The very moment a United States Armed Forces recruit steps foot off the bus, they’ll be greeted by a non-commissioned officer wearing a campaign hat and, in that moment, their life will change forever. Every branch in the Armed Forces (with exception of the Navy) uses a variation of the same, broad-brimmed hat. When you see someone wearing it, you know they’re dedicated to breaking the civilian out of young prospects and molding Uncle Sam a batch of new, capable warfighters.
But long before the campaign hat became the official headgear of every private’s nightmares, it was used by soldiers in the Old West, who casually wore it for so long that it just kind of became an official thing.
Don’t get this confused with the Stetson worn by cavalrymen. The campaign hat was mostly worn by infantrymen.
The campaign hat was first worn back in the 1840s by soldiers making their way across the country toward the Pacific. The typical forage cap used out east simply wasn’t a suitable option for blocking out the blinding sun that hung relentlessly above the American deserts.
The soldiers heading west were so far away from the brass (and military regulations was comparatively relaxed in those times) that they simply substituted regulation gear with whatever else made more sense. It was said that they were inspired by the sombreros of the Mexican Vaqueros, but the soldiers made their hats smaller to be more practical for longer rides.
The new unofficial hat finally got recognition and was authorized in the 1870s. This version was made of black felt, had a softer brim, and was still missing the distinctive pinch on the top. Over the years, the hat underwent several slight adjustments until becoming the campaign hat we know and love/fear today.
Technically speaking, Smokey the Bear has been around longer (1944) than the Army has officially had drill sergeants (1964). So they kinda took his hat.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Stephen Linch)
The British took note of the campaign hat and soon incorporated it into the wardrobe of their armies located around the Empire, as many fought under conditions similar to those of the Wild West — like the Boer Wars in South Africa. Canadian, South African, and Kiwi troops all adapted the hat — the Canadian Military then famously handed it down to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
By the turn of the century, the hat also became synonymous with the Buffalo Soldiers — in fact, they were responsible for sewing in the iconic “Montana Pinch” we all recognize today. The Buffalo Soldiers were tasked into various national parks and became some of the first national park rangers.
Later, park rangers, CBP agents, and highway policemen would all wear similar campaign hats in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers who’d, essentially, laid the foundation for their careers. Meanwhile, the troops tossed the hat at the advent of WWI as helmets were the preferred combat headgear.
Never thought we would all have to thank the Coast Guard for keeping this terror-inducing hat alive and well… but they adopted it during the Spanish-American War and never abandoned it during the World Wars.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Brahm)
One by one, each branch began putting recruits through more extensive and intense recruit training programs, helmed by the finest NCOs each branch had to offer. The Marines were the first in 1956 — and they needed an easily identifiable symbol to distinguish the drill instructor from everyone else.
They chose the campaign cover for all the same reasons the soldiers of the Wild West did — the fact that recruits couldn’t clearly see the eyes of the DI under the brim was just an added bonus. Other branches quickly followed suit. The Army adopted it in 1964 and the Air Force and Coast Guard did so in 1967
Which leaves out the Navy. Fact is, the Navy has just never had a reason to use the hat and has never showed any intentions of switching.
During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?
In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.
A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.
The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.
President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.
“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”
The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”
Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”
The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.
The Israel Defense Forces were caught completely off guard in 1973 when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated attack to take back the land lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. All would have gone according to plan for the Arab states – if only one young lieutenant hadn’t gone home on leave.
Zvika Greengold was an Israeli farmer raised on a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors and partisans who fought against Nazi occupation in Europe. Like most Israelis, he joined the IDF when it came time to serve his country.
He was 21 and home on leave in 1973 when Syrian tanks rolled across the border in a coordinated attack with Egypt, sparking the Yom Kippur War. The young lieutenant saw plumes of smoke in the distance and fighter planes in the sky. He knew a war had begun but was not yet attached to a unit, so he had nowhere to report for combat duty.
Being without a unit wasn’t going to stop this officer from getting into the war. He hitchhiked 78 miles to Nafah Base, the command center for the Golan Heights. Greengold helped with the wounded coming in, but the only offensive weapons available were two damaged Centurion tanks.
And those turned out to be his ticket to defending Israel.
Greengold contacted his command, telling them he had a force ready to fight (which was technically true). He helped repair the two tanks, assembled a skeleton crew, and they drove off into the night toward the Syrian front. His newly-assembled “Zvika Force” soon spotted Syrian tanks advancing unopposed toward the Nafah Base. Heavily outnumbered, he engaged the enemy’s Russian-built T-55s, destroying six of them.
His tank heavily damaged in the fight, Greengold hopped into the other Centurion. Along the same road, he saw the advancing Syrian 452d Tank Battalion. Using darkness for cover, he sped along the column’s flank, dodging enemy shells while fooling the Syrians into believing there was more than one tank out opposing them. He hit the first Syrian tank from only 20 meters away.
He notched off ten more enemy tanks before the Syrians withdrew. Even Greengold’s own command had no idea how many men and tanks made up the Zvika Force. Greengold couldn’t report his true strength over the radio for fear of being found out, so he only reported that “the situation isn’t good.” His brigade commander thought he was at least company strength.
For the next 20 hours Lt. Greengold fought, sometimes alone, in skirmishes all across the front lines. When he joined Lt. Col. Uzi Mor’s ten tanks, his luck took a turn for the worse.
Mor lost most of his tanks and was wounded. Greengold lost his tank and his uniform caught fire. He had to switch tanks a half dozen times. That’s when the Syrians sent a sizable force of T-62 tanks to force the Israelis back. Greengold joined 13 other tanks to engage the Syrian armored column of 100 tanks and 40 armored personnel carriers. He managed to hold them until he heard that Nafah Base was under attack.
When the command post came under attack, he joined the defense, moving his tank to critical spots at decisive moments, even in the face of overwhelming odds. During the defense of the base, one Israeli tank commander radioed his HQ that “there’s no one in the camp except a single tank fighting like mad along the fences.”
The Jerusalem Post reported “During a lull [in the battle] Zvika Greengold painfully lowered himself from his tank, covered with burns, wounds and soot. ‘I can’t go on anymore,’ he said to the staff office who had sent him into battle 30 hours before. The officer embraced him and found a vehicle to carry Greengold to the hospital.”
He passed out from exhaustion, physically unable to continue fighting. Nafah Base was never captured and the actions Zvika Greengold and the other IDF troops in the Golan Heights gave the IDF enough time to react to the two front invasion and send substantial reinforcements. They pushed the Syrians back to where the border is today.
Greengold estimates taking out at least 20 tanks, while others credit him with 40 or more. He was awarded the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest award for heroism.
Aircraft carriers are the largest warships on the sea, and the U.S. Navy’s carriers are considered the world’s most elite. They’re so big they have their own ZIP code, and their reach and technological sophistication are unrivaled across the world.
On this date 96 years ago, the first aircraft carrier – the USS Langley – was commissioned in Norfolk, Virginia. The carrier had been converted from the collier USS Jupiter, which was the Navy’s first surface ship propelled by electric motors.
The Wright connection
Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting was the Langley’s executive officer. He was a submarine commander turned aviator who was one of the last to take personal training from famed aviator Orville Wright, one of the two brothers credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first airplane.
The Langley was named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, a former U.S. Naval Academy assistant professor who eventually became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also a massive aviation enthusiast. Ironically, Langley had the same spirit as the famed Wright brothers, but never quite had their success. He built his own airplane that he tried on several occasions to launch off ships.
While he didn’t succeed, he did inspire the Navy’s desire to launch and land aircraft from ships at sea. Sailors took up where he left off.
USS Langley’s career
The Langley was built primarily for testing and experimentation for seaborne aviation in the Pacific. It became the test platform for developing carrier operation techniques and tactics, notably helping the Navy learn to better land and launch aircraft more quickly.
Fifteen years after its commissioning, in 1937, the Langley was reclassified as a seaplane tender because newer aircraft carriers were available. It stayed stationed in the Pacific to support seaplane patrols and aircraft transportation services during the early months of World War II.
On Feb. 27, 1942, the Langley was transporting U.S. Army P-40s off the coast of Indonesia when it was attacked by nine Japanese dive bombers. The escorting destroyers surrounding the carrier tried their best to help, but it wasn’t enough. The Langley’s crew was ordered to abandon ship, and the escort destroyers eventually torpedoed the Langley so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.
More fun facts
• Despite being an aircraft carrier, the Langley didn’t have a control tower – now known as “the island” – as the modern-day carriers do.
• It was nicknamed the “covered wagon” because its flight deck, which covered the entire ship, resembled a giant canopy.
• The first plane launch from the flight deck of the Langley was Oct. 17, 1922. The first landing was nine days later.
The Americas were not “discovered.” We all know this by now. However the natives arrived in the “New World,” the very fact that there were natives here means the idea of “discovery” is absurd. They had well developed societies and one of the largest cities in the world. the American wilderness was full of Giant Chestnut trees, millions of Native Americans, and Bison. It was ripe for the plucking.
Many in the “Old World” would attempt to do the plucking. Many would fail. Some would themselves be plucked by the New World, like a bizarre “Twilight Zone” episode. It’s alright, though… all’s well that ends well.
Long before Christopher Columbus was even born, Viking sailors set sail Westward on boats with a single sail. The expedition’s leader, Leif Eriksson, came from a long line of Vikings who were thrown out of their homelands to found new ones. Eriksson’s father, Erik the Red, founded the settlements on Greenland after being thrown out of Iceland. His grandfather was similarly thrown out of Norway. You have to be a pretty rowdy bunch to be thrown out of settlements whose youth games included horsefighting.
Eriksson’s expedition eventually landed in what is believed today to be Canada’s Newfoundland province. They spent the Winter there because only Vikings would Winter in Canada. They took timber and grapes back to Greenland, and returned a number of times. They never settled permanently because of the hostility of the natives in the area. That would have had to be one angry bunch of natives to scare Vikings away.
The Knights Templar
A Canadian author who claims to be descended from Templars, presents a lot of evidence in his book The Knights Templar in the New Worldthat a Scottish prince associated with the Templar religious order sailed to the Americas a century before Columbus. The idea was to preserve the Templar order from the persecution at the hands of the French king that was underway in the Old World. Using indigenous accounts, some excavation evidence and the evidence of architecture in both Nova Scotia and in Minnesota, William F. Mann attempts to make a case for a medieval settlement of the New World, but the evidence is all anecdotal.
New Netherland was a series of trading posts up and down what is today the U.S. Atlantic Coast. From Kingston, New York (originally Wiltwyck) in the North, Albany, New York (originally Fort Orange) in the West, and down to New York City (New Amsterdam) in the South, the Dutch experience in the New World was a quick sixty or so years, notable for its profitability and a few of the great Dutch leaders who led the colony. It was also the first time people got conned out of a potential fortune in Manhattan.
The main reason the French never really had staying power in the Americas can be summed up in two words: The British. The French held on for quite a while, though. Their influence can be seen all over North America and the Caribbean. St. Louis, Detroit, Green Bay, and New Orleans are all based on French influence.
The French would eventually cede most of their holdings in North America to the British and the Americans, though they would hold it for a very long time. Unlike the Spanish and English, the French embraced the native, even declaring converted Natives “natural Frenchmen,” and embracing their culture.
“Ce succès, que le froid de la glace/Michelle Pfeiffer, que l’or blanc.”
Frankly, its a good thing the French were here, because what would the New World be if the Marquis de Lafayette had never been to the Americas? Answer: it would be British.
The colonists with the most staying power, the British were never really expelled from the Americas, but they sure lost an important chunk of it, didn’t they?
Though Canada is a pretty great lasting legacy to leave behind, the Brits didn’t really have it so easy. There were many failed attempts by British colonists to establish a permanent settlement in the New World before the Jamestown colony of 1607. In the 1580s, colonists at Roanoke Island “mysteriously disappeared,” which is a nice way of saying “went to go bang the local tribe.”
The colony at Jamestown seemed due to failure in much the same way, except this time, the locals were more apt to slaughter the colonists, until John Smith, took the hit for the colonists and married into the local tribe, via the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. The colony thrived when they started selling tobacco to the natives in exchange for food, and a horrible precedent was set, ensuring the survival of the British experience in America.
Julius Shoulars is 94 and resides in a cozy second-floor apartment in a Virginia Beach retirement community.
During an oral-history interview, he recounted his service in the US Navy as a coxswain during WWII with the 7th Naval Beach Battalion during the D-Day invasions. He later went island hopping in the Pacific aboard an attack transport and returned to Norfolk after serving in both theaters of war.
He started off with, “Well, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying to report to Richmond.” It was 1943, and the Maury High School graduate reported for screening.
While seated in a room with other recruits, he recalled that, “they asked for 30 volunteers for the Navy and I raised my hand. In the Navy, you get three square meals, a clean bed to sleep in and water to take a shower each day.”
Julius Shoulars, a 94-year-old US Navy veteran, recalls his service during WWII as a coxswain who took part in the D-Day invasion and fought across the Pacific.
(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)
Training took him to Camp Sampson, New York and Camp Bradford, Virginia. Bradford was on the Chesapeake Bay, and he recalled mustering at the commandeered Nansemond Hotel in the Ocean View section of Norfolk.
At Bradford, “we were assigned to an experimental outfit called a Naval Beach Battalion. We were issued paratrooper boots, Army jackets, Army pants, Army helmets, and Navy underwear.”
His parents resided in Norfolk, and he visited often. With a smile, he recalled that a friend of his had joined the Army, and left his girlfriend, Ruby back in Norfolk. He was instructed not to talk to her, “but by hell I did. You had to be a fool not to.” This blossomed into a relationship that endured.
By January 1944, they crossed the Atlantic. In England, he recounted, “you know the phrase over here, over paid and over sexed. I think somebody made that up.”
An LCM landing craft, manned by the US Coast Guard, evacuating US casualties from the invasion beaches, brings them to a transport for treatment on D-Day in Normandy, France June 6, 1944.
(U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives)
At the “end of May 1944, we were transported to ships taking part in the invasion. We headed out on the 6th aboard anything that would float, even fishing boats from England.”
On the morning of June 6th, 1944 at H-hour, troops hit the “blood red” beaches of Normandy, in an operation that liberated Europe.
While crossing the English Channel, he recalled that, “some of the men were happy, some were anxious, some were sad, some were scared to death. I felt it was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do, so why cry or be joyful; just take it.”
His unit was attached to the 29th Infantry Division, who took Omaha Beach on June 6-7, 1944. Nearly a month was spent there directing landing craft, clearing obstacles, moving supplies, and clearing and burying the dead; a solemn task he recalled with tears in his eyes.
Shoulars, seated, recalls his service as a coxswain assigned to the 7th Naval Beach Battalion, which went ashore during D-Day in June 1944.
(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)
His unit headed stateside, and a period of leave was spent in Norfolk with his parents and girlfriend, before joining the crew of the newly commissioned USS Karnes (APA-175) on the West Coast.
He served 18 months on the Karnes, “island hopping” in the Pacific for a total of 76,750 miles. This took him to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Eniwetok Atoll, Ulithi, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, among other ports of call while transporting cargo, evacuating the wounded, and transporting service members.
After the Japanese surrendered, the Karnes made its way back to San Francisco. He boarded a train back to Norfolk and was discharged. One of the first things he did was get married, and “eat a 30-cent hamburger at Doumars.”
Doumars on Monticello Avenue was where he first met Ruby. They didn’t want to get married during the war, for fear of making Ruby a widow. They got married upon his return home and spent 66 years together before she passed in 2013.
As for the friend who instructed him not to talk to her, Julius recalled that, “well, me and him never spoke again.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
American troops are obsessed with coffee. If there’s a military unit whose coffee pot isn’t the hardest-working machine in the building, I haven’t seen it. It doesn’t seem to matter how good or bad the coffee is (even though good coffee is preferable), that beautiful, dirty-brown water is what really fuels the U.S. military’s bureaucratic inner workings — and always has.
Long before Rip-Its became the official beverage of the Global War on Terror, coffee was the only game in town and it was so important during the Civil War that it might have been the reason the North won the war.
The South wished they had the ability to brew coffee the way the North did. The Union blockade of the Confederate States meant that real coffee was in very short supply, and ground troops were unlikely to receive any of it. The Confederate Army tried everything they could to replace the magic bean, including replacing it with alternatives, like roasted acorns, malted barley, actual beans, cottonseed, potato peels, and the ever-present chicory root.
But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. As Union troops realized when they had to start subsisting on what they could capture from Southerners, coffee was only available through Uncle Sam. As you go back through historical records, they more than made their feelings known — and businesses, government, and families soon responded.
“Coffee Call” by Winslow Homer.
1. Civil War diaries use the word “coffee” more than any other.
That’s right — more than words like “bullets,” “war,” “cannon,” “Lincoln,” and even “mother,” troops had one thing on their minds: black gold. In letters written back to their families, much of the discussion was focused on the quality of the coffee that day or the hope that they would have coffee the following. Even around the campfire, much of the talk centered around the quality of that day’s joe.
2. This rifle with a grinder in the butt stock.
In the 1860s, the Sharps Rifle Company created a carbine with a small grinder in its butt stock, which was immediately useless for most intended purposes. It was actually designed to grind grain for horses in cavalry units, but the very fact that people immediately thought of using it as a coffee grinder tells you just how important coffee was to the average troop. I bet Sharps Rifle Company wishes they had thought of marketing it that way.
When there’s no room for Jeb to fit, but Jeb sits anyway.
3. There was no water too putrid to make coffee.
As long as troops had the beans to brew it, coffee was going to happen. Not only were troops happy to use their canteen water to make coffee, they would also use free-running water, water from puddles, and even the sediment-filled water of the Mississippi River – also known as Mississippi Mud.
The best part of Civil War is Folgers in your cup.
4. The officers noticed the effects it had on the men.
Many Union officers ensured their men got at least a cup of the stuff in the morning before a battle, with many often having it ready for them after the battle, some demanding the men keep it in their canteens, and even going so far as to hire boys to run coffee to men in critical positions.
Then-Sgt. William McKinley was one such runner, who made it all the way to the White House riding that brave Civil War act during the Battle of Antietam. Hell, a monument was even erected for it.
The landings on D-Day have become iconic in the minds of many people who think about World War II in Europe. But the landings at Normandy were not the only invasion of France that the Allies carried out. There was a second invasion – and it is not as widely recognized. In fact, if Winston Churchill had his way, it wouldn’t have happened.
In the planning for D-Day, one of the biggest concerns had been to keep the Germans unaware as to the actual location of the invasion for as long as possible. Much of the decoy efforts were focused on the Pas-de-Calais region of France, but other areas were targeted as well. According to Volume XI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” The Invasion of France and Germany, one of the decoy locations was the Mediterranean coast of France.
However, Eisenhower saw the proposed Operation Anvil as a way to supplement Overlord with a second amphibious operation within days of the Normandy landings. Winston Churchill, though, was opposed to that idea, and that opposition strengthened after the landings at Anzio bogged down. But the port of Marseilles was seen as a valuable logistics hub – and Southern France was closer to the German border than Normandy.
Finally, to get the British to approve Operation Anvil, it was delayed for two months. By then, it wasn’t so much a second front as it was the second part of a one-two-punch, and the codename was changed to Operation Dragoon. On Aug. 15, 1944, over 880 ships arrived off the southern coast of France. Three divisions, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 36th Infantry Division, and the 45th Infantry Division, went ashore. The landings faced much less opposition than the Normandy landings, and these forces helped send the Germans into full retreat from France.
While Winston Churchill paid a visit to the landing beaches, he was never thrilled with the operation. However, it was a smashing success, described by Morison as “the nearly faultless [amphibious landing] on a large scale.”
It’s no secret that the early American revolutionists were up against a serious enemy when it came to the British Navy. Not only was the British Navy, one of the most experienced in the world, but their fleet was massive. Compared to the small, inexperienced, and fledgling Navy of early America, we almost didn’t stand a chance.
That is until tens of thousands of citizen sailors stood up and answered the call for freedom.
Fed up with British society’s confines, these tens of thousands of sailors played a critical role in America’s quest for independence, but are largely forgotten from the history books.
These so-called privateers accounted for more than 2,000 sailors in our early Navy and were all commissioned by both the Continental Congress and states. Together, the armada preyed on British ships on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, which severely disrupted the British economy and turned British public opinion against the war.
But who were these privateers?
A tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages allows countries at war to license private seamen to seize and plunder enemy vessels. It’s important here to note that privateers were different from pirates because pirates didn’t have legal authorization to plunder ships. Privateers had official letters from governments condoning their actions. Admittedly, the difference between pirates and privateers seems a little murky at best. But either way, the privateers at the helms of ships in the days of the Revolutionary War had one goal in mind: destroy as many British ships as possible.
Early America was as cash strapped as one would expect a fledgling colony to be. We were attempting to extricate ourselves from British rule, which was expensive. Early leaders knew that there’s no way our inexperienced Navy would ever be able to challenge Britain on the seas, but we did have one specific advantage. We didn’t really have anything to lose.
So the Continental Congress decided to capitalize on that. It issued money to privateers as guerrilla-style naval disruptors and told them to do whatever it took to stop British ships. And that’s exactly what they did.
Privateers were required to post bonds of up to 5,000 pounds as collateral to ensure that captives taken from British ships wouldn’t be mistreated. These sailors for hire also promised not to knowingly raid American or neutral ships. George Washington leased the ships and set out to man them with competent sailors up to the task.
The chance was once in a lifetime, and Washington sweetened the deal by offering one-third of all the goods the privateers captured and sold. In this appeal to the privateers’ financial self-interest, soon, Washington had more volunteers than he knew what to do with. Financial incentive coupled with a newfound patriotism for their fledgling country ensured helped awake the early spirit of capitalism, and for the first time in their lives, these sailors realized they might actually be able to make some money.
Whalers, merchants and fishermen set out to convert their ships. By May 1775, there were over 100 New England privateers roaming the high seas, all with the same solitary goal in mind. Privateering became so popular that the Continental Congress started issuing blank commission forms for sailors to fill out themselves.
Had it not been for the blossoming spirit of patriotism and the allure of cold hard cash, it’s possible that the Revolutionary War might have turned out very differently. Privateers helped to damage the British economy and undermine British policy, all helpful for the war effort. Ultimately, the privateers helped to capture over 2,000 British naval vessels. Faced with two fronts, one on British soil and one on American soil, the British Navy was very challenged to keep up with the constant barrage of privateers. Ultimately, this helped us win the war and gain our independence from Britain.
It likely starts off with a degree from a top school, and includes a stint working in law or Congress. It might even feature some military service.
But the presidents on this list have a few unconventional gigs to add to their experience. At some point in their lives, these 17 presidents tended bars, crafted toys, and even personally hung criminals. Whether or not these odd jobs helped prepare them to take on the White House remains to be seen.
Here are the 17 weirdest jobs of US presidents:
Andrew Jackson was a 13-year-old militia courier during the Revolutionary War.
The turbulent, controversial seventh president of the US was actually the last head of state to serve in the Revolutionary War, in some capacity. Andrew Jackson joined the fighting at the age of thirteen and served as a courier, according to a report from CNN.
His position with the local militia was informal, but that didn’t stop the British from imprisoning the teenager, along with his brother Robert. Some accounts say that when Jackson refused to clean an officer’s boots, the enemy soldier slashed his face with a sword, leaving a permanent scar.
Abraham Lincoln owned a bar
Did you know that Lincoln was the only licensed bartender to rise to the position of chief executive?
According to Amy Cavanaugh’s article in the Chicagoist, the future president launched a business in New Salem, Illinois. The joint, known as Berry and Lincoln and co-owned by an old militia friend named William F. Berry, functioned as both a store and a drinking establishment. In 1833, Berry and Lincoln received a liquor license and began selling brandy, wine, and whiskey. Later on, the future president would leave the business to become the postmaster of New Salem.
Unfortunately, Berry’s alcoholism caused the duo to fall into debt — which Lincoln wouldn’t fully pay off until he became a congressman.
Andrew Johnson worked for his mom as an apprentice tailor
Johnson — who was vice president at the time of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and became the country’s 17th president as a result — started off as an apprentice tailor for his mother while he was still a teen, according to CNN. Later, he moved up to a tailoring position in South Carolina and Tennessee.
James Garfield tended to mules
James Garfield’s tenure as the 20th president of the US was cut short by an assassin’s bullet in 1881. His presidency was so brief that most historians exclude him from presidential rankings.
However, there was a time when Garfield’s career was on the rise. According to the “Erie Canal” by Ralph Andrist, the “Ohio farm boy” got his start working for his cousin who owned a canal boat. Garfield made $8 a month driving the boat’s mules.
In 1888, Benjamin Harrison was elected as the 23rd president of the US — following in the footsteps of his grandfather, William Harrison.
Years earlier, when he had yet to establish a law career, Harrison began a rather archaic side hustle — working as a court crier for $2.50 a day, according to his official presidential website.
Grover Cleveland executed people
Today, Cleveland is perhaps best known for serving as both the 22th and 24th president of the US.
Few people know about the somewhat morbid turn his career path took early on in his professional experience.
While serving as sheriff of New York’s Erie County from 1871 to 1874, Cleveland personally hanged two criminals instead of delegating the gruesome task.
According to a 1912 article in the New York Times, Cleveland argued that he had “insisted that he had no moral right to impose upon a subordinate the obnoxious and degrading tasks that attached to his office.”
However, this incident came back to haunt him. According to the White House Historical Association, Cleveland was lambasted as “the hangman of Buffalo” during the 1884 presidential election.
Warren G. Harding was a teenage newspaperman
Before ascending to a scandal-marred stint in the White House, Harding enjoyed a sterling reputation as the editor of The Marion Star.
Harding bought the struggling paper when he was only 18-years-old and immediately began poaching journalists at the 1884 Republican National Convention.
He always had a soft spot for the paper. After he became president, he even planned to stay on as an associate editor, according to the Marion Star. Harding died before that could happen.
Calvin Coolidge was a toy maker
As the 30th president of the US, Calvin Coolidge became known as a man of few words and an advocate of laissez faire policies.
Coolidge had followed a fairly conventional path to the White House, becoming a lawyer and governor. Before that, however, he took on a rather unusual weekend job in high school.
According to the Southwest Times Record, Coolidge crafted doll carriages at the Ludlow Toy Manufacturing Company.
Herbert Hoover worked in the geology and mining field
Hoover — the 31st president of the US — worked as a geologist and mining engineer to pay for his living while he explored the Western Australian gold fields in the late 1890s, according to CNN.
At the tender age of 23, he was promoted to mine manager and worked in various gold fields until taking a well-earned less physical job as an independent mining consultant.
Harry Truman opened a haberdashery
As Careercast notes, long before he lead the country as the 33rd president during WWII, Truman ran a haberdashery in Kansas City. Truman co-owned the short-lived store with a military buddy he met during WWI. The haberdashery shut down during a recession in the 1920s, forcing Truman to seek a new career in politics.
Lyndon B. Johnson worked as a shoe shiner and a goat herder
When Johnson was just 9, he shined shoes during summer vacation for extra pocket change and later used these skills to buff shoes in high school, as well, according to The Week. Later, the 36th president of the US worked as a goat herder on his uncle’s farm.
Richard Nixon worked as a chicken plucker and ran a game booth
While visiting family in Prescott, Arizona, in 1928 and 1929, Nixon — the 37th president of the US — plucked and dressed chickens for a local butcher, according to The Week. Later, he worked a “Wheel of Fortune” gaming booth at the Slippery Gulch carnival and said it was his favorite job.
Gerald Ford was a park ranger
The 38th president of the US said working as a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park was “one of the greatest summer of my life,” according to the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
The feeling is mutual: his supervisor at the park, Canyon District Ranger Frank Anderson, said Ford was “a darned good ranger.”
His most dangerous duty was working as an armed guard on the truck that fed the bears in the park. This high-risk job later became fodder for impressive stories to share with his kids.
Before he entered the realm of politics, Carter operated a peanut farm in Georgia. According to Careercast, this rustic gig ” helped Carter appeal to voters throughout his time in politics.”
Ronald Reagan was a circus worker, a superstar lifeguard, and an actor
At age 14, Reagan briefly worked for the Ringling Brothers circus as an unskilled laborer for $0.25 an hour, according to The Week.
A year later, he took a summer job as a lifeguard at Rock River outside of Dixon, Illinois, according to PBS. There he worked 12 hour-days, seven days a week, for seven summers.
The “lean, tall, and tan” teenager became somewhat of a hero here after pulling 77 people from the danger of the swift river over the course of those seven summers, according to Heritage.
Later, Reagan went into show business. He starred in a few productions and even earned the lifelong nickname “Gipper” from his memorable turn in “Knute Rockne, All-American,” according to Careercast.
In 1981, he became the 40th president of the US at age 69.
Bill Clinton was a grocer and a comic book salesman
At age 13, Clinton started working as a grocer in Arkansas, according to Convenience Store News. Ever the businessman, he persuaded his boss to let him sell comic books at the store, too, and was able to rake in an extra $100 for his tenacity.
In 1993, Clinton became the 42nd US president.
George W. Bush was a landman in the oil industry and the part-owner of the Texas Rangers
After graduating with his MBA from Harvard, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the US, took a job as a landman for an oil company, in which he scouted potential sites to drill for oil, according to the Miller Center
It wasn’t glamourous, according to The Week: “It was hard, hot work,” he said. “I unloaded enough of those heavy mud sacks to know that was not what I wanted to do with my life.”
Later on, Bush became part-owner of the MLB’s Texas Rangers, according to Careercast.
The nation’s 43rd President was born into a political family, with father George H.W. Bush serving as the 41st President, Vice-President to Ronald Reagan, and Director of the CIA under Gerald Ford.
On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops.
Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire.
The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.
Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.
Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.
The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue.
The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air.
Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year.
Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.
Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.
In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.
You don’t have to be a history buff to be familiar with Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “Kissing Sailor” photo — though its actual title is “V-J Day in Times Square.” It was taken hours before President Truman officially announced America’s victory in the Pacific War. The sailor in the photo happened to be on a date in New York City. He suddenly decided to celebrate by kissing the closest nurse — it’s just too bad his date wasn’t a nurse.
Authors George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria did an extensive background study on the photo in their 2012 book, The Kissing Sailor. Their extensive forensic analysis determined that sailor was George Mendonsa and the nurse was Greta Zimmer Friedman. Friedman was not prepared for the kiss. In later years, she admitted that she didn’t even see him coming and that the two were strangers.
Friedman was working in a dental office at nearby Lexington Avenue, and though the war hadn’t officially ended, the rumors around NYC were swirling that Imperial Japan was set to surrender. She went over to Time Square to read the latest news, and sure enough, the electronic tickers all read “V-J DAY, V-J DAY.” That’s when Mendonsa grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her in.
“It wasn’t that much of a kiss, it was more of a jubilant act that he didn’t have to go back,” she told a Veteran’s History Project Interview. “I found out later, he was so happy that he did not have to go back to the Pacific where they already had been through the war.”
He grabbed a nurse because he was so grateful to nurses who tended the wounded in the war. The good news was her bosses cancelled the rest of the appointments for the day. The bad news was she never knew the sailor’s name. She never even saw the photo until the 1960s. What she did know was that Mendonsa had been drinking (he was likely drunk).
Then-Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa was on 30 days leave from his ship, The Sullivans, at the time. He had been at the helm during the Battle of Okinawa, rescuing sailors from the carrier Bunker Hill after it was hit by kamikaze attacks. It’s small wonder he was happy to not have to go back into combat.
He was on a date with his then-girlfriend, Rita Perry, a woman that would later become his wife, waiting for his train back to the West Coast and back to the war. That’s when he heard the news that the war was over.
Rita can be seen just over Mendonsa’s right shoulder.
Former Navy Quartermaster 1st Class George Mendonsa and his wife of 71 years, Rita, celebrate George’s 95th birthday.(Photo by Hal Burke)
By the time The Kissing Sailor hit bookshelves, Rita Perry (now Mendonsa) and George Mendonsa had been married for 66 years. When asked about her feelings being in the background of a famous photo of her husband, 95 years old as of 2018, kissing another woman, she said, “he’s never kissed me like that.”
Young Oak Kim was born in Los Angeles, California in 1919. He was raised with a strong Korean cultural identity instilled in him by his father, a strong opponent to the Japanese occupation of Korea. After high school, Kim attended Los Angeles City College for a year. However, he dropped out to work and support the family. Racial discrimination against Asians prevented him from holding any one job for too long.
In 1940, as war loomed on the horizon, that same discrimination prevented Kim from enlisting. However, after Congress passed a law including Asian Americans in the draft, Kim was drafted into the Army. He entered the service on January 31, 1941.
Kim served for half a year as an Army engineer before he was selected for Infantry Officer Candidate School. He graduated the school at Fort Benning, Georgia in January 1943. Afterwards, he was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion, a unit of Japanese Americans from Hawaii. Fearing racial tensions between Japanese Americans and a Korean American, Kim’s commander offered him a transfer to a different unit. “There [are] no Japanese nor Korean here,” Kim responded. “We’re all Americans and we’re fighting for the same cause.” His sentiment of patriotism was a constant throughout his life.
The 100th was soon deployed to North Africa. However, racial discrimination and the belief of Asian inferiority meant that the Army had no plans to send them to the front. By its own request, the 100th was redeployed to Italy in the hopes of seeing combat.
Kim’s first action was in Salerno, Italy. He was wounded near Santa Maria Olivetto where he received a Purple Heart and his first Silver Star for bravery in combat. For his actions, he was also promoted to 1st Lt. and later fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
During the planning phase of Operation Diadem, the fourth assault on Monte Cassino, allied planners needed to know if German tanks were in the way of their intended route. On May 16, 1944, Kim and Pfc. Irving Akahoshi volunteered to capture German soldiers to gather information. The two men snuck into enemy territory and captured two Germans in broad daylight. The prisoners divulged that there was no German armor in the way of the planned assault and the allies succeeded. Kim later led troops in battle at Belvedere and Pisa. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Italian Bronze Medal of Military Valor, and the Italian War Cross for Military Valor.
In France, Kim served as the battalion operations officer. He fought at Bruyères and Biffontaine where he was wounded again. His wounds were more severe and he returned to Los Angeles for a 6-month leave. Germany surrendered before Kim could return to Europe and he was honorably discharged as a captain. He received a second Purple Heart, the French Croix de Guerre, and had a plaque dedicated to him on the Biffontaine church wall.
Despite his service during the war, there were few job opportunities for Asians like Kim. He started a self-service laundry, a rarity at the time, which turned out to be quite successful. In fact, he made five times his Army captain salary. However, when the Korean War broke out in 1950, Kim returned to the Army. “As a Korean, the most direct way to help my father’s country even a little, and as a U.S. citizen, the most direct way to repay even a little the debt owed to Korea by the U.S. was to go to Korea, pick up a gun and fight,” Kim later said in an interview.
Any U.S. soldiers who spoke even a bit of Korean were eligible to serve in the Army Security Agency. However, Kim didn’t want to work in an office; he wanted to fight at the front. By pretending not to know any Korean, and with some help from connections he made during WWII, Kim rejoined the infantry.
In April 1951, Kim was assigned as the intelligence officer of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Kim was personally scouted by Lt. Gen. William J. McCaffrey. At the general’s request, Kim also worked as a operations officer. Despite his staff positions, Kim fought in several battles and is credited with rescuing both American and Korean soldiers on the frontlines.
When the 31st Infantry stopped the Chinese offensive and pushed them back across the 38th parallel in May 1951, Kim’s battalion was the first to cross the line. In August, Kim’s unit was so far north that they were mistakenly shelled by American artillery who believed they were too far north to be friendly. Kim was seriously injured and evacuated to Tokyo for medical treatment. After two months of recuperation, he returned to the Korean front.
Kim’s return included a promotion to major and a new job. McCaffrey put him in command of the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, making Kim the first Asian American to command a U.S. battalion. Under Kim’s command, the battalion adopted an orphanage in Seoul where over 500 orphans were raised. After nearly another year of combat, Kim left Korea in September 1952. In 2003, the Korean government recognized Kim and his battalion for their social service during the war.
Kim remained in the Army after Korea. He served as an instructor at the Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia and as a staff officer in Germany. In 1959, he was promoted to Lt. Col. and became an instructor at the Command and General Staff College. In the early 1960s, Kim returned to Korea where he served as a military advisor to the South Korean army. During this time, he was promoted to Colonel. After 30 years of service, Kim retired in 1972.
In 1973, Kim joined the Special Services for Groups in Los Angeles, a non-profit health and human service organization that served vulnerable multi-ethnic communities. He furthered his community service as a 10-year board member of United Way, an international network of over 1,800 non-profit fundraising affiliates. Kim was a founding member of the Korean American Coalition, an organization that continues to promote the civil rights of the Korean American community today. Kim championed a number of other causes including healthy lifestyles for the elderly, care for violence and sexual assault victims, and the sheltering of the homeless in Southern California.
On December 29, 2005 Kim passed away from cancer. He is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Young Oak Kim Academy in Los Angeles is named for him, as is the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside. In 2016, Kim was posthumously nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his decades of selfless service. Although President Obama did not sign off on the medal, the push to recognize Kim’s work continues. On March 26, 2021, a bipartisan bill was introduced in congress to posthumously award Kim the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his extraordinary heroism, leadership, and humanitarianism. “His service to our country and the Asian American community only continued further after his military service,” said Rep. Young Kim (CA-39). “I am proud to have called him a good friend, and remember his friendship and service each day, especially as we bear the same name.” The bill, H.R.2261, is yet to be considered by committee. Regardless of its outcome, Kim’s legacy of patriotism and service stands as an example to all Americans.