Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Few geniuses are recognized in their time and for better or for worse, Napoleon Bonaparte was one of those geniuses. “The Little Corporal” was loathed by European royalty as he upended royal houses across the continent, winning victory after stunning victory.

At its height, Napoleon’s French Empire controlled most of Europe, either directly or indirectly, placing his relatives and other rulers on various thrones as client states. This control extended to much of North and South America as well. 

To do this, he trounced every army, great power and coalition sent his way, stepping over formerly mighty nations, like Prussia, Austria, Russia, and Spain. To defeat him, the Sixth Coalition formed and decided on the grand strategy of not fighting him. 

Napoleon was successful on the battlefields of Europe for many reasons. He didn’t promote officers because of their family lineage, he promoted them because they were good at what they did. 

napoleon
The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries (Public Domain)

Personally, he was successful for many reasons. First and foremost, he was fast. He could mobilize his well-organized armies much faster than other powers at the time, and once engaged, was able to quickly analyze battlefield situations. When his opponents made mistakes, his organization allowed him to exploit those errors quickly as well. This made him very aggressive on the battlefield, forcing his opponents to be on the defensive. 

He also was well-versed in historical fighting, from antiquity to the present. He read the works and histories of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Gusatvus Adolphus and Frederick the Great. He used these histories and applied their lessons to the warfare of the time. 

He did not follow the accepted practices of other powers and generals. Napoleon’s goal was the complete destruction of the enemy’s main force in a short time. He would outmaneuver his opponents to force them into a decisive battle where he had the advantage. Once his enemy was defeated, he would pursue the enemy force and destroy it completely. 

There were three main strategies to the emperor’s battlefield successes: the envelopment, the central position, and the frontal assault. Napoleon’s favorite was the envelopment, where his forces attempted to get behind the enemy formation and force them either to retreat or fight while surrounded. The central position was the classic “divide and conquer,” where he would keep a Corps between two enemy formations and defeat each one individually. 

If those two formations couldn’t work, he would use a frontal assault. Like the name implies, Napoleon would concentrate on the enemy’s center, with artillery support. When the enemy was weakened, he would send his reserves in to break the enemy line. The last required perfect timing and all could only be done with an army as mobile as Napoleon’s. 

There’s a reason Carl Von Clausewitz, who literally wrote the book on war, called Napoleon Bonaparte “The God of War.” 

To defeat the military genius, the coalition of Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and smaller German nations met at Trachtenberg in 1813, to discuss their strategy. They agreed that no one was willing to risk their armies against Napoleon directly. Instead, they decided on another plan.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The Battle of Marengo was Napoleon’s first great victory as head of state. (Public Domain)

SInce he had already handed the Coalition defeats at  Lützen, Bautzen and Dresden, Coalition forces would not engage the emperor’s army. They would instead attack the armies led by his Marshals. In the meantime, they would form a numerically superior force that even Napoleon could not beat. 

The plan culminated in the Coalition victories at Großbeeren, Kulm, Katzbach, and Dennewitz. The goal of creating a large force came to fruition at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, as Napoleon’s 177,000-strong army faced a Coalition Army of more than 250,000. In the largest battle Europe had ever seen up to that point (and wouldn’t see again until World War I), the Coalition finally handed Napoleon the decisive defeat they needed. 

The French were forced out of Germany as a number of German states switched sides against them. The next year, the Coalition invaded France and forced the emperor’s abdication and first exile to the island of Elba.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Navajo code talkers helped win the Battle of Iwo Jima

Thomas H. Begay didn’t want to be a radio operator. In fact, up until he graduated from bootcamp, he thought he was going to become an aerial gunner for the Marine Corps during World War II.

“They sent me to a confidential area,” he said. “I walked in and there’s a whole bunch of Navajo.”

His previous MOS didn’t matter. Begay would attend code talking school.

The Navajo language had become the basis of a new code, and they were going to train to become code talkers. It was hard to see it then, but Begay and his fellow Navajo would help turn the tides of war and save countless lives.


An unbreakable code

The Code Talkers used native languages to send military messages before World War II. Choctaw, for example, was successfully used during World War I. But the Marine Corps needed an “unbreakable” code for its island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Navajo, which was unwritten and known by few outside the tribe, seemed to fit the Corps’ requirements.

Thomas H. Begay recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima

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Twenty-nine Navajos were recruited to develop the code in 1942. They took their language and developed a “Type One Code” that assigned a Navajo word to each English letter. They also created special words for planes, ships and weapons.

But just because a person understood Navajo didn’t mean they could understand the code. While a person fluent in the language would hear a message that translated into a list of words that seemingly had no connection to each other, a code talker would hear a very clear message.

Here is an example:

Navajo Code: DIBEH, AH-NAH, A-SHIN, BE, AH-DEEL-TAHI, D-AH, NA-AS-TSO-SI, THAN-ZIE, TLO-CHIN

Translation: SHEEP, EYES, NOSE, DEER, BLOW UP, TEA, MOUSE, TURKEY, ONION

Deciphered Code: SEND DEMOLITION TEAM TO …

In addition to being unbreakable, the new code also reduced the amount of time it took to transmit and receive secret messages. Because all 17 pages of the Navajo code were memorized, there was no need to encrypt and decipher messages with the aid of coding machines. So, instead of taking several minutes to send and receive one message, Navajo code talkers could send several messages within seconds. This made the Navajo code talker an important part of any Marine unit.

Peter MacDonald Sr. recalls Navajo Code Talker program; Battle of Iwo Jima

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Begay did well in training and picked up the code quickly. A month after arriving at code talking school, he was given orders to his new unit and sent overseas.

“They told us we were going to Tokyo,” he said with a chuckle. “In February, we were told we’re supposed to land on Iwo Jima.”

On Feb. 19, 1945, at 0900 hours, Begay landed on the north side of the island with the 5th Marine Division. One code talker had already been killed during the first wave of attacks, and five more would be injured by the time the fighting stopped. In the face of machine gun fire and mortar rounds, Begay and his fellow Navajo Code Talkers continued to relay messages that were vital to the eventual victory on the island.

In all, nearly 800 coded messages were sent during the assault on Iwo Jima. There were zero mistakes.

“I was protected by the Marines,” Begay said. “They were protecting us; we were protecting them. I was lucky. But some didn’t get lucky – like those who got killed on the beach.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Charlie Ration Cookbook: How Tabasco hot sauce became a US Military staple

Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War. 

In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
A Japanese soldier attacked a GI with his sword but in the heat of the moment forgot to remove the scabbard. The dented helmet and sword were donated to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans by the GI — who was Walter McIlhenny. Photo courtesy of Forgotten Weapons.

McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured. 

Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front was published in 1966 by the maker of Tabasco hot sauce to give Vietnam soldiers an easy-to-follow guide to spicing up their C rations. Screenshot from the book.

The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.

The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
A waterproof container with a Charlie Ration Cookbook and bottle of Tabasco inside. The container, sent upon request to a soldier in Vietnam, came back to the McIlhenny Co. marked “KIA” for killed in action. Screenshot via YouTube.

George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”

Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce. 

The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Gold Star families capture their grief in stunning new book

The military has a very prescribed, formal process for telling Gold Star families about the loss of their service member. Two to three members of that branch of the military will receive word that they need to notify a family of a casualty. They carefully double and triple check the information. They ensure each other’s uniforms are perfect. And then they knock at the door.


Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Travis and Ryan Manion, brother and sister. Travis was a Marine Corps officer killed in Iraq during a firefight where he moved forward to draw enemy fire. His mother created a foundation named for him, and his sister now serves as that foundation’s president.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

Three women who received those knocks are sharing their stories of sudden loss in a new book, The Knock at the Door. One lost her brother in combat, and two lost husbands. Two of their loved ones died in Afghanistan, and one in Iraq. But the stories these women tell apply far outside of the military. They hope their stories will help others grapple with grief, whether it comes from the loss of a job, a cancer diagnosis, or a knock at the door.

Ryan Manion is one of the authors and the President of the Travis Manion Foundation. The foundation is named for her brother, a Marine first lieutenant who died in Al Anbar, Iraq, in 2007 while drawing fire from wounded members of his unit.

Ryan, and indeed, all three of the book authors, experienced some break in the prescribed casualty notification processes. In Ryan’s case, she rushed home after getting a call from her family. One uniformed Marine was there with a family friend who had served in the Marines with Ryan’s father. The family friend, a retired lieutenant colonel, had helped tell the family. Ryan’s father told her.

My dad stared at me with a blank look. Then in a very measured tone, he said, “Travis was killed.”

The uniformed Marine had struggled under the strain. He was sitting in his car, cradling his head against the steering wheel. It’s the home visit no service member wants to make.

Ryan grieved as she and her family made preparations to bury Travis. She wouldn’t take off an old, red Marine Corps sweater until it was time to greet his body at Dover. Even then, she carried it with her. When they held the funeral, she connected with Travis one last time by rubbing his head.

I knew that, after the last person knelt down to say a prayer in front of Travis, the funeral director was going to close that casket forever, and that would be it. I’d never see my brother’s face again. I rubbed his head one last time and felt my heart sinking as my father gently pulled me away.

But the book isn’t about the women’s losses. Or at least, it’s not just about that. It’s mostly about how they faced living again without their loved ones. And one of the great lessons that Ryan shares comes after the deaths of her brother and mother. As she attempted to do better things in her life in their memory, she was saddened whenever she came up short.

But she learned a vital lesson in that time, “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” You can heal from falling short. You don’t have to wear it forever.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Amy Looney Heffernan and Brendan Looney. Brendan was a Navy SEAL killed in a helicopter crash.

(Photo courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

A close friend of Travis tragically died just a few years later in 2010. Brendan Looney was a Navy SEAL deployed to Afghanistan who had almost completed his tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash. The Navy couldn’t initially get a hold of his wife, Amy Looney Heffernan. A receptionist for her company sent the Navy officers to a company conference and had Amy meet them there.

And so Amy learned of her husband’s death in a hotel room. Her sister-in-law took lead on logistics, helping do everything from scheduling the big events to getting items for Amy to wear at the funeral, especially a big pair of sunglasses to hide her tears.

As Amy said the night before the funeral:

I might be crying my eyes out, but the last thing I need is people looking at me like I’m some naive, pathetic little girl. If people start fawning all over me with pity, it’s just going to piss me off. I know what I signed up for and so did Brendan. I just don’t want people to feel sorry for me, you know?

But Amy struggled in the weeks after, neglecting the dogs that she and Brendan had shared, refusing to eat, spending hours on the couch, neglecting herself. She describes a routine of “Ambien, pajamas, and a dark room,” before she forced herself to get better for herself, for Brendan, and for her poor dogs.

Amy’s recovery was challenging, but she eventually describes how she packed for a mountain excursion in Peru designed to help her and other Gold Star family members remember their loved ones while challenging themselves.

Amy and Ryan knew each other through their loved ones; Brendan had actually spoken at Travis’s funeral, and Travis was moved from his family plot to Arlington National Cemetery after Amy asked for the friends to be buried together, fulfilling Travis’s original wishes.

Ryan described the process of moving Travis in just three days so he could rest next to Brendan. The secretary of the Army had to sign off on the move, but the family tried to keep the proceedings quiet so the focus would remain on memorializing Brendan. But some Marines got word of the transfer and held a quiet assembly to honor Travis.

“We just kind of told our close friends and family that we were reintering Travis on that Friday,” Amy said. “And we’ve actually, the Marines from Quantico, one of them was friends with Travis at the time. He was an instructor there. And one of the [Officer Candidate School] housing buildings is named Manion Hall. And so he ended up finding out, and I remember we showed up at Arlington and there was like 200 Marines in dress blues standing at full attention. Which was a pretty incredible sight to see.”

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Marine 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly stands with his wife Heather. Robert would later die in an IED strike in Afghanistan. His wife has co-authored a new book about grief.

(Courtesy Travis Manion Foundation)

But while Amy and Ryan knew each other, their co-author Heather Kelly was unknown to them until her husband was buried just a few rows away at Arlington. Marine Lt. Robert Kelly, a son of a prominent general, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. Heather received her casualty notification five hours early as the Marine Corps leaders wanted to make sure she found out at the same time as her father-in-law, and they had moved his alert forward so that he would learn from a friend instead of the list of casualties he would see in the morning.

Heather turned to black humor to get through the funeral process. She and her brother-in-law created a running joke about her riding into the funeral on an elephant to properly honor Robert, a joke that came about after a funeral director tried to upsell the family on a decorative guest book.

Heather continued the joke in front of some Marines, and they ran with it:

They were eager to fulfill the wishes of a fallen hero’s family, and God bless them, they actually half-seriously discussed getting me to the Washington Zoo. I think they may have even placed a phone call to the zoo to arrange for me to pet an elephant, which they figured would be a close second to leasing one for the day. Ah, Marines. No better friends in the world, no worse enemies.

Heather met the other two women after Amy wrote an op-ed about remembering her husband not only as “a warrior for freedom” but also an “ambassador of kindness.”

Now, all three women work through the Travis Manion Foundation to foster kindness and a dedication to service in the next generation and to help veterans and Gold Star families find continued purpose and opportunities to serve in their community. Their book, The Knock at the Door, came out November 5.

popular

This is the last tank airborne units jumped into combat

Airborne forces face a problem whenever they have to jump behind enemy lines — whether it’s to seize an enemy airfield or to take and hold territory.


The paratroopers can’t bring their own armor support, because America doesn’t currently have an airborne-certified tank or large armored vehicle. (The Stryker and the Light Armored Vehicle have undergone successful airdrop tests, but neither has been certified).

But it wasn’t always this way. During the Cold War, Airborne forces relied on the M551 Sheridan, an Airborne-capable light tank first fielded in 1969.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The M551 Sheridan tank was a 16-ton tank made primarily of aluminum and employed by airborne forces. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Sheridan was a replacement for the World War II-era Mk. VII Tetrarch tank and the M22 Locust Airborne tank. The Tetrarch was a British glider-capable light tank and the M22 was an American tank custom-built for glider insertion.

The M551, unlike its predecessors, was airdrop-capable, meaning it could be inserted using parachutes instead of gliders. The tank was also used with the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System, an airdrop system that allowed the U.S. to drop the tanks from a few feet to a few dozen feet off the ground.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
An M551 Sheridan is pulled from the back of a C-130 by the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The Sheridan was crewed by four people and weighed 16 tons, light enough that it could actually swim through the water. It was powered by a 300-hp diesel engine and could hit approximately 45 mph. It could travel 373 miles between fill-ups.

The tank used an experimental 152mm gun that could fire missiles or tank rounds. Even its tank rounds were experimental, though — they used a combustible casing instead of the standard brass casings.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The M551 Sheridan tank firing a Shillelagh missile. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The Sheridan served well in Vietnam and Panama. During Operation Just Cause, it was even airdropped into combat, allowing paratroopers to bring their own fire support to the battlefield.

The tank’s main gun could inflict serious damage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, allowing it to punch out enemy bunkers from outside the range of many enemy guns.

Unfortunately, the light armor of the Sheridan posed serious issues. Some Sheridans were pierced by enemy infantry’s heavy machine guns, meaning crews had to be careful even when there was no enemy armor or anti-armor on the field. Worse, the main gun started to develop a reputation as being unreliable.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The M551 Sheridan could be airdropped from Air Force cargo planes. Crew would follow it to the ground and get the tank up and running. (GIF: YouTube/Strength through Humility)

Firing the main gun knocked out the electronics for the longer-range missile, meaning that a tank firing on bunkers or enemy armor at close range would usually lose their ability to punch targets at long range. And there was no way to avoid this issue as the Shillelagh missile couldn’t hit targets at less than 2,400 feet.

The only way for an M551 to punch at close range was to give up its capability at long ranges.

By 1980, most cavalry units were moving to the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank, which was actually introduced before the Sheridan. The Patton featured heavier armor, more power, and a more reliable gun. It had also just been upgraded with new “Reliability Improved Selected Equipment,” or “RISE.”

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The M60 Patton, which is still in service with allied nations today, was seen as more reliable and powerful than the M551. (GIF: YouTube/arronlee33)

According to an Army history pamphlet, one cavalryman told the Stars and Stripes, “We can get the job done with the Sheridan, but most cavalrymen would rather have the tank.”

The airborne forces would keep the Sheridan through 1996, partially because they had no other options. A number of potential replacements were canceled and modern airborne forces just make do without true armored support.

The Army is, once again, looking at new light tanks or heavy-armored vehicles to support paratroopers. The new solution could be another custom-built tank, like the Sheridan. But as of summer 2016, its specifications were up in the air. It just has to be capable of an airdrop, and it has to get the job done.

Articles

Did the phone call for fire scene in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’ really happen?

While typically rooted in true events, war films often take “creative liberties” in the portrayal of military members and their exploits. Heartbreak Ridge is no exception, but there’s one famously far-fetched scene in the cult classic that may have actually happened.

The 1986 film depicts the efforts of Medal of Honor recipient and thoroughly crusty Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood) as he whips a group of undisciplined Marines into combat shape just in time for the 1983 invasion of Grenada. While Heartbreak Ridge is known for its over-the-top depictions, the scene where Gunny Highway finds himself in a jail cell for bar fighting and urinating on a police cruiser might be the most accurate depiction of a battle-hardened Marine staff NCO in history.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Gunny Highway stands trial for urinating on a police cruiser. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

In the film’s depiction of Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, there is no shortage of hip firing from the highly trained Recon Marines, who use almost no structure or tactical maneuvering. And at a climactic point in the battle, the pinned-down Marines use a house phone and credit card to make a collect call back to Fort Bragg to request air support. 

As unlikely as that last one seems, it may have actually happened. 

Operation Urgent Fury is infamous for the innumerable blunders and SNAFUs that occurred before and during the operation. The US military of the early ’80s was a largely untested force that was undergoing a large-scale downsizing and restructuring (stop me if this sounds eerily familiar). 

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Gunnery Sgt. Highway whipping young Marines into shape. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

President Ronald Reagan sent an initial force of 2,000 troops to rescue the nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time and settle the turmoil there, but the Pentagon ultimately had to send in roughly 4,000 additional military members to complete the operation. Short notice, bad planning and intel, and poor interservice communication plagued the operation.

US forces ultimately succeeded, and that was due, in no short part, to the boots on the ground doing what they do best — adapting and overcoming. Many stories are told from this operation, but none encapsulate the event and also the versatility of the American warrior quite as well as the legend of the American who called for indirect fire from a pay phone. 

As the tale goes, US service members were pinned down by enemy fire and were in dire need of artillery to gain the upper hand. Communication to any kind of support was cut off, spurring one quick-thinking soldier to action. The soldier allegedly took out his credit card and utilized the nearest pay phone to call Fort Bragg. The call was relayed through several channels and the necessary artillery was provided — saving the soldiers and winning the day.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
War movie or Discover card ad? Mario Van Peebles as Cpl. Stitch Jones. Screenshot from Heartbreak Ridge. (Warner Bros.)

To date, there are a couple of different versions of this legend. One involves a Navy SEAL making the call from a governor’s mansion for air support from an AC-130. However, Marines claimed the fire came from a naval destroyer positioned just off the island. Another involves a member of the 82nd Airborne actually using a pay phone to call his wife back at Fort Bragg who then relayed the message to his command. 

We may never know what really went down, but the legend of the phone call for fire inspired screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos to incorporate the impromptu call in his script for Heartbreak Ridge

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle. 

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

Feature image: Warner Bros.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor

In their 75 years building, fighting and serving on every continent – even Antarctica – only one Navy Seabee has been bestowed with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.


Marvin G. Shields was a third-class construction mechanic with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 11 and assigned to a nine-member Seabee team at a small camp near Dong Xoai, Vietnam. The camp housed Army Green Berets with 5th Special Forces Group, who were advising a force of Vietnamese soldiers including 400 local Montagnards.

Shields, then 25, who enlisted in 1962, was killed in an intense 1965 battle in Vietnam. His actions under fire led to the posthumous medal, awarded in 1966, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

So far he is the only Seabee to receive the Medal of Honor.

On June 10, 1965, Dong Xoai came under heavy fire from a regimental-sized Viet Cong force, who pummeled the camp with machine guns and heavy weapons. The initial attack wounded Shields but didn’t stop him.

“Shields continued to resupply his fellow Americans who needed ammunition and to return the enemy fire for a period of approximately three hours, at which time the Viet Cong launched a massive attack at close range with flame-throwers, hand grenades and small-arms fire,” his award citation states. “Wounded a second time during this attack, Shields nevertheless assisted in carrying a more critically wounded man to safety, and then resumed firing at the enemy for four more hours.”

Still, Shields kept fighting.

“When the commander asked for a volunteer to accompany him in an attempt to knock out an enemy machinegun emplacement which was endangering the lives of all personnel in the compound because of the accuracy of its fire, Shields unhesitatingly volunteered for this extremely hazardous mission,” reads the citation. “Proceeding toward their objective with a 3.5-inch rocket launcher, they succeeded in destroying the enemy machinegun emplacement, thus undoubtedly saving the lives of many of their fellow servicemen in the compound.”

But hostile fire ultimately got Shields, mortally wounding him as he was taking cover.

“His heroic initiative and great personal valor in the face of intense enemy fire sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service,” the citation states.

The five-day Battle of Dong Xoai also garnered a Medal of Honor for a junior Green Beret officer, 2nd Lt. Charles Q. Williams, who was wounded several times in the battle and survived the war.

Shields’ unit – Seabee Team 1104 – had come together just four months before the attack on their Dong Xoai camp, Frank Peterlin, the team’s officer-in-charge, recalled in a 2015 Navy news article about the Navy’s 50th commemoration of the battle and Shields’ award.

“In the evening, he [Shields] would have his guitar at his side and would love to sing and dance, especially with the Cambodian troops at our first camp,” said Peterlin, who attended the ceremony. “Marvin was always upbeat. At Dong Xoai, he was joking and encouraging his teammates throughout the battle.” Peterlin, a lieutenant junior-grade at the time, was wounded amid the fight and earned the Silver Star medal for his actions leading the men.

Shields, who was survived by his wife and young daughter, has been long remembered by Port Townsend, Washington, his hometown.

At the time of his death, the Port Townsend Leader newspaper wrote of him and his service: “A 1958 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Shields was one of the first employees on the Mineral Basin in Mining Development at Hyder, Alaska, when the locally organized project was initiated there by Walt Moa of Discovery Bay. He worked at Mineral Basin during the summer before graduating from school and returned there as a full time construction worker in 1958. He was called into the Navy early in 1962, and was due to be discharged in January.”

The Navy honored his memory with a frigate in his name (retired in 1992). The official U.S. Navy Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California, has a large display about him its Hall of Heroes. Navy Seabees have never forgotten Shields, who is buried in Gardiner, Washington. Inscribed on his black-granite headstone is this: “He died as he lived, for his friends.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Japanese office worker who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan

Remember when 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi came out and everyone joked that Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) got bored of his office job at Dunder Mifflin so he left and became an operator? Well, that’s basically what Koshiro Tanaka did in 1985. He hated communists, so he went to Afghanistan to fight them.

After WWII, the Soviet Union retained the historically Japanese Kuril Islands, a major point of contention for Tanaka against both the Soviet and Japanese governments. He believed that Japan should have fought to at least preserve its cultural land. By the 1980s, he saw the growing Soviet presence as an existential threat to his country. Because Japan only had a 250,000-strong Self Defense Force, not a military, Tanaka feared the result of a possible Soviet invasion. “If Japan started fighting a war now, 50 million Japanese would die,” he said. “They [the Soviets] don’t want peace, they want land.”

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
A Japanese office worker fighting with Afghan guerrillas using U.S.-supplied weapons against Soviet troops (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka worked in a typical office job in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district when he decided to take up arms against the Soviets in Afghanistan. However, the 44-year-old was not without any training. Though he never served in the JSDF, Tanaka was a sixth-degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate and an instructor in the martial art. He brought his skills with him to Afghanistan and taught hand-to-hand combat to the U.S.-backed mujahideen.

Though he fought alongside them, Tanaka did not adopt the tenets of Islam that the Afghan guerillas fought under. Rather, he went into battle with the mindset of a samurai. Tanaka found that there were parallels between the two cultures. Where a mujahideen fighter could earn a spot in Heaven through martyrdom in the holy war, Tanaka sought glory and honor in combat like the samurai warriors of old. “I hope in my mind that I will have the samurai spirit when it is time to die,” he said. He even carried an extra grenade at all times to martyr himself rather than suffer the shame of capture.

Tanaka’s first combat experience in Afghanistan was a shock. He accompanied a mujahideen raid on a communist Afghan government post near Jadladak, 25 miles east of Kabul. “I didn’t know how to fight, how to move,” he recalled. “I felt a bullet go by my ear. I got a shot of adrenaline.” After that experience, Tanaka applied the same discipline he used in karate to learning how to fight with a Kalashnikov. He developed a reputation as a foreign fighter and even had numerous propaganda reports of his death published by the Afghan government. During his time in Afghanistan, Tanaka endured malaria, jaundice, kidney stones, and a broken foot bone.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Tanaka in Afghanistan in 1987 (Koshiro Tanaka)

Between 1985 and 1987, Tanaka made at least seven trips to Afghanistan. However, his actions were frowned upon by his own government and were denounced. “His characteristics are beyond our understanding,” said a Japanese Foreign Ministry representative. “He is kind of strange as a Japanese.” Though Tanaka’s views were shared by some of his countrymen who donated funds to his mercenary trips, he largely paid for them out of his own pocket.

In 1987, Tanaka wrote a book detailing his experiences in Afghanistan called Soviet Soldiers in a Gun Sight, My Battle in Afghanistan. He used the proceeds from the book to fund another trip to Afghanistan and purchased supplies for the mujahideen. “[They] need help, any kind of help,” Tanaka said in a plea for Japanese support. “They need weapons, bread, food, anything.”

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Tanaka with Mujahideen fighters (Koshiro Tanaka)

Tanaka’s next trip took him to the Panjshair Valley where he linked up with the famous Afghan commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The mujahideen leader had taken up karate, but Tanaka reported that, “he’s not so good.” Massoud became a military and political leader in the Northern Alliance alongside Abdul Rashid Dostum of 12 Strong fame, but was assassinated two days before 9/11 in an al-Qaeda/Taliban suicide bombing.

Tanaka’s fight in Afghanistan ended with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. He returned to karate and has taught in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Hawaii, and Germany. He remains an outspoken supporter of a democratic Afghanistan, often sporting a pin of the Japanese flag alongside the Afghan flag.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Tanaka hosted two members of the Afghan Olympic Committee in Tokyo in February 2020 (Koshiro Tanaka)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a presidential mistress might have kept the US out of World War I forever

When Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election as President of the United States in 1916, he was running against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes. He didn’t expect to win but he won by a narrow margin. His campaign slogan “He kept us out of war” resonated with the isolationist views of many Americans at the time.  

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Woodrow Wilson’s Cabinet (Public Domain)

But if Warren Harding, then just a two-year senator from Ohio would have run like he wanted to, history might have been entirely different. The reason: his young mistress was a supporter of the German Empire. 

Warren G. Harding is one of history’s less-often remembered presidents. His administration was wracked by scandal, his direction was unclear, and even he saw the office as a more ceremonial one. In the past, he was largely remembered for dying of a heart attack in the middle of his second term. 

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Harding, c. 1882

He was one of the most ironically quotable presidents, however, once confiding, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” 

In recent years, however, his personal life has been of much more interest to historians, chiefly his 15-year long affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips – a woman nearly 20 years younger than he. 

As a senator, Harding was not a supporter of entering World War I, largely due to being both a Republican and an isolationist. Harding’s young mistress had her own opinions. Phillips took many overseas trips to Berlin in the years before World War I. Harding wrote love letters to her each and every time she went abroad. 

When he was elected to the senate in 1914, the war was still new and Wilson pledged to keep the United States neutral. Then in 1915, a German submarine sank the liner Lusitania in 1915 with 128 Americans aboard.

Phillips still wanted her lover to support Germany in its foreign affairs. She was so staunchly supportive of Germany that the U.S. government began to monitor her. As German provocations continued, however, Harding, like many Americans, began to turn against the German Empire. Differing political views began to cause a rift in their relationship. 

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
One of the letters from Carrie Fulton Phillips to Warren G. Harding, 1915

In running for the presidency against Democrat James Cox, he appealed to war weary Americans with the promise of a “return to normalcy,” the isolationist policies that dominated the pre-war years. He also vowed to keep the United States out of the League of Nations and help the economy through the post-war bust. 

But had he run against Wilson in 1916, there is a good chance he might have won, as he was a charismatic and popular politician at the time. His mistress wanted him to stay in the senate and vote in favor of German interests, threatening to expose their relationship if he did not. Harding eventually ran in 1920.

Their relationship ran its course long before he was in the White House. By 1917, the wedge between them had driven them apart. In April of that year, the United States declared war on Germany and Harding had begun to see a new lover, an Ohioan living in New York City, Nan Britton. He continued seeing both Phillips and Britton until he ran for president in 1920. 

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Warren G. Harding with his wife, Florence.

In 1919, Nan Britton gave birth to a daughter, much later proven to be Harding’s daughter (through a DNA test). Phillips threatened to expose all of Harding’s affairs, but he offered her a deal: $5,000 every year as long as he was in office, along with the perks of his patronage. She accepted. 

During the 1920 campaign season, the Republican Party picked up the tab to send Phillips and family on a long trip to Japan to prevent her from accidentally revealing Harding’s indiscretions. With her out of the way, he sailed to victory and took the White House.

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5 things you didn’t know about the Berlin Wall

This week in history, East German soldiers closed the borders between East and West Berlin. What started as a makeshift wall in 1961, pieced together with barbed wire, soldiers and tanks, eventually morphed into a 15-foot high symbol of division that blotted the landscape. However, the citizens of Berlin proved time and again where there’s a will, there’s a way. In its 28-year history, over 5,000 people risked life and limb to successfully across the border. For today’s history lesson, let’s take a look at a few more things you probably didn’t know about the Berlin Wall.


The wall was built to keep people in

At the height of the Cold War, Germany was politically divided. East Germany represented life under Communism, and West Germany held the promise of democracy. Consequently, between 1949 and 1961, over 2 million East Germans fled from East to West.

By August 1961, it is estimated that East Germany was losing approximately 2,000 of its citizens every day. Many of whom were skilled laborers in professionals, and their exodus was wreaking havoc on East Germany’s economy. To stop the bleeding, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advised East Germany to cut off access between the two sides. So, on August 13, 1961, East Germany closed the border between East and West Berlin.

The streets were torn up to build the wall

Initially, a hasty perimeter was set up, and the wall in the city center was made of men and armored vehicles. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soldiers laid down barbed wire and ripped up the street known as Friedrich-Ebert Strasse, to build a makeshift wall. More armed guards kept watch, ready to shoot anyone who tried to cross as the wall was erected.

Over time the Berlin wall was shored up, reaching up to 15 feet high in some spots, and barbed wire and pipes perched atop the wall made climbing over impossible.

Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous checkpoint, but do you know why?

Along the Berlin Wall, there were a few checkpoints where those with the proper documentation were able to cross between sides. Among them was Checkpoint Friedrichstrasse — more commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie. The U.S. Army maintained Checkpoint Charlie, and it was the only checkpoint where foreigners and allied forces were allowed to cross into East Germany.

Checkpoint Charlie also gained notoriety because it was the preferred crossing for prisoner swaps. The most notable prisoner swap occurred in 1962, on Glienicke Bridge, which stood only a short distance from Checkpoint Charlie. During this exchange American U-2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy convicted of espionage.

Checkpoint Charlie has often been depicted in film and books as well, perhaps most notably in the James Bond classic Octopussy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré.

You can own a piece of the wall

On November 9, 1989, East Germany announced relaxed travel restrictions to West Germany, and thousands gathered to demand passage. As East German guards opened the borders, the demonstrations reached a fever pitch. Berliners climbed the wall, defaced it with graffiti, and began chipping away at it, some keeping fragments as souvenirs. While East German guards began dismantling the wall on August 10, 1989, Germany was not officially united until 1990.

Today pieces of the Berlin Wall are available for sale on eBay. You can own a piece of history for .99 plus shipping and handling.

More than 100 people died trying to cross the wall

According to the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, more than 140 people were killed or died at the wall between 1961 – 1989. While many were shot by armed guards, many more perished in an assortment of suicides after failed attempts, freak accidents, and drownings. Perhaps the most bizarre death was the last one to be recorded on August 3, 1989, when Winfried Freudenberg died in a failed attempt to cross the border in a hot air balloon.

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Why the Navy has midshipmen instead of cadets

Contrary to what many civilians believe, not everyone in the military is a soldier. While the Army has soldiers, the Navy has sailors, the Air Force has airmen, Space Force has Guardians (we’re still trying to wrap our heads around that one), and don’t ever let a Marine hear you call them anything but a Marine. While the Army and Air Force call their officer trainees in ROTC and their service academies cadets, the same can’t be said for the Navy.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy (U.S. Navy)

Students at the Naval Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, and enrolled in Navy ROTC are called midshipmen. Not only does this differentiate them from their Army and Air Force counterparts, but it reflects the long lineage of naval history and tradition.

1662 saw the first recorded use of the term midshipman. It referred to more experienced sailors aboard British ships with increased responsibility over regular deckhands, but was not a formal military rank. The name itself is derived from the middle section of a ship called amidships. Between the main and mizzen masts, this is where midshipmen generally worked and berthed below decks.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
An illustration of an 18th century Royal Navy Midshipman by Thomas Rowlandson (Public Domain)

In the 18th century, midshipman became a more formal title held mostly by officer candidates who failed their lieutenant exam or were passed over for promotion. By 1794, midshipman evolved into a proper rank and referred exclusively to officer candidates. Midshipmen were generally young men who aspired to become naval officers and were sent into naval service by their families. After a set amount of time at sea and upon completion of their naval studies, midshipmen could be promoted to lieutenants.

When the United States declared its independence from Britain, much of its military was modeled after the British. After all, many Americans previously served in the British military. Moreover, the British had the most powerful Army and Navy in the world, so it made sense to copy them. With the Naval Act of 1794, Congress established the United States Navy and included midshipman as a warrant officer rank. Like their British counterparts, American midshipmen were generally young men between the ages of 14 and 22 who were in training to become naval officers.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Future Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz as a Midshipman (U.S. Navy)

In 1845, the United States Naval Academy was created. This formal institution replaced the longstanding practice of naval apprenticeships that previously created naval officers. To distinguish these new naval students, Naval Academy trainees were referred to as cadet midshipmen.

In 1865, the Department of Steam Enginery was created and engineer students were admitted to the Naval Academy. To differentiate them from the regular cadet midshipmen, the Naval Academy created the titles of engineer cadet and naval cadet. However, this didn’t last long. In 1882, Congress eliminated the distinction and all student officers were referred to as naval cadets. In 1902, the naval cadet title was eliminated entirely and reverted back to midshipman.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
The Oklahoma University NROTC Midshipman Drill Team (Oklahoma University NROTC)

Legally, midshipmen in the U.S. Navy are a special grade of uncomissioned (not noncommissioned) officer. They sit between E-9 and W-1 (W-2 in the Coast Guard). Today, the midshipman rank is also held by aspiring Marine Corps officers at the Naval Academy and in NROTC. Whereas the Navy midshipmen wear gold fouled anchors for their rank, Marine-option midshipmen wear a gold Eagle, Globe, and Anchor to differentiate themselves.

Upon graduation, Naval Academy and NROTC midshipmen are commissioned as ensigns in the Navy or as 2nd Lts. in the Marine Corps.

Feature Image: Lt. JG Sterling Orren

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story behind the pre-inauguration wreath laying ceremony

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery Thursday afternoon.


The ceremony took just under 13 minutes, according to video of the event available at CSPAN.org. Neither the president-elect nor vice-president elect chose to speak at the event.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, Jan. 19, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Trump will be sworn-in as the 45th president of the United States during the Inauguration Ceremony Jan. 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery/released)

According to a report by Bloomberg, the ceremony is one of the first of the series of events that will culminate in Trump and Pence taking their oaths of office on the West Front of the Capitol Building on Jan. 20.

A 2013 report by EverythingLubbock.com notes that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took part in a similar ceremony on Jan. 20, a day prior to their second public inauguration, and C-SPAN.org has video of Obama and Biden taking part in a 2009 ceremony prior to taking office on Jan. 18 of that year. The ceremony honors military personnel who have “served and sacrificed” according to EverythingLubbock.com.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him
Gary S. Davis, second left, deputy director ceremonies and special events/chief of ceremonies, U.S. Army Military District of Washington, and Maj. Gen. Bradley A. Becker, right, Commanding General, Joint Task Force-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, brief President-elect Donald J. Trump, third from left, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, left, prior to a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, Jan. 17, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Trump and Pence placed a wreath at the Tomb. (U.S. Army photo by Rachel Larue/Arlington National Cemetery/released)

The ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknowns. According to the website of Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb was first built to honor an unknown serviceman who fell during World War I. It was dedicated on Armistice Day, 1921 (Nov. 11, now Veterans Day).

In 1958, unknown soldiers from World War II and the Korean War were interred on May 30. On May 28, 1984, the Vietnam Unknown was interred. According to homeofheroes.com, all four Unknowns were awarded the Medal of Honor. An official Army website notes that unknown Belgian, British, French, Italian, and Rumanian soldiers from World War I were also awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 1998, the Vietnam Unknown was exhumed. DNA testing later identified him as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. CNN reported that Blassie was returned to his family and buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When McCain refused an early release as prisoner of war

Sen. John McCain, a giant of American politics who died on Aug. 25, 2018, at 81, was perhaps most profoundly shaped by his military service and more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

And McCain’s survival through years of nearly fatal torture and hardship in the Hanoi prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton” was made more impressive by his refusal to be repatriated before the release of all the American POWs captured before him.


President Donald Trump, whom McCain criticized extensively, has repeatedly disparaged McCain’s military service, suggesting at a rally in July 2015 that the senator didn’t deserve the title of war hero.

“He was a war hero because he was captured,” said Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

But McCain’s military service and suffering have made him as something of an anomaly in American political history, and a hero in the eyes of many.

McCain was offered an early release — but he refused it

A graduate of the US Naval Academy, McCain followed his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, into the Navy, where he served as a bomber pilot in the Vietnam War.

On Oct. 26, 1967, when McCain was a US Navy lieutenant commander, his Skyhawk dive bomber was shot down over Hanoi. Shattering his leg and both arms during his ejection from the fighter plane, McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

Lieutenant McCain (front right) with his squadron and T-2 Buckeye trainer, 1965.

(US Navy photo)

Less than a year into McCain’s imprisonment, his father was named commander of US forces in the Pacific, and the North Vietnamese saw an opportunity for leverage by offering the younger McCain’s release — what would have been both a propaganda victory and a way to demoralize other American POWs.

But McCain refused, sticking to the POW code of conduct that says troops must accept release in the order in which they are captured.

“I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral’s son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America’s class-conscious society,” McCain later recalled.

The North Vietnamese reacted with fury and escalated McCain’s torture.

‘Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.’

McCain soon reached what he would later describe as his lowest point in Vietnam, and after surviving intense beatings and two suicide attempts, he signed a “confession” to war crimes written by his captors.

“I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine,” McCain wrote in a first-person account published in US News World Report in May 1973.

For the next two weeks, McCain was allowed to recover from his debilitating injuries — a period he later described as the worst in his life.

“I was ashamed,” he wrote in his 1999 memoir, “Faith of My Fathers.” “I shook, as if my disgrace were a fever.”

For the next several years, the high-profile POW was subjected to prolonged brutal treatment and spent two years in solitary confinement in a windowless 10-by-10-foot cell.

Europe’s best plan to defeat Napoleon depended on not fighting him

President Richard Nixon Greets Former Vietnam Prisoner of War John McCain, Jr. at a Pre-POW Dinner Reception,1973.

McCain’s courage bolstered his political bona fides

In March 1973, two months after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, McCain and his fellow prisoners were released in the order in which they were captured. An emaciated 36-year-old with a head of white hair, McCain returned home to continue his service in the Navy.

McCain retired from the Navy in 1981, moved to Arizona, and began his political career in the Republican Party, serving two terms in the House of Representatives. In 1986, he won a landslide election to the Senate, where he served for 30 years, during which time he launched two unsuccessful presidential bids.

McCain’s courage during his brutal captivity bolstered his political bona fides. As David Foster Wallace wrote in a profile of McCain in 2000, when he was a presidential candidate, the former Navy captain commanded the kind of moral authority and authentic patriotism that eludes the average politician.

“Try to imagine that moment between getting offered early release and turning it down,” Wallace wrote of McCain’s decision to remain in Vietnamese captivity. “Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would have cried out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer. Can you hear it? If so, would you have refused to go?”

McCain, a military hawk, forever remained a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, during which 58,000 Americans and nearly 3 million Vietnamese were killed. But he worked closely with John Kerry, a Democrat and fellow Vietnam veteran who advocated against the war, to normalize relations between the US and Vietnam in the 1990s, bringing the devastating conflict to a close.

Amanda Macias contributed to this report.

Featured image: Lieutenant Commander McCain being interviewed after his return from Vietnam, April 1973.

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

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