Veterans make up a huge portion of our population. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize someone served until we strike up a conversation about their past. From folks who did their 20+ years and retired, to those who served a few years before finding a new career path, these dedicated Americans hide among us every day. Take a look at these prominent veteran business owners, many of whom you never realized were previous members of the military. Their new career path allowed them to change the face of today’s business world, all while bringing their background with them.
1. Phil Knight, Co-Founder of Nike
As in Nike, THE Nike shoe and athletic wear company. Co-founder Phil Knight helped bring this business to life in the 1960s. Today, he’s listed as one of the richest people in the world. But before all of that, before one of the most recognizable mottos of all time — Just Do It — Knight was a member of the Army. He served a year of active duty while enlisted, then seven more years in the Reserves.
2. Frederick Smith, FedEx
This massive company was built on the very logistics that train our military members today. Founder Frederick Smith took his training to heart by incorporating Marine tactics to his side gig, shipping packages from his dorm room. As we all know, it eventually became his full time gig (and then some), growing to be one of the biggest shipping companies in the world. It all began with Smith’s stint as a Marine, in which he was commissioned for three years, including two tours to Vietnam.
3. Jack Taylor, Enterprise Rent-A-Car
You know them as the car company that will pick you up, but Enterprise actually got its start by veteran Jack Taylor. Taylor founded the company in 1957 when, as a sales manager at a Cadillac dealership, he saw a need for folks who needed rides to and from the shop while their vehicles were maintenanced.
Before his work in the vehicle industry, Taylor served as a Navy pilot in WWII. A building at the U.S. Naval Institute is named after him, the Jack C. Taylor Conference Center in Annapolis.
4. Jay Van Andel, AmWay
AmWay, the biggest name in modern multi-level marketing, was founded by Jay Van Andel, WWII vet. Van Andel was also chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1979 to 1980.
However, it was in the Air Force that Van Andel got his professional start. He served as a second lieutenant, training crews who worked with B-17 and B-29 bombers.
In 1959 he co-founded American Way Association.
5. Paul Alling Sperry, Sperry Shoes
The stylish boat shoes that so many love AKA Sperrys or “top-siders” actually take their root with a veteran founder. Paul Alling Sperry joined the Naval Reserves in 1917 where he worked as an office aid. His short tenure in the military ended that same year. His grandfather, William Wallace Sperry also served as a sergeant major within the 13th Connecticut Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.
Coming from a family of boaters, Sperry got the idea for his boating shoes after seeing his dog sprint across ice. He created shoes that had paw-like grooves in a thick rubber sole. Originally intended for boaters, the shoes are now a fashion icon across the U.S.
6. Gordon Logan, Sport Clips
In 1993, men began changing the way they could get their haircut with the start of Sports Clips. The now-household name, however, got its start with founder and veteran Gordon Logan.
Logan served as an aircraft commander in the Air Force from 1969 until 1976. After departing the military for business school, he opened various salons in Texas, eventually franchising nationwide.
7. Dave Liniger, Re/Max
Chances are you’ve seen hundreds of Re/Max signs in for-sale houses across the U.S. The brand, Real Estate Maximums, got its start back in 1973 when veteran, Dave Liniger, found success in flipping houses.
Before hitting the real estate market by storm, Liniger was enlisted in the Air Force, where he was stationed in Arizona, Texas, Thailand, and Vietnam. He served between 1965 and 1971.
8 & 9. Walmart, Sam and Bud Walton
The mega-store of all retail stores, Walmart, was actually founded by a set of veteran brothers. Sam served from 1942 until 1945 as an Army intelligence officer. Meanwhile, his brother Bud joined the Navy as a bomber pilot, flying missions across the Pacific Ocean.
Sam took over his first store, a five-and-dime store and franchise location of Butler Brothers, in 1945, supposedly with $5,000 of his earnings from the Army, and another $20,000 lent from his father-in-law. Sam and Bud opened the first Walmart location in 1962.
It seems like a country just can’t get world power status until they have an embassy overrun by locals in Tehran.
The United States Embassy in Iran was infamously overrun in 1979, with American hostages being held for 444 days. The last U.S. Ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, was not among those hostages, and fortunately none of the American embassy workers were killed.
Probably less well-known is when the citizens of Tehran overran the Russian embassy in 1829. At the time, Iran was known as Persia and the two countries just concluded a two-year border war — which did not go well for the Persians.
Persia, especially the capital, was full of anti-Russian sentiment. The Persians had been forced to give up much of their northern border areas, lost access to the Caspian Sea, and most importantly (for these events) liberated any Armenian held captive to move to Russian territory.
The first official postwar Russian envoy to Persia was the renowned Russian comedy writer Alexander Griboyedov. The playwright and author recently married into Russian aristocracy, which resulted in his Persian posting.
Shortly after the Tsar sent Griboyedov to Tehran as Minister Plenipotentiary (a rank just below an official ambassador), two Christian Armenian women and one Armenian eunuch escaped from the Persian royal family harem, seeking refuge in the Russian embassy.
The Shah demanded their return, but Griboyedov wouldn’t give in. The terms of a treaty gave the Armenians the right to return to Russia. Thousands of angry Persians turned out to protest the Russian embassy, but Griboyedov wouldn’t budge.
The National Interest cited “contemporary accounts” in the telling of this story, saying the locals were incited by mullahs to storm the building. The Minister Plenipotentiary, other Russian diplomats, and the embassy guards in the building tried to fight as best they could but were overwhelmed.
Their bodies were dragged into the streets of Tehran, each decapitated in turn.
Griboyedov’s body was eventually returned to his native Tbilisi, now in Georgia. Shah Fath-Ali sent an envoy to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as an apology for Griboyedov’s death, along with an 88-carat diamond, known as the Shah Diamond, in the hopes the Tsar wouldn’t return with the Russian army.
The diamond is still on display in the Kremlin, a grim reminder of how even the most powerful nations can still be victims of a mob.
They served in battles on the Great Plains, Cuba, Mexico, the Philippines and France. They fought the Native Americans, protected American pioneers, took on ranchers to protect farmers, battled with Pancho Villa, protected our southern border, charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt, served under Black Jack Pershing, served as the first park rangers for our National Parks, inspired the Smokey Bear and Drill Instructor hat, had Bob Marley write a song about them and earned Medals of Honor along the way.
They also did all this in the face of extreme racism and prejudice from the people they served with, people they protected and the government who put them in harm’s way.
The Buffalo Soldiers first came into existence immediately after the Civil War. The Union Army had seen the bravery of African Americans in the war and set about creating units for them. In 1866, they drew up what would eventually be 2 Cavalry Regiments (9th and 10th) and 2 Infantry Regiments (24th and 25th)
The United States reduced the number of its soldiers to 25,000 at the end of the war, and African Americans made up 10% of the Army’s ranks. They were paid a month, which was the same as a white man who served (which was unheard of at the time). They were also prohibited from being stationed East of the Mississippi River as Congress and the Army feared reaction to black troops (especially in the South during Reconstruction) would not be civil.
So the newly formed units were sent West.
The origins of the name ‘Buffalo Soldier’ are contested to this day. Some believe they were given the name as a sign of respect from the Cheyenne or Comanche. Others say it was because they wore buffalo hide coats to keep warm on the prairie or because they fought with the nobility of a buffalo. Another legend that is less politically correct is that the Apaches saw the hair of the African American soldiers and likened it to a buffalo’s mane. In any case, the troops gradually adopted the name as their own and wore it as a badge of honor.
The first part of the history of the Buffalo Soldiers takes place during the Indian Wars. Americans were expanding out West and into direct conflict with the Native Americans who fought to maintain their lands. The Buffalo Soldiers had plenty of tasks outside of fighting. They built roads, protected mail carriers, enforced land settlement disputes, protected farmers from free-range cattlemen and fought the Native Americans.
Fighting over 177 engagements, the Buffalo Soldiers went up against the Apache, Comanche, Kiowas, Cree, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Indians. They worked to keep Indians on reservations, protected settlers from raids, and protected settlers’ interests from as far north as Montana down to southern Texas. They also enforced settlement rules, making sure that land wasn’t (ironically) illegally taken by settlers.
In the midst of all this, the Buffalo Soldiers experienced extreme racist behavior from their fellow soldiers and the people they were protecting. African Americans, for a long time, could not become officers and command Buffalo Soldiers. White officers would sometimes refuse to take commands in Buffalo Soldier units, thinking it was beneath them. George Custer famously refused to command black troops convinced they wouldn’t fight (they came to his rescue later on). They were also subject to abuse from the very people they were protecting. White settlers would ask for help only to attack Buffalo Soldiers when they were the ones who were sent to help.
(Who knew Blazing Saddles was based on a true story?)
At the turn of the century, as the Indian Wars wound down, the Buffalo Soldiers were sent overseas as part of America’s foray into foreign affairs. They were sent to the Philippines to help put down insurrections and also fought in the Spanish-American War. When Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill, the Buffalo Soldiers charged alongside him. One of their 1st Lieutenants was a young man named Jack Pershing.
Cuba was not Pershing’s first command with the Buffalo Soldiers, nor would it be his last. Pershing was so impressed with the courage of the soldiers he commanded, he sought for other units to emulate their discipline and standards. Ironically when he ended up at West Point as an instructor and tried to enforce the same standards, he earned the despicable nickname N***** Jack. This was eventually softened to ‘Black Jack’ Pershing. Pershing would later command the Buffalo Soldiers on the border but bow to political racism when it came to the Great War.
After Cuba, the Buffalo Soldiers were sent to California. At the time, several National Parks had been established and there was a need to protect the lands. At Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the Buffalo Soldiers became the first park rangers chasing after poachers, ejecting settlers and squatters, keeping illegal logging in check, and building infrastructure so that people could visit.
On a side note, the Buffalo Soldiers adopted the ‘Montana crease’ in their hats in Cuba. When they ended up at Yosemite the creased hats became synonymous with the park. The style was later adopted by park rangers, Smokey Bear, border patrol agents, highway patrolmen, and your ferocious drill instructor.
In the lead up to World War I, the U.S. at first took an isolationist role. That said, there was worry that the Germans would try to interfere with U.S. sovereignty. The Buffalo Soldiers were sent to the border with Mexico as the Mexican Revolution had caused instability on the border, and the U.S. was worried about Mexican and German interference with the border.
Back under the command of Black Jack Pershing, the Buffalo Soldiers chased after Pancho Villa after his incursion into New Mexico. They later battled Mexican forces and German military advisors in the Battle of Ambos Nogales in 1918.
Although successful in that battle, there was a bittersweet element to it.
The Buffalo Soldiers watched as Black Jack Pershing, one of their biggest advocates, took command of the American Expeditionary Force as they headed over to Europe to fight in the Great War.
The Buffalo Soldiers did not go. President Woodrow Wilson was openly racist and did not want them to fight alongside white soldiers. They were kept home, while segregated support units were sent to work behind the lines. It only added to the hurt when some of those support units were lent to the French to fight under their command.
In World War II, the reorganization of the Army led to the creation of the 92nd Infantry Division, the Buffalo Division. Other segregated units were organized, and many took on the name and traditions of the Buffalo Soldiers.
After World War II, the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers was instrumental in desegregating the Army. By the time the Korean conflict started, the descendant units of the Buffalo Soldiers were absorbed into other units as part of integration.
The legacy of the Buffalo Soldier cannot be denied. Given the opportunity to serve, African Americans came through time and time again, even in the face of racism and prejudice. The history of these men goes hand in hand in the expansion into the West, the establishment of our National Parks, protection of our borders and the fight for freedom.
When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).
How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?
Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.
The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.
A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.
And they did.
In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.
Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.
It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.
The MiG-15 was the jet fighter that shook the West out of its delusion of automatic air superiority. Before the MiG-15, B-29 bombers could raid North Korean cities at will — in broad daylight. After the introduction of the MiG-15, the bomber fleet was grounded because the Air Force’s F-80 Shooting Stars were too slow to protect them.
It might be hard to believe, but the source of the Russians’ new fighter’s monstrous speed was a Rolls-Royce design, which was pretty much supplied by the British themselves.
It wasn’t very often that anyone pulled the wool over the eyes of the British during the Cold War. The Soviets were a clever bunch, though.
In 1946, the Soviets were invited to a Rolls-Royce factory. The delegation in attendance included Artem Mikoyan (the man who put the ‘Mi’ in ‘MiG’) himself. Mikoyan was then invited to visit the house of a Rolls-Royce executive, where they played billiards.
Artem Mikoyan was great at billiards. In fact, he may have used a textbook shark move, losing the first game and then raising the stakes on the second. Here’s the bet he made: If the Russian wins, Rolls-Royce will have to sell jet engines to the Soviets. Find out who won at around 9:00 in the video below.
If it sounds surprising that the deal was made over a bet or that the British would supply the Russians with Rolls-Royce engines, you’re not alone. Stalin himself was incredulous, reportedly saying, “what idiot would sell us their jet engines?”
The Russians agreed to use the acquired engines for non-military purposes exclusively, which they did… until they were able to make a Russian copy of the Rolls-Royce engines, then called the Klimov RD-45. The engine was fitted into the MiG-15 and was fully operational in time for the Korean War, taking to the skies with weaponry designed to take down B-29 Superfortress bombers.
A B-29 Bomber in the gunsights of a MiG-15.
It was the dominant fighter over Korea until the introduction of the American F-86 Sabre. The Sabre was more than a match for the new MiG, garnering a 10-to-1 combat victory ratio in the war. It was also the plane flown by all 39 United Nations fighter aces.
Sabres and MiG-15s would be at each other’s throats for the duration of the Korean War. The last Sabre was retired from the U.S. military in 1956 whereas the MiG-15 saw service around the world throughout the 1960s. In fact, the plane is still flying with the North Korean People’s Air Force to this day.
The Marines will be the first to tell you they have “fought in every clime and place” from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The history of the Corps is steeped in legendary heroism and ferocious battles. From Chapultepec to Belleau Wood to Fallujah, the Marines have made a name for themselves throughout our country’s history.
But there is one battle that stands out.
Ask any Marine about Iwo Jima, and you will see instant reverence in their eyes. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” was the phrase used to describe the spirit of the men that fought that battle.
The landing on Iwo Jima took place 75 years ago today. Located about 750 miles from mainland Japan, Iwo Jima was a volcanic rock that both sides viewed as an important objective of the American’s island-hopping campaign. For the Americans, the airfields there meant both easier and shorter routes to mainland Japan as well as helping clear the air of fighters that would intercept such bombers.
The Japanese simply knew that the capture of Iwo put the Americans one step closer to their homeland.
What followed next was one of the most ferocious battles man has ever waged.
Much has been written about the battle and its effect on history. Here are some of the more interesting things about the battle of Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima was first discovered by Spanish explorers.
In 1543, a ship located the island and landed to explore the newly found land. They gave it the name “Sulphur Island.” When translated roughly to Japanese, it was called Io To, or Iwo Jima. The Japanese didn’t arrive at the island until the end of the 16th century.
The Japanese knew they were going to lose the battle.
As historians poured over Japanese war records after the war was over, they found that the Japanese knew the battle was a sure loss. The Japanese Imperial Navy was all but vanquished in the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force was almost obliterated as well. The Japanese had lost quite a few planes and had to keep as many as close to their mainland as possible. Even worse than the lack of planes was a shortage of pilots. The Americans would send experienced pilots back home to train more pilots. The Japanese didn’t do that. They kept their experienced pilots out, and as they suffered heavy losses, there was a shortfall in experience and numbers.
As a result, the Japanese changed the strategy of the defense of the island to be one of attrition. They figured the Americans would win. They just wanted to make them pay dearly for it. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, summoned Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his office and told him to defend Iwo Jima to the last man as a means to buy time. Kuribayashi, who came from a Samurai family, accepted the mission and set off for the island to set up a unique defense that the Americans had not seen yet.
The Japanese wanted to dissuade the Americans from attacking the mainland.
Kuribayashi changed the way the island would be defended. Instead of fighting the Americans on the beaches, he would allow them to land uncontested on the island. He knew the black volcanic sand, which had dunes up to 15 feet tall, could bog down the Americans, so he figured to let them all on before opening fire. He had the beach zeroed in by artillery and mortars to the last inch. On the island’s interior, he set up defensive positions in a new way. The fortifications and tunnels allowed the Japanese soldiers to retake positions that had already been overrun. On an island that was just eight square miles, there were over 11 miles of tunnels the Japanese could use.
The intended effect was to inflict as much damage as possible to the American forces. By dragging out this conflict and inflicting casualties, the Japanese hoped that the carnage would dissuade the U.S. from attacking the Japanese mainland.
The US thought the battle would last only a week.
It’s not that the Americans thought less of the Japanese. It was at this point they thought they knew what they were going to do. After victories through the South Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, the U.S. military thought they had a winning plan. Start with a devastating naval bombardment, get the men on the beach, provide them with close air support, and take the airfields quickly. They did that but realized way too soon that the naval bombardment didn’t do much damage, the Japanese actually wanted the Americans to land, and that they had to fight for every square inch of the island. The initial weeklong projection turned out to be five weeks of some of the worst fighting the Americans had seen to that point.
The beach was hell on earth.
After taking the naval and air bombardment, the Japanese allowed the Marines to congregate on the beach. Many thought that the Japanese were killed in the immense bombardment, but unfortunately, they were wrong. Kuribayashi told his troops to wait one hour before opening fire. When the Marines were massed on the beach and started to move forward slowly through the volcanic ash, they were shocked to learn the hard way that the Japanese had every inch of the beach sighted in and had to race off the beach while under intense artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.
Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group … his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh … Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs … as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: “I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified,” he was later to say.
By the end of the first day, over 30,000 Marines had landed, and the island was cut into two. However, upon seeing the initial casualty lists from the day’s carnage, General Howlin’ Mad Smith remarked, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.”
For the only time in the war, the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese.
The Marines went into Iwo Jima with a 3:1 advantage in terms of troops. At the end of the five-week battle, they would have 26,000 casualties versus 18,000 for the Japanese. One of the men killed on the beach was Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was a hero on Guadalcanal who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions there. As the intense bombardment came down, Basilone was last seen yelling for men to move off the beach. He was among the many killed that day. By the end of the battle, many more would die. While the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese, they had about one third less killed. Of the 18,000 Japanese soldiers who fought on the island, only 221 were captured. Most of the captured were either knocked unconscious or incapacitated.
There were few banzai charges so the Americans improvised.
The Americans factored in banzai or human wave attacks when they did their initial estimate of the length of the battle. In fact, the Japanese general prohibited such attacks as he knew that they didn’t work. He wanted his men to fight to the death, but he wanted to take as many Americans out as they could.
The Americans wouldn’t deal with that. Realizing quickly that firearms and close air support weren’t cutting it, the Marines adapted on the fly as they have throughout their history. They started using flamethrowers, (badass men as well as on modified tanks) to eradicate the Japanese. Once they realized the tunnel system allowed the enemy to reoccupy positions that had been overtaken, they just started flame-throwing everything that they saw… over and over again.
It worked. The Japanese tunnel system ended up becoming the graves of countless Japanese soldiers. Only toward the end, when food and supplies were low, did Kuribayashi allow banzai charges so his men would die “with honor.”
Americans at home thought the battle was over fast.
The iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, which showed Marines hoisting the flag on Mt. Suribachi, was the American people’s first view of the battle. It was taken on February 23, four days after the initial assault. The picture was released by the AP two days later, where it was published by virtually every newspaper in the free world. In an age, before social media, television, and satellite feeds, many assumed the battle was over based on the picture. It wasn’t.
As the battle raged on and the casualties mounted, Americans at home wondered why so many boys had to die for a small piece of rock.
How important was Iwo Jima and the effect of the battle?
Even before the battle’s conclusion, the U.S. military started using the airfields on Iwo Jima for bombing runs on Japan. Planes that were damaged during their runs now had a shorter trip to base, so they had a better chance of surviving. Fighters could now use the base to refuel, and accompany their bombers to Japan. However, people wondered if the same things could have happened had the Americans attacked elsewhere. The Americans also found out that the radar used by the Japanese on Iwo was not really beneficial as the Japanese already had other radar installations that did the same job. The battle’s need was a contentious matter as early as the end of hostilities on Iwo Jima.
One effect the battle did have was on the end of the war. After Iwo Jima, another horrible battle took place on Okinawa. By this point, the Japanese realized that Kuribayashi’s strategy worked. They could inflict major losses on the Americans and turn public opinion against the war. The Americans learned too and proceeded to unleash longer more devastating bombardments on Okinawa in the lead-up and more aggressive use of flamethrowers and incendiary devices on Japanese soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire, to horrific results.
When the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland fell, Americans looked at other ways to end the war and avoid the bloodbath that Iwo Jima and Okinawa wrought.
They found it in recently developed atomic weapons.
Uncommon valor was a common virtue.
Regardless of if Iwo Jima was strategically worth it, the Marines still viewed the battle as a badge of honor. They were not part of the planning or strategy but were told to take the island. They did.
They asked for a 10-day bombardment and got three. They adapted to a terrible situation and came out ahead. They looked death in the face and, as Marines usually do, didn’t even get fazed.
Eighty-two Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines during World War II. Twenty-two of them (28%) were earned on Iwo Jima alone. There is only one awardee alive today, Woody Williams, who earned the medal for using his flamethrower to wipe out numerous enemy emplacements.
On this 75th anniversary, to those who fought in that terrible battle and to the families left behind, We Are the Mighty salutes you.
It was the pivotal battle that most historians believe turned the tide against the Nazis for good in World War II, resulting in a cascade of defeats as the Wehrmacht beat its retreat to Germany from the Soviet Eastern Front.
But it wasn’t always that way, and in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa the German army seemed poised for a stunning victory against the Red Army.
But many believe Adolf Hitler wanted to capture the city as a thumb in the eye to Soviet leader Josef Stalin, for whom the city was renamed.
Initially, the German army was able to push well into the city, taking the Univermag department store at its center. But the Red Army dug into the city’s industrial areas along the banks of the Volga river and the battle ground down into a brutal street-by-street slugfest.
One of the Red Army’s most accomplished generals, Marshall Georgi Zhukov, hatched a plan to surround the 6th Army and cut off its supply lines. And by mid-November, the Soviets began to squeeze the Nazis inside the city.
As winter descended, the Germans were running out of food, ammunition and other supplies, and when a rescue mission launched by Field Marshall Erich Von Manstein failed to break through, the Nazi’s fate was sealed. The German forces under the command of Gen. Friedrich Paulus eventually surrendered in early February 1943.
While the Soviets lost nearly 500,000 men in the battle, the Wehrmacht surrendered 91,000 soldiers and lost nearly 150,000. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
It was a horrific battle waged on a titanic scale in a battlefield unlike any seen in modern times. In all, the Germans lost about 147,000 men in the battle while surrendering 91,000. The Soviets took even more catastrophic losses, with 480,000 dead and 650,000 wounded. An estimated 40,000 civilians were killed in the fighting.
“The Codebreaker,” premiering this week on PBS’ “American Experience,” tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, a visionary American codebreaker who established our decryption programs during World War I, helped break the codes used by gangsters during Prohibition and led our efforts to break the Enigma code during World War II.
Wait, you’re saying, if this cryptanalyst was so great, how come we’ve never heard of her? “The Codebreaker” delves deep into her story, utilizing government files that weren’t declassified until decades after her death to reveal the truth about a person who deserves recognition as a pioneer of American military intelligence.
The program will premiere on most PBS stations on Monday, Jan. 11, and be available to stream via the PBS app and website. As with all PBS programs, check your local listings for exact dates and times and streaming options.
The documentary was inspired by the book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone. “The Codebreaker” was written and directed by Chana Gazit, who made the 1998 documentary “Surviving the Dust Bowl,” which remains one of the greatest “American Experience” episodes ever made.
How did Friedman and her young husband William come to play such a huge role in the United States’ war effort? It’s a weird story. Both had been recruited by millionaire industrialist George Fabyan to help him prove his theory that English nobleman Francis Bacon was the true author of the so-called “Shakespeare” plays.
A popular theory in the early 20th century held that Bacon had embedded an elaborate code in the text of the plays, and Fabyan established a research institute to prove his theories. He recruited a young Elizebeth Smith. She met and married William Friedman while working at the estate.
As they worked on the project, the two young researchers realized that the Bacon theory was completely unsupported by evidence and were looking for a way to leave when Fabyan volunteered his staff’s services for codebreaking during World War I.
We’ve got a clip from the episode that explores how the Friedmans contributed to the war effort.
American Experience ‘The Codebreaker’ – World War I and the Rise of Military IntelligenceWhen the United States entered the Great War, the country had no dedicated codebreaking units. The task of decrypting enemy radio messages fell to Elizabeth Friedman and her husband, William.
Friedman was the primary codebreaker for our military during that war and pioneered many of the techniques that were used so successfully during the next generation’s war. In the interim, she worked with Coast Guard intelligence to combat rum running during Prohibition, decoding criminal messages and often testifying in trials to help convict the bootleggers.
During World War II, she worked with the Navy but was not allowed to lead her codebreaking unit. As a woman, she was required to report to a junior male officer because women weren’t allowed those positions of authority then.
Her intelligence work helped take down Nazi cells in South America and prevented Germany from bringing the war to our hemisphere in hopes of diluting American strength on the European fronts. Since the work was secret, Friedman sat by quietly as J. Edgar Hoover claimed credit for her work as the FBI took down the enemy intelligence networks.
William Friedman suffered from depression during the later years of his life, and Elizebeth supported the family while she wasn’t getting credit for her work. Friedman never went public with her role during her lifetime, and she died in a New Jersey nursing home in 1980.
Stories like this one suggest that there are dozens or hundreds or perhaps thousands of untold heroes that we don’t know about yet and who deserve to be honored for their contributions to the country. “The Codebreaker” is a strong contribution to that cause and a documentary that’s worth your time.
Legend has it that no SEAL platoon will use the designation “X-Ray” anymore. The story goes that the last platoon to use the literal nom de guerre had the worst luck — that is to say, a high casualty rate — of any platoon before or since.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” says Gordon Clisham, a member of SEAL platoon X-Ray stationed in Vietnam during its hard-luck run there. “I don’t know if that’s true or not … the platoon lost four men — killed — and everyone was injured at least once.”
Clisham reached out to We Are The Mighty after reading our story about X-Ray in May 2016. He wanted to clear up some facts that he claims might not be as clear cut.
Specifically, Clisham wanted to set us straight on the counterinsurgency operation the SEALs conducted at Ben Tre which was lead by one of the team’s Vietnamese scouts.
“His name was Tong,” Clisham recalls. “I think he was dirty and I couldn’t prove it.”
During the operation, X-Ray was ambushed by the Viet Cong. One story says a SEAL’s own grenades blew up while still on his belt. The explosion blew his glute off. Clisham says that’s not what happened.
A B-40 (a type of rocket-propelled grenade) hit the SEALs Mobile Support Team, Clisham says. The SEAL who supposedly lost a glute was actually P.K. Barnes, and he lost his leg from the knee down as a result of the explosion.
Clisham thinks it was their scout feeding intel to the enemy.
Ben Tre was just one operation among many that went wrong.Clisham estimates that about half the missions conducted by SEAL platoon X-Ray were compromised. They were just walking into one trap after another.
The reason? OPSEC.
Clisham suspects someone, maybe not just Tong, was feeding information to the enemy.
“I even went to Lt. Mike Collins [the unit commander] and said ‘We should get rid of this guy because we’re going on ops without him and we’re getting ambushed, and we go on ops with him, and he walks through the jungle like he’s walking through the park and we never get hit,'” Clisham says. “The boss didn’t want to shoot him, so we didn’t do it.”
“What we had to do before we went out at night or any operation, was to get a clearance,” Clisham, who was the unit intel petty officer at the time, explains. “I would go up to the S2 center, give them our location – never the exact location, we would ask for a ten grid square clearance, so they didn’t know exactly where we were at because a lot of the people working S2 center were VNs [South Vietnamese officers].”
The Army wanted the exact location, but with the Vietnamese working in the intelligence, the SEALs were not willing to give up the coordinates. Lieutenant Collins struck a deal with the Army: SEAL platoon X-Ray would put the location of their ops in a sealed envelope before their mission. If necessary, the Army could open the envelope and provide support. If not, the location remained a secret.
After the first op, Clisham returned to the S2 to find the envelope opened. No one knew who opened it or why.
“There was a lot of hoopla raised about that,” Clisham recalls. “I don’t think anything was ever rectified, but we knew that somebody there was getting in on our intel or information of our location.”
To this day, as certain as he is that Tong, their scout was dirty, Clisham is sure it was a Vietnamese officer in the intel center who was giving their locations to the Viet Cong. To my surprise, he countered the May 2016 story’s claim that VC defectors who turned themselves in for amnesty – called “Chieu Hoi” – were untrustworthy.
“Now, we had a guy that worked with us that was ex-VC,” says Clisham. “That was Ah. He was a good man. He was on our side one hundred percent.”
There’s no exact reason why some veterans remember the details differently. As Clisham says, it was 45 years ago. When he and his fellow SEALs sit down for reunions, they don’t usually talk about what happened. They prefer to tell dirty jokes over cold beers.
But at least now history has a clearer picture of the “hard luck” that surrounded SEAL platoon X-Ray.
Contrary to popular belief, space isn’t actually “cold” per se, at least not in the way often depicted in movies. Space is just mostly empty and all that nothing doesn’t have a temperature. For example, if you were in space without a space suit, the two ways you’d lose heat are just via evaporation of moisture on your skin, in your mouth, etc, and then much slower via radiating heat away, which would take a really long time. In fact, if you were in direct sunlight at around the Earth’s orbit distance from the Sun (1 AU), you’d find yourself overheating pretty quickly, likely with severe sunburns within a few minutes.
This all brings us to the topic of today — if space isn’t cold, why did the astronauts on Apollo 13 get so cold in their ship? And when things did get chilly, why didn’t they just put on their space suits to warm up?
To begin with, somewhat counterintuitively, the reason their ship got so cold so fast is precisely because it’s troublesome to get rid of heat on a space craft. With all the equipment on aboard the ship generating heat, as well as extra heat absorbed when the ship is in direct sunlight, this would normally see the astronauts baking inside the craft. To get around the problem, the ships were specifically designed to radiate heat away very quickly to compensate. Just in case this cooling happened too quickly, for instance when not in direct sunlight helping to heat things up, the ship was also equipped with heaters to keep the astronauts comfortable.
Apollo 13 launches from Kennedy Space Center.
Thus, during the Apollo 13 mission when all the equipment was off and they couldn’t spare power to run the heaters, they were left with a ship designed to radiate heat away relatively quickly, even when in sunlight, but nothing but their own bodies and sunlight generating heat. The net effect was that it got really cold inside the command module and LM.
This brings up the logical follow up question — when it got cold, why didn’t they just use their space suits to keep warm?
In search of a definitive answer, we discovered a variety of speculative explanations online, many of which get surprisingly technical and ultra specific, despite that nobody was using a definitive source and were simply speculating. Further, nowhere in any Apollo 13 transcripts we read does the idea of the astronauts in question donning their space suits to keep warm ever have appeared to have been suggested or brought up, despite the cold.
Unsatisfied with going with speculative explanations, we eventually resorted to mailing a letter to Fred Haise to get a more definitive answer, with, unfortunately no response.
Unwilling to give up, we continued to dig and finally managed to track down a May of 1970 LIFE magazine article in which all three astronauts gave their account of what happened during the Apollo 13 mission. A fascinating read, most notable to the topic at hand in that article is the following from Jim Lovell concerning the cold, which finally gave us the definitive answer we were looking for:
Eventually it dawned on me that somehow we all had to get some sleep, and we tried to work out a watch system. We weren’t very successful. Besides the inside of the Odyssey kept getting colder and colder. It eventually got down pretty close to freezing point, and it was just impossible to sleep in there. Fred and I even put on our heavy lunar boots. Jack didn’t have any, so he put on extra long johns. When you were moving around the cold wasn’t so bad, but when you were sitting still it was unbearable. So the three of us spent more and more of our time together in Aquarius, which was designed to be flown by two men — standing up, at that. There wasn’t really sleeping space for two men there, let alone three, so we just huddled in there, trying to keep warm and doze off by turns. We didn’t get any sleep in the true sense of the word. We considered putting on our heavy space suits, but the suits were so builky that they would compromise our maneuverability in an emergency situation, and when you put on the suit you were bound to perspire a lot. Soon you would be all wet and cold too, an invitation to pneumonia.
It’s also noteworthy here that in a separate interview, NASA engineer and man in charge of the spacecraft warning system during Apollo 13, Jerry Woodfill, stated that nobody on the ground was terribly concerned about the astronauts being cold or getting hypothermia. With what they were wearing and the temperature inside the spacecraft, they were cold, but not critically so, and everyone had much bigger problems to deal with.
Astronaut Fred W. Haise Jr., Apollo 13 lunar module pilot, participates in lunar surface simulation training at the Manned Spacecraft Center.
You see, as you might have already gleaned from the previous passage by Lovell, it turns out the otherwise phenomenal Apollo 13 film took some liberties and it was not, in fact, ever cold enough to do something like tap frozen hot dogs against the wall. In fact, according to that same LIFE magazine article, Jack Swigert stated, “Aquarius was a nice, warm 50 degrees.” He further went on to state that “It was 38 degrees in [the Odyssey] before reentry.” To translate for the rest of the world, that means it was about 10 degrees Celsius in Aquarius and about 3.8 degrees Celsius in the Odyssey. Cold, particularly in the Odyssey, but with what they were wearing, not unbearably so for two of the three crew members, especially when spending as much time as possible in the Aquarius.
As for the third, Fred Haise did have a lot of trouble with the cold, likely due to a fever owing to his urinary tract infection. He stated in his own account in that LIFE magazine interview:
I’ve been a lot colder before but I’ve never been so cold for so long… The last 12 hours before renentry were particularly bone chilling. During this period, I had to go up into the command module. It took me four hours back in the LM before I stopped shivering… Because of the cold, during the last two nights I slept in the tunnel between the two vehicles with my head in the LM and with the string of my sleeping bag wound around the latch handle of the LM hatch so that I wouldn’t float around.
Speaking of space suits and Hollywood myths, in movies you’ll often see humans exposed to the near vacuum of space doing things like suddenly exploding, instantly freezing in the supposedly extreme “cold” of space, etc. But, in fact, so long as you don’t try to hold your breath, which would result in your lungs rupturing and thus pretty well guaranteed that the incident will be fatal, what will actually happen is you’ll remain conscious for about 10-15 seconds. After that, you’ll be fine as long as you’re placed back in a pressurized environment within about 90 seconds. It’s even possible that some might be able to survive as much as 3 minutes, as chimpanzees are capable of this in such an environment without lasting detrimental effect. For significantly more detail on all this and how we know these numbers, check out our video How Long Can You Survive in Space Without a Space Suit?
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain
Why were the French at war with the Dutch?
By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.
What went down during the battle?
The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:
“The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”
What happened afterwards?
The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly caught a lot of heat for his comments about the cause of the American Civil War. Kelly said that it happened because of “a lack of ability to compromise.” And while that is technically true, it could be said that every war starts because of a lack of ability to compromise.
Even if you venture away from the politics of the moment and step back in time to the politics of 1860, the cause of the American Civil War is still because of one issue: slavery. Even a more holistic understanding of the war reveals the one true cause at the heart of the conflict.
When someone is trying to make the cause seem like something other than slavery, the first issue they talk about is “state’s rights.” This happens so often, “state’s rights” has become a euphemism for slavery. But the power of federal law over state law was first settled by the Nullification Crisis in the 1830s.
South Carolina tried to declare certain federal tariffs null and void within the borders of the state. They also asserted they could nullify any federal law they declared unconstitutional. But they were dealing with a president who believed nullification was a step toward secession and he wasn’t having it.
While Jackson lowered the tariffs to resolve the crisis, he also signed the Force Bill into law, which said the federal government had the authority to implement federal authority by force if necessary. Here the first stones of the road to war were laid, but if the war was really about the authority of states versus the federal government, the Civil War would have started in the 1830s.
The Civil War was not the first time American started shooting at each other over the issue of slavery. As the Union expanded after the Revolutionary War and more states were added, the balance between slaveholding states and free states was carefully maintained.
Representatives from slave states believed if too many free states were added to the union, the power of slaves states would diminish so much that slavery everywhere could be easily outlawed. But as more destiny manifested in the form of new U.S. territory, someone had to organize the unorganized territory.
In 1820, the Missouri Compromise determined the Free State-Slave State border at a latitude of 36° 30′ – a separation of North vs. South. After the Mexican-American War acquired new territory, and thus new states, the Compromise of 1850 determined which would be admitted as Free and Slaveholding states.
It was a sign of things to come. Literally. Like Terminator 2, the second coming of John Brown is even more epic than the first.
The Dred Scott Decision
When a black slave named Dred Scott was sold to a white man who moved Scott into the free areas of Illinois and Wisconsin, Scott sued his owner, arguing that being in a state where slavery was illegal meant that he could not be a slave. That’s when the Supreme Court made the worst decision since declaring that black people in America were to be counted as 3/5 of a person.
The Supreme Court ruled that any black person, free or slave, was property and neither a person nor subject to the protections of law. While the court and President-elect James Buchanan were hoping that the decision would end public debate about legislating slavery, Northerners saw the decision as removing the idea of “free” states entirely and fueled the conspiracy theory of a pro-slavery cabal of rich men in Congress.
John Brown’s Raid
Abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, between Oct. 16 and Oct. 19, 1859. He wanted to seize the arms there and distribute them to the local slave population. His intent was to lead a revolt that would destroy slavery in the United States.
Brown’s 22 fellow abolitionists fought a company of U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart. Ten of Brown’s men were killed in combat. Brown would be captured and hanged for treason and murder. He would also be considered a martyr by the northern states, which led the south to believe northerners wanted to exterminate their way of life.
Suddenly the Presidential election of 1860 became even more important. It was seen as a referendum on the future of the nation – the country would be free or slaveholding.
Lincoln received zero votes in nine states, but still won 40 percent of the overall vote, including majorities in the most populous states. It was enough to beat a heavily divided opposition in the Electoral College. By the time of his inauguration, seven states already seceded from the union – even though Lincoln promised to leave slavery alone where it already existed.
No matter how you study the roads that led to the Civil War, it always comes back to one cause.
The Civil War would kill more Americans than the Revolution, WWI, WWII, and Vietnam – combined.
Confederate Col. John S. Mosby was one of the world’s greatest guerrilla leaders, deploying cavalry against Union forces in lightning raids. In one impressive raid, he even managed to kidnap the Union general who commanded forces sent to stop him.
The engagement took place in March 1863, when Mosby was new to his command. He and his men were interrogating prisoners when a Union deserter laid out the location of the brigade’s picket lines and other defenses.
As it turned out, the Union 2nd Vermont Brigade had moved camps, but its general decided to stay at a local doctor’s house about three miles from his closest regiment. It was the 2nd Vermont that had so often sent its cavalry forces to try and catch Mosby — and Mosby saw an opportunity to end the harassment.
Mosby created a daring plan to slip through the nearby picket lines and kidnap both Brig. Gen. Edwin Stoughton, the commander of 2nd Brigade, as well as the colonel who commanded the brigade’s cavalry regiment.
Surprisingly, both the men of the 2nd Brigade and officers in nearby units had predicted that Stoughton would be captured if he didn’t move his headquarters, and Stoughton himself expressed concern about the thin manning of the picket lines.
The deserter stayed with Mosby’s Rangers for a year before he fell in combat.
Stoughton’s fall was, for obvious reasons, very quick. His capture was an embarrassment for the nation and his rank had not yet been confirmed by the Senate as a brigadier general. Lincoln withdrew his nomination. When Stoughton was traded back to Union lines two months later, he found that he had no military rank or position.