The Global Positioning System is taken for granted these days. The military uses it for just about everything from guiding bombs to setting up rendezvous for resupplying. In the civilian world, systems powered by GPS can be found in just about every new phone or car. The system came online fully in 1995, but not before getting a brief workout during Desert Storm.
The idea for such a system stems back to 1973, when the United States was wrapping up in Vietnam and Israel was fighting for its very survival in the Yom Kippur War. The system was a fusion of technologies pushed by the various armed services — some of which dated back to before 1961’s first manned spaceflight.
One of the biggest reasons for GPS was for weapons accuracy. Back then, the goal wasn’t to create incredibly sophisticated systems, like the Joint Direct Attack Munition, but rather, according to the website for Trimble, a maker of GPS devices, it was to give nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines the means to know their position within a matter of feet. This would enable them to deliver nuclear warheads accurately. Similarly, GPS would be a key technology in turning proposals for mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles into viable weapons.
GPS was originally intended to provide accurate positioning data for ballistic missile submarines – making missiles like this UGM-133 Trident II far more accurate.
Like virtually everything about nuclear weapons and their support systems, this technology was intended to be kept within the military. The trajectory of GPS technology, though, was changed drastically during the Reagan administration. In the wake of the 1983 downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by a Soviet Su-15 Flagon interceptor, President Reagan ordered that GPS be made available for civilian applications. Production satellites began launching in 1989 and, just six years later, we had complete global coverage.
Today, GPS is so widespread, we’re willing to drop receivers attached to conventional bombs.
(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Felix Garza Jr.)
Today, GPS has become almost a public utility, like electricity or water. According to the United States Coast Guard, 31 satellites are in orbit, giving troops — and civilians — a near-constant ability to know where they are.
Watch the video below to see the Air Force describe GPS over forty years ago.
One of the reasons the U.S. Army is so capable and successful is its ability to think outside the box to achieve its major objective. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean it includes unintended consequences into its calculations.
One of the major examples of this include using Agent Orange to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam. The United States could see the enemy on the ground after using Agent Orange, but it also gave everyone cancer, from the soldiers and airmen who used it to generations of Vietnamese people, decades after the war ended.
The Army’s disregard of the laws of unintended consequences isn’t strictly a 20th Century occurrence (it’s also not limited to the Army, or to the United States). In the drive to push Indian Tribes onto reservations during the last part of the 1800s, the Army’s plan to subdue the hunter-gatherer tribes of the American West involved an unorthodox, but not well thought-out idea: destroy their resources.
At the time the frontier was disappearing, the U.S. government and U.S. Army was full of Civil War veterans, who saw victory on the battlefields through destroying the meager resources of the Confederacy. The trio that managed the final destruction of the Confederate Armies, President Ulysses S. Grant, Gen. Philip Sheridan, and Gen. William Techumseh Sherman devised a plan to do the same to the Indian tribes in the West.
The Indians didn’t have farms, factories, or shipping ports, though. If they did, the U.S. Army would have been less inclined to engineer the tribes’ destruction. Their goal was to get the roving bands of Native tribesmen off the plains and onto plows, where they would stop harassing settlers, destroying rail and telegraph lines, and stop killing soldiers.
In 1868, the massive buffalo herds that once roamed North America had dwindled into two giant herds, but the tribes still relied on them for everything from clothing and shelter to food. Army leadership recognized that destruction of the herds was the only means of controlling the native population. While the Army never officially adopted a policy of slaughtering buffalo, they helped it along.
“Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone,” Col. Richard Dodge said of the slaughter. “Kill every buffalo you can.”
So they made a most uniquely American solution, promoting a market-based solution to the destruction of the herds. A 2016 article from the Atlantic notes that buffalo hides in 1868 fetched $3.50 each, nearly $70 today. Cartridges for the popular hunting rifles of the time cost just under $5 each in 2021 dollars. It could be a big business, and it was. Killing bison was a cheaper alternative to cattle ranching.
Businessmen hunting hides decimated what was left of the herds, taking what would sell and leaving the meat to rot in the plains of the frontier. In just a few short years, the American Bison was facing extinction and the Grant Administration would do nothing to protect them. By the turn of the 20th century, there were just 300 left.
In the end, the plan worked. Tribes who were most affected by Sheridan’s plan, the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho were eventually forced onto their reservations as their food sources dwindled away. Since the buffalo was so important to their society, the tribes also became heavily dependent on the U.S. government for food and other supplies.
The bison survived by migrating to the protected lands on Yellowstone National Park. Today the American Bison is making a comeback, with more than 500,000 in public and private herds, including the herds Native tribes have also reintroduced onto their lands.
Featured image: Left: Screenshot – Red Cry, YouTube; Right: stock image
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
Throughout history, bridges have been one of the most targeted structures on the battlefield, as opposing forces do everything in their power to blow them up and cut off incoming supply lines.
After a bridge is destroyed, a new one needs to be established, or occupying forces can risk losing their resupply sources permanently.
In World War II, Japanese, Italians, and German armies used explosive motorboats as a technique to take down allied bridges. Enemy troops in scuba gear would point these motorboats in the direction of the bridge’s supporting structures and bail out right before the vessel strikes and detonates.
The explosive motorboats in action. (Images via Giphy)Because of the effectiveness of the explosive motorboats, allied forces needed to create a portable bridge that could be quickly set up and could handle the massive stress of getting blown up.
The resolution came from an unlikely source — the mind of a British civil servant named Donald Bailey.
While returning home after working at an experimental bridge, an idea popped into Bailey’s mind. He began sketching out the new architectural idea on the back of an envelope — something that later became the “Bailey Bridge.”
This new creation could support large armored tanks across 200 feet of water and set up quickly just by using some wrenches and a few engineers.
“The Bailey bridge is a very fabricated bridge, and it can be broken down into parts, trucked to a site, and then reassembled in a big hurry,” military historian William Atwater explains.
After being successfully set up under fire during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly claimed the bridge was one of the pieces of equipment that most contributed to the victory in Europe.
Check out Lightning War 1941’s video below to see how this quickly fabricated bridge helped change the course of the war.
When most people retire from the military, they look forward to spending more time with family, relaxing, and maybe pursuing their hobbies.
Neall Ellis isn’t most people.
After a successful career in both the Rhodesian and South African militaries, Ellis became bored with civilian life. Rather than sit back and relax, he decided to pursue the only hobby he knew — kicking ass.
With plenty of strife and a need for fighters throughout the African continent, Ellis decided to become a mercenary. He wasn’t going to be just any mercenary though. Ellis recruited a team and procured an Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunship.
Ellis’ mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, which was in the midst of a civil war in the late 1990s. The government of Sierra Leone, backed by the British, was attempting to quell a rebellion by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.
In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.
But Ellis wasn’t done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, “I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don’t know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It’s an adrenaline rush.”
His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: “If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it.”
Ellis’ response was epic.
Ellis loaded up his bird and flew out to deliver a message of his own.
Arriving over the rebel camp they proceeded to drop thousands of leaflets, with a picture of their helicopter and the words “RUF: this time we’ve dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!”
And he meant it. Although heavily outnumbered, Ellis kept fighting the rebels.
Eventually, his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return to Sierra Leone, but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.
His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.
In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.
Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.
Ellis’ reputation earned him a trip to Iraq working with the British during the invasion in 2003.
The landings on D-Day have become iconic in the minds of many people who think about World War II in Europe. But the landings at Normandy were not the only invasion of France that the Allies carried out. There was a second invasion – and it is not as widely recognized. In fact, if Winston Churchill had his way, it wouldn’t have happened.
In the planning for D-Day, one of the biggest concerns had been to keep the Germans unaware as to the actual location of the invasion for as long as possible. Much of the decoy efforts were focused on the Pas-de-Calais region of France, but other areas were targeted as well. According to Volume XI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” The Invasion of France and Germany, one of the decoy locations was the Mediterranean coast of France.
However, Eisenhower saw the proposed Operation Anvil as a way to supplement Overlord with a second amphibious operation within days of the Normandy landings. Winston Churchill, though, was opposed to that idea, and that opposition strengthened after the landings at Anzio bogged down. But the port of Marseilles was seen as a valuable logistics hub – and Southern France was closer to the German border than Normandy.
Finally, to get the British to approve Operation Anvil, it was delayed for two months. By then, it wasn’t so much a second front as it was the second part of a one-two-punch, and the codename was changed to Operation Dragoon. On Aug. 15, 1944, over 880 ships arrived off the southern coast of France. Three divisions, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 36th Infantry Division, and the 45th Infantry Division, went ashore. The landings faced much less opposition than the Normandy landings, and these forces helped send the Germans into full retreat from France.
While Winston Churchill paid a visit to the landing beaches, he was never thrilled with the operation. However, it was a smashing success, described by Morison as “the nearly faultless [amphibious landing] on a large scale.”
With a distinguished history dating back to the end of American Civil War, the men and women of the elite Secret Service take on one of the world’s toughest tasks — protecting the U.S. president and other government officials from assassination attempts.
Originally designated to control the issue of combating US currency counterfeiting, it wasn’t until after the assassination of former President William McKinley when the Service Secret was assigned to protect the POTUS in 1901.
The Secret Service’s mission is to prevent life-threatening incidents well before they occur. They scope out meeting locations days before their clients show up and map out vantage points and escape routes if the situation goes pear shaped.
In the sniper world, the mission is the same. Highly-trained sharpshooters are always on the alert, completely focused and ready to strike at all times.
Working in teams of two, you can usually spot them posted on the White House’s rooftop examining your every move.
Usually armed with high-powered rifles, each team is equipped with a shooter and a spotter. These snipers go through intense training learning how to react to any situation that they may face.
Remarkably, no sniper team has ever had to fire a shot since the unit was formed in 1971.
Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.
For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.
Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.
Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.
According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.
Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.
Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).
Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.
The first American to visit Afghanistan decided he was going to take the wild land by force. That’s just what Americans did back then, I suppose. The young man was born into a privileged life for the time, and lived a life of globetrotting adventure as a young man. When the love of his life decided to marry another man, Josiah Harlan decided to make his world a little more interesting.
But so were the Afghan rulers and warlords.
Having grown up learning Greek and Latin and reading medical books and journals for fun, Harlan decided to join the British East India Company’s expedition to Burma as a surgeon, even though he had never attended medical school. But he didn’t stay for all of the company’s wars. He left the company in 1826 to live in an Indian border town called Ludhiana. That’s where he met Shuja Shah Abdali Durrani, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan that would shape Josiah Harlan’s future.
The two men hatched a plan to oust the leader who deposed the Shah, Dost Mohammed Khan using a coalition of Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim fighters, then foment a full-scale rebellion in Afghanistan. Once the Shah was back on the throne, he would make Harlan his vizier. Things did not go according to plan. Khan defeated Shah at Kandahar and was forced to flee once more.
Dost Mohammed Khan can sleep soundly knowing the British got what was coming to them.
Harlan next fell in with Maharajah Ranjeet Singh, a great warrior king who had conquered most of what is today Northwest India and Pakistan. Singh, it turns out, knew how to party unlike anyone since the good ol’ days of insane Roman emperors. He was also a hypochondriac, one that “Doctor” Josiah Harlan could treat. Harlan did treat the Maharajah, earning his trust and the governorship of Nurpur, Jasota, and later, Gujerat. But he eventually fell out of Singh’s favor and turned to Dost Mohammed Khan – the man he tried to usurp in the first place.
Acting as a special military advisor to Khan, Harlan took to the battlefield against armies allied to the Maharajah, having taught the Afghans the “Western way of war,” which basically meant using numerical superiority to your supreme advantage. With Khan, he was made royalty and led armies against the Sikhs in India, against Uzbek slavers, and even led punitive expeditions in the Hindu Kush. But upon returning from those raids, he found Khan was deposed, and the British occupied Kabul and had replaced Khan with ol’ Shuja Shah.
The Maharajah’s life was so great it gave him Forest Whitaker Eye before that was even a thing.
Even though Harlan was the Commander-In-Chief among all Afghans by Khan’s decree, Khan was out and Shah was in. All the tribes and their warlords were now allied with Shah – that was just the Afghan way. Khan already fled, so it was time for Harlan to return to America and to his life in Pennsylvania.
Unsurprisingly, Pennsylvania had a marked lack of exotic spices, royal orgies, and international intrigue, so Harlan found himself trying to drum up American support to challenge Russia and Britain for supremacy in Afghanistan. America, however, had enough problems back home around the time the man returned in 1841, and there was little interest in it. Josiah Harlan moved to San Francisco where he spent the rest of his days practicing medicine.
Around this time of year, you’ll find volunteers with the Salvation Army standing outside countless shops and malls, ringing a bell and asking for whatever donations shoppers can spare. Because of their charitable efforts, millions of children will have presents to open and many others will enjoy a much-needed Christmas dinner.
Most people don’t know, however, that the “Army” part of their name isn’t just a reference to the massive volume of volunteers they organize. During both World Wars, the Salvation Army was right there with troops in the trenches, much like today’s MWR and USO. The unpaid volunteers of the Salvation Army put their safety on the line to improve the lives of our nation’s defenders.
There was no one more in need of help than the soldiers fighting on the front lines.
The Salvation Army was founded in 1852 when William Booth, a Methodist minister, took his teachings of “loving thy neighbor” from the pulpit to the streets to help the less fortunate of East London. It was his belief that everyone in need should be given the love and care they need.
While it still remains a Christian organization to this day, the Salvation Army’s main focus has always been doing good for others, regardless of who they are or what they believe. They adopted a military rank structure to organize their members — mostly pastors and businessmen — to keep within theme of working in “God’s Army.”
The organization’s charitable spirit was put to the test when Canada entered the First World War and many Canadian Salvationists saw their nation’s fighting men dragged through the hell that is trench warfare.
The Salvation Army provided troops with many minor comforts that civilians often take for granted, like the materials to write loved ones back home, hot cups of coffee, and the chance to watch a movie. They also gave the troops a nice, home-cooked meal, which was gourmet when compared to the “chow hall special” that was normally offered.
The Salvation Army aimed to provide comforts to those who needed them most — and those who needed them most were on the front lines. So, the Salvationists were right there with them in the trenches. It didn’t matter whether you were carrying a rifle, the volunteers were subjected to the same, awful living conditions and the constant threats of gas attacks, stray bullets, and artillery shells.
The hard work meant a lot to the troops. A quick bite to eat gave them time to clear their heads before jumping back into the fray.
And it was all worth it to put a smile on a war-weary soldier’s face.
A common misconception is that Daylight Savings Time exists so the farming industry could have more evening hours, but in fact, agriculture has long opposed DST (and for awhile there, they were successful at overturning the practice and returning the United States to “God’s Time”).
DST as we know it was actually instituted in the U.S. in 1918 to support war-fighting efforts, and we were late to the game; the German Empire and Austria-Hungary began DST in 1916, and one by one other countries began to follow suit. It was generally abandoned after WWI, but reinstated during WWII.
Once the war was over, there was no uniformity throughout the U.S. as to whether or not states would adopt DST permanently. It wasn’t until 1966 that Congress legislated DST for 48 states through the Uniform Time Act.
Arizona (save for the Navajo Indian Reservation) does not observe DST because extending daylight hours during summer increases energy consumption; people want the AC on when they’re active. Hawaii also opted out of the Uniform Time Act; because of Hawaii’s latitude, there isn’t much of a difference in the length of days throughout the year anyway.
Check out the video for a quick look at the history of DST in the United States:
The Illinois State Military Museum is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of military artifacts associated with Illinois. The museum is located in Springfield. Its mission is to conserve the long heritage of the Illinois National Guard. The IL NG unofficially got its start back in 1718. Back then, Illinois was still under French rule. But residents of the state weren’t too happy about it. So they banded together, and in typical American fashion, decided to make some changes. It was small at the start but by 1723, the Illinois National Guard included several militia companies. They’ve been drilling ever since. That makes the Illinois National Guard almost 300 years old!
Every great museum should have a wooden leg
The Illinois National Guard has been a significant contributor to every major conflict with US involvement. Of the many noteworthy events that included the Illinois National Guard, a few stand out. For instance, during the Black Hawk War in 1832, Abraham Lincoln served as a Guardsman. Of course, he remains their most famous Guardsman to date. The Illinois State Military Museum showcases a target board shot at by Lincoln from all the way back then.
Another great example of Illinois National Guard history includes the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment Soldiers during the Mexican-American War. At the Mexican Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847, Infantry Soldiers captured Mexican General Santa Anna. General Santa Anna’s wooden leg is now kept at the Illinois State Military Museum as one of its most popular artifacts.
Though he is known mostly as a celebrated poet and the biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg also has some military history. His strong sense of patriotism led him to enlist as a Private in the Illinois National Guard during the Spanish-American War. Now, you can find his military experiences at the Illinois State Military Museum. His poems you’ll have to find somewhere else, though.
Always there when you need a hand…
Throughout its history, the Illinois National Guard has provided a force ready to respond to incidents both state and national. More recently, the NG’s role has been to help out during non-conflicts, like the Great Flood of 1993, where more than 7,000 Soldiers and Airmen rose to the occasion as record flooding from five major rivers occurred across the state. And then, after 9/11, the Illinois National Guard played an important role in battling the GWOT. But their work is never done. In 2005, they assisted during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and then again in 2011 for Hurricane Irene.
With the continuous involvement of the Illinois National Guard in state and US affairs, the Illinois State Military Museum is necessary to preserve and share this diverse and expansive Military history. And it’s not over yet. Today, the Illinois National Guard has about 10,000 Soldiers in its ranks. It is a part of the US Army and the US National Guard and includes the Illinois Air National Guard as well as the Illinois Army National Guard. In other words, they continue to be a pretty big deal.
One of the most notable parts of being on the home front of World War II was rationing. A lot of stuff was rationed – stuff we take for granted, like gas, sugar, coffee, and food. Part of this was because Axis advances cut off the supplies of some materials, like rubber (the Ames Historical Society notes that 90 percent of America’s rubber came from the Dutch East Indies). But a big part was the fact that the scale of the American build-up required a major shift in using America’s industry.
So, how did it work in the United States? Well, there was a government agency, the Office of Price Administration, that handled the rationing. The rationing didn’t hit right away. Tires were rapidly restricted, simply because what rubber was available was needed for military vehicles and aircraft. Gas rationing, in fact, was intended to help conserve tires, and started in some states in May 1942. This was a month after the Doolittle Raid. Even though the Untied States had turned the tide in the Pacific by December, the gas rationing was extended nationwide.
The real day-to-day impact came with the food rationing. In 1943, the United States began to ration the canned foods. Part of this was to ensure the military had plenty of the canned food (which formed the basis of the C-ration). But it also cut down on metal consumption – after all, you need a lot of metal to build a Navy that would have almost 6,800 ships by Aug. 14, 1945.
When Japan’s surrender was announced on Aug. 15, 1945, the rationing ended. You can see a video showing how the system was explained to Americans in 1943, using a cartoon by Chuck Jones (famous for drawing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) below.