In March 1944, a hardy group of mountaineers, skiers, rock climbers, and outdoorsmen all volunteered for a newly formed winter warfare unit known today as the famed 10th Mountain Division. On the Colorado slopes at Camp Hale was the proving ground where these elite ski troops participated in a grueling, monthlong final exercise known as the “D-Series.” The mock battle against an opposing force was designed to put everything they were taught in training to the test. The soldiers carried 90-pound packs, wore winter warfare clothing to protect their bodies from below-zero temperatures, and marched through 6 feet of snow in skis and snowshoes.
“I thought they were going to kill us all off,” Lt. Col. Earl Clark told Outside TV in an interview. “Sleeping out in temperatures down to 30 below zero without a tent.”
They learned to sleep on top of their skis and other little tricks to survive some of the harshest winter environments on the planet. The survival exercise was a critical step before they would travel to see action against the Germans in the Apennine Mountains of Italy.
The 10th Mountain Division had an unusual beginning. Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole, the founder of the National Ski Patrol, had the task of collecting intelligence on other winter warfare units around the world. The blueprint for success mirrored the formation of Finnish ski troops who courageously fought against the Soviet Union during the Winter War in 1939. Dole didn’t have support at first from the higher echelon and his equipment was outdated, yet there was a need for such a unit.
“Ten thousand frozen to death — 25,000 dead,” Dole wrote, in reference to a report from the American embassy in Rome describing the debacle of the Italian winter campaign in Albania. He continued, “If a global war is contemplated or envisioned, men must be trained in mountain and winter warfare and time is of the essence as these troops cannot be trained overnight.” The 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division was activated less than one month later — shortly before the attack at Pearl Harbor.
The National Ski Patrol was the first civilian organization to recruit, screen, and approve applicants for military service. “When the Army decided to create a mountain division in WWII to fight in the mountains of Europe, they brought together a cast of Americans that was really quite remarkable — skiers, mountain climbers, trappers, outdoorsmen,” then Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend said in 2015, when he was commander of the 10th Mountain Division. “The 10th Mountain Division of WWII had the highest ratio of college graduates of any unit in the Army. That’s just an example of the type of people that the 10th Mountain Division attracted.”
The men of the 10th following World War II went on to transform the skiing industry into the winter sports mecca that exists today. In February 2020, some 76 years after the first D-Series military exercise, Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division followed in the footsteps of their predecessors in a challenge that tested their physical and mental toughness, competitive spirit, and marksmanship.
Winston Churchill once said there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed. Well, one crew of the SR-71 Blackbird has an authoritative take on Churchill’s famous saying.
On Aug, 26, 1981, in the midst of major exercises in North Korea that had people worried about a possible invasion, one of these Mach 3-capable spy planes was sent to track North Korea’s forces.
The United States wanted to get intelligence about missile sites in the very secretive country, and the Blackbird was often the aircraft of choice.
What made the Blackbird’s Aug. 26, 1981 mission unique though, was that this time, the regime of Kim Il-Sung took a shot at the speedy plane as it made a pass over the Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ. The mission profile often involved multiple passes.
Maury Rosenberg and Ed McKinn were making their third pass when they saw the rising plume of a missile. Rosenberg calmly turned his plane to the right, going away from North Korea, and he and McKinn watched the missile detonate.
Thanks to the SR-71’s high speed, the aircraft and the crew escaped the hit.
In response to the development of the the SR-71, the Soviet Union built the MiG-25 Foxbat to counter both the spy plane and the planned B-70 Valkyrie bomber. But even the Foxbat couldn’t stop the SR-71 from going where it wanted, when it wanted.
What did stop the SR-71? Budget cuts at the end of the Cold War.
But even then, there was a five-year period where the SR-71 made a comeback in the 1990s before the accountants did what no enemy could to: force the Blackbird out of the sky.
When people mention “Pappy” — otherwise known as Gregory P. Boyington of VMF-214 — the “Black Sheep Squadron” immortalized in the late 1970s series “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” comes to mind.
There is a good reason; Boyington, a Medal of Honor recipient, is the top-scoring Marine Corps ace with 28 kills. He was also an ace with the Flying Tigers (six kills).
But there is another Pappy who did much to help turn back the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. This was Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn.
“Pappy” Gunn had served in the U.S. Navy for twenty years before retiring to start airlines in Hawaii and the Philippines. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he returned to the service — and received a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying in medical supplies to besieged troops on the Bataan Peninsula. He was evacuated to Australia, and in the summer of 1942, he began his major contribution to the war effort.
Gunn started to add M2 .50-caliber machine guns to the noses of A-20 Havoc light bombers. The planes had been okay, able to carry a ton of bombs, but bombing from high altitude often didn’t work with ships. So Gunn began modifying the A-20s, and later the B-25s, with M2s scavenged from fighters that had brought back their pilots, but which wouldn’t be repaired. He also developed the tactics these planes would use.
It was a very lethal masterpiece. Word filtered back to the manufacturers, Douglas and North American, and soon new versions of the B-25 and A-20 were out, built and inspired by Gunn’s field modifications. One version of the B-25 would carry 18 forward-firing M2s — the firepower of three P-51 Mustangs!
These planes would make their mark in the Southwest Pacific. Japan was trying to reinforce troops in New Guinea, where the Americans and Australians were fighting fiercely. Gunn’s modifications would be put to the test in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Japan sent eight transports, escorted by eight destroyers to deliver nearly 7,000 troops to Lae from Rabaul.
On March 3, 1943, they began. The Japanese force was simply unprepared to handle the Allied firepower. Despite cover from 100 fighters, their convoy was savaged. The strafing, combined with skip-bombing and mast-height bombing, tore the transports and half the destroyers apart. Only 1200 troops and practically no equipment made it to Lae.
Gunn would serve throughout the war, retiring as a full colonel. He then went back to re-building the airline he had started prior to World War II breaking out. In 1957, he was killed when his plane crashed during a storm. While not well-known, Gunn’s legend is one that does the United States Air Force proud.
Twenty-nine years ago, on Jan. 16, 1991, the United States led the massive offensive coalition Operation Desert Storm, during the Persian Gulf War. The forces of this coalition were made up of 32 different countries, all combining efforts to stop and remove Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait the year prior.
There were over 900,000 coalition troops; 540,000 of them were American.
The U.S. began its invasion with air attacks that would decimate Iraq’s air defenses, taking out communications, weapons and oil refineries. Then, a covert and classified bombing mission began, known as Operation Senior Surprise. Its airmen were known as the Secret Squirrels.
Seven B-52G Stratofortresses took off from Barksdale Air Force Base in La., flying around 14,000 round-trip miles to launch 35 missiles at strategic locations in Iraq. They would require air refueling over the Atlantic, but all made it home safely. At the time, it was a world record for the longest bombing mission.
The world watched live on TV with CNN broadcasting around-the-clock coverage. General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell would go on to become household names in America as citizens watched the war unfold in real-time.
The battle would intensify when the massive U.S. led ground offense began. Troops on foot would begin the “100-hour ground battle” on Feb. 24, 1991. This attack would lead to a liberated Kuwait in just under four days.
On Feb. 28, 1991, a cease-fire was officially declared, and Iraq pledged to honor future peace terms. One of the terms was that Saddam Hussein would get rid of all weapons of mass destruction. He would go on to refuse weapons inspectors admittance.
The Gulf War was a test in American diplomacy, with President Bush remembering the lessons of the Cold War. The war was backed by public and congressional support when that diplomacy failed. President Bush appeared to struggle greatly over going to war, even writing a letter to his children on New Year’s Eve of 1990 about the decision. It would go on to become the end of this kind of warfare and the beginning of a new era.
The United States lost 382 troops in the Gulf War, and the Department of Defense estimated that it cost the United States billion dollars. The costs to those who served during the conflict were far greater.
Troops returning from the gulf war began getting sick; 250,000 of them.
The illness was called Gulf War Syndrome. A very wide range of chronic symptoms have been reported, including cognitive problems, respiratory disorders, muscle pain, fatigue, insomnia, rashes and digestive problems. The troops were exposed to dangerous pesticides, and the pills given to them to protect against nerve agents would be proven to be part of the cause.
The intent of the United States getting involved in the middle east conflict was to prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining control of Kuwait’s oil, which would have led him to having 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. This would have greatly impacted not just the United States, but many other countries who depend on oil for their way of life. However, it led to the U.S. becoming even more entangled in foreign politics, which would lead to more war, not less.
The Gulf War didn’t prevent the uprisings in Iraq, and we would end up right back there a decade later, losing another 6,967 troops as of 2019. This time we would attack without congressional approval and the support of the other surrounding Arab nations. We would not have the U.N. Resolution in our pocket or local support.
Nineteen years later, we are still at war. The lessons in the Persian Gulf War seem to have been forgotten. Twenty-nine years after the cease-fire was declared, it begs the question – was it worth it?
There are two primary ways to end up a hero on the battlefield: either slay the enemy in such stunning numbers that even Frank Miller starts to think the story sounds exaggerated, or else place your own body in harm’s way repeatedly so as to save the lives of friendly forces (bonus points for doing both).
These six men put themselves in mortal danger to rescue their peers.
Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger poses with his M-16 in front of a rescue helicopter.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
1. Air Force pararescue joins the ground fight under mortar fire
On April 11, 1966, an Army company became separated and found itself under fierce fire. With mortars landing in their perimeter and machine gun fire racing in, the casualties started to mount. When Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger arrived for the wounded, it quickly became apparent that the infantry was losing the ability to defend itself and conduct medevac at the same time. So, he requested permission to join the ground fight.
In the jungle, he directed the evacuations under fire until it became too fierce for the helicopters to stay. Given a last chance to fly out, Pitsenbarger gave up his seat to a wounded man and stayed on the ground to serve as a medic. Overnight, he kept giving medical aid and resisting the enemy until he succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds.
In September, 1966, he posthumously became the first enlisted airman to receive the Air Force Cross. It was later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
Now, his bravery and the struggle to have his valor honored at the highest level is set to hit the big screen. Check out the trailer below for The Last Full Measure, landing in theatres on January 24th.
The Last Full Measure Official Trailer | Roadside Attractions
2. Navy helicopter pilot turns his lights on in a firefight
When Navy Lt. j.g. Clyde E. Lassen went out on June 19, 1968, he must have known that it was a risky mission: pulling two downed aviators out of a night time firefight.
But when he arrived on site, it was worse than he expected. The downed pilots were repeatedly hampered by thick underbrush, and a firefight was already raging around them. He managed to land his helicopter the first time but the pilots couldn’t get to him. He came to a new spot under an illumination flare, but the flare burned out and Lassen struck a tree in the darkness.
He barely saved his own bird from crashing but, rather than heading home for fuel and repairs, he came back in under another flare. When that burned out, Lassen turned his own lights on, making him a beacon for enemy fire. Doing so let him land long enough to pick up the other pilots and skedaddle for home. He reached the ship with only five minutes of fuel left. He later received the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
Army Maj. (Chaplain) Charles Liteky, far right of four men lined up, waits to receive his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon Johnson in 1968.
(White House Photograph Office)
3. Army chaplain goes full beast-mode and rescues infantry
Army Capt. Charles James Liteky was supposed to hang out in the back and administer to the spiritual needs of the infantry, but on Dec. 6, 1967, a large enemy force suddenly assaulted his battalion and one company was nearly overwhelmed — and so the chaplain ran into the machine gun fire to help.
First, Liteky found two wounded men and carried them to safety. Then he went back out and began giving aid to the wounded and last rites to the dying. When he found a wounded man too heavy to carry, he rolled onto his back with the man on his chest and inched his way through heavy fire to safety. He was credited with saving 20 men despite wounds to his own neck and foot. His Medal of Honor was approved the following year.
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Allan J. Kellogg, Jr.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
4. Marine rallies his men under machine gun fire, then jumps on grenade
Gunnery Sgt. Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. was leading a platoon on a risky rescue operation on the night of March 11, 1970, when his company was assaulted by a large North Vietnamese force. As the firefight intensified, one enemy soldier slowly crept to the platoon and managed to get a hand grenade into its midst.
That grenade glanced off the chest of Kellogg. He recognized what it was and had the chance to dive away, but he instead dove onto the explosive and hoped that his body and the Vietnamese mud would save his platoon. It worked, but the weapon inflicted severe injuries upon Kellogg.
He survived and would later receive the Medal of Honor for his action.
5. Navy SEAL leads small team to rescue downed pilots after other attempts fail
In early 1972, a pilot was downed behind enemy lines, triggering a race between the U.S. and North Vietnam to reach him. American attempts from the air were a catastrophic failure. In one week, 14 Americans were killed, seven more aircraft were lost, two were captured, and another aviator was stuck behind enemy lines.
With dashed spirits and a depleted force, only Norris and the Vietnamese commander were willing to continue. They dressed up as fisherman, stole a sampan, and grabbed the missing pilot. They were nearly discovered by enemy patrols multiple times, and Norris was forced to call in a series of airstrikes to save them at one point, but it worked.
Norris would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. The Vietnamese commander received the Navy Cross and later became an American Citizen.
Army Spec. 5 James McCloughan receives the Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump for actions in the Vietnam War.
(U.S. Army Eboni Everson-Myart)
6. Army medic continuously ignores orders and runs towards machine gun fire
In May, 1969, Army Spec. 5 John C. McCloughan was part of a combat assault that went sideways right away. Two helicopters were downed and the ground fire became too thick for helicopters to conduct a rescue. McCloughan, a medic, was sent in to help extract the air crews from the ground. When he arrived on site, he immediately dashed over 100 yards across open ground to recover one soldier, despite a platoon attacking towards him.
Then, he charged through American air strikes to rescue two others and gave them medical aid even after he was torn up by shrapnel. He was specifically ordered to see to his own wounds and stop charging into danger, but he just kept charging. Over the course of the 48-hour firefight, he was credited with saving at least 10 men and with destroying an RPG position with a hand grenade.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
That’s right, pirates. And not the pretty-boy, Johnny Depp kind of pirates, either. These were violent and calculating river pirates — wish-it-was-Deliverance river pirates — and they ruled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the early part of the 19th century.
Referred to as America’s first serial killers, the Harpe Brothers were a famous pirate clan led by two cousins (yes, cousins. As if Appalachian family trees aren’t difficult enough). Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe robbed and murdered innocent men, women, and children all along the rivers of Middle America. Micajah was said to be the brawn and Wiley the brains, though they were well-matched in viciousness. Both were known to prefer buckskins and even wore the scalps of their victims at their belts.
These buck-skinned freaks became a menace to all westward migration, but quickly fell to their own stupidity. In a drunken act of mutiny, they beheaded one of their own and attempted to collect the bounty. The cousins were immediately recognized, apprehended, and beheaded themselves.
On the more frilly side of the pirate spectrum is the infamous Jean Lafitte. Lafitte also unburdened many boats of their heavy loads along the Mississippi River like the Harpe Brothers. However, he and his brother, Pierre, had a gentler style. Not that they weren’t pirates to the fullest, they just dressed better.
Like any true pirate, Jean Lafitte carried no allegiances to a country. Jean was of French descent but was offered British citizenship to betray the United States during the War of 1812. He helped General Andrew Jackson fend off the British during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans and later spied for the Spanish during the Mexican War of Independence.
Lafitte did all of these things out of pure self-interest, of course, and I can’t think of anything more pirate than that, matey.
Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.
In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.
German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…
Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.
The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.
After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.
The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.
One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.
Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”
Exactly 108 years ago on Nov. 14, 2018, carrier aviation was born from an experiment that would eventually evolve into one of the most important aspects of modern warfare.
Here are some impressive moments in the history of carrier aviation.
Eugene Burton Ely flies his Curtiss Pusher biplane from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser No. 2), in Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1910.
(US Navy photo)
1. Eugene Burton Ely flew a Curtiss Pusher biplane off the deck of the USS Birmingham on Nov. 14, 1910, marking the first time the Navy had launched a plane from a warship, which came only seven years after the Wright Brothers’ first flights. This moment can be considered the birth of carrier aviation.
Squadron Commander E H Dunning attempting to land his Sopwith Pup on the flying-off deck of HMS Furious, Scapa Flow, 7 Aug. 1917. He was killed when his aircraft veered off the flight deck and into the sea.
3. British Royal Naval Air Service pilot Edwin H. Dunning successfully landed an aircraft on a moving warship, the HMS Furious, for the first time on Aug. 2, 1917. He died five days later on a follow-up attempt, demonstrating the challenge of landing on a ship at sea.
A Sopwith Cuckoo, which was designed to take off from British carriers but land ashore, dropping a torpedo.
4. The first plane specifically designed to take off from an aircraft carrier and drop torpedoes was the Sopwith Cuckoo. The plane, which lacked the ability to land on a carrier, completed its first flight in June 1917. As this technology evolved, it would play a critical role in future battles.
5. The Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber, unquestionably the most important carrier-based aircraft in the Pacific Theater of World War II, entered service with the US military in 1940. The bomber carried a 1,000-pound bomb and was responsible for sinking 300,000 tons of enemy shipping, everything from submarines to battleships to carriers, reportedly more than any other Allied aircraft.
7. US Navy Lt. Edward “Butch” O’Hare became the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor for defending the American aircraft carrier USS Lexington from a wave of Japanese heavy bombers on Feb. 20, 1942. He took on a formation of nine Japanese bombers, shooting down roughly half a dozen enemy planes. He would later lead the first nighttime mission from a carrier on Nov. 26, 1943. O’Hare was killed during that mission.
Douglas SBDs of USS Yorktown´s air group head back to the ship after a strike on Japanese ships in Tulagi harbor on 4 May 1942.
8. The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought May 4-8, 1942, was the first naval battle in history in which the two opposing naval surface forces never came within sight of one another, highlighting the true warfighting range of carrier-based fighters and bombers.
The U.S. Navy Lockheed KC-130F Hercules from Transport Squadron 1 (VR-1), loaned to the U.S. Naval Air Test Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CVA-59) on 10 October 1963.
9. On Oct. 30, 1963, a C-130 Hercules pulled off the seemingly impossible, landing on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. There in the North Atlantic, the C-130 became the heaviest aircraft to ever land on an aircraft carrier.
An F-35C Lightning II carrier-variant of the Joint Strike Fighter makes an arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe)
10. A carrier version of the F-35, the most expensive aircraft in history, landed on an aircraft carrier for the first time in November 2014. Four years later, an American F-35B conducted its first combat operation from the deck of a US Navy amphibious assault ship.
Some of the iconic photos of the combat in the Pacific theater feature the Douglas SBD Dauntless. This dive-bomber was the plane that won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, fatally damaging three Japanese carriers in a span of five minutes. What may not be as famous, however, is the SBD’s successor.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was in the works at the start of World War II but didn’t really see combat until November 1943. While the SBD was a popular plane — proving to be not only a capable Japanese ship killer, it was also a deadly air-to-air combatant in the hands of pilots like Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa — it was relatively old, having entered service in 1938.
That replacement was the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. This far-more-modern plane could carry a greater payload and was faster than its predecessor. The problem was, however, that the plane wasn’t the easiest to fly, which helped it earn a dirty nickname — one that claimed it had some canine ancestry.
Yes, they called it the “Son-of-a-Bitch Second Class.”
Despite the moniker, the SB2C became a very good plane in its own right. Not only could it carry a heavy bomb in its bomb bay, rockets could also be carried under the wings when necessary. This is very useful when you want to suppress the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire. The SBD, despite its superb track record in combat, couldn’t do that. The SB2C also had two 20mm cannon that were forward firing, giving it a far greater punch than the SBD could provide with two M2 .50-caliber machine guns.
The dive-bomber, though, was in its twilight. One big reason was that fighters like the F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair were both capable in air-to-air combat and very proficient in dropping bombs. On a carrier deck, space is limited, and the multi-role fighters proved to be better, more efficient investments than dive-bombers. Still, the Helldiver played its part in bringing victory over the Axis in World War II.
Learn more about this plane with a nasty nickname in the video below.
The year is 1945 and U.S. forces are taking back Philippine Islands from the Japanese.
Lt. Col. Henry Mucci and his 133 Rangers are staging a daring rescue of allied POWs at the Cabanatuan prison camp. Mucci checks his watch; it’s time. At 1700 hours on January 30, the Rangers step off from their staging area at Platero. At 1745 hours, they reach their checkpoint at the Pampanga River and split into the two elements for the impending raid.
At 1800 hours, a P-61 Black Widow takes off from Lingayen Field. At 1855 hours, the pilot cuts the engines over the prison camp, drops altitude, and restarts his engines to produce loud backfires and simulate a crippled plane. He circles the camp at low altitude, continuously cutting and restarting his engines and causing an aerial spectacle for the next 20 minutes. This distraction turns the attention of the Japanese soldiers skyward and allows the Rangers to crawl undetected through the low grass leading up to the camp and take their positions for the raid. At 1944 hours, Lt. John Murphy and his support by fire element open up on the Japanese guard towers with a murderous crescendo of gunfire that signals the start of the raid.
The raid at Cabanatuan is just one example of the necessity for precise timing and synchronization in military operations. Before the advent of timepieces, the rising of the sun often served as a method of synchronization, with attacks occurring at first light. Although pocket watches were becoming more popular and commonplace in the late 1800s, they were not standard-issue in the military. The history of U.S. Military watches begins in the trenches of WWI.
The British Army experimented with the idea of a wrist watch a few decades before WWI in the Boer War, but the need for a timepiece worn on the wrist became more apparent in the trenches. During the war, officers would often signal the start of a synchronized charge against an enemy trench with the blow of a whistle. The timing of these attacks was crucial, with some being miles long. Holding a whistle in one hand and a pistol in the other, fumbling with a pocket watch just wasn’t practical.
As a quick-fix solution, metal lugs were soldered on and leather or canvas straps were fashioned to convert a pocket watch to a wristwatch. Trench watches, as they were known, were generally made of chrome plate or solid silver to prevent rusting in the damp trenches. The crystals that covered the face of the watches were made of vulnerable glass. Officers with a bit more money would fit their watches with a protective metal cage called a shrapnel guard to prevent damage to the crystal.
Three examples of trench watches with shrapnel guards (photo from hodinkee.com)
By America’s entry into the war in 1917, many doughboys headed for the western front were issued wristwatches. American watch companies like Waltham and Elgin provided the timepieces which were rushed into service. Because of the haste, only some of the watches were marked “ORD” (U.S. Ordnance).
The development of military wristwatches continued in the inter-war period. Following military specifications, Swiss manufacturer Longines released the A-7 pilot’s watch for the Army Air Corps. Though new technology allowed watches to be made smaller while maintaining high levels of accuracy, the A-7 was oversized and resembled a canted pocket watch. Designed to be worn on the outside of a flight jacket, the watch’s large size made it more legible for pilots who could check the time with a quick glance without having to remove their hands from the controls.
The A-7 featured a single-button chronograph integrated into the onion-shaped crown. (photo from wornandwound.com)
By WWII, the military wristwatch had evolved into something more recognizable today in the form of the “field watch.” The most notable of these was the A-11 (though this refers to a mil-spec production standard and not a specific model name). The Army required the watch to be water or dustproof, resistant to extreme temperatures, powered by a hacking (stoppable for synchronization) 15-jewel minimum movement (jewels are used to reduce friction on the gears of a mechanical watch) with a power reserve of 30-56 hours and accuracy of +/-30 seconds per day, and feature a black dial with white numerals and markings.
Though they were primarily issued to the Air Corps, A-11 watches also found themselves on wrists of infantry and other ground-based troops. American watch manufacturers Waltham, Elgin, and Bulova produced watches to A-11 specifications in such large quantities that it has been given the nickname “The Watch That Won The War”. Similar to A-11 specification, watches produced under the “Ordnance Department” specification utilized a sub-seconds register and were intended specifically for ground troops.
An A-11 spec Bulova (photo by User STR via MWRFoum)
An Ordnance Department spec Elgin (photo from emedals.com)
By the Vietnam War, watches were becoming more specialized. Radioactive paint illuminated the hands and indices of a watch, allowing it to be read in the dark. Dive watches provided exceptional underwater performance at previously unheard of depths, and rotating bezels allowed for timing or the tracking of multiple time zones.
The MIL-W-3818 wrist watch specification saw minor changes throughout the war, but the general guidelines remained the same. Watches featured a parkerized stainless steel case, a black dial, white numerals and indices, hands with green luminescent paint, an acrylic crystal, and a 17-jewel movement with hacking, 36 hours of power reserve, and an accuracy of +/-30 seconds per day. Manufacturers Benrus, Hamilton, Marathon and Altus produced watches for the military under this specification.
The Benrus DTU-2A/P was the first watch produced to MIL-W-3818B spec. (photo from 60clicks.com)
Increasingly, service members were buying their own watches from the PX for use in combat. The Glycine Airman was the first watch capable of tracking multiple time zones via a rotating 24-hour bezel. Because of this feature, it became immensely popular with pilots who crossed multiple time zones in a single day. This popularity extended to military pilots who famously purchased Airman watches from PX’s in Southeast Asia and wore them into combat.
An unnamed captain returns from a sortie and gives a thumbs up with a Glycine Airman on his left wrist. (photo from wornandwound.com)
Although Rolex was not the luxury brand that it is today, the Swiss-made precision tool watches still came at a considerable cost in the 1960’s. On August 13, 1969, Army Specialist Alex P. Saunders purchased a Rolex Submariner 5513 from the PX at Quan Loi, Vietnam. Saunders paid 4.50 (id=”listicle-2646188536″,638.23 adjusted for inflation in 2020) which he recalls, “…was a whole month’s take home for a Buck Sergeant at the time.” The next day, Saunders went out on a mission with his 5-man MACV-SOG Recon Team.
Upon helicopter infil, Saunders and his team came under heavy enemy fire. “During things going on, I had my watch band popped off and I lost the Rolex for a while. I remember digging around in the brush looking for it while we were in contact,” Saunders recalls. “I also remember catching hell from the other guys in my unit. In retrospect, maybe I should have paid a little more attention to the bad guys and less to my investment in the Rolex. Years later, not so much.” Today, a Rolex Submariner 5513 sells for an average of ,000 with exceptional examples fetching as much as ,000.
Saunders wearing his Rolex in Vietnam. (photo from QualityTyme.net)
These days, most service members are seen wearing personally bought Casio G-Shocks which are famous for their affordability and durability. The Suunto Core and GPS watches have also become increasingly popular with ground troops. However, many service members may be surprised to learn that the military still has mil-spec wristwatches available through the GSA Global Supply Catalog. Issued more commonly during the 1990’s, Marathon wristwatches are Swiss-made and can be purchased by unit supply clerks to be issued to formations. Of course, with the proliferation of affordable watches like G-Shocks and military budget limitations, these watches are rarely ordered and issued in the 21st century.
Since WWI, personal timekeeping has been a necessary function in the U.S. Military. Horological technology has evolved through the 20th century making accurate timekeeping available to the masses in the form of affordable, battery-powered quartz watches. Despite the more commonplace use of smartphones and smartwatches to tell the time, the humble wrist watch continues to be a mainstay in the formations of the U.S. Military. Just don’t expect that digital G-Shock you bought at the PX to be worth thousands of dollars in 50 years.
For the soldiers in the trenches of World War I, safety from artillery came from lines of trenches and a network of tunnels to keep the ever-present artillery off their heads. But sometimes the very fortifications that served to protect them, were just as life threatening as the incessant bombardment.
That was the reality for the countless men and some children who were assigned to fight in the trenches of WWI.
With all those thousands of miles of trenches, both sides of the fight faced overwhelming odds and challenges like flooding, disease-carrying rats, malnourishment, and the constant mental strains of battle fatigue.
In many areas, the zig-zag trench construction placed the opposing forces as little as 50 yards away from one another, making it extremely difficult to watch the enemies’ activity while peering over the trench’s wall without the taking an incoming shot.
Since trenches had little overhead coverage, artillery shells frequently landed inside the emplacements. The distinct whistle of an incoming artillery round gave troopers just a few seconds to seek cover.
At a moment’s notice, the troops who occupied those trenches had to be prepared to defend themselves or leap out and race across No Man’s Land.
This was the dangerous area in between the enemy fronts which was covered with razor sharp barbed wire and plenty of enemy land mines.
Bowe Bergdahl was Pfc. Bergdahl when he walked off his post in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and was captured by the Taliban. Five years later, however, when the White House exchanged five Taliban detainees for his release, he was Sgt. Bergdahl.
According to the Department of Defense, prisoners of war and those under missing status continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries. They must be considered for promotion to the next highest grade when they become eligible.
For enlisted, it is based on time in grade and time in service. The eligibility for officers is based on the date of rank in their current grade.
A notable story is of then-Cmdr. James Stockdale. When he was captured and sent to the Hanoi Hilton, he was the most senior POW and so was the ranking officer among the prisoners there. When Lt. Col. ‘Robbie’ Risner was also captured, he outranked Stockdale by time in grade.
Later, a newly captured naval pilot informed Stockdale of his promotion to captain, he assumed command again.
This continues for prisoners of war but stops for those on missing status when they are presumed dead under Title 37 of the U.S. Code, section 555.
This happened with 1st Lt. John Leslie Ryder. His aircraft, nicknamed “Bird Dog,” went missing during a visual reconnaissance flight during the Vietnam War on June 9, 1970.
During the flight, the crew failed to report in by radio and calls were not answered. The search could not be mounted until the next day. The search continued until the 19th to no avail. A year to the day later, Lt. Ryder was promoted to captain.
Payment is also changed from regular enlistments. Instead of being involved in DFAS, the payment is authorized by Congress and made directly through the Secretary of the Treasury, tax-free. Any earnings, leave and money, are still given to the individual at their appropriate rank and are held until return.
There is also no limit on leave accrual, meaning it is well deserved for the returning service member to take all of the leave at two and-a-half days per month.