With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.
According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.
According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.
The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.
The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.
When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.
Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.
As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.
Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.
Peter MacDonald is one of the last remaining Navajo Code Talkers. The former chairman of the Navajo Nation recently sat down with VAntage Point staff to explain what made the “unbreakable” code so effective, and how it helped save lives and secure victory in the Pacific.
“Without Navajo, Marines would never have taken the island of Iwo Jima,” he said. “That’s how critical Navajo Code was to the war in the Pacific.”
The Unbreakable Code
Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was used during World War I. The Marine Corps, however, needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.
Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.
Understanding Navajo didn’t mean a person could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.
Here is an example:
Navajo Code: DIBEH, AH-NAH, A-SHIN, BE, AH-DEEL-TAHI, D-AH, NA-AS-TSO-SI, THAN-ZIE, TLO-CHIN Translation: SHEEP, EYES, NOSE, DEER, BLOW UP, TEA, MOUSE, TURKEY, ONION Deciphered Code: SEND DEMOLITION TEAM TO …
In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.
On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3E intelligence-gathering aircraft hit a Chinese J-8II fighter in mid-air, forcing the Navy intel plane to make an emergency landing on nearby Hainan Island – on a Chinese military installation. One Chinese pilot was killed, and the American crew was held captive and interrogated by the Chinese military.
Meanwhile, a trove of Top Secret American intelligence and intel-gathering equipment was sitting in Chinese hands.
A Chinese J-8 fighter.
The EP-3E Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System, also known as ARIES, aircraft is used for signals intelligence gathering. Much of what these planes do is a close secret, and no one except its crew members really know how or what information they track, which makes what is now known as the “Hainan Island Incident” all the more damaging. When the crew of the EP-3E was forced to land – without permission – on the Chinese military base, it was basically handing China some of the U.S. military’s most secret equipment.
At the end of the EP-3’s six-hour mission, it was intercepted by Chinese jets near Hainan Island, itself an extremely important signals intelligence base for China. One of the Shenyang J-8 interceptors made three passes on the EP-3E, accidentally colliding with it on the third pass. The hit damaged the Navy plane and tore the Chinese fighter in two. After recovering from a steep, fast dive, the Navy crew tried to destroy all the sensitive equipment aboard. Sadly, they had not been trained on how to do that. Protocol for such an event would have been to put the plane into the sea and hope for rescue. Instead, the crew poured coffee into the electronic equipment and threw other sensitive documents out a hatch.
The EP-3E spy plane was flown out by a third party in an Antonov-124 cargo plane, the world’s largest.
The crew conducted an emergency landing on Hainan Island’s Lingshui Airfield, where they were taken into custody by the People’s Liberation Army. They were interrogated and held for ten days as the United States negotiated their release. The Chinese demanded an apology for both the illegal landing and for their dead pilot, which the U.S. publicly announced. The plane required extra negotiation, as the Chinese wouldn’t let the United States repair it and fly it out. The Navy had to hire a Russian company to fly it away.
When the Russians came to pick up the plane, they found it torn apart by the Chinese. It was returned to the Navy in pieces months later – and the Chinese presumably learned everything about America’s most sensitive signals intelligence equipment. A later inquiry didn’t fault the crew. In fact, the pilot received the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving the crew and the aircraft. Documents later released by Edward Snowden revealed the Navy didn’t know how much sensitive material was aboard and inadequately prepared the crew for this eventuality.
Coffee is, without question, one of the most popular drinks in the entire world. Service members around the globe wake up every morning to enjoy a tasty cup of Joe and drink it throughout the day to get a critical mid-day boost.
It’s reported that coffee was discovered centuries ago on the Ethiopian plateau — which covers the majority of the country and the Horn of Africa — by a goat herder named Kaldi. After his goats ate the beans from a nearby tree, they had crazy energy that kept them from falling asleep. Humans gave it a shot and, unsurprisingly, felt the same things.
Since then, the bean has been sold throughout the world. People of all ages consume countless gallons of the special drink we commonly refer to as a “cup of Joe.” But have you ever wondered where that nickname came from?
Turns out, it was used long ago as a way to talk sh*t about a man who changed Naval history forever.
Way back in the day, drinking alcohol on Navy ships was the norm for sailors. However, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, Josephus Daniels was appointed as the newest Secretary of the Navy.
After he took the position, Daniels decided that the United States needed to clean up a negative image surrounding sailors. To do this, he increased the number of religious chaplains in service, (officially) banned prostitutes from Naval bases and, worst of all, banned personnel from consuming alcohol on vessels.
Although sailors hated the idea (big shocker), General Order 99 was issued on Jun. 1, 1914.
Because of the alcohol ban, sailors found their beverage options very limited on ships — but they had plenty of coffee to sip on. In the absence of anything stiffer, a cup of black coffee was strongest option for sailors. So, they began referring to it as a “cup of Josephus Daniels” as a bitter reminder of the man who took the booze away.
As time passed, the insult was shortened to, simply, a “cup of Joe” — a term we use today.
There are roughly 8,500 U.S. personnel stationed at the Navy’s base in Bahrain. In 1999, one of those, Lance Cpl. Jason Johnson, faced a court-martial and legal battle to wed his beloved girlfriend, a Bahraini local named Meriam. The Marine met Meriam at a local mall and, over the objections of her family, the two continued their love affair.
The biggest problem is that Meriam’s full name is Meriam bint Abdullah al-Khalifa, and she was a member of the royal family’s house of Khalifa. So, when Lance Cpl.Johnson smuggled her out of Bahrain and into the United States, it was kind of a big deal.
It wasn’t just that she was a member of the royal family, her family’s Islamic faith was incompatible with Johnson’s Mormon beliefs. She was forbidden to marry a non-Muslim, by both her religion and her family. There was also an age difference, as Johnson was 23 years old and Meriam al-Khalifa was just 19.
There were a lot of reasons why they shouldn’t have gotten married, but with the help of a friend, they still managed to exchange letters. Their affection for one another only grew.
Until it was time for Johnson to return to the United States.
Undeterred by things like “passports” and “legal documents,” he snuck the girl into the United States with forged documents and a New York Yankees baseball hat. By the time they landed in Chicago, U.S. immigration officials were waiting for Meriam, and took her into custody.
Meriam was held for three days by customs and immigration officials. Eventually, she was granted asylum as she worried about the possibility of honor-related violence if she returned to her family.
“She does not believe that she can go back and be safe at this time,” her lawyer, Jan Bejar said at an official hearing. “All the woman did is try to leave a country that does not allow her to live with the person she wants to live with.”
The couple also made the talk show circuit.
(The Oprah Winfrey Show)
They were married just a few weeks after arriving in the United States. Weeks later, her family sent a letter, forgiving her for eloping, but not mentioning her new husband. For a while, the two lived in base housing on Camp Pendleton, but when the Marines found out what had happened, they were understandably upset with Johnson. He was court-martialed, demoted, and eventually left the Corps.
The two settled down to live their lives together in the Las Vegas area where Johnson got a job as a valet, parking cars for wealthy nightclub patrons — patrons like Meriam’s family. The al-Khalifa family hadn’t forgotten about Meriam or Johnson. The FBI alleged that the family paid an assassin half a million dollars to find Meriam and kill her.
But their married life wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be. Johnson told the Associated Press that al-Khalifa was more interested in partying in Las Vegas than she was in enjoying life with her husband, spending the money they made from selling their story to a made-for-TV movie called, The Princess and the Marine. By 2003, the whirlwind romance came to a dead stop, buried in the Las Vegas desert.
The cast of ‘The Princess and the Marine.’
Johnson filed for divorce in 2004, saying “it was what she wanted.”
Deep down inside, she knows that I loved her more than anything in the world,” Johnson told the AP. “I can say I enjoyed every minute I spent with her.”
How many military branches make you surrender your passport, catalog everything you brought to the recruitment center and give you a new identity, all before you sign your enlistment contract?
That’s the French Foreign Legion and that’s exactly how it works… at least according to a Reddit user with the handle FFLGuy, who did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2011. On other responses on Reddit he mentions serving as “a former légionnaire in the Légion étrangère,” as the French saying goes.
For anyone unaware, the French Foreign Legion is a highly-trained, highly capable fighting force fighting for France – but is open to anyone from any nation. What makes serving in the unit unique is that after three years, members can apply for French citizenship. They are also immediately eligible for citizenship if wounded in combat, a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” – or “French by spilled blood.”
Also unique to the Legion is being able to serve under an assumed identity and then retain that identity after serving. While the Legion used to force everyone to use a pseudonym, these days, enlistees have a choice of identities, real or assumed.
For the first week of your enlistment, you sign contracts and wait to find out if Interpol has any outstanding warrants for you. Once selected, you go right to training in Aubagne, in the Cote-d’Azur region of Southern France. You are stripped of everything, as the Legion now provides you with everything you need.
You are now wearing a blue Legion track suit and are working all day long. Cleaning, painting and cooking are the primary preoccupations, but members are taken away for physical and psychological testing. Also, the hazing begins. While that may not fly in America, this is the Legion, and there’s a 80 percent attrition rate. When would-be Legionnaires give up, it’s called “going civil.”
After two weeks of this “rouge” (red) period, you’re whisked away by train to Castelnaudary, where trainees spend the bulk of their basic training time. In total, the training is four months. Three of it will be spent here. It is from here you transition from engagé volontaire (voluntary enlistee), to actual légionnaire. The groups are split up into four groups of 25-45 would-be légionnaires.
Castelnaudary is where the foreign légionnaires learn French, work out, train, ruck, learn to use weapons and basically all the rudimentary things infantrymen do while in the infantry.Once at Castelnaudary, getting out of the Legion is very difficult. They will find a way to make you stay, the author writes: “Trust me when I tell you that it isn’t a wise choice.”
“Hazing at this point is constant,” the author wrote. “There will be many nights without sleep, and many meals missed. You are never alone and are constantly watched for even the tiniest mistakes. The consequences for mistakes are severe and painful; physically, psychologically or both. The environment is initially set up to ensure failure. You are broken down individually – both mentally and physically – slowly being built back up with larger and larger successes as a group.”
Hazing includes food and sleep deprivation, physical abuse and the like. As the author writes, “If you made it through Castelnaudary without being hit at least once, you weren’t there. “
Ten percent of the group who make it to Castelnaudary will go civil before they earn the coveted Kepi Blanc. It’s when your ceremony for earning the Kepi Blanc is when you officially are a Légionnaire. But the training is not complete. For three more months, you go through basic infantry training.
Those that quit or are not chosen to continue their training are given back their possessions, passports, a small amount of money for every day spent working, and a train ticket to the city in which they entered the Legion. They also have to resume their old identity.
With their old identity in hand, they must return to their country of origin.
Revenge is a dish best served cold — but it doesn’t always require bloodshed.
On the early morning of July 11th, 1804, two rivals met in the forest outside Weehawken, New Jersey. This bitter reunion was years in the making, as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr finally said enough was enough and decided to settle their differences via a now-famous duel.
The former Secretary of the Treasury missed but the sitting Vice President of the United States did not. Hamilton was shot in the lower abdomen, mortally wounding him. He would die the next day.
Most Americans know this story — but they might not know about the sequel.
After he was shot, Hamilton was ferried into the nearby Greenwich Village and was paid final visits by his friends and family. Among them was his son, Alexander Hamilton Jr., a budding student of law.
This wasn’t the first death in the family as a result of dueling. Hamilton’s eldest son, Phillip, had fallen in a duel to George Eacker, a lackey of Aaron Burr, after Eacker singled out the Hamilton family at a Columbia College commencement ceremony. Eacker’s spite-filled speech contained damning phrases like, “the mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son” as he stared directly toward oldest Hamilton boy. Philip died defending his family’s honor on the same dueling grounds his father would lay upon just three years later.
(Photo by Billy Hatorne)
Alexander Hamilton Jr.’s father was killed just weeks before his graduation from Columbia College. According to the Saint Andrew’s Society, the death held him back and he didn’t graduate on time. But this wasn’t the only toll the deaths of Alexander Sr. and Phillip Hamilton would take on the family. Elizabeth, the matron of the Hamilton family, had to sell off their Harlem estate while Angelica, Alexander Jr.’s sister, suffered a mental breakdown from which she never recovered.
Stricken with sadness, he did what any good American lost in emotions would do — he joined the military. The young Hamilton sailed to Spain in 1811 and fought under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, against Napoleon’s forces. There, he learned military strategy.
(Painting by Thomas Lawrence)
Meanwhile, Aaron Burr fled the country after he was charged with treason for his conspiring to fabricate a war between Spain and Mexico so he could found a new country consisting of the Spanish territory of Florida, the Louisiana Purchase, and the American Southwest. Now a political outcast, he first sought aid from Britain and, when he found no success there, he sided with Napoleon — coincidentally around the same time period Hamilton Jr. was fighting him.
Hamilton Jr. would later use his new-found military knowledge during the War of 1812 as an infantry captain. This gained the attention of his father’s old friend, General Morgan Lewis. Burr, on the other hand, found his political career destroyed and became penniless after his journey to find new roots.
After the war, Hamilton Jr. returned to a life as a lawyer — just as his father and older brother before him did — and would eventually take a seat as a New York state legislator. His prowess in the courtroom landed him the role of United States attorney for the newly formed Eastern Florida territory in 1822. There, he helped shape Florida into an American state.
Years passed and the Hamilton finally returned to New York City. There, he started selling real estate and became a leading name in Wall Street. He used his own money and what remained after his mother’s sale of their Harlem estate to buy his mother a new home on the East side.
Meanwhile, the poverty-stricken Burr took on a new surname of “Edwards” to avoid creditors and to hide from his treasonous past. This is when he married the newly widowed and then-richest woman in America, Eliza Jumel. It’s said that his intentions of preying on her were entirely monetary. Quickly, he tried to use her money to purchase land in Mexican Texas — which was made worthless when the immigration of US citizens was outlawed.
Only four months into the marriage, Burr committed adultery many times and mismanaged almost all of Jumel’s enormous fortune. She did what any reasonable person would do after such a situation: She filed for divorce in 1833.
It was unclear how it happened, exactly, but Alexander Hamilton Jr. came to Jumel’s aid as her attorney in the divorce proceedings. At this point, Hamilton Jr. had lived a long and fulfilling life. He had been the one of the country’s best lawyers, a fantastic military mind, and a New York real estate tycoon. By all logical conclusions, this case should have been leagues below his status — but he took it on anyways.
The divorce court dragged on for almost three years. Hamilton brought every misdeed done by Burr to light. During the trial, Burr suffered a debilitating stroke but, by the end, Burr had been stripped of everything. Eliza Jumel and Alexander Hamilton Jr. took what remained of his money, his health, and his legacy.
Just hours after the divorce was finalized, Burr passed away. He spent his last moments knowing that the son of the man he killed succeed in nearly everything he did, including taking everything away from him in return.
On July 7, 1919, a group of U.S. military members dedicated Zero Milestone — the point from which all road distances in the country would be measured — just south of the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. The next morning, they helped to define the future of the nation.
Instead of an exploratory rocket or deep-sea submarine, these explorers set out in 42 trucks, five passenger cars and an assortment of motorcycles, ambulances, tank trucks, mobile field kitchens, mobile repair shops and Signal Corps searchlight trucks. During the first three days of driving, they managed just over five miles per hour. This was most troubling because their goal was to explore the condition of American roads by driving across the U.S.
Participating in this exploratory party was U.S. Army Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although he played a critical role in many portions of 20th-century U.S. history, his passion for roads may have carried the most significant impact on the domestic front. This trek, literally and figuratively, caught the nation and the young soldier at a crossroads.
Returning from World War I, Ike was entertaining the idea of leaving the military and accepting a civilian job. His decision to remain proved pivotal for the nation. By the end of the first half of the century, the roadscape — transformed with an interstate highway system while he was president — helped remake the nation and the lives of its occupants.
For Ike, though, roadways represented not only domestic development but also national security. By the early 1900s it become clear to many administrators that petroleum was a strategic resource to the nation’s present and future.
At the start of World War I, the world had an oil glut since there were few practical uses for it beyond kerosene for lighting. When the war was over, the developed world had little doubt that a nation’s future standing in the world was predicated on access to oil. “The Great War” introduced a 19th-century world to modern ideas and technologies, many of which required inexpensive crude.
Prime movers and national security
During and after World War I, there was a dramatic change in energy production, shifting heavily away from wood and hydropower and toward fossil fuels – coal and, ultimately, petroleum. And in comparison to coal, when utilized in vehicles and ships, petroleum brought flexibility as it could be transported with ease and used in different types of vehicles. That in itself represented a new type of weapon and a basic strategic advantage. Within a few decades of this energy transition, petroleum’s acquisition took on the spirit of an international arms race.
Even more significant, the international corporations that harvested oil throughout the world acquired a level of significance unknown to other industries, earning the encompassing name “Big Oil.” By the 1920s, Big Oil’s product – useless just decades prior – had become the lifeblood of national security to the U.S. and Great Britain. And from the start of this transition, the massive reserves held in the U.S. marked a strategic advantage with the potential to last generations.
As impressive as the U.S.’ domestic oil production was from 1900-1920, however, the real revolution occurred on the international scene, as British, Dutch and French European powers used corporations such as Shell, British Petroleum and others to begin developing oil wherever it occurred.
During this era of colonialism, each nation applied its age-old method of economic development by securing petroleum in less developed portions of the world, including Mexico, the Black Sea area and, ultimately, the Middle East. Redrawing global geography based on resource supply (such as gold, rubber and even human labor or slavery) of course, was not new; doing so specifically for sources of energy was a striking change.
When the war broke out, military strategy was organized around horses and other animals. With one horse on the field for every three men, such primitive modes dominated the fighting in this “transitional conflict.”
Throughout the war, the energy transition took place from horsepower to gas-powered trucks and tanks and, of course, to oil-burning ships and airplanes. Innovations put these new technologies into immediate action on the horrific battlefield of World War I.
It was the British, for instance, who set out to overcome the stalemate of trench warfare by devising an armored vehicle that was powered by the internal combustion engine. Under its code name “tank,” the vehicle was first used in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme. In addition, the British Expeditionary Force that went to France in 1914 was supported by a fleet of 827 motor cars and 15 motorcycles; by war’s end, the British army included 56,000 trucks, 23,000 motorcars and 34,000 motorcycles. These gas-powered vehicles offered superior flexibility on the battlefield.
Government airplane manufactured by Dayton-Wright Airplane Company in 1918.
In the air and sea, the strategic change was more obvious. By 1915, Britain had built 250 planes. In this era of the Red Baron and others, primitive airplanes often required that the pilot pack his own sidearm and use it for firing at his opponent. More often, though, the flying devices could be used for delivering explosives in episodes of tactical bombing. German pilots applied this new strategy to severe bombing of England with zeppelins and later with aircraft. Over the course of the war, the use of aircraft expanded remarkably: Britain, 55,000 planes; France, 68,0000 planes; Italy, 20,000; U.S., 15,000; and Germany, 48,000.
With these new uses, wartime petroleum supplies became a critical strategic military issue. Royal Dutch/Shell provided the war effort with much of its supply of crude. In addition, Britain expanded even more deeply in the Middle East. In particular, Britain had quickly come to depend on the Abadan refinery site in Persia, and when Turkey came into the war in 1915 as a partner with Germany, British soldiers defended it from Turkish invasion.
When the Allies expanded to include the U.S. in 1917, petroleum was a weapon on everyone’s mind. The Inter-Allied Petroleum Conference was created to pool, coordinate and control all oil supplies and tanker travel. The U.S. entry into the war made this organization necessary because it had been supplying such a large portion of the Allied effort thus far. Indeed, as the producer of nearly 70 percent of the world’s oil supply, the U.S.’ greatest weapon in the fighting of World War I may have been crude. President Woodrow Wilson appointed the nation’s first energy czar, whose responsibility was to work in close quarters with leaders of the American companies.
Infrastructure as a path to national power
When the young Eisenhower set out on his trek after the war, he deemed the party’s progress over the first two days “not too good” and as slow “as even the slowest troop train.” The roads they traveled across the U.S., Ike described as “average to nonexistent.” He continued:
“In some places, the heavy trucks broke through the surface of the road and we had to tow them out one by one, with the caterpillar tractor. Some days when we had counted on sixty or seventy or a hundred miles, we could do three or four.”
Eisenhower’s party completed its frontier trek and arrived in San Francisco, California on Sept. 6, 1919. Of course, the clearest implication that grew from Eisenhower’s trek was the need for roads. Unstated, however, was the symbolic suggestion that matters of transportation and of petroleum now demanded the involvement of the U.S. military, as it did in many industrialized nations.
The emphasis on roads and, later, particularly on Ike’s interstate system was transformative for the U.S.; however, Eisenhower was overlooking the fundamental shift in which he participated. The imperative was clear: Whether through road-building initiatives or through international diplomacy, the use of petroleum by his nation and others was now a reliance that carried with it implications for national stability and security.
Seen through this lens of history, petroleum’s road to essentialness in human life begins neither in its ability to propel the Model T nor to give form to the burping plastic Tupperware bowl. The imperative to maintain petroleum supplies begins with its necessity for each nation’s defense. Although petroleum use eventually made consumers’ lives simpler in numerous ways, its use by the military fell into a different category entirely. If the supply was insufficient, the nation’s most basic protections would be compromised.
After World War I in 1919, Eisenhower and his team thought they were determining only the need for roadways — “The old convoy,” he explained, “had started me thinking about good, two lane highways.”
At the same time, though, they were declaring a political commitment by the U.S. And thanks to its immense domestic reserves, the U.S. was late coming to this realization. Yet after the “war to end all wars,” it was a commitment already being acted upon by other nations, notably Germany and Britain, each of whom lacked essential supplies of crude.
Earlier this month, cadets arrived at West Point for “R day” or reception day, though social distancing and mask policy prompted by COVID-19 made this tradition look different than times past. Dwight Eisenhower, the school’s most famous alum, went through his own R-day in 1911. Even though the general and, later, president, will forever be associated with the Academy, a closer review of the history shows Eisenhower and West Point weren’t a perfect match. Here are five facts about Dwight Eisenhower’s time at West Point you might not know.
1. West Point wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice.
It’s true. The academy that features a statue of Eisenhower, a leadership development program named for him and a theatre named after him, wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice. Eisenhower initially preferred the Naval Academy. That makes sense because when Eisenhower was evaluating schools in 1910-1911, the U.S. demonstrated its military power through the Navy. Alas, Eisenhower, 20 at the time of his application, was too old for the Naval Academy, so he gave West Point a try. After some effort, Eisenhower was accepted, and he arrived at West Point on July 14, 1911.
2. Eisenhower was forced to join the “awkward squad” in his first weeks at West Point.
When students arrive at West Point, they are called plebes and hazing quickly begins. Upperclassmen at West Point initiate new students into the Army culture through rigorous physical and emotional tests known as the “beast barracks,” which involve a great deal of drilling. Having grown up in a rough-and-tumble farming town in Kansas, Eisenhower had no problem with the physical end of the ordeal. But he just could not catch onto the marching tempo and was forced to join similarly challenged plebes in the “awkward squad” until he could get the timing right.
3. Eisenhower didn’t like the hazing at West Point.
Eisenhower didn’t enjoy the beast barracks and did all he could to undermine the system of hazing. Years later he described the cadet instructors as “obnoxious and pestiferous.” Later in his plebe year, Eisenhower and a fellow cadet broke a minor rule. As punishment, an upperclassman ordered them to report in “full-dress coat.” Eisenhower took the order literally and showed up sans pants, an act of defiance that drove his tormenter mad. Years later Eisenhower savored how that upperclassman let out “the cry of a cougar.” Eisenhower recalled later in life that when he was an upperclassman, he shamed a cadet over a job the young man had held. After that incident, Eisenhower resolved to no longer harass plebes. Eisenhower was no bully.
4. Eisenhower broke the rules at West Point — a lot.
Eisenhower constantly broke the rules and regulations at West Point. The list of his demerits runs nearly 10 pages. Biographer Carlo D’Este writes that Eisenhower “seemed to relish every opportunity to outwit an instructor or upperclassman.” Eisenhower’s willful disregard for the rules pertaining to dancing, for example, brought him to the attention of the commandant. Eisenhower ignored an order not to, in his words, “whirl” a professor’s daughter during a dance. His willfulness led the commandant to demote him, confine him to barracks and order him to walk 22 laps.
5. Eisenhower was almost denied a commission at the end of his schooling at West Point.
Academics at West Point in the early 20th century did not encourage independent thinking. Instead, lessons involved what Michael E. Haskew called “mind-numbing rote memorization.” That approach led Eisenhower to devote his energies to football, a sport he had played in high school. Two weeks after competing against the legendary, Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, Eisenhower suffered a major knee injury. That injury and others almost led an Army doctor to recommend that the future general be allowed to graduate but not receive a commission.
Eisenhower said he was fine with that and thought about a life in Argentina. When the doctor suggested he be commissioned in the Coast Artillery, Eisenhower objected, so West Point officials eventually settled on a commission in the infantry. Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and was deployed to the Mexican border, one of the least sought-after deployments in that era. In his first few years, Eisenhower’s requests to see combat in World War I were repeatedly denied, and he was pressured to coach football. Only through dogged persistence was he able to build a career for himself outside the confines of stateside training.
The class that graduated in 1915 would be referred to as the “Class the Stars Fell On.” (Wikimedia Commons)
Ultimately, the best parts of college for Eisenhower were the lessons he learned about leadership and the friends he made among his classmates. Those classmates, collectively known as the “class the stars fell on,” eventually rose high in the ranks and formed a cadre of allies Eisenhower would call upon later. Eisenhower sharpened his skills as a leader and realized that humiliating people did not motivate them. The obligations of service – duty, honor, country – so ingrained over those West Point years inspired Eisenhower throughout his military career, highlighted by his command of the D-Day invasion, and a political career that concluded with two terms as President of the United States.
Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”
Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.
After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.
So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.
Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.
For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.
After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.
If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.
Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:
“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”
The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur is well known for his exploits in WWII and Korea. What is often overlooked is his exemplary combat record as a leader in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division in World War I.
At the outset of the Great War, MacArthur was appointed Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division and promoted to a wartime rank of Colonel. He and the rest of the division arrived in France in November 1917.
The 42nd entered the line in February of 1918 and MacArthur wasted no time getting into the war. On February 26, MacArthur and another American officer accompanied a French unit on a nighttime raid of a German trench. MacArthur gained valuable experience for his own troops to employ but, more importantly, greatly aided in the effort to capture German prisoners for interrogation. The French awarded him with a Croix de Guerre while Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher awarded him a SilveFr Star.
Then on March 9, MacArthur joined Company D, 168th Infantry Regiment in an attack of their own. Being their first major action, MacArthur’s presence and coolness under fire inspired the men and they quickly carried the enemy position. MacArthur himself described it as a “roaring avalanche of glittering steel and cursing men.” For his bravery in the attack, MacArthur was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also lightly wounded and received his first Purple Heart.
MacArthur received a promotion to Brigadier General on June 26, 1918 after he and the men of the 42nd held the line against the German Spring Offensive for 82 days.
After a short rest, the division was quickly put back into the line to prepare for the German offensive in the Champagne-Marne sector. As the German onslaught surged forward under a rolling barrage, MacArthur once again joined his troops on the line to steady their nerves. As the Germans broke through the forward lines, MacArthur shouted encouragement and rallied his men for a fight. The German advance was broken up and MacArthur received a second Silver Star.
After successfully holding the line, the division was moved to Chateau-Thierry to relieve the 26th Division and to maintain pressure on the retreating Germans. MacArthur led his men in a brutal offensive day after day in small unit actions and raids. As they approached the Main Line of Resistance, MacArthur led several large scale assaults to drive the Germans out of strong points and villages. One village changed hands eleven times before the Americans finally laid claim to the smoldering ruins.
Then on July 29, MacArthur led a valiant assault against the Germans at Seringes et Nesles. Under intense enemy fire, the men forded a stream and rushed up the slopes of the defenses before driving off the German defenders. For his part in the action MacArthur was awarded a third Silver Star.
Just days later, MacArthur was placed in command of the 42nd Division’s 84th Infantry Brigade after its former commander was relieved of duty. One of MacArthur’s first orders of business was to personally conduct a reconnaissance of German positions thinking that they might have withdrawn. He and a runner crawled through the mangled corpses and dying wounded of the German defenders left behind. In a tense moment MacArthur’s runner took out a machine gun position with a grenade before they could be spotted.
Eventually they reached the brigade on their flank and determined that the Germans had indeed withdrawn. MacArthur went straight to division headquarters to report his findings. After he explained his mission to his superiors, and passed out from not having slept in four days, the corps commander, Gen. Hunter Liggett, exclaimed “Well, I’ll be damned, Menoher, you better cite him!” MacArthur received his fourth Silver Star.
After another rest, MacArthur led the 84th Brigade in the main assault against the Germans at St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918. After months of fighting, MacArthur knew the German tactics; they would hold the center of the line while leaving the flanks weak. To counter this, his assault plan would fix the German center and then envelope the flanks. It worked, and on the first day of the attack the 84th Brigade drove farther than any other unit and suffered less casualties. They also captured some 10,000 German prisoners. This garnered MacArthur his fifth Silver Star.
Two weeks later, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, MacArthur’s unit was ordered to conduct a diversionary raid against German strong points in their sector. MacArthur made a great show of it and, while accomplishing his diversionary mission, managed to suffer less than 20 casualties. For his exceptional leadership he was awarded a sixth Silver Star.
As the offensive continued on, MacArthur continued his valiant leadership. When his corps commander ordered the taking of a position — or to “turn in a list of 5,000 casualties” — he heartily replied, “We’ll take it, or my name will head the list.” MacArthur’s soldiers fought through bitter cold and determined resistance with mounting casualties, but they finally took the position. MacArthur was recommended for a promotion to Major General and a Medal of Honor. Instead, he received his second Distinguished Service Cross, which in the citation states: “On a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant feature.”
Next, in the mad dash to take Sedan, he was awarded his seventh Silver Star when he averted a disastrous overlap of units from the 42nd and 1st Divisions by personally leaving friendly lines to communicate with the units involved at great personal risk to himself. During this period of fighting, MacArthur, known to not carry his gas mask as it impeded his movement, was gassed, earning a second Purple Heart.
For his exceptional service to the 42nd Division he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and also briefly made the division’s commanding officer in November 1918. His seven Silver Stars were a military record that stood until David Hackworth earned ten during fighting in Korea and Vietnam.
“You’ve probably been wondering what it was like to make my first trip into combat,” writes Pfc. Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, a paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne. Martin made the jump into Normandy on June 6, 1944, along with thousands of other Allied troops. “… the sky was full of orange and red blossoms of fire… I stepped out to meet a ladder of flak and tracers.”
The words in Pfc. Martin’s letter to his wife and family are brought to life by Academy Award-nominated actor Bryan Cranston. The images of paratroopers flying the most important one-way trip in history are restored in full 4K video by the team over at AARP, dedicated to preserving the words and deeds of America’s aging Greatest Generation.
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.