The Donner Party really should have taken the Army's advice - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.

Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?


The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

This information in important to the rest of the story.

(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)

Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.

The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?

(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)

That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.

But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.

On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.

(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)

You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.

One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.

Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.

Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.

Thirty-nine did not.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How bureaucratic nonsense made the M16 less effective

When the Department of Defense first started buying AR-15s, they were clean, fast-firing, and accurate weapons popular with the airmen and Special Forces soldiers who carried them. But as the Army prepared to purchase them en masse, a hatred of the weapon by bureaucrats and red tape resulted in weapon changes that made the M16s less effective for thousands of troops in Vietnam.


The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

During a lull in the fighting in the Citadel, a Marine takes time out to clean his M16 rifle.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

(A note on measurements in this article: Most of the historical data in this article came from when the Army still used inches when discussing weapon calibers. The most common measurements are .22-caliber, roughly equal to 5.56mm ammo used in M4s today and .30-caliber, which is basically 7.62mm, like that used by some U.S. sniper rifles. There is also a reference to a proposed .27-caliber, which would have been 6.86mm).

The AR-15 was a derivative of the AR-10, an infantry rifle designed by Eugene Stoner for an Army competition. The AR-10 lost to what would become the M14. But a top Army officer was interested in smaller caliber weapons, like the AR-10, and he met with Stoner.

Gen. Willard G. Wyman was commanding the Continental Army Command when he brought an old Army report to Stoner. The report from the 1928 Caliber Board had recommended that the Army switch from heavy rifle rounds, like the popular .30-cal, to something like .27-caliber. The pre-World War II Army even experimented with .276-caliber rifles, but troops carried Browning Automatic Rifles and M1 Garands into battle in 1941, both chambered for .30-caliber.

These heavier rounds are great for marksmen and long-distance engagements because they stay stable in flight for long distances, but they have a lethality problem. Rounds that are .30-caliber and larger remain stable through flight, but they often also remain stable when hitting water, which was often used as a stand-in during testing for human flesh.

If a round stays stable through human flesh, it has a decent chance of passing through the target. This gives the target a wound similar to being stabbed with a rapier. But if the round tumbles when it hits human flesh, it will impart its energy into the surrounding flesh, making a stab-like wound in addition to bursting cells and tissue for many inches (or even feet) in all directions.

That’s where the extreme internal bleeding and tissue damage from some gunshot wounds comes from. Wyman wanted Stoner to make a new version of the AR-10 that would use .22-caliber ammunition and maximize these effects. Ammunition of this size would also weigh less, allowing troops to carry more.

Stoner and his team got to work and developed the AR-15, redesigning the weapon around a commercially available .22-caliber round filled with a propellant known as IMR 4475 produced by Du Pont and used by Remington. The resulting early AR-15s were tested by the Army and reviewed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The weapons did great in testing, and both services purchased limited quantities for troops headed to Vietnam.

But, importantly, the bulk of the Army bureaucracy still opposed the weapon, including nearly all of the groups in charge of buying ammunition and rifles. They still loved the M14s developed by the Army itself.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Pvt. 1st Class Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA.) fires is M16 rifle into a suspected Viet Cong occupied area.

(U.S. Army Spec. 5 Robert C. Lafoon)

Approximately 104,000 rifles were shipped to Vietnam for use with the Air Force, airborne, and Special Forces units starting in 1963. They were so popular that infantrymen arriving in 1965 with other weapons began sending money home to get AR-15s for themselves. The Secretary of the Army forced the Army to take another look at it for worldwide deployment.

As the Army reviewed the weapon for general use once again, they demanded that the rifle be “militarized,” creating the M16. And the resulting rifle was held to performance metrics deliberately designed to benefit the M14 over the M16/AR-15.

These performance metrics demanded, among other things, that the rifle maintain the same level of high performance in all environments it may be used in, from Vietnam to the Arctic to the Sahara Desert; that it stay below certain chamber pressures; and that it maintain a consistent muzzle velocity of 3,250 fps.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

A soldier with an M-14 watches as supplies are airdropped into Vietnam.

(Department of Defense)

It was these last two requirements that made Stoner’s original design suddenly problematic. The weapon, as designed, achieved 3,150 fps. To hit 3,250 fps required an increase in the amount of propellant, but increasing the propellant made the weapon exceed its allowed chamber pressures. Exceeding the pressure created serious, including mechanical failure.

But Remington had told civilian customers that the IMR 4475-equipped ammo did fire at 3,250 fps as is. The Army tests proved that was a lie.

There was a way around the problem: Changing the propellant. IMR 4475 burned extremely quickly. While all rifles require an explosion to propel the round out of the chamber, not all powders create that explosion at the same rate. Other propellants burned less quickly, allowing them to release enough energy for 3,250 fps over a longer time, staying below the required pressure limits and preventing mechanical failure.

The other change, seemingly never considered by the M14 lovers, was simply lowering the required muzzle velocity. After all, troops in Vietnam loved their 3,150-fps-capable AR-15s.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

A first lieutenant stands with his M-16 in Vietnam.

(U.S. Army)

Instead, the Army stuck to the 3,250 fps requirement, and Remington and Du Pont pulled IMR 4475 from production. The Army turned to two slower-burning powders to make the weapon work, but that created a new issue. The powders created a lot more problems.

The new powders increased the cyclic rate of the weapon from 750 rounds per minute to about 1,000 while also increasing the span of time during each cycle where powder was burning. So, unlike with IMR 4475, the weapon’s gas port would open while the powder was still burning, allowing dirty, still-burning powder to enter the weapon’s gas tube.

This change, combined with an increase in the number of barrel twists from 12 to 14 and the addition of mechanical bolt closure devices, angered the Air Force. But the Army was in charge of the program by that point, and all new M16s would be manufactured to Army specifications and would use ball powder ammunition.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Pvt. 1st Class John Henson cleans his XM16E1 rifle while on an operation 30 miles west of Kontum, Vietnam.

(U.S. Army)

Rifle jams and failures skyrocketed, tripling in some tests. And rumors that M16s didn’t need to be cleaned, based on AR-15s firing cleaner propellants, created a catastrophe for infantrymen whose rifles jammed under fire, sometimes resulting in their deaths.

Many of these problems have been mitigated in the decades since, with new powders and internal components that reduced fouling and restored the balance between chamber pressure, muzzle velocity, and ballistics. Most importantly, troops were trained on how to properly maintain the rifle and were given the tools necessary to do so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 times the Army destroyed Japanese troops in the Pacific

The general narrative of World War II credits the Marines and Navy for the victory in the Pacific and the Army and U.S. Army Air Corps for victory in Europe. In reality, there are actually a few Marine veterans of fighting in Europe and a massive number of Army veterans who fought in the Pacific.

Here are six times that U.S. soldiers took the fight to the Japanese and and laid waste.


The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

U.S. Army artillerymen fire a 155mm rifled field gun on Guadalcanal on Dec. 7, 1942.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. Battle of Guadalcanal

Yes, that Battle of Guadalcanal. In fact, Army forces on the island actually outnumbered Marine forces. Each branch had two divisions on the ground, but the Army had an additional regiment. The 1st Marine Division made the initial landings on August 7, 1942, but Army troops were pouring onto the island by October.

It was Army troops who first received the “Banzai” attacks against Henderson Field in late October, holding the Japanese back despite armor, artillery, air, and naval support pitted against the U.S. troops. On November 4, the soldiers took part in pushing 1,500 Japanese troops against the sea.

In December, the 1st Marine Division pulled out, and an Army general took over command on the island. He sent his forces against the Japanese headquarters on Mount Austen and it was Army soldiers who fought from mid-December to January 2 to find and destroy that headquarters. In the following months, it was predominantly Army troops who eradicated Japanese opposition on the island, fighting which resulted in three Army Medals of Honor.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

The 32nd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit made up of soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin, fought side-by-side with Australian forces to take key positions on Papua, New Guinea from November 1942 to January 2, 1943.

(U.S. Army National Guard illustration by Michael Gnatek)

2. Papuan Campaign

As the Battle of Guadalcanal raged, U.S. and Australian Army units led the fight in Papua, New Guinea, against Japanese forces there. As with Guadalcanal, a key strategic objective was the island’s airfield, but this time, the Japanese were on the attack and the Allies on defense. Unfortunately for the Japanese, their losses to the U.S. Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway forced them to attack overland through treacherous mountain passes.

The combined force pushed Japanese foes back and then went on the offensive, attacking at Milne Bay and across the Japanese lines in late August, forcing them into general retreat on September 4. The Army launched a clearance operation on October 4, resupplying units by air as they pushed deeper into formerly Japanese territory. The final Japanese forces proved stubborn, and the Army was forced to fight desperately to take each bunker.

Finally, from mid-December the mid-January, Allied forces led by U.S. Army units brought in fresh tanks and troops, and they launched an innovative combined-arms campaign to break the Japanese backs. In one section where tanks couldn’t operate, two Army infantrymen earned posthumous Medals of Honor for heroism while clearing Japanese positions. The last resistance fell by January 22.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

The second battalion of U.S. paratroopers is dropped near Nadzab, New Guinea, Sept. 5, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

3. Capture of Nadzab, New Guinea

While Australian troops did the bulk of the fighting on New Guinea and western New Britain in 1943, U.S. Army paratroopers were tapped to take a key airfield in the city of Nadzab on September 5, 1943.

This was the first American airborne operation of the Pacific. Army Air Corps bombers strafed the drop zones and dropped fragmentation bombs before the paratroopers jumped into a well-timed smokescreen. From there, the paratroopers fought all day, receiving resupply from the air and assaulting one Japanese position after another.

It worked. Australian forces were able to use the airfield for their own operations the very next day, and it was grown into a major air base that supported Australian operations for the rest of the war.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

U.S. Army troops navigate the mountains of Attu Island in Alaska in May, 1943.

(Australian Army)

4. Aleutian Campaign

In June, 1942, Japanese forces took two of the Aleutian Islands that are part of Alaska. While their forces lacked the numbers to truly threaten Alaska proper, they were still a problem as they threatened U.S. cities and raided trade and supply routes.

Army soldiers assaulted the beaches on Attu on May 11, 1943, with air and naval support. Despite desperate Japanese defenses, the island fell in a matter of weeks with nearly every Japanese soldier killed by May 30.

On August 15, the Army launched an even larger landing with Canadian support on the island of Kiska, but the Japanese forces had withdrawn in thick fog before the allies arrived. This Japanese withdrawal opened a northern route to attack towards the Japanese home islands, forcing Japan to send some forces north, away from where soldiers and Marines were killing them on other fronts.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

U.S. Army soldiers fight at Bougainville in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Feb. 29, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

5. Island hopping towards The Philippines

During the island hopping campaign back across the Pacific in 1944, the Army actually played a huge role. The Army almost single-handedly took three beaches simultaneously on April 22 on New Guinea, capturing key airfields there within days. On May 18, they took Wakde Island and its airfield. Nine days later, they hit Biak Island, a fierce fight that continued until August 20 as the Japanese repeatedly reinforced the island.

These island assaults also tied up Japanese naval assets, reducing the pressure on Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s forces until Japan decided to protect the Marianas at all costs, withdrawing their fleet from fighting Army units ashore and sending it North to the Mariana Islands where the Navy achieved one of its greatest victories at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division soldiers at Baleta Pass on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 1945.

(U.S. Army)

6. Recapturing The Philippines

On October 20, 1944, the Army landed four divisions at once in an effort to retake Leyte, one of the major islands in the Philippines. The Army’s efforts were mostly aimed at retaking the Philippines, but it was hoped that, as the Army put pressure on Imperial Japanese land forces, it would force the Japanese Navy into another decisive engagement which Nimitz would, hopefully, win.

What resulted was a fierce land and sea battle October 23 to 26, during which Army forces were fighting bitterly for every yard of ground with limited naval support as the fleets fought each other tooth and nail. It was touch and go for a bit, but the U.S. was eventually victorious on land and at sea, liberating the Philippines and effectively eradicating the bulk of remaining Japanese naval forces.

After this large offensive, the Army took part in the capture of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, but it was predominantly a Marine show. The Army was slated for a huge role during the invasion of the Japanese home islands, but the surrender of Japan following the dropping of two atomic bombs and the entrance of Russia into the Pacific Theater ended the war and the necessity of another amphibious assault.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 national military parades held by the US

There’s been plenty of buzz surrounding President Trump’s proposed military parade. As is par for the political course these days, there are plenty of people who argue for it — and just as many arguing against. Whether such a parade is good for the military, the United States, or the Trump Administration isn’t for me to decide, but what can be said completely objectively is that Trump is not the first sitting Chief Executive to want to throw such a parade.

As is often the case, the best thing to do before looking ahead is to look behind — let’s review the other times in history the United States has held a military parade, and what those celebrations did for our nation.


In the early days of the republic, it was very common for the Commander-In-Chief to review troops, especially in celebration of Independence Day. This tradition stopped with President James K. Polk, however. His successor, Zachary Taylor, did not review the troops on July 4th and the tradition fell by the wayside.

Since then, we’ve hosted parades only during momentous times. Each of the following parades celebrated either a U.S. victory in a war or the inauguration of a President during the Cold War (as a thumb of the nose at Soviet parades).

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

A sight for sore eyes. General Grant leans forward for a better view of the parading troops as President Johnson, his Cabinet, and Generals Meade and Sherman look on from the presidential reviewing stand. “The sight was varied and grand,” Grant recalled in his memoir.

(Library of Congress)

1. Grand Review of the Armies, 1865

Just one month after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the new President, Andrew Johnson, wanted to change the mood of the mourning nation, especially in the capital. Johnson declared an end to the armed rebellion and called for the Grand Review of the Armies to honor the American forces who fought the Civil War to its successful conclusion.

Union troops from the Army of the Potomac, Army of Georgia, and Army of the Tennessee marched down Pennsylvania Avenue over the course of two days. Some 145,000 men and camp followers walked from the Capitol and pat the reviewing stand in front of the White House. Just a few short weeks after the review, the Union Army was disbanded.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

US Marines march down Fifth Avenue in New York in September, 1919, nearly a year after the end of World War I. General John J. Pershing led the victory parade. A week later, Pershing led a similar parade through Washington, D.C.

2. World War I Victory Parades, 1919

A year after the end of World War I, General John J. Pershing marched 25,000 soldiers from the American Expeditionary Force down 5th Avenue in New York City, wearing their trench helmets and full battle rattle. He would do the same thing down the streets of Washington, DC, a little more than a week later.

Parades like this were held all over the United States, with varying degrees of sizes and equipment involved.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

A float carried a huge bust of President Franklin Roosevelt in New York on June 13, 1942.

3. The ‘At War’ Parade, 1942

In 1942, New York held its largest parade ever (up to that point) on June 13, 1942. For over 11 hours, civilians and government servants marched up the streets of New York City in solidarity with the American troops who were being sent to fight overseas in World War II.

4. World War II Victory Parades, 1946

When you help win the largest conflict ever fought on Earth, you have to celebrate. Four million New Yorkers came to wave at 13,000 paratroopers of the 82d Airborne as they walked the streets in celebration of winning World War II. They were given one of NYC’s trademark ticker-tape parades, along with Sherman tanks, tank destroyers, howitzers, jeeps, armored cars, and anti-tank guns.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Army tanks move along Pennsylvania Avenue in the inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 21, 1953.

5. Inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 

Fresh from a trip to the ongoing war in Korea, newly-minted President Dwight Eisenhower received a welcome worthy of a former general of his stature. Equally impressive was Ike’s inauguration parade. It was not just a celebration of the military’s best ascending to higher office, it was a reminder to the Soviet Union about all the hardware they would face in a global conflict with the United States.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

The Presidential Review Stand during Kennedy’s inaugural parade.

6. Inauguration of John F. Kennedy, 1961

Keeping with the Cold War tradition of showing off our military power during international news events, like a Presidential inauguration, President John F. Kennedy also got the military treatment, as his military procession also included a number of missiles and missile interceptors.

7. Gulf War Victory Celebration, 1991

President George H.W. Bush was the last U.S. President to oversee a national victory parade. This time, it was a review of troops who successfully defended Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and expelled Iraq from Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. The National Victory Celebration was held Jun. 8, 1991, in Washington and Jun. 9. in New York City — it was the largest since the end of World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about firing squads

Throughout history, executions have been controversial ways of punishing heinous crimes against individuals, institutions, and governments. From hangings to lethal injection, executions have spanned the gamut of cruelty and, at every point, there has raged a debate over the moral grounds of taking a life for justice.

Historically, one form of execution has been reserved for military personnel: the firing squad. The concept is elementary: a prisoner stands against a brick wall or study barrier and is gunned down by a handful of soldiers. It might sound simple, but there are a few things about this deadly punishment that you might not know


The final walk

Out of grim curiosity, we’ve watched several videos of firing-squad executions found in the war archives. We noticed that the majority of criminals sentenced to die conducted their last walks under their own accord. Although this was likely their last moment of life, criminals weren’t dragged to their position.

We thought that was interesting.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

A firing squad in Cuba.

The crimes committed

Throughout many parts of the world, if a troop or civilian was convicted of cowardice, desertion, espionage, murder, mutiny, or treason, they would be sent up in front of a firing squad as punishment.

That doesn’t happen too often today.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

What it’s like facing a Spanish firing squad without a blindfold.

Blindfolds

In many cases, the prisoner was blindfolded before stepping in front of his executioners. However, some requested the opportunity to face the men who were about to unload their barrels.

That’s pretty ballsy.

According to the Crime Museum, when the condemned person was able to look into the eyes of their executioners, it diminished their anonymity. This made the event stressful for the shooters who were following orders.

The firing squad

Once given the cue by a superior, each soldier pulled the trigger of their rifle simultaneously, resulting in a kill shot by multiple rounds.

In some cases, only a handful of the executioners were given live rounds. The rest would receive blanks. This way, nobody could know who, exactly, was responsible for the kill.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Ronnie Lee Gardner in the the courtroom

(National Public Radio)

The last use of a firing squad for a convicted criminal.

According to NPR, the last person to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer, Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010. While already faced with a murder conviction in Utah, Gardner attempted to escape and, in the process, killed an attorney.

Gardner’s conviction came through before the state abandoned the use of the firing squads in 2004. He elected to be killed this way.

Articles

How a new generation of Air Force pilots flew a mission for a fallen WW2 brother

On Dec. 23, 1944, 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson was killed in action when Nazi planes shot down his P-47 Thunderbolt. Carlson would be missing for almost 73 years until he was identified and buried with full honors at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Pennsylvania on Aug. 4, 2017.


When the “missing man” formation was flown, it was done by four F-35s.

The F-35s belonged to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, one of 23 assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, according to the wing’s official webpage. The 56th operates both F-35s and F-16s.

But long before it had the mission to train pilots on the Air Force’s newest multi-role fighter, the 56th Fighter Wing was a combat unit, as was its predecessor, the 56th Fighter Group.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson, who was killed in action when his P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down on Dec. 23, 1944. (USAF photo)

A July 28 release by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency noted that Carlson’s remains had finally been identified. It noted that Carlson’s wingman had believed that the pilot got out, but German officials had claimed his remains had been recovered near the crash site.

The release stated that Carlson would be returned to his family for burial. So, how did the F-35s end up flying the missing man formation?

Back in World War II, the 56th Fighter Group was known as the “Wolfpack,” which included the 62nd Fighter Squadron. Among the pilots who flew with that unit was the legendary Robert S. Johnson, a 27-kill ace who later wrote the book, “Thunderbolt!”

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Four F-35’s participated in a missing man formation fly-over during 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson’s funeral in Pennsylvania more than 70 years after being shot down over Germany in World War II when he was assigned to the 62nd FS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

According to an Air Force News Service report, it was because Carlson had been a member of the 62nd when he was killed in action. Squadron commander Lt. Col. Peter Lee had been browsing Facebook when he noticed the patch for the 62nd Fighter Squadron.

“I clicked on the link and that’s how I found out. It started with something as simple as a Facebook post…and next thing you know we’re flying four airplanes over and talking with the family,” he said.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
F-35 Lightning II fighters fly the missing man formation during the funeral of 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson. (Youtube Screenshot)

The F-35s flew the missing man formation for Carlson, led by Capt. Kyle Babbitt, who said, “If it had been me on the other side, I would really appreciate this for my family. It’s definitely an honor to take on this responsibility.”

You can see a video about this mission by the 62nd Fighter Squadron below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

British commandos blew up Nazi shipyards in this crazy daring op

In early 1942, things were finally starting to look up for the Allies in Europe. After the Miracle at Dunkirk, the British managed to regroup and deploy their forces elsewhere. The Blitz was over, and the English home islands were safe from invasion (for the time being). Most importantly, the Americans were in the war on the Allied side. The time was right to hit Nazi Germany where it hurt while making the North Atlantic just a little safer for the Royal Navy to operate.

The British set out to destroy the shipyards at St. Nazaire, France.


The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

An aerial view of the target.

The French port as St. Nazaire held one of the largest drydocks in the world. The legendary battleship Bismarck was on its way to St. Nazaire when the Royal Navy caught up to her and sunk her. Few other docks could accommodate ships of that scale. So to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, the British decided to destroy them with a daring commando raid. There was just one problem, the Special Operations Executive believed the mission would require more explosives than they could reasonably carry into the dock.

And all the Navy ships that could destroy the facility were too heavy to get into the Loire Estuary. So instead of using people or guns to destroy the complex, they decided to essentially make one giant floating bomb.

The British needed to destroy the facility’s dock, the water pumping machinery, and any U-boats or other shipping in the area. To get the men and explosives close enough to the facility and have enough to actually do the job, the SOE decided to strip a Royal Navy destroyer, making it light enough to slip into the estuary and up the River Loire. After stripping it for weight, the ship would be packed with explosives. The plan was for the commandos to board smaller ships and disembark. Once in the facility, they would set explosives elsewhere in the complex, then blow them up.

All of them, including the giant ship bomb.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

The convoy of two destroyers and 16 smaller craft left England and set sail for France on the afternoon of March 26, 1942. After capturing two French fishing boats, they all arrived off the coast of St. Nazaire around 9 p.m. and made their way into the port under a German naval ensign. That’s when the RAF began making a bombing run that was supposed to distract the German defenders, but it only served to make the Germans more suspicious. By the time the flotilla of English ships was coming in range of the target, they were challenged by the German navy.

In an instant, all the defenders’ searchlights and guns were pointed at the ships. The Germans began to rake the ship with incessant fire, even after the British surrendered. The German fire only increased, so now the British began to shoot back. The HMS Campbeltown, the ship that was laden with explosives, increased her speed.

At 1:30 a.m. the Campbeltown rammed the gates of the dockyard facility, driving the hull into the gate. The commandos finally disembarked as 5,000 German defenders scrambled to make sense of what was happening. Two assault teams, five demolition teams, and a mortar group all spread out into the complex. They moved quickly to take out the various workings of the drydock and the ships there, and they were largely successful, but the effort was not without casualties. The Germans managed to kill many of the raiders.

By this time, escaping back to the ships was not an option. The commando teams’ new orders were to escape back to England however they could and to only surrender if they ran out of ammunition. Most of them did. They attempted to piecemeal an escape to a nearby old town and into the outlying woods. They were quickly surrounded and captured by the Germans. Only five managed to make it back to Spain and thus, England.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

The Campbeltown wreck was still in the dry dock months later.

The Campbeltown didn’t explode right away. It remained lodged in the drydock gates for more than 24 hours as the Germans tried to make sense of the Allied raid. At noon on March 28, 1942, the charges exploded, completely destroying the drydock, along with two tankers moored there. It killed 360 Germans and knocked the drydock out for the remainder of World War II.

Some 169 British troops died in the effort, along with 215 taken prisoner. The Nazis lost two tugs, two tankers, and the drydock in this daring raid but the more strategic importance of the raid was less than welcome. Hitler began to double his efforts to fortify the Western coast of France. By the time D-Day came around in 1944, the new fortifications would cost the Allies dearly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the Nellis Air Base combined arms demonstration

The US government activated Nellis Air Force Base in 1941, though at the time it was called Las Vegas Army Airfield. It served as a base for gunnery training during World War II. The name change to Nellis Air Force Base didn’t come until 1950, dedicated to fallen World War II fighter pilot Lieutenant William Harrell Nellis. Today, Nellis is home to military schools and has more squadrons than any other US Air Force Base. 

An air show you don’t want to miss

Perhaps this is why the Nellis Combined Arms Demonstration, Aviation Nation, is an air show unlike any other. Aviation Nation is the base’s annual open house. Its inventory of aircraft is so diverse that the air show wouldn’t require help from any other base to jazz it up. 

In fact, during the show, every type of aircraft in the base hits the sky to perform what is known as a mock “combined arms” air combat situation. These include the aggressor F-16s, F-22s, F-35 and F-15E attack runs, a pilot rescue using A-10s and HH-60G Pave Hawks, low flybys, afterburners and flares. 

These are some of the world’s most advanced aircraft, and to say they are loud, especially flying all together, would be an understatement. People watching get to witness all the capabilities and missions the base takes on and it does not disappoint. 

Military aircraft sure aren’t cheap to fly 

If you’re curious, which if you know anything about Military aircraft, you might be, the Combined Arms Demonstration costs between $17,000 and $59,000 per hour to run. That means the half-hour show costs more each minute than any show you’ll find on the Las Vegas Strip. 

Only two Air Force Bases in the country include the use of flares, which is no doubt part of that huge cost. Aside from Nellis, Naval Air Station Fallon sometimes puts up flares. However, usually, it’s only Nellis that includes them. The show just wouldn’t be as grand without them. 

Come one, come all

The annual event is free and you don’t even have to be military to get it: it’s open to the public. Its purpose, aside from entertainment, is to showcase US Air Force Air Superiority capabilities, Combat Search and Rescue, and Close Air Support. It shows regular, non-military folks some of the important duties of the Air Force that they likely would never witness otherwise. 

Articles

This is why the F-4 Phantom II had so many fans

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice


As he slides his hands across the edges of the wings and walks from nose to tail, inspecting all aspects of the jet, a wave of emotion begins to hit Jim Harkins.

His weathered features appear calm and determined, but they hide the tears he is fighting back.

While he walks around the aircraft, he greets each maintainer and says, “Thank you.” Harkins rubs and taps the bulging nose of the QF-4 Phantom II, like an aged cowboy saying hello to a trusty steed, and then climbs into the cockpit.

“One last time,” Harkins says and the canopy closes around him.

For Harkins and the F-4, this is a day of lasts. For Harkins, it’s the last time he will fly for the Air Force and, for the Phantom, the last time it will take to the skies.

It’s their final flight.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Ground crew of 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 perform maintenance on a QF-4 Phantom, left, and its replacement, the QF-16, at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 20, 2016. The final variant of the Phantom II, the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was the QF-4 unmanned aerial target flown by the 82nd at Holloman AFB. Pilots of the 82nd flew the F-4 for the last time prior to a retirement ceremony for the storied aircraft on Dec. 21, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

“It’s not really sad, because in the military you get used to a lot of lasts, but it’s humbling,” Harkins said.

Harkins isn’t the only one feeling nostalgic and emotional about the aircraft affectionately referred to as “Old Smokey.” Hundreds of “Phantom Phixers,” “Phantom Phliers” and “Phantom Phanatics” gathered on the flightline at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, to watch the final F-4 flight.

Some used to work on the aircraft, some are just fans and others, like retired Col. Chuck DeBellevue, had the privilege of actually flying the fighter.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

DeBellevue flew the F-4 in Vietnam, where he had six confirmed kills – two against the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19 and four against the MiG-21, the most of any U.S. aviator during the war.

He’s not just saying farewell to an amazing machine, he’s saying goodbye to an old friend.

“A friend who got me home more times than I care to remember,” DeBellevue said. “Being back on the flightline today brought back a lot of memories, not all are good. I lost a lot of friends, but it was a great airplane. I loved to fly that airplane. It’s very honest and it got me out of a lot of tight spots during the war.”

DeBellevue recalls the Navy originally bought the F-4 to be a fleet interceptor and the Air Force bought it in 1963 to do everything – and it did do everything. It served as the primary air superiority fighter for both the Navy and Air Force, but it also served roles in ground-attack and aerial reconnaissance and, once taken out of active service, was designated the QF-4 where it flew as aerial targets.

The F-4 was a workhorse weapons system for the Air Force through the 1990s and it still hold the distinction of being the first multi-service aircraft. During it’s heyday, the F-4 set 16 speed and altitude records and demonstrated its effectiveness time and again throughout its lengthy career.

The Phantom looked cool doing it, too.

“You didn’t get into the F-4, you put it on, it became you,” DeBellevue said. “It was a manual airplane, not like an F-16 or F-15, they were aerodynamic and designed well. The F-4 was the last plane that looked like it was made to kill somebody. It was a beast. It could go through a flock of birds and kick out barbeque from the back.”

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

On the flightline at Holloman, the final flight of four F-4s prepare to take off for the last time. The engines rumble and smoke flies.

In his jet, Harkins looks over the crowd, dancing in the cockpit, revving up the on-lookers and saluting those in attendance. Everyone cheers as the final four F-4s begin their last taxi.

Harkins is first to pass the crowd, followed by pilots Eric “Rock” Vold, Jim “Boomer” Schreiner and finally Lt. Col. Ronald “Elvis” King, the last active duty F-4 pilot and commander of Det. 1, 82nd Aerial Target Squadron. Together these men will fly the Phinal Phlight demonstration before King officially retires the QF-4 program during a ceremony following the flight.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

“I don’t want to sound cheesy, but every time I get into the F-4 I can’t help but think of all the stories of all the pilots and all the maintainers who made this aircraft great,” King said. “The history and the heritage to me is the biggest satisfaction of flying the airplane.”

King had no concept when he became the squadron commander he would be the last active duty pilot. It didn’t really set in until he and Harkins began taking the F-4 on a farewell tour during to air shows and aviation expos last year. King felt obligated to take the F-4 on the road, to give admirers the chance to see it, touch it and share their stories one last time. It was then he realized this tour piloting the F-4 would be something special.

“It’s going to be sad to shut those engines down for the last time, but she’s served our country well,” King said of the F-4. “It’s exciting too, because our mission is to provide full scale aerial targets and we are going to be able to do that now with an airplane that’s better suited, provides higher performance and is more representative of the threats we face today in the QF-16.”

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Two McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 steak over the flightline during the final military flight of the storied aircraft at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 21, 2016. The F-4 Phantom II entered the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1963 and was the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The F-4 flew bombing, combat air patrol, fighter escort, reconnaissance and the famous Wild Weasel anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. The final variant of the Phantom II was the QF-4 unmanned aerial targets flown by the 82nd at Holloman AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

King said it was getting more and more difficult to keep the F-4’s in the air, and the only reason the QF-4 lasted as long as it did was because of the maintainers of the 82nd ATS.

Unfortunately, he says, there is no longer a need for the F-4. All remaining aircraft will be de-militarized at Holloman and used as ground targets at the White Sands bombing range.

King says most people don’t like to hear the fate of the last F-4s, and he understands, but it’s too costly to maintain as a heritage piece or to preserve them for museums.

“At the end of the day, the Air Force isn’t real sentimental,” King said. “It will have a warrior’s death.”

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Engines roar and a flume of dust and smoke signals to the crowd the final four F-4s are off. The first two jets, piloted by King and Schreiner take off in a two-ship formation. Harkins follows in the third position and Vold in fourth. The last two jets perform an unrestricted climb, staying low to the ground in afterburner before pulling into a vertical climb at the end of the runway. The crowd goes crazy.

The sound of the F-4 is distinct. As Harkins passes over the crowd in a low-altitude turn it sounds like the jet is ripping the sky.

Multiple passes are made in four-ship, two-ship and stacked formations over the crowd of hundreds in attendance. Camera shutters clicking at a furious pace can be heard down the tarmac.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
A McDonnell Douglas QF-4 Phantom II of the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron Detachment 1 steaks over the crowd gathered to witness the final military flight of the storied aircraft at Holloman AFB, N.M., Dec. 21, 2016. The F-4 Phantom II entered the U.S. Air Force inventory in 1963 and was the primary multi-role aircraft in the USAF throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The F-4 flew bombing, combat air patrol, fighter escort, reconnaissance and the famous Wild Weasel anti-aircraft missile suppression missions. The final variant of the Phantom II was the QF-4 unmanned aerial targets flown by the 82nd at Holloman AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

Out of nowhere, the sky cracks open and multiple booms shake the ground, buildings and cars, setting off alarms across the base. The concussions signal the F-4s going supersonic high above.

Harkins swoops down out of the sky passing over the crowd multiple times, and makes his final approach. As his wheels touch back to Earth, Harkins enters the history books as the last pilot to fly 1,000 hours in the F-4.

“I can’t imagine a better way to go out than with the F-4, it’s a special moment and a special jet and then … done,” Harkins said. “Although I flew F-16s and I went down to the F-4, but I consider myself going out on top.”

As climbs down from his jet he’s doused with water from his comrades and sprayed with champagne. In the distance, King lands his F-4 and with the front landing gear touching the asphalt, the history books close on the aircraft’s legacy.

But while the Phantom’s time in the sky may be over, the tales of its exploits are far from done. For those who flew the F-4, there is always time to wax poetic about the good ‘ole days, tearing across the wild blue yonder on “Old Smokey.”

AirmanMagazineOnline, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germans helped U.S. troops save this Austrian castle during WWII

Called “the strangest battle of World War II” is the Battle of Castle Itter. Staged at a beautiful Middle Ages-era structure in the Austrian Alps came a fight like we’ve never seen — when the Americans and Germans fought for a common goal. Despite being enemies in WWII, these sides teamed up in order to help save recently released French prisoners, as well as this longstanding castle. 

The battle included military forces from: the U.S.’s 12th Armored Division, Wehrmacht soldiers who had defied orders and remained in Austria, along with the former prisoners of war from France. Together the group fought against the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, a German Waffen-SS division, who attacked Castle Itter, or Schloss Itter, in North Tyrol. 

The castle during WWII

As early as 1940, Germany took control of Castle Itter with an official lease with the structure’s owner, Franz Grüner. However, in 1943, Germany took it forcefully, turning it into a prison camp by April of that year. It was managed by nearby administrators of the Dachau concentration camp. 

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Entrance room of Schloss Itter, 1979 (Steve J. Morgan, Wikimedia Commons)

Castle Itter is notable for housing valuable or high-profile prisoners from France, including prime ministers, military hierarchy, and even a tennis star. Other prisoners were also held at the camp, including those who were brought in strictly for labor. This combination is said to have helped the castle remain in working order while providing a leg up in potential negotiations, citing high-profile prisoners as leverage.

The battle begins

On May 3, 1945, the prison’s commander, Sebastian Wimmer, sent a prisoner on an errand. Wimmer penned a letter in English asking for help and directed the prisoner to hand it to the first American they saw. The prisoner did not return, and Wimmer, fearing for his own life, abandoned the castle, with SS guards also leaving post shortly after. This allowed for prisoners to take control of the building, using remaining weapons to arm themselves. 

The following day, American forces were scheduled to come in and perform a rescue mission on the prisoners and the castle itself. However, unaware of these events, the French prisoners sent another messenger for help. By bicycle, their messenger reached the Austrian resistance, which was made of “roaming Waffen-SS troops.” These soldiers had ignored their order to retreat and instead, formed their own resistance. 

By having asked both sides for help, on May 4th, Americans and Germans alike fought alongside one another to the castle’s freedom. Despite heavy fire and a small team of soldiers, they won and sent the French prisoners home. 

Takeaways from the battle

American leader, Captain John. C. “Jack” Lee was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. However, Josef “Sepp” Gangl, leader of the Austrian resistance was killed in the battle from a sniper shot. He was attempting to move the French Prime Minister from shooting range when he was shot with a rifle. Gangl was named as a national hero in Austria, and a street was named after him in Wörgl.

Further adding to the strangeness of the war, it was fought only days before Germany surrendered. This meant that the then-free prisoners of war returned home after the war had ended, due to the length of time it took to return to France. Even though they were freed while WWII was still ongoing.

Want to learn more? A book, The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe, by Stephen Harding was released in 2013. Harding, a historian, details the events of the battle and its effect on history. A French film company picked up the rights but has yet to release a date for its adaptation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

US hero Pappy Boyington was on ‘To Tell the Truth’

To Tell the Truth has made a bit of a comeback lately, airing on ABC and hosted by Anthony Anderson. But did you know the show’s earlier run featured one of the top heroes of the United States Marine Corps?


The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

We’re talking about Colonel Gregory Boyington, better known as “Pappy.” Boyington’s reputation as an ace is beyond question: He had 28 kills, making him the “ace of aces” for the United States Marine Corps. His exploits even hit the small screen in the 1970s with the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Robert Conrad as Pappy Boyington (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout his career, Boyington wasn’t exactly the most ideal officer, but he did have natural skills as a fighter pilot. Consequently, he was among those recruited to join the American Volunteer Group slated to fight for China against Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Boyington flew missions with the Flying Tigers, scoring six kills.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

According to a Marine Corps biography, his nickname came from the fact that at 31 — older than most of the pilots he commanded. Boyington would go on to lead VMF-214, a squadron that would be called “The Black Sheep,” given their motley nature. VMF-214 soon became a terror for the Japanese.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Advancing platoons of Marines, including bazookamen, flamethrowers, automatic riflemen, and sharpshooters find low-flying Marine “Corsair” fighter-bombers flying to their aid. (Photo from Smithsonian)

While the pilot episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep featured Boyington’s squadron luring the Japanese by posing as unescorted bombers (shades of Operation Bolo, a masterpiece pulled off by Robin Olds, another World War II ace), Boyington did once actually taunt Japanese pilots into a fight over Kahili (near where Isoroku Yamamoto was shot down) — and the Black Sheep racked up 20 kills with no losses.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Boyington was shot down on Jan. 3, 1944. In typical fashion, he downed two enemy planes before they shot his Corsair down. He survived internment at the Otami prison camp, which also held Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane, the CO of USS Tang (SS 306). After his appearance on the episode of To Tell The Truth (shown below), Boyington released his memoirs, entitled Baa Baa Black Sheep. He died in 1988.

(Kyle Cowden | YouTube)
Articles

Here’s how ‘Taps’ got its name

Everyone who has attended a military function or visited a base has heard the “Taps” melody fill the air.


Traditionally performed live on a bugle or trumpet, “Taps” is one of the more popular songs, and one that tends to quiet spectators as they solemnly bow their heads.

But few people know the history behind the song or the patriotic meaning behind the lyrics.

Related: This man honors the military by playing ‘Taps’ for his neighbors every day

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
Chief Musician Guy L. Gregg, plays taps during a Memorial Day service at Brookwood American Cemetery.
(Photo by MC2 Jennifer L. Jaqua/Released)



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According to the VA, present-day “Taps” is believed to be a rendition of the French bugle signal, “Tap Toe” which stems from a Dutch word that means to shut or “tap” a keg. The most noted revision we know today was created by Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield during the American Civil War to alert soldiers to discontinue their drinking and remind them to return to garrison.

In July of 1862, Butterfield thought the original French version “L’Extinction des feux” was too formal and began to hum an adaption to his aide, who then transcribed the music to paper and assigned Oliver W. Norton, the brigade bugler, to play the notes written.

It wasn’t until 12 years later when Butterfield’s musical creation was made the Army’s officially bugle call. By 1891, the Army infantry regulated that “Taps” be played at all military funeral ceremonies moving forward.

Today, the historic song is played during flag ceremonies, military funerals, and at dusk as the sun lowers into the horizon during “lights out.”

Lyrics

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.
Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.
While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Iranian fanatics tried to spark a war with the US during Desert Storm

In 1991, the United States and its coalition allies scored a decisive victory over Iraq, pushing the invading army out of Kuwait after a 40-day air war and 100-hour ground assault. The coalition was almost universally recognized, only Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, and Tunisia opposed to action. Also in support was Iran, enemy to both Iraq and the United States. But deep within the most fanatical ranks of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a plot was hatched to hit U.S. troops.


During the buildup to Desert Storm in the waning days of 1990, the United States was sending thousands of troops, vehicles, ships, and aircraft into the region. They were building a force that could rival Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army, prevent it from moving further than Kuwait (namely, from invading neighboring Saudi Arabia), and have enough troops to push it out of Kuwait.

What a tempting target such a buildup would be to any foe. That’s exactly what a faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards thought. The United States wouldn’t even expect an attack from Iran. It would have been easy.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
But not “Re-Enlisting on the Backs of Your Fallen Enemy” Easy.

The whole purpose of the Revolutionary Guards is to deter foreign threats to the Islamic Republic, whether those threats come from outside Iran or are fomented within its borders. They are a sort of internal security service mixed with a paramilitary organization that can operate both in and outside their home country. They are the Islamic Republic’s most fervent defenders, believers in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of a nation founded on the principles of Shia Islam.

In practice, their ideological zeal has given IRGC units the green light to do whatever it takes to keep Iran and its Islamic government safe from those who would dismantle it. This includes violence, terrorism, and even all-out war alongside Iranian allies. It was the IRGC that helped Iran fight technologically superior Iraq to a draw in the Iran-Iraq War. That war also led to the emergence of the IRGC as a major military and political force in Iran. So, when the United States launched Desert Shield, the IRGC took notice.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
It was kinda hard to miss.

As the tens of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops massed in Saudi Arabia, units of a rebellious faction of the Revolutionary Guards, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s son, Ahmad, attempted to launch missile attacks from Iran on the troops deploying to Saudi Arabia. The goal, according to a 2008 paper by IRGC expert Ali Alfoneh in Middle East Quarterly, was to start a war between the United States and Iran on the eve of Desert Storm.

Loyalist Guardsmen and regular Iranian Army units under the command of then-IRGC Chief Mohsen Rezai got wind of the plan. It was to be launched from Khorramshahr, an Iranian city on the Iraqi border near Kuwait. Khorramshahr was the site of a particularly bloody battle of the Iran-Iraq War, a fight hard won by Iranian forces. It was also the site of an IRGC-controlled missile battery – which was quickly captured by the loyalist Iranian regime forces.

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice
“Khorramshahr” is also the name of one of Iran’s newest long-range ballistic missiles.

Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, but his legacy protected his mutinous son. Ahmad Khomeini, considered his father’s right hand man, was relieved of his Revolutionary Guards command and was sent to live in isolation until his death in 1995. The 49-year-old cleric died of a mysterious heart disease while still living an isolated life.

The United States went on to victory over Iran’s former adversary, humiliating Saddam Hussein and forcing the Iraqi regime to accept harsh economic sanctions and military limitations until the U.S. came back to topple it in 2003. Iran’s patience paid off with the recent instability in Iraq allowing the Islamic Republic to project power across the Middle East.

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