How a plain old Cessna became a military legend - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.


The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
One of the most famous O-1s — this plane made a landing on USS Midway (CV 41) as South Vietnam fell.
(US Navy)

The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
The rockets this Bird dog packs aren’t to kill the enemy – they just provide an aiming point.
(US Air Force)

In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.

In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first Navy Medal of Honor

The first Navy Medal of Honor recipient was Captain of the Maintop John Williams. He was an enlisted leader sent to reinforce an attack on a Confederate battery at Mathias Point who continued caring for all of his sailors and the flag even as he was wounded and under intense fire in June, 1861.


How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Union warships and Confederate batteries exchange fire at Aquia Creek.

(U.S. Navy sketch by Lt. Cash)

The attack on Mathias Point was part of the constant struggle during the war for control of the waterways in the divided nation. The typical script in the course of the war was of Union troops and boats pushing their way along rivers and coasts to starve Confederate cities of supply, but there were early cases of Confederate troops cutting off river access for U.S. forces.

In May, 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia sent troops to seize control of the Potomac, cutting off access to the sea from Washington D.C. Predictably, the Union ordered the Potomac flotilla, a small command consisting of just a few ships, to re-open the waterways.

One focus was Aquia Creek, a waterway that met up with the terminus of the Richmond and Fredericksburg railroads at Mathias Point. Obviously, a juncture of major land and sea transportation infrastructure is always a key strategic point.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Union sailors work with a cannon onboard the USS Thomas Freeborn.

(U.S. Navy)

The main ship in the flotilla was a small steamer, USS Thomas Freeborn, that carried only a few, light pieces of artillery, but it attempted multiple attacks on the new Confederate batteries on the Potomac in May and June, 1861. The initial fighting was not only indecisive, it was inconsequential. Neither side was able to inflict a serious injury on a member of the other force, and neither the battery nor the ships suffered real damage.

So, the Navy decided to switch to landing parties that would break up fortifications and prevent the construction of new fortifications and batteries. The first attack was on June 24, but it was during the follow-up attack on June 27 that Captain of the Maintop John Williams distinguished himself and earned the first Navy Medal of Honor.

Captain of the maintop was an enlisted position below that of the chief petty officer.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Union ships and Confederate batteries clash in 1861 as landing parties row to shore..

(U.S. Navy)

Potomac Flotilla Commander James Ward led the attack against a “large Confederate force,” which had not yet built fortifications on a position near Mathias Point. The Union troops managed to drive the Confederate pickets back toward their main force, but Ward was hit with a fatal gunshot wound soon after.

The men were ordered back to the boats, but then a second landing was made under the direction of a lieutenant, and the landing was quickly pushed back.

During this second landing, Williams “told his men, while lying off in the boat, that every man must die on his thwart sooner than leave a man behind,” according to his Medal of Honor citation. He was wounded in the thigh by a musket ball during the engagement, but retained control of his boat and carried the flag in his hand back to the Freeborn after the staff was destroyed by a musket ball.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Union ships fire on CSA batteries in Virginia in 1861.

(U.S. Navy)

The orders for his medal would not be approved until April 3, 1863.

Since then, Navy personnel have received hundreds of Medals of Honor. Most recently, the medal was awarded to Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Britt Slabinski for his initiative under serious fire in Operation Anaconda in 2002. Slabinski rescued multiple wounded service members after the insertion helicopter was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade and led a grueling defense until extracted.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient directed a counterattack his first time in combat

Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.

Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.


How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Barnum takes a moment for a quick photo op while stationed in Vietnam.

The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.

Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.

After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
U.S. troops load up on a Huey during the Vietnam War.

After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.

In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.

1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

The French Foreign Legion is one of France’s elite fighting forces, filled with men who are ready and willing to do extreme violence on France’s behalf. When 1930s Germany started looking at its neighbors with greedy eyes, it knew that it had to do something about the Legion.

Germany saw its opportunity in the large number of Legion noncommissioned officers who were German by birth. The Nazis hatched a plan to send droves of men to the Legion. These men would then convince German noncommissioned officers to betray the Legion. The spies would also collect lists of Jewish legionnaires and other groups targeted by the Third Reich for extermination.

Somewhere around 80 percent of French Foreign Legion NCOs were German, so this was no idle threat. The Legion quickly caught on to the Nazis’ plan and began screening German recruits carefully.

 

Still, many Nazi agents got in before the heightened scrutiny began. Legion leaders, knowing they were compromised, began sending suspect Legionnaires to low-risk postings like road construction. At the same time, Legionnaires who might be targeted by the Nazis were sent to far-flung outposts in North Africa.

 

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Free French Foreign Legionnaires attack an enemy strongpoint in Africa in 1942. Photo: Public domain

The level of German sympathies in the Legion was bad enough that France debated whether or not to deploy Legion units from their headquarters in Algeria to France ahead of the possible German invasion. They settled on recruiting new Legionnaires from anti-Nazi populations, such as political refugees from Germany and French reservists, and brought loyal Legionnaires from North Africa to train them.

Nine new regiments were raised but most lacked the standards and experience of the true French Foreign Legion. Most of these units were sent to the front before the Germans invaded and they fought bitterly to resist the blitzkrieg when it was launched. When war broke out, the Legion also took the preventative measure of arresting German Legionnaires suspected of being Nazi spies.

The Legion has a long and proud history of fighting well past when other units would have surrendered, and the Legion units fighting in France upheld that tradition. Most continued fighting even after taking losses of 75 percent or more, only ceasing when ordered by their commanders after the Armistice was signed.

The 11th Foreign Infantry Regiment, knowing it would likely be wiped out, even burned its colors to prevent their capture before launching a series of delaying actions to buy other units time to retreat.

After the Armistice was signed, Germany demanded that their spies be allowed to leave the Legion. The true Legionnaires were happy to see them go.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
French Foreign Legionnaires assigned to Indochina pose under a plane wing. Photo: Public Domain

Those spies took lists of people considered “undesirable” with them, and the Legion quickly had to make false papers to protect them from arrest by the Nazis. Many were shipped under new names to remote outposts where the Nazis were unlikely to look for them.

Unfortunately, about 2,000 men were found out by the Nazis. Most were sent to a new German unit, the 361st Motorised Infantry Regiment, and forced to fight for Germany.

At the same time, Legion units split into three groups. Some of the newer units, filled with recruits who had joined “for the duration of the war,” were disbanded. Others joined the Free French Forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle and continued to resist the Germans. A few units, mostly those in areas already controlled by the Germans, joined the Vichy French forces and fought against the allies.

In one battle in Syria, this actually resulted in men from the Free French Foreign Legion fighting those from the Vichy French Legion. Following the Legion’s mantra, “The Legion is our Fatherland,” the treated prisoners and wounded from the opposing Legion with special care.

Ultimately, the Free French Foreign Legion won and continued supporting the Allies well into the invasion of Germany.

Articles

5 times ‘outdated’ weapons saved the day

Soldiers and commanders are usually stuck with whatever equipment the procurement officers and civilian leaders are willing to buy for them, sometimes forcing troops to go into combat with outdated and inferior equipment.


But sometimes, those “outdated” weapons are actually just perfect for the fight. Here are five times that a supposedly obsolete weapon system saved the lives of its users:

1. Bayonets in Afghanistan and Iraq

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
A British soldier with fixed bayonet. (Photo: U.K. Ministry of Defence)

Bayonets, most often associated with fighting in the Civil and Revolutionary Wars, actually played a key role in battles during the modern Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

The most famous probably came in 2004 when 20 British troops were trying to push insurgents from a series of trenches. The fire from the U.K. vehicles was doing little and ammunition was running low, so the commander ordered his men to dismount and fix bayonets.

The British killed approximately 20 of the enemy with their bayonets at a cost of three men injured. Overall, the enemy lost 28 men in the fight.

2. Mortars in World War I

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Mortars are still a thing, as are hand grenades. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Timothy Jackson).

It may sound insane today since mortars are still common weapons, but naysayers in the first years of World War I thought that the mortar was relatively unimportant and was no longer necessary. It was already hundreds of years old and had seen reduced deployments in western militaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

But Germany had seen mortars and grenades used in the Russo-Japanese War and stockpiled them before the war as a way to break French defenses. The Allies had to play catch up, developing their own mortars as the war continued. A British design, the Stokes trench mortar, was highly portable and lethal and gave rise to the modern mortar system.

3. OV-10 Bronco

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
An OV-10G+ operated by SEAL Team 6. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The OV-10 Bronco is an observation and ground attack plane that first flew in 1965 and served in the U.S. military from Vietnam through Desert Storm before accepting a quiet retirement in 1995. Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, touts its historical performance in counter-insurgency, forward air control, and armed reconnaissance missions.

Well, the OV-10 Bronco flew out of history and into the fight against ISIS when CENTCOM deployed two of them in anti-insurgency reconnaissance and ground attack missions. The planes performed 132 sorties in 2015 with a whopping 99 percent completion rate, including 120 combat missions.

4. Pretty much anywhere the A-10 has ever fought

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
The A-10 shows off its non-BRRRRRT related talents. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Bob Sommer)

The A-10 Warthog (or the Thunderbolt, if you’re into that) has been “outdated” since 1973 when the Yom Kippur War saw low and slow close air support platforms like the A-4 Skyhawk slaughtered while fast and high-flying planes like the F-4 Phantom largely survived.

But the A-10, a low and slow platform, made its operational debut in 1976, three years after the Yom Kippur War supposedly closed the books on them. Despite that, the A-10 has fought and survived in a number of contested environments, most notably Iraq where it has twice been a key part of American forces breaking the back of armored and anti-aircraft ground forces.

In Afghanistan alone, A-10 pilots saved a Special Forces team from five ground assaults against them; conducted forward air control and numerous attack missions to ensure the success of an 8-hour, no notice mission to capture a senior enemy officer; and prevented an accidental fratricide event before annihilating Taliban forces at Jugroom Fort.

5. The Night Witches and their plywood biplanes

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
The Po-2 bomber was woefully outdated in World War II, but the women of the 588th made it work. (Photo: Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Douzeff)

The women of Soviet Russia’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the Night Witches, flew in plywood and canvas biplanes through the best defenses that Nazi Germany had to offer, conducting multiple bombing missions per night to break up attacks against Soviet ground forces.

Their planes, the Polikarpov U-2 biplane, were underpowered and outgunned compared to the Luftwaffe’s modern air force. But the Night Witches used the biplanes to fly over German defenses nearly silently and drop bombs — they could only carry two at a time per plane — on Nazi positions.

They conducted 30,000 missions during World War II and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a famous general was arrested as enemy royalty

During the final push of World War I, U.S. and French troops were racing to liberate the French city of Sedan, and the U.S. commanders allowed some units to maneuver around each other in the closing moments to hit German lines. In the chaos, U.S. troops with the 1st Division arrested what they thought was a German officer, maybe even the Crown Prince of Germany, who actually turned out to be a famous general and hero.


How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Rainbow Division Soldiers Help End WWI during Meuse-Argonne Offensive

(N.Y. State Military History Museum)

For this story, it’s important to remember that World War I ended without Allied troops reaching German soil (something that Gen. John Pershing and Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch protested as they believed it would lay the seeds for another war). So, the final clashes took place on French soil, and there was a surge in fighting in the last days as Allied powers attempted to put as much pain on Germany as possible.

On November 6, this push reached the city of Sedan, and the 84th Infantry Brigade managed to push into the suburb of Wadlaincourt. The 84th had been battered by intense frontline fighting in the previous weeks, but its intrepid commander had fought from the front the whole time.

Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur had already been nominated for his fifth and sixth Silver Stars, both of which he would later receive. He had suffered injuries in a poison gas attack, survived artillery bombardments and machine gun attacks, and led his men to victory in key terrain.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Then-Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur in World War I.

(N.Y. State Military History Museum)

On November 6, he was in Wadlaincourt with his men, taking the fight to Germany even though few brigade commanders would’ve risked being that close to the guns.

And the 1st Infantry Division didn’t know he was there. So when 1st Infantry soldiers saw MacArthur, clad in his grey cape and cap, they thought it was a German officer they were looking at. As Raymond S. Tompkins wrote in 1919 in The Story of the Rainbow Division:

All [the platoon leaders] saw in the gathering dusk was an important looking officer walking around, attired in what looked like a gray cape and a visored cap with a soft crown, not unlike those the Crown Prince wore in his pictures.

Yeah, coincidentally, MacArthur’s common outfit on the front just happened to be similar to the Crown Prince of Germany’s. While none of his own men would mistake the general for anyone else, he was not yet famous enough to be recognized by average members of other units.

And, the German Crown Prince had, in fact, led troops in combat in 1918 on Germany’s Western Front. So it is, perhaps, not so surprising that the mistake could happen on a fast-moving and chaotic front.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

The Crown Prince of Germany Rupprecht did lead German troops in the field against his nation’s enemies.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

And so the patrol arrested him, and MacArthur protested his innocence and identity, but the platoon leader wasn’t going to take the word of a probable German officer over his own eyes, so he vowed to take the man to a unit headquarters for identification.

Obviously, the 84th Infantry Brigade headquarters was nearby, since MacArthur was typically found close to his place of duty. So the 1st Infantry Division patrol took him there, to his own headquarters, for identification. Perhaps in a failure of imagination, his headquarters immediately identified him. They really missed a chance at a great prank, there.

It turned out well for them, though. The Armistice negotiations would begin days later on November 8, 1918, and was signed in the wee hours of November 11. MacArthur was made the division commander of the 42nd Infantry Division. He and his men were welcomed back to the U.S. as heroes, and it doesn’t appear that MacArthur held any personal grudges against the 1st Infantry for his short detainment.

MIGHTY HISTORY

VHA commemorates Black History Month

A look at the many “firsts” in Veterans health history


Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embodies the spirit of the many Black men and women who broke history and continue to inspire us today.

National home for disabled volunteer soldiers, the first to provide domiciliary and medical care to Black veterans

VHA’s first hospitals opened under its predecessor, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The hospitals were racially integrated from the very beginning. The first African American Veterans, who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, were admitted to the Central Branch (now Dayton VAMC) in Ohio in March 1867.

Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

It was the first government-civilian institution to admit the nation’s first African American Veterans of the Union Army.

First racially segregated veterans hospital

After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case decision, the practice of “separate, but equal” accommodations based on race took hold in American society. When the National Home opened its new Mountain Branch in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, the staff segregated Veterans by race.

A Veterans hospital established exclusively for African American Veterans opened in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1923, for those who served in World War I, caring for more than 300,000 Black Veterans

Pictured above is Dr. Henry Ward and staff at Tuskegee Hospital, 1924.

First African American hospital director

Dr. Joseph H. Ward, of Indianapolis, became the first director of the Tuskegee Veteran’s hospital in 1923. Dr. Ward served in that capacity at Tuskegee until 1936.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

Racial segregation ends at VA

On July 29, 1954, VA announced that segregation of the races had officially ended at all hospitals.

First African American director to integrate VA hospitals

Dr. Howard Kenney was the first director to integrate the VA hospital system. On July 20, 1962, he became the first African American VA hospital director for the East Orange, NJ, facility.Long Description

Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American VA regional medical director

After integrating executive leadership at VA hospitals in 1962, Dr. Howard Kenney went on to become the first African American appointed as a VA Regional Medical Director in 1969.

First African American nursing director

Vernice Ferguson was the first African American nurse appointed as VA’s Director of Nursing in 1980, and she held that position for 12 years, retiring in 1992.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American woman hospital director

Viola Johnson became the first African American woman to lead a VAMC in 1984 when she assumed direction of the Battle Creek Michigan facility.

First VA hospital named for African American veteran

The first VA facility named after an African American was named after Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient PFC Ralph H. Johnson (Marines) in 1990.

First African American VA Secretary

Jesse Brown was the first African American VA Secretary. He served from 1993 to 1997.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This future President and First Lady fought with US troops in China

When you think of badass U.S. Presidents, you likely aren’t thinking of Herbert Hoover. In fact, he’s probably very low on your list of presidential badassery, right there with James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Chester A. Arthur.


But what if you saw him and his wife fighting with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry, his wife brandishing a .38 Smith Wesson, to fight Chinese rebels trying to murder tons of foreigners?

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Better start packing heat if you want to be top FLOTUS, Melania. Lou Henry Hoover don’t play.

Before he became President of the United States, Hoover was the general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation. He and his wife lived in China around the turn of the 20th Century and was generally well-regarded by the Chinese for his progressive views regarding their treatment.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

But the Boxer Rebellion soon broke out in 1900, a semi-spiritual effort to rid China of foreigners, often by ridding their heads of their bodies. It spread from sporadic acts of violence against Western influence to a full-on peasant uprising. That’s when the Chinese Empress Dowager Tsu’u Hzi declared war on all foreign nations at the same time.

Good call, lady.

The powers allied against China included France, Germany, the British Empire, the United States, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Japan, who mobilized a multi-national force (called the Eight-Nation Alliance) to protect foreign interests and recuse the besieged foreign legations and citizens around the country.

The Hoovers were in Tianjin, and they were ready for the Boxers.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
I told you, Lou Henry Hoover does not f*ck around.

For a month, Hoover and his wife – along with the rest of the city – resisted the siege of Tianjin. Future First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover, defended herself with a Smith Wesson .38 caliber pistol while traveling from the battlefield to the hospital.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Initially, the Hoovers enlisted the 800 other Westerners and Chinese Christians (also a target of the Boxers) to maintain a defense of the west end of Tianjin. They reinforced the area with bags of grain and sugar while arming U.S. Marines and sailors who happened to be there.

Hoover was known to have rescued Chinese children caught in the crossfire during the street-to-street fighting. Both Hoovers did duty manning the barricades. It’s not known if the Hoovers — devout pacifist Quakers — actually killed anyone, but they did keep the Boxers from doing it.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Scenes like this don’t happen when there are Hoovers around.

The beginning of the end came as the multinational relief column — including the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment, to this day known as the “Manchus” — arrived in Tianjin. Hoover himself led U.S. Marines, along with columns of British, French, and Japanese troops around the city. His knowledge of the area and its terrain was critical to their success there.

Later, biographer David Bruner recalled Mrs. Hoover’s account of her time in his book, Herber Hoover: A Public LifeShe said she “had a splendid time during the Boxer Rebellion and would not have missed it for anything.”

Tianjin was the bloodiest battle of the entire Boxer Rebellion.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only enlisted submariner to receive the Medal of Honor

The U.S. Navy submarine service was barely two decades old when the submarine USS O-5 began taking on water in the Panama Canal Zone in October 1923. A cargo ship slammed into the submarine without warning and the boat began taking on water. The crew began to abandon ship.

One lifelong sailor, Henry Breault, could have escaped, too, but he went down with a shipmate that couldn’t escape. The two were trapped in the sunken hull until the next day. For that heroism, President Calvin Coolidge presented Breault with the Medal of Honor.


He was the first member of the submarine service to receive the award and the only enlisted submariner to receive it for duties aboard a sub.

The USS O-5 was never a very lucky ship. Fifth in the line of 16 O-class submarines, she entered service six months too late for World War I. Before even leaving for Europe, an explosion killed her skipper and one of her officers. By Oct. 28, 1924, Breault and the USS O-5 were among a contingent of submarines moving to enter the Panama Canal. That’s when disaster struck.

Or more accurately, that’s when the United Fruit Company struck.

Either through human error or miscommunication (or likely a mix of both), the UFC’s SS Abangarez was moving to dock when it hit the USS O-5 on its starboard side, creating a 10-foot hole in its control room. The ship rolled to the left and then right before sinking bow first.

Most of the crew were rescued but five were missing, including Breault and Chief Electrician’s Mate Lawrence Brown. Breault had actually escaped the sinking boat when he realized Brown was still asleep down below. He went back into the submarine and closed the deck hatch behind him. The two ended up trapped in the torpedo room below the surface.

When divers discovered crewmen were alive inside, work began to get them out. The only way to do that was to lift the boat the full 42 feet above the waterline. Luckily for them, they happened to be in the Canal Zone, the home of some of the world’s heaviest lifting cranes. The crane barge Ajax, one of the largest in the world, made its way to the wreck as soon as possible.

After three failed attempts and a full 31 hours, the canal crews and sailors were able to lift the sub up high enough to open the torpedo room hatch and free their comrades.

Breault had been sailing since age 16 and was a sailor for the rest of his life, dying just two days before the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941.

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6 awesome Army jobs that no longer exist

Go to an Army career counselor or recruiter and he has all sorts of cool jobs you can sign up for. Soldiers network satellites, engage in hacking wars, and shoot awesome weapons at targets and enemies.


It’s like your childhood video games, fireworks, and backyard games all got awesome upgrades and now you can get paid for it.

But some of the Army’s best jobs are actually in the past, like those that allowed people to get intimately acquainted with tactical nuclear weapons or fire awesome Gatling guns. So here are six of those badass jobs Pvt. Skippy can’t do in the Army anymore:

1. Nuclear weapons basic maintenance specialist

 

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
(Screenshot: Navy historical documents)

Yeah, the Army used to have a nuclear weapons program and it employed a group of men with a whole three weeks of training to disassemble and repair those weapons.

Not a typo. Three weeks. And the first week was weapons familiarization “taught at the high school level” (not sure what the high school level of nuclear weapons training is).

2. Aeroscout observer

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
(Photo: U.S. Army)

Back in Vietnam, the Army had people whose sole job was to ride in scout helicopters and help spot targets on the ground while assigned directly to the maneuver forces they were supporting. Aeroscout observers worked with — who else — aeroscout pilots who were also assigned to the ground unit. Eventually, this gave way to pilot/co-pilot teams on OH-58 Kiowa scout helicopters.

Now, even that is falling to the history books. The Army’s active component has retired the last of its dedicated scout helicopters to the boneyards and National Guard in favor of attack helicopters with direct drone control.

3. Army motorcycle riders

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
U.S. Army Cpl. Gordon C. Powell poses with British Dispatch Rider Baltins Dougoughs on Aug. 27, 1944. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Riding a motorcycle in combat sounds exciting no matter what the job is, from carrying messages to scouting enemy forces. But in World War I, the tank corps included a group of “motorcycle men” whose primary gig was delivering repair parts and replacement crewmembers to tanks under fire.

For obvious reasons, tank-delivery motorcycle riders were re-classed after the Army figured out how to use tanks to recover one another. (If it’s not obvious, it because repair personnel protected by literal tons of armor are safer than those riding motorcycles and protected by only their uniforms).

4. Heavy Anti-Armor Infantryman

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
(Photo: U.S. Army)

While the Marine Corps still fields Antitank Missile Gunners under the military occupational specialty 0352, the Army got rid of its 11H Heavy Anti-Armor Weapons Infantrymen. These guys did exactly what their title says; They used heavy weapons to hunt down enemy armor. Nowadays, this capability is handled by general infantrymen assigned to the weapons company.

5. Morse Interceptor

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
(Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

 

Full disclosure, there are a few different signal intelligence jobs that could have been included in this list. Most of them have been folded into other specialties or been quietly terminated as their own job because the march of technology has made them unnecessary. After all, how much Morse intelligence is there to collect anymore?

The reason that Morse interceptor was selected for the list is that it’s the only one of these lost signal intelligence jobs that was once held by Johnny Cash. Cash did the job in the Air Force, not the Army, but still.

6. Chapparal/Vulcan Crewmember

The Chapparal and Vulcan were M113 armored vehicles equipped with anti-aircraft weapons. The Vulcan packed a six-barrel Gatling gun that could be deployed separately from the M113 when necessary, while the Chapparal carried AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. While the Chapparal role was largely replaced with the Army Avenger program, no direct descendant of the Vulcan exists.

While the Vulcan was largely outdated for anti-aircraft operations, the Army gave up a great ground weapon when it lost the Gatling gun. Vulcan crew members could fire 20mm rounds at up to 6,600 rounds per minute, targeting low-flying aircraft or enemy infantry and vehicles.

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Why the enemy should have brought a battalion to kill this soldier

Specialist Michael Fitzmaurice was stationed in the area near Khe Sanh on March 23, 1971. The base had just been re-activated to support Operation Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. That night in March, the American base was attacked by North Vietnamese regular army sappers, who expected to overrun the Americans.

They just didn’t count on a 21-year-old from the Dakotas being there. They should have – and they should have brought more sappers.


How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
NVA marches through Laos, 1967 (Wikimedia Commons)

Operation Lam Son 719 was an effort by the South Vietnamese to invade Laos to be able to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail, North Vietnam’s “secret” supply line into the South. It did not go well for the ARVN forces or the Americans who were there to evacuate wounded and cover their retreat. By March 25, 1971, the ARVN were in full retreat. Two days before the end of Lam Son, however, the North Vietnamese tried to hit the Army’s base at Khe Sanh with a force of sappers. Luckily the Army was able to repel the surprise attack and turn the NVA around.

Among those Army troops stationed at Khe Sanh that day was Michael J. Fitzmaurice, a soldier from the Dakotas who was about to take it to the Communists like a badass American from the Great North.

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

This is a shoot of Fitzmaurice receiving the Medal of Honor from President Nixon, so you can probably imagine what’s about to happen.

Fitzmaurice was manning a bunker that day with three other members of his unit, unaware the base had been infiltrated by NVA sappers. What he did notice was three explosive charges tossed in their bunker from out of nowhere. He quickly tossed two of them out of the bunker and then threw his body, flak vest first, over the last explosive. The blast severely wounded Fitzmaurice and partially blinded him, but his fellow soldiers were still alive. But Fitzmaurice didn’t stop there. He also didn’t stay there.

He left the bunker and began taking down enemy troops with his rifle, one after another, until another grenade hit him and disabled that rifle. Still undeterred, he stopped an enemy soldier with his bare hands, killed him, took his weapon, and began fighting on. With that weapon in hand, he went back to the bunker and started taking down the attackers one by one, refusing to be evacuated.

For saving his buddies and taking down the enemy in the most conspicuous manner possible, he was rightfully awarded the Medal of Honor.

MIGHTY HISTORY

You could lose your boat if you loot a war grave in American waters

Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.


But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.

 

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
A collection of enigma machines at the National Cryptologic Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.

The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”

 

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
The wreckage of the USS Sea Lion

 

Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”

Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.

 

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend
Bismark’s final resting place at the bottom of the sea.

And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.

All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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


How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

Revolutionary War re-enactors.

(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

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

(U.S. Army)

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

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

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

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

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

(U.S. Army)

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

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

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

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

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