The liberation of Sfax, Tunisia on April 10, 1943 was a joyous occasion for nearly everyone involved. The Allies gained an important Mediterranean port, the Tunisians in the city were liberated, and British Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery won a B-17 bomber from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
That last one may need some explanation.
Rommel retreats to the Mareth line
Montgomery had been fighting German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel for months in North Africa. Though the campaign was slowly succeeding, Rommel and his Italian allies were inflicting heavy casualties on the British. Britain wanted to increase forces in North Africa to keep Rommel off-balance. Meanwhile, the other Allied nations wanted to capture North Africa so they could begin invading Italy from the south.
So in late Oct. 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot. British tanks and other forces moved under cover of massive artillery barrages through minefields against dug-in German positions. By November 2, Rommel was in a rapid withdrawal east, sacrificing troops by the hundreds to try and keep his lines of retreat open.
The battles in North Africa raged back and forth as German reinforcements tried to hold the line. The Allied forces were slowly gaining ground, with Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and Montgomery both attempting to be the first to capture key cities, but Eisenhower wanted them to move faster.
Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Bedell Smith, was visiting Montgomery at his headquarters in the spring of 1943. Exact accounts of the conversation vary, but Montgomery asked about getting a B-17 for his personal use. Smith told Montgomery that if Montgomery captured Sfax by April 15, Eisenhower would give him whatever he wanted.
Smith reportedly meant it as a joke wager, but the notorious gambler Montgomery was serious.
Sfax falls and Montgomery gets his B-17
On April 10 — five days ahead of the deadline — Montgomery captured Sfax and immediately asked for payment. Eisenhower honored the bet and sent Montgomery a B-17 bomber and crew even though the bombers were needed for the war effort.
The event caused a strain between Eisenhower and Montgomery as well as between Eisenhower and Patton. Patton was incensed that a British general had a personal B-17 while he was struggling for rides or moving in convoys. Eisenhower was angry that Montgomery would actually accept a B-17 when they were needed to actually bomb targets.
Eisenhower mentioned it to Montgomery’s boss, Sir Alan Brooke, who berated Montgomery for crass stupidity. The plane was written off after a crash-landing a month later and never replaced.
A military unit losing its colors is pretty humiliating — maybe even as bad as losing a battle. But it probably feels pretty good to be the one who captures those colors. And American troops have captured a lot of enemy flags over the years.
While the Geneva Convention demands all POWs be allowed to keep their personal belongings and protective gear, a “war trophy” like a captured flag doesn’t really apply.
But even if troops decide not keep trophies like an enemy flag, that doesn’t mean they can’t snap a quick photo – just as many have before and will likely do for many wars to come.
1. Civil War
Union soldiers pose with Confederate flags that they captured in battle during the Civil War. Each was awarded a Medal of Honor for grabbing the enemy’s flag.
2. United States Expedition to Korea
3. Spanish-American War
4. Philippine-American War
5. U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag in Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps photo)
6. World War II
7. Korean War
8. Vietnam War
Sailors from SEAL Team One captured this flag during the Vietnam War, circa 1970. (NARA photo)
9. Invasion of Grenada
10. Invasion of Panama
11. The Iraq War
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rod Coffey holds the flag of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS, in Diyala Province, Iraq, 2008. (photo from Rod Coffey)
There are, of course, many other photos of American troops with captured enemy flags that we can’t post here. There are photos depicting joint U.S.-Afghan forces taking down a Taliban flag. Photographer Scott Nelson also took a photo of U.S. troops with a captured Iraqi flag during the 2003 Invasion.
If you do decide take a battlefield souvenir, be sure to fill out your DD Form 603-1.
After the North Koreans poured across the 38th Parallel in 1950, starting the Korean War, the United States rapidly responded. The 24th Infantry Division was ordered to quickly make their way to South Korea from Japan while American carriers began launching strikes to delay the Communist advance.
One of the first ground units to arrive was called Task Force Smith. According to official United States Army history, this unit eventually consisted of two under-strength companies of infantry, four 75mm recoilless rifles, four 4.2-inch mortars, half of a communications platoon, and a battery of six 105mm howitzers. Most importantly, this force would be the first “boots on the ground” to face the Communist hordes on the Korean peninsula.
Their mission was to delay the North Koreans, affording others the time to get spun up for combat.
As the unit moved toward battle, they were faced with all the signs that things might not go so well. American planes hit a number of supply dumps and installations controlled by friendly forces — one such incident killed over 200 South Korean troops. Meanwhile, some of the C-54 Skymasters carrying the unit had to return to Japan due to thick fog and being unable to locate airfields.
Soldiers assigned to Task Force Smith arrive in South Korea.
When they finally met North Korean troops, it was a disaster. The North Koreans, equipped with Soviet-built T-34 medium tanks, approached. At 8:16 AM on the morning of July 5, 1950, near the city of Osan, American ground troops opened fire on the Communist forces. The fight was short — it didn’t go well for the United States. Bazookas and recoilless rifle rounds did practically nothing to the T-34s.
North Korean T-34s blew through the positions held by the unprepared American soldiers.
The North Korean forces blew through the infantry and went at the artillery. By the time all was said and done, of the roughly 440 soldiers in Task Force Smith sent to South Korea, only 185 made it back to friendly lines the next morning (a few dozen others would make their way back over the next few days and weeks).
Today, Task Force Smith is remembered for their courage — and for the lessons learned from the Battle of Osan.
The experience of this brave but unprepared unit led to major changes, at least through the Cold War. The mantra became, “No More Task Force Smiths.”
In essence, the troops who fell that day are remembered by efforts to continually keep American troops ready for combat, ensuring that sacrifices made by those who came before them are not in vain.
But we can go back even further to learn how pandemics have shaped society and the outcomes of conflict.
So, let’s go back over 2400 years ago….
Pericles had the perfect plan! The Athenians moved behind the walls of the city, letting the Spartans attack across land. They would wait them out in a Fabian Strategy. Food would not be an issue because Athens could rely on its maritime imports to keep them fed. Money wasn’t a problem, because they had plenty in the bank. Meanwhile, their fleet projected combat power into Spartan territory, raiding coastal cities and shaming the Spartans. Not only would Pericles avoid fighting the Spartans on their terms, he would also sew doubt of Spartan superiority among the Peloponnesian League by attacking the “home front.” As Athens and Sparta finished the campaigning season in the first year of the war, Athens believed their strategy was working as evidenced by Pericles’ Funeral Oration.
As the second year of the war began, disease struck in Athens. The plague caught everyone by surprise, and as Thucydides points out, “there was no ostensible cause; but people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head…” The plague swept through Athens killing men, women, and children, and with it came devastating effects on society. Thucydides wrote that lawlessness broke out as men watched others die and private property came up for grabs. The unforeseen disease affected Athenian will; they questioned the value of Pericles’ strategy and the war itself, ultimately sending envoys to Sparta to seek peace.
The Athenian experience with the plague should remind us of the power of the unseen. Disease can reshape society. It can influence the outcome of war. And although we have not experienced the devastating effects of contagion on a mass scale in modern times, we may only be standing in the proverbial eye of the storm.
One can argue that microscopic parasites could be placed on equal footing with geography, war, and migration in shaping the world that we know today. In Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill, the author traces the history of mankind, pointing out how disease proved a major factor in the trajectory of our species. First, he points out that disease served to break down communities of people, enabling them to be absorbed by larger groups. He writes that,
“Such human material could then be incorporated into the tissues of the enlarged civilization itself, either as individuals or families and small village groupings… The way in which digestion regularly breaks down the larger chemical structures of our food in order to permit molecules and atoms to enter into our own bodily structures seems closely parallel to this historical process.”
He observes that the plague led to changes in European society in the 14 and 15 centuries. In England, the Black Death of 1348-1350 led to changes in the social fabric of society, increasing wages and quality of life for serfs. McNeil even suggests that diseases in Europe created enough social upheaval that it successfully set the conditions for Martin Luther’s Reformation.
He further argues that disease set the conditions for European expansion into the New World. For example, Hernando Cortez, who had less than 600 soldiers, was able to conquer an Aztec empire of millions in the early 1500s with the help of contagion. Within fifty years of his landing, the population of central Mexico shrank to a tenth of its size. This catastrophic drop in population levels had significant impacts on religion, defense, and their society in general, paving the way for European growth in the region.
McNeill is not alone in his argument. In Bacteria and Bayonets: The Impact of Disease in the American Military History, David R. Petriello argues that contagion played a major factor in the successful colonization of North America and the American experience with war. Smallpox and other illnesses depopulated the regions surrounding the colonies, giving the settlers the space to grow.
Most Americans have heard the story of how an Indian named Squanto helped save the Plymouth settlers by teaching them planting techniques and guiding them through the peace process with surrounding tribes. However, it was disease more so than goodwill that saved the Pilgrims. The author writes, “When Squanto wandered into the Pilgrim’s’ world he did so as an exile. Had it not been for the epidemic visited his tribe…Squanto himself would not have been seeking out kindred human company.”
While the U.S. military responds to the threat of the Coronavirus, this isn’t the first time it’s battled contagions. Long ago, before we stood in lines to get way too many shots before deployments, commanders dealt with smallpox, influenza, dysentery, and venereal disease, as it affected 30% of armies up through World War I. These outbreaks, more than likely, had an impact on the outcome of key campaigns.
In the Revolutionary and Civil War, disease took important leaders out of important battles the eve of engagements. And it caused commanders to hold off on taking advantage of fleeting opportunities in both conflicts, as they had to wait for replacements to arrive. It has only been in recent history, that we have brought disease’s impact on war under control.
Vaccinations didn’t become common practice until World War II. As Petriello observes, “Whereas there were 102,000 cases of measles in World War I with 2,370 deaths, there were only 60,809 cases in World War II with only 33 deaths reported.”
Thanks to technological advances in medicine, it has been almost a hundred years since disease sat in the front row of a national security conversation. However, things are changing. We’ve seen how the Coronavirus is affecting markets, diplomacy and even troops serving abroad. Maybe it’s time we reexamined our preparedness for these outbreaks.
In the end, Pericles succumbed to the plague, and Athens lost an important leader. Those who came after him chose a different strategic path for the city, which ultimately proved costly for the Delian League. This incident during the Peloponnesian War is worth making us pause and think about the role of contagions in human history and conflict. It has wiped out cultures and set the conditions for the successful expansion of others. It has served as a significant factor in wars of the past. Finally, it may yet play a major role in world affairs again.
A daring raid launched to recover or destroy a captured ship 212 years ago marks the most celebrated episode of the United States first overseas military operations. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and a small group of volunteers composed mostly of U.S. Marines covertly entered the port of Tripoli and successfully burned the captured USS Philadelphia.
Corsairs from what were known as the Barbary States, composed of of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, had been ravaging the Mediterranean for centuries, capturing merchant vessels and enslaving or ransoming their crews. Some estimates place the number of Europeans sold into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries by the Barbary pirates at well over a million.
American shipping had traditionally relied on British naval protection, but following the American Revolution the British let the Barbary States know that U.S. vessels were fair game. In 1785 Dey Mohammed of Algiers seized several American vessels and held their crews for ransom. The weak U.S. government at the time could not raise the money or the naval power to get the sailors back.
Though the U.S. managed to successfully conclude a treaty with Morocco, it wasn’t until until 1795 that an agreement to pay exorbitant tribute to Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis bought the captured sailors back. These tributes and later payments eventually began to consume up to 10 percent of the national budget.
Due to the situation with Algiers, Congress had authorized the construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy. When Tripoli declared open season on U.S. ships in 1801 over late payments of tribute, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a small fleet to enforce a blockade of Tripoli and sent envoys to Sicily in order to secure a base to operate from.
After several skirmishes the U.S. Navy was largely able to maintain the blockade, its ships unchallenged at sea. But in October of 1803 the brand-new frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground a reef while patrolling the port of Tripoli. The captain and crew were captured and taken ashore for later ransom, and the Philadelphia was anchored in the harbor.
In order to deny the use of the Philadelphia to Tripoli, Lt. Decatur, commander of the schooner USS Enterprise, came up with an elaborate plan. A small vessel from Tripoli had recently been captured and rechristened as the USS Intrepid. Decatur would disguise the Intrepid as a regular merchant ship, enter the harbor at night, and lead a small force of mostly U.S. Marines to recapture or burn the Philadelphia; a raid. The USS Syren would stand by to offer fire support.
On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the raid plan was a go. Sicilian volunteers who could speak Arabic functioned as pilots for the Intrepid, and they called out in Arabic as the Intrepid entered the harbor to allay the harbormasters suspicions. Decatur and his men were disguised as Maltese seamen and Arabs.
When the Intrepid pulled alongside the Philadelphia, they took the Tripolitan guards completely by surprise with swords and boarding pikes. Without the loss of a single man they recaptured the ship, killing many of the guards and sending the rest overboard, but the Philadelphia was in no condition to return to sea. After the raiders set the Philadelphia on fire, they reboarded the Intrepid and made their escape as the Syren and Tripolitan shore batteries exchanged fire. The operation had been a spectacular success and was widely celebrated back home.
The U.S. ransomed the crew of the Philadelphia back in 1805, and Decatur went on to have a distinguished career through the War of 1812, and as fleet commander led a second operation against the Barbary States in 1815. After defeating the Dey of Algiers, Decatur negotiated a series of treaties that ended the Barbary threat to U.S. ships for good, and marked the end of one the first overseas operations by the United States. Even today, the raid is one of the most memorable in US history.
Anyone who survived the Cold War likely remembers the fear that, with almost no notice, an endless rain of Soviet missiles and bombs could begin that would end the war. Even if your city wasn’t hit, the number of nukes that America and Russia would have exchanged would have ended the war. But there was a problem: the Soviet Union had a tiny fraction of the missiles necessary. The confusion can be traced back to one flawed report.
In the early 1950s, rumors were growing that the Soviet Union was developing better ballistic missiles, massive weapons that took off, reached a high altitude, and then fell on or near a specified target. Early ballistic missiles were used in World War II, and they were unguided and crude weapons.
But the U.S. and Russia had seized as many German scientists as they could in the closing days of World War II, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union were each suspicious of what the other was doing with the co-opted scientists. If the Soviet Union was concentrating on missile research, they could beat America to space, and they might get a massive missile arsenal that could deliver nuclear warheads by the dozens.
And then the Soviets launched a missile test, sending a ballistic missile 3,000 miles across Siberia and other Soviet territories.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles are a highly inefficient way to deliver warheads, but they’re also hard to defend against and you don’t have to risk the lives of your own troops to attack your enemy.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
Herb York was part of the scientific director at Livermore Laboratory, a nuclear research lab. And Jerome Weisner was a science adviser to the president. They were both capable men, but they had to do their research with very little information.
They figured out how much factory floor space the Soviet Union had and then tried to work out how many rockets they could build per year. But they didn’t know how much of that factory floor space was actually dedicated to rocket production, whether sufficient quantities of materiel was dedicated to the cause, or how efficient the Soviet’s manufacturing methods were.
So York and Weisner prepared a worst-case number to the president. Basically, if the Soviets were as efficient as America in rocket production, dedicated most of their available factory space to the effort, and gave sufficient labor and materiel to the project, they could produce thousands of missiles in just a few years. That was at least one new missile a day, and potentially as many as three to five missiles, each capable of taking out an American city.
Now, this wasn’t a complete stab in the dark. York and Weisner had looked at Soviet factory output, and there was a curious gap between America and the Soviet Union on the production of consumer goods and some war materials. Basically, Soviet factories were either drastically under producing, or else they were producing something hidden from America.
And what America did know of Soviet re-armament after World War II indicated a nation that was preparing for war. They had rapidly developed an arsenal of atomic and then nuclear bombs, produced hundreds of heavy bombers, then developed capable jet engines and re-built their air force for the jet age, all while churning out thousands of radar systems and armored vehicles and tanks.
So, if you thought the Soviet Union had a lot of unused factory space and wanted to create a massive missile capability, you would probably assume that they were going to churn them out by the thousands, just like they had with radar and other capabilities.
Explosions like this, but in American cities. It’s a problem.
And York and Weisner’s numbers were included in the document Deterrence Survival in the Nuclear Age, better known as the Gaither Report in November 1957. It was supposed to be secret, but it quickly leaked, and the American people suddenly learned that the Soviets might already have hundreds of missiles with thousands on the way.
Oh, and Sputnik had just launched, so it was clear to the public that Soviet missile technology was ahead of American. Eisenhower tried to play down the report, and might have comforted some people, but plenty of others saw it as a sign that he was hiding an American weakness.
And so the idea of a “missile gap,” that the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in terms of missile technology and numbers was born. This set off a short-lived panic followed by years of anxiety. It also underlined the importance of two other aspects of the Gaither Report: deterrence by America’s nuclear arsenal and survival through shelters and, later, civil defense.
America would drastically increase its missile development and other aspects of its nuclear arsenal, seeking to close the gap from the Eisenhower through the Kennedy administrations. But, under Kennedy, the U.S. would learn through improved spy satellite and plane imagery that the missile gap actually went the other direction.
America’s arsenal was massively larger than the Soviets’. At the time of the Gaither report, the Soviet Union only had four intercontinental ballistic missiles, the really capable ones.
And, instead of building thousands by 1960, they constructed about 100 more in the first few years after 1957.
German crime novelist Norman Ohler rocked the boat with historians when he published “Blitzed,” his well-researched and compelling argument that Adolf Hitler was high as a kite during World War II.
“Nazi Junkies” (out now on DVD and Digital) is a documentary series that relies heavily on Ohler’s research for “Episode 1: Hitler the Junkie,” digging deep into the Führer’s relationship with sketchy doctor Theodor Morell, a man whose “vitamin shots” were laced with cocaine and Eukodal, a German version of oxycodone.
Ohler appears in the documentary, which uses excellent footage from the war years to support the case that Hitler’s questionable military decisions were fueled by the sense of invincibility his drug habit caused.
We’ve got an exclusive clip from “Hitler the Junkie” below.
“Episode 2: Nazi Junkies” explores the widespread use of methamphetamine in the German military. After its introduction in the 1930s, Pervitin became widely used all over Germany and was even sold mixed into chocolate bars. Meth supported the booming economy, and historical records indicated that it fueled the troops during the Blitzkrieg.
The use of drugs in battle by the Nazis is far more established in WWII historical literature, and this episode seems to have been made before Ohler’s research into Hitler caused such a stir. His book also tells this story, but the novelist-turned-historian didn’t participate in this part of the documentary.
The filmmakers make a point of emphasizing the fact that German doctors insisted that troops have their access to Pervitin severely curtailed before they began fighting on the Eastern Front. The size of the territory they aimed to conquer was far bigger than they’d tackled in Poland and France, but could their effectiveness have also been undercut by a lack of access to drugs?
Both episodes make the case that drugs were a critical part of Nazi Germany’s rise and fall. The conclusions are logical, and the arguments are coherent. “Nazi Junkies” takes these arguments from history books and shares them with the audience that loves WWII documentaries. It’s worth a look.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
On April 18th, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by enemy fire on Iejima* during the Battle of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, was well-known for his intimate and personal storytelling that highlighted the experiences of the “average” soldier. Pyle was able to tell the stories of enlisted men because he embedded himself in their day-to-day lives; he didn’t just observe their work, he lived, traveled, ate, and shared foxholes with them.
In remembrance of Ernie Pyle, the Unwritten Record presents photographs and motion pictures that highlight his work as a roving war correspondent during WWII.
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by TSgt. J. Mundell)
(Photo by Tsgt. Mundell)
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by Barnett)
(Photo by Blau)
(Photo by Bonnard)
(Photo by Blau)
Jack Lieb Collection
Jack Lieb was a newsreel cameraman who covered the end of the war in Europe (D-Day to Germany). Pyle appears in the following videos, which document preparations for the D-Day invasion in England and France.The records presented above were found in the following series:
The records presented above were found in the following series:
World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.
A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.
April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.
President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.
Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.
Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”
According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.
Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.
Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.
The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.
The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.
In the military, everyone loves to compare their job with others as part of a pissing contest to see who has it worst. Some cite their terrible living conditions, others tell horror stories of intense training, and the rest point to the awful, boring tasks handed to them. But there’s only one clear winner of the Absolute Worst Job contest — and that goes to the U.S. Navy’s loblolly boy.
Now, we’re not saying this to discredit your terrible MOS or rating — we’re sure yours is perfectly horrible — but unless your job is centered almost entirely around handling the medical waste that accumulated out at sea in the 1700s, then you probably can’t compete.
If reading about medical waste makes you a bit squeamish, we wouldn’t blame you if you’d instead like to check out our article about cute animals greeting returning troops. No? Alright, weirdo — but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Which also involved a lot of cleaning. Pre-Industrial Era medicine wasn’t known for its cleanliness.
The loblolly boy was the junior-most enlisted surgeon’s assistant back in the day. While the average operating table on a vessel consisted of the surgeon and a surgeon’s mate or two, all of the work that was deemed “below the officer” was shoveled directly onto the loblolly boy.
The name comes directly from the English slang term ‘lob,’ which meant ‘bubbling’ or ‘boiling,’ and ‘lolly,’ which was a soup or broth. This is in regards to one of the more lighthearted tasks assigned to these troops: to feed soup or stew to the injured sailors and Marines.
But since they were the lowest-ranking member of the medical team, they also had to handle the other tasks associated with nursing the wounded, like cleaning chamber pots, organizing medical supplies, cleaning medical instruments, and, of course, assisting in surgery.
We’re not talking the cleanest of working environments here, but at least they tried their best.
Back in the 18th century, amputation was a go-to answer for a lot of dire medical situations. Wound too bad? Amputation. Infection looks like it’s spreading? Amputation. Bone shattered too much? Amputation. Skin starting to turn green after you ignored a simple scrape? Amputation. It’s a pretty grim solution, but there’s no denying its effectiveness when the alternative was often death.
This was also long before anesthetics or analgesics, so the operations had to be done quickly — because, you know, that was the most “humane” way to cut someone’s leg off. They’d have the loblolly boy hold them down while Doc sawed it off. Problem is, the loblolly boy was often just a kid or young adult, which made restraining a fully grown Marine who’s getting parts cut off a significant challenge.
Old Victorian English surgeons in a hospital got the process down to 30 seconds flat. Civil War surgeons in the midst of a battle would clock in at around the same time, but the process was a whole lot messier. The loblolly boy, of course, had to clean up the inevitable splatters before the next patient came in. Disposing of amputated limbs was one of the primary duties of the loblolly boy.
If you’re a corpsman, now you know you can always win the debate of how’s job has been historically worse.
(U.S. Navy photo)
The job wasn’t the most glamorous, but it did open the doors for loblolly boys to work their way up in the medical field. This gave an opportunity to those who would otherwise not have it — for social, economical, or racial reasons. Many of the first African American surgeons got their start in the military as loblolly boys.
Ann Bradford Stokes, an escaped slave, was taken aboard the USS Red Rover during the Civil War and became both one of the first women to enlist and one of the first African Americans to enlist in the United States Navy. Though she could not read or write during her time of service, she did her job dutifully for years and became the very first woman in U.S. history to receive a military pension.
This terrible job evolved throughout the years, later known as surgeon’s steward, apothecary, and bayman, before becoming what we today know: the hospital corpsmen.
Public speaking is the name of the game for activists and politicians, but few speak with such power that the message of their words echoes for generations. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his iconic ‘I Have a Dream’ speech were some of the most influential and inspiring words ever spoken. While the black and white photos in textbooks make it seem like ancient history, the speech was given on August 28th, 1963 — a mere 57 years ago.
Just this month on the anniversary of the March on Washington, MLK’s granddaughter gave a moving speech of her very own…and she’s not even a teenager yet! The history books don’t always tell the full story, so keep reading for some of the most interesting facts you never knew about Dr. King’s most famous speech.
1. MLK’s speech almost left out his “dream”
His “Dream” speech wasn’t a new concept. He used it frequently in previous speeches, so his advisor, Rv. Wyatt Tee Walker, suggested he leave it out, calling it “hackneyed and trite.” The new speech was supposed to be called “Normalcy Never Again,” but when King got up on stage as the final speaker of the day, the audience had other plans. Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled out of the crowd, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Going against his advisor’s suggestion, King paused and said, “I still have a dream.” It was a bold move, but even his advisor later admitted it was the right one.
2. King didn’t write the speech alone
While some of his speech was improvised, he had help with the first draft. It was originally written by Stanley Levison and Clarence Jones, with plenty more heads coming together to create the final version.
3. The March was originally planned to leave out female speakers
Despite the innumerable women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, none were included in the original speaking schedule. Anna Arnold Hedgeman, the only woman who was on the national planning committee at the time, pushed for acknowledgment of their achievements. A “Tribute to Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” was added to the docket, but it was only after additional pressure that a woman was invited to lead it.
Daisy Bates, president of the Arkansas NAACP, took the stage, saying, “We will walk until we are free, until we can walk to any school and take our children to any school in the United States. And we will sit-in and we will kneel-in and we will lie-in if necessary until every Negro in America can vote. This we pledge to the women of America.”
Josephine Baker, a famous American entertainer, also spoke, telling the crowd, “You know I have always taken the rocky path. I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path, and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. But I do not want you to have to run away to get it.”
4. The March was organized by an openly gay man
Ever heard of Bayard Rustin? Most people haven’t, but he was an important figure in the Civil Rights Movement. He strongly encouraged King to avoid violence, fundraised for the Montgomery bus boycott, and organized the March on Washington in only two months. Despite his dedication, he remained behind the scenes for a reason. He was worried that his sexual orientation would be used as an attempt to discredit the civil rights movement, so he worked virtually unseen. President Obama recognized his work posthumously, however, awarding him The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
5. Hollywood stars attended the March to draw attention
Harry Belafonte already planned to attend the March himself when he reached out to other stars to encourage their participation. He asked Hollywood studio managers to give the actors the day off so they could attend, which they did. Many A-listers attended, including Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis Jr, Lena Horne and Burt Lancaster. The celebrity presence had two purposes; to boost media coverage, and to ease concerns about violence. The participation of so many high-profile celebrities toned down the widespread anxiety and increased support from President John F. Kennedy.
6. Wiretapping was a real concern
Speeches and marches don’t plan themselves, and the planning continues right up until the event starts. The day before King gave his most famous speech, he got together with his advisors to discuss the final version. They were worried that King’s hotel suite at the Willard Hotel wasn’t secure enough and could easily be wiretapped, however, so they met in the lobby instead, to discuss the speech.
7. Dr. King’s bodyguard was a college basketball player
George Raveling was in the audience when event organizers asked if he would step on stage to act as King’s bodyguard. As he was standing next to King, he asked if he could keep the paper copy of the speech. Raveling, now a retired basketball coach, still owns the original, typewritten speech.
8. The media didn’t care about the speeches
Today, King’s speech is celebrated and studied as one of the best speeches in all of history. Right after it happened, however, many reporters overlooked the speech almost entirely. Instead of covering the speeches given, newspapers (including Dr. King’s) focused on the size and scope of the March itself. The speech wasn’t given much attention during King’s lifetime, resurfacing in the public eye years later.
9. ‘I Have a Dream’ was rated a better speech than JFK’s ‘Ask not what you can do’ speech
In 1999, a panel of over 130 scholars rated Dr. King’s speech as the best of the 20th century. Even Kennedy himself knew what a pivotal speech it was, commending King by saying, either “He’s damned good” or “That guy is really good,” depending on who you hear it from.
Either way, we can all agree the speech was awe-inspiring and revolutionary. You can read or listen to the full speech here!
The USS America was a Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier first built in the 1960s and served through the Vietnam War, Cold War clashes, and on into Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1996, the Navy decided the ship’s best post-service use was as a target. America would help design the newest fleet of supercarriers to be even less vulnerable to enemy fire than she was.
The America did not go down easy. For four weeks the Navy hit the ship with everything they could muster, short of a nuclear weapon.
Even today, the wreck lies in one piece at the bottom of the ocean near Cape Hatteras. Despite the Navy’s best efforts, they just could not sink the indefatigable carrier. The last time any carrier was lost to battle damage in combat was in World War II, where 12 such ships were sent to the bottom after heavy fighting. The America didn’t engage in combat, but the attacking forces were out to hit her as if she had. The sinking of America was a test run for vulnerabilities in American aircraft carrier designs.
The good news is that China is going to have a really hard time doing it, even if they use an intercontinental ballistic missile. The bad news is that it’s somehow possible to sink these floating behemoths, and if done could kill up to 6,000 American sailors. Still, good luck getting close.
The wake left by America following her use as a live-fire target in 2005; the ship was used as a platform to test how the hull of large aircraft carriers would hold up against underwater attacks. Following the tests, America was scuttled, serving as a further test of the sinking of a large aircraft carrier.
(U.S. Navy photo)
Carriers traverse the waves with an entourage of submarines, cruisers, and other support craft, as well as potentially dozens of fighter and electronic warfare aircraft that would make even getting close to the carrier a nearly suicidal feat. Once in close, actually hitting the ship with any kind of accuracy is just as hard – and if you do, the chances of striking a death blow are virtually nil.
For the America, teams of scientists and military engineers targeted the ship repeatedly for a full month, both above and below the waterline using anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, and almost anything else they could think to throw at the old girl and still, she persisted. It wasn’t until a team of dedicated explosives experts boarded the ship and purposefully destroyed it that it gave way and sank to the bottom.
But even the Vietcong tried that move – and the USS Card was back up and fighting in no time. So maybe it’s just best to avoid a fight with an American carrier.
There’s an old military saying that goes, “if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.” As enlisted personnel rise through the ranks, they tend to encounter more and more questionable practices that somehow made their way into doctrine. This isn’t anything new. Most of the veterans reading this encountered at least one “WTF Moment” in their military careers. Few of these bizarre scenarios will get a troop wounded or worse.
Then there are the tactics that could mean the difference between life and death – and you have to wonder who decided to do things that way and why do they hate their junior enlisted troops so much? These are those tactics.
“Walking Fire” with the Browning Automatic Rifle
When introduced in the closing days of World War I, the Browning Automatic Rifle – or “B-A-R” – was introduced as a means to get American troops across the large, deadly gaps called “no man’s land” between the opposing trenches. The theory was that doughboys would use the BAR in a walking fire movement, slowly walking across the ground while firing the weapon from the hip.
Anyone who’s ever used an automatic weapon has probably figured out by now that slowly sauntering across no man’s land, shooting at anything that moves will run your ammo down before you ever get close to the enemy trench. It’s probably best to stay in your own trench, which is what the Americans ended up doing anyway.
Soviet Anti-Tank Suicide Dogs
The concept seems sound enough. In the 1930s, the USSR trained dogs to wear explosive vests and run under oncoming tanks. In combat, the dogs would then be detonated while near the tank’s soft underbelly. It seems like a good idea, right? Well, when it came time to use the dogs against Nazi tanks in World War II, the Soviets realized that training the dogs with Soviet tanks might have been a bad idea. The USSR’s tanks ran on diesel while the Wehrmacht’s ran on gasoline.
Soviet tank dogs, attracted to the smell of Soviet diesel fuel, ran under Soviet tanks instead of German tanks when unleashed, creating an explosives hazard for the Red Army tanks crews.
Flying Aircraft Carriers
In the interwar years, the U.S. military decided that airpower was indeed the wave of the military’s future, and decided to experiment with a way to get aircraft flying as fast as possible. For this, they developed helium airships that housed hangers to hold a number of different airplanes. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but it turns out the air isn’t as hospitable a place as the seas and flying, helium-borne craft aren’t as stable as a solid, steel ship on the waves.
After the two aircraft carriers the Navy built both crashed, and 75 troops were dead, the military decided to go another way with aircraft.
In World War II, there wasn’t always a metal detector around. Sometimes, troops had to get down and dirty, literally. In areas where land mines were suspected, soldiers would get down on the ground, with their heads and bodies close to the ground and – without any kind of warning or hint of where mines might be, if there were any at all – poke into the ground at a 30-degree angle.
The angle helped avoid tripping the mines because the trigger mechanisms were usually located at the top of the mines. If the terrain was a bit looser, the mines could be raked up by the prodders instead.