OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Even if you’re not a watch enthusiast, the brand name Patek Philippe probably rings a bell. Founded in 1839, Patek is part of the so-called Horological Holy Trinity of luxury Swiss watch brands along with Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet. That’s right, there are brands above even Rolex. The top-tier status of these brands makes them popular lyrical references for hip-hop and rap artists looking to flex their superiority. Why then, does His Holiness Tenzin Gyasto, the 14th Dalai Lama own a Patek? As you’ve likely read the title of this article, he didn’t buy it himself.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
The young Dalai Lama in 1944 (Public Domain)

In 1942, the war in the Pacific looked grim. The Australian, British, and Dutch forces were suffering loss after loss against the relentless Japanese military. Much of the American Pacific Fleet was sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor, and the American garrison in the Philippines was cut off and surrounded. China, who had been fighting the Japanese since 1937, was heavily reliant on American support. However, Japan had cut the Burma road through China, forcing America to find another supply route to Chinese forces. The Office of Strategic Services was called in to find a solution.

The predecessor to the CIA, the OSS specialized in clandestine operations like intelligence gathering, sabotage, subversion, and espionage. The agency recognized the strategic potential that Tibet had in moving supplies to China. However, the idea of going through Tibet was a tricky one. It would require recognizing Tibet as an autonomous region, something China was none too pleased about. Moreover, operations in Tibet would require the blessing of the young Dalai Lama. President Roosevelt approved of the plan and the OSS dispatched two of its best agents to Tibet in late 1942.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Captain Dolan in Tibet (Public Domain)

Captain Brooke Dolan II was a naturalist who could understand the perspectives of the Tibetan Buddhists. Besides that, he traveled extensively throughout Tibet before the war and knew their customs and courtesies. Dolan was joined by Major Ilya Tolstoy, grandson of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace fame. Aside from his connection to literary history, Tolstoy was an accomplished scientist who conducted extensive research at Mount McKinley in Alaska. This helped prepare him for the challenging terrain and climate he would face in Tibet.

Dolan and Tolstoy trekked in a mule caravan from India. It took them over three months to summit the Himalayas and reach the Dalai Lama, then just seven years old. The agents presented His Holiness with a handwritten letter and a gift from President Roosevelt: a Patek Philippe reference 658 timepiece. Only 15 examples of the watch were produced and it was valued at $2,800 in 1942 (over $47,000 in 2021). The young Dalai Lama gifted the agents a ceremonial scarf in return. The exchange occurred in complete silence in accordance with Tibetan custom.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Dolan (second from the left) and Tolstoy (right) with their monk-interpreter, Kusho Yonton Singhe, near Lhasa, Tibet for their official greeting ceremony, January 1, 1943 (Public Domain)

The Dalai Lama approved of the request to transport supplies through Tibet into China. This friendly relationship allowed America to help keep China in the fight for the remainder of the war. It also allowed the CIA to support Tibetan resistance fighters when Communist China invaded in the 1950s.

The Dalai Lama continues to carry the Patek that was gifted to him by FDR through Dolan and Tolstoy. Sources report that the historical watch has been repaired at least three times since then. The Dalai Lama famously displayed it in 2016 during a meeting with the U.S. Congress. Made of 18k gold and featuring a perpetual calendar, moon phase, split-seconds chronograph and minute repeater, the watch would fetch a hefty sum today without its historical provenance. The fact that it involved so many famous figures and was featured in a crucial diplomatic agreement makes it absolutely priceless.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, presents the Patek Philippe 658 gifted to him by FDR (Senator Patrick Leahy)
Articles

That time the entire Dutch naval fleet was captured by French dudes on horses

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII


In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain

Why were the French at war with the Dutch?

By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.

What went down during the battle?

The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:

The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”

What happened afterwards?

The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.

Articles

This is the massive Nazi sneak attack at the Battle of the Bulge

On Dec. 16, 1944, Adolf Hitler launched an ambitious but badly planned counterattack meant to break the back of the Allied forces and allow the Nazis to dictate the peace terms that would end the war.


Instead, it guaranteed his defeat, but not before forcing hundreds of thousands of soldiers on each side to fight in bitter, near-Arctic levels of cold amidst driving winter storms and winds. Managing a surprise attack with dozens of divisions is no easy feat. Here’s how they did it at the Battle of the Bulge.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
American soldiers man a roadblock during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

First, the Germans initiated a crackdown on all communications. Transmissions related directly to the offensive were limited to the telephone lines and couriers. But American intelligence was also struggling with a general plunge in the volume of intelligence since the Germans had pulled out of France and concentrated in Germany.

In France, German communications were more reliant on the use of radio waves, which could be intercepted. French citizens were also likely to report Nazi movements, providing near real-time intel. On the German side of the border, both of these advantages disappeared.

Worse, the few reports that did indicate a German buildup, such as the statements of captured German deserters, were ignored or brushed off as untrustworthy.

In the days leading up to Dec. 16, these problems were compounded by a dense fog that grounded Allied reconnaissance planes and limited visibility to the point that Allied soldiers were unlikely to spot much German movement, especially in the thick Ardennes forest.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
U.S. medics evacuate a casualty through the thick forest during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Despite these advantages, the German troop buildup was a logistical nightmare. Hitler’s plan required 30 divisions, including 12 panzer divisions, and over 1,000 planes be transported to the Ardennes using only trains and horses to limit fuel consumption. In addition to all supplies consumed, Hitler wanted to stage 4.5 million gallons of fuel and 50 trainloads of ammunition for the advance.

All of this buildup had to take place under Allied air attack without the Allies getting wise. Surprisingly, the Germans were mostly successful.

The troop buildup portion was actually more successful than planned with approximately 1,500 troop trains and 500 supply trains carrying 12 armored divisions and 29 infantry divisions to the staging areas for the offensive.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Army Pfc. Frank Vukasin of Great Falls, Montana, stops to load a clip into his rifle at Houffalize, Belgium, on Jan. 15, 1945, near the end of the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army from the Eisenhower Archives)

The aerial buildup was less successful. The Germans had 1,250 planes ready before Dec. 16 — 250 less than originally planned.

But the weather turned in the German’s favor in the days before the attack. The heavy fogs that limited reconnaissance flights also grounded most other planes, neutering the Allied air forces and eliminating that advantage.

So, on Dec. 16, the Germans launched their three-pronged attack against what were largely inexperienced and exhausted troops defending the forest. The most combat-ready troops had been moved to other areas to prepare for an Allied invasion across the German borders.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division advance under artillery fire in Pont-Le-Ban, Belgium. January 15, 1945. (Photo and cutline: U.S. Army)

The Germans further complicated the American’s situation by sending thousands of English-speaking German troops behind American lines in captured uniforms and jeeps to commit acts of sabotage and to spy on the American response.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff briefing was interrupted that night with word of the German advance, and he immediately pegged it as a massive counterattack with the goal of driving to the Atlantic. He ordered both the 7th and 10th Armored divisions to drive in to help.

Army Gen. George S. Patton, the commander of the Third Army, which contained the 10th Armored Division, was ordered to “attack in column of regiments and drive like hell.”

Many American units were quickly surrounded and forced to fight against a siege by German units. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were ordered forward to relieve pressure on the American lines, arriving before the siege was complete.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
American Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The 101st was dedicated predominantly to the defense of Bastogne, a city where seven key highways met, making it crucial for the victory or defeat of the German attack. When the Germans requested the 101st’s surrender from Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe and his staff, the general famously responded with “NUTS!” and continued the defense.

For the first week, the Allies fought desperate defensive and delaying actions against the Nazi juggernaut, usually at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, supplies, and equipment.

But the weather cleared on Dec. 23, and Allied air forces surged into the sky to beat back the Luftwaffe and provide support to the beleaguered forces on the ground. Bombing runs broke up German forces in staging areas while strafing by fighters tore through attacking columns.

A few days later, Patton’s Third Army reached the German lines and cut a path through them. Hitler’s bold advance had fallen well short of its goal of the Belgian coast and German units, overextended and undersupplied, began to be rounded up and captured. By the end of January, the Allies had regained the lost ground and were once again marching towards Berlin.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This shotgun-wielding legend is the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor

After the war, President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor to recognize her dedication and loyalty to the US.

Walker became known for her “radical” views on women’s rights and was regarded as a living legend.

Her medal was rescinded in the early 20th century because of changes in the award’s regulations, but she refused to give it up and wore it until she died in 1919.


OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Dr. Mary Walker wearing her Medal of Honor, circa 1866.

(U.S. Army Mathew Brady Collection)

Mary Walker was born in 1832 in Oswego, New York.

Her parents were abolitionists, and they encouraged her to flaunt the rules of women’s fashion. She soon began wearing pants, a habit that continued into her adult life.

In 1855, Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College and became a doctor.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Walker was barred from being an Army surgeon because she was a woman. She volunteered instead, working without pay at hospitals in Washington, DC, and Virginia.

Walker spent four months as a Confederate prisoner of war in Richmond, Virginia.

Despite her service tending to Union Army wounded and her imprisonment, Walker received a smaller pension than that given to war widows.

President Andrew Johnson presented her with the Medal of Honor in November 1865 to thank her for her contributions and her loyalty.

Also read: Why ancient German women yelled at men during combat

In 1917, due to changes in the medal’s regulations, her award was rescinded because she did not engage in direct combat with the enemy.

Walker refused to return her medal and continued to wear it.

According to one legend, when federal marshals attempted to retrieve it in 1917, she opened the door holding a shotgun — and wearing her medal.

She died in 1919 — one year before women were finally allowed to vote.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Dr. Mary E. Walker, circa 1911.

(Library of Congress)

Walker also attracted public scrutiny for her views on women’s rights, which were seen as radical. She reportedly voted as early as 1871 — a half-century before women were legally allowed to do so in the US.

President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977 to honor her sacrifice and acknowledge the sexism she fought.

In 2012, the town Oswego dedicated of a statue in her honor, drawing people from around the country remember her, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York.

“I have got to die before people will know who I am and what I have done. It is a shame that people who lead reforms in this world are not appreciated until after they are dead; then the world pays its tributes,” Walker once said. That quote is inscribed on part of the statue.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

What British civilians did for special operators after ‘Desert One’ will tear you up

“To you all from us all for having the guts to try.”

These were the words written on the cases of beer waiting for American special operations troops in Oman on Apr. 25, 1980. They were gifted to the U.S. service members by British civilians working at the airfield.


The British didn’t know for sure who the American troops were, but what they did know came from news reports in Iran and the United States that a group of Army Delta Force troops, United States Marines, and Air Force aircrews flew out of their base to an unknown destination and returned many hours later.

British airfield operators also knew that not everyone had come back.

By the time President Jimmy Carter gave Operation Eagle Claw the green light, hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been held for 174 days. The operational ground force commander was also the legendary founder of Delta Force, Col. Charlie Beckwith – and no one was more eager to get going.

A new documentary from Filmmaker Barbara Koppel, “Desert One,” explores the leadup and fallout of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. military’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages. It also details every angle of the event from people who were on the ground, with interviews from those who were there.

The interviewees include veteran member of the Eagle Claw mission and their families, Iranians who were holding Americans hostage at the embassy, a handful of the hostages, an Iranian who was part of a group of locals who came upon the landing site in the middle of the night, and even remarks from President Carter and Vice-President Walter Mondale.

Carter, dedicated to achieving the release of the hostages through diplomatic means, still charged Beckwith with creating a hostage rescue plan. Carter exhausted every channel before giving Beckwith the go-ahead, but Beckwith was ready.

The plan was an incredibly complex one, and with so many moving parts, many felt then that it had little chance for success – a statement even many of the Deltas agreed with.

Coming into a remorse desert location near Tehran, called “Desert One” 3 U.S. Air Force C-130s would deliver 93 Delta force operators destined for the Embassy, 13 Special Forces troops to retrieve hostages from the foreign affairs ministry building, a U.S. Army ranger team, and a handful of Farsi-speaking truck drivers. “Desert One” would be the staging area for the planes and refueling bladders, guarded by an airfield protection team.

Eight RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters from the USS Nimitz would be dispatched to Desert One to refuel and take soldiers to another desert site, “Desert Two” where they would hide until nightfall. CIA operatives would take trucks to Desert Two and drive soldiers to Tehran. There, the rangers would capture an abandoned air base outside of the city as a landing place for two C-141 Starlifter aircraft.

During the assault, the helicopters would fly from Desert Two to a soccer stadium near the embassy in Tehran to kill the guards, pick up the hostages, and fly them to the Starlifters. The helicopters would be destroyed on the ground, and everyone would fly aboard the C-141s to Egypt.

The rescue mission never made it past Desert One. A number of unforeseen incidents, including Iranian citizens, an intense dust storm, and mechanical failures contributed to the failure of Eagle Claw. After a tragic accident at the airfield claimed eight lives and the mission lost the minimum number of helicopters needed, Carter ordered them to abort.

To this day, Carter accepts responsibility for the failure of the mission, as he did on Apr. 25, 1980, making a televised address to the American people.

President Jimmy Carter – Statement on Iran Rescue Mission

www.youtube.com

“I ordered this rescue mission prepared in order to safeguard American lives, to protect America’s national interests, and to reduce the tensions in the world that have been caused among many nations as this crisis has continued,” the president said. “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.”

When looking back on his time as President, whenever Carter is asked what he would do differently in his administration, his answer is always the same:

“I would send one more helicopter.”

When the Americans returned to Oman and the British civilians realized who they were and from where they’d just come, they rounded up any beer they could and left the now-famous note.


MIGHTY HISTORY

These important tools are made from sunken warships

Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.


OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

U.S. Navy divers extract oil from the World War II German cruiser Prinz Eugen to prevent it leaking into the environment. The steel of the hull would be worth billions for use in scientific experiments and medical instruments.

(U.S. Navy)

Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.

It’s not enough to be a big threat to life around the world, but disasters like those at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have created background radiation in the atmosphere that will last for centuries. And making steel requires that air is passed through molten steel. If that air has any radioactive molecules in it, which it often does, then the steel will be slightly radioactive.

That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.

But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.

Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.

But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.

So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Medical scanners often require low-background steel, a material most easily obtained through World War II and earlier salvage.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

You read the headline. You know where this is going.

Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.

So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.

There’s even speculation that the Voyager 1 or Explorer 1 satellites may contain World War I German warship steel.

It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.

So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.

And some artifacts from long before World War II are now being used for scientific experiments. Historians and scientists have a tense tug of war when it comes to lead from ancient Chinese and Roman sites and wrecks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

www.youtube.com

“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.


Check Out USAToday’s Draft Number Calculator.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
A U.S. soldier turns to give instructions as firing continues in front of him during Operation Byrd.

The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.

Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
It was seriously a draft lottery.

Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.

Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.

They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Carter pardoned draft dodgers the day after his inauguration.

Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Just one Canadian tank made it to VE Day

The 14,000 Canadians and 200 tanks that landed at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 fought bitterly to breach Fortress Europe and begin the long march to Berlin. Almost a year later Canada and the rest of the Allied powers celebrated the fall of Nazi Germany.


OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Crewmembers and officers who served on the Bomb pose with it on Jun. 8, 1945 in the Netherlands. Photo: Library Archives of Canada

Only one Canadian tank from those 200 fought every day of the invasion across Western Europe. “Bomb,” a Sherman, travelled 4,000 miles and fired 6,000 rounds while fighting the Nazis. From Juno Beach, Bomb was sent northeast to the Netherlands through Belgium before cutting east towards Berlin.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
A tank from the Bomb’s regiment, possibly the Bomb itself, hunts snipers in Falaise, France in 1944. Photo: Canadian National Archives

Soon after Bomb crossed into Germany near Emden, Bomb was sent to Kleve on the German side of the border with the Netherlands. In the early morning of Feb. 26, 1945 Bomb escorted a column of infantry in armored vehicles forward. German artillery opened up and pinned the column down in thick mud.

The Germans put up a smoke screen and continued their attack. But the Bomb led a counterattack that relieved the pressure. Surrounded by German anti-tank teams and under heavy mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire, Bomb and another Canadian tank held their ground for 20 minutes until infantry was able to reinforce them, stopping the Germans from destroying the Canadian column.

Neill was later awarded the Military Cross for the battle.

As the war wound to a close, the Bomb found itself in continuously heavy combat. On the last day of the European war, the Bomb was under the command of Lt. Ernest Mingo. He and his men faced off against a German officer who kept sending soldiers to try and Allied Forces.

“The land between us was covered with dead German soldiers,” he said, according to a Sunday Daily News article. “He must have known the war was over, but he just kept sending them out, I guess trying to kill Canadians.”

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Photo: Wikipedia/Skaarup.HA CC 4.0

Despite being the only Canadian tank to serve every day of the war in Europe, the Bomb was nearly melted down as scrap in Belgium after the war. It was rescued and went on display in 1947. In 2011 the tank underwent restoration. It is currently at the Sherbrooke Hussars Armoury in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The experimental rifle that almost changed World War II

In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.


OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Pedersen rifle patent

It started in 1928 when the Army created a “Caliber Board” to determine what the most lethal size would be for a rifle round. Their eventual conclusion would be familiar to anyone who carried an M16 or M4. While .30-caliber and larger rounds were great for hunting animals, they passed too quickly and easily through humans. The board decided that a smaller round, preferably .276 inches or smaller, would be best.

This decision was no surprise to John Douglas Pedersen, a well-known weapon designer with an experimental rifle chambered for .276-caliber that featured a delayed-blowback mechanism and a 10-round clip.

This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.

But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.

So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.

The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.

Shooting a .276 Pedersen PB Rifle

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Shooting a .276 Pedersen PB Rifle

An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.

The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.

Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

A U.S. Marine with his trusty M1 Garand in World War II.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.

Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.

And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.

So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the 3rd Infantry Division is called ‘Rock of the Marne’

The 3rd Infantry Division, then known simply as the 3rd Division, was activated in November 1917 for service in World War I. They were fighting the Germans by April 1918. The green troops of the 3rd Division were thrown into the line in the midst of a strong German attack along the Marne River.


The Marne had been the site of a significant battle that had turned back the German onslaught into France in 1914. It would be remembered once again in 1918.

Also read: This is why 3/2 Marines call themselves ‘the Betio Bastards’

After the Germans’ Spring Offensives had ground to a halt, they still sought a breakthrough of the Allied lines. Hoping to draw forces away from Flanders, where the Germans hoped to eventually drive through to Paris, they launched a large scale offensive to the south in the vicinity of Reims.

In the early morning darkness of July 15, 1918 the Germans began crossing the Marne River in assault boats.

Under a massive artillery barrage, the German Seventh Army smashed into the French Sixth Army. Under the brutal bombardment and onslaught of German stormtroopers, the French fell back in disarray. All along the line the Germans were quickly gaining ground – except for one spot on their right flank.

This was the position held by the 3rd Division. Particularly stubborn resistance came from the 38th Infantry Regiment under the command of Col. Ulysses McAlexander. It was dug in along the riverbank with a secondary line holding a raised railroad embankment. As the Germans crossed the river they were met with murderous fire from the Americans.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

As they landed, the Germans quickly found themselves engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Unfortunately for the Americans, there were simply too many Germans and slowly but surely the advanced platoons on the riverbank were wiped out. The Germans were then met at the railroad embankment, where according to Capt. Jesse Woolridge, they gave a thousand times more than they took, but even those positions became untenable. Reinforcements were quickly rushed in and smashed the beleaguered German troops.

This effort finally broke up the attack.

In Woolridge’s account, he states “it’s God’s truth that one Company of American soldiers beat and routed a full regiment of picked shock troops of the German Army.”

While the rest of the 3rd Division was pushed back, the 38th Infantry was giving the Germans hell.  Refusing to relinquish his position despite his exposed flanks, Col. McAlexander pulled his two battalions on the flanks back to form a horseshoe shape. The shape of his defense and the stubbornness with which he held it earned McAlexander and the rest of the regiment an enduring nickname – the Rock of the Marne.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
General Ulysses Grant McAlexander.

The nickname eventually came to encompass the entire division for their stellar defense of their sector during the massive German attack. The Division would later adopt the special designation The Marne Division as well for their part in the battle.

At the Second Battle of the Marne, the 3rd Division also received its official motto. As French troops retreated, 3rd Division soldiers rushed to the scene to hold the line. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Dickman, gave his famous orders, in French so their allies would understand, “Nous resterons la!” – We shall remain here!

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

The battle was significant. Not just to the 3rd Division but to the entire American war effort. The Americans were relatively untested at the time and their success in holding back the Germans at the Marne garnered great respect from their European counterparts.

Stopping the German offensive also opened the way for the immediate counterattacks of the Aisne-Marne Offensive and finally the Hundred Days offensive that would eventually lead to Germany’s capitulation. The division’s stand was called “one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of military history” by the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John Pershing.

The 3rd Infantry Division would go on to distinguish itself once again during the Second World War. The 3rd was the only division to meet the Nazis on every front fighting from North Africa to Sicily, onto the Italian mainland, into Southern France before ending the war in Germany.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
The 3rd Infantry Division starts the long road home after WWII.

During its spectacular march against the Axis, some 35 members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their action in combat including their most famous member, Audie Murphy.

The Marne Division later fought in the Korean War before spending the Cold War guarding Germany against possible Russian aggression. Since 2003, the division has been actively involved in the Global War on Terror and led the US Army’s invasion of Iraq.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
The U.S. 3rd Infantry Division secures an abandoned UN position on the Kuwait-Iraqi border in March 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch how sand from Omaha Beach brightens veterans’ tombstones

On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) shared a video on Twitter of a remarkable ceremony. “The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward.”

It’s a quiet practice that adds to the many rituals that honor service members, including leaving coins on gravestones, placing wreaths on graves during winter holidays, or setting the American flag at graves for Memorial Day.

This video is particularly special to watch, as it clearly shows how effective the process is:


Visited the grave of my friend’s father and witnessed a remarkable ceremony. The letters on the white crosses almost disappear in the brightness of the stone, so a soldier fills the indentations with sand from Omaha Beach to bring the name forward. It sent shivers down my spine.pic.twitter.com/e2G8KvvALt

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In the video, the soldier conjures the name of William A. Richards, a fallen World War II veteran, killed in 1944, with sand from Omaha Beach, one of the D-Day invasion sites. D-Day marked the turning of the war in Europe, where millions and millions of Allied service members perished.

Also read: Hero medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

pic.twitter.com/GwDYS4zWZF

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Others began to respond to the tweet with their own experiences witnessing the ceremony, including the graves of their relatives. The sands from Normandy beaches are sent to military cemeteries throughout Europe. In the Netherlands American Cemetery, the graves of American service members have been adopted by Dutch families, who research the lives of the fallen and honor their graves with flowers.

I had the privilege of meeting the family that has been looking after my Uncle Neil. They took the day off of work to meet me.pic.twitter.com/MA4a6HLLKi

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For so many, these rituals are powerful reminders of the cost of freedom. The sanctity of a military funeral is one that is shared across the country — and, in the case of the world wars, across the globe. It can be easy for many Americans to feel separated, through both time and distance, from the horrors of World War I and World War II; but for our allies in Europe, the wars were fought in their own backyard.

The sands of Omaha Beach bring forth the names of those who died fighting against Nazi Germany and the enemies of freedom, lest we ever forget.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a simple name change connects Marine special operators to their past

Given how long America has been fighting wars, one would think that special operations were among the first thing Americans developed and perfected. But it wasn’t — not really. The tactics used in the Revolutionary War were considered guerrilla tactics and U.S. troops were the first to openly fire at officers.


This did not endear America to the rest of the world community.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII

Despite this long history, America’s special operations community is relatively young. During World War II, the British created their famous Commando units. Seeing this, President Franklin Roosevelt asked his military leadership for something similar to what the British were doing.

The Marine Corps was first tasked with creating such an elite group. Already the smallest branch and specialized in amphibious landings, they created two battalions: the 1st Raider Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, and the 2nd Raider Battalion, commanded by Maj. Evans Carlson.

Related: 3 key differences between Recon Marines and Marine Raiders

Each man had their own ideas on how they would command their units. For example, the 2nd Raiders had a much more relaxed posture when it came to military discipline, quickly creating unit cohesion.

Many in the Marine Corps’ hierarchy didn’t like the idea of a small Marine Corps unit — most believed that the Raiders did the exact same thing as the rest of the Corps. The major difference was, however, that the Raiders worked as a small force and didn’t participated in big landings. In fact, they would land during the night and move into the Japanese-held territories, creating havoc, disrupting enemy supply lines, and taking them completely by surprise.

OSS agents gave the Dalai Lama a Patek Phillipe watch from FDR during WWII
Marine Raiders on Tulagi Island.

One of the biggest successes of the Marine Raiders was how they worked in support of bigger forces — a tactic developed to perfection today by modern special operators.

The Marine Raiders were later turned into the 4th Marine Division in 1944. The Raiders were only around for two years, but are heralded as some of the best warriors in the whole Pacific Campaign. The Marine Raiders left a huge legacy for special operations in America.

In 2014, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos announced that the 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion would be renamed the 1st Raider Battalion, connecting the Raiders of the past with the Raiders of today.

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