Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller wasn’t just a great warfighter, he was an icon of Marine military prowess and culture, embodying and helping shape what it would mean to be a 20th-Century Marine. Here are five times that Puller proved himself to be one of the greatest Marines, from heroics to hard work to partying, this is the warrior your platoon sergeants told you about:
His legendary breakout from Chosin Reservoir
It was possibly Puller’s most heroic feat. Puller was temporarily in command of the 1st Marine Division when Chinese forces overwhelmed American and UN troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The entire X Corps was vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of the Chinese, but the top commanders had a workable plan to save the tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines. That plan relied on 1st Marine Division.
The Marines, under Chesty, served at times as both vanguard and rearguard for the “advance in a different direction” that was, effectively, a withdrawal. Puller kept his men’s morale up as they knocked three Chinese divisions out of the fight despite constant supply shortages and the necessity of leapfrogging their artillery. This saved thousands of American lives and helped ensure that the Chinese advance could be halted before South Korea was lost.
Guadalcanal, from smoking under bombardment to directing naval artillery
Then-Lt. Col. Puller landed on Guadalcanal in September, 1942, as the proud commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the unit with combat experience, and he had to keep his men on the straight and narrow. On their first night, the Marines came under naval bombardment and many had failed to dig their assigned foxholes.
The jungle fighting was fierce, and Puller was in charge of leading jungle raids and patrols against rebels in Haiti and then Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua that he earned his first two Navy Crosses, both awarded for valor under fire. One was for leading five successful raids on an extensive mission, and the other was for leading his platoon back safely after defeating multiple well-prepared ambushes that left Gunnery Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee wounded.
A dedication to close combat that included mounting bayonets on flamethrowers
Puller was known, at least in part, for his bomb quotes. You know, things like, “don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” But one of his most iconic quotes came when he first saw a flamethrower demonstration.
“Where the Hell do you put the bayonet?” he asked. And like all three of those quotes show, Puller believed in violence of action, in closing with the enemy and killing them before they could kill you. That mentality was part of what made him such an icon in a Marine Corps on the rise, transforming itself from a largely reserve force of the Civil War to one of the dominant fighting forces of World War II, Korea, and today.
A tendency to accrue legends, some based in fact and others in fiction
And, like the Marine Corps itself, Puller had a tendency to accrue legends — some completely true, some plausible, and some over-the-top. The true ones included things like when he led an overnight defense against a mile-long assault by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and the aforementioned victories at Chosin and in Nicaragua.
The Air Force is now aged well into its seventies and the branch that started as an offshoot of the U.S. Army is looking at having a child of its own — the U.S. Space Force. Even though the mere need for the U.S. Air Force is one that is still debated in some circles, it’s pretty safe to say the service is here to stay, and for good reason. The men, women, and aircraft of the U.S. Air Force have accomplished some of the most incredible feats in military history.
When you look back at the legacy of the USAF, there are so many important, pivotal events that either established the Air Force as one to be reckoned with, cemented the legendary status of some great American heroes, or made the difference when it was needed the most. There’s a reason these moments will live forever in our collective imagination. Like the mythological tales of great heroes setting out to impress the gods, these are the Air Force’s finest moments.
You have to admit, it’s ballsy to go into combat in a rig made of canvas and popsicle sticks.
(U.S. Air Force)
1. The St. Mihiel Offensive – World War I
For four years, the St. Mihiel Salient was a giant bulge in the lines of the Western Front. In 1914, the German Army managed to create a 250-square mile indentation on the front while trying to capture the fortress at Verdun. When the United States joined World War I in 1918, General John J. Pershing demanded an area of the front that was exclusively the responsibility of American forces. He got it.
An important aspect of that battle was the air war over St. Mihiel, the largest air battle of the entire war. 1,476 allied aircraft took on 500 German aircraft over four days in September 1918. The First U.S. Army Air Service took command of air elements from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Portugal. Combined force air power destroyed enemy aviation, achieved complete air superiority, and aided ground forces while denying enemy air reconnaissance assets.
From the USAF’s raid on the Ploesti Airfields in Romania.
(U.S. Air Force)
2. World War II
An essential element to early Nazi successes in World War II relied on the new tactic of blitzkrieg, which required large but very fast movements of concentrated forces and massive air firepower. Before entering the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces saw the importance of air power in the skies over London and were shown that power in force at Pearl Harbor. After entering the war, the Air Forces were tasked with gaining air superiority, crushing the Germans’ ability to wage war, and prepare Fortress Europe for an allied invasion.
During World War II, being on a bomber crew was deadlier than even landing on the beaches of the Pacific with the U.S. Marines. As the war came home to Germany, the Air Force only stepped up the intensity of the bombing campaign while proving that American airmen and technology were more than a match for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the Nazi air forces struggled to put up a fight as fuel, pilots, and ammunition were in such short supply against the overwhelming air power of the USAAF.
In the Pacific theater, the Air Force immediately brought the pain as fast as they could after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid started out the war with Japan by reminding them that they weren’t out of the United States’ long reach. The Air Force fought alongside the Navy in as many pitched air battles as were needed, but the real strength of the Air Force came at the end of the Navy and Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign. As air bases were set up closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, Army Air Forces bombers pummeled mainland Japan with firebombs, crippling Japanese industry until two days in August 1945 changed the world forever: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Pacific War for good.
In all your life, you’ll never be this cool.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. The Tuskegee Airmen – World War II
In the days before the integration of the Armed Forces, African-Americans served primarily in support roles, and usually as enlisted men. That all changed in the lead up to World War II when President Roosevelt ordered the Army to begin training black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field – in the heart of the segregated South. It was a time when Americans widely believed that black people could not be trained to use advanced technological equipment, especially aircraft.
Not only were the college-educated Tuskegee Airmen able to fly and operate aviation technology, they were really, really good at it. Tuskegee Airmen flew some 15,000 sorties in the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II, risking their lives and the reputation of their entire race on their performance. Their success rate on bomber escort missions was twice as high as other groups in the 15th Air Force and, over the course of the war, they took down hundreds of enemy planes, thousands of enemy railcars, and even sank an enemy destroyer.
The massive successes of the more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen led to the integration of the Armed Forces after the war and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the first black Amy Air Force pilots, became the first African-American general of the newly-created U.S. Air Force.
The Original Grubhub.
4. The Berlin Airlift – Cold War
The first battle in the ideological war that pit Western Capitalism against Eastern Communism wasn’t fought with guns or bombs, it was fought with food. After WWII, Berlin was divided into four zones, each administered by one of the victorious European Allies. The area surrounding the city was entirely Soviet-dominated. The German capital was, effectively, nestled deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany. As Cold War tensions mounted, the USSR cut off all land routes to the Western-occupied parts of the city in an effort to starve out the capitalist allies. Any help to Berlin could only come through a dedicated air corridor.
In the days before massive cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy, the U.S. Air Force and the Western Allies launched what became known as the Berlin Airlift, a massive coordinated cargo hauling campaign that (at its height) saw an aircraft land in Berlin every single minute. German ground crews were soon able to unload an aircraft within 20 minutes in order to make sure the city was nurtured with the 394,509 tons of food, coal, and other supplies the city would need to survive the almost year-long Soviet siege of the city.
5. MiG Alley – Korean War
During the Korean War, the Air Force was again put to the test. The Nazis developed jet-powered fighters by the end of World War II, but even then, it was an imperfect technology. By the time the Korean War saw Communist forces engage the United Nations Coalition on the Korean Peninsula, both sides were still flying propeller driven aircraft. That soon changed. As the war ground on through December of 1950, the United States still had no jet-powered answer to the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter.
Then, finally, came the F-86 Sabre. The swept-wing design and the skill of UN and American pilots were able to make short work of MiG-15 fighters. In the infamous “MiG Alley” – the Northern area of North Korea, near its border with China – where Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean fighters waited at high altitudes to come down raining death on UN fighters, featured massive jet vs. jet air battles. Air Force F-86 pilots had a stunning 10-1 kill ratio.
Robin Olds is the reason for the Air Force’s “Mustache March” tradition.
6. Operation Bolo – Vietnam War
The early days of the air war over Vietnam didn’t go so well for the USAF. The Vietnam War’s kill ratio is a dismal but disputed 2-1. Air Force sorties coming to the landward side of Vietnam from bases in Thailand were picked up by superior North Vietnamese early warning radar and intercepting Communist planes were able to wait for the incoming Air Force planes. Once inside North Vietnam, Air Force pilots had only their eyes to help guide them. Air Force pilots would always end up on the defensive against skilled North Vietnamese pilots and surface-to-air missile batteries.
Air Force legend and triple ace Robin Olds devised a way to take advantage of the increasing boldness of Vietnamese pilots. In “Bolo,” Olds created what looked like a standard USAF F-105 bombing run to North Vietnam’s radar. Enemy MiG-21s made a beeline for what they thought were the usual F-105 Thunderchief bombers only to find Olds and his fleet of F-4 Phantoms ready for air-to-air combat. Without suffering a single loss, the Air Force downed seven enemy MiG-21s, changing the way the Air Force fought in the air. In the weeks that followed, North Vietnam lost half of its combat planes to U.S. airmen.
Behold: The reason the movie “Jarhead” has no climactic battle scenes.
(U.S. Air Force)
7. Operation Desert Storm
The air war of Operation Desert Stom was one of the most massive and successful air campaigns ever. Since Coalition aircraft could roam the skies in the region virtually unopposed. The buildup of men, materiel, equipment, and aircraft was one of the largest airlift operations in military history (even bigger than the Berlin Airlift). By the time the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went, the U.S. Air Force was more than ready to take the initiative.
Starting Jan. 17, 1991, the Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties against Iraqi targets and dropped more than 88,000 tons of ordnance. Like a modern-day Noah’s Ark story, the Air Force pummeled Iraq for some 40 days and 40 nights. After the U.S. Air Force smashed some 38 Iraqi aircraft, those pilots still in the air fled to Iran (who they just finished an eight-year war with) rather than face the U.S. Air Force in combat. The Gulf War ended in Iraqi defeat on Feb. 23, 1991.
“Leatherneck,” “Jarhead,” and “Devil Dog” are just a few of the names Marines have had labeled with throughout the years. “Leatherneck” came from the first Marine Corps’ uniform that had a high leather collar while “Jarhead” represents the shape of a Marine’s haircut.
But there is one name that stands out all above the rest: “Devil Dogs.” The accepted mythology is that Marines earned the unique nickname”Teufel Hunden” or “Hell Hounds” after bravely fighting the Germans at the Battle of Belleau Wood. This name then became “Devil Dogs.”
Although Marines focus on the warfighting, Corpsmen have been right next to them, manning the frontlines. Sometimes they would meet the same fate as their ferocious counterparts. The “docs” who receive their training from Marines can be as deadly as the Marines who trained them.
To earn this unofficial title of “Devil Doc,” a Corpsman must show that he is as dangerous as his fellow warfighters. There are only two ways for a Corpsman to earn the title.
The first way is passing the Fleet Marine Force test and earning the FMF pin.
During this test, Navy Corpsmen will meet requirements on Marine Corps history, traditions, weapon systems, employment of said weapon systems, and much more. Many Corpsmen don’t agree with this method. Some older Corpsmen feel that the FMF pin route has washed away in its significance. They feel when the Navy made it mandatory for all Corpsmen to earn this pin, it lost its meaning.
“I never received my FMF pin… it became meaningless chest candy when they made it mandatory,” former Hospital Corpsman HM3 Nathan Tagnipez states.
The second way to earn the title is harder, but it comes with a great level of respect from Marines. A Corpsman must take part in a deployment with Marines and earn a Combat Action Ribbon (CAR). The CAR itself is not what earns the title — the ribbon just communicates to future Marines that the Corpsman has “been there and done that.”
No, it is the Marines themselves that give the Corpsman the title of “Devil Doc.
“The thing that made me worthy of being a devil doc was the respect of the Marines that I served,” HM3 Nathan Tagnipez says.
Similar to the tradition where Marines earn their Shellback status by crossing the equator — and surviving the hazing fest bonding exercise that follows — Corpsmen earn this unofficial title in a trial by fire.
Marines and Corpsmen will always share a history together. It is a symbiotic relationship. Marines need the Corpsmen for medical aid and the Corpsmen need the Marines to win battles.
When they come together, no one can tell the difference between the two on the battlefield. To be a “Devil Doc,” Corpsmen must prove they have the conviction and determination to be a “Devil Dog.”
They brought the herd of camels into unfamiliar territory as part of an experiment, but when things went wrong, they accidentally let them loose to terrorize the countryside. No, that’s not the plot of a campy, direct-to-DVD horror film, that’s a true piece of US Army history.
Following a siege at Camp Verde, Texas, just before the onset of the American Civil War, nearly forty camels escaped US Army custody. These camels turned feral, reproduced, and roamed the southwest for years, damaging farms, eating crops, and generally wreaking havoc wherever they went. A few of them even ended up as the basis for a handful of ghost stories.
The experiment technically started back in 1836 when U.S. Army Lt. George H. Crosman came up with a brilliant solution to traversing the stark deserts of the American Southwest before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Horses could only take them so far through the sands and would eventually refuse to work in extreme heats. His solution? The Arabian camel.
In 1855, his plan began to take shape. In theory, the imported camels were to replace horses in the region. They were far more accustomed to heat, they could go great distances with little water, and they preferred to eat the shrubbery that other livestock and horses wouldn’t.
Unfortunately, they were still camels. Giant, goofy, smelly camels. As it turned out, they weren’t any faster or able to carry any more weight than a horse or mule — and they had a tendency to scare smaller livestock nearby. But they were able to go more than a few hours without water, so the plan was labelled technically a success.
The Army gave it the stamp of approval and the Camel Corps was unofficially green-lit.
The camels were housed in Camp Verde, Texas, which is roughly half way between San Antonio and El Paso. Since camels were very expensive to buy and maintain and had niche applications, the Camel Corps never really went anywhere.
Instead of being useful assets in the desert, the camels were more something that soldiers stationed at Camp Verde just had to deal with. Their smell wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, and were generally apathetic towards doing anything useful. When camels get agitated, which would obviously occur when their handlers mistreated them, they tend to spit, kick, and will outright refuse to do anything. The camels were basically just contained within either Camp Verde or at Fort Tejon, wherever the guy advocating their use was stationed.
Then, just months before the Civil War broke out, Confederate troops overthrew Camp Verde on February 28th, 1861. In the chaos of the battle, the camels were set free to cause a distraction. They did exactly that and the camels scattered. Of the over one hundred original camels stationed there, the Confederate troops were only able to capture 80 of them — meaning plenty were scattered to the wind.
The camels were said to be spotted all across the west. Sightings were reported from Iowa to California to even British Columbia. In the following decades, the camels would periodically destroy and the locals would look on, many of whom had no idea what a camel even was. To them, these were odd, giant, humped beasts that occasionally spat at them.
These camel sightings continued until 1941. For the most part, their sightings were often met with confusion or wonder as they would happen upon a random farm here and there. Weird, but they are gentle giants, after all.
But the most remarkable tale came from a lonely ranch outside of Eagle Creek, Arizona. It was called “The Legend of the Red Ghost.”
As the story goes, two ranchers went out for the morning and left their wives back home with the kids. The dogs started barking at something and one of the wives went to go check on it. There, she saw a terrifying, reddish monster (one of the Camel Corps’ camels) stampeding through the farm. It is said that the woman’s dead body was found trampled on with hoofprints left behind were larger than those of nearby horses.
A few nights later, a group of nearby prospectors were awoken to thunderous stomping and a terrifying scream (if you haven’t heard a camel make noise, I guess it’d sound creepy on a moonlit night.) They saw the beast and corroborated the ranchers’ tale. Of course, as with all tall tales, there was a good deal of exaggeration involved — one miner said they saw the “Red Ghost” kill a grizzly bear. Camels are tough, but they’re not that tough.
The story continued to evolve until, eventually, storytellers spoke of a ghostly figure riding atop the red beast — but this part might have been true. The “Red Ghost” was eventually tracked down and killed by a hunter nine years later. Oddly enough, the hunter found the beast with a saddle attached. Attached to those straps was a long-deceased corpse.
Who that person was or how long the camel was carrying them is still shrouded in mystery.
Writer’s Note: Some of the information about camels in the original version of this article were a bit incendiary towards the lovable goofy beasts. As a few people who’ve worked with camels have informed me, they’re rarely aggressive unless seriously agitated.
What may have also been a contributing factor to their aggression past that was left out of the original version was their extremely poor handling and maltreatment by the troops at Camp Verde. If you treat them well, they really are gentle giants. If you beat the camels, as was done by their “handlers” in those times, it will definitely win that fight.
Pacific theater, late 1944. Allied forces have been gradually uprooting the Japanese forces and pushing them back to Japan.
As its foothold in the Pacific shrinks by the day, the Imperial Japanese Army is getting desperate. Already the Japanese have shown a willingness to fight to the last man, an echo of the country’s ancient martial tradition.
However interesting to the outsider the Japanese warfighting culture might be, it bellies a darker side; a side full of disdain and often unfathomable brutality against a defeated foe, regardless of if it’s a civilian or a prisoner of war.
In December 1944, Japanese troops burn alive and shoot 139 Allied prisoners of wars, many of whom were survivors of the Bataan Death March and the desperate fight at the Corregidor, in the Philippines’ Palawan province.
A handful of Americans manage to escape and join the Filipino guerillas. Through them, they succeed in getting the word about the massacre to the approaching American forces. The intelligence makes Allied commanders realize that Allied prisoners of war in several other camps in the region face imminent execution.
They decide to rescue them.
A daring raid of the Cabanatuan Prison Camp
Cabanatuan Prison Camp, January 30, 1945.
Cabanatuan is the largest internment camp in the region, housing over 5,000 prisoners of war at its peak. By January 1945, there are approximately 500 Allied troops held there.
The hostage rescue force is comprised of approximately 120 Rangers and Alamo Scouts, a special operations unit, and about 200 Filipino guerillas. To get to the camp, the rescue force will have to march 30 miles through enemy lines, no small feat considering the size of the force. The Filipinos’ knowledge of the area and the friendly local population somewhat simplify the logistics of the movement.
Led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the raid force is divided into two elements. With 90 men, the assault element will storm the camp through the main, kill any Japanese who resist, and rescue the prisoners. The 30 men of the support element will flank the camp from the east and destroy several guard towers and provide fire support where needed.
Two additional elements, primarily comprised of Filipino guerrillas with some American commands to help, set up blocking positions to the east and west of the camp to hold off any attempt by the Japanese to interfere with the rescue.
A P-61 Black Widow aircraft, which is designed for nighttime operations, will signal the attack with an overpass of the camp in order to distract the Japanese guards.
At exactly 1945, the raid begins.
The largest hostage rescue in American history
The P-61 succeeds in distracting the Japanese guards, allowing the rescue force to approach the camp without getting detected. In a matter of minutes, the American commands overwhelm the Japanese guards and rescue the prisoners, many of who can’t walk following years of forced labor, scant rations, and brutal punishments.
The two blocking positions stop several Japanese relief attempts, killing numerous enemies and destroying several tanks, before collapsing to the camp, where the rescue force has evacuated anyone they could find.
Rescuers and rescued make their way back through enemy lines, using several wagons and stretchers to carry those who can’t walk. After a dangerous and soul-draining forced march, the whole force arrives in friendly lines the next morning. Mission success.
In the Cabanatuan Raid, the American commandos rescued 489 prisoners of war and 33 civilians, while suffering four Americans killed in action (two commandos and two prisoners) and four wounded.
The Cabanatuan Raid is the largest rescue in American history. In the following three weeks, American commandos conduct two similar operations, in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp and Los Banos, rescuing more Allied prisoners of war.
Among the Rangers who took part in the raid was an officer named Arthur “Bull” Simons, who was the executive officer of the 6th Ranger Battalion. Simons would go on the become a legend in the US special operations community and play a key part in the Son Tay hostage rescue during the Vietnam War. Today, the US Special Operations Command recognizes one of its members every year with the Bull Simons Award.
In the late second century BC, the Roman Republic seemed to be flourishing. After over a century of war with its ancient enemy Carthage, Rome now stood as the sole superpower of the western Mediterranean Sea. Under the brilliance of this victory, however, there was a storm coming. As Rome expanded, the Republic became increasingly stratified between rich and poor, and tensions were on the rise. It was in this turbulent time that the Gracchi brothers Tiberius and Gaius entered the political scene. Their reforms would result in both of their deaths, but their actions would change the course of Roman history. Here are seven things to know about the Gracchi brothers.
1. Rome was becoming a powder keg
As Rome had expanded from a small settlement in central Italy to the master of the Mediterranean, there opened a gulf between the upper and lower classes. The old ideal of the citizen-farmer, the self-sufficient man who owned his own land, was increasingly out of reach. Lands once divided into independent family farms were being absorbed into massive private villas owned by aristocrats and worked by slaves. Many Roman citizens were forced into the city, where they were forced to depend on handouts from the state. This left many Romans from all classes discontent.
2. Tiberius was tribune of the plebs
The tribune of the plebs was the representative of the plebeians, or Roman masses; he was responsible for checking the power of the Senate, which was dominated by the patricians, the nobility. In the year 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune on a platform of land reform. He invoked the Lex Licinia Sexta, an ancient set of laws that placed a limit on land ownership, to redistribute excess land from the wealthy to the poor. The problem was, the laws had not been enforced in decades, and enforcing them would be an uphill battle.
3. Tiberius was the first populist
The elder Gracchi was known for violating Rome’s political traditions. It was customary to bring a new bill to the Senate for debate, but Tiberius took his land reform bill directly to the citizen-assemblies to be voted on. When the infuriated Senators stepped in to prevent the bill from passing, Tiberius spent the rest of his time as tribune disrupting other attempts at legislating, in order to hold the Senate hostage.
4. Tiberius’s murder changed Roman politics
The position of tribune was considered sacred, so the Senate could not touch Tiberius until his one-year tenure was over. Tiberius attempted to run for tribune a second time in a row, which was illegal. The Senate responded by storming one of the Gracchi’s rallies, beating Tiberius and many of his supporters to death. This was the first time in centuries that Roman politics had been determined by violence, but it would not be the last.
5. Gaius was also tribune
Ten years later in 123 BC, the younger Gracchi Gaius was elected tribune on the same platform as his brother. Where Tiberius was more idealistic and placed his trust in the people, Gaius knew that he would need the upper classes on his side. He appealed to the equestrians, the class just below the patricians, to push forward his reforms. He promoted land reform, limiting military conscription to the age of 17 or older, providing grain for the poor citizens and equipment for the poor soldiers (before, Roman conscripts had to pay for their own armor and weapons), and various other public works projects.
6. Gaius couldn’t keep the support of the people
His popularity, however, would not last forever. In the late Republic many Italian peoples were allied with Rome, but were not full Roman citizens. Gaius proposed extending citizenship to these allies, but this was a political miscalculation. The Roman people realized they would have to share the redistributed land with an influx of new citizens, and this they could not abide. Gaius’s days were numbered.
7. Gaius took his own life
Tensions eventually boiled over when a massive pro-Gracchi rally ended in violence. One of Gaius’s opponents was killed, as Gaius’s supporters were illegally carrying weapons within the city of Rome. This prompted the Senators to pass for the first time in history the Senatus consultum ultimum, a law that empowered the Senate to put a citizen to death without a trial. For a Roman man capture and execution was less honorable than suicide, so Gaius fell on his own sword.
The Gracchi brothers were only the start of the crisis in the late Republic. The tensions between upper and lower classes would become more extreme, prompting the rise of newer, more ruthless politicians. The Senate would continue to abuse its power over life and death. For the first time in centuries, Roman law was made secondary to violence. The Republic would eventually descend into civil war, but thanks to Romans like the Gracchi, the dream of Rome would continue to inspire us for centuries.
Now that the Republican Party has officially nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president, briefers from intelligence agencies will soon begin detailing America’s current covert operations to both Trump and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
When possible, the briefings take place in secure areas. But more often than not, briefers are sent to meet candidates and presidents-elect where they are.
In 1992, the Deputy Director of the CIA flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, and rented a cheap motel room to inconspicuously brief then-President-elect Bill Clinton.
When candidates are on the campaign trail, the briefers plan spots on the route where they can establish a temporarily secure area to brief.
These initial briefings to candidates are not as in depth as the president’s daily brief. The idea isn’t to give the candidate a detailed breakdown of each operation and how it works, it’s to give them a broad understanding of what America is doing around the world and why.
For instance, the intel briefings were first given to Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 election. During the run-up to Election Day, Eisenhower was receiving more sensitive information than Stevenson. This was because Eisenhower had extensive experience with intelligence from his command time in World War II, while Stevenson did not.
Once a candidate is selected, though, the briefings become more detailed and some of them become decision briefs. Even though the president-elect is not yet in charge, the intelligence agencies have to be prepared to immediately execute his or her orders on Inauguration Day.
The president-elect receives a roughly complete copy of the president’s daily brief — sometimes as early as election night. The only information omitted is operational information that isn’t useful to the president-elect.
President John F. Kennedy was a war hero and senator before campaigning for the presidency. But he didn’t gain access to America’s top intelligence until after winning the election. (Photo: National Archives)
Once the president-elect has a base of knowledge about the situation, senior intelligence officials begin coming to him or her for their expected orders on Jan. 20. If the president-elect wants to cancel a covert operation or change its course, the decision is made ahead of time so the agency can prepare.
In 2000, then-President-elect Barack Obama made it clear that the detention and interrogation program would cease the moment he was in charge. That allowed Hayden to prepare to cut that program while keeping most other covert operations going full-bore.
You can learn a lot more about these briefings and their history in former-CIA Analyst John L. Helgerson’s book, Getting to Know the President. The book is available for free on the CIA’s website.
The average life expectancy of a Marine with a flamethrower on any given battlefield is about five minutes, according to Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Herschel “Woody” Williams. Those tanks made tempting targets – and they weren’t bulletproof.
Woody Williams was one such flamethrower. He not only earned his Medal of Honor, he’s the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War.
Williams was on the battlefields of Iwo Jima, an all-out slugfest that took place near the end of the war. But just because the end was nigh, that didn’t mean the Japanese were going to make it easy on the Americans. By the time Woody Williams began torching Japanese pillboxes on the island, the Marines had been fighting for days. Williams had the idea to form a five-man team with him bearing the flamethrower and four Marines providing cover for him as he moved.
The idea was a brilliant success, one he repeated many times over the course of four hours, much longer than the five minutes he would have normally given himself.
He had a lot going against him. The fuel inside a flamethrower weapon will give its user just a few blasts, lasting a couple of seconds at best, so he had to be judicious with his targets; Moreover, the fuel tank weighed roughly 70 pounds, so running with the clunky behemoth would be a challenge. On top of that, he would have to get in close, as the range of the weapon was severely limited. As if that weren’t bad enough, if he wasn’t killed outright and was instead captured by the Japanese, he would be executed as a criminal immediately.
It was not a rosy outlook but time and again Woody crept up on the enemy positions, cooked them very quickly, and returned to base to take up a new, fully loaded flamethrower. To the young Marine, he was just doing his job, even when a bullet ricocheted off his fuel tank. To the Marine Corps, he was a hero.
Woody Williams careful bravery on the battlefields of Iwo Jima allowed the Marines to advance inland after days of being stymied by enemy fortifications and bayonet charges that had begun to take its toll. Within a few weeks, Iwo Jima belonged to the Marines. Corporal Williams would soon receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman himself.
“You go in automatic drive when something like that happens, I think,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “Much of that four hours, I don’t remember. I attribute that to fear. Because to say I wasn’t scared would be the biggest lie that’s ever been told. Because you do experience fear.”
It was 1962 and only four days after Independence Day, but people living on the islands dotting the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to New Zealand were about to see a light show brighter than any July Fourth fireworks display in history.
More ominously, many of those same people would get a taste of how a single nuclear weapon could wipe out a nation’s electrical grid – and the U.S. military at the time had no clue how damaging the results would be.
Codenamed Starfish Prime, it was part of a series of nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Pentagon. Some of those tests included launches from Johnston Island of the U.S. Air Force’s PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles with live W49 thermonuclear warheads.
The aurora from a U.S. nuclear test in space, dubbed Starfish Prime, could be seen as far away as Hawaii. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The purpose: rocket the warheads to the edge of space and detonate them to determine whether thermonuclear fireballs could be used to destroy incoming nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union.
Crazy? Perhaps – but keep in mind the events of the age.
In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing and abided by a self-imposed moratorium. Eventually, the United States followed suit. During 1959, neither superpower tested any nukes, but the brief lull in testing did not last. Soon, both nations were back at it.
In 1961, the Soviets detonated the humongous “Tsar Bomba.” Though capable of a 100 megaton yield, scientists decided to dial back Tsar Bomba’s destructive power to reduce the chance of fallout. At about 50 megatons, it still is the most powerful nuclear explosion in history. In fact, Tsar Bomba was so powerful, its heat caused third-degree burns on the exposed flesh of Soviet observers more than 60 miles away.
So, in a twisted, Cold War, Dr. Strangelove kind of way, launching nukes into space made sense.
Starfish Prime was really the third launch attempt for the U.S. – the first missile was destroyed seconds into its flight and the second blew up on the launch pad. Both incidents rained nuclear contamination down on the Johnston Island test facility.
But on July 9, 1962, the third Thor missile performed flawlessly and lifted its payload into space.
The 1.4 megaton warhead detonated about 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean – and then all hell broke loose.
“Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or the electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books,” Lowell Wood, a physicist and expert on EMP at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Congress in 2004. “As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.”
In Hawaii, the effects were almost immediate: streetlights blew out, circuit breakers tripped, telephone service crashed, aircraft radios malfunctioned, burglar alarms sounded, and garage door openers mysteriously activated.
As the flash from the nuclear explosion dimmed, an aurora formed in the sky that could be seen for thousands of miles. One reporter in Hawaii wrote, “For three minutes after the blast, the moon was centered in a sky partly blood-red and partly pink. Clouds appeared as dark silhouettes against the lighted sky.”
The high-energy radiation not only created a massive light show; it temporarily altered the shape of the Van Allen Belt – part of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth that actually protects the planet from solar storms that could destroy life on the world’s surface.
The Van Allen Belt had only been discovered four years earlier by University of Iowa physicist James A. Van Allen. The bands of high-energy particles held in place by strong magnetic fields were first seen as a threat to early space explorers – or a possible weapon to use against the Soviet Union.
In fact, there are historians of the Cold War who argue that there is compelling evidence indicating that both the United States and the Soviet Union contemplated exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions to blow up the Van Allen belt either to permit space travel or destroy their respective enemy.
Fortunately, there is no evidence that either the U.S. or Soviet nuclear testing in space permanently damaged the magnetosphere. As the weeks and months went by, however, there were other casualties from the Starfish Prime blast. At least six satellites – including Telstar, the world’s first telecommunications satellite – were either damaged or destroyed by passing through the lingering radiation belt left by the detonation.
Scientists and the military were stunned by the results of Starfish Prime. They knew about EMP, but the effects of the blast far exceeded their expectations.
Despite the very public detonation of the weapon, the cause of the power failures and satellite malfunctions remained secret for years, as did a new discussion that began: how a single nuclear weapon might be used to cripple a nation in one blow.
It is a discussion that continues to this day as those in the national security community consider how a weapon like Starfish Prime detonated over or near the United States could plunge the country into darkness.
Han-Ulrich Rudel was the kind of pilot that every soldier wants overhead. He was a close air support and dive bomber pilot who flew 3,500 combat missions and kept getting into the cockpit even after he was shot down 32 times and wounded five times.
Rudel began his career as a reconnaissance pilot in the Luftwaffe but entered dive bombing training as soon as he was allowed. After graduation in 1941, he was transferred to a Stuka dive bombing unit and flying in German blitzkrieg attacks. He would spend nearly all of his World War II career on Germany’s eastern front fighting the Soviets.
In Sep. 1941 he was sent against Soviet naval units and successfully sank the battleship Marat. In early 1943 he celebrated his 1,000 sortie. About a month later, in Apr. 1943, he took part in an attack against Soviet amphibious landing craft while flying a Ju-87. He sank 70 boats with the bird’s two 37mm cannons.
During the war, he pioneered a tactic where attack planes would hit the tanks from the rear. The primary benefit was that the planes could fire into the relatively thin armor over the tank’s engine, but it also meant that the planes were flying towards their own lines. That made it easier for pilots hit during an attack to make it back to friendly forces before bailing out.
Rudel’s willingness to fly low and slow to take out Soviet targets left him exposed to ground fire though, and he was shot down 32 times by anti-aircraft batteries. He was also wounded both on the ground and in the air.
His worst injury came while chasing a thirteenth tank kill in a fierce battle. After he fired off his final 37mm rounds, his right leg was shot off by anti-aircraft fire. Another pilot had to talk him through a crash landing and pull him out of the plane before he bled out.
Over his career, he destroyed 519 Soviet tanks, a battleship, a cruiser, a destroyer, 70 landing craft, and 11 airplanes. And he was famous for regularly landing and rescuing downed air crews. For his efforts, Rudel was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, the second highest level of the Knight’s Cross. He was the only recipient of the award.
The only version of the award that was higher than Rudel’s was one specially made for Hermann Göring, and Göring basically got it for being head of the Luftwaffe, not for bravery.
For anyone who is feeling pretty good about Rudel and maybe hoping he was a Rommel-type German, the career military men who turned on Hitler when it became clear he was a monster, sorry. Rudel really was a hateful racist. He spoke out regularly in support of the Third Reich and was a member of a one of the most abhorrent German political parties from 1953 to his death in 1982.
It wouldn’t do much good for a wounded World War I veteran trying to reintegrate into society to have a passersby gasp in shock and horror every time they saw him. The town of Sidcup in England attempted to ameliorate this shocked, audible response by attempting to warn the locals about the tenants of a nearby soldiers hospital.
Seeing a man on a blue bench when all the other benches in town were a different color warned the locals the image of a man sitting on it might come as a shock – and the veterans were grateful.
WARNING: Some of these images might be disturbing to even modern eyes.
A World War I veteran who was treated at Sidcup
World War I was an entirely different kind of warfare than the world had ever known previously. With that new, modern, and mechanized destruction, came new wounds and scars that would mark its veterans forever. Few in any military had ever seen anything like the gruesome scars of war left on World War I vets, so it’s safe to say that few civilians had either.
The Great War was packed with horrifyingly disfiguring weapons similar to wars past. Bullets are nothing new, neither was shrapnel. But the new weapons of war were able to unload hundreds of bullets in a minute and fire high explosives and poison gas from places the soldiers on the ground couldn’t even see. Soldiers on both sides suffered disfigurement at an astonishing rate. For the lucky ones who survived, that meant coming home to a population that wasn’t entirely prepared to see the horrors of the war.
The effects of the earliest plastic surgery on World War I veterans, this work done in London.
Sidcup, England had a hospital devoted to such soldiers. The hospital held hundreds of troops whose facial features were an object of terror to the unprepared. The benches of Sidcup were a warning to passersby that a veteran sitting on the bench might be disfigured, and it’s best not to stare. While this may seem offensive to us these days, for veterans who suffered from these afflictions, it was a blessing. Sidcup became the one place in the world where wounded, disfigured vets could walk around without the gasps and cries found everywhere else.
More than that, such hospitals featured pioneering medical techniques to attempt to mitigate the physical damage and return some kind of normalcy to the subject. World War I veterans were essentially the world’s first plastic surgery recipients. For those who couldn’t get that kind of work done, masks were an option – a painted replica of an unwounded face, covering the wounds of war that marked their daily lives.
Masks for WWI-era wounded soldiers were usually specially designed for the individual, created for the subject’s unique injury or war wound, and then painted one by one to ensure the look and fit of the mask matched the person wearing it. There are many occasions where (albeit in black and white photos) it’s hard to distinguish the masked face from what might be the soldier’s undamaged face.
They were remarkably accurate and allowed the soldiers a degree of freedom, walking around without the horrors of war written upon their faces.
In 1992, Jim Valvano – a former basketball player, coach of the 1983 champion North Carolina State men’s basketball team, and broadcasting personality – was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread to his spine.
Up until this point, the charismatic Queens, N.Y.-native was best known for his celebration after defeating the Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game. You can see “Jimmy V” running onto the court about 9 seconds into the video below:
“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.”
It was just a decade later that his life was tragically cut short. But before he went, even knowing the end could be near, he was able to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. It was a speech that echoed for years to come and remains one of the most memorable.
Those are words appropriate for fighting cancer, being the underdog in the country’s biggest basketball tournament, or even fighting alongside your brothers and sisters in arms, far from your family and loved ones.
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day… Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
But about a week or so before, Jimmy V gave a speech commemorating the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship to the team, current players, and Wolfpack fans. That speech was one for the ages. It will keep you shouting the mantra of, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” during any rough time in your life.
Jim Valvano died from the cancer he was determined to fight just a month or so after his legendary ESPY Awards speech. His name and spirit live on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
While more soldiers died of disease than from battle injuries during the Civil War, a three-page document written by P.J. Horwitz, the surgeon general of the Union’s Navy, proves that many members of the medical corps had little idea of how to treat a gunshot wound at the war’s start. Part of the online exhibition “Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War,” put together by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, Slate shared a transcript of Horowitz’s “rudimentary advice” in regards to handling injuries caused by bullets on the battlefield.
If the wound is produced by a musket ball, the patient will generally first feel a slight tingling in the part, and on looking at the seat of injury perceive a hole smaller than the projected ball, generally smooth lined, inverted and the part more or less swelled, and on examining further, if the ball has made its exit there would be found another opening, which unlike the other will have its margin everted and ragged.
Should the patient present radical symptoms of injury, one of the first things to be done is to stop the hemorrhage, if there be any, and then carefully examine the wound to see that no foreign body is lodged there in, and then after bathing the flesh in cold water, apply to the wound a piece of lint on which may be spread a little cerate, and attach it to the parts by adhesive or if the surgeon prefers it he can dip a little lint in the patient’s blood and in the same manner apply it to the part, and then put the part at rest, and treat the local and general symptoms as they arrive.