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

Buran: How the Soviets stole the Space Shuttle

Although America’s space shuttle was not the budget-friendly platform it was intended to be, the program was so successful that the Soviet Union decided to build their own. Unbeknownst to most, they actually did, and it even flew in space.

On April 12, 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life for the first time. As the shuttle’s three powerful main engines ignited, they burned a swimming pool’s worth of fuel every 25 seconds, thrusting the 4.4 million pound shuttle into the sky with an astonishing 37 million horsepower. In just eight and a half minutes, the shuttle would expend all of the fuel in its massive orange fuel tank and burn through its two solid-fuel rocket thrusters.

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

If you were to start an 80’s sitcom just as the Columbia launched that day, the space shuttle would go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour before the first commercial break.

The success of Columbia’s first mission was an exciting time for the United States, but on the other side of the globe, it left Moscow in a sour mood. The Soviets had been watching America’s space shuttle program mature, thanks to America’s more media-friendly approach to space travel. In fact, by Columbia’s first launch, the Soviets had already begun development on their own space shuttle–one that bore a striking resemblance to NASA’s new crown jewel.

Using the Cold War as rocket fuel

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Richard Nixon meets Leonid Brezhnev June 19, 1973 during the Soviet Leader’s visit to the U.S. (Wikimedia Commons)

The American space shuttle program had roots that reached all the way back to the Apollo era, but the concept itself wasn’t presented to the public until 1972. Two years later, as NASA’s efforts were beginning to take shape, a secret meeting was held in the Kremlin between the head of the Soviet Union’s Military-Industrial Commission, Vladimir Smirnov, and the Soviet leader at the time, Leonid Brezhnev.

While the Americans had always done a good job of dressing their space efforts up as nothing more than the pursuit of science and national pride, the military applications of such a vehicle were clear. America’s space shuttle would allow for the launch of bigger, more complex spy satellites, allow crews to fly into orbit to conduct maintenance or repairs, and, most importantly, allow for the vessel itself to be re-used–theoretically driving down the price of orbital operations. Among the Soviets, there was also the fear that this new spacecraft could be used as some sort of orbital bomber.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise under construction in 1976 (NASA)

“Such a vehicle is like an aircraft. It is capable, through a side maneuver, of changing its orbit in such a way that it would find itself at the right moment right over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo,” Smirnov explained in the meeting.

Just as defense officials in the United States may have over-estimated (or intentionally inflated) the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s various military and technological programs, Smirnov and his supporters knew that it was in their best interest to really sell the idea that the American shuttle posed a serious threat to Soviet interests.

“They began to use the shuttle to frighten Leonid Illyich Brezhnev and they explained to him that damned shuttle could zoom down on Moscow at any minute, bomb it to smithereens and fly away,” a Russian journalist wrote in 1991, just before the Soviet Union fell.

“Brezhnev understood, yes, of course, an alternative weapon is necessary.”

The Cold War was ripe with this sort of military one-upmanship, both as a means to gain a military advantage, and as a public means of validating each nation’s respective economic models. Every American success the Soviets couldn’t match was seen as a defacto argument in favor of capitalism by leaders in Moscow.

In effect, admitting that they couldn’t build their own shuttle would mean acknowledging that the Soviet system was falling short of the scientific, engineering, and material capabilities of America’s government model. This ideological conflict was the very bedrock of the Cold War, and just ten years before the Soviet Union would collapse under the weight of its own failure, things were already beginning to look bleak. The Soviet Union needed a win, and Smirnov was able to convince Brezhnev that a Soviet space shuttle could be just that.

The Soviet’s secret Space Shuttle program begins

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Soviet Buran space shuttle (WikiMedia Commons)

By early 1976, the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers gave their approval to move forward with plans to develop a new shuttle. Heading up the secret effort was Col. General Alexander Maksimov, a military official tasked with managing the Soviet’s existing military space programs. Two scientists, V. P. Glushko and Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, were also tasked with leading the effort, but among those involved, there was no doubt that the new shuttle program, dubbed “Buran,” would be a distinctly military endeavor.

“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, developer of the Energia booster program. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”

Initially, the Soviets considered restarting a previous space-plane program called “Spiral.” Development had ended on the small space-plane concept more than a decade prior, however, and Soviet officials noted that the intended use of “Spiral” wouldn’t offer anything close to the capability offered by America’s forthcoming shuttles.

Stealing the Space Shuttle

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

With the Americans making steady progress on their own space shuttle program by the late 1970s, the Soviet leadership recognized how far behind they were. If they were going to keep pace with NASA, they would need to find a way to expedite the design process without backtracking to their canceled Spiral program. While the decision to scrap Spiral was made based on its limited capability, many within the Soviet Union were frustrated by the seemingly schizophrenic approach to developing orbital platforms.

“The Spiral was a very good project but it was another mistake for our government. They said Americans didn’t have a space shuttle [back then] and we shouldn’t either and it was destroyed. Then, after you made your space shuttle, immediately they demanded a space shuttle. … It was very crazy of our government.”

-Georgi Grechko, Soviet Cosmonaut

Despite the frustrations of those involved and the Soviet Union’s impending collapse, at the time, the Soviet space program remained among the best in the world. Its scientist and engineers had racked up victory after victory in the first rounds of the Cold War’s space race, putting the first satellite, animal, and man into orbit before the Americans. NASA may have thrown a knockout punch with the moon landing in 1969, but the Soviets were far from down for the count. If America could design a space shuttle, it was entirely plausible that the Soviets could too. The only question was: Could they do it fast enough to keep pace with NASA?

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
NASA Shuttle and Buran shuttle compared

Without help, the answer seemed to be a resounding no, but the Soviets were no strangers to reverse engineering American technology. For instance, in the late 1950s, the Soviets got their hands on one of America’s highly capable air-to-air missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, through a deal brokered with China (and one pilot’s incredibly good luck). The Soviets were able to glean a great deal of information about missile technology from the single missile they acquired and rapidly put Soviet variants of the missile into production. A space shuttle, however, would certainly be a lot tougher to steal… but as it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.

America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, was a civilian agency that was clearly delineated from America’s military. While this separation may have been more about aesthetics than function (nearly every space effort had military implications), NASA did not treat its shuttle program like it was the development of a weapon system at all. As a result, documentation and even plans for the shuttle were all considered unclassified–and readily available to the public. In fact, much of the material the Soviet Union needed was hosted on commercial databases, making the effort to gather these documents one of the first (if not the first) case of digital espionage.

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

“Documents acquired dealt with airframe designs (including the computer programs on design analysis), materials, flight computer systems, and propulsion systems. This information allowed Soviet military industries to save years of scientific research and testing time as well as millions of rubles as they developed their own very similar space shuttle vehicle.”

-The 1985 CIA analysis on “Soviet Acquisition of Militarily Significant Western Technology”

Reaching orbit

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

With all the technical information they needed, construction on the Buran began in 1980, and within just four years, the Soviets were able to unveil their strikingly familiar-looking space shuttle. Despite the clear aesthetic resemblance, however, the Buran did depart from the American design in a number of important ways.

First and foremost, rather than housing the shuttle’s main engines within the spacecraft itself, the Soviets chose to simply attach their shuttle to their super-heavy lift Energia rocket. It was also designed and built to operate autonomously, making it capable of completing orbital missions without a crew on board. Perhaps the most significant departures from the American shuttle were the four jet engines mounted on the rear of the aircraft that would offer the vehicle powered flight. However, despite there being images of these jet engines on the Buran, they were not present as the spacecraft prepared for its first orbital flight.

On November 15, 1988, seven and a half years after the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, the Buran launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet space shuttle did not have a crew on board, which may have been seen as an appropriate precaution. Less than 20 years earlier, three cosmonauts died after their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized in space. Four years prior to that, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed in the first-ever launch of the Soyuz spacecraft. While crew safety was likely a consideration, by 1988, the Soviet Union was already amid political turmoil. Killing another crew in a space launch would not have helped the situation.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Soviet Buran space shuttle (Wikimedia Commons)

The Buran first reached low earth orbit on the back of its massive Energia rocket. From there, it boosted itself into a slightly higher orbit before circling the planet twice and beginning reentry. Without its jet engines, the Soviet space shuttle would have to glide back to its runway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome just like the American shuttle. Unlike the American shuttle, however, the Buran had no pilot on board to manage the descent.

In a resounding success for the ship’s autonomous systems, the Buran touched down shortly after reentry, making what some called a “flawless” runway landing. In fact, upon closer inspection, the Buran’s heat shielding seemed to have faired even better than America’s first shuttle launch. With new data to work with, the Soviets began preparing for another launch that would never come.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Remains of a Buran spacecraft being towed to Zhukovsky Airfield (Wikimedia Commons)

Three years after the Buran’s first and only successful flight, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, any hope of ever putting the Soviet space shuttle Buran back into orbit.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Happy birthday Chesty Puller: Celebrating a legend

For U.S. Marines, there are few names that come with as much recognition and admiration than Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller. From a your first day at recruit training to your last day in boots, the ghost of Chesty Puller is a constant source of motivation — as Marines on the pull-up bar do “one more for Chesty!” and commanders on the battlefield and in garrison quote the legendary leader in everything from hip-pocket classes to formal periods of instruction.

Chesty Puller is a part of the very fabric that binds Marines across the ages to one another, and as such, his memory is as much a part of a Marine’s DNA as a bad attitude and mean right hook. It doesn’t matter if you’re a troubled Lance Corporal that can’t seem to earn his second stripe or a squared away Colonel setting the example for your troops, there’s a Chesty story, quote, or axiom that resonates with you.


Puller was born on June 26, 1898, and just in case you aren’t already familiar with this particular breed of Devil Dog, here are some great quotations and facts about the Corps’ most idolized leader.

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

Chesty Puller was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Corps

For many Marines, their introduction to Chesty Puller comes right from the start of recruit training, with Drill Instructors instilling the names and accomplishments of great Marines as a part of the running and screaming boot camp experience. There’s good reason for such an early introduction. Puller was the only Marine to ever earn the Navy Cross on five separate occasions, and that’s not the end of his incredible tenacity for collecting medals.

Lest you think Puller was an award chaser, his massive ribbon rack was earned through some of the most intense fighting of the Korean and second World Wars. Puller led Marines in Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Inchon, and the Chosin Reservoir, just to name a few. Each of these battles have earned their own places in “Marine Corps knowledge” courses for good reason, and Puller’s leadership throughout played an integral role in each historic event.

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

“We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.” – Chesty Puller

Under the command of (then) Colonel Puller, the 1st Marine Division’s heroic stand at the Chosin Reservoir has become the stuff of legend. Marines operating in North Korea were already facing brutal winter weather when they found themselves squaring off with a Chinese force that vastly outnumbered them. In order to escape the situation with as much man and firepower intact as possible, two options were floated: abandoning heavy weapons and equipment for a rapid withdrawal, or “attacking in another direction” and fighting their way through Chinese forces to the nearest port. Ultimately, the decision was made to do the latter.

Puller’s 1st Marine Division was tasked with fighting in frigid winter weather of -34 degrees Celsius, but despite the overwhelming odds and harrowing conditions, the tactical withdrawal was a success. In terms of territory, the Chinese forces had won the day, but at great cost. Puller’s 1st Marine Division lost 4,385 men to combat and another 7,338 to the harsh cold as they fought their way through hostile territory. Estimates of Chinese forces lost or injured in the fighting, however, range from 40,000 to 80,000 troops. Puller’s legacy, some contend, was already secured at that point.

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

A bayonet for every flame thrower

Even among other military leaders, Puller had a reputation for preferring direct action over fanciful maneuvers, and according to Major General Oliver P. Smith, Puller was at his best while embroiled in combat. It could be argued that it was Puller’s affinity for close quarters battle that made him so beloved by his troops.

While Marines characterized Puller as a tough guy with a warm heart, it was the tough guy in him that prompted him to ask one simple question when being shown how to use a flamethrower for the first time during World War II:

“Where the hell do you put the bayonet?”

It’s worth noting that the M2 flamethrower used by American troops in World War II could shoot liquid hellfire at targets as far away as 130 feet, but as far as Puller was concerned, you still ought to be able to stab a guy with it for good measure.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this taste-test review of a 120-year-old ration

Steve from MREinfo has long been the go-to source for all things related to rations, but he may have just made his the most interesting discovery to date: an emergency ration from the Second Boer War, which ran from 1899 to 1902. Now, he’s going to taste it.

Viewer discretion is advised.


His website is beloved by many troops trying to figure out exactly which MRE offers the best snacks and which can be tossed to the FNG. Through his YouTube channel, he receives rations from all around the world and tries them out on camera for the world to see. It’s a great way to see how the other armies of the world treat their troops.

First, here’s a sample of his work with a 2017 Chicken Burrito Bowl to cleanse your palate.

Occasionally, he gets a ration that is well beyond its shelf life and, in the face of putrefaction, he bravely takes a bite — for science. In the past, he has reviewed rations from many historical conflicts, ranging from the Vietnam War to the present.

Recently, he checked off “Second Boer War” from his list of history taste tests. For context, this War happened well before the advent of refrigerating food, it was the war in which Sherlock Holmes’ author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fought in, and, at the time, spreading the idea that people might someday watch a man eat a ration via a device that fits in your pocket would get you burnt for witchcraft.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
You know, definitely an era you wouldn’t associate with long-lastingu00a0food.
(Imperial War Museum)

The British Emergency Ration he opens is in remarkable condition. The meal contains dried beef broth that needs to be boiled and cooked before eating. To best satisfy our curiosity, he tries it before and after boiling. Before boiling, it has a flavor profile similar to a packet of instant ramen noodle seasoning — just without any flavor. He says, “it tastes like pulverized beef jerky and bread crumbs mixed with cardboard and a little bit of chlorine.”

He later prepared the broth as intended. The smell of it cooking is horrendous, but he bravely carries on with his experiment.

Seriously. You might not want to watch this unless you have a strong stomach. We won’t take it personally if you can’t handle it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The rise and fall of USPS


Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Every year, the United States Postal Service takes and delivers 142 billion mailed items. If it needs to go from point A to point B anywhere in the US, the post office can do it. It survived the Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the upheaval brought by the internet and email.

But it’s currently more than 0 billion in debt, and it’s telling Congress it will run out of cash by September and needs a billion infusion. How did this happen?

The US Postal Service has been delivering mail since before the Declaration of Independence was even signed. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed postmaster general, and it was Franklin who handled the distribution of letters from Congress to its armies during the Revolutionary War. President George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, which authorized Congress to create the US Postal Service. This established routes and made it illegal to open anyone’s mail.

Clip: What matter if it took two weeks to go from New York to Atlanta, over a month to St. Louis? If the letter from Uncle Ben arrived a day or so later, nobody fussed.

Narrator: In 1823, it started using waterways to deliver mail, then began using railroads. 1847 saw the first issued stamps. And then the famed Pony Express debuted in 1860. In 1896, it began delivering to some rural addresses, meaning residents no longer had to go to the town post office to get their mail. By 1923, all houses were required to have a mail slot. And in 1963, zip codes made their debut.

Clip: What a system! As you can plainly see, just five little numbers, quick as can be.

Narrator: But what really transformed the post office into what we know today? That happened a few years later.

Clip: The post office stands to be swamped, overwhelmed, drowned in a sea of mail. Where do we go from here?

Narrator: In 1967, the postmaster general testified before Congress that the post office was in “a race with catastrophe.” There were all sorts of backlogs, and sorting-room floors were bursting with unsorted mail. Combined with a postal worker strike in March of 1970, led to the Postal Reorganization Act and established the United States Postal Service as we know it today.

Clip: The Post Office Department is leading the search for better ways to process and dispatch mail in the shortest time possible.

Narrator: The act eliminated the post office from the president’s cabinet and made the post office its own federal agency. It was set up more like a corporation than a government agency and had an official monopoly on the delivery of letter mail in the US. It also set up the elimination of the post office’s direct government subsidies, which were completely phased out in 1982. The post office has been operating without any taxpayer money since.

Competition from UPS and FedEx made the post office innovate on its offerings, like introducing express mail. But since its most lucrative service was first-class mail, the USPS didn’t have to worry too much about competing with other companies. In fact, the post office has partnered with both companies in the past, like when it signed a deal in 2000 that contracted its air delivery of first-class, priority, and express mail to FedEx.

So, basically, the USPS was fine. First-class mail volume peaked in 2001 at 103.6 billion pieces of mail. It operated at a loss in the first couple years of the 21st century, but by 2003, it was back to operating at a profit. In fact, from 2003 through 2006, USPS recorded a total .3 billion profit. That all changed at the end of 2006.

Clip: HR 6407, a bill to reform the postal laws of the United States.

Narrator: Enter the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Up until this point, the post office added to and removed from its retiree pension and healthcare accounts on an ongoing basis, putting money in as needed, based on its current retirees. This model is similar to the way many other companies and corporations fund their own healthcare pensions. This act changed all that.

It required the post office to calculate all of its retiree pension and healthcare costs for the next 75 years, including for people it hadn’t even hired yet, and put away enough over the next 10 years to cover them. To put this in perspective, that’d be like you only working from age 18 to 28 and then expecting to live on that income until you were 103 years old.

The timing for this was not ideal, either. Email, texting, and online payments had begun to chip away at the post office’s main business, first-class mail, which had slowly been declining since its 2001 peak. But even that decline wouldn’t put the post office in the negative.

If not for the 75-year pension and healthcare obligation, the USPS would have reported operating profits for the last six years. Once the bill was enacted, USPS had to contribute about .6 billion a year for people who had not yet retired, in addition to the normal amount for current retirees. In 2006, prior to the new bill, this was id=”listicle-2646188290″.6 billion for those who were already retired. In 2007, USPS had to put away 625% more, about billion, to cover both current and future retirees. This gave the post office an annual loss of more than billion for the year.

Additionally, the new bill restricted the post office’s ability to set prices. First-class mail, marketing mail, and other products the post office does not have a large competition for were all tied to the consumer price index, meaning it couldn’t increase rates for those products above the rate of inflation. This has caused various problems, like in 2009, when prices couldn’t be raised at all on those products, because there was no inflation.

The rule has created an environment where packages are the post office’s only profitable area. By 2010, the post office’s overall debt, which was just over billion in 2006, had climbed to billion. It sounded the alarm to Congress multiple times and was also the subject of a 2018 Trump administration report saying the pension obligation should be restructured. But nothing changed. In its most recent annual report, the post office said it had incurred almost billion in losses from 2007 to 2019. It couldn’t afford to make any payments into the fund from 2012 to 2016 and now owes about billion related to its future pension and health benefit obligations.

Which brings us to today. As with many other industries, the coronavirus has taken its toll on the post office. First-class and marketing mail have plummeted, and the post office expects a billion decline in revenue. The postmaster general has told Congress she expects the USPS to be completely out of cash by September. This would make it unable to pay its employees and could quickly cause disaster in mail delivery across the country, especially in rural areas not serviced by UPS and FedEx. So, can it be saved?

The post office is now asking Congress for a billion cash infusion along with a billion loan. The initial bailout bill Congress passed in March provided billion for the post office, far less than the billion the organization was seeking in the bill. However, President Trump threatened to veto any bill that bailed out the post office, so the bill was changed before signing to a billion loan, 13% of the billion it had originally asked for and another billion to add to its debt.

And then, in early May, Trump appointed Louis DeJoy the new postmaster general, and he will take the reins of the organization on June 15. Unlike the last three postmaster generals, DeJoy is not a career employee; he is a large GOP donor and the former CEO of a logistics company. Democrats and ethics watchdogs see the appointment as purely political, not just because of Trump’s desire to reshape the post office, but also because millions of Americans may be forced to vote by mail this year, which means the future of the post office is likely to become a political issue this spring and summer, especially if its cash flow starts running dry.

And those at risk? The 497,000 Americans who rely on the USPS for their jobs, and the 329 million Americans who rely on it for paying bills, medication, and everything else the USPS delivers through rain, sleet, snow, and even pandemics.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Man of honor: The US Navy’s 1st African American master diver & amputee diver Carl Brashear

The US Air Force lost a nuclear bomb off the coast of Palomares, Spain. It was on Jan. 17, 1966, when a K-135 refueling aircraft collided midair with a B-52G long-range bomber carrying a payload of four 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs. Three parachutes deployed and the nuclear devices were located on land, while a fourth plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea. The Air Force asked for the Navy’s help to retrieve it.

The salvage ship USS Hoist and her crew responded. “We searched for the bomb close to the shoreline for about two and a half months, and all we were getting was pings on beer cans, coral heads, and other contacts,” recalled Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, the US Navy’s first African American Navy diver

Each time their sonar technology picked up a contact, the Navy sent divers to check it out. A fisherman who had witnessed the bomb entering the water told officials how close they were, and even used his fingers as a means of measurement. They were that close.

“So one day Admiral Guest said we would try it,” Brashear said in an interview in 1998. “So they made a replica of the bomb on the tender and then dropped it to see how it would show up on the screen, same dimension, same length, same diameter. Then we went out 6 miles, and the first pass, there the bomb was, 6 miles in 2,600 feet of water.”

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Navy salvors recover the lost hydrogen bomb on April 7, 1966, two weeks after Navy diver Carl Brashear was injured during the salvage operation. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

The Alvin submersible was made for this type of operation. It managed to attach grapnels to the parachute shrouds connected to the bomb before it ran out of batteries and was forced to surface. Using the Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) developed to salvage torpedoes, Brashear began to hoist the bomb up from the deep. As Brashear was bringing it up, a lifting cable snapped and the boat broke loose. Brashear scrambled to manhandle another sailor out of the way as the boat yanked on the pipe that had the mooring line tied to it.

“That pipe came loose, flew across the deck, and it struck my leg below the knee,” he said. “They said I was way up in the air just turning flips. I landed about two foot inside of that freeboard. They said if I’d been two foot farther over, I’d have gone over the side. I jumped up and started to run and fell over. That’s when I knew how bad my leg was.”

At that time, Brashear had 18 years of service in the US Navy, joining in 1948 and becoming the first African American Navy diver in 1954. He was now in the fight for his life. Corpsmen aboard the Hoist secured two tourniquets around his leg, but by the time he got to a hospital he had no pulse or heartbeat due to blood loss. The medical staff administered 18 pints of blood, restarted his heart, and brought him back from the dead.

He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in saving another sailor’s life at the risk of his own personal injury. His doctors told him it would take three years before he could walk again. The infection was so bad he agreed to have his leg amputated below the knee to fast-track his grueling rehabilitation.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Brashear trains with his prosthetic leg to climb diving ladders, loaded with weights to simulate the heavy MK V diving rig. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

Brashear was outfitted with his own prosthetic leg in December 1966, but amid the inequalities African Americans faced in the military, his prosthetic was painted to match white skin. That was not out of the norm for his personal experiences, as for his entire career he was subject to discrimination, harassment, threats, and ill treatment by his fellow service members. Despite it all, he persevered to become a pioneer in the diving industry. 

“It took more willpower than I ever thought I had, to accept the fact that I had lost a leg,” he later said. “Once I accepted that, I knew I would win the fight to become a master diver.”

The native of Kentucky who was raised attending segregated schools refused to submit to the medical survey board’s attempts to retire him, as they believed he was unfit for duty. Chief Warrant Officer Clair Axtell Jr., his old friend from salvage school, granted Brashear the opportunity to train at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Even on the weekends he practiced diving in a MK V deep-sea rig, a shallow-water diving suit, and scuba gear. 

“It is not a sin to get knocked down,” he would often say. “It’s a sin to stay down.” 

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
To achieve his dream of becoming a US Navy Master Diver, Carl Brashear had to prove his diving aptitude post-amputation. Photo taken either at the Norfolk diving school or the Deep Sea Diving School in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

He led daily calisthenics and suffered greatly, but he did not give up. Sometimes after he returned from a run, the end of his prosthetic would have a puddle of blood at the bottom. It was evidence he pushed his body beyond his limits. 

“In that year, if I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up,” he said. “I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy. Then I’d get up the next morning and run.”

Against all odds, Carl Brashear qualified as the first Black Master Diver and first amputee Navy diver in US military history. He didn’t make a mistake during his evaluation. The next nine years Brashear lived out his dream as a Master Diver working on the submarine USS Hunley and on the salvage ship USS Recovery. 

He struggled with alcohol before achieving sobriety and retired from the Navy in 1979 with 31 years of military service. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. immortalized his remarkable story in the 2000 movie Men of Honor. Brashear passed away in 2006 at the age of 75. He has since received further tributes, including a 700-foot cargo ship commissioned in 2008 called the USNS Carl Brashear. The Carl Brashear Foundation exists to share his achievements with as many people as possible.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fighter pilot landed a helicopter on the summit of Mount Everest

To many climbers, mountaineers, and general fans of low oxygen environments, summiting Mount Everest represent the literal peak of physical achievement. But while an impressive feat for a human, it turns out vultures can happily survive exposed to altitudes of 40,000 ft or 12,200 meters above sea level and, indeed, have been seen flying around at this height. (For reference, this is about 11,000 ft or 3,350 meters above the peak of Everest.) Meanwhile tardigrades laugh in the face of the conditions on Everest, able to survive even nakedly exposed to outer space for quite some time with no ill effects. (Although, note: humans can actually survive exposed to the near vacuum of space for about 90 seconds without long term damage, but we have nothing on the tardigrade for durability in just about any environment.) And let’s not even talk about microbes… In the end, there are creatures that can outdo even the best of humans at pretty much any physically intensive task we feel like setting our minds to, no matter how hard we train and how good our genetics.


But you know what no other known living thing can do? Use their minds to create machinery to do an otherwise extremely arduous and dangerous task in about a half an hour, all while kicking back in a very comfy chair. And that’s exactly what French fighter pilot Didier Delsalle did when he conquered Everest in a product of human ingenuity — the Eurocopter Ecureuil AS350 B3 helicopter. Humans: 1, Animal Kingdom: 0.

Although Delsalle is the first and so far only person in history to land a helicopter on the summit of the world’s highest peak, likeminded daredevils and pilots have been trying to do exactly that since at least the early 1970s. One of the most notable of these individuals is Jean Boulet who still holds the record for highest altitude reached by a helicopter at 40,820 ft (12,442 meters), at which point his engine died, though he did manage to land safely. (Yes, contrary to popular belief, helicopters don’t just drop like a rock when the engine dies, and they are relatively safe in this condition. In fact, you have a better chance of surviving in a helicopter when the engine fails than you do in an airplane where the same happens.)

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Mt. Everest, seen from Tingri, a small village on the Tibetan plateau at around 4050m above sea level.

Like Boulet before him, Delsalle broached the subject of landing a helicopter on Everest with the company he flew helicopters for (in this case Eurocopter) and was similarly stonewalled by killjoy executives who didn’t want to deal with the negative PR if he crashed.

Delsalle didn’t let the subject drop and repeatedly badgered higher ups within the company, using the better-than-expected results from the test of a new engine in 2004 to convince Eurocopter that landing their Ecureuil AS350 B3 helicopter on Everest was entirely possible. The company executives finally relented and gave Delsalle some time (and a helicopter) to test his hypothesis. After all, while a failed attempt would create a lot of negative press, a successful one would be a fantastic marketing move, with their helicopter doing something no other had ever done.

Or as Delsalle himself would state,

The idea was to prove to our customers all the margins they have while they’re using the helicopter in the normal certified envelope, compared to what the helicopter is capable of during the flight test.

Delsalle then took the helicopter and flew it to 29,500 feet, about 6,500 feet above the helicopter’s listed maximum operating altitude and around 500 feet higher than the peak of Everest.

No problem.

After a number of additional tests proved that the helicopter would in theory have no trouble landing on Everest’s peak, Delsalle and his trusty helicopter headed to Nepal.

Once there, while conducting recon on the mountain, Delsalle cemented his reputation as an all round awesome guy by taking the time to rescue two stranded Japanese climbers. When he wasn’t saving lives, he could be found jogging around the hanger in an attempt to drop every gram possible from his body weight. Likewise, he lightened the helicopter slightly be removing the passenger seats- the point of all this was to be able to extend flight time slightly. However, as part of the purpose of this publicity stunt was to show off what the Ecureuil AS350 B3 could do, other than this marginal lightening of its load, no other modifications were made.

And so it was that on the morning of May 14, 2005, Delsalle slipped on two pairs of thermal underwear under his flight suit and took off. As for his choice of under attire, this was needed as he flew the entire distance with his window open… He did this rather than keep things more climate controlled as he was concerned his windows would have iced up in the -31 F (-35 C) temperatures had he not kept the temperatures equalized on both sides of the glass.

As for the ascent, this was not quite as easy as simply rising to the necessary altitude — Delsalle had to deal with some pretty remarkable up and down drafts, which is one of the reasons even today helicopter rescues at extreme altitudes on Everest are a rarity. As he stated,

On one side of the mountain, on the updraft side, I wasn’t able to approach the mountain because even taking out all of the power of the aircraft, I was still climbing. But of course on the other side you had the downdraft side, and on this side even with maybe 60 knots on the airspeed indicator I was going backward . . . and the helicopter at full power was not powerful enough to counteract that.

“Landing”, or more aptly touching down, also wasn’t an easy task.

When you reach the summit you reach the updraft point, and of course the updraft winds have enough force to throw you away as soon as you put the collective down. I had to stick my skids on the summit and push into the mountain to stay on the summit. Another big problem there is that you have no visual of the summit, and you have no specific cues, because you are on the highest point. You are in free air in fact, and you have to try to find where is the summit exactly.

After keeping the skids pressed against the tiny area of land that is the summit for 3 minutes and 50 seconds, Delsalle decided it was time to go, which turned out to be quite simple thanks to the strong updraft: “I had just to pull a little bit on the collective and I went to flying very easily.”

Amusingly, nobody climbing the mountain that day had any idea that Delsalle was planning on doing this and reports later flooded in to Nepalese authorities about a random helicopter seen flying around the summit.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Aerial photo from the south, with Mount Everest rising above the ridge connecting Nuptse and Lhotse.

But when Delsalle landed and went to check the recordings documenting his amazing accomplishment, the computer showed zero files where the recordings should have been. Yes, he had no hard evidence he had actually done this, invalidating his record attempt.

Rather than waiting to see if the data could be recovered (and presumably not wanting to endure doubters for any longer than absolutely necessary), Delsalle instead opted to just do it all over again the very next day, this time making sure the recording equipment was functioning. (It should also be noted here that some of the urgency was because no one was summiting on the day in question, but were after. For safety reasons, he could not attempt the touch down if anyone was climbing around the summit.)

If at this point you’re now doubting his story actually happened, we should probably mention that they were later able to recover the first day’s logs and video, proving he had done what he said.

Of course, doubters will persist no matter if you slap them in the face with video evidence, data logs, several Everest climber accounts of spotting the helicopter flying around the summit, his helicopter skid marks that for a time existed in the snow at that hallowed peak, etc. But as for the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and a few other such official bodies, as his evidence of the two touch downs on the summit was incontrovertible, they officially ratified his remarkable achievement, much to the chagrin of many an Everest climber, who almost universally lamented the accomplishment owing to the supposed ease at which summiting the mountain was achieved.

But here again, we feel compelled to point out that humans compiling the knowledge and expertise needed to design/construct a machine that was then extremely skillfully landed on this hallowed, tiny patch of snow covered land isn’t actually easy at all when you think about it. (And don’t even get us started on what it took to compile the knowledge and expertise to make the tools that made the parts for the machine in question… or the tools that made the parts for the more advanced tools, such as mind boggling complex computers used along the whole process…)

One might even posit that summiting Everest in the more traditional way is orders of magnitude easier than the way Delsalle did it, when looking at the big picture.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A black Medal of Honor recipient is rediscovered after 130 years

Dec. 26, 1872, the day after Christmas — the weather in Norfolk was bitter cold, with sleet and a gale-force wind. Aboard USS Powhatan, a sidewheel steamer commissioned in 1852, it was particularly unpleasant, with a wet, slippery deck and a dangerous pitch.


Then came a cry of, “man overboard!” Boatswain Jack Walton had fallen from the fo’c’sle into the choppy, freezing water below. He had minutes — maybe seconds — before he either drowned or succumbed to hypothermia.

Seaman Joseph Noil didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop to think of the danger or the risk to his own life. He came running from below deck, “took the end of a rope, went overboard, under the bow, and caught Mr. Walton — and held him until he was hauled into the boat sent to his rescue,” his commanding officer, Capt. Peirce Crosby, wrote. “Mr. Walton, when brought on board, was almost insensible, and would have perished but for the noble conduct of Noil.”

Noil received the Medal of Honor the following month.

Then, he slowly faded from history.

Coming to America

Noil was black and was probably from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, although various records also mention Halifax, the West Indies, New York, and Pennsylvania, said Bart Armstrong, a Canadian researcher dedicated to finding some 113 Medal of Honor recipients connected to that country.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
The distinguished Medal of Honor — Navy version. (Image from U.S. Navy)

“During the early days, it was not uncommon for a Soldier or Sailor to fake their residence or place of birth, date of birth or marital status.”

No one knows just what brought Noil to the U.S. or what inspired him to enlist in the Union Navy, Oct. 7, 1864. According to Armstrong, many Canadian black men who traveled south to fight in the Civil War did so to help free the slaves.

Canada was the terminus for the Underground Railroad, and many citizens, particularly in the black community, would have seen or heard of the pitiful, dehumanizing conditions escaped slaves endured.

Noil was from a coastal area, and the Navy may have been a natural fit. Enlistment papers indicate his occupation was carpenter. Dr. Regina Akers, a historian who specializes in diversity at the Navy’s History and Heritage Command, noted that he also served as a caulker and would have helped keep his ship watertight – “a very important job.”

Black sailors

Many free black Sailors had some type of ship or shipyard experience, whether it was as a crewmember on a merchant or whaling ship, as a fisherman or as a dockyard worker, Joseph P. Reidy, a history professor at Howard University in D.C. and the director of the African-American Sailors Project, wrote in “Prologue,” a publication of the National Archives.

According to Akers and Reidy, African-American Sailors had always been, if not precisely welcome in the Navy, at least not institutionally discriminated against. They had served honorably in the Revolution and in the War of 1812, and some 18,000 black Civil War Navy veterans have been identified by name.

Also read: This was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor

Unlike the Army, the Navy in the 19th century did not segregate black servicemen. They pulled the same watches, slept in the same bunks — hammocks in those days — and ate in the same galleys as their white counterparts.

Although their ranks were limited to enlisted, there were few, if any, rating restrictions for skilled, experienced men of any color, said Akers. They served in almost every billet, from fireman to gunner, although Reidy wrote that service ratings, such as cook or steward, were the most common.

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United States Navy poster featuring Medal of Honor recipient, Joseph Noil. (Naval Historical Center Online Library)

“If they could qualify or were able to learn that skill set and fill that rating, just like today, many commanding officers would allow them to do so,” Akers said, noting that the background of the ship’s commander and crew could affect the treatment African-American Sailors received.

Noil eventually became captain of the hold, a petty officer in charge of the men assigned to a storage area. He would probably have been responsible for ensuring barrels and containers were properly stowed and locating the appropriate barrels when needed, according to the Navy History and Heritage Command. However, he wouldn’t have had any authority over white Sailors.

Related: This was the only living African-American from WW2 to earn MoH

Conditions were worse for escaped slaves, Reidy pointed out. By classifying escaped or captured slaves as contraband, the Union could legally consider them spoils of war and put them to work. Contrabands served in the Navy. They fought in the Army. They built fortifications. They cooked. They did laundry. Both men and women served in various capacities. In fact, nearly three men born into slavery served for every black man born free.

Contrabands’ naval ratings and pay tended to be the lowest and least skilled, with most classified as boy or landsman, Reidy explained. They scrubbed, painted, and polished ships. They also served in large numbers on supply and ordnance ships, where they provided manual labor. By the late 1800s, the ratings available to all African-American Sailors became extremely restricted.

Noil’s service

Noil, who had given his age as 25 when he enlisted in 1864 and his height at 5 feet, 6 inches, transferred to USS Nyack, a wooden-hulled screw gunboat, in January 1865. Nyack was then part of the blockade off of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Noil was likely present for her involvement in the capture of nearby Fort Anderson the following month.

His next posting is listed as the steam sloop USS Dacotah in March 1866, although Navy records indicate the ship put out to sea that January on a tour that took her to Funchal, Maderia, Portugal; Rio de Janerio, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay, the Strait of Magellan, and Valparaiso, Chili.

Noil was discharged, March 18, 1867. Perhaps he found it difficult to make a living or perhaps he simply missed the sea, for he re-enlisted, Dec. 18, 1871, giving his age as 30. Presumably, he went straight to Norfolk and USS Powhatan, then part of the North Atlantic Squadron and one of the Navy’s last, and largest, paddle frigates.

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

The ship’s conduct book noted Noil was “always 1st class and on time.” Upon receiving the Medal of Honor, Noil followed in the footsteps of eight African-American Sailors who received the medal during the Civil War. Akers noted that no African-American Sailor has received the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War.

Shipmates

For Noil and the others, their actions showed that valor transcended color, that black, brown, white, it didn’t matter — shipmates came first.

Shipmate comes without definition. It’s not because you’re white, because you’re black, because we come from the same state, because you’re in the same rating — It doesn’t stop when the orders stop. Your shipmates are your shipmates. I mean, that’s your family.” – Dr. Regina Akers

Related: These were America’s first African-American paratroopers

Noil’s story, Akers continued, also “reminds us of – the importance of Sailors’ readiness, their physical and mental fitness, the training. Drill, drill, drill. Drill them down to the point where they can think almost unconsciously about what to do. So, man overboard. – There’s just certain procedures that pop into place. Now, the environment makes it that much worse. But it doesn’t change the routine or the requirements or the plan for what to do if someone falls overboard.”

Over the next few years, Noil was discharged and re-enlisted twice. His next ship was USS Wyoming, a wooden-hulled, 198-foot screw sloop of war. The Wyoming arrived in Villefranche, France, near Nice, Christmas Eve 1878, and spent the next two years in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Hospitalized

She returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia, May 21, 1881. It was her final cruise. It was Noil’s as well. It must have been a difficult one, for that month, he was admitted to the naval hospital in Norfolk and quickly transferred to the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C.

“For many months,” his admission paperwork reads, “it has been noticed that the patient’s mind was failing, that he was losing his locomotive powers. … Early in April last, he had an epileptic attack, and another on the 13th of May. For two days after latter attack he was speechless, though able to walk and eat. As he has been in the U.S. Naval service for the last seventeen years, it is natural to infer the disease originated in the line of duty.”

No one knows exactly what condition Noil suffered from, whether it was what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder, some form of depression, or something else, said Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D., a volunteer historian and former director of forensic services at the hospital, now called St. Elizabeth’s.

“There could be so many reasons. Back in that era, so little was known about mental illness that sometimes certain disorders that were clearly neurological and brain-based were attributed to other causes.” – Jogues Prandoni, Ph.D.

More reading: First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

There also wasn’t much 19th-century medicine could do for Noil, Prandoni continued, noting that although the hospital was the premier treatment facility for servicemen and veterans – as well as local civilians – only six medical doctors were on staff to treat roughly a thousand patients.

“What you had, basically, was moral therapy,” he explained. “The concept was that if you could remove people from the stresses of day-to-day living, put them in a homelike atmosphere with beautiful surroundings and caring individuals that would assist them in recovering.”

Noil’s wife, Sarah Jane, was terribly worried about her husband. With two daughters to support, she couldn’t afford to visit him, but she wrote to his doctor regularly: “I was sorry to hear that my husband was so sick and out of his mind. – Doctor do you think that I had better come on and see him? I am very poor with two children to look after,” she wrote in July 1881, later telling the doctor that her “poor little children are always talking about their papa and it makes me feel bad to hear them.”

“Doctor I am glad to think he has had good care. … Doctor if my husband should die I tell you I have not got the means to bury him,” she added that November.

Lost then found again

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. Robin Braun observes the wreath presentation by Sailors assigned to the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard at the headstone ceremony April 29, 2016 for Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil at St. Elizabeths Hospital Cemetery. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood)

Her husband did pass away, March 21, 1882. “He was a relatively young man,” said Prandoni. “He died within nine months. That really raises questions about what kind of disease process was going on. It certainly sounds like more than just a psychiatric disorder.”

“The loss of my poor husband has been quite a shock to me. – My friends assure me that time will reconcile me to my great bereavement,” Sarah Jane wrote after learning of his death. “Yet time and the great consolation that I have in meeting in a better world where parting will be no more, will I trust enable me to bear my sorrow.”

Unfortunately, Noil’s name was misspelled on his death certificate and subsequently his headstone. For more than a century, he lay lost in Saint Elizabeth’s graveyard under the name Joseph Benjamin Noel until a group of historians and researchers connected with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Historical Society, including Armstrong, finally tracked him down.

Noil finally received a new headstone spring 2017, one with not only the correct spelling of his name but also recognizing him as a Medal of Honor recipient.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
American and Canadian flags are placed at the newly erected headstone of Medal of Honor recipient Joseph B. Noil. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Lockwood)

Your shipmate is not simply someone who happens to serve with you. He or she is someone who you know that you can trust and count on to stand by you in good times and bad and who will forever have your back. – We are [Noil’s] shipmates and 134 years after he passed, we have his back.” – Vice Adm. Robin Braun, Chief of Navy Reserve
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army colonel was stupid brave

Meet Colonel McIntosh

One American officer made the bold proclamation that “a braver man than Colonel McIntosh never lived.” Few could argue with this assessment when evaluating the deeds of James Simmons McIntosh.


Born in Georgia in 1787, James Simmons McIntosh came from a long line of soldiers. His great-uncle, General Lachlan McIntosh, served with Washington at Valley Forge. His father, John McIntosh, was the American commander who taunted the British to “come and take it” when they demanded the surrender of Fort Morris in 1778. It was only appropriate that James enter the army when of age.

He received an appointment to the First United States Rifle Regiment as a lieutenant at the age of 25 in November 1812. Like his forefathers, he had a chance to fight the British, and fought at the Battle of Scajaquada Creek in August 1814. McIntosh received a serious wound and was left for dead on the field of battle. An American burial party discovered McIntosh still breathing and transferred him to New York to recover. The House of Representatives of Georgia later presented Lieutenant McIntosh with a dress sword for his “gallantry and intrepidity” in the war that he carried until his death.

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history
Colonel McIntosh’s final battle at Molino del Rey during the Mexican-American War. (Lithograph by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot after a drawing by Carlos Nebel.)

Left for Dead: The Battle of Palo Alto

At the conclusion of the war, he opted to stay in the army for the next 30 years. McIntosh rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Fifth United States Infantry Regiment by 1839. In October 1845, he reported to General Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi, Texas, when war clouds loomed over Mexico. He played a leading part in Taylor’s operations when war broke out in 1846. On May 8, 1846, at the Battle of Palo Alto, his regiment held the extreme right of Taylor’s line and beat back a fierce Mexican lancer charge to save the army’s baggage train.

The Mexican army fell back to a strong defensive position situated at Resaca del la Palma after their defeat at Palo Alto. McIntosh and his regiment were ordered to conduct a frontal assault on the left of the entrenched Mexican line the next day by General Taylor. McIntosh rode forward as Mexican bullets cut through the air. He was one of the first Americans to set foot inside the Mexican position, but had to dismount due to the uneven terrain.

In the chaos of the assault, McIntosh was waylaid by six Mexican infantrymen before he could unholster his pistol. One of the six assailants bayoneted McIntosh’s arm, breaking the bone. As he fell to the ground, two other soldiers attempted to skewer him with their bayonets. McIntosh grabbed the barrel of one of the Mexican muskets with his bare hand and stopped the infantryman’s bayonet within inches from his face. While preoccupied with warding off this attack, the other Mexican infantryman drove his bayonet into McIntosh’s mouth, forcing his front teeth inward, and piercing the back of his neck.

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The Mexican infantrymen left the American colonel for dead. McIntosh found the strength to lift his mangled body from the ground and stagger in the direction of the American line. His shattered arm dangled at his side, and his face and neck were a bloody mess. Lieutenant James Duncan of the Second Artillery noticed McIntosh staggering across a small pool of water, and ordered his men to assist the colonel.

Duncan asked if he could do anything for McIntosh. The veteran colonel somehow managed to get off the words, “Yes! Give me some water, and show me to my regiment!”

He collapsed soon after and was transported back to Point Isabel, Texas, to recover. Most American newspapers reported he had died during the battle. In twelve months, the old Spartan recuperated from his ghastly wounds and headed back to join Winfield Scott’s army on its march against Mexico City. McIntosh again assumed command of his beloved Fifth United States Infantry Regiment. He distinguished himself in command of the regiment at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.

A Final Stand: The Battle of El Molino del Rey

On the night of Sept. 7, 1847, General William Worth called together the senior officers of his command and broke the news to them that General Scott had ordered a forlorn assault on the strongly fortified Mexican position at El Molino del Rey. That night these officers, including McIntosh, poured over a battle map under candlelight in preparation. Most of those present would be dead before noon the next day.

At dawn on Sept. 8, 1847, three American columns of 3,447 men were arrayed shoulder to shoulder for the assault on El Molino del Rey. With his superior ill, McIntosh took command of the Second Brigade. He was ordered to concentrate his brigade’s assault on the center of the Mexican defenses anchored by the strongly fortified Casa Mata. In his usual manner, he made his way out in front of his men conspicuously mounted on his horse and carried the sword presented to him by the citizens of Georgia.

The Mexican defenders sat motionless until the McIntosh’s men advanced to within 100 yards of the Mexican position. The American infantrymen were nearly swept to pieces over the open ground. They pushed through the storm of bullets and made it to within 25 yards of the Mexican position.

McIntosh remained mounted through the hail of bullets to inspire his men to continue forward. A musket ball suddenly hit him in the thigh, causing him to crash to the ground. While lying wounded, another ball tore through his knee and painfully lodged into his groin. Lieutenant Ralph W. Kirkham of his staff ordered two American infantrymen to carry the wounded colonel to the rear. They grabbed McIntosh by his coat and began to drag him to the rear.

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McIntosh refused to be dragged any further until he received word that a second American assault broke through the Mexican position. He kept probing those nearby, “Is that fort taken yet?” The Americans suffered 20 percent casualties that day, making it the bloodiest day of the U.S-Mexican War for the United States.

McIntosh lingered in a makeshift hospital for over a month. His most recent wounds healed well, and it appeared for a time that the resilient colonel would recover. His health took a turn for the worse when his old War of 1812 wound broke open and became infected. He died on Sept. 26, 1847, and was buried in a nearby Mexican cemetery.

Members of his native Georgia raised enough money to cover the expenses of bringing his remains back home for reburial. His sword and uniform, pierced by eight bullet holes, were placed upon his coffin during his funeral. He was reburied in the Colonial Park Cemetery on March 18, 1848, resting in immortality alongside those members of his family that fought so valiantly in the service of their county.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did the Soviets leave dead cosmonauts in orbit?

Although today we tend to look back at the Space Race with the Soviet Union as a competition we were destined to win, it was actually the Soviets that secured many of the early victories. American officials at the time weren’t only worried about Soviet prestige winning out; they had very real concerns about Soviet space dominance providing them the ultimate high ground in the next global conflict.


Those concerns weren’t unique to Americans. The Soviet Union also saw space operations as the next logical step for their own military enterprises. In keeping with the differences in political ideologies between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the Soviets went about their space pursuits in a very different way than we did back here in the States.

While each new NASA effort was widely publicized (and even scrutinized) by the public, the Soviets made it a point to never announce a space mission until days after it was completed. This allowed them to maintain tight control over the flow of information, intentionally omitting stories about their failures, and releasing only information pertaining to their successes.

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Soviet photos released on different dates clearly show that they’ve been altered.

Roscosmos

Of course, secrets are tough to keep, even behind the Iron Curtain. By the 1970s, it was revealed that the Soviet Union had doctored published photos from their early space program to completely remove certain individuals from the historical record. Long before the days of Photoshop, Soviet airbrush artists had painstakingly painted these men out of countless photographs, but when the public demanded an explanation, they received a variety of unconvincing stories. In the minds of many, it seemed like a cover-up was clearly at afoot.

It wasn’t long before these doctored images were linked to the controversial story of Italian brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia. Back in the 1950s, the brothers began scavenging radio equipment they set up in an old bunker, and by 1960 they claimed to be recording radio signals broadcast from various Soviet launches. More pressingly, they claimed to be recording manned missions that were failing.

According to the brothers, they recorded a manned spacecraft flying off course and into the endless expanse of space in May of 1960, and then a faint SOS signal from yet another lost spacecraft in November of the same year. Then, in February of 1961, they said they recorded audio of a Cosmonaut suffocating to death in a failed craft, before also (they claim) tracking another craft as it successfully orbited Earth three times in April. Three days after the brothers claimed to record that successful test, the Soviet’s announced that they had successfully launched Yuri Gagarin into space, the first human ever to escape Earth’s gravitational veil.

Lost female cosmonaut cleaned version

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The brothers claimed a number of other recorded Soviet failures from there, with at least five more reports of Soviet spacecraft being lost in deep space or burning up on reentry after Gagarin’s success. In one famous recording they released, a woman can be heard asking for help in Russian, making for either an interesting forgery or a deeply disturbing bit of history.

However, despite the airbrushed photos and troubling Judica-Cordiglia recordings, there remains very little concrete evidence to substantiate the claim that the Soviets left their earliest space pioneers up there to die. There have indeed been deaths associated with the Soviet space program, even Gagarin’s own best friend died in an orbital mission that many claim he knew was unsafe. According to one version of events, he opted to take the flight to spare his friend, the hero Gagarin, from having to take it himself. That death, however, was not removed from the historical record, nor was anyone airbrushed out of photos.

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This image of Yuri Gagarin was changed twice, first to remove a Cosmonaut, and then apparently to remove indications that the military was involved in his historic launch.

Instead, it seems, many of these “Lost Cosmonauts” were airbrushed from photos and removed from the records because they had run into health problems or gotten into trouble. The Soviets were extremely particular about who they would tout as national heroes, and any behavior or ailment that wasn’t in keeping with their image of Soviet strength and pride were removed from the program — and the historical record. Investigators have even tracked some of these men down and confirmed that they were still alive.

However, not every airbrushed cosmonaut has been found, and for some, that’s enough to warrant giving those chilling radio recordings a second listen. With so many Soviet records lost in the 1990s and a long-standing culture of secrecy, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the full story about the earliest Soviet space efforts, but the truth is, it seems unlikely that there are any “heroes of the Soviet Union” stranded in orbit or beyond.

But in the minds of many, unlikely leaves just enough room to believe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the real-life, Civil War-era ‘Mulan’

Maria Lewis was probably the most unlikely person to have ever fought in the American Civil War. She was an escaped slave, a woman, and was underage; all three of these factors barred individuals from serving. But Lewis was much smarter than the average person, let alone the average enslaved American. She fought in the war as a free white man, distinguished herself during her service, and was even part of an honor guard that presented captured rebel flags to the Secretary of War.


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Kinda like this but with way more violence.

Born into slavery in 1847, Lewis and her family spent her younger years in Virginia around Albemarle County, near Charlottesville. At the age of 17, she assumed a new identity and a new life as an emancipated slave. The only real hitch was that she presented herself as something totally different when it came time to join the Union cavalry.

She enlisted as Private George Harris, a nod to the character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antebellum classic who escapes slavery as a Spanish man, in New York’s 8th Cavalry, which took part in many major battles throughout the war, including Antietam, Gettysburg, and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House. She first participated with the 8th at the Battle of Waynesboro, near where she was born and enslaved.

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The battle at Waynesboro ended the fighting in the Shenandoah for good.

Her service saw her join Union General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, where the Union Army soundly defeated Confederate General Jubal Early and devastated the Confederate economy in the area and beyond. After the war, however, George Harris/Maria Lewis had no home to go back to and very little is known about her postwar life. She traveled to Rochester, New York, where the 8th Cavalry was originally formed, to live with the family of one of her officers. Historians believe this officer hid her secret during the war and, as a result, would naturally have been a close confidant.

Lewis Griffin was an abolitionist lieutenant in the 8th Cavalry. His sister, Julia Wilbur, wrote about the “colored woman [who] has been here who has been with the 8th N.Y. Cav. for the last 18 months.” She wrote a few more details:

“She knows Mr. Griffin. She wore a uniform, rode a horse and carried a sword and carbine just like a man. The officers protected her and she was with them mostly. The regiment didn’t know that she was a woman. She was called Geo. Harris, but her real name is Maria Lewis. She is from Albermarle Co. Va. and escaped to the Union army.”
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Rochester, NY in the days following the Civil War’s end.

Many knew Lewis when she wore a dress on the streets of Rochester. She was more than happy to don a petticoat and perform the tasks of a woman of the time. But she was also known to celebrate her veteran status with those who fought alongside her.

When celebrating her service, she wore her full military uniform.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Airships were surprisingly hard to shoot down in World War II

Zeppelins, as it turns out, are slightly more durable than your average dollar store water balloon. Maybe that’s why they were a staple of the U.S. military of the time. The Hindenburg Disaster aside, 20th-Century airships were built to go the distance – and they did.


The United States was the only power to use airships during World War II, and they used them to great effect. Some 89,000 ocean-going ships were escorted by K-series airships during the war, and only one was lost to the enemy, the Panamanian oil tanker Persephone. The U.S. used them in both theaters of war, conducting minesweeping, search and rescue, photographic reconnaissance, scouting, escort convoy, and anti-submarine patrol missions.

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The massive hanger No. 2 near Tustin, California filled with six airships. Each airship is nearly 250 feet long.

For their anti-submarine missions, K-class airships were equipped with two .50-caliber Browning M2 machine guns and 4 Mark-47 depth charges. The ships flew on helium (the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, and thus became a fireball), which the United States had a monopoly on at the time, and was able to operate them safely. Airships were not just a child’s balloon, they were made with solid, vulcanized rubber to hold air in. But just shooting a blimp wouldn’t take it down, their gas bags were much more effective and could take a few shots.

Other airships that were used by all forces included barrage balloons. These unmanned aerial vehicles pulled double duty in both obscuring the target cities or ships from incoming fighters and bombers while protecting the area around them using the metal tethers that kept them attached to the earth. The tethers would tear through enemy aircraft as they attempted to buzz by the balloons.

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A Navy K-class airship at Gibraltar, 1944. The 1400-foot Rock of Gibraltar is in background.

For the entire duration of the war, only one K-ship was ever lost to the enemy. K-74 was shot down by a German U-boat in the Straits of Florida in 1943. Of the 10-man crew who went down in the airship, nine survived, and the only lost crewman was eaten by a shark awaiting rescue. The U-boat was assaulted by Allied bombers trying to limp back to Germany and was sunk.

The Navy continued to use blimps to patrol the American coastline until 1962, despite their unique abilities to stay aloft for more than a day at a stretch and the ability to sniff out submarines better than any alternative at the time. The U.S. even tested the effects of a nuclear blast on its K-ships, believing it could be armed with nuclear depth charges.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What the surviving nutjobs will actually find in Area 51 raid

If you haven’t heard about the planned Area 51 raid yet, then shut up. You have definitely heard about this crap. (And if you really haven’t, then I am so sorry. Basically, 1.6 million people have signed up for a Facebook event to rush Area 51 en masse because “They can’t kill all of us.”)


Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug, & Mason Ramsey – Old Town Road (Area 51 Video)

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Now, this raid will almost certainly never happen. Most of the people who are “going” probably just find the idea funny. But that begs the question of, “If a bunch of as-holes attempted to Naruto-run onto Area 51, what would happen? What would they see?”

Well, they would honestly find nothing and wouldn’t get inside any facilities because the Air Force isn’t likely to conduct any sensitive outdoor tests while a bunch of civilians are rushing the fences. They’re gonna button up the base and try to protect their secrets without having to kill civilians by the thousands.

But if they did somehow get past a bunch of blast doors or the Air Force left sensitive equipment out, the runners would most likely find the same sort of experiments that Area 51 became famous for during the Cold War. No, not alien biopsies. The actual experiments that the Air Force did at Area 51, many of which are now public knowledge: aircraft testing and experimentation.

It’s easy to forget almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union that, when America wasn’t the only superpower, it took a lot of work and quite a bit of secrecy to stay ahead of them. The Soviet Union had a decent spying apparatus and a robust research and development industry of its own.

And the U.S. and the Soviet Union both knew that aircraft would be important in a potential war. That’s why we worked so hard to steal each other’s aircraft and radar prototypes and more. We wanted to know what their radar could detect, and we wanted our radar to be able to detect all of their aircraft and missiles. And, we wanted to develop aircraft that could outmaneuver and fight the enemy even if it was outnumbered.

So, scientists needed to work on radar, stealth technologies, and on aircraft designs and engines. All of those benefit from having lots of open space, but aircraft designs and engines require literally hundreds of square miles to adequately test an aircraft. So, the Air Force needed a big, secret base to test their new goodies in.

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The dry lake bed at Groom Lake was near the center of Area 51. The area is valuable for weapons testing and pilot instruction, but probably doesn’t host aliens.

(Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)

And guess where many of those projects went? An old Army Air Force training area at Groom Lake in Nevada known as Area 51. It’s fairly common for old training areas to be re-purposed when the government goes shopping for an area to do some classified crap. In general, and in Area 51 in particular, these are areas where civilians already don’t live or work, where the few residents nearby are already used to loud and weird noises, and where a few light shows will be ignored.

And the Air Force went to extreme lengths to keep Area 51 secret. Nothing was allowed to leave the base, and you needed a security clearance to even get on the base. Even once you were on the base, if something was being tested that you weren’t cleared to see, you had to go sit in a building with the windows covered until the test was over.

We know all of this from court cases. People who worked at the base came down with weird cancers and material poisonings and so forth from all the weird chemicals used on the base. The military wouldn’t admit that the base existed for years before it finally said, “Yeah, it existed.” Then decades later, “Yeah, we played with planes there.”

But there are still all those rumors about aliens, right?

Well, yeah, there are rumors. But believing in aliens at Area 51 is literally insane. It requires that you believe that the government can keep massive, reality-changing secrets to itself for decades and generations of workers. And that there was either only one alien crash ever or that each crash was successfully controlled by the government. And that the government wants to keep all this secret in the first place.

So, what would the raiders find if they actually get into the testing range? Maybe aliens. But, way more likely, they’ll find some hypersonic missile prototypes, and maybe a B-21 Raider airfoil with some radars pointed at it. There’s a slight chance that they find a Stealth Hawk or some other piece of custom kit like that. But that’s only if you can find the good stuff on the 575 square mile base.

I mean, that stuff would be pretty cool to see. But is it really worth risking being shot by U.S. Airmen? Sure, they probably won’t hit you with the first round, but those dudes have A-10s. You’re not getting through that, not even if you run like Naruto.