That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The U.S. Coast Guard was officially formed in 1915, but it traces its history to 1790 through the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. Formerly part of the Treasury Department and now under the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is generally the butt of jokes from military branches under the Department of Defense.


Despite the comments about the ‘puddle pirates,’ Coast Guard history is filled with shocking exploits.

1. The Coast Guard conducted a World War II raid nearly three months before Pearl Harbor attack

 

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard cutter USCG Northland was patrolling near Greenland under a defensive treaty between Greenland and the U.S. on Sep. 12, 1941, when it received a tip that a suspicious ship had put ashore a landing party in a nearby fjord. The Northland found the vessel, the Norwegian fishing boat SS Buskoe. The Northland crew boarded the ship and took the ship master to the Northland for questioning. The boarding party continued to search the Buskoe and found two sets of radio equipment, an indicator that the ship was handling communications for Nazi radio stations.

The Coast Guard conducted an interrogation of the ship master and learned the location of the landing party the ship had previously dropped off. Coast Guardsmen landed on the shore and conducted a nighttime raid against a radio station established by the enemy landing party. They captured three Norwegians, at least one acting under German orders. They also found German radio equipment, code words, and military instructions. Since the U.S. and Germany were not yet at war, the Norwegians were arrested as illegal immigrants.

2. Revenue cutters captured 18 ships during a quasi-war with France

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

America owed a significant amount of money to France when the French crown was overthrown during the French Revolution in 1794. The U.S. told the French Republic that they would not be repaying the debt since the money was owed to the crown.

Backlash from France resulted in the Quasi War from 1798-1799. Though neither nation declared war, naval battles became common with the French seizing American merchant ships by the hundreds. The Navy, which had been disbanded after the war of 1812, was re-instituted. While the Navy was standing up, eight Revenue Cutter Service ships were pressed into service against the French Navy.

Twenty-two French navy vessels were captured during the war. Eighteen were captured by Revenue cutters unaided and another two were captured in joint Navy-Revenue Cutter Service operations. One cutter, the USRC Pickering, captured 10 French ships during two cruises of the West Indies. One capture was that of l‍ ’​Egypte Conquise, a French privateer that carried 44 guns, was crewed by 200 men, and was three times the size of the Pickering.

3. A Coast Guard lieutenant commanded an Army company in combat

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Army

In 1855, Revenue Cutter 2nd Lt. James E. Harrison was ordered to accompany a U.S. Army company in the American-Indian Wars. In the Puget Sound area of Washington, the Army camp was ambushed by a group of Native Americans on December 3. The Army commander, Lt. W. A. Slaughter, was killed the next day in the fighting. Harrison assumed command of the company and beat off the attackers in a fierce firefight. He then led the company back to Fort Steilacoom, Washington on December 21.

4. The USRC Hudson rescued a Navy vessel while under heavy fire from Spanish artillery

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US Coast Guard

On May 11, 1898, the USRC Hudson was part of the Navy fleet blockading Cuba during the Spanish-American War. A group of Spanish ships had attacked the blockade the day before and were now in harbor in Cardenas, a fortified port. Navy Cmdr. John Merry ordered the Hudson and the USS Winslow to enter the port and sink the ships.

The Winslow was faster and entered the port first, but was soon damaged due to fierce fire from shore batteries. The Hudson rushed to the defense of the damaged torpedo boat, laying down thick covering fire and attempting to secure a tow cable to the Navy vessel. After more than a half hour, the Winslow crew was finally able to secure the tow cable and the Hudson pulled her out of the port. The vessels sank two Spanish ships during the attack, but the Winslow suffered the deaths of an officer and multiple crewmen.

Three members of the Winslow were awarded the Medal of Honor. Revenue Servicemen were not eligible for military medals, but Congress awarded specially minted medals to the crew at the urging of President William McKinley. The ship captain, Lt. Frank H. Newcomb, was granted the only gold medal of the war. His officers were given silver medals and the crew received bronze.

5. The Surveyor crew bravely fought back against a boarding party over three times its size

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

During the War of 1812, a boarding party of 50 British sailors from the HMS Narcissus used muffled oars to sneak up on the USRC Surveyor. The 15-man crew of the Surveyor saw the British approaching but could not bring the guns to bear due to the angle of approach of the boarding party.

Capt. Samuel Travis ordered his men to take two muskets each and wait quietly for the British to get within pistol range. The British were hampered by the surprise volley but kept coming, so the crew of the surveyor fought across the decks to retain control of the ship. The British were eventually able take the ship, but they suffered three dead and seven wounded to the Americans’ five wounded. The cutter’s defense was so fierce despite the numerical advantage of the British that British Capt. John Crerie returned the American captain’s sword the next morning with the following note.

“Your gallant and desperate attempt to defend your vessel against more than double your number excited such admiration on the part of your opponents as I have seldom witnessed, and induced me to return you the sword you had so ably used, in testimony of mine.

Our poor fellows have severely suffered, occasioned chiefly, if not solely, by the precaution you had taken to prevent surprise. In short, I am at a loss which to admire most-the previous arrangement on board the Surveyor, or the determined manner in which the deck was disputed inch by inch. You have my most sincere wishes for the immediate parole and speedy exchange of yourself and brave crew.”

6. A future commandant of the Coast Guard herded reindeer 1600 miles across Alaskan Arctic

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

Eight whaling ships and 265 people were trapped in the Arctic ice on the north Alaskan coast in 1897 when the ice closed earlier than normal. President William McKinley learned of the men’s plight and tasked the Revenue Cutter Service with getting needed supplies to the whaling ships.

The service accepted volunteers for the mission dubbed “The Overland Expedition” which departed Dec. 16, 1897. The men made their way through the Alaskan wilderness with dog and reindeer teams pulling sleds of supplies and mail. The amount of supplies needed and the scarcity of sleds and dogs meant the men had to run alongside the sleds for most of the 1600-mile trek in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The expedition purchased reindeer and drove them north through the nearly complete darkness of the Alaskan winterThe men arrived at Point Barrow March 29, 1898 with 382 reindeer. Though many of the whalers had become sick or emaciated before the arrival of the rescue party, only three died and the rescue was a success. When the summer thaw completed, four of the ships were able to sail south. Four had been destroyed by the ice and their crews were transported south by the USRC Bear to San Francisco. The second-in-command of the operation, 2nd Lt. Ellsworth Berthoff, would go on to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard when the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service were combined in 1915.

7. A beached crew fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

When the USRC Eagle found itself outmatched by the British HMS Dispatch during the War of 1812, the crew didn’t give up. They intentionally ran the cutter aground on Long Island and dragged some of its guns to a high bluff. From there, they teamed up with local militia and began firing on the British.

By mid-afternoon, they were out of shot. They reportedly began using sheets from their logbook as wadding and fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them. The enemy fire was so fierce, the cutter’s flag was shot off three times. The British eventually captured the Eagle.

8. Coast Guardsman destroyed a major pirate fort

Cape Breton Island in modern day Nova Scotia, Canada was a haven for pirates such as Captain Kidd for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. During operations in 1820, the USRC Alabama and USRC Louisiana attacked the pirate fort at Breton Island. Louisiana went on to capture five pirate vessels as part of a Caribbean task force with the British and U.S. navies.

9. The Coast Guard conducted more than 1,300 search and rescue missions during the Mariel Boatlift

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Photo: US Coast Guard

On April 22, 1980, Cuban President Fidel Castro opened the Port of Mariel to Cubans who wished to emigrate from Cuba. Within hours, ships were headed from Miami to pick up the refugees. Over the next 45 days, an estimated 5,000 vessels pulled more than 100,000 Cubans from the island. The vessels were usually packed over capacity and had insufficient flotation devices. Over half of the vessels needed some sort of assistance from the Coast Guard.

The Coat Guard shifted many of its active duty assets to the Straits of Florida and called up its reserves. Many vessels began running 24-hour operations just to tow damaged ships or search for lost ones. The call for Coast Guard cutters became so dire that some ships stopped being able to maintain their logs. Still, the Coast Guard logged 1,300 search and rescue missions during the operation with an unknown number not being recorded.

NOW: The Navy’s new way to launch aircraft is a slingshot on steroids

OR: 21 jaw-dropping photos of the US Coast Guard in Alaska

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why tattoos are one of the most time-honored military traditions

It seems like, every so often, every branch of the military updates its tattoo policy. It’s done for various reasons, but ultimately, it’s to keep an orderly and professional appearance. But ever since the first tattoo parlor opened its doors in 1846, tattoos have had a well-seated place in the hearts (and on the skin) of many troops and veterans.


The art of body-marking and tattooing as a status symbol for warriors dates back well over five thousand years. Everyone from the Ancient Greeks to the Maori tribes of New Zealand marked their warriors as a sign of their strength. Even before tattoos were widespread among the U.S. military, Revolutionary War sailors tattooed personal identifiers on their skin to avoid being illegally conscripted by the British Navy.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
And Teddy Roosevelt knew this guy (David E. Warford) would be perfect for the Rough Riders. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

During the American Civil War, early tattoo artist Martin Hildebrant traveled the battlefields and decorated the troops with various, patriotic designs. Even Marine Corps legend, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, was said to have an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattooed across his chest

Despite a general disinterest in tattoos among civilians in a post-WWI society, the 1925 book, The History of Tattooing, states that a whopping 90% of U.S. Sailors were tattooed. This was the golden age of sailors using their bodies as secondary service records of their achievements. Sailors would get a shellback turtle for crossing the equator, a golden dragon for crossing the International Date Line, and a golden shellback for crossing both at the same spot. Even rarer is a purple porpoise, which is for making this same crossing during the sacred hour of the spring equinox.

Related: Here are the meanings behind 19 classic sailor tattoos

Seeing a tattoo on an older sailor means either they sailed through a very specific spot at a very specific time — or they just really like purple dolphins.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

In today’s military, the old traditions still ring true. Sailors will still mark themselves for their Naval achievements. Marines still get the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on their first liberty. Soldiers will still get one or more of the same six tattoos. And airmen will probably get something nice in a spot that doesn’t hurt too much.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Zippo lighter became an iconic symbol of the American warfighter

When the U.S. military entered World War II, American businesses geared their entrepreneurial efforts toward supporting the war effort as a means of survival. This meant the majority of raw materials were used to produce weapons, ammunition, armor, aircraft, and other necessary equipment. Zippo Manufacturing Company had a decade of experience selling their flip-open lighters to the consumer market, but during the war they exclusively produced Zippo lighters for American service members.

The classic Zippo design garnered respect among the millions of Americans serving overseas. These steel-cased lighters had a black crackle finish and no customization, engravings, or art work on them but were durable and could function no matter what elements troops found themselves in. An ad in 1942 wrote, “Zippo Windproof LIGHTERS have acted as rescue beacons for men in open boats, as a guide through dense dark jungles and as a means for lighting fires for food and warmth.”


Ernie Pyle, a famous war correspondent and newspaperman, developed a special relationship with George Blaisdell and personally received a shipment of 50 Zippos prior to the D-Day invasion. “And another 100 will be sent to Ernie every month for the duration,” Blaisdell added.

Pyle famously penned a letter to Blaisdell on Oct. 29, 1944: “If I tried to tell you how much these Zippos are coveted at the front and the gratitude and delight with which the boys receive them, you would probably accuse me of exaggeration,” he wrote. “There is truly nothing the average soldier would rather have.”

Following Pyle’s tragic death in the Pacific in 1945, Blaisdell immediately sent 600 Zippo lighters engraved with “In memory of Ernie Pyle” to the captain of the USS Cabot to hand out to the crew who counted Pyle as one of their own.

Post-World War II, the increasingly popular Zippo lighters became available to the general public once again. The connection between Zippo and the U.S. military didn’t stop there, and during the Vietnam War Zippo emerged as the most popular item carried in the pockets of American service members. Unlike the cigarette lighters from previous wars, these Zippos were personal mementos specifically customized with unit logos, maps of Vietnam, and both humorous and crude slogans.

“You had people who were discontent people who wanted to express heartfelt emotions,” said Bradford Edwards, a Vietnam-era Zippo collector and artist. “And here was a small canvas that may be the last thing some of these guys had to say.”

One soldier’s Zippo had the logo for the United States Army Air Defense Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, on the front, while the lid reads, “When I die bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass.” On the back, the case reads, “5th Special Forces Group – 1st Special Forces Viet Nam 69-70” with an engraving of a U.S. Army Special Forces green beret. The lid reads, “Nha-Trang Viet Nam.”

During the Vietnam War, Zippos were sold at the PX or by locals operating the street side black markets. Their popularity in wartime culture surged with “Zippo Tracks” being adopted as a nickname for flame throwing tanks, and “Zippo Raids” used to describe the actions of soldiers burning down hooches or villages.

Although Zippo remained a treasured collector’s item, during the 1980s a surge of fake lighters saturated the market. Zippo continues to produce military-themed lighters to commemorate their storied legacy, although the artwork is more general. The Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, is home to Zippo and Case Knives flagship stores, where collectors and tourists alike can take a deeper dive into the history of Zippo and their involvement with American service members.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

The USS Philadelphia, a 1,240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate, was built by the residents of Philadelphia who collected $100,000 to fund her construction during one week in June 1798. She was completed in November 1799 and was commissioned under the command of Capt. Stephen Decatur Sr.


Three years later, during the First Barbary War, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. A year after that, Capt. Decatur’s son, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., devised a plan to keep the enemy from using the ship.

He was going to board her and retake her.

British Lord ­Horatio Nelson, then a vice admiral, would call the raid that followed “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” It would also make Lt. Decatur a national hero in the fledgling United States — its first military hero since the Revolution.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Lt. Stephen Decatur

As darkness fell on Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Decatur and eighty volunteers, most of whom were Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ship that had been disguised with short masts and triangular sails. She flew a British flag. On her deck were Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic while the Marines, dressed as Maltese sailors and Arab seamen, huddled below decks. The Intrepid had sailed with the USS Syren, which remained outside the harbor but would supply supporting fire if needed.

To avoid calling attention to the raid, the Marines were told that the use of firearms was prohibited.

As the Intrepid approached the Philadelphia, one of the Arabic-speaking volunteers called out that their ship had lost her anchors. They wanted to use the harbor to rig a replacement but needed a place to tie up for the night. Before her capture in 1803, the Philadelphia’s commander, Commodore William Bainbridge, had jettisoned some of the ship’s guns and three anchors, moved other guns forward, and had had her foremast cut down in an unsuccessful attempt to free her from the reef she was on. He had then tried to scuttle the ship but that, too, failed, and he and his crew became prisoners.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Commodore William Bainbridge

Bainbridge later called his capture “humiliating.”

The Philadelphia had not yet been fully repaired, and her upper yardarms and sails had also been removed.

The guard aboard the Philadelphia gave the disguised Intrepid permission to tie up alongside. When she did, Decatur yelled “Board!” He and his volunteers flooded aboard the captured US vessel armed with pikes and cutlasses.

“Not a man had been seen or heard to breathe a moment before,” the Intrepid’s Surgeon Mate Lewis Heermann later wrote; “at the next, the boarders hung on the ship’s side like cluster bees; and, in another instant, every man was on board the frigate.”

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Decatur boarding Philadelphia

In ten minutes of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US volunteers killed twenty of the Tripolitan crew and captured one. The rest had fled the ship by jumping overboard. One American had been wounded.

Decatur had hoped to sail the Philadelphia out of the harbor after he had taken her but quickly realized that’d be impossible because of her condition. He also realized the smaller Intrepid would not be able to tow the Philadelphia. To keep the ship from being used against American vessels, there was only one alternative and his orders had been clear: If he couldn’t bring her out of the harbor, he was to burn her.

Decatur’s men fired the ship.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
They burned it well.

As the flames grew, the Americans returned to the Intrepid. Lt. Decatur was the last man to leave the Philadelphia, which he did with a dramatic leap into the Intrepid’s rigging.  As the Intrepid pulled away and headed toward the harbor entrance, the flames spread throughout the Philadelphia. The guns still aboard her, which were primed and ready, began firing in the heat, some of the discharges striking the town. The ship also began drifting as her ropes gave way. She finally grounded herself, still burning, on rocks near the entrance to the harbor. By then, the enemy in the town had realized what was happening and began firing on the Intrepid from the shore and preparing to launch small boats.

The American Syren replied with fire from the harbor mouth as Decatur and the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor, the American crew cheering.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the British paid respect to the Marines in the War of 1812

The War of 1812 isn’t remembered very much nowadays. Often considered America’s second war of independence, not much really changed on the map as a result of the war. But what’s more incredible than the story of the War of 1812 itself is the incredible number of small stories to which the war gives context.

The Battle of New Orleans, for example, was fought by pirates, American Indians, slaves, and civilians alongside the U.S. Army… after the war was over. Then there’s the outrageous fact that the biggest naval battles of the war happened on the Great Lakes, not at sea.

The event that few ever forget, however, is the British burning of Washington, D.C., when they put the Capitol and other government installations to the torch. British troops even had dinner at the White House before setting it ablaze. But there was one building in the DC area that was spared — and, potentially, for a very good reason.


It was the only time the American capital was ever occupied by a foreign country and the thought seems next to impossible these days. Some 4,000 British troops landed at the Chesapeake Bay and made their way eastward, toward Washington. The only thing standing in their way was 6,500 American militiamen and 420 U.S. Marines. The British routed the Americans so bad, the battle went down in history as “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” Worse than that, it left the door to Washington open and the redcoats just walked right through it.

There was one bright silver lining to the Battle of Bladensburg, however. Navy Captain Joshua Barney and his 360 sailors and 120 Marines didn’t get the order from Gen. William H. Winder to retreat from the battlefield. Eventually, it was this force of just shy of 500 left to fight the entire British Army, often using their fists or the sailors’ arsenal of cutlasses. They would not be able to hold back the entire enemy force, but they made their stand last for two full hours.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Marines making do at Bladensburg.

This stand gave many in Washington, including Congress, President James Madison, and his wife, Dolley, time to escape the city. Dolley Madison was able to take many of the White House’s most treasured artifacts with her.

A battle that was so mismanaged with a victory so lopsided lasted only a short few hours. That the most intense fighting was done against the United States Marines and the Navy did not go unnoticed by the British forces. Nonetheless, they pressed on to Washington.

The burning of the American capital was not just some sudden spark of victory-fueled euphoria. The Americans burned the capital of British North America, Canada, at York (modern-day Toronto) the previous year. Now, the British would get their revenge, torching the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, the White House, and many, many other government buildings.

One of the few buildings that was spared in the melee was the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ house at the Marine Corps Barracks. The reason for this, according to Marine Corps legend, is that the British were impressed by the Marines’ performance at the Battle of Bladensburg and, thus, spared the house out of respect.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The Home of the Commandants at Marine Barracks Washington is the oldest continuously used public building in Washington, DC.

This could be the reason, or even a secondary one, but some historians say it’s likely that the house was just overlooked in the chaos of the burning city. Still, an unscathed structure so close to the burning Navy Yard seems unlikely to go unnoticed, especially because the house looks everything like a military target and the British had all the time they needed to double check.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the British torched the White House

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever come close enough to set fire to the White House. Well, at least, it’s tough to imagine that in today’s world. But back in 1814, the White House wasn’t as heavily guarded or fortified, making it an easy target for retaliation-hungry British troops.

In fact, British troops just walked up to the house and set it on fire on a fateful day in August 1814. The Burning of Washington was a retaliation attack for the American burning of Toronto and much of America’s capital was set on fire. Little remained of the original city, including the original White House.

Causes and Reasons for the War of 1812

The year was 1814. The United States was engaged in the War of 1812 against the British Empire. We’d been fighting them and their allies for two long years. Battles were rough and fierce, and it seemed like the war would never end. Then some British troops decided to burn down the White House – which had serious consequences.

There were lots of reasons for the war, but there were two big reasons. First, there were really strict regulations on American trade and secondly, the UK was falsely imprisoning American seamen. Plus, the Brits weren’t exactly happy about the fact that America was pushing its boundaries and trying to expand in all directions.

The War of 1812 had serious impacts on all things in America. And since the country was still so fresh and new, it also had lasting consequences. Along with significant defeats by the British, Canadian, and indigenous armies, the War of 1812 brought about one of the most monumental moments of American history – the burning of the White House.

America is all about rebuilding

Even though the White House almost completely burned to the ground, America wasn’t going to give up that easily. Or that quickly. Only the south wall remained standing after the fire, but that didn’t deter those early Americans, because that’s what our country is all about – facing adversaries and coming out stronger. Of course, that was a little easier said than done.

Of course, it wasn’t just the loss of the White House that was devastating. Adding insult to injury, the British soldiers completely ransacked the place before they set it on fire. Of everything they took, only two items have been recovered to this day. A portrait of George Washington has been returned along with a jewelry box that apparently belonged to America’s first president. (No one knows if that’s true or not, but it makes a fun bit of American lore.)

Reconstruction on the White House took until 1817. During that time, President James Madison lived in the Octagon House and a residence called the Seven Buildings. The south portico was built in 1824, and the north portico was added in 1830.

Today’s White House might not be the original structure, but it still stands for the same things – democracy, freedom, and America.

MIGHTY HISTORY

History’s most daring thief may have been this Army paratrooper

The mysterious plane hijacker known as “D.B. Cooper,” who has eluded authorities for more than 45 years, was an ex-military paratrooper from Michigan who boasted about the daring heist to a friend, a publisher plans to reveal May 17, 2018.

Michigan publisher Principa Media says Cooper was former military paratrooper and intelligence operative Walter R. Reca, and Principa worked with Reca’s best friend, Carl Laurin, in compiling the evidence. While the publisher did not disclose if Reca was still alive, an obituary online lists Reca, of Oscada, Mich., as having died in 2014 at the age of 80.


“Evidence, including almost-daily discussions over a 14-year period and 3+ hours of audio recordings featuring the skyjacker, was compiled by Reca’s best friend. It was then analyzed by a Certified Fraud Examiner and forensic linguist,” the publisher said in a news release. “The audio recordings, created in 2008, include Reca discussing skyjacking details that were not known to the public prior to the FBI’s information release in 2015.”

The publishing company worked with Laurin for the memoir “D.B. Cooper & Me: A Criminal, A Spy, My Best Friend,” and plans to present evidence at a press conference on Thursday in Grand Rapids linking the crime to Reca. Evidence includes:

  • Witness testimony from an individual who spoke with Reca within an hour of his jump
  • Documentation concerning how the $200,000 in stolen cash was spent
  • Confessions from Reca to two individuals at two different times
  • An article of clothing Reca wore during the jump

In 1971, on the night before Thanksgiving, a man calling himself Dan Cooper, wearing a black tie and a suit, boarded a Seattle-bound Boeing 727 in Oregon and told a flight attendant he had a bomb in a briefcase. He gave her a note demanding ransom. After the plane landed he released the 36 passengers in exchange for $200,000 in ransom money and parachutes. The ransom was paid in $20 bills.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The hijacker then ordered the plane to fly to Mexico, but near the Washington-Oregon border he jumped and was never seen or heard from again.

In one of the audio recordings provided by the publishing company, Laurin is heard asking Reca about how he felt going through life knowing he was D.B. Cooper and if he ever had second thoughts about the heist.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Water Reca as seen in Detroit in the mid-1970s.
(Lisa Story)

“Never even a second thought,” Reca says.

After the heist, Reca said he put the money in the bank, and that he had “family to take care of” before jobs “overseas” came up. The daredevil said he treated it as any bank heist.

“It was no [big] deal really, it was done,” Reca is heard saying. “It was done, and I lived through it.”

After the skyjacking, Reca later became a high-level covert intelligence operative, according to the publishing company.

Reca possessed skills to survive jumping out of the plane because he was on the Michigan Parachute Team, according to the publisher. He attended the team reunion in 2000 and was pictured in a photo released by the publisher.

Despite the claims of the publishing company, the FBI has never ruled out the possibility that the hijacker was killed in the jump — which took place during a rainstorm at night, over rough, wooded terrain. The hijacker’s clothing and footwear were also unsuitable for a rough landing.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
A flier for a Michigan Parachute Team event. The MPC was a group of young men who performed daredevil parachuting stunts.

Over the years the most lasting image of Cooper, who became somewhat of a legend, may be the two sketches the FBI released of the suspect.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
A photo of the Michigan Parachute Team reunion in 2000.

Many investigators have come forward with their theories for who the infamous hijacker may be. In early 2018, the leader of the private investigative team who has spent years trying to crack the D.B. Cooper hijacking case claimed he believes the mysterious criminal was a CIA operative whose identity has been covered up by federal agents.

Thomas Colbert, a documentary filmmaker who helped put together the 40-member team, said in January 2018, his team made the connection from work a code breaker uncovered in each of the five letters allegedly sent by Cooper.

Since January 2018, the FBI has released more than 3,000 documents to Colbert’s team investigating the hijacking. The FBI said in court papers that it has more than 71,000 documents that may be responsive to Colbert’s lawsuit.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

Articles

That time Los Angeles fought off an imaginary Japanese bombing raid

In February 1942, Army units defending Los Angeles launched a devastating barrage of anti-aircraft fire into the sky, sending up 1,433 rounds against targets reported across the city in the “Battle of L.A.”


Fortunately for the occupants (but unfortunately for the egos of everyone involved), the City of Angels wasn’t under attack.

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the American Navy was largely in retreat across the Pacific, and the West Coast was worried that it was the next target of a Japanese attack.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Army gun crews man a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in Algeria in World War II. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In reality, the chances of a Japanese attack on the West Coast were low since the Navy was pulling back from far flung outposts in order to secure ground they knew they had to hold, like California, Oregon, Washington, and vital bases on Pacific islands.

But LA was overtaken by fear and uncertainty in the early months of 1942. Then, on Feb. 23, a city in California was attacked by the Japanese. A long-range submarine surfaced near Santa Barbara, California, and shelled an oil refinery there.

The very next night, a light was spotted over the ocean off the coast, possibly a signal flare sent up to guide Japanese planes or carriers to their target. Then, a few hours later, blinking lights were spotted and an alert was called. When no attack materialized, the alert was called off.

But in the early hours of Feb. 25, radars picked up activity at approximately 12,000-feet. Lookouts reported dozens of aircraft closing on the city. “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid” was on, and the city residents and their Army gun crews knew exactly how to respond.

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American anti-aircraft gun crews firing in World War II. (Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army RDECOM)

Army Air Force crews rushed from their beds to await launch orders and gun crews ran to their stations. Volunteer air wardens fanned across the city to enforce the blackout.

At 3:06 a.m., the first gun crews spotted their targets and began firing into the sky. For the next hour, a fierce barrage lit up the night as searchlights and shells looked for targets. In all, 1,433 rounds would be fired by gun crews.

Citizens drove through the street against orders and caused three auto fatalities while two others were lost to panic-induced heart failure. Fuzes failed to detonate some rounds in the air and they crashed back to earth where they destroyed property while luckily causing no fatalities.

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But the embarrassing reality started to become clear at headquarters. With no reports of bomb damage and few reports of downed aircraft — none of which could be confirmed — either both sides were engaging in the least effective battle in the history of war or there were not actually any Japanese bombers.

The alert was suspended at 4:15 a.m. and later lifted entirely. Soon, the entire country heard that the reported attacks in Los Angeles were actually just a case of the jitters.

A 1983 military investigation of the incident found a possible explanation. A swarm of meteorological balloons had been released that night with small lights attached to aid in tracking. It’s possible that the gun and radar crews saw these balloons and, in the nervous atmosphere, mistook it for an attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why old armies used to fight in lines

I just discovered The Armchair Historian, a rather endearing YouTuber who created an animated history lesson about why armies used to stand in lines and kill each other. It seems counterintuitive now that we have weapons designed to kill large quantities of people and traditional wars between nations have given way to asymmetrical conflicts.

According to our friendly historian here, there were three main reasons armies used this battlefield formation up until the 20th century:


www.youtube.com

Griffin Johnsen (The Armchair Historian himself) narrates the video and summarizes the effectiveness of line formations succinctly. They were influenced by cavalry, order and communication, and the tactics of the enemy. As warfare technology advanced, so, too, did battlefield tactics. One example Johnson gives is how horses influenced warfighting.

Cavalry was effective against infantry, so the line formation was adopted to defend against cavalry. Once munitions became more accurate and lethal, cavalry became less effective… and the evolution continued.

Line formation warfare was developed during antiquity and used most notably in the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of the Bastards Battle of Cannae. It was seen as late as the First World War before giving way to trench warfare and specialized units with increased firepower and weaponry.

“Despite the prolific casualties suffered by units in close order formations during the start of the First World War, it should still be understood how effective line formations were in their heyday,” narrates Johnsen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToOIvD5mlow

www.youtube.com

But seriously, can we talk about the Battle of the Bastards? Geek Sundry broke down the tactics displayed (omitting the tactics not displayed — SERPENTINE, RICKON, SERPENTINE!!!) in what is arguably one of the most riveting Game of Thrones episodes created.

The Boltons’ tactic of using Romanesque scutums to surround the Stark forces was unnerving and would have delivered a crushing victory without the intervention of the Knights of the Vale.

The probable Bolton trap of allowing the appearance of an escape path (in this case…a mountain of bodies — talk about PSYOPS) effectively tempted their enemy to break formation.

Even commanding archers to volley their arrows into the fray of the battle was a gangster move; it killed Bolton’s own men, but for a man who believes in the ends justifying the means… it was a very lethal means to an end.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Fl0Iybm2KuKnsulVaU.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.giphy.com&s=167&h=07c916ce832a15f14d8e286973d31f448e8e5405f30743322b3f60fb35b2b1b7&size=980x&c=3336561657 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Fl0Iybm2KuKnsulVaU.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.giphy.com%26s%3D167%26h%3D07c916ce832a15f14d8e286973d31f448e8e5405f30743322b3f60fb35b2b1b7%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3336561657%22%7D” expand=1]

Anyway, I got distracted there for a second. Check out Johnson’s video above to learn more about why armies fought in lines. Shout-out to his segue into sponsor promotion at 6:38. Enjoy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Vietnam almost became a protectorate of the US

It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.


Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.

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Until the early 1960s. Probably.

And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.

As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Maybe if they fought in Paris as hard as they fought in Algeria the French wouldn’t have lost Vietnam in the first place.

It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.

One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Until the early 1960s. Probably.

Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.

The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.

It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.

On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Japanese sentries salute French officers in Saigon, 1945.

Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.

“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Task Force Smith was essential in the Korean War

After the North Koreans poured across the 38th Parallel in 1950, starting the Korean War, the United States rapidly responded. The 24th Infantry Division was ordered to quickly make their way to South Korea from Japan while American carriers began launching strikes to delay the Communist advance.

One of the first ground units to arrive was called Task Force Smith. According to official United States Army history, this unit eventually consisted of two under-strength companies of infantry, four 75mm recoilless rifles, four 4.2-inch mortars, half of a communications platoon, and a battery of six 105mm howitzers. Most importantly, this force would be the first “boots on the ground” to face the Communist hordes on the Korean peninsula.

Their mission was to delay the North Koreans, affording others the time to get spun up for combat.


As the unit moved toward battle, they were faced with all the signs that things might not go so well. American planes hit a number of supply dumps and installations controlled by friendly forces — one such incident killed over 200 South Korean troops. Meanwhile, some of the C-54 Skymasters carrying the unit had to return to Japan due to thick fog and being unable to locate airfields.

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Soldiers assigned to Task Force Smith arrive in South Korea.

(US Army)

When they finally met North Korean troops, it was a disaster. The North Koreans, equipped with Soviet-built T-34 medium tanks, approached. At 8:16 AM on the morning of July 5, 1950, near the city of Osan, American ground troops opened fire on the Communist forces. The fight was short — it didn’t go well for the United States. Bazookas and recoilless rifle rounds did practically nothing to the T-34s.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

North Korean T-34s blew through the positions held by the unprepared American soldiers.

(National Archives)

The North Korean forces blew through the infantry and went at the artillery. By the time all was said and done, of the roughly 440 soldiers in Task Force Smith sent to South Korea, only 185 made it back to friendly lines the next morning (a few dozen others would make their way back over the next few days and weeks).

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Today, Task Force Smith is remembered for their courage — and for the lessons learned from the Battle of Osan.

(US Army)

The experience of this brave but unprepared unit led to major changes, at least through the Cold War. The mantra became, “No More Task Force Smiths.”

In essence, the troops who fell that day are remembered by efforts to continually keep American troops ready for combat, ensuring that sacrifices made by those who came before them are not in vain.

MIGHTY HISTORY

11 facts you should have learned about World War I

On this day in history, WWI began. Here’s everything you were always supposed to know about the Great War but may have never learned.


1. The first World War was a global war centered in Europe that began on July 28, 1914, and ended on November 11, 1918. The war lasted four years, three months and 14 days.

2. Before WWII, WWI was called the Great War, the World War and the War to End All Wars. During the four years of conflict, 135 countries participated in the conflict. More than 15 million people died.

3. WWI involved some of the most significant powers of the world at that time. Two opposing alliances – the Allies and the Central Powers – were at odds with one another. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his pregnant wife Sophie triggered the start of the war. Ferdinand was the nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the throne of Austria and Hungary.

4. A Serbian terrorist group, the Black Hand, planned the assassination. The man who shot Ferdinand and his wife, Gavrilo Princip, was a Bosnian revolutionary.

5. Though the assassination triggered the start of WWI, several causes factored into the conflict.

Alliances between countries to maintain the power balance in Europe were tangled and not at all secure. All across Europe, countries were earnestly building up their military forces, battleships and arms stores to regain lost territories from previous conflicts. By the end of the war, the four major European empires – the Russians, the Ottomans, the Germans and the Austro-Hungarian had all collapsed.

Austria-Hungary took over Bosnia, a former Turkish province, in 1909, which angered Serbia. Two years later, Germans protested against the French possession of Morocco.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment man a trench in France during World War I. The Signal Corps photograph collection includes every major aspect of the U.S. Army involvement in World War I.

6. US forces joined WW1 when 128 Americans were killed by a German submarine while aboard the British passenger ship Lusitania. In total, 195 passengers were killed. This put pressure on the U.S. government to enter the war. President Woodrow Wilson wanted peace, but in 1917, Germany announced that their submarines were prepared to sink any ships that approach Britain. Wilson then declared America would enter the war, with the goal of restoring peace to the region. Officially, the war began for US forces on April 6, 1917.

7. U.S. forces spent less than eight months in combat. During that time, 116,000 US service members were killed in action, and 204,000 were wounded. Overall, 8 million service members died during the duration of the war, and 21 million were injured. A total of 65 million military members were mobilized during the war.

8. By 1918, German citizens were protesting against the war. Thousands of German citizens were starving because of British naval blockages. The economy in Germany was beginning to collapse. Then the German navy experienced a significant mutiny, which all but quashed the national resolve to continue with the conflict. German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on November 9, 1918, which helps to encourage all sides to lay down arms.

9. The peace armistice of WWI was signed on November 11, 1918, in Compiegne, France. One year later, the Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war. This treaty required that Germany accept full responsibility for causing the war. The country was required to make reparations to some of the Allied countries and surrender much of its territory to surrounding countries. Germany was also required to surrender its African colonies and limit the size of its standing military.

10. The Treaty of Versailles also established the League of Nations to help prevent future wars. By 1923, 53 European nations were active members of the League of Nations. However, the U.S. Senate refused to allow the US to participate in the League of Nations.

11. Germany joined the League of Nations in 1926, but much of the German population was resentful of the Treaty of Versailles. Just five years later, Germany (along with Japan) withdrew from the League. Italy followed three years later. Shortly after, German nationalism gave rise to the Nazi party. Some historians argue that WWI never actually ended, only that the conflict paused briefly and that WWII was, in fact, a continuation of the Great War.

MIGHTY CULTURE

MIGHTY STORIES: Vietnam’s Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit

Mighty Stories is a weekly WATM feature highlighting the stories of veterans, active duty and military families. This week’s feature is Art Jetter, Vietnam Veteran.

“I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. I was the oldest of six boys, no girls, in middle class America. My dad was a great man and my mom was a wonderful mother.

My dad was a B-17 pilot in World War II. He flew 35 missions out of England. He volunteered to fly in the Pacific, but thankfully the war ended as he finished his training. My mom’s two brothers were also pilots. My grandfather joined the Signal Corp in the Army and was also in pilot training during World War I. My dad didn’t really talk about the war.

He was the youngest of 9 kids. I read some letters he sent back to his family during World War II. Whatever the Army paid him, he sent home. Here’s a guy who did all his country ever asked him, and I don’t think he had time to be scared.

The 8th Army Air Corps had a reunion in Omaha about 25 years ago. His crew all came. They fought together, they came home together, and they stayed connected. They all came over to dinner at my parents that night and invited us kids to join them. My dad was pretty hard of hearing, so imagine a long dinner table with my dad at one end. One of the guys, Marty, was at the other end. And Marty said, ‘Now boys, I just want you all to know that the reason that we all are able to have dinner here tonight – the reason that we all came home alive – was because of your dad. I asked, ‘What did my father do,’ I mean these B17s flew in formation, ‘What did he do to provide protection?’ And Marty explained that my dad always flew toward the flack.

There was some room between the bombers, and the Germans would aim their anti-aircraft at a particular aircraft and when my dad would see the flack, he would turn toward it. The Germans would adjust, trying to guess where they should have shot, and they’d always guess wrong. My dad turned to me and said, ‘What did Marty just say?’ I said, ‘He said that in order to avoid getting shot you would fly toward the flack.’ And my dad said, ‘You know I used to do that.’ We all had a pretty good chuckle about it. He expected me to do the right thing. He was a very honorable, truthful, loyal guy.

I remember in 1965, our student body was all sitting in the auditorium for some kind of program. One of my favorite friends, Charlie Lee, was sitting next to me. His dad was a major in the Army. He turned to me and said, ‘My dad says we should join the Reserves.’ And I said, ‘Why would we do that?’ And he said that as soon as we turned 18 then we could join the Reserves, and we could pick our jobs instead of just getting sent to Vietnam as an infantry guy. I didn’t really even know what Vietnam was. Charlie joined the 173rd Transportation Company in the Reserves and as soon as he joined his whole unit was called up and sent over. He’d been trained as a lifeguard at a swimming pool at the Officers Club and got to Vietnam as a convoy commander. He remains to this day one of the most organized guys I’ve ever met in my life. Charlie stayed in the Reserves and was called to most of the battles after Vietnam. He achieved the rank of Command Sergeant Major before he retired.

I didn’t follow his instructions and I got drafted. I wanted to be an architect. I got accepted to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but my grandpa was on the Board of Trustees at a small college in Iowa and he wanted me to go there. So, I went, but I shouldn’t have gone. I left and couldn’t get back into UNL. I was selling men’s and boy’s clothes at a retail store for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour. I went to Wentworth Military Academy for 12 months and soon after, I got a letter welcoming me to the United States Army.

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Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

I went to Fort Lewis for basic training. They put us all in a line and asked anyone who had been through ROTC to take a step forward. I did, and then they asked if anyone had gone to a military academy. Since I had, I took another step forward. And so, they made me the acting drill sergeant for one of the platoons. I thought, ‘holy crap.’ I was a little guy when I graduated from high school. I was almost 5’2 and 120 pounds. I think I could do about three pushups.

I worked hard and pretty soon I was maxing the PT test. At the end of basic, they put an article in the Omaha World Herald that I was the top in my class and they promoted me to E3. I went to my senior drill sergeant and told him I was the best guy he had. He replied that I shouldn’t be bragging. I said, ‘Make no mistake, I’m not bragging. I’m saying if I’m the best you have you’re in big trouble.’ He said, ‘You don’t think the training was adequate.’ I said, ‘I’ll be lucky to make it down the stairs of the airplane in Vietnam without getting shot.’ We talked about needing better training and a week later I found myself as a candidate in the Infantry Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After I applied for Ranger and Airborne school (which I didn’t get), they told me I had the aptitude to be a pilot. I thought it was pretty nifty with so many pilots in my family. I did my troop duty and then went to flight school in Texas. Then I spent four months at Fort Rucker learning to fly Hueys. I graduated from flight school as one of the top guys. I tell you that not to brag, but it was because I was more afraid of what could happen to me than anybody else, so I studied harder. It was more about being able to live than grades. I was picked to fly the Cobra, which was like going from a family minivan to a full-tilt Ferrari.

I knew I was going to Vietnam. I had a month off, so I went home. Every girl I knew took me to the airport on my way to Vietnam. The whole time I was in helicopter school I knew they weren’t training me to stay home. It’s an interesting thing about getting ready to go. You know in one regard, I was scared. Another, was, with all this training, I really wanted it to be put to use.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

I’m not a fan of war. But I’d put everything into training that I could – for my own survival and for the survival of everyone I’d be associated with. I requested to be in the 1st Air Calvary Division. When I got to Vietnam I went to the 1st Air Calvary reception station. The smart thing would have been to ask which is the unit where nobody got shot at, but I had heard people talking about the legendary Blue Max Aerial Rocket Artillery Unit, and I requested that. I wasn’t disappointed. Maybe a little overworked, but I was in a unit with exceptional human beings.

That experience and those guys stuck with me. Many of them are dear friends of mine. We only had 32 pilots in our unit. Just after I left, eight of them got killed. It was a weird way of thinking about those guys. And I think I had survivor’s guilt. Like I left too soon. By the time I was there about nine months, I had been the flight lead in most organized attacks. I told my commander, Major Larry McKay, I’m going to extend for six months. I felt like I belonged to this unit. Larry said great, company clerk said great, and the day after I was originally supposed to leave Vietnam – the day my year was up – the Department of the Army called up my commander and said, ‘Where is he? My commander said I was on a mission, that I’d extended for 6 months, and the Army said no. So, my commander sent out another Cobra to relieve me. He and I went to the 1st Calvary Division Headquarters and I was told I had to report to Fort Riley, Kansas. I left Vietnam and tried like crazy to go back. Those guys were that important to me.

Our mission was this: They parked us within 5 minutes’ flight time of our guys in the field. We sat with a radio operator who would have contact with the guys on the ground. If the radio operator yelled, ‘Fire Mission,’ we’d run to the aircraft and have to be off the ground in less than two minutes. As soon as we took off, the guy would give us a heading to follow and then he’d read the mission. If there was a Medevac, part of our mission was security. We’d provide security for the medevac helicopter to come in.

I flew 1,032 combat missions but there are a bunch that stand out, all for different reasons. When I first got there, I was a co-pilot. You strive to become an aircraft commander but when you start out you’re a co-pilot. It was an incursion in Cambodia. A command and control helicopter got shot down and landed on a road. Just an ocean of people came out of the treeline; enemy soldiers, running toward the Huey.

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Getting that would have been a prized treasure. Parts of war are treacherous, and parts are bizarre and humorous in a dark humor kind of way. We were shooting so many people. We weren’t very high off the ground and we were looking at them shooting at us. The devastation was just insane. And I just kept thinking, ‘What is wrong with these soldiers – they just keep coming. We’re taught to disperse.’

While all this shooting is going on, a two-and-a-half-ton truck is coming down the road. The truck stops and picks these guys up and they just keep going down the road to Vietnam. I think just the memory of all those enemy soldiers in the open … that will never go away.

I had a co-pilot, Ernest Rickenbacker, who had a famous last name because of his great uncle, Eddie, the World War I flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient. I went to my commander and told him that Ernest needed his own aircraft – he was unbelievable. And my commander did it. We called Ernest “Fast Eddie” because he became an aircraft commander so quickly. He won a Silver Star for rescuing his co-pilot. But let me tell you about that mission, first.

There was a Fire Support Base called Pace, right next to the Cambodian border where the Ho Chi Minh Trail came into Vietnam. For political reasons, the Army was supposed to evacuate this Fire Support Base. Left to its own devices, the Army never would have sacrificed it because of the strategic advantage. But, some guy wouldn’t go on patrol and he wrote his senator, so they shut it down for being “too dangerous.” Not the way you should fight a war, but anyway. We were supposed to take 12 helicopters to the Tay Ninh airport for a briefing and we’re being told about all this anti-aircraft all over the place and that nobody could get into Pace – it was too deadly.

We were working out how to get these guys evacuated. The plan was that the next day, a Huey with a smoke generator would fly around and mask trucks coming up to pick up the guys and get them out of there. I don’t tell this story very often, so I might miss parts of it. But the bunch of us that were walking back were supposed to brief the other pilots. But then the airport came under a rocket attack.

First thing we had to do was get our helicopters out. So, we did, and then we’re all supposed to land. As we’re coming in for final, the guys at Pace start yelling that they’re taking incoming. I said to my wingship, ‘Let’s take care of this.’ So, we went low-level up to the treetops until we got next to Pace. We popped up to about 1500 feet and we see 6 guys and a mortar tube on the other side of the border. The border right there was marked by a creek. Everything on the west side was Cambodia and the east was Vietnam.

We always had to call to get clearance to fire, so I called. I think the guy I had to call was an Air Force guy, and I requested flying over the border to Cambodia in order to save the men at Pace who were taking mortars. He denied my request. I said, ‘We’re in hot pursuit,’ and he said, ‘Nobody’s crossing. Out.’ Just like that, and that was the last I heard from him.

I pulled the nose of my helicopter up and launched about 6 rockets in the direction of the mortar tube. I shot across the border instead of crossing it. As luck would have it, the rockets fell right by the guys. I killed three and three hobbled off. We both dove at those three guys. My wingship, who was ahead of me, shot the other three guys. We took a hard left and and I called the guy back at Pace and told him something stupid like, ‘Send the Congressional Medal of Honor to Blue Max 1-2.’ And just as I’m saying this, I’m probably at 800 feet and there’s a loud kablamo and a big flame shoots out the left side of the nose of my helicopter. And my helicopter whips about 30 degrees to the left and then snaps back. I said to my wingship, Blue Max, 1-8, 1-2, we just got hit. And my wingship says Roger that 1-2, we just got hit.

My co-pilot in the front seat is pointing down and just yelling really loud. He’s not on the intercom; he’s just pointing and yelling. And I look down and I see this big orange garbage can coming toward me and I thought, ‘The hell is that.’ It looked like a Star Wars kind of thing. It took a lot slower than you’d think a bullet would go and it went right past us. I’m thinking, ‘That’s a 23-millimeter antiaircraft cannon round tracer.’

So, I was an infantry guy – What do you do in a near ambush? You assault. I flipped the cobra over and dove on the gun. None of my weapons would work.

I pushed the rocket launch button, nothing.

I pulled the trigger for the mini-gun, nothing.

I pushed the button for the 40-millimeter grenade launcher, nothing.

I called my wingship and said, ‘See where I’m going to hit the ground? Blow that up!’ I pulled up my nose and he hit where I was trying to and there was a huge secondary explosion from where we took out munitions. But then my cockpit filled with smoke.

I thought this was really bad because the helicopter is made of magnesium and would just burn up. So, I was flying really low – a few feet off the ground – because I thought that when the thing goes up like a match, I’ll set it down and skid down the road and open the canopy and we’ll just jump out. But as we’re coming on final, the smoke cleared out and I landed. It was the weirdest thing. The 23 millimeter came up through the nose of the helicopter. It went through the heavy steel cartridge ejection shoot for the mini gun and just shredded that, and then it went through this wire loom that controlled all the weapons systems, and it was a big heavy bundle of wires. Because it was a tracer, it started the insulation on fire and that somehow got sucked into the cockpit. And that’s all that happened.

But for my wingship commander, the 23 millimeter went through his engine compartment and took out the Environmental Control Unit and turned it into shrapnel and clipped a hydraulics line. You can fly a helicopter if you can’t shoot, but you can’t fly the Cobra without hydraulics.

All this is a lead up to what happened the next day to fast Eddie Rickenbacker.

The next morning, they told me they got my rockets fixed but they haven’t fixed my mini-gun or my 40-millimeter grenade launcher. My wingship can’t go. I shouldn’t go because I don’t have all my weapons.

Somebody needs to be back up so that’s me.

Rickenbacker’s job was to provide security for the smoke generating Huey to mask the extraction. Rickenbacker is flying about 400′. In Vietnam they would always tell us to fly below 50′ or above 1500′ because between 50′ and 1500′ a guy can shoot you down with a rifle. Rickenbacker’s helicopter gets hit about 15 times by a 51-caliber machine gun. His engine quits, his helicopter starts on fire and he crashes into the woods directly east of Fire Support Base Pace, across the road.

He crashes, and the helicopter is leaning a bit to the right, sitting there on fire. Rickenbacker gets out and runs away from the helicopter. He turns around and he looks back and Mac, his co-pilot is still in there and he’s on fire, thrashing about. He’s not getting out. Understand that you don’t want to be standing in front of one of these things when it’s on fire because it’s got all these rockets on it ready to launch.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Rickenbacker runs back over there, reaches into the fire, unbuckles Mac, picks him up bodily and yanks him out of the helicopter and puts him behind a dirt mound as the ammo starts to explode. So, all this is going on and the other 11 cobras that are there can only fly for about an hour and a half and then they’re out of fuel. I get the call that they’re out of fuel and that they’re heading back, and I have to go find Rickenbacker. I said, ‘What do you mean, find him?’

Well, there was a patrol that left the support base to rescue the crew, but what they found was Mac laying there with a compound fracture of his femur and he’d broken his pelvis and he was badly burned. He had Rickenbacker’s pistol – Eddie had this really fancy revolver with a pearl handle, like a cowboy that he had brought with him. Rickenbacker had given it to Jim and told him he would go to the base to get help and have them come back for him.

The patrol walks over and finds Mac and ask him where his pilot is. He points east. East is 80 miles to the ocean through jungle, which would be the absolute wrong thing to do. I’m flying in little circles and only my rockets work. The guy in the front seat and I are trying to see where the hell Rick is.

The guy on the radio says, ‘We think our ground surveillance radar found your guy in some elephant grass across the road.’ So, my plan was to land in the Fire Support Base and my co-pilot would get out and I’d hover over there to where the elephant grass was and hopefully I’d find Rickenbacker. I’m on final to the Fire Support Base and one of the guys who flies the air ambulance, the Medevac, who’s a dear friend of ours, calls and says, ‘I’ve been listening to all this on the radio, and I’m coming up to get Rick. You just provide me with security.’ And so that’s what happened.

We get Rick out and God Bless Him. He had yanked Mac right out of there. Fast Eddie Rickenbacker had a stellar military career after that.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

Eddie was a Harley guy. He drove his motorcycle to Omaha and stayed a couple days with my wife and me. This was eight years ago maybe. He drove clear across the country and back and when he got home, he checked into the hospital for problems with cancer from Agent Orange. He probably shouldn’t have made the trip and he didn’t even say anything to me about his health problems. We had a good visit.

He was dead shortly after that.

We went to his ceremony at Arlington and my wife said, ‘I don’t care if you knew who was getting buried here or not, you’d be crying just standing here.’

It was very touching. Mac showed up and that was really touching to watch him say goodbye. I’m still in touch with him. He’s a great guy. You know he says that Rick gave him the rest of his life, which he did.

That day sticks out in my memory because I’ve been reminded of it so many times over the years, having seen Mac and Fast Eddie. Even in the Arlington National Cemetery website eulogy for Ernest Rickenbacker said that I had given him the name Fast Eddie. So, if I’m proud of one thing, it’s that his son, Scott, who was also a helicopter pilot, had told the writer that.

I don’t think you ever become immune to the missions. You don’t become jaded, you become more professional with how to handle missions. And you learn when to break the rules, because sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Going from selling clothes for id=”listicle-2645885448″ an hour to flying around Vietnam in a million-and-a-half-dollar helicopter with all this elaborate training and going through all this craziness, I think I’m much better for it. I don’t know how I would have turned out otherwise, but it really helped me set my course and make good decisions. Between the training and the camaraderie with the guys in my unit and with my high school buddy Charlie Lee, it really prepared me for life. Not that life should be about killing, but the education experience, the leadership, well, it made me a better person.

Being around those guys was strengthening. A year ago, I was in Salado, Texas. I met up with my commander, Jerry, who was commander the first part of my tour, and my co-pilot and another aircraft commander. Jerry told us that we’d all been hand selected by our commanders. You know we had to wait 47 years to hear that but that was wonderful to hear. I don’t think he was making it up.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Photo courtesy of Art Jetter

It was a very special unit. Wings, the History of Aviation even did a little 10-minute thing on my unit. I don’t see the guys too often. I’m 70 now. Some of them have died.

In 1993, the Army had a new Apache helicopter company. And the new commander’s name was Timothy Solms. And I know this because he called me and said, ‘The Army gave me a new Apache unit and because I’m the charter commander, I get to name it. I looked through Army history and of all the stood down helicopter units so that I could give the members of my unit a legacy. I picked your unit. We’re calling our guys ‘Blue Max’ in your honor and we’re going to have a black-tie dinner in Fayetteville, North Carolina and we’d like you to come out for it.’

He found about 15 of us, and we went out for this dinner. The guest speaker that night was General Bill Miller, and Larry McKay who was the commander the second half I was out there. McKay was just a wonderful guy. He had decided it had been too long since we had seen each other after that night, so he started hosting a dinner the night before Veterans Day every year in Washington DC. Then on Veterans Day, we’d have a sunrise service at the wall, and then go have breakfast with the 1st Calvary Division.

Larry died in 2014. I don’t see the guys as a group like when Larry was doing those dinners, but we stay in touch and my crew chief even flew in from Alaska to see us. In 1995, I took my wife and daughter to a Vietnam helicopter pilots’ reunion and she saw that about 8 of these guys had Blue Max t-shirts on. And so, my wife went up to one of them, a guy named Jet Jackson. She asked if he knew me, and he replied, ‘No ma’am, he was just a legend when I got there.’ I pulled him aside and said, ‘Where did that come from? What do I owe you for that?’ And he said, ‘Just remember what to say to my wife when you meet her.’

Blue Max was truly a special group of guys. I think about them often. I guess I always will.”

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

Photo via Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association

Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

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Art Jetter Jr Veterans History Project

Art Jetter, Jr. on his experience as a US Army Cobra Helicopter Gunship pilot flying in Vietnam. This interview was done for the Veterans History Project of …