Fun fact: Inauguration wasn’t always on January 20. Once upon a time (ha!) it was scheduled for March in order to give everyone time to make the journey to the event, since winter can put a damper on horse/buggy travel. This isn’t the only thing that may make you pause. Throughout our nation’s history of inaugurating presidents, some pretty interesting things have occurred on that new president’s special day. Here are 10 of the most bizarre moments:
Short and sweet
We couldn’t start this countdown without putting our very first president and founding father at the top of the list. When President George Washington raised his hand at his second inauguration on March 4, 1793, he must have been tired. Expected, since he had just spent those years prior fighting and then leading our new nation. When he turned to address the attendees who came to see him sworn in, his speech was only 135 words in length. Another fun fact is that for his first presidency, he reportedly had to borrow money to be able to travel. His first inauguration is also the only time a president has had two swearing-ins.
2. Lucky talismans
According to history, President Theodore Roosevelt was a super fan of President Abraham Lincoln. So much so, that he wore a piece of jewelry to his inauguration that held a lock of his hair. We don’t know whether to applaud his dedication or say something many of us are probably thinking: ew. Reports indicate he may have paid upwards of $100 for hairs to be removed from the president’s head during his autopsy and mounted one in a ring. Now, there are other reports that he simply wore a piece of President Lincoln’s jewelry but we think the hair rumor is better.
President Ulysses S. Grant thought birds would be a nice touch for his inauguration. Sadly, the weather didn’t corporate and it was so cold upwards of 100 of the birds they’d planned to release quite literally froze. Oops.
4. It’s lonely at the top
When President John Adams took the Oath of Office, he did it alone. Well, there were people. But history and several biographies have revealed that none of his family members were able to attend. It would take a long time before spouses of any presidents attended the ceremony. In 1809, Dolly Madison was the first to do so. The spouses themselves didn’t take part in anything either, until Lady Bird Johnson held the Bible that her husband took his oath on in 1965.
5. Whiskey lullaby
Vice President Andrew Johnson was drunk at his swearing in on inauguration day. He slurred his way through the whole thing! To be fair, reports state that he was very ill with typhoid fever and had used the whiskey to numb the pain. Poor guy!
6. Roped in
When President Eisenhower was sworn in, he did a lot of things differently. Like reciting a different prayer after the swearing in instead of kissing the Bible. But what he did after that definitely broke tradition! After getting permission from the Secret Service, he had a trick roper lasso him. Like, literally snag him with rope while on horseback. Interesting times.
7. Putting in the miles
President Jimmy Carter often said he wanted to be the “people’s president”. One way he showed this with action is by walking ahead of his inauguration parade. Not since Thomas Jefferson did it in 1803 had it been done by a president. He would start a trend, with many presidents walking at least part of the way.
8. It’s a party
After the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, he led the celebration back to the White House. Completely terrible idea! The party goers basically trashed the place and rumor has it that the president had to escape everything through a window. Maybe setting up “washtubs” filled with whiskey was a bad idea.
9. Pants party
President John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear pants to his inauguration. Really. To be fair, the tradition prior to this was “knee breeches” or shorts that went to the knee. He broke this and went rouge.
And the final bizarre or weird fact/moment from inaugurations past… drum-roll, please! This may be the very worst of them all, especially for all of you animal lovers! Before Watergate, there was pigeon-gate. No, really! President Nixon didn’t want his inauguration marred by what he reportedly thought were annoying pigeons. He spent around $13,000 to treat the trees with a chemical that would deter the pigeons from perching on the branches. Unfortunately, the inaugural committee didn’t plan on the pigeons eating it. Instead of a few troublesome pigeons, his inauguration was marred by dead and dying ones.
Deep in the Nevada desert — approximately 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas — sits a small town where the human population on a non-work day is zero. But this town wasn’t made for real people to inhabit. Rather, it was specially built just to test atomic blasts that would consume the area with its crushing power and unbelievable heat.
In the 1950s, nuclear testing began at the Nevada National Security Site as technicians mounted the Apple-2 bomb on top of a detonation tower.
The tower stood 1,500 feet above ground level so that when the colossal explosion occurred, the fireball blast wouldn’t effect or damage the monitoring equipment.
The testing facilities’ employees manufactured and assembled shops, gas stations, and homes made of brick and wood — dubbing these areas “Doom Towns.”
Inside these buildings, the workers staged the interiors with full-size mannequin families wearing various types clothing to witness how the different fabrics would hold up during the energy bursts and extreme heat. After denotation, the homes that were within 6,000 feet from ground zero lost rooftops, suffered broken windows and the several coats of paint blistered and scraped off in a matter of a few moments.
By contrast, the homes that were located near the initial blast zone were completely incinerated and their ashes sailed into the wind.
In perhaps one of the oddest British strategies against Nazi Germany, British troops launched almost 100,000 hydrogen-filled latex balloons into Nazi-controlled territory to set fires and short out power wires as part of Operation Outward.
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members recover a kite balloon.
(Royal Air Force)
Operation Outward was the result of an accident. Barrage and observation balloons in World War I got more coverage than in World War II, but the floating sacks of hydrogen were widely used in both conflicts. You can actually spot them in some of the more famous D-Day photos from later in the day or over the days and weeks that followed.
(The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion was the only Black combat unit that came ashore on D-Day, though plenty of Black logistic and engineer units were there on June 6.)
But when it happened in the Scandinavian countries in 1940, the Brits were all, “Wait, what’s bad for the goose is bad for the gander, so let’s apologize to Scandinavia but then do the same thing, on purpose, to Hitler’s Third Reich. Screw those guys.”
The British relied on a couple infrastructure advantages for this plan. Britain’s electrical grid was more developed, and therefore more susceptible to disruption, but it also featured faster circuit breakers. This meant that Britain’s grid, if hit with balloons trailing wires, would suffer relatively little damage. Germany’s, with slower breakers, had a real risk of losing entire sections of the grid or even power plants to balloon disruptions.
So, even if it led to a balloon trading war, Britain could expect to hold the upper hand. And so weather balloons were filled with hydrogen, fitted with either spools of wire or incendiary devices, and floated over the channel into Germany.
An “incendiary sock” like those used to burn German towns.
(UK National Archives)
The wires were relatively thin. Experimentation showed the designers that they didn’t need the thick steel of normal tethers to short lines, cause electrical arcs, and damage German power distribution. The electrical arcs were the real killer, draining power from the grid, overworking the components of the power generation, and weakening the transmission lines so they would later break in high winds.
Both types were made to fly over the channel at a little over 20,000 feet, then descend to 1,000 feet and do their work. They needed winds of about 10 mph or more to be as effective as possible.
And they worked, well. The idea wasn’t to cripple Germany in a single blow, but to cost them more in economic damage and defensive requirements than it cost Britain to deploy them. And, thanks to the low-cost materials Britain used, Britain only had to pay around the U.S.equivalent of .50 per balloon. Shooting a balloon down could cost much more than that in ammo, and that was if it was shot down by air defenders. If fighters had to launch, the fuel and maintenance would be astronomical.
Assessments found during and after the war painted a picture of constant disruption on the German side. In occupied France, there were 4,946 power interruptions during the program, most of them caused by the balloons. In 11 months from early 1942 to early 1943, Germany had 520 major disruptions of high-voltage lines.
And at a cost of .50 a balloon plus the wages of balloon launchers, mostly members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service, the more than 99,000 balloons launched were a hell of a deal.
December 1969 was not a very merry Christmastime for many American families. The war in Vietnam was ramping up and the draft lottery was held for the first time. 366 blue capsules were drawn, each containing a day of the year. Each calendar date was assigned a number based on draw order. The lower the draft number, the higher the possibility was of being drafted.
Conscription in the United States was a common practice, especially during wartime. It had been a part of American life since the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1975 that the draft disappeared and the U.S. military turned into an all-volunteer force.
Mathematicians and statisticians challenged the legality of the process, as it did not produce a truly random result. As the Times’ article points out, hundreds of thousands of men were already preparing for service in Vietnam.
The Nixon White House and the Selective Service System claimed they made a great effort to produce a random result, one that was as fair as possible. Pentagon experts, at the time, estimated that anyone with a number over 200 was unlikely to get drafted.
Experts said the resulting monthly average number could have been predicted if the capsules containing the dates early in the months were on the bottom and the later days were at the top and the capsules were not adequately mixed — which is exactly what happened.
David Stodolosky, the aforementioned Ph.D. student, is the one who filed a suit against Selective Service, based on the findings that the drawing wasn’t truly random. His lawyers argued that President Nixon’s orders called for a random draft and that wasn’t what they got.
His argument was that later birthdates were drawn much earlier than others and, thus, were more likely to be drafted for wartime service.
The student tried to get an injunction against the government pressing men into service until the draft lottery process was truly randomized — a task as simple as attaching numbers to dates using a random number table and then sorting them.
The SMS Emden was supposed to be a nice ship, but not all that crazy important in war. It was a light cruiser, a utilitarian ship type that is quick, capable, but not all that robust or rugged. These ships are typically designed for low-level conflict or serve as a guard or screening force for larger ships like battleships or, later, carriers.
But the Emden would steam into Allied controlled waters in early 1914, attacking literally dozens of enemy ships and counting on its speed and a little trickery to let it hit and then withdraw in a series of daring raids.
It all started in 1913 when the young SMS Emden received a new commander, Korvettenkapitän Karl von Muller (Korvettenkapitän is roughly equivalent to America’s lieutenant commander rank). Von Muller was the son of a German army officer, and he had risen to his rank by performing well in front of Germany’s elite, including the German emperor’s brother.
One of von Muller’s distinguishing traits was a sort of cunning shrewdness, something that would serve him well on the Emden. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria quickly dragged the major European powers toward war, and von Muller ordered the Emden to sea to prevent its capture in the largely British and Japanese-controlled Pacific islands where the ship was based.
This proved prescient as raiders quickly came for the German fleet. The Emden reported to a rallying point where most of the German navy would meet up to head east to South America, around Cape Horn, and on to Germany. On his way to the rally, von Muller captured the Russian ship Ryazan. When Emden reached the German fleet with its prize, von Muller had a proposal for the admiral.
The SMS Emden was a short-lived but still amazingly successful light cruiser that saw glory in World War I.
Light cruisers lacked the armor or heavier guns common on heavy cruisers or larger ships, but they were still more than a match for destroyers and merchant vessels. And the Emden had torpedo tubes that would allow it to tackle even heavier combatants if it could get the jump on them.
Despite the risk of losing the Emden, a modern and valuable cruiser even if it was light, the admiral agreed to the plan. So von Muller led his crew of about 360 men into the Indian Ocean.
The Emden would need some sort of edge to survive. It was fast, so it could close with enemies quickly, partially negating any range advantages that heavier combatants would have against it. But it would still be vulnerable for crucial seconds or minutes while closing with an enemy.
So von Muller turned to subterfuge. Most British ships had two or four smokestacks, and the Emden would be one of the only ships in the area with three smokestacks. So, von Muller had a fourth, fake smokestack installed on the Emden, making it look a lot like the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth.
This might seem like a minor ploy, good for a few minutes of distraction at best, but that momentary hesitation on the part of the enemy gave von Muller and his crew all the time they needed. In just a few days of fighting in September 1914, the Emden captured or destroyed 15 British ships, forcing many merchant vessels to stay in port.
Suddenly, the British ability to resupply vulnerable islands was crippled, and valuable ships would have to be sent to the Indian Ocean to reinforce the naval effort there.
Oil tanks burn in India after an attack by the SMS Emden, a German light cruiser.
(National Library of France)
But the sudden lack of targets at sea did not stop the Emden. The crew simply started going after shore targets like the oil depots at Madras. The Emden fired 125 shells in a short engagement on September 22, busting open many of the Burma Oil Company’s tanks and setting them aflame while also destroying a ship in the harbor.
Between this and earlier attacks, the British decided to cut the number of ships, and potential targets, in the Indian Ocean by 40 percent. This slowed the bleeding of the Royal Navy and merchant vessels but also further slowed the movement of needed war supplies.
But the Emden had taken damage and was running low on supplies by this point, and so it made a risky trip to Diego Garcia where it could attempt to raid needed supplies from the British installations there. But, surprisingly, the Germans found that the locals had no news of the young war when the Emden pulled into harbor, so the German crew simply contracted for repair and supplies without incident.
Freshly resupplied and repaired, the Emden went after British installations at Penang in Malaysia, initiating a short battle there. The primary target was the Russian warship Zhemchung which the Emden hit with torpedoes and cannon fire after approaching under false British colors and with the fake smokestack up.
The Emden sank the Russian vessel and then beat a hasty retreat, but not so hasty that the ship neglected sinking the Mousquet, a French destroyer, while exiting the harbor. This was late October, and the little cruiser had already more than proved its worth in the East, but von Muller wasn’t willing to call it quits.
Other German cruisers had successfully snipped undersea wires in their own raids, and von Muller went after the telegraph wire connecting British troops in South Africa to those in Australia. The wire had a major junction at Direction Island in the Cocos Islands.
The German light cruiser SMS Emden sits beached after a determined attack by the HMAS Sydney.
The Emden’s shore party was working the destruction of the cables and the wireless antenna when the Australian HMAS Sydney arrived to investigate, forcing the Emden to turn and face her. This effectively marooned the shore party on land, but the Emden was in a fight for its life.
The Sydney was also a light cruiser, but it was roughly a quarter larger than the Emden and slightly more modern, and it quickly gained the upper hand in the fight. The Emden was doomed, and von Muller quickly beached it on a reef. The German ship had suffered over 100 hits in about 90 minutes of fighting. It only stopped after von Muller surrendered.
The shore party would slowly, laboriously make its way back to Germany by sailing to Indonesia, then to the Ottoman Empire, then traveled across the desert in a failed overland bid for safety, then ran a British blockade on the Red Sea, then, finally, overland to Constantinople. It was a six-month journey, but 43 men made it back to Germany.
Washington Receiving a Salute on the Field of Trenton (Artist: John Faed/Public Domain)
It’s difficult to imagine how history would have been altered if George Washington had been killed during the Revolutionary War. Without the father of our country leading its fight for freedom, the war might have been lost and America might still be a British colony. In fact, this alternative history might have come true if not for the moral convictions and gentlemanly ethics of a Scottish infantry officer named Patrick Ferguson.
A miniature of Ferguson c. 1774-177 (Artist unknown/Public Domain)
Ferguson was born into nobility in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on May 25, 1744. His father was a senator at the College of Justice and his mother was the sister of Patrick Murray, 5th Lord Elibank. He began his military career early, joining the army at the age of 15. He served with the Royal Scots Greys and fought in the Seven Years’ War before he returned home due to a leg injury. In 1768, he returned to military service, purchasing command of a company in the 70th Regiment of Foot under the Colonelcy of his cousin, Alexander Johnstone. He commanded the company in the West Indies until his leg injury forced him to return home.
Ferguson arrived in Britain in 1772 and participated in light infantry training where he helped develop new tactics for the army. During this time, he also invented the Ferguson breech-loading rifle, arguably the most advanced sharpshooting rifle of its day. His sharp intellect and ingenuity caught the attention of General William Howe, Commander-in-Chief of British land forces in the colonies. Consequently, he was sent to fight in the American War of Independence.
British Army manual for the Ferguson rifle
In 1777, Ferguson arrived in the colonies and was given command of what became known as Ferguson’s Rifle Corps, a unit of 100 riflemen equipped with the new Ferguson rifle. One of their first engagements was the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania on September 11.
Ferguson’s light infantry tactics emphasized small units of well-trained marksmen maneuvering around the battlefield over the doctrinal rank and file style of combat of the day. As such, Ferguson and his rifle corps moved ahead of General Howe’s army as they advanced on Philadelphia. As they maneuvered, Ferguson spotted a prominent American officer alongside another officer in Central European hussar dress; the two officers were conducting a reconnaissance mission on horseback. With their accurate sharpshooting rifles, Ferguson and his men could have easily cut the officers down in a volley of musket fire. However, the officers had their backs turned to the Brits. As a man of honor, Ferguson decided not to fire on the officers who were unaware of his presence.
Later in the battle, Ferguson was shot through his right elbow and taken to a field hospital. There, a surgeon told Ferguson that some American soldiers who were treated there earlier said that General Washington had been in that area earlier in the day. Ferguson wrote in his journal that, even if the officer had been Washington, he did not regret his decision.
Although the identity of the American officer remains uncertain, the man in hussar dress was almost certainly Count Casimir Pulaski, one of the Founding Fathers of U.S. Cavalry (along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy). During the battle, Pulaski conducted reconnaissance missions and even scouted a retreat route for Washington after his army was defeated. If the American officer was indeed Washington, and if Ferguson had decided to take the shot, September 11, 1777, might have been a turning point in American history.
Portrait of Casimir Polaski (Artist: Jan Styka/Public Domain)
Ferguson took a year long hiatus from military service to recover from his wound and returned to battle in 1778. He continued to fight in the American War of Independence until his death during the Battle of King’s Mountain, on the border of North and South Carolina, on October 7, 1780. During the battle, Ferguson was shot from his horse. His foot was caught in the stirrup and he was dragged to the American side where he was approached for his surrender. In response, and as a final act of defiance, he drew a pistol and shot one of the Americans. The Patriots responded by shooting him eight times, stripping his body of clothing, and urinating on him before he was buried in an oxhide near the site of his fall.
While Ferguson’s actions at the Battle of King’s Mountain were less than gentlemanly, his determination to go down fighting embodies the warrior spirit. This is juxtaposed by his moral conviction to hold his fire at the Battle of Brandywine. Whether or not the American officer there was General Washington, Ferguson’s legacy will forever be marked by the shot he didn’t take.
If North Vietnamese bombers were coming to strike a remote CIA radar station and helicopter landing zone filled with Air Force volunteers, there are certain weapon platforms that would be expected to respond. Maybe some fighters or some air defenders on the ground.
But probably no one would expect a couple of CIA operatives in a helicopter to chase down the bombers and shoot one down using an AK-47.
So, guess what happened on Jan. 12, 1968?
The North Vietnamese sent four AN-2 Colt biplanes to bomb Site 85, a radar station in the mountains of Laos used partially as a staging base for rescue and special operations helicopters. The station’s primary role was to guide bombers headed into missions against Hanoi, Vietnam.
On Jan. 12, Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter owned by “Air America,” a CIA front company, to Site 85. When he and his crewman arrived at the site, he saw two of the biplanes circling the station as the other two conducted bombing runs.
Moore began chasing one of the bombers that was actively taking part in the attack. His crewman, Glenn Woods, grabbed an AK-47 and began firing it at the cockpit of the fleeing bomber.
All four of the bombers bugged out, and Moore and Woods kept chasing and firing on the bombers.
After about 20 minutes of chase, the first bomber crashed just inside of the North Vietnam border and a second one crashed into a ridge just a few minutes later. The other two bombers escaped without incident. A CIA ground team later searched the wrecks and found bullet holes in both.
The two Americans were credited with the only plane kill by a helicopter in the war. An artist named Keith Woodcock later painted the scene in “Lima Site 85.”
The remote radar station operated for another two months before a ground assault by North Vietnamese commandos was able to force its way to the summit. The site was overrun in the greatest single ground loss of U.S. airmen in the war.
Since the dawn of humanity, people have been as competitive as hell. We want to be the best. The first. While most of the world has already been explored today, the tallest peaks, darkest caves, and iciest tundras were once undiscovered mysteries, and humans were obsessed with discovering every corner. Before the 1900s, the North Pole was one of those untouched corners. All early attempts failed, upping the allure of the so-called top of the world.
In 1909, that changed. First, US Navy engineer Robert Peary claimed to have reached the pole on April 6th of that year. But shortly after, an American explorer named Frederick Albert Cook declared he had actually reached the pole first, nearly a year prior. So who was right?
The Race for the North Pole Was Cutthroat and Controversial
The North Pole is both barely habitable and intensely difficult to reach. Situated in the moddle of the Arctic Ocean, accessing the pole is impossible without first traversing treacherous, unpredictable sea ice. Every attempt before the 20th century fell flat. William Edward Parry, a British Naval officer, tried but didn’t even get close. An American explorer named Charles Hall tried and failed in 1871. Over two decades later, a pair of Norwegian explorers, Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen and Fridtjof Nansen, got painfully close before having to return home defeated. An Italian explorer got marginally farther before giving up as well.
Then came Peary and Cook. They began as friends, but their differences were pointed. Peary was born in 1856, and he was deadset on achieving fame. His expeditions, like most, relied heavily on the assistance of the locals in each region he explored, but he treated them more like chess pieces than friends. He went as far as to dig up graves to sell to New York’s Museum of Natural History. Cook, born nearly a decade later in 1865, was an ambitious, young doctor with a more modern approach. He was genuinely interest in the lives of indigenous peoples, diving into their culture and learning their languages.
The two traveled together to Greenland once, but Cook turned down a second invitation. Peary wanted him to sign a contract preventing any accounts of the expidition from being published before Peary did it first. Left with a bad taste in his mouth, Cook broke contact with Peary for several years. They were reunited when Peary was lost in the Arctic and Cook was called upon to rescue him. Rescue him he did, treating him for scurvy and several other conditions. On a later expedition to Greenland, Peary badly broke his leg and Cook stepped in once again to treat his injury. Still, the two were very different men. Instead of colleagues, they were competitors.
Peary, one of the last imperialistic explorers, would have died for fame.
In a message to his mother about his longing to conquer the elusive North Pole, he wrote, “My last trip brought my name before the world; my next will give me a standing in the world….I will be foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will….Remember, mother, I must have fame.”
Peary did travel to the Arctic once more, but whether or not he made it all the way to the pole is highly disputed. According to him, he made it to the North Pole on April 6th, 1909, but he straight up refused to share any definitive proof. According to a later review conducted in 1989 by the US National Geographic Society, the photos Peary took suggest that he did make it within eight kilometers of the official North Pole.
Even with this supposed endorsement, the truth of his claims remained controversial. Firstly, no one else on the expedition had the navigational skills to confirm or deny Peary’s reports. They did, however, mention multiple, agonizingly long detours, while Peary claimed to take a direct route. Secondly, even on his own expedition, he may not have been the first to arrive at the pole. He was joined by four Inuit men and his assistant, a black man named Matthew Henson. Henson was a skilled explorer of his own right, adventuring in the Arctic alongside Peary on seven different occasions.
Yet Peary considered himself to be superior to Henson, and was unwilling to share the credit with him. In fact, he intended to abandon Henson to reach the Pole first on his owe. He lost track of the distance, however, and according to Henson, he was livid that five others shared “his” glorious North Pole victory. He later took all the credit, and it wasn’t until Henson published a book in 1947 that he began receiving recognition for his achievements.
Whether they truly made it to the pole or not, their unopposed rule of polar discovery didn’t go unopposed for long.
Cook claimed that he reached the pole nearly a year earlier, but his evidence was unconvincing.
The daring Doctor Cook was just as keen on finding the far north as Peary was. After a Mount Denali expedition that was also shrouded in suspicion, Cook headed straight for the Arctic. He set off from Annoatok, a settlement in Greenland, February, 1908. He claimed to have arrived at the pole on April 21st, yet he didn’t make it back to Annoatok until the next spring, nearly starving along the way.
In total, they were gone for 14 months, and it remains unclear where they ended up. Cook was never able to produce convincing navigational records. According to him, he left the records in a box along with some of his other belongings at Annoatok. There, an American hunter, Harry Whitney, attempted to load the box onto Peary’s ship, the Roosevelt, Peary forbid it. The contents of that box were never seen again.
By December 1909, experts at the University of Copenhagen determined that Cook’s records were insufficient to prove he had reached the pole. Some researchers have noted that Cook’s account of the journey, which he tracked in a diary, describes the landscape with remarkable accuracy. If he didn’t reach the pole, how could he have known what it looked like?
Whoever got there first, both men were intrepid adventurers who paved the way for later, less disputable expeditions.
The true “first man to the North Pole” is nearly impossible to determine, but many have followed in their footsteps. About 60 years later, American Ralph Plaisted, along with three companions, were the first to reach the pole without a shred of controversy…by snowmobile, in 1968! Other adventurers have succeeded as well, by plane, submarine, and on their own two feet. I wonder which murderous wasteland will explorers fight over next.
During World War II, the P-51 Mustang emerged as a superb long-range escort fighter. There was a problem, though. While it had long range, it also only had one pilot, and that pilot could get very tired by the end of a long mission. Sometimes, after flights, the ground crew would need to lift an exhausted, sweat-drenched pilot out of the cockpit — and sweat might not be the only thing the pilot was drenched with.
The Army Air Force had begun to address that need in 1943 as a tool for the Pacific Theater of Operations. They sought a fighter with a crew of two so one pilot could relieve the other when fatigue set in. North American Aviation came up with an interesting idea — use two Mustang fuselages on one wing. That took some serious re-design work.
The North American F-82E Twin Mustang — used as an escort. (USAF photo)
The plan was to have one cockpit with the usual instruments for the pilot. This was to be on the left fuselage. The cockpit for the co-pilot/navigator, on the right fuselage, was to have a more basic set. The six M2 .50-caliber machine guns would be in the center wing that joined the two fuselages. An additional eight guns could be added in a gun pod underneath. Initially tested with the famous Packard Merlin engine, the Twin Mustang was soon equipped with older Allison engines. Later versions were equipped with radars to serve as night fighters.
The plane entered service in 1948; only 273 were built. At the start of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang was thrown into action, where it escorted transports and bombers and carried out a number of other missions. On June 27, 1950, the F-82 scored the first kills for the United States Air Force in that conflict. But the beginning of the Jet Age — and the very short production run — meant the F-82 wasn’t going to stick around.
High-ranking officers often have monikers that accompany them for their military prowess in battle or how they conduct themselves. General “Mad Dog” Mattis was given his by the press after his “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” speech. Colonel “Mad Jack” Churchill got his when the British Expeditionary Force moved in on France and he became the only Brit to score a long bow kill in WWII.
Rarely will a moniker be used for more than one military leader, especially within the same time or military. Even more rare is when they two meet on opposite ends of the battlefield. This is exactly what happened when Maj. Gen. “Fighting Dick” Richardson fought Maj. Gen. “Fightin’ Dick” Anderson for the “Bloody Lane” at Antietam during the Civil War.
Israel B. Richardson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fighting Dick” after his last name. He lead the 1st Division of the II Corps into the Battle of Antietam.
And in the other corner, Richard H. Anderson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and was eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fightin’ Dick” after his first name. He lead the appropriately named “Anderson’s Division,” who were tasked with defending the Sunken Road.
On Sept. 17, 1862, 87,000 Union troops met the 38,000 Confederates near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Richardson’s men charged the road to pierce through the Confederate defenses. For nearly four hours, both sides fought until Union troops finally took the hill. However, Union troops were not able to hold the new ground and were forced back. The battle was declared tactically inconclusive but was a strategic victory for Richardson.
Both “Fighting Dicks” were critically wounded in battle; Anderson was wounded in the thigh and Richardson was struck by a shell fragment. Anderson would recover and continue on fighting into Gettysburg and Appomattox, but Richardson’s wound became infected and he passed of pneumonia nearly a month later.
With what is arguably one of the most badass names in military history, the story of the female aviators nicknamed Nachthexen, or “Night Witches” by German soldiers, tends to fly under a lot of people’s radar (bad pun intended). Flying no-frills wooden planes with ill-fitting uniforms and no parachutes, these Soviet pilots not only faced off against Nazis, but also judgment, doubt, and mistreatment by many of their male counterparts.
From the start of WWII, Russian women were looking for ways to contribute in both support roles at home and in hands-on roles near the front lines. These women had a seasoned advocate in their corner, in the form of Soviet pilot Colonel Marina Raskova.
Raskova, known to many as the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” had already made a name for herself as the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force, with an impressive number of long distance flights already recorded. Once Raskova began receiving letters from women asking how they could help, she used her position within the military to open up new opportunities for them. Her success was helped by the fact that Joseph Stalin personally knew and respected Raskova and her efforts, and in October of 1941, he ordered her to create three female-only air squads. While two of them inevitably became mixed-gendered, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment remained exclusively women for the entirety of its existence.
Around 400 women, ranging in age from 17 to 25, were selected and moved to Engels, where they began training at the Engels School of Aviation. In addition to having to learn years worth of training and information in just a few short months, they also had to deal with misogyny from many of the male soldiers within the Soviet ranks.
Since the women of the 588th were seen by many to be less than, or as “little girls,” they weren’t taken seriously or provided proper equipment. The female pilots were given ill-fitting male uniforms and oversized boots, which they would have to stuff with their own torn up bedding to ensure a better fit. With sexual harassment and ridicule a daily occurrence, these women had to learn quickly how to be stronger both in and outside of battle.
They also weren’t able to equip their planes with things like parachutes due to a lack of funds and strict weight limits for the outdated aircraft they were provided. These planes were crop dusters from the 1920s and typically only used for training purposes. Made predominantly of canvas and plywood, the two-person Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were considered by most to be a death wish if used in combat.
Since the plane itself already posed so many of its own safety issues, flying at night was really their only way to ensure any sort of stealth and safety. Most runs would happen with three planes, the first two meant to draw attention and enemy fire, with the third being the one to drop the bomb. What made this so dangerous is the fact that the third plane, to avoid detection, would have to cut their engine and glide over their target as quietly as possible.
Getting the engine back up and running after the drop was always a “fingers crossed” kind of scenario, given the age and ability of the aircraft. One of the only things these planes offered in their favor was the fact that, due to their slower top speed, they were able to maneuver faster than the German planes, making it harder to get a target on them. In terms of defense munitions on board, there was little to none. Many pilots would have only a loaded pistol, typically leaving the last bullet for themselves, as suicide was preferrable to being captured.
The main goal of the 588th was to disorient and sleep deprive the enemy, and soon after beginning their runs, it became clear that they were successful. Not only were the Nazi’s thrown off by the near-nightly attacks, but they were also particularly incensed when they learned that an all-woman regiment was responsible. The name Night Witches was given by the Nazis — due to the noise the planes would make when they would glide, engines cut, overhead. They described it as the sound of “brooms sweeping.”
Despite their clear aptitude and success, the Night Witches, a name they wore with pride, continued to receive criticism and contempt from many of the males in the Soviet military throughout their time in the war. They were arguably never given the complete appreciation and recognition they deserved. That didn’t seem to bother them too much, however, and they went on to fly around 30,000 sorties and have 23 of their pilots awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
While the roles of women in the military have continued to grow and evolve across the globe, the Night Witches were instrumental in showing that women are just as capable, even with minimal support, respect, equipment, and with all the odds stacked against them. It’s stories like these, the lesser-known tales, that add so much to history. It’s these stories that set the stage for where we are today.
Full of sediment from the bottom of the sea, a gray metal basket slowly rose out of the turquoise water. While it appeared to only contain muck, it offered hope to the U.S. military divers waiting to inspect its contents.
The divers — mainly from the Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Detachment — were archaeologists of sorts. As they sifted through the mud the consistency of wet cement, the divers searched for personal effects or aircraft wreckage to prove they were on the right path.
The ultimate discovery, though, would be the remains of the six Soldiers who went missing after their Chinook helicopter crashed off the coast here during the Vietnam War.
Each year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency oversees more than 70 joint missions around the world in search of the remains of American service members at former combat zones. In Vietnam, there are still over 1,200 service members who have not yet been found.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Some of those operations are underwater recovery missions, which rely heavily on the Army’s small diving force.
“Everybody in the military signs up to go to war. We fight the nation’s battles. That’s what we do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Kratsas, the agency’s only master diver. “But I know if I ever got killed in battle somewhere, I would want my remains brought home to my family and I know they would want the same.”
As the most senior diver on the recent 45-day mission near Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, Kratsas helped ensure the safety of the divers who plunged 80 feet into the dark waters.
Depending on the weather, four two-man teams from the dive detachment spent about an hour each day on the sea floor. While hidden beneath the waves, they used 8-inch vacuum systems to dredge sediment within specified grids of the archaeological site.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
At times, the divers stood on the sea floor buried in thick silt up to their shoulders. Divers sucked out the silt until they reached the hard-packed seabed, where pieces of the helicopter had been resting for decades.
The next day, much of the silt had to be dredged out again due to the sea currents that brought in more.
The painstaking efforts of these underwater missions, especially in the murky waters off the coast of Vietnam, are repeated daily in hopes to reunite those lost in war with their loved ones.
“We do exactly what the land team does,” said Kratsas, 46, of Lordstown, Ohio. “We dig a hole in the earth, we put it in a bucket and we screen it. The same exact process that they do, except ours is at 80 feet and we can’t see it.”
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Side-scan sonar and magnetometer work helps pinpoint metal objects on the sea floor to better focus diving operations. But sites can often cover a vast area, particularly if an aircraft or ship has broken into pieces.
A site’s depth can also limit how long a diver can safely stay under the water. At 80 feet below, the Army divers only had 55 minutes to work during each dive. Once back on the floating barge, they were rushed into a pressurized chamber to ward off chances of a decompression illness by gradually returning them to normal air pressure.
“Bottom time is definitely a premium,” said Spc. Lamar Fidel, a diver with the detachment, which falls under the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. “That’s where we make our money.”
In a previous mission, Fidel said they were able to dive for about six hours at a time. That site, which was in search of two pilots from an F-4 Phantom fighter jet that crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin near northern Vietnam, was only about 20 feet deep.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
It was also Fidel’s most memorable diving mission so far.
For 14 years, he said, the agency had gone to the site unable to recover any human remains. Then last year, using the work of past missions, his team discovered a bone that led to the identification of one of the missing pilots.
“As soon as you see that, that hits you right in the heart,” said Fidel, 28, of Atlanta. “It makes you realize what you did … wasn’t all for nothing.”
While DPAA depends on Army divers for many of its missions, there are only about 150 of them across the service.
The small, elite career field has a high failure rate of roughly 60 to 80 percent for those training to become a diver. Much of the reasoning behind the tough entry course is that lives are always at stake during missions.
“Every time we get in the water, you have a chance of having a diving-related casualty,” said Staff Sgt. Les Schiltz, a diving supervisor assigned to the agency.
The deeper a person dives, the more at risk they are to suffer from a decompression illness. The two main problems divers face are decompression sickness, or the “bends,” and an arterial gas embolism. While the “bends” results from bubbles growing in tissue and causing local damage, the latter can have bubbles travel through the arteries and block blood flow. It can eventually lead to death.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Divers also need to watch out for sharks, jellyfish and other dangerous marine life.
“There are a lot of things in the water that can hurt you,” Schiltz said. “You plan accordingly, you look ahead to where you’re going to be, and you try to mitigate all those risks as much as you can.”
The thrill of diving often outweighs the dangers for many of the Soldiers. When under the water, Schiltz, 28, of Vernal, Utah, says it is like being in a different world.
“It’s probably the same reason someone will explain to you why they skydive or why they snowboard off cliffs,” he said. “There’s always a danger to it and that just makes it even better.”
Army divers are tasked to do a variety of missions that can have them repairing ships and ports or conducting underwater surveys. For many divers, though, the recovery missions have the most impact on them.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“It takes you to a more emotional point in your life,” Schiltz said.
While every diver wants to be the one who discovers the remains of a service member, the master diver describes the somber event as a shared win whenever it happens.
“Everybody’s out here to do one job and just because you happen to be the one diver on the job when you find something, it’s not you that found it,” Kratsas said. “It was a team effort.”
When not diving, Soldiers have several side jobs to keep operations afloat. They monitor oxygen levels and depth of fellow divers or serve as back-up divers to assist in an emergency. They also tend to umbilical cords that connect divers to the barge or help run a water pump for the suction hose.
When a basket is brought up to the barge, they all scoop out the sediment into buckets and screen it.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Some divers are surprised by the condition of some items pulled from the water. Even if items are buried at sea for a long time, salt water can sometimes preserve them better than at land sites where the acidity of soil breaks them down faster.
“A lot of times the wreckage is in such good condition, you can still read serial numbers,” said Capt. Ezra Swanson, who served as the team leader for the recent mission.
Pieces of an aircraft can also put things into perspective for the divers when they hold them in their hands.
“The last time someone was with that, it was the aircrew when they were going down,” said Swanson, 30, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “It’s like a connection between you and that crew.”
Decades of sediment often buries human remains in an underwater tomb. To unearth them, dig sites are properly logged with historical data from previous missions.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
Dive teams may pick up where they left off before or continue another team’s work at a site. An underwater archaeologist will direct a team where to dredge using grids, typically 2 by 4 meters wide, which are marked off on the seabed.
Similar to the guessing game of “Battleship,” if a certain grid has a successful hit with evidence being dredged up from it, divers will concentrate on nearby grids.
Even one fragment, such as a bone or tooth, could solve a case if it can be identified by laboratory staff back at the DPAA headquarters on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“Sometimes you only find small fragments, but with today’s technology and with DNA [testing], we can still get a lot of information even from tiny little bits,” said Piotr Bojakowski, an underwater archaeologist with the agency.
Personal effects, such as rings, wallets or dog tags, can also produce a strong case for identification.
Since the recovery process can be slow and methodical, Bojakowski will remind divers to stay patient to ensure no evidence is overlooked.
“Take your time, don’t rush the process,” he tells them. “It’s more important that you do screening properly and find this small piece than to rush it through. Because once you lose it, we will never find it again.”
If years of careful research do not provide clues of human remains at a site, the agency may be forced to redirect efforts elsewhere.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)
“It’s a difficult, difficult decision to make,” Bojakowski said. “The ideal situation is to find the remains and material evidence. But providing an answer that the remains are not at the site is also an answer to some degree. Sometimes that’s the only answer we can get.”
Despite the long, hot days that had baskets come up empty during their recent mission, the Soldiers still kept at it for weeks. And when the time comes again, they will likely return to the same spot to do the same work.
To them, the mission is bigger than themselves.
“They know the cost and the sacrifice and have a very high appreciation for the guys who lost their lives,” said Swanson, the team leader. “They’re willing to push through the challenges and make sure they do everything they can to bring those guys home.”
James Armistead was an enslaved African-American man who was born in Virginia. Different historical sources put his birth in either 1748 or 1760. He was owned by William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. However, being born into slavery, Armistead would play a crucial role in securing America’s freedom during the Revolutionary War.
With his master’s consent, Armistead volunteered to join the Continental Army in early 1781. He was placed under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette who saw his potential in specialized military service. Posing as a runaway slave, Armistead was sent to link up with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold’s camp. Arnold, whose treachery had already been exposed, was leading an outfit of Redcoats in Virginia. Armistead gained Arnold’s trust and worked as a double agent against the British. Armistead guided the British along local roads and fed them misinformation while secretly reporting back to Lafayette on their movements.
In the spring of 1781, Arnold departed for the north. Meanwhile, Armistead linked up with the camp of Lord Charles Cornwallis and continued his work as a double agent. Because of his status, British officers would speak openly about plans, logistics, and troop movements in front of him. He documented all the information that he could and sent it back to Lafayette in writing through a network of other Patriot spies. This intelligence gathering proved to be instrumental in the British defeat at Yorktown in October of that year.
Although Virginia passed a manumission act in 1782 that allowed slaves who fought in the Revolution to be freed, Armistead remained in bondage. A 1783 law specifically freed slaves only if they had served in their master’s stead as a soldier during the war. Because he served as a spy, he did not qualify. However, in 1786, Armistead petitioned the Viriginia Assembly for his freedom. With the support of his master, himself a member of the House of Delegates, and a written testimony from the Marquis himself, Armistead was finally granted his freedom in 1787. On January 9, Armistead became a free man and added “Lafayette” to his name in honor of the Marquis.
James Armistead Lafayette remained in New Kent County where he married, started a family, and became a wealthy farmer. He also received financial aid and a pension for his service during the war. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States to tour the 24 states. During his tour of Richmond, the Marquis spotted Armistead Lafayette in the crowd. He abruptly ordered his carriage stopped and ran out into the crowd to embrace his wartime friend. As with his birth, historians disagree on both the year and location of his death. He died either in Baltimore in 1830 or in Virginia in 1832.
Intelligence is the driving force of any war and James Armistead Lafayette’s work in the field was crucial to securing America’s independence. His legacy is the free country and the liberties that we enjoy today.