Edson, along with Col. Gerald Thomas – Vandegrift’s operations officer, believed that the Japanese were likely to attack at Lunga Ridge. However, Vandegrift believed the attack would come from another area and would not approve the placement of Marines along the ridge. Thomas finally convinced him it would be a good place for Edson’s Raiders to rest, thus plugging a significant gap in the line.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

On the night of September 12, 1942, after trudging through Guadalcanal’s thick jungles, Japanese troops, preceded by an artillery barrage, emerged from the jungle and engaged the Marines on the ridge. However, the Japanese attack was somewhat premature as many other units had failed to reach their jump-off points for the attack.

After some skirmishing and an attack that drove the Marines back, most of the Japanese withdrew to regroup for an attack the next night.

Edson’s men made what preparations they could to improve their defenses.

Unbeknownst to them, they were outnumbered by over three to one.

That afternoon, as darkness approached, Edson stepped up onto a grenade box to address his men:

You men have done a great job so far, but I have one more thing to ask of you. We have to hold out just one more night. I know we have been without sleep a long time, but I expect another attack and I believe they will come through here. If we hold, I have every reason to believe we will be relieved in the morning.

Just after dark on Sept. 13, the Japanese surged out of the jungle into the Marine positions on Lunga Ridge.

A Japanese attack on the right flank dislodged the Marine Raiders of Company B from their hilltop position.

Almost simultaneously, another Japanese assault drove back the Marines of Company B, 1st Parachute Battalion. In the face of the Japanese onslaught, Edson ordered the two companies to fall back towards his command post on Hill 123 in the center of the ridge.

A third Japanese assault slammed into the Marines of C Company, 1st Parachute Battalion, which sent them reeling. With three companies in the midst of falling back, confusion and fear began to take hold. The situation was heading towards a rout for the Marines when Edson appeared with several officers from his staff and, with forceful language and spirit, turned the Marines around to face the Japanese.

Meanwhile, the remaining Raider companies were desperately holding the line against the Japanese.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Lieutenant Colonel Edson (front row, second from left) poses for a group photo with other Marine officers on Tulagi shortly after the battle in August, 1942.

Over 2,500 Japanese were facing just over 800 Marines. Wave after wave came on.

Edson sent the reinvigorated Paramarines against the exposed left flank with fixed bayonets. They caught the surging Japanese by surprise just as they were preparing to roll up the Marines’ flank and drove them off the hill.

Still, the Japanese attacks continued.

Marine artillery fire pummeled the area in front of the Marines’ positions, inflicting heavy casualties on the Japanese.

Those that survived were met with heavy fire from the Marine defenders on the ridge. When this was not enough, the Marines fought off their attackers in hand-to-hand combat in the pitch-black night.

As each successive wave was mowed down, another formed to take its place.

Eventually, the beleaguered Raiders and Paramarines were joined by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who helped to repulse the final two Japanese assaults before dawn.

The final Japanese positions on Lunga Ridge were destroyed by U.S. Army Air Corps AiraCobras early that morning. What remained of the Japanese assault force retreated into the jungle and away from Lunga Ridge.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The terrific fighting on Lunga Ridge came to be known to many as the Battle of Bloody Ridge. But for the Raiders and Paramarines that fought there, it was known as Edson’s Ridge.

Throughout the battle, Edson was never more than a few meters from the front lines. And, according to the account of one Marine officer, he boldly stood in his position while most of them hugged the ground. Edson was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership during the battle.

The tenacity of the Marines in holding their position saved Henderson Field and, with it, the American effort on Guadalcanal. Had the Japanese broken through, it is likely they could have driven the Marines from the island. The Japanese losses in the battle were difficult to replace.

The result of the battle likely had a large impact on the overall Japanese strategy in the Pacific, as resources were diverted to Guadalcanal that were needed elsewhere. And for the Americans, it was the closest they came to losing their toehold in the Pacific.

MIGHTY HISTORY

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Before he was a U.S. senator, and later a presidential candidate, John McCain was a naval aviator over the skies of Vietnam. But the 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy is probably known less for his flying skills and more for what he did on the ground, as a prisoner of war for more than five years.


“I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison,” McCain wrote in a post on Quora, in response to the question of what it was like to be a P.O.W.

When he was shot down, McCain was on his 23rd mission: A bombing run over Hanoi. “A Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up — the sky was full of them — and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber,” he recalled in U.S. News World Report.

 

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
John McCain being captured in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With his jet traveling at roughly 575 mph, he was able to eject. But when he landed in enemy territory, he had broken his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right leg near the knee. He was captured soon after, and taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, better known by its prisoners as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

In his Quora post and in his book “Faith of my Fathers,” he recounted his poor treatment and very limited contact with the outside world. But there were two big things McCain learned:

“I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough,” he wrote. “And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How WWII soldiers used their downtime to make spectacular trench art

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has launched a fascinating new exhibition about the arts and crafts soldiers created during World War II, often using castoff war materiel to create beautiful objects treasured for generations.

SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II is on display now through Jan. 2, 2022, in the museum’s Senator John Alario Jr. Special Exhibition Hall, giving visitors a chance to plan a safe trip after we’ve all had a chance at getting a COVID-19 vaccination.Advertisement

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Soldier Artist: Trench Art in World War II (National World War II Museum)

The museum opened in 1991, and curators have spent much of the last two decades systematically collecting the more than 150 pieces featured in the show. Most were donated by the original artists or their families.

Time can move slowly between battles, and soldiers have been occupying themselves with creative projects since the beginning of warfare. Trench art came to describe the handiwork during World War I, and the term has survived even though soldiers had far more tools and opportunities during World War II.

The museum has shared some photos from the exhibit, but you’ll have to visit to see the entire collection up close.Advertisement

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Portable machine shops expanded the tools available for World War II trench artists. (National World War II Museum)

The United States managed to get an enormous amount of support gear into the fields, and soldiers suddenly had access to portable machine shops in almost all theaters of war. More powerful tools led to far more elaborate art.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
This knife’s rotted leather washers were replaced with Plexiglas washers in the field. (National World War II Museum)

Plexiglas was a revolutionary new material that transformed design, repair and maintenance during the era. Here’s an example of a knife repaired with Plexiglas washers. Most American military knives of the era were created with stacked leather washers. Take those to the South Pacific’s heat and humidity, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for handle rot.

This handle features green Plexiglas salvaged from tinted portions of aircraft canopies and red Plexiglas from marker lights.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
This P-38 sculpture made from bullet casings is also an ashtray. (National World War II Museum)

Spent bullets and shell casings were plentiful and sturdy, so these leftovers became a popular medium for trench artists. The P-38 Lightning featured twin booms that lent themselves to bullet art. Abstract representations such as this one are immediately identifiable as the American plane.

Something else that soldiers did with their downtime was enjoy the free cigarettes sent by U.S. tobacco companies, and these sculptures are designed to be used as ashtrays.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
This vase was made from a 105mm shell casing. (National World War II Museum)

Vases made from shell casings were particularly popular during World War I, and the practice continued into World War II. This vase was created in 1943 from a 105mm shell casing.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
This violin was made from wood scraps by an American held in a German POW camp. (National World War II Museum)

This incredibly ambitious project was undertaken by POW 1st Lt. Clair Cline, 448th Bombardment Group, 714th Bombardment Squadron, while he was imprisoned in Germany’s Stalag Luft I during 1944. Cline had serious woodworking skill and created this violin with makeshift tools such as broken glass and table knives.

He scavenged wood bed slats, table legs and aid cartons for materials and put the whole thing together with glue scraped from the bottom of German mess-hall tables. He finished the instrument in time to perform a short Christmas concert for his barracks.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
This swagger stick was made for an American by the German POWs he supervised. (National World War II Museum)

Technician 3rd Grade John D. Sweitzer of the 551st Ordnance Heavy Maintenance Company oversaw a detail of German POWs at the 6960th Ordnance Depot at war’s end. The Germans thought Sweitzer needed to look more like a man in charge, so they made this elaborate swagger stick and gifted it to him.

Sweitzer, who obviously inspired respect even from enemy troops, kept the piece and later donated it to the museum.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
There are over 150 pieces on exhibit in the SOLDIER | ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II exhibit. (National World War II Museum)

The rest of the exhibit includes frames, cigarette cases, airplane models and even a vessel for communion wafers. If you’re looking for insight into what troops did before video games and social media, you’ve got almost a year to visit New Orleans and see for yourself.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a hovering Apache

The Apache helicopter was a maligned weapon system in early 1991 as low readiness rates, and worse than expected performance in small conflicts made people wonder if the aircraft’s huge costs were worth it. But the system excelled in the tough environment of the Persian Gulf War, chewing up Iraqi armor, bunkers, and ground troops.


In fact, one Apache crew even accepted the surrender of an Iraqi officer and his driver after the men decided they couldn’t escape the helicopter in their vehicle.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

Soldiers receive an escort from AH-64 Apache helicopters in 2004.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Kimberly Snow)

Warrant Officer John Ely was one of the pilots on the attack helicopter, and he would later describe the Iraqis’ actions as a seemingly obvious decision. Ely had been part of a team hunting targets in the desert, and they had already erased a few enemy positions.

Ely had his eye on a Toyota when the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle and hopped out. He opened the door for “a fat Iraqi officer” who exited the vehicle with his hands up and a briefcase raised.

Now, even with the man attempting to surrender, this was a tricky situation. Typically, surrenders are given to “maneuver” forces like infantry or cavalry on the ground, but engineers, artillery, and plenty of other ground troops are quite capable of accepting an enemy surrender.

But Apache crews have a severe weakness in this area. While the helicopter’s lethality is a great reason for enemy troops to throw their hands in the air, how does a four-man team in two helicopters; a common battlefield deployment for the attack helicopters, take custody of prisoners?

How do they search them for intel and weapons? How do they transport them back to a base? Apaches have good armor and redundant systems, but they’re vulnerable if they land. And they have no real passenger space even if they landed.

But as reported in the Chicago Tribune in 1991, Ely figured out a solution.

Look, [if you`re an Iraqi and] you see a guy in this machine hovering 200 feet in front of you, with a gun turret that moves with the nodding and turn of my head . . . I point south, they move south. They`ve just seen their buddies blown away. What would you do?
Enemy Surrenders to Apache

www.military.com

So, yeah, Ely just sent the dudes to some friendly forces so someone on the ground could search and secure them. In a similar situation, Apaches flying with OH-58s had a comparable experience on the “Highway of Death” where Iraqi tank crews surrendered as soon as they saw the helicopters coming in for an attack.

Another event took place in Iraq after Apaches took out artillery positions. The insurgents manning the weapons went to the middle of the field and held their hands up while the Apaches took out the large weapons, and then ground troops moved in to take possession of the prisoners.

But, tragically, that’s not always an option. The 227th Aviation Regiment’s 1st Battalion saw those flags of surrender from Iraqi tankers on the Highway of Death and didn’t engage them, allowing U.S. ground troops to accept the Iraqi surrender in 1991. But in 2007, two Iraqi men jumped out of their truck and attempted to surrender to a 1-227th Apache crew.

The crew held off on attacking, but wasn’t sure what to do. The Iraqis had been firing mortars from the truck, so the unit asked an undisclosed military lawyer for a legal review. His advice was that the Apache crew could not effectively receive the surrender, and so the mortar crew was still a legal target. (This advice has proved controversial since then.)

Meanwhile, the mortar crew jumped back into the truck and drove off with its mortar tube. So it was no longer clear whether they still wanted to surrender. The Apaches re-engaged, but failed to destroy the truck in the next attack. The men abandoned the truck and took shelter in a nearby shack, and the Apaches killed them there with a 30mm gun run.

So, if you ever find yourself trying to surrender to an Apache crew, maybe look around and see if you can find some ground troops to surrender to instead.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the drill book America used before the ‘Blue Book’

Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War re-enactors.

(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)

See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?

Of course. The most recent drill guide for colonial militia before 1778 came from Great Britain, The Manual Exercise as Ordered by His Majesty in 1764. The bulk of this focused on how enlisted soldiers should stand, march, and use their weapons for orderly combat.

Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.

A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.

Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.

(Note: While the 2006 PDF is based on the 1764 manual, only Section 1 was in the original manual. If you decide to read it, understand that sections 2-8 were written in the modern day for use by re-enactors in the Tenth Regiment.)

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.

(U.S. Army)

But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.

In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.

At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.

(U.S. Army)

But the techniques in these books weren’t widely used, known, and understood when the American Revolution started, and they were far from comprehensive. Baron von Steuben’s Blue Book addressed a lot of things missing from the older guides.

For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.

It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.

It remained the training guide for U.S. troops until 1812, and soldiers are still quizzed on some details of the manual today during soldier and promotion boards.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Remembering Hiroshima & Nagasaki: Four little known facts

On Aug. 4, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay approved Operation Centerboard I, a decision that ultimately forced the Japanese to surrender and forever changed the world. Two days after his approval, pilots boarded the Enola Gay, the callsign for their B-29 bomber, and lifted off from the Pacific island of Tinian en route for Hiroshima.

At 8:15 a.m., the lone plane in the sky carrying the 9,000-pound uranium-enriched atomic bomb — known as “Little Boy” — released from the bomb bay and floated by parachute, detonating the equivalent of 12,000 to 15,000 tons of TNT over the populated city.

“It was very much as if you’ve ever sat on an ash can and had somebody hit it with a baseball bat,” recalled Navigator Theodore Van Kirk, as he described the shockwave. Life that existed before was annihilated, and 70,000 of the 76,000 total buildings were destroyed — 48,000 blown into non-existence. The explosion immediately killed an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 people, and the nuclear fallout in the following years is believed to have killed some 200,000 more people as a result of severe burns, trauma, radiation exposure, and cancer.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The Bockscar and its crew, who dropped a Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A day later, after no sign of surrender from the Japanese, the decision was made to use the second atomic bomb — “Fat Man.” The target was originally not the city of Nagasaki, but that of Kokura, the location of Japan’s largest munitions depot. On Aug. 9, 1945, bad weather and thick clouds forced the pilots to deviate and travel to their secondary target, where citizens of Nagasaki experienced the same hell that occurred three days prior.

“Suddenly, the light of a thousand suns illuminated the cockpit,” remembered “Bockscar” co-pilot Fred Olivi. “Even with my dark welder’s goggles, I winced and shut my eyes for a couple of seconds. I guessed we were about seven miles from ‘ground zero’ and headed directly away from the target, yet the light blinded me for an instant.”

After the plume of the second explosion cleared the skies and the Japanese surrender ended World War II, the world questioned how anyone could ever recover after two cities were turned into ash. On the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Coffee or Die looks back at the lesser known aspects of the cataclysmic event that destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and forever changed the world.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

A group of physicists at the 1946 Los Alamos colloquium on the Super. In the front row are Norris Bradbury, John Manley, Enrico Fermi, and J.M.B. Kellogg. Behind Manley is Oppenheimer (wearing jacket and tie), and Richard Feynman to his left. The Army colonel on the far left is Oliver Haywood. In the third row between Haywood and Oppenheimer is Edward Teller. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“The Cry Baby Scientist”

Robert Oppenheimer, the man known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb,” had months of preparation and test results to predict the impact of dropping a nuclear bomb over a populated city as he and his team developed the two atomic bombs that were used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the physicist, along with 155 scientists chosen to work under the top-secret program famously known as “The Manhattan Project,” had second thoughts. They signed a petition that opposed using nuclear weapons in a military capacity.

When Oppenheimer met with President Harry Truman in his Oval Office in October 1945, months after pondering the destruction of his own creation, he told him, “Mr. President, I feel like I have blood on my hands.” Truman’s face scrunched and his anger grew to a fury as he told Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “I never want to see that son of a bitch in my office again.”

As Truman recounted the story, the blame equally shared by the two of them, he often referred to Oppenheimer as “the cry baby scientist.”

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

A watch recovered from Hiroshima, stopped at 8:15 a.m., the moment of the bombing. Photo courtesy of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

Censorship In The Press

The biggest news story of the century was censored. In fact, much of the information during World War II was censored. However, the prime focus concerning the nuclear explosions over Japan was the suppression of evidence regarding radiation or radioactivity. Journalists were silenced, access to medical reports were limited, and American officials confiscated materials collected from Japanese inspectors during the immediate fallout. Gen. Douglas MacArthur issued a press code that permitted the publication of photographs and print in relation to the bombings, and it remained in effect until 1952.

The purpose of the censorship was that the military didn’t want the atomic weapon to be associated with chemical warfare. Nonetheless, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett avoided the censors when he sent his report to London using Morse code. Burchett was the first foreign journalist to visit Hiroshima after the bombings. The London Daily Express published his story on Sept. 5, 1945, with the headline “The Atomic Plague.”

“Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city,” Burchett wrote. “It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston with the Fat Man plutonium core on Tinian in 1945. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Eyewitness Accounts & Survival

American physicist Lawrence H. Johnston, one of the scientists to work under the helm of the Manhattan Project, was the only eyewitness of all three atomic explosions (the other was the Trinity test). While Johnston viewed the extraordinary violent detonations from a distance, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a 29-year-old Japanese naval engineer experienced both blasts in person.

Walking on his morning commute to work, Yamaguchi stopped and looked toward the sky. He heard the roar from the B-29’s engines, then watched a bomb deploy a parachute. The sky flashed the brightest light he had ever seen as he dove into a ditch before the shockwave engulfed his entire being. The eruption was so violent that it spun up tornado-like winds that hurled his body into a nearby potato patch.

After somewhat recovering his wits, he spent the night in an air raid shelter, and the following day he went to the train station. The bridges ceased to exist, and en route he had to cross a river pass and swam through a cluster of floating dead bodies. As he boarded the train amongst several other burned survivors, he traveled overnight to his hometown of Nagasaki.

On Aug. 8, he recuperated in the hospital and embraced his wife and child who hardly recognized him. The next day he returned to work to inform his bosses of what had occurred at Hiroshima. After escaping one atomic bomb, the second was even more devastating.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima,” he told the The Independent. Somehow, for the second time, he survived the blast, but the radiation in multiplied doses had lingering effects that caused his hair to fall out and relentless bouts of vomiting. Surprisingly, he lived until he was 93 years old and died of stomach cancer in 2010.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

The Atom Bowl teams were each captained by a Heisman Trophy winner and an NFL running back who served with the 2nd Marine Division during World War II. Photo courtesy of War History Online.

The Atom Bowl

While citizens of Japan weren’t fully aware of the effects of radiation and what impact it had on the body until later in life, US soldiers didn’t fully understand it either. On New Year’s Day 1946, Chicago Bears standout Bill “Bullet” Osmanski stepped onto another gridiron that looked more like a scene from the movie Mad Max than a packed football stadium filled with screaming fans. Osmanski and other Marines from the 2nd Marine Division fielded one team and squared off against Lt. Angelo Bertelli, a Heisman Trophy winner and former Notre Dame quarterback. The ceremonial football game became known as “The Atom Bowl,” and it was held in the nuclear wasteland a few miles from “ground zero” in Nagasaki.

More than 2,000 Devil Dogs took to the bleachers at the “Atomic Athletic Field No. 2” to watch Osmanski’s “Isahaya Tigers” defeat Bertelli’s “Nagasaki Bears” 14-13. The halftime festivities included music by the Marine Corps band and “Japanese girl cheerleaders.” The rules were altered for safety, including banning tackle football in favor of two-hand touch because of the shattered glass and small debris on the field. The world’s first and only football game to take place in the rubble of an atomic bomb crater was played by a bunch of Marines trying to boost their spirits before they went home.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why WWI was once called ‘The War to End All Wars’

Hindsight is a cruel mistress. After Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, nearly every corner of the globe was drawn into a conflict — and the enormous loss of life that ensued was tragic. There were so many participants in the brawl that you couldn’t just name the war after its location or its combatants — after all, the “French-British-German-Austrian-Hungarian-Russian-American-Ottoman-Bulgarian-Serbian War” doesn’t really roll off the tongue (nor is it a complete list). So, the people of the time called it, simply, “The Great War.”

In some rare instances, the war was referred to as the “First World War,” even before the advent of the second. Ernst Haeckel, a columnist for the Indianapolis Star, called it that because it escalated beyond the scope of a “European War” — it was truly international.

Others, however, took a more optimistic approach by calling it, “The War to End All Wars.” As history has shown, this was certainly not the case — but some plucky, upbeat civilians genuinely believed it would be rainbows and sunshine after the dust from the global conflict settled.


How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

You wouldn’t think the guy that wrote about aliens destroying humanity would be such an optimist…

(Illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds.’)

English author H.G. Wells — the genius behind The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds — wrote in an articles to local newspapers that this global struggle, this Great War, would be “The War That Will End Wars” as we know them (full versions of his articles were later transcribed into a book entitled The War That Will End War).

In his articles, Wells argued that the Central Powers were entirely to blame for the war and that it was German militarism that sparked everything. He believed that once the Germans were defeated, the world would have no reason to fight ever again.

We know today that these statements were far from true, but for the people who were living in constant fear mere miles away from the front line, it was the optimism that they needed to keep going. By 1918, the term “The War to End All Wars” had spread all across Europe like a catchphrase and was synonymous with hope for a better future.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

He was a eloquent speech writer, but he was a few years too late to come up with the phrase.

(National Archives)

Despite the fact that the phrase had been used in Europe for years, it’s most often attributed to President Woodrow Wilson. This is particularly strange because the President only once used the term — and never did so in any congressional address. Wilson did once refer to the end of the war as the “final triumph of justice,” but he seldom used the phrase for which he later became known.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War

If there was a single human being who knew war best, it was, without a shadow of a doubt, General of the Armies Eisenhower.

(National Archives)

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor and British statesman, was a loud opponent to the phrase. Mockingly, he said that The Great “War, like the next war, is a war to end war” — and, of course, he was right. To the shock of absolutely nobody, conflicts persisted around the world after the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

Wells, who originally coined the phrase, later backtracked on his statements, insisting that he, too, was being ironic. He joined in with everyone else in making fun of his statements — and later claimed it was the “war that could end war.”

In 1950, General Dwight D. Eisenhower put it plainly and finally.

“No one has yet explained how war prevents war. Nor has anyone been able to explain away the fact that war begets conditions that beget further war.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a single frat-house tourniquet helped the Soviets kill American spies

A bizarrely ironic tale came to light recently in the wake of the publication of an opinion piece written by Doctors Frank K. Butler and John B. Holcomb in the Wall Street Journal on December 20th, 2020. The original opinion piece by Butler and Holcomb (full disclosure: Butler is the father of this author) makes the case for increased tourniquet use in the civilian — i.e., EMS, police, and fire — sector, based on the number of lives tourniquets have saved among U.S. service members in multiple war zones over the past 20 years.

It is a no-brainer for most modern-day EMTs, paramedics, police officers, and firefighters that tourniquets are essential and save lives when applied to life-threatening extremity hemorrhage (arterial bleeding from the arms and legs) to stop the bleeding. However, that fact does not mean that all EMS, police, and fire services field tourniquets widely within their trauma load-outs. Hence, the need for the WSJ opinion piece.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
A tactical operator, part of the Illinois Special Weapons and Tactics team, applies a tourniquet to a mannequin. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Kristina Forst) 

A number of readers responded to the piece, in writing, one of which was published on December 27th in the “Letters” portion of the Opinion section of the paper. That letter is what revealed the hitherto unknown (at least to me) story of the time a tourniquet saved one life and condemned ten times that number to execution. 

The Journal titled the letter “Sometimes the Tourniquet Works All Too Well,” and boy is that an understatement given the details of the story. The letter’s author is Gerald Holmquist, writing from Roseville, CA. He recounts how his fraternity at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s was in need of money and thus occasionally took in boarders at its frat house. He notes that the house was more focused on physics than parties. One such boarder — in 1962 — was a young 20 year-old university student named Rick whom Holmquist describes as a “seldom-bathed alcoholic,” and whom they wanted to boot out soon after he moved in.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
A young “Rick” Ames a few years prior to meeting Holmquist. (WikiMedia Commons)

Holmquist then describes how one night they found a reason to get rid of the malodorous inebriate, as Rick severed an artery while launching his arm through one of the house’s glass windows. Holmquist found Rick laying in a pool of blood, bleeding out, and says that his Boy Scout training kicked in, he put direct pressure on the wound, and then placed a tourniquet on it. Holmquist even went so far as to write the time of tourniquet application in marker on Rick’s forehead. (Well done, sir.)

Holmquist and his fellow frat brothers then managed to get Rick to a local emergency room, and the next day he had packed his stuff, returned his key, and moved out of the frat house. According to Holmquist, they all forgot about him until roughly 30 years later, when Rick was arrested — in 1994 — for committing espionage against the United States in the waning days of the Cold War.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Aldrich Ames is arrested outside his home in Virginia (Image courtesy of the FBI)

Related: THE WWII SPY ROOTS OF THE PHRASE ‘SECRET SQUIRREL’

The boozy and fetid boarder, and former University of Chicago student, turned out to be none other than Rick Ames. When he was exposed as a spy for the Russians inside the CIA, where his father had gotten him a job soon after he left the University of Chicago, Rick became world-famous by his full name, Aldrich Ames.

Ames started spying for the Russians in 1985 and soon afterward, provided to them the names of ten top-level CIA and FBI Soviet sources (Russians spying for the United States). The Russians quickly wrapped up the sources, crushing American intelligence networks on the Soviets, and killing a number of the Russian spies. Ames would go on to expose roughly one hundred Russian agents (assets) spying for America over approximately eight years.

How Ben Franklin helped establish the Post Office to win the Revolutionary War
Aldrich “Rick” Ames’ mug shot. (FBI)

In all, Aldrich Ames was paid nearly $5 Million for spying on his own country, and the intelligence information he provided to the Russians led directly to the deaths of at least ten Russians working on behalf of America.

As you can see, Holmquist probably regrets that a tourniquet worked so well on Rick Ames. Had he let Ames bleed out, ten more men might have escaped execution at the hands of the Soviet Union, and America might not have suffered such a severe blow to its intelligence operations against the USSR. Ironic, indeed. 

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

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