Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

The names Elmer Keith, Jeff Cooper, and Jack O’Connor are legend in the shooting world. If you Google “famous gun writers,” they’re among the top results. If you scroll a good ways, you’ll come to a fella named Ed McGivern. The only thing he ever wrote of note is a tough-to-find book called Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting, published in 1938. However, a lot of police officers and federal agents across the US back in the 1930s knew McGivern well from the training they received from this one-time trick shooter and legendary pistol expert.

When it came to pistol shooting, especially revolvers, there were few who wielded a hand cannon with more speed and skill than McGivern. His shooting feats were nothing short of superhuman: The man clearly had eyesight and reflexes that were far keener than the average person’s. The fantastical shooting and quick-draw abilities of fictional pistoleers were present in the very real-life McGivern, though he didn’t exactly cut the typical figure of a gunslinger. At just 5-foot-6, he was a small, barrel-shaped man who was the fastest gun on the planet during the years between the two world wars.

A traveling trick shooter

McGivern bolstered his income performing as a trick shooter in the 1920s and ’30s, traveling all over the United States to put on astonishing displays for giddy crowds. He routinely shot at an assortment of stationary and airborne targets, like clay pigeons and lead disks the size of a quarter. You want to really understand how good McGivern was? Go to a safe shooting area, throw a tin can in the air, and see if you can draw and hit it before it lands on the ground. Unless you’re Jerry Miculek or Julie Golob, you probably didn’t even get close.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Jerry Miculek is widely regarded as the fastest and most proficient speed shooter in the world, and he’s beaten several long-standing records set by trick shooter Ed McGivern. Photo courtesy of reddit.

McGivern could hit the can six times before it hit the dirt, on the draw. He could also throw playing cards in the air and cut them in two, edgewise, with a bullet. He could hit two aerial targets with two revolvers at the same time. Like I said, he was superhuman.

He set a revolver world record while on tour in 1932 that remains unbroken to this day and got him into the Guinness Book of World Records, until Guinness removed all shooting records a few years ago. McGivern fired two consecutive, five-shot groups from a revolver at a distance of 15 feet that “could be covered by a half-dollar piece” in a blinding 0.45 seconds (as clocked by shot timer). The diameter of a half-dollar was a hair over 1.2 inches. 

But this pistol prodigy went largely unnoticed for much of his life, working primarily as a sign painter in the small Montana town where he lived for 30 years.

Changing gigs

Unfortunately, arthritis eventually put an end to McGivern’s trick shooting career in his late 50s, so he decided to travel around and spread his knowledge instead of entertaining folks. 

He worked with law enforcement personnel all over the country. He taught marksmanship to police officers and federal agents from various LE agencies, including at the FBI’s training headquarters in Quantico, translating his exhibition-shooting experience into practical skills that focused on putting a lot of rounds on a target, accurately and quickly, under varying circumstances. At the time, most law enforcement in the US were still carrying double-action revolvers, McGivern’s specialty.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

He started his trick shooting career using semi-auto handguns but realized he could shoot quite a bit faster with double-action revolvers. If there’s any doubt this is generally true, check out Miculek firing 12 shots from a revolver in under three seconds back in 1999. 

When it came to training law enforcement, McGivern taught them how to shoot fast and accurately at close targets, but he was a firm believer that a .357 Magnum revolver, with proper technique, could be used to effectively engage man-sized targets with repeatable accuracy at distances of 600 yards. He preferred to use a gun outfitted with a small-diameter rear aperture sight with a gold bead front sight for this kind of shooting, though he experimented with various peep sights and telescopic scopes.

In fact, McGivern was friends with Elmer Keith and was instrumental in creating the earliest magnum revolver cartridges. While Keith was (most likely) integral to the creation of the .357 Magnum, he ultimately went on to deride it when he developed the .44 Special into what would become the .44 Remington Magnum, a superior cartridge in his mind. McGivern, on the other hand, believed the .357 Mag was the ultimate revolver cartridge and devoted a whole lot of his time and effort to pushing the round to its limits with what would have been considered a service revolver at the time, both in terms of speed and close- and long-range accuracy.

Time has proved that McGivern may have ultimately been correct in his assessment of the .357 Magnum. Despite Keith’s proselytizing, the .44 Mag was always considered too overpowered for law enforcement use, while many departments and agencies adopted .357 wheelguns as replacements for or as an alternate option to .38 Special revolvers.

Today, despite a foray into use of the more powerful .40 S&W for semi-autos, the 9 mm chambering, with modern ammunition, reigns supreme in the LE and military worlds—and the characteristics of a 9 mm +P cartridge are more similar to a .357 load than they are to a .44 Mag. Perhaps McGivern was more on the money because he focused on volume of fire and LE applications, whereas Keith was more hunting focused.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Ed McGivern stands with officers of the Lewistown Police Department. Following his exploits as a trick shooter, McGivern trained the police department, the Fergus County Sheriff’s officers, the Montana Highway Patrol, and later the FBI, on firearms techniques. He did this free of charge. Screenshot from mtmemory.org.

The feats

Here’s a quick list of some of McGivern’s most famous shots with a double-action revolver. Think you could pull off any of them?

  • Hang a target, like a clay pigeon or lead quarter, from a string. Cut the string with the first shot, and hit the falling target with a second before it hits the ground.
  • String up three clays, one stationary, and set the other two swinging back and forth so they cross in front of the stationary target. Break all three clays with a single shot.
  • Drop a coin from shoulder height, and with the same hand, draw and fire as many shots as possible before the coin lands. (McGivern could fire two to three shots.)
  • Lay 10 revolvers on a bench with five rounds loaded in each. Proceed to shoot them in succession in double action for a total of 50 rounds in less than 21 seconds, with no misses on the target. McGivern could also do this with 20 guns, 100 shots, and 47 seconds.
  • McGivern did this reaction-time display with real guns and blanks, but if you want to try it, definitely use airsoft guns, safety glasses, and protective clothing. Face an opponent who is holding an aimed, cocked airsoft revolver at about 5 yards. Draw and fire from a regulation holster before your opponent can pull the trigger.
  • Balance two clays on top of each other with their edges facing the shooter. Break the bottom clay with the first shot, and break the top one with the second before it hits the bench.
  • Throw a target in the air, have a friend toss you a pistol, and hit the target before it hits the ground.
  • Shoot a 5-inch bull’s-eye pasted on a 24-inch square of plywood that’s tossed in the air at distances of 25 to 50 yards.
  • Draw, fire, and score a lethal hit on a man-sized target 15 to 18 feet away in 0.4 seconds or less. McGivern set a one-time record with this often repeated mainstay.

McGivern died on Dec. 12, 1957, at the age of 83 in Butte, Montana.

Jerry Miculek is one of the most remarkable competition shooters of our day, and it’s a privilege to see him shoot in person, as I imagine it must have been to see McGivern put on one of his trick-shooting displays.

Miculek has broken several of McGivern’s long-standing records, but there’s one he can’t beat. When Miculek tried to top the record of 10 shots in 0.45 seconds, he couldn’t score a better time than 0.57 seconds. McGivern set that record back in 1932 when he was 57 years old — and if Miculek can’t beat it, I don’t know who can.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy almost blew up the President of the United States

If you mess up just one glorious time in the U.S. military, your friends and peers will never let you forget it. It’s always been this way, even in World War II. From November 1943 until she was lost in 1945, the destroyer USS William D. Porter was greeted by home ports and other U.S. Navy ships with: “Don’t shoot, we’re Republicans!” That’s what happens when you almost assassinate the President.


Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

Yes, that President.

In 1943, the USS Iowa was ferrying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, along with the top brass of the entire United States military in the middle of the biggest, most dangerous war ever. It was a very special, important mission. They were on their way to meet their Allied counterparts in Cairo and Tehran, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.

The whole thing was almost derailed by one torpedo fired at the Iowa, by a destroyer in the Iowa’s own convoy, the William D. Porter. And it was a fast-running, powerful 500-pound torpedo.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

“Whoops.”

The Porter was a hard-luck ship that hadn’t even seen combat yet. As she left Norfolk, she scraped the side of her sister ship, almost tearing her apart. While on convoy duty crossing the Atlantic, one of her depth charges slipped out of its hold and detonated, sending the convoy into a tizzy. Later, a large wave washed everything on the destroyer’s deck into the ocean, including a sailor that was never found. Once things calmed down a bit, the crews settled in for some target practice as the President watched on.

The Iowa launched target balloons, which the ships fired at in turn, including the Porter. Next, the skipper of the Porter ordered torpedo practice with Iowa as the target. But when the simulated order to fire a torpedo accidentally launched an armed torpedo, the bridge understandably flipped out.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

Yes, that USS Iowa.

Under strict radio silence to avoid attracting German u-boats, the crew of the Porter began to furiously signal Iowa. Unfortunately, in their haste, they mentioned nothing about a torpedo, instead telling the battleship that the destroyer was backing up at full speed. Eventually, they radioed the Iowa anyway. After a brief disagreement about radio procedures, the huge battleship moved out of the way of the oncoming torpedo, which exploded in the wake of the battleship, with President Roosevelt aware of the torpedo and watching it come.

The guns of the battleship turned on the William D. Porter. The ship was ordered to make its way to Bermuda, its entire ship’s company under arrest. It was surrounded by U.S. Marines when it arrived in Bermuda. The crew was dismissed to landward assignments, and its skipper was sentenced to 14 years in prison – a sentence President Roosevelt commuted to no punishment because he considered it an averted accident.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

The “WIllie Dee” sinks in the Pacific, June 1945.

The destroyer itself would go on fighting the war while continuing its hard luck, accidentally shooting down American planes and strafing her sister ship with gunfire. In June 1945, a Japanese kamikaze pilot who missed his initial target sank into the sea next to the Porter. It exploded directly underneath the ship, however, and sent her to the bottom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This old fort is supposedly haunted by a condemned Confederate bride

Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.

Also, the black, ghostly spirit of a dead Confederate bride.


Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.

One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.

Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.

It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 10 most important tank battles in history

The tank is one of the most important weapon systems on the battlefield. Few weapons strike enemy soldiers with the fear that a fully loaded tank rolling towards them does.

After their trial by fire on the fields of Europe in World War I, tanks have become a necessity for any army that wants to be considered a serious foe.

In the one hundred years since its invention, tanks have been the winning factor in a number of battles. Entire wars have depended on their successful use.


Take a look at how 10 of the biggest tank battles in history went:

Battle of Cambrai: November 20 – December 8, 1917

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
A Mark IV (Male) tank of ‘H’ Battalion, ‘Hyacinth’, ditched in a German trench while supporting 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment near Ribecourt during the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917.

The Battle of Cambrai was the first time tanks were used on a large scale for a military offensive. The objective was to take the commune of Cambrai, an important supply point for the Germans at the heart of the Hindenburg Line, in order to reduce the pressure on the French.

Nineteen British divisions were assembled for the battle, including 476 tanks and five horsed cavalry divisions.

The initial attack on November 20th was met with huge success. The British had torn through four miles of German defenses and captured up to 7,500 prisoners with low casualties.

But by the end of the day, more than half of the tanks were out of action due to mechanical failure. The German Army launched a massive counterattack, and brutal trench warfare ensued.

By the end of the battle, almost all the British gains were lost, over 100 tanks were lost or destroyed, and both sides suffered around 40,000 casualties each.

Battle of Hannut: May 12 – 14, 1940

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Two destroyed French SOMUA S35s and an artillery piece being inspected by German soldiers, May, 1940.

The Battle of Hannut was fought during the Battle of Belgium, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries. It was part of the Wehrmacht’s thrust into the Ardennes region, and was meant to tie down the French First Army.

It was both the largest tank battle of the campaign, and the largest battle in armored warfare history at the time. Over 600 German tanks and 25,000 soldiers squared off against 600 French and Dutch armored vehicles and around 20,000 soldiers.

The battle was technically inconclusive. Some of the French First Army was able to fight their way through the Germans to reunite with their British comrades at Dunkirk, but they had lost well over 100 of their tanks and armored vehicles.

German losses were much lighter, with only around 50 tanks lost. While the French SOMUA S35 tank was considered as one of the best at the time, German tactics and communication technology made the Wehrmacht better.

Battle of Raseiniai: June 23 – 27, 1941

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
An abandoned Soviet A KV-2 tank, June, 1941.

The Battle of Raseiniai was a large tank battle fought at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The battle was fought in Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union’s Northwestern Front.

Some 240 German tanks from the 4th Panzer Group were tasked with destroying almost 750 Soviet tanks of the 3rd and 12th Mechanized Corps.

Despite their numerical advantage over the Wehrmacht, the result of the battle was an utter catastrophe for the Soviets. Some 700 Soviet tanks and their crews — almost the entirety of the Soviet Union’s deployed mechanized units on the Northwestern Front — were destroyed, damaged, or captured.

A large part of the German victory was due to their use of airpower. The Luftwaffe was unchallenged during the battle, and the close tank formations of the Soviets were easy targets for Ju 88 aircraft.

Battle of Brody: June 23 – 30, 1941

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
A German infantryman near a burning Soviet BT-5 tank, June, 1941.

The Battle of Brody is the largest tank battle in history, according to some historians.

Also fought during the beginning stages of Operation Barbarossa, the battle saw some 1,000 German panzers of the 1st Panzer Group’s III Army Corps smash into 3,000 Soviet tanks from the six mechanized corps of the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies.

Again outnumbered, the Wehrmacht proved that superior training, tactics, communication technology, and air support make all the difference.

The exact number of casualties is not known, but estimates put Soviet tank losses at somewhere between 800 to over 1,000. The Wehrmacht also suffered heavy casualties, with anywhere between 200 to 350 tanks destroyed.

“This, in fact, is the biggest tank battle in World War II, and sparsely a word has been written on it,” according to David Glantz, a historian of the Eastern Front and Soviet military.

Second Battle of El Alamein: October 23 – November 11, 1942

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
A mine explodes close to a British artillery tractor as it advances through enemy minefields and wire to the new front line, October 1942.

The Second Battle of El Alamein saw two legendary generals, Britain’s Bernard Montgomery, and Germany’s Erwin Rommel — who was nicknamed the “Desert Fox” — fight for the fate of North Africa.

North Africa had been a battleground since Fascist Italy’s invasion of Egypt in 1940. Germany’s Afrikakorps had to step in to prevent their defeat in 1941, and were able to push the British all the way into Egypt.

They were stopped at the First Battle of El Alamein, which, though technically a stalemate, did prevent the Afrikakorps from rolling through the rest of Egypt, and by extension the Middle East.

Montgomery assembled a force for a counterattack, including around 190,000 men and over 1,000 tanks. Rommel commanded a force of 116,000 German and Italian soldiers, and 540 tanks.

After days of hard fighting in the Egyptian desert, Montgomery was victorious. Five hundred German and Italian tanks, almost all of Rommel’s force, were destroyed or captured.

With the Americans launching Operation Torch in November 1942, the tide against the Germans began to turn in North Africa.

Battle of Prokhorovka: July 12, 1943

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Panzer IIIs and IVs on the southern side of the Kursk salient at the start of Operation Citadel, July 1943.

The Battle of Prokhorovka took place during the larger Battle of Kursk. It was long thought to be the largest tank battle in history, but according to the book Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943 by Valeriy Zamulin, a Russian military historian, that is not the case.

But that is not to say it was small or insignificant. The battle saw over 600 Soviet tanks from the 5th Guards Tank Army smash head on into around 300 German tanks from the II SS-Panzer Corps.

The fighting was some of the most intense in the history of armored warfare. The Soviets lost around 400 tanks, more than half of their force. German tank losses were smaller by comparison, up to 80 tanks and assault guns destroyed.

The Germans were unable to take Prokhorovka, and although it was not destroyed (the original goal of the Soviets), the II SS-Panzer Corps was exhausted, and prevented from continuing their offensive.

Thus, the momentum swung to the side of the Soviets, who eventually won the Battle of Kursk

Operation Goodwood: July 18 – 20, 1944

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Sherman tanks carrying infantry wait for the order to advance at the start of Operation ‘Goodwood’, 18 July 1944.

Operation Goodwood was a British offensive that was part of the Battle for Caen, one of the main inland targets that was part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The goal was to break through to Caen so that it could be liberated.

The British had mustered as many as 1,100 tanks for the battle. The Wehrmacht had only around 370 tanks at their disposal, but they included the fearsome Tiger and Tiger II tanks.

The battle did not go the way the British intended. Their casualties were 5,000 men and 250 to 300 tanks destroyed. German losses were 75 tanks destroyed, mostly by airstrikes.

Operation Goodwood did cause some controversy. Montgomery claimed that all the objectives were achieved and that the mission was a success. But the British had only managed to penetrate roughly seven miles or so East of Caen.

But Goodwood did draw valuable German tanks away from the Western part of Caen, where the Americans were making their push to the city.

Battle of Chawinda: September 17 – 22, 1965

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Indian soldiers in front of a destroyed Pakistani Sherman tank during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

The Battle of Chawinda was one of the largest tank battles fought since World War II. It was part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, fought over control of Jammu and Kashmir.

After the Pakistani Army’s attempt to foment an insurgency (Operation Gibraltar) was discovered and subsequently foiled, India retaliated with an outright attack along the Pakistani border.

The Indian military had planned to take the city of Sialkot, an important railway hub and central part of the Grand Trunk Road, so that they could use it as a beachhead for further operations into Pakistan.

But the Indian force of 80,000 to 150,000 soldiers and 230 tanks was met outside of their objective at Chawinda by a Pakistani force of 30,000 to 50,000 men and 132 tanks.

After more than a day of intense fighting, a UNSC resolution was signed and an unconditional ceasefire was implemented. India lost anywhere between 29 to 129 tanks, whereas Pakistan lost up to 44 tanks.

Battle of the Valley of Tears: October 6 – 9, 1973

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
Israeli troops fight off Syrian soldiers in the Golan Heights, the area was later named the Valley of Tears

The Battle of the Valley of Tears was fought between Israel and Syria during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The war had started on the holiest day in Judaism, when Syrian soldiers supported by 1,400 tanks crossed the border and invaded the Jewish state.

Just one Israeli armored brigade, roughly 100 or so tanks and armored vehicles stood in the way of the Syrian 7th Division, a force of 1,400 tanks, including 400 T-62s, at the time the most modern Soviet tank in the field.

The Israelis were manning British and American-made Centurion tanks, known for their good gunner sights. Unable to call in effective air support, the Israeli defenders dug in and fought off wave after wave of Syrian tank attacks.

Some Syrian tanks broke through, causing the Israeli tanks to turn their turrets backwards to destroy them. But one by one, the Israeli Centurions were knocked out.

But on the fourth day of the fighting, Israeli reinforcements arrived, and the Syrians were forced to withdraw. Almost all of Israel’s tanks were destroyed, but they gave far more than they got — Syrian armored vehicle losses were around 500, around 250 of which were tanks.

Battle of 73 Easting: February 26 – 27, 1991

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
An Iraqi Type 69 main battle tank burns after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm, February 28, 1991.

The Battle of 73 Easting saw American and British tanks go up against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Republican Guard Tawakalna Division. Saddam had been warning his people that the “mother of all battles” was on the horizon, and the battle of 73 Easting was certainly part of it.

The main part of the battle was fought between the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Iraq’s 18th Mechanized Brigade and 37th Armored Brigade.

The ensuing battle saw the Iraqi forces be completely decimated. Over 160 tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed, damaged, or captured by US forces. Up to 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded, and over 1,000 more were taken prisoner.

US losses were just six killed, 19 wounded, and one Bradley infantry fighting vehicle destroyed. Historian and author Rick Atkinson described the battle:

“Here could be seen, with almost flawless precision, the lethality of modern American weapons; the hegemony offered by AirLand Battle doctrine, with its brutal ballet of armor, artillery, and air power; and, not least, the élan of the American soldier, who fought with a competence worthy of his forefathers on more celebrated battlefields in more celebrated wars.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 hot facts about ‘Greek fire’

In the late seventh century, the Byzantine Empire faced a new kind of threat. After years of exhausting warfare with the Sassanid Persians, the Empire was caught off guard by the first Muslim conquests. Even the imperial capital of Constantinople was not safe. But in the 670s, a Syrian scientist named Kallinikos appeared with a new invention that could turn the tide in the Byzantines’ favor: Greek fire. Here are 5 facts about Greek fire to set your curiosity alight.

1. It was an incendiary weapon

“Greek fire” was actually a liquid mixture, one so flammable that supposedly it could even catch fire spontaneously. Greek fire was created for naval warfare, so the Byzantines could set their enemies’ ships on fire. The mixture was stored in jars and pots that could be launched at enemy ships, but the Byzantines found yet another means to weaponize it. The Empire learned to pressurize Greek fire and launch the mixture out of a set of tubes, like a flamethrower, at its enemies.

2. It even burned on water

Greek fire was not the first incendiary weapon in the ancient world. Flaming arrows had been used for centuries, as well as other flammable substances that could be thrown at or on the enemy. Most thermal weapons, however, were ineffective in water. Greek fire was different. One of the qualities that made Greek fire so devastating, especially in naval warfare, was that the liquid mixture would continue to burn even on water. This made Greek fire a must-have in naval battles, and the Byzantines exploited this weapon on the water for centuries.

byzantine greek fire

3. Its creation was a state secret

Emperor Romanos II once explained that there were three things the Empire must never allow to fall into the hands of its enemies: the imperial regalia, an imperial princess, and the recipe for Greek fire. His father, Constantine Porphyrogennetos, even argued that the recipe for Greek fire had been delivered to Constantine I, the founder of Constantinople, by an angel of God. The recipe was kept as a state secret for centuries, and all that time, not one of the Empire’s enemies was able to steal the recipe. Even though throughout the years Byzantine ships carrying Greek fire were captured by its enemies, none of them were able to replicate the mixture or figure out the Byzantines’ machines for weaponizing it.

4. It saved the Byzantine Empire

Greek fire was instrumental during the First Arab Siege of Constantinople between 674 and 678, when it helped repel the Muslim ships that surrounded the city. Only forty years later during the Second Arab Siege in 717, the Byzantines used Greek fire to decimate the Muslim fleet, defending the city for a second time. Throughout the Middle Ages the Byzantines used Greek fire against a variety of enemies, including the Saracens and the Slavic ancestors of the Russians. Even though their enemies were occasionally able to resist the effects of Greek fire, for as long as the Byzantines possessed this weapon, the Imperial navy was always a force to be reckoned with.

5. We still don’t know how it was made

In the year 1203, during the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders put Constantinople under siege. Despite this serious threat to the imperial city, no sources from the siege describe the use of Greek fire against the Crusaders. No one knows exactly why, but it seems that the use of Greek fire eventually disappeared, due either to the recipe being lost or the Empire losing access to the resources required to produce it. The Empire kept the secret to the grave; modern chemists have speculated about the recipe for Greek fire, but we have never been able to replicate it perfectly. Through Greek fire, like the Byzantine Empire itself, is no longer with us, it continues to burn bright in our imagination.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A ballsy arms dealer sold dud weapons to three sides of a conflict

You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”


It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.

In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.

By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.

Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.

The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.

None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers

How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.

For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.

Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.

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Here’s what US intelligence knew about Hitler in 1943

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Via Flickr


One of history’s most brutal tyrants was a diagnosed schizophrenic on a mission to avenge his childhood years of repressed rage, according to Henry Murray, an American psychologist and a Harvard professor.

In 1943, the US Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, commissioned Murray to study Adolf Hitler’s personality to try to predict his behavior. In his 229-page report, “Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler,” Murray described Hitler as a paranoid “utter wreck” who was “incapable of normal human relationships.”

“It is forever impossible to hope for any mercy or humane treatment from him,” Murray wrote.

After a frustrating childhood, Hitler felt obligated to exert dominance in all things.

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Bundesarchiv

Hitler suffered from intolerable feelings of inferiority, largely stemming from his small, frail, and sickly physical appearance during his childhood.

He refused to go to school because he was ashamed that he was a poor student compared to his classmates.

His mother appeased him by allowing him to drop out.

“He never did any manual work, never engaged in athletics, and was turned down as forever unfit for conscription in the Austrian Army,” Murray writes.

Hitler managed his insecurities by worshiping “brute strength, physical force, ruthless domination, and military conquest.”

Even sexually, Hitler was described as a “full-fledged masochist,” who humiliated and abused his partners.

Much of his wrath originated from a severe Oedipus complex.

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Hitler’s parents. | Wikimedia Commons

As a child, Hitler experienced the Oedipus complex — love of mother and hate of father — which he developed after accidentally seeing his parents having sex, Murray’s report says.

Hitler was subservient and respectful to his father but viewed him as an enemy who ruled the family “with tyrannical severity and injustice.” According to the report, Hitler was envious of his father’s masculine power and dreamed of humiliating him to re-establish “the lost glory of his mother.”

For 16 years, Hitler did not exhibit any form of ambition or competition because his father had died and he had not yet discovered a new enemy.

Hitler frequently felt emasculated.

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Bundesarchiv

Another blow to Hitler’s masculinity: He was “incapable of consummating in a normal fashion,” old sexual partners shared with Murray.

“This infirmity we must recognize as an instigation to exorbitant cravings for superiority. Unable to demonstrate male power before a woman, he is impelled to compensate by exhibiting unsurpassed power before men in the world at large,” he writes.

As mentioned, when Hitler did have sexual relations with a woman, he exhibited masochistic behaviors. Hitler was said to have multiple partners, but eventually married his long-term mistress, Eva Braun, hours before the two committed suicide together in his Berlin bunker.

He suffered from indecisiveness and collapsed under pressure.

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Wikimedia Commons

Even at the peak of his power, Hitler suffered from frequent emotional collapses from a guilty conscience.

“He has nightmares from a bad conscience, and he has long spells when energy, confidence, and the power of decision abandon him,” Murray writes.

According to Murray, Hitler’s cycle from complete despair to reaction followed this pattern:

• An emotional outburst, tantrum of rage, and accusatory indignation ending in tears and self-pity.

•Succeeded by periods of inertia, exhaustion, melancholy, and indecisiveness.

•Followed by hours of acute dejection and disquieting nightmares.

•Leading to hours of recuperation.

•And finally confident and resolute decision to counterattack with great force and ruthlessness.

The five-step evolution could last anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks, the report says

He was ashamed of his mixed heritage.

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Hitler speaks to Joseph Goebbels. | Bundesarchiv

Hitler valued “pure, unmixed, and uncorrupted German blood,” which he associated with aristocracy and beauty, according to Murray.

He offered the following explanation of Hitler’s contempt for mixed blood:

• As a boy of twelve, Hitler was caught engaging in some sexual experiment with a little girl; and later he seems to have developed a syphilophobia, with a diffuse fear of contamination of the blood through contact with a woman.

• It is almost certain that this irrational dread was partly due to the association in his mind of sexuality and excretion. He thought of sexual relations as something exceedingly filthy.

Hitler denied that his father was born illegitimately and had at least two failed marriages, that his grandfather and godfather were Jews, and that one of his sisters was a mistress of a wealthy Jew.

He focused his hatred on Jews because they were an easy target.

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Hitler marches to the Reichstag in Berlin in 1933. | Bundesarchiv

Murray explains that Jews were the clear demographic for Hitler to project his personal frustrations and failings on because they “do not fight back with fists and weapons.”

The Jews were therefore an easy and non-militarized target that he could blame for pretty much anything, including the disastrous effects after the Treaty of Versailles.

Anti-Semitic caricatures also associated Jews with several of Hitler’s dislikes, including business, materialism, democracy, capitalism, and communism. He was eager to strip some Jews of their wealth and power.

He was moody, awkward and received compliments on his eye-color.

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Marina Amaral

According to Murray’s report, Hitler received frequent compliments on his grayish-blue eyes, even though they were described as “dead, impersonal, and unseeing.”

He was slightly below average in height and had a receding hairline, thin lips, and well-shaped hands.

Murray notes that the merciless Nazi leader was known to offer a weak handshake with “moist and clammy” palms and was awkward at making small talk.

Sources say Hitler appeared to be shy or moody when meeting people and was uncoordinated in his gestures. He was also incredibly picky about his food.

Here’s Murray’s full report:

Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler by Amanda Macias on Scribd

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NORAD prepares to track Santa

We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.


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An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. These are some of the assets NORAD has available to ensure that Santa can carry out his Christmas Eve mission safely. (US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine)

This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.

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Col. Harry Shoup, the operations officer at NORAD on Dec. 24, 1955, answered a child’s wrong-number call and began the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa.(Courtesy photo from USAF.mil)

Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.

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Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) personnel conduct training in preparation for Santa tracking operations at their headquarters in Rome, N.Y. on Dec. 11, 2016. Pictured from front to back, are: Sgt. Thomas Vance of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a member of EADS Canadian Detachment; and Master Sgt. Michelle Gagnon, Master Sgt. Lena Kryczkowski (standing) and Master Sgt. Shane Reid, all members of the New York Air National Guard’s 224th Air Defense Squadron. (DOD photo)

The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.

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That time US sailors got a bounty for capturing a Nazi ship

Prior to America’s official entry into World War II, the U.S. Navy was involved in “short of war” operations against Nazi Germany. In some cases this involved escorting merchant ships that were steaming to help supply England.


Tensions between the U.S and Germany increased after a Nazi submarine fired on the destroyer USS Greer (DD 145).

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Theodore E. Chandler, the commanding officer of USS Omaha during the Odenwald incident. (US Navy photo)

But, as Samuel Eliot Morison pointed out in the “Battle of the Atlantic,” the U.S. was still operating under neutrality legislation. So, when they did stuff to Nazi vessels, they needed to have some legal grounds outside of a war declaration.

On Nov. 6, 1941, the light cruiser USS Omaha (CL 4) and the destroyer USS Somers (DD 381) were on patrol in the South Atlantic looking for a German raider. Two months had passed since the Greer had been fired on, and since then, the destroyer Kearny (DD 432) had been torpedoed and the destroyer USS Reuben James (DD 245) had been sunk.

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USS Omaha (CL 4) in 1943. (US Navy photo)

The Omaha and Somers then came across a ship claiming to be an American merchant vessel out of Philadelphia. The interaction with the vessel drew suspicions, and the Omaha, under the command of Capt. Theodore E. Chandler, ordered the vessel to stop. A boarding party came aboard just as scuttling charges went off. The boarding party kept the ship from sinking, and determined its true identity as the German blockade runner Odenwald.

The ship was taken to Puerto Rico, where the cargo – over 6,200 tons, including 103 truck tires and lots of rubber – and the vessel were sold off. According to Samuel Eliot Morison, the Navy justified the intercept by claiming that the Odenwald was a suspected slave trader.

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The Navy prize crew on board the Odenwald. Each of them received $3,000 in 1947. (US Navy photo)

In 1947, the Odenwald’s owners sued the Navy over the seizure. It didn’t pan out for them at all. The boarding party and prize crew assigned to the vessel, though, made out big-time: $3,000 each. Crew on board the Omaha and Somers got two months of pay and allowances.

That’s a prize worth as much as $34,000 today.

Chandler, though, never got that bonus. Although he was promoted to rear admiral, in January 1945, his flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Louisville (CA 28), was hit by kamikazes off Iwo Jima. While assisting in fighting fires, his lungs were badly injured, and he died of his wounds soon after.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 astonishing battles that came to be called ‘Turkey Shoots’

There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.


The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.

1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot

Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.

It was arguably a finer hour for Raymond Spruance than the Battle of Midway, when on June 19, 1944, the United States Navy shot down 219 out of 326 attacking Japanese planes. By the time the battle was over and done, Japan’s carriers had just 35 planes operational.

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Sailors aboard USS Birmingham (CL 62) watch the Marianas Turkey Shoot. (U.S. Navy photo)

1982: The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.

In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.

Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.

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Israeli Air Force

1991: Desert Storm

While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”

That was a large convoy of Iraqi tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one pilot labeled that a “turkey shoot.”

Trick shooter Ed McGivern used his legendary skills to train law enforcement officers
(USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman)

These one-sided fights still didn’t come without costs for the winners. But you have to wonder what the losing side was thinking when they started them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the 7 rules for fighting a ‘just war’

Countries go to war for a lot of reasons these days. Turkey invaded Syria to keep the Kurds from declaring it to be their homeland. The United States and The United Kingdom almost went to war over a pig. Some 2,000 people died in the fighting between two Italian states because someone stole a bucket. While those are all dumb, there are some good reasons to fight a war, and that’s what the “Just War” philosophers have been working on forever.


Over the years, a number of principles have been boiled down from the world of philosophy addressing the subject, as everyone from Saint Thomas Aquinas to NPR have produced their thoughts on the ethics of killing in uniforms. See if your favorite war fits the criteria!

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Get in losers, we’re gonna go liberate Kuwait.

It has to be a last resort.

The only way to justify the use of force is to exhaust all other options. If the enemy could be talked down from doing whatever it is they’re doing instead of fighting them to stop them by force, the war can’t be justifiable. In Desert Storm, for example, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein a time limit to remove his forces from Kuwait before bringing down the thunder, that just didn’t persuade Hussein.

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It must be declared by a legitimate authority.

Some countries have very specific rules about this. A war cannot be declared by just anyone. What may be egregious to one person or group may not apply equally to the country as a whole, and the rest of the world needs to recognize the need and the legitimacy of the actions taken as well as the authority of those who send their people to war.

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A just war is fought to right a wrong.

If someone attacks you out of the blue, you are completely within your right to defend yourself by any means necessary. If a country is seeking to redress a wrong committed against it, then war is justifiable. When the Japanese Empire attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was sufficient enough to send the United States to war.

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You have to have a shot at winning it.

Even if one country sucker-punches another or has good intentions in its decision to go to war, it’s not a justified war if that country cannot win it. If fighting a war is a hopeless cause, and the country is just going to send men to their deaths for no end, it cannot be morally justified.

It’s also kind of dickish to do that to your population.

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The goal of the war should be to restore peace.

If you’re going to war, the postwar peace you seek has to be better than the peace your country is currently experiencing. Of course, Germany thought going to war in World War II was a just cause. The Treaty of Versailles was really unkind to them. Does it mean they were allowed to kill off the population of Eastern Europe for living space? Absolutely not.

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You should only be as violent as you have to be to right the wrongs.

Remember, if you’re going to start a just war, you’re fighting to right a wrong, to redress a grievance. If you start the wholesale slaughter of enemy troops, that’s not a just war by any means. The violence and force used by one country against another have to be equal.

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Only kill the combatants.

It seems like a foregone conclusion that an invading force shouldn’t murder enemy civilians, but looking at history – especially recent history – it looks like that’s what it’s come to. A legitimate warrior only kills those on the enemy’s forces who are lawful combatants.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why there is no Cold War medal

The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.


 

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SF-88 Nike Missiles with Fort Cronkhite visible, circa 1959. (U.S. Air Force photo)

American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.

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Infographic: VFW Southern Conference

Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.

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Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade in 1983 (U.S. Army photo)

There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.

Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.

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Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.

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Cold War veterans Lynn Olson, 75, and Tom Cameron, 76, hold up Cameron’s Certificate of Recognition for his service in the U.S. Army.

Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the rank of General of the Armies was only given twice in US history

General of the Armies is a rank so high up in the strata of power that only two people in the history of the United States have ever attained it. Keep in mind: This is not General of the Army, it’s plural — all the Armies. Today, it is the equivalent of a six-star general with autonomous authority equal to the Admiral of the Navy, but senior to General of the Army, General of the Air Force, and Fleet Admiral.

How did one attain this an honor and the right to exercise complete control over our Armed Forces? Historically, you either win the War to End All Wars like John Pershing or be George Washington.


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How do you find the guy who went to West Point in a bar? Don’t worry, he’ll tell you.

John J. Pershing graduated West Point in 1886 and was assigned to the 6th Cavalry. In 1890, he went on campaign against the Ghost Dance movement in the Dakota Territory before becoming an instructor of military science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a year later. He earned a law degree while teaching there in 1893 and became a tactics instructor at West Point in 1897.

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Here is a quick timeline of his military career:

  • 1898 — Pershing returned to service in the Spanish-American War in Cuba as an ordinance officer.
  • 1899 (June) — Pershing was promoted to adjutant general in charge of the Bureau of Insular Affairs.
  • 1899 (November) — Pershing deployed to the Philippines in command of the department of Mindanao.
  • 1901 — Pershing campaigned against the Moros for two years.
  • 1905 — Pershing deployed to Japan as a military attache to the U.S. Embassy.
  • 1906 — Pershing is promoted from captain to brigadier general and returns to the Philippines as the governor of the Moro Province.
  • 1917 — Pershing becomes the commander of the U.S.-Mexican Border.
  • 1917 (April) — U.S. declares war on Germany.
  • 1917 (June) — Pershing is sent to France to gather a ‘General Organization Report’ used to create an Army of one million by 1918 and three million by 1919. US Army strength is 84,000 at the time.
  • 1918 — Pershing concentrates an army almost entirely independent of the allies on the Western Front.
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Don’t talk to me or my son ever again.

The allies strongly advised that the U.S. troops replenish their failing armies instead of marshaling our own in WWI. Allowing this to come to pass meant Americans would be used as cannon fodder during enemy attacks. Pershing strongly defended the idea of keeping the U.S. Army whole, regardless of the desperation of our European allies. The U.S. War Council gave into allied pressure and recommended the amalgamation of U.S. troops into other armies.

Pershing ignored the recommendation. He refused to sacrifice American lives and left the allies to suck it up. It was akin, as he put it, to…

“Pouring new wine into old bottles.” – John J. Pershing
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You’re all boots to me.

In 1919, recognizing his achievements and victory after World War I, Pershing became the first person to be promoted to General of the Armies. His insignia became four gold stars but, because of bureaucracy, they were not recognized as an official rank for years. He held this rank for the rest of his career. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History,

Pershing then retired from the United States Army on September 13, 1924, and retained his rank on the U.S. Army retirement rolls until his death in 1948.”

Years later, in 1976, Congress decided that it was inappropriate that General George Washington was outranked by four- and five-star generals in the nation’s history. Washington retired as a lieutenant ‘three-star’ general and was subsequently out ranked officers of the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, including General Pershing. Something had to be done. America could not allow George Washington to be out ranked — that’s borderline blasphemy — so they did something about it.

On March 13, 1978, Lieutenant General Washington was promoted to General of the Armies, effective July 4th, 1976.

Here’s the text of his posthumous, legislative promotion:

“Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list; Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”