Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.
Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted.
This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.
“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History
Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson.
She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case.
The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.
“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org
This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.
In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.
By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.
In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.
If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:
“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.
The SMS Emden was supposed to be a nice ship, but not all that crazy important in war. It was a light cruiser, a utilitarian ship type that is quick, capable, but not all that robust or rugged. These ships are typically designed for low-level conflict or serve as a guard or screening force for larger ships like battleships or, later, carriers.
But the Emden would steam into Allied controlled waters in early 1914, attacking literally dozens of enemy ships and counting on its speed and a little trickery to let it hit and then withdraw in a series of daring raids.
It all started in 1913 when the young SMS Emden received a new commander, Korvettenkapitän Karl von Muller (Korvettenkapitän is roughly equivalent to America’s lieutenant commander rank). Von Muller was the son of a German army officer, and he had risen to his rank by performing well in front of Germany’s elite, including the German emperor’s brother.
One of von Muller’s distinguishing traits was a sort of cunning shrewdness, something that would serve him well on the Emden. In 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria quickly dragged the major European powers toward war, and von Muller ordered the Emden to sea to prevent its capture in the largely British and Japanese-controlled Pacific islands where the ship was based.
This proved prescient as raiders quickly came for the German fleet. The Emden reported to a rallying point where most of the German navy would meet up to head east to South America, around Cape Horn, and on to Germany. On his way to the rally, von Muller captured the Russian ship Ryazan. When Emden reached the German fleet with its prize, von Muller had a proposal for the admiral.
The SMS Emden was a short-lived but still amazingly successful light cruiser that saw glory in World War I.
Light cruisers lacked the armor or heavier guns common on heavy cruisers or larger ships, but they were still more than a match for destroyers and merchant vessels. And the Emden had torpedo tubes that would allow it to tackle even heavier combatants if it could get the jump on them.
Despite the risk of losing the Emden, a modern and valuable cruiser even if it was light, the admiral agreed to the plan. So von Muller led his crew of about 360 men into the Indian Ocean.
The Emden would need some sort of edge to survive. It was fast, so it could close with enemies quickly, partially negating any range advantages that heavier combatants would have against it. But it would still be vulnerable for crucial seconds or minutes while closing with an enemy.
So von Muller turned to subterfuge. Most British ships had two or four smokestacks, and the Emden would be one of the only ships in the area with three smokestacks. So, von Muller had a fourth, fake smokestack installed on the Emden, making it look a lot like the British cruiser HMS Yarmouth.
This might seem like a minor ploy, good for a few minutes of distraction at best, but that momentary hesitation on the part of the enemy gave von Muller and his crew all the time they needed. In just a few days of fighting in September 1914, the Emden captured or destroyed 15 British ships, forcing many merchant vessels to stay in port.
Suddenly, the British ability to resupply vulnerable islands was crippled, and valuable ships would have to be sent to the Indian Ocean to reinforce the naval effort there.
Oil tanks burn in India after an attack by the SMS Emden, a German light cruiser.
(National Library of France)
But the sudden lack of targets at sea did not stop the Emden. The crew simply started going after shore targets like the oil depots at Madras. The Emden fired 125 shells in a short engagement on September 22, busting open many of the Burma Oil Company’s tanks and setting them aflame while also destroying a ship in the harbor.
Between this and earlier attacks, the British decided to cut the number of ships, and potential targets, in the Indian Ocean by 40 percent. This slowed the bleeding of the Royal Navy and merchant vessels but also further slowed the movement of needed war supplies.
But the Emden had taken damage and was running low on supplies by this point, and so it made a risky trip to Diego Garcia where it could attempt to raid needed supplies from the British installations there. But, surprisingly, the Germans found that the locals had no news of the young war when the Emden pulled into harbor, so the German crew simply contracted for repair and supplies without incident.
Freshly resupplied and repaired, the Emden went after British installations at Penang in Malaysia, initiating a short battle there. The primary target was the Russian warship Zhemchung which the Emden hit with torpedoes and cannon fire after approaching under false British colors and with the fake smokestack up.
The Emden sank the Russian vessel and then beat a hasty retreat, but not so hasty that the ship neglected sinking the Mousquet, a French destroyer, while exiting the harbor. This was late October, and the little cruiser had already more than proved its worth in the East, but von Muller wasn’t willing to call it quits.
Other German cruisers had successfully snipped undersea wires in their own raids, and von Muller went after the telegraph wire connecting British troops in South Africa to those in Australia. The wire had a major junction at Direction Island in the Cocos Islands.
The German light cruiser SMS Emden sits beached after a determined attack by the HMAS Sydney.
The Emden’s shore party was working the destruction of the cables and the wireless antenna when the Australian HMAS Sydney arrived to investigate, forcing the Emden to turn and face her. This effectively marooned the shore party on land, but the Emden was in a fight for its life.
The Sydney was also a light cruiser, but it was roughly a quarter larger than the Emden and slightly more modern, and it quickly gained the upper hand in the fight. The Emden was doomed, and von Muller quickly beached it on a reef. The German ship had suffered over 100 hits in about 90 minutes of fighting. It only stopped after von Muller surrendered.
The shore party would slowly, laboriously make its way back to Germany by sailing to Indonesia, then to the Ottoman Empire, then traveled across the desert in a failed overland bid for safety, then ran a British blockade on the Red Sea, then, finally, overland to Constantinople. It was a six-month journey, but 43 men made it back to Germany.
World War II was a time of great hardship for our military and our country. But in that hardship, the U.S. military found improvements in technology and training to address how we moved our wounded around inside and out of the theater of operations, away from combat situations.
In the first world war, there was no system in place to rapidly evacuate the wounded or injured. The survival rate of the critically injured dwindled, while those that did survive waited to be sent home to their families.
To make matters worse, the wounded did not leave the point of injury until the war was almost over (this could have be upwards from 6-12 months). Field hospitals had to be set up near the battlefield and the injured were cared for by the women of the Army Nurse Corps until the fighting had come to a halt, or they made a significant recovery.
At the beginning of WWII, it was clear that there needed to be a system or operation set up to help bring our wounded back to home station safer, faster, and more efficiently.
Luckily, a woman named Lauretta Schimmoler, one of the first female pilots (and the first woman to command an American Legion Post), had an idea to use airplanes as ambulances (picture a giant ambulance in the sky). She founded the Aerial Nurse Corps of America and created a system that trained flight nurses who specialize in patient aircraft setup and medicine. They would provide expert care to the injured as they were transported back to home station.
The military also needed to find aircraft that could support that kind of movement from wherever they were in the war. But there was no aircraft at the time that was specially built for aeromedical evacuation. So the Army Air Forces appointed certain aircraft already in circulation to perform the task. The C-54 Skymaster, C-64 Norseman, and the C-87 Liberator express were some of the planes utilized for aeromedical evacuation.
Schimmoler’s model of patient care and flight nurse program set the foundation for current-day aeromedical operations and drastically improved the survival rates of troops in WWII (although she didn’t get recognition until 1966). Without the development of Nurse Aerial Nurse Corps of America, AE would not have been born into existence and our troops today might still be waiting out wars in field hospitals.
As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.
Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.
Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)
At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.
In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.
Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)
At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.
Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.
Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.
Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.
Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)
By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.
While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.
Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.
Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)
In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.
A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)
Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.
It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.
Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.
There are a lot of articles that talk about the “largest naval battle,” but they don’t always agree on what battle that is. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, with nearly 200,000 participants and 285 ships, comes up often, but that isn’t the largest number of participants or ships that have clashed at a single point in history. So what’s really the largest naval battle?
The big issue is that it’s hard to define what, exactly, is the proper metric for determining the size of a battle. While land engagements are nearly always measured by the number of troops involved, naval battles can be measured by the number of ships, the size of the ships, the number of sailors, total number of vehicles and vessels, or even the size of the battlefield.
Here are three naval battles with a decent claim to “history’s largest.” One by troops involved, one by ship tonnage and area that was fought over, and one by most ships that fought.
A French map of the movements involved in the Battle of the Red Cliffs.
(Sémhur, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Battle of the Red Cliffs—850,000 troops clashed on river and land
If it sounds like the allied force would get railroaded, realize that they were the ones with better ships and they had hometown advantage. They sailed their ships through the rivers, likely the Han and Yangtze, set them on fire, and managed to crash them into Cao Cao’s fleet. Cao Cao’s men on the river and in camp burned.
A Japanese destroyer withdraws from the Battle of Leyte Gulf while under attack from U.S. bombers.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
Battle of Leyte Gulf—285 ships clash over 100,000 square miles
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is what usually pops up as the top Google search for history’s largest, and it’s easy to see why. The fighting took place over 100,000 square miles of ocean, one of the largest battleships in history sunk, and 285 naval vessels and 1,800 aircraft took part. Of the ships, 24 were aircraft carriers.
It was also a key battle strategically, allowing the U.S. to re-take the Philippines and further tipping the balance of power in the Pacific in World War II in favor of the U.S. and its allies.
One odd note about Leyte Gulf, though, is that it’s often accepted as its own battle, it’s actually a term that encompasses four smaller battles, the battles of Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, Cape Engano, and the Battle off Samar.
Painting depicts the Battle of Salamis where outnumbered Greek ships annihilated a Persian fleet.
(Wilhelm von Kaulbach, public domain)
Battle of Salamis—over 1,000 ships
At the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC during the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persian fleet of 800 galleys had penned 370 Greek triremes into the small Saronic Gulf. The Greek commander managed to draw the Persian fleet into the gulf, and the more agile Greek ships rammed their way through the Persian vessels.
The Persians lost 300 ships and only sank 40 Greek ones, forcing them to abandon planned offensives on land.
(Note that there are conflicting reports as to just how many ships took part in the battle with estimates ranging up to 1,207 Persian ships and 371 Greeks, but even on the lower end, the Battle of Salamis was the largest by number of ships engaged.)
If you had a battle in mind that didn’t make the list, that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily out of the running. The Battle of Yamen saw over 1,000 ships clash and allowed the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to overtake the Song Dynasty. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea, 902 American aircraft fought 750 Japanese planes. The Battle of Jutland, the only major battleship clash of World War I, makes many people’s lists as well.
You may think that terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons has been a concern only since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. Well, you’d be wrong — off by well over a decade.
The thought of terrorists getting nukes has been on the minds of the Department of Defense for a long time. While today’s worries center mostly around a certain rogue state pawning off a nuke or some of Russia’s nukes mysteriously walking off, back then, the concern was more along the lines of terrorists trying to sneak in and steal nukes.
Now, before you panic, even if you have a nuke, like the B61 gravity bomb, you can’t just set it to go off. There are a lot of measures in place to make sure it only detonates when authorized. One of the most important tools in this regard is the permissive action link. It actually had its genesis in the 1960s, when the United States had forward-deployed nukes to be dropped by the planes of NATO allies.
Now, if you saw the 1996 movie Broken Arrow, you saw a very Hollywood-esque version of how the device works. You need to enter the right code for the nuke to be armed. Enter the wrong code and the B61 becomes a 716-pound paperweight.
The permissive action link, though, is a defense measure in place just in case the bad guys actually get their hands on the nuke. The better solution, of course, is to make sure that they don’t get their hands on it in the first place. This is where lots of armed security comes in, equipped with the latest technology to detect intruders.
Watch the video below to learn how the Defense Nuclear Agency planned to deal nuke thieves in the 1970s.
Then-Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Wilson was a veteran of World War II and a former officer when he led Company I of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, in an attack on a numerically superior group of enemy soldiers on June 5, 1951, during the Korean War.
When his men struggled to take the terrain, he rescued the lead element under hostile fire with grenades, led a bayonet charge that killed 27, and then protected his men from the enemy counterattack using his rifle and an entrenching tool.
Yeah, he fought off a counterattack by killing four enemy soldiers with a foldable shovel.
Company I’s attack on June 5 first faltered when dug-in enemy forces pinned down the advancing Americans using submachine guns and other weapons, according to Wilson’s Medal of Honor citation. That was the first time Wilson leapt into action to save his men.
He charged forward, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. His bold attack wiped out four enemy soldiers firing submachine guns, allowing Company I to continue the advance. The assault platoon moved up and established a base of fire.
So Wilson got a group of men together to press the attack with a bayonet assault. Wilson and the rest of the group killed 27 enemy soldiers and Company I began consolidating the gains it had so far. That was when the Koreans launched a counterattack.
The Americans were under severe pressure by the Korean assault, so Wilson again leaped into action. He initiated a one-man assault that killed seven and wounded two, shutting down the enemy’s drive.
When the Americans attempted another assault, it was decisively stopped by enemy fire. Wilson gave the order for the lead platoon to withdraw. But the withdrawal quickly went sideways with the commanding officer, platoon leader, and even Wilson suffering serious wounds.
That was when Wilson made his rifle/E-tool attack. He managed to kill three enemies with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands. That’s when he grabbed the E-tool and killed four more of the enemies.
His actions delayed the final Korean counterattack and allowed Wilson to evacuate the unit, but he suffered a second wound during that action.
Arlington National Cemetery holds over 300,000 United States veterans. Veterans from every US war or conflict since the Revolutionary War lie here. Founded in 1866, this cemetery is the largest and most prestigious in the nation. It is meant to honor all men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
The grounds are steeped in history
The cemetery grounds, formerly Arlington House, used to be the property of George Washington’s adopted grandson and his wife. In 1831, their daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the couple lived there until Virginia ceded from the Union in 1861. A tax dispute led the federal government to reclaim the property in 1864. However, the land was later returned to Lee’s son after a lawsuit, though the government promptly repurchased it for about $150,000. This made little Lee a very rich man—the equivalent in today’s world would be roughly $4 million.
Presidents, change-makers, and military leadership
One of the most prominent people buried there is 27th US President William Howard Taft, a man who never really wanted to be president at all. His real dream was to become a Supreme Court Justice, a goal he achieved later. No other man has ever served as President of the United States and Chief Justice on the Supreme Court.
Another notable figure buried at Arlington is Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. He argued on the Brown v. Board of Education case, where the Supreme Court finally determined racial segregation to be unconstitutional once and for all.
JFK and Bobby Kennedy have a special, solemn place in Arlington. Above their graves, an eternal flame is lit. Jackie Kennedy was so moved when she saw the eternal flame over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that she wanted the same thing for her husband. When Jackie passed years later in 1994, her remains were placed next to her husband’s.
David Hackworth, a colonel in the US Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, is also buried in Arlington. He was a highly decorated serviceman with tons of honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart with many oak leaf clusters attached to several. Hackworth also wrote a book that criticized how the Vietnam War was handled, for which he took some heat from the government—oops.
Speaking of famous, one of the most famous women buried at Arlington is Admiral Grace Hopper. A leading programmer in the US Navy between 1943 and 1986, Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and one of the first to use the Harvard Mark I. She was also the inventor of one of the first linkers. Today we think of linking as such a standard computer action, but we wouldn’t have it without Hopper.
During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese were trying to find ways to force the United States out, as they had the French. In December 1967 they figured the Marine base at Khe Sanh would be the perfect place to replicate Dien Bien Phu, their decisive victory against the French in 1954.
Well, the French didn’t have the air power of the United States Air Force and United States Marine Corps. Nor did they have cargo planes like the C-130 Hercules and the C-123 Provider.
This was one of two big game-changers in the years since Dien Bien Phu. The cargo planes France had back then were C-119 Flying Boxcars – which could haul almost 14 tons of cargo. The French had as few as nine planes in that theater.
The American C-123s could carry 12 tons, but the C-130s could carry over 22 tons – and the Americans had a lot more airlift assets. This meant a lot of supplies got to the Marines – 12,430 from just the Air Force, and another 4,661 tons via Marine helicopters.
One other big difference: The B-52 Stratofortress. Yes, BUFFs were at Khe Sanh, compared to second-hand A-26 Invaders. A B-52 could drop 51 M117 750-pound bombs on a target. The A-26 could carry 6,000 pounds of bombs – or up to 12 500-pound bombs.
That did not include the support from other planes like the F-4 Phantom and A-4 Skyhawk.
Over 20,000 sorties were flown in defense of Khe Sanh – 2,500 of which were flown by B-52s. When all was said and done, the North Vietnamese lost 15,000 personnel trying to take Khe Sanh – making the siege a costly error. The base was eventually relieved, and a lot of abandoned gear was captured.
The video below from the DOD provides an excellent outline of just how American air power caused the siege of Khe Sanh to fail.
The Lambeth Walk has a simple history, but like six things in it are named “Lambeth,” so we’re going to take this slowly. There’s an area of London named Lambeth which has a street named Lambeth Road running through it. Lambeth Walk is a side street off of Lambeth Road. And all of it was very working-class back in the day. So, Lambeth=blue collar.
Three Englishmen made a musical named Me and My Girl about a Cockney boy from Lambeth who inherits an earldom. It’s a real fish-out-of-water laugh riot with a cocky Cockney boy showing a bunch of stodgy aristocrats how to have fun. Think “Titanic” but with less Kate Winslet and more singing.
And one of the most popular songs from the musical was “The Lambeth Walk.” It was named after the side street mentioned before, and the lyrics and dance are all about how guys from Lambeth like to strut their stuff. The actual dance from the musical is five minutes long, but was cut down and became a nation-wide dance craze.
The King and Queen were down with the whole dance, Europe thought it was a sweet distraction from all the civil wars and growing tensions between rival royalties, and the Nazis thought it was some Jewish plot.
Yeah, the Nazis were some real killjoys. (Turns out, lots of murderers sort of suck socially.)
A prominent Nazi came out and gave that earlier quote about Jewish mischief. Then World War II started in late 1939, and British propaganda got to start taking the piss out of Germany publicly. Charles A. Ridley of the British Ministry of Information went to Nazi Germany’s top propaganda film and started cutting it up.
Triumph of the Will was a 1934 video showing off the Third Reich, and it included a lot of video of Nazis marching and Hitler gesticulating. Ridley spliced, copied, and reversed frames of the video until he had a bunch of Nazi soldiers doing a passable Lambeth Walk.
Goebbels and other Nazi officials were not amused, but the anti-Nazi world was. It got played in newsreels and cinemas around the world. And Danish commandos forced their way into cinemas and played a version of the video titled “Swinging the Lambeth Walk.“
Legendary retired Army Lt. Gen. Harold “Hal” Moore of “We Were Soldiers” fame died Feb. 10. The commander of 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of Ia Drang was days short of his 95th birthday.
According to a report by the Opelika-Auburn Tribune, Lt. Gen. Moore had suffered a stroke on the evening of Feb. 9 and was “hanging tough,” according to a family member.
Moore gained immortality from the book, “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young,” co-written with reporter Joe Galloway, about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam. The book was used as the basis for the 2002 film “We Were Soldiers,” in which Academy Award-winning actor Mel Gibson portrayed Moore.
Moore served 32 years in the Army after graduating from West Point, and his decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross and four Bronze Stars.
According to an official after-action report, the three-day battle left 79 Americans killed in action, and another 121 wounded. None were left behind or missing after the battle. American forces killed 634 enemy troops, and wounded at least 1,200.
While preparing to film the epic movie — which made over $78 million at the United States box office, according to Box Office Mojo — Gibson would develop a deep friendship with Moore. This past summer, while headlines noted that Gibson and Vince Vaughn had eaten at Hamilton’s, an Auburn-area restaurant, what hadn’t been known then was that Moore’s family had recommended the eatery to the A-list superstars.
Below, here are some of the more iconic moments from “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson as Hal Moore.
In 1995, Mel Gibson starred in and directed the war epic Braveheart, which follows the story of one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, Sir William Wallace. Wallace almost single-handedly inspired his fellow Scotsmen to stand against their English oppressors, which earned him a permanent spot in the history books.
Among critics, the film cleaned house. It went on to win best picture, best director, best cinematography, and a few others at the 1996 Academy Awards. Although the film has received its fair share of acclaim, historians don’t always share the same enthusiasm. The movie steers away from what really occurred several times.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge
Battle of Stirling… Fields?
After a few quick, murderous scenes, Wallace joins a small group of his countrymen, ready to ward off a massive force of English troops that are spread across a vast field. In real life, this clash of warriors didn’t happen on some open plains — it occurred on a narrow bridge.
The battle took place in September of 1297, nearly 17 years after the film. Wallace and Andrew de Moray (who isn’t mentioned in the movie) showed up to the bridge and positioned themselves on the side north of the river, where the bridge was constructed.
The Brits were caught off guard, as Wallace and his men waited until about a third of the English’s total force crossed before attacking. The Scotsmen used clever tactics, packing men on the bridge shoulder-to-shoulder, mitigating their numerical disadvantage.
Wallace took all the credit…
Wallace being knighted
After the Battle of Stirling Bridge, both Wallace and Andrew de Moray were both granted Knighthood and labeled as Joint Guardians of Scotland.
Andrew de Moray died about a month later from wounds sustained during the battle. Despite his heroics, Andrew de Moray gets zero credit in the film.
Think about that for a moment…
Wallace’s affair with Princess Isabelle of France
In the film, Wallace sleeps with Princess Isabella of France (as played by Sophie Marceau), the wife of Edward II of England. According to several sources, the couple was married in January of 1308, which is two years and five months after Wallace was put to death in August 1305, according to the film.
The movie showed the Edward II and the princess getting married during Wallace’s lifetime. Now, if Scottish warrior had truly knocked up the French princess before his death in 1305, that would have made her around 10 years old, as she was born in 1295.
Something doesn’t add up.
“F*ck! We’re busted!”
Edward I dies before Wallace?
Who could forget the film’s dramatic ending? Wallace is stretched, pulled by horses, and screams, “freedom!” as his entrails are removed — powerful stuff. In the film, Edward I (as played by Patrick McGoohan) takes his last breath before the editor takes us back to Wallace’s final moment.
According to history, Edward I died around the year 1307. As moving as it was to watch the two deaths happen, it couldn’t have happened.
If Hollywood thrillers have taught us anything about relationships it’s that your wife or husband could be a spy.
Countless dramatic storylines throughout cinematic history blast the prospect of living with the enemy and never knowing the truth until it’s too late.
Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent, pleaded guilty to selling U.S. secrets to the Soviets and Russia in 2001. He’s currently serving 15 life consecutive sentences — his wife claims she knew nothing about it.
If you ever suspect your spouse could in fact be a spy, check out these tips on how to prove your theory.
1. Randomly toss vegetables in the air
Most spies are great with cutlery. In 1996, we were blessed with the film The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Gina Davis who plays Samantha Caine a.k.a. Charly Baltimore a woman who learns about her mysterious past immediately after a stabbing and pinning a defenseless tomato against a custom made cabinet door.
2. Take them to a carnival
You’ve been happily married for years and you know for fact you’ve never seen your better half ever fire a pistol or a rifle, but lately you’ve been seeing a different side to them. Here’s your chance to get more evidence of her double life.
Make it a date night to the local carnival and challenge her to a shooting game.
A red flag?
3. Get them wasted
People talk more than usual after tossing back a few.
Take it from Harry Tasker played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in James Cameron‘s 1994 action comedy hit True Lies — he wasn’t drunk, but the bad guys gave him some pretty good sh*t to admit his secret to his wife, who apparently never went to work with him, or an office Christmas party.
A long time.
4. Install a secret home surveillance system
We do it to watch nannies take care of our kids. … Just something to think about.
5. Learn to curse in a few different languages
Spies are known to be cultured in many global customs after having traveled the world on secret missions.
Knowing an extra language or two helps them blend into those dangerous environments.
So here’s the trick — when they least expect it, blurt out a curse word in a different language. Watch to see if your suspected spook changes his expression. If it doesn’t, try another. Your spouse will ever get the hint you’re catching on or think you’ve got Tourettes.
Movie spies are known for having some pretty bad ass suits and sunglasses. When they’re off saving the world or reporting sensitive information to foreign governments, they’ve got to do it in style.
Take notice how they remove or put on their sunglasses. If it appears they do in a dramatic fashion every time — you probably married a spy.
You’ll look super cool.
7. Go to work with them
Let’s face it, in real life — unless you know they own their business — faking a job one is the hardest things your spouse could pull off. Think about it: if they’re into espionage and all that, wouldn’t she have to take you to pick up a dead drop or recruit an agent?
Can you think of any other tells that your spouse is a spook? Comment below.