These 5 Navy rates that are extinct - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Unlike in other services, sailors are referred to by their actual jobs. An E-5 in the Army could be an infantryman or a food service specialist, but you would still call them Sergeant. You might be able to distinguish an infantryman by a Combat Infantry Badge or Expert Infantry Badge, but they’re still a Sergeant. In the navy, although an E-5 is a Petty Officer 2nd Class, they could be identified as a Yeoman 2nd Class, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, or even Legalman 2nd Class. Of course, as jobs are eliminated and new ones are made, the list of titles based on rates changes. Here are some odd Navy rates that have gone the way of the dodo.

1. Loblolly Boy

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
A surgeon and loblolly boy attend to a patient (Public Domain)

The early days of the American Navy were not pretty. Pay was poor, work conditions were rough, and amputation was prescribed like water, motrin and changing your socks are today. As such, it was the duty of loblolly boys to assist the ship’s surgeon in collecting the amputated limbs. They also hauled the buckets of tar that were used to cauterize the bloody stumps and spread sand to absorb the spilled blood. On top of their gruesome duties, the boys were also responsible for spoon feeding the patients a thick porridge called “loblolly” from which their name was derived. Loblolly boys remained in the Navy’s books until 1861. After going through several name changes and evolutions, loblolly boys are known today as hospital corpsmen.

2. Pigeoneer

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Pigeoneer 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon (U.S. Navy)

Before the radio took off in the 1920s, carrier pigeons were a common communication method in the military. Their natural homing ability, fast speed, and high flying altitude made them a valuable asset when telegraph lines were not or could not be established. It was the job of pigeoneers to develop and care for the birds. Despite the introduction and rapid advancement of radio technology, the Navy retained the carrier pigeon trainer rate until 1961 as a last-ditch form of communication.

3. Aviation Carpenter’s Mate

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Early planes were not tough birds (U.S. Navy)

This one might take a minute to figure out. However, it bears remembering that early airplanes were made of wood and canvas. Modern aircraft take enough of a beating when they land on aircraft carriers, so you can imagine what sort of punishment the Navy’s early kites took when they touched down on the deck. Additionally, storing a wooden aircraft on a ship will inevitably lead to rot. It was the job of aviation carpenter’s mates to skillfully repair and maintain the damaged planes. The rate is one of the shortest-lived, being introduced in 1931 and being disestablished in 1941. The introduction of metal planes gave rise to the aviation metalsmith which evolved into the modern aviation structural mechanic.

4. Steward

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Filipino stewards aboard the USS Seattle during WWII (U.S. Navy)

The distinction between officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted sailors is very distinct in the Navy. The officers’ mess and the chief goat locker are prime examples of this. Stewards were responsible for preparing and serving the officers’ meals, maintaining their quarters, and caring for their uniforms. Due to the nature of the work, the majority of stewards were minorities like African-Americans and Filipinos. It’s worth noting that, until 1971, Filipino sailors were restricted to the steward rating. In 1975, the steward rate merged with the commissaryman rate to create the mess management specialist. This rating lasted until 2004 when it was changed to culinary specialist.

5. International Business Machine Operator

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
All of that just to calculate the interest on a 1939 Ford (U.S. Navy)

This one sounds completely made up until you recall what IBM stands for. During WWII, the Navy saw the need for more precise and expedient calculations for things like gun trajectories, accurate accounting, and formulating logistics. Enter IBM and their calculators. In order to operate the complex machines, the Navy created the international business machine operator rate. Likely the only rate to be named after a private corporation, it only lasted for about a year before it was renamed to punched-card accounting machine operator. The rating has undergone many evolutions, but it is known today as the information systems technician.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This general is the reason why working girls are called Hookers

In American history, good men have answered the call of duty to march in defense of freedom. They sacrifice privacy, comfort, and intimacy for months and sometimes even years. Troops find ways to relieve stress by working out and by communicating with loved ones. However, during the Civil War, it wasn’t as easy as calling your love via long distance and paying the charges.

Union and Confederate armies were followed from camp to camp by ladies of the night. Yet, one General was so enthusiastic about keeping the morale of his men high that he became a legend. He supported this kind of capitalistic free market to the point that it cemented the nickname for these entrepreneurs with his namesake. You’ve partied, yes, but you’ll never party like General Hooker.


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These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Battle of Chancellorsville

Public Domain

General Joseph “fighting Joe” Hooker

Joseph Hooker was a Union Army officer that served as major general during the Civil War. On June 17, 1863, he moved the entire Army of the Potomac north through Loudoun. His army was to prepare to battle Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Where his massive army went, so did a large number of Soiled Doves that became known “Hooker’s Brigade.”

The Battle of Chancellorsville lasted from April 30 to May 6, 1863. General Hooker was not a decisive leader and took his time issuing orders, because of this, General Lee was able to make a risky decision and divide his smaller army in two. General Lee was able to outmaneuver and defeat a larger force due to this dichotomy of personalities. This loss followed General Hooker like a recurring VD.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

(Public Domain)

The legend of General Hooker’s “hookers” became a slang term for a prostitute, and is derived from his last name but also due to the lack of military discipline at his headquarters near Washington, D.C. He would throw parties like the world was going to end and kept the parties going with him wherever he went.

Early in 1863, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac encouraged prostitutes to visit the troops as a morale measure, and reportedly used their services liberally himself. His name has been associated with the profession, he was General Joseph Hooker. – AN ANALYSIS OF THE MEDICAL PROBLEMS OF THE CIVIL WAR, ALFRED JAY BOLLET
Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

www.youtube.com

Etymology

Hooker (n.) “one who or that which hooks” in any sense, agent noun from hook (v.). Meaning “prostitute” (by 1845) often is traced to the disreputable morals of the Army of the Potomac (American Civil War) under the tenure of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker (early 1863), and the word might have been popularized by this association at that time. – etymonline.com

Now, there will be some people who will say that the word ‘hooker’ was in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1567, which they are correct; It meant to pickpocket, swipe, or steal. However, the invention of the word is not what is in question here, it is the fact that this General partied so hard that he changed what the word meant.

Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

youtu.be

Legacy

In the end, General Hooker’s embarrassing loss to General Lee is overshadowed by the legacy of his parties and dedication to troop welfare, although, symbolically because they did get a lot of STDs. Actual troop welfare was terrible.

“People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.” – “Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville,” Battles and Leaders, General Hooker
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why soldiers called this military chocolate bar ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’

When the U.S. Army quartermaster called on Hershey’s chocolate to create a chocolate bar designed especially for the military, it had very specific specifications. One of these might have seemed at odds with the way most people think about chocolate, but there are a lot of things about military service that defy common expectations. 

Called the D-Ration, the chocolate bar was intended to be an emergency source of calories for American soldiers deployed overseas. So it had to be lightweight, high in calories, and able to withstand higher than normal temperatures when carried. 

Naturally, as an emergency ration, they couldn’t have troops breaking into these things when not in an emergency, so the last requirement was that it taste “just a little better than a boiled potato.”

Hershey’s current offering would not pass the temperature test, so the chemists at the corporation got down to business. Using chocolate liquor, sugar, skim milk powder, cocoa butter, oat flour, and vanillin, they created a chocolate bar that was roughly the weight of two C batteries but packed 600 calories. To make it less tasty, they used less sugar and more liquor. 

The resulting chocolate was so dense it wouldn’t melt enough to be poured, so the company had to use molds to form the bars. Quartermaster Capt. Paul Logan approved, so Hershey went about mass producing what would be known as Field Ration D.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
This cookies and creme bar sounds a lot better.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company had to package the bars like any other field ration, protecting them from the effects of poisonous gas. They were stored in sealed cellophane, packaged in cardboard boxes, dipped in wax, and shipped in a wooden case boxed with steel nails. 

Producing the chocolate bars for the military might have saved Hershey’s chocolate entirely, as the federal government considered shutting down the entire U.S. candy industry as a nonessential business and rationing sugar and cocoa for the war effort. Milton Hershey was able to show the D-Ration as proof that his business was supplying vital calories for the American troops fighting overseas. 

He was definitely making the chocolate, as records show billions of the bars were produced between 1939 and 1945. But the troops weren’t exactly loving them. This was the intent, of course, but having to carry whatever they needed to fight in the field, a disgusting “chocolate” bar wasn’t going to top the list. Most troops would ditch the D-Ration for a decent kind of ration or, better yet, more ammunition. 

When they did take the bars with them, they found them almost inedible. Soldiers with poor teeth couldn’t chew them and those with good teeth had to whittle slices off the bar to consume. Those who tried to eat the chocolate bars began calling them “Hitler’s Secret Weapon” because it absolutely wrecked their intestines – a situation today’s U.S. troops often refer to as “bubbleguts.”

It stands to reason that, with flavor being an important sticking point for the Army quartermaster, Capt. Logan did eat some of the bar before approving them for mass production and consumption. Logan may not have had the same bubbly reaction in his gastrointestinal tract later experienced by the troops deployed in World War II. 

This is why some soldiers evolved trust issues when it comes to Army food.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the helicopters of World War II

Think of a military helicopter. Think of it in combat. Is it a Black Hawk dropping off operators in urban combat? A Chinook picking troops up from a remote ridge or rooftop? Maybe you’re old school and you see a Piasecki H-25 or H-19 Chickasaw from the Korean War. But few people will think all the way back to World War II when German and American helicopters all served on the front lines.


These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

The Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was one of America’s only helicopters to see active service in World War II, acting predominantly as a rescue and transportation asset in the China-Burma-India Theater.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

America’s military helicopter program was largely carried by two companies, both prominent helicopter manufacturers today who, oddly enough, are now competing to create the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft. Sikorsky’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian-American immigrant who wanted to help his adopted country fight in World War II.

He received financial backing from friends to start manufacturing aircraft, predominantly fixed-wing planes, for the U.S. military. But, off to the side, he was developing new helicopter designs including the VS-500, an aircraft that used one large rotor blade to generate lift and another, smaller rotor blade mounted on a long boom to generate anti-torque. This is the same blade configuration now used on everything from the UH-60 to the AH-64 Apache.

The VS-300 prototype quickly gave way the R-4, a two-seater helicopter that would serve most predominantly with the U.S. Army but also the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Royal Air Force. It first began rolling off the production line in 1942 and was primarily used for observation and to ferry supplies.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

The German-made Flettner 282 helicopter was employed against Allied naval assets near the end of World War II, but was then captured by Allied troops. In this photo, it’s undergoing testing with the U.S. military.

(Public Domain)

But, the helicopter was also employed in two daring rescue missions in the challenging terrain of the China-Burma-India Theater. The helicopters could just barely make it through the high mountain passes that planes could easily fly over, but the rotary aircraft could land in small clearings that were impossible for planes to stop in or take off from.

Other helicopters were in development during the war. The Bell Aircraft Corporation, later known as Bell Helicopters and now Bell Flight, created the Bell Model 30 that would see limited use on the home front, but it would not be deployed overseas.

Meanwhile, Germany’s helicopter program was much more advanced than America’s or the Allies’. They debuted experimental helicopter designs before the war and even flew prototypes in front of adoring crowds for weeks in 1938.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

The Focke-Angelis Fa-223 helicopter was a German machine popular during the war. It had a heavy lift capability for the day that allowed it to re-position artillery in forward positions.

(U.S. Air Force)

This pre-war research led to the Fa-223, the “Dragon.” Five types were planned with missions from anti-submarine, to search and rescue, to cargo carrying. But it really predicted future developments when it was used to recover crashed aircraft and to move artillery batteries to inaccessible mountaintops where they would have greater range and better defenses.

Meanwhile, the Flettner-282 Hummingbird was designed to seek out enemy submarines at sea and other threats. It was completed late in the war with early models going through testing in 1943. But the first 24 were completed in time for limited deployments to the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean Sea.

A number of other models were in experimental phases during the closing months of the war, but saw limited or no combat use before war’s end. But the American, German, and other designs that didn’t quite make it into the fight would prove influential for decades to come.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why an airman had to shoot down his own plane – while flying it

At the height of the Korean War, Air Force pilot A.J. D’Amario was on his first solo flight since arriving in country. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a combat mission, he was just on a routine sortie to “have fun boring holes in the sky.” Things got a lot more interesting for D’Amario immediately upon taking off. He would have to put a few rounds from his sidearm in the plane before he could bring it down.


D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter wasn’t the latest and greatest plane, but it was still a good fighter to have. He would have to get used to it. The MiG-15 was tearing through P-80 Fighters, but there weren’t yet enough F-86 Sabres to go around. Still, the P-80 held its own: the first American jet-to-jet kill was made behind the stick of a Shooting Star. None of that was on D’Amario’s mind as he shot up into the wild blue yonder. He was more concerned about his left fuel tank. It felt heavy – it wasn’t feeding fuel to the engine.

He wanted to land immediately, but that much fuel was a no-go for the Korean War-era U.S. Air Force. The tower at Suwan, Korea, wasn’t about to have a melted runway if that much jet fuel caught fire on the flightline. They told him to dump his tanks at a bomb range and then come back.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.

(U.S. Air Force)

The young pilot flew over to the range, and as soon as he came upon his target area, he flipped the switches for the bomb release. Unfortunately, nothing happened. D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star was still carrying the heavy tanks of dangerous fuel and had no way of dumping the tanks, feeding the engine, or landing. He did what anyone who’s felt enough frustration with malfunctioning equipment wanted to do: he shot it.

But that wasn’t his first reaction. He made a few bombing runs, trying to release the left tank at every turn. He even once hit the plane’s “panic button” – the button that released everything attached to the fuselage. It did dump everything, everything except his errant fuel tank, full of fiery death. The tower told him he was cleared to bail out. The only problem with that is that bailing out comes with its own potential consequences. The loss of the aircraft is a definite consequence.

“… pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane,” D’Amario later wrote, “And I figured I still had one option worth trying.”

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.

(Lockheed)

That’s when the pilot opened the canopy of his jet aircraft (which he did slow down to 220 miles per hour) and pulled out his issued sidearm, a Colt M1911, and fired at the very full, very malfunctioning fuel tank.

“… liquid fuel will not burn,” D’Amario writes. “At least not like vapors, so I aimed for the part of the tank I was sure would be full of liquid.”

D’Amario fired four shots at the tank. The first shot was to understand just where to shoot to hit the tank while flying at 220 miles per hour. The next three rounds punctured the tank and went through the other side. It worked: the P-80 was still flying, and liquid fuel was pouring out of the left tank. Best of all, D’Amario and his Shooting Star did not become a real-life burning streak across the sky.

He was able to drain the tank and make a “routine” landing a half-hour later, convinced he was the only USAF pilot to shoot his own plane when it malfunctioned.

“Thank goodness for my .45,” he wrote.

Articles

This was the final combat flight for the P-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair

You might think that legendary fighter planes like the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang saw their last action in the Korean War.


It seems like a reasonable assumption – but it’d be dead wrong.

Believe it or not, the last combat those planes saw came around the time that F-4 Phantoms and MiG-21s were fighting for air superiority over North Vietnam, and Israeli Mirages and Neshers took on the air forces of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab countries.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Ranker.com

In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras went to war. It lasted about 100 hours, and started less than three weeks after the end of a contentious qualifying series for the 1970 World Cup.

Dubbed the “Soccer War,” the fighting left nearly 3,200 people dead, both military and civilian.

Notable was that it was the last combat action that some legendary planes would see. The war started when El Salvador began its attacks — a makeshift affair with passenger planes being modified to carry bombs for the first strikes. El Salvadoran troops followed the strikes and pushed into Honduras.

Honduras at the time had 19 F4U Corsairs in its inventory, along with 6 AT-6 Texan attack planes. El Salvador had 11 P-51D Mustangs in service, plus some that upgraded Cavalier Mustangs. They had 25 F4U/FG-1 Corsairs in service as well.

During the fighting, Honduran Corsairs downed a P-51 and two Corsairs, gained air superiority over the battlefield, and began pushing the invaders back. Anti-aircraft fire claimed two more Salvadoran Mustangs, while two P-51s were lost in a mid-air collision.

Two Salvadoran Corsairs were also shot down by ground fire.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Photo: US Navy

When all was said and done, the Organization of American States intervened to arrange for a cease-fire. The war ended with a status quo ante bellum. Today, both Air Forces operate A-37B Dragonfly attack planes (15 for El Salvador, 10 for Honduras), but Honduras also has nine F-5E Tiger II fighters. Honduras and El Salvador took over a decade to sign a formal peace treaty, but the underlying tensions remain in that region.

While the disputes that lead to the Soccer War have not been resolved, the Soccer War did give some legends one last chance to serve.

Articles

This Black Cat was bad luck for the Japanese navy

The fighting in the South Pacific during World War II was vicious. One of the big reasons was how evenly-matched the two sides were. One plane called the Black Cat, though, helped the Allies gain a big advantage – and was an omen of ill fortune for the Japanese navy.


According to the Pacific War Encyclopedia, that plane was a modified version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. This flying boat was a well-proven maritime patrol aircraft – sighting the German battleship Bismarck in time for the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to launch the strikes that crippled the Nazi vessel in May, 1941.

The PBY had also detected the Japanese fleets at the Battle of Midway.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
PBY-5A Catalina flying over the Aleutian Islands during World War II. (US Navy photo)

The Catalina had one very big asset: long range. It could fly over 3,000 miles, and was also capable of carrying two torpedoes or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The PBY drew first blood at Midway, putting a torpedo in the side of the tanker Akebono Maru. But the long legs came with a price in performance. The PBYs had a top speed of just under 200 mph – making them easy prey if a Japanese A6M Zero saw them.

The planes also were lightly armed, with three .30-caliber machine guns and two .50-caliber machine guns. In “Incredible Victory,” Walter Lord related about how two PBYs were shot up in the space of an hour during the run-up to the Battle of Midway by a Japanese patrol plane. One “sea story” related by Morison had it that one PBY once radioed, “Sighted enemy carrier. Please notify next of kin.”

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina on a patrol during World War II. (US Navy photo)

Planner found, however, that flying PBY missions at night helped keep them alive. During the the Guadalcanal campaign, the first PBY-5As equipped with radar arrived and the first full squadron of “Black Cats” intended for night operations arrived later that year. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Struggle For Guadalcanal,” the “Black Cats” were a game-changer.

These Black Cats did a little bit of everything. They could carry bombs – often set for a delay so as to create a “mining” effect. In essence, it would be using the shockwave of the bomb to cause flooding and to damage equipment on the enemy vessel. They also attacked airfields, carried torpedoes, spotted naval gunfire during night-time bombardment raids, and of course, searched for enemy ships.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Morison wrote about how the crews of the “Black Cats” would have a tradition of gradually filling out the drawing of a cat. The second mission would add eyes, then following missions would add whiskers and other features.

Japan would try to catch the Black Cats – knowing that they not only packed a punch, but could bring in other Allied planes. Often, the planes, painted black, would fly at extremely low level, thwarting the Zeros sent to find them.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
A PBY Catalina in service with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II, many Catalinas were retired, but some served on. The last military unit to operate them was Brazil’s 1st Air Transport Squadron until they were retired in 1982, according to the website of the Brazilian Air Force Aerospace Museum.

Articles

This female amputee led French commandos behind Nazi lines

One of the Allies’ most heroic spies was an amputee turned down by the State Department because of her leg amputation who served with both the British Special Operations Executive and the American Office of Strategic Services, coordinating resistance attacks and other operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.


Virginia Hall lost her left leg in a hunting accident while serving in the American embassy in Turkey. She ordered a wooden a prosthetic that she named “Cuthbert.” and practiced with it to ensure she could do nearly everything with it that she had done with two legs.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
A painting depicts Virginia Hall of the OSS transmitting intelligence on the German war machine from inside occupied France to Allied forces. (Painting: CIA by Jeffrey W. Bass)

Despite her efforts, the State Department turned Hall down when she requested to take the oral exam needed for her to become a diplomat.

She then returned to France and, when Germany invaded Poland, joined the French Army as an ambulance driver and learned how the Nazis were treating Jewish people in Poland. When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she escaped to London and was quickly recruited into the SOE.

The SOE sent her to France as its first female operative in the country. Hall worked from the city of Lyon as a spy posing as a writer for an American newspaper. While in Southern France, she helped establish safe drop zones for the insertion of British agents and supplies for resistance fighters.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
This is a forged identification document for Marcelle Montagne, an alias of Virginia Hall. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The Gestapo began focusing on the region and had orders to hunt “La Dame Qui Boite,” the “Limping Lady.” Hall and her co-conspirators fled in 1942 over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. When she reported to the SOE that “Cuthbert” was giving her trouble in the mountains, headquarters told her, “If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated.”

What was she supposed to do? Shoot her leg again?

Hall was arrested in Spain because she lacked papers, but a letter smuggled to the American consul there got her released six weeks later. She continued working for the SOE in Madrid but thought she was being coddled in such a safe mission.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
A memorandum from OSS Gen. Bill Donovan suggesting that President Harry Truman present Virginia Hall’s Distinguished Service Cross personally. Hall requested a small ceremony with Donovan instead. (Photos: National Archives)

She wrote to the headquarters, “I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative.”

After returning to London, Hall attended training as a radio operator with the SOE and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Her OBE medal was granted by King George VI in 1943.

But in early 1944, Hall learned that America had stood up its own spy agency, the Office of Strategic Services. She immediately volunteered for OSS service in occupied France.

The Americans got her a ride into France on a British torpedo boat and she went undercover as an elderly milkmaid. She was probably the only elderly milkmaid in the country who coordinated parachute drops, reported German troop movements, and snuck across the country while transmitting Nazi military secrets via a suitcase radio.

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Virginia Hall receives the Distinguished Service Cross from OSS Ben. Bill Donovan. (Photo: CIA Archives)

Using supplies inserted into the drop zones she had selected, Hall trained and armed three battalions of French resistance fighters and prepared them for D-Day. When the Allies launched Operation Overlord and came across the channel, her forces launched a series of attacks to disrupt the Germans and help the liberators.

Fighters operating under Hall’s direction derailed trains, sabotaged bridges, destroyed rail and telephone lines, and killed and captured hundreds of Germans.

In one particularly impressive move, Hall and her fighters blew up a bridge and ambushed the German convoy attempting to use it, killing 150 and capturing 500 of them.

As the war in Europe wound to a close, Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS approved the award of a Distinguished Service Cross to Hall and suggested to President Harry Truman that he pin it on her personally. Instead, Hall requested that the ceremony be kept private so that she could continue work in the clandestine service.

The administration agreed and Gen. Bill Donovan, head of the OSS, pinned the medal on her in September 1945. She was the first civilian and only American woman to receive the award in World War II.

Hall continued to serve in the OSS and then the Central Intelligence Agency until her mandatory retirement at the age of 60 in 1966.

MIGHTY HISTORY

North Dakota was the world’s 3rd most powerful nuclear power

If you had to guess at the world’s strongest nuclear power, you would probably get the top two right. America and Russia are top dogs and have been so since Russia became an official country again. Before that, you guessed it, the Soviet Union was on top.

But do you know who is number three in the world? Well, for a few years in the Cold War, North Dakota could have claimed that spot by seceding.


Even more shocking, according to numbers in 2006, seven U.S. states would be in the world’s top 10 nuclear powers at the time if their arsenals had been counted separately. America’s nuclear arsenal in Europe could have formed an eighth.

At the start of the Cold War, America was the top atomic power because it was the only atomic power. Then, Soviet scientists created a bomb through their own research and theft of American secrets. For much of the Cold War, America’s arsenal was larger, in missiles as well as warheads and bombs.

But there was a problem for Americans in the Cold War. They didn’t know that. Thanks to the flawed Gaither Report and the rapidly accelerating fields of atomic and then nuclear research, there was a belief in the U.S. that the Soviet Union in the 1950s could be manufacturing up to five rockets per day with a sparkling new warhead on each. (We’ve previously written about that, here.)

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Intercontinental ballistic missiles sit outside a base in Wyoming.

(U.S. Air Force R.J. Oriez)

So America raced to stay ahead of the Soviet Union, manufacturing hundreds and then thousands of missiles, bombs, and other weapons in the Cold War. In an effort to draw Soviet weapons away from American cities as well as to protect the country’s counter-strike capability, America put the newest missile and warheads in hardened silos in the Midwest.

So about 250 Minuteman III missiles were packed with up to three warheads each in sites across North Dakota. It was the largest missile arsenal of any state at the time, leading to North Dakota getting the moniker “world’s third-largest nuclear power.

In the modern era, if the U.S. arsenal was split into the states that house the weapons, North Dakota would be the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power. Russia is number one with about 6,800 warheads. But, according to this map from the Bulleting of Atomic Scientists in 2006, there are seven U.S. states with larger arsenal than France’s number 3 arsenal.

France has 300 nuclear weapons, putting it far behind Washington (2,364 weapons), New Mexico (1,914 weapons), Georgia (1,364 weapons), North Dakota (1,254 weapons), Louisiana (940 weapons), Nevada (902 weapons), and Montana (535 weapons). America’s arsenal in Europe is also larger than France’s at 400 weapons.

Many of these U.S. weapons are in storage or are scheduled for decommissioning. That’s the case in New Mexico and Nevada. Georgia and Washington house weapons that are deployed on ballistic and cruise missile submarines. North Dakota and Montana have missiles in silos as well as air-launched missiles and bombs. Louisiana houses air-launched missiles and bombs.

Now, of course, state governors don’t actually control those arsenals. The weapons were commissioned by the federal government and are still largely controlled by the active military and the Department of Energy. So, yeah, it’s a U.S. arsenal and not state ones. Still, it’s comforting to know that this author’s state would have the fourth largest arsenal in the world. Hope we don’t piss off Washington State, though.

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Why pigeons were once the best form of battlefield communication

Pigeons are one of the most annoying and disgusting parts of living in a city these days. But did you know that those winged rats were once well-decorated war heroes?


The World Wars had dramatically increased the pace of technological advancement and gave rise to early forms quick communication, such as radio and telephone. But radio was easily intercepted and telephone wires were obvious to the enemy. Pigeons, on the other hand, had a surprising 95 percent efficiency and could carry longer-form messages than those sent by telegraph.

Communications between squads and battalions were typically delivered by a runner — a troop that moved across the battlefield carrying a message. For higher level communications, signal troops would write messages on tiny pieces of paper that would then be rolled up and attached to pigeons. Pigeons have natural magnetoreceptors and an instinct to return home, both of which they use to send a message on its way.

These birds can travel great distances in a (relatively) short amount of time. Princess the Pigeon, for example, managed a 500-mile flight during World War II when she carried vital information about the British troops fighting in Crete to RAF in Alexandria, Egypt.

 

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct
Not all pigeons in England are terrible. (Imperial War Museum)

 

Pigeons weren’t just sent as messengers. As early as World War I, innovators attached cameras to the birds who would then fly about the battlefield as the camera automatically snapped photographs.

As you’d expect, most photos came out terribly but, on occasion, you’d get a photo that would prove the idea wasn’t as terrible as it sounds.

 

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(Imperial War Museum)

The most well-known story of the war pigeons is that of Cher Ami (which translates to “dear friend” from French). On October 3, 1918, 195 American troops of the Lost Battalion were trapped behind enemy lines. Their position was surrounded on every side by German forces. To make matters worse, American artillery had started raining down on their position. Maj. Whittlesey affixed a message to Cher Ami and let her lose.

The message read, “We are along the road parallel to 276.4. Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.”

Cher Ami was spotted by the Germans and shot down. Despite her wounds, she managed to take flight again and complete her 25-mile journey in just 25 minutes. She did this after taking a bullet to the chest, being blinded in one eye, and nearly losing the leg to which her crucial message was attached. Thanks to Cher Ami, all 195 men survived.

She was patched up and sent back home to the U.S. by Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing himself.

 

Feature image: Imperial War Museum

MIGHTY HISTORY

What Chinese veterans of Korea think about their war

The Korean War is strange anomaly in the history of American wars, especially of the 20th Century. So much consideration is reserved for wars and the people who fought them in today’s culture that it makes the term “the forgotten war” seem like an impossibility. But that’s what we face with Korean War veterans.

Theirs is a very insular generation of veterans. Those who don’t share an experience in World War II or Vietnam because they only fought in Korea, they can only find an ever-dwindling number of fellow Korean War veterans.


Because of this, they have a very detailed memory and analysis of not just their part in the war, but of the entire war itself, so conversations tend to be lively between them. And, if you have a question, you will find a thoughtful answer. They’ve discussed every aspect of the war quite a bit.

Related: ‘Anyone trying to kill me, I’m going to kill them’

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Some Korean War veterans, like the “Chosin Few” seen here, form alumni groups of single battles.

So it makes sense that whenever I talk to Korean War veterans, there’s one thing they all say they want to do: talk to veterans who were fighting on the other side of the fiercest battles. Whenever old adversaries get together, the talk generally comes to heal the emotional wounds of both parties, whether it’s between Americans and Germans, Japanese, or Vietnamese counterparts.

“They were fighting under the same orders I had,” Marine Corps veteran Joe Owen said when he told me about North Korean troops just days before his death in 2015. Owen was a lieutenant at the Chosin Reservoir. “They were out to kill me, as I was out to kill them… I respect them. I’d love to sit down with one of them and bullshit with them about what they were doing at such and such a time, especially if they were in the same battle as I was.”

But Korean War veterans will likely never get this experience.

North Korea is called the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. It is extremely difficult to get in as an outsider, especially as a U.S. military veteran. North Korea did not fare well during the Korean War. Despite its early success, the North was pretty much ravaged and bombed away for three years and today’s North Koreans remember the war very differently than the rest of the world. An American Korean War veteran visiting the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang would either have to be extremely diplomatic or agree to a vow of silence as he walked through.

Chinese veterans of the war are a different matter. China is a much more open, and relatively progressive country. The Chinese People’s Volunteer Army sent upwards of a million Chinese to North Korea during the war, with many of the surviving veterans still alive, like Zhang Yuzeng. Zhang told Voice of America News that even though the two were allies, North Koreans generally acted independently and the two forces couldn’t understand each other.

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“There were few [North Koreans],” he said. “[They were] badly equipped and were not as good at fighting…”The North Korean army would go first and we followed; we stopped where they stopped.”

To the Chinese fighters, they were protecting their country from American Imperialism, a protection they firmly believed was necessary. CNN interviewed a Chinese veteran of Korea at his retirement home in Henan Province. He proudly wears his Chinese Army dress uniform. He told CNN it was necessary to help the Korean people during the war.

“The people of Korea were suffering,” Duan said.”Seeing the people of Korea farming the land and being killed by enemy planes … what were they to do if they could not farm? The planes would just come and bomb them to death. We had to help protect the people of Korea.”

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A United States Marine stands guard over captured North Koreans just after the Inchon Landing.

Now Read: 8 parting thoughts from one of the Marine Corps’ ‘Chosin Few’

Zhang Kuiyuan joined the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army at age 18 and was sent to Korea. He drove a supply truck to the front lines and also mentioned the lack of cooperation. They were not even to speak to or form relationships with the locals.

“We didn’t have many contacts with the North Koreans unless we were cooperating in the same hills,” he said. Duan Keke remarked that North Korean people today probably have no idea what sacrifices were made by the Chinese fighting man on their behalf, since they were not allowed to communicate on a personal level. He laments that the Koreans only know what their government wants them to know.

What the Chinese and American Korean War veterans have in common is that their war, decades old, remains “forgotten” – especially by the youth of their respective countries.

“Young people? Of course they don’t know,” says You Jie Xiang, a former infantry soldier who was assigned to guard American POWs. “These wars took place decades ago. All the young people have no idea.”

Like Joe Owen, the salty former lieutenant who commanded Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, these Chinese veterans harbor no ill will toward their former adversaries. They call Americans a “peaceful people” who “did not want a war in Korea.”

“War is death,” the old Chinese vets agree, nodding to each other.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Levitow is the Air Force’s lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient

In the Air Force, few names ring as many bells as John L. Levitow. He’s had awards named after him, as well as dorm halls and roads. Levitow’s name is about as close to U.S. Air Force royalty as you’ll get.


Oddly, even though his name is emblazoned across every corner of every Air Force base in the world, many airmen have scant knowledge of Levitow’s actions. Many are more well informed of his mysterious separation than of his heroic actions. The legend of his separation is still shared by many higher-ups during various briefings as a cautionary tale, but I digress.

As the Air Force leads the way into the future, it’s important to remember who paved the way and how exactly they did it. This is how John L. Levitow became the lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient in Air Force history.

Related: This hero was so deadly, they called him “Black Death”

Loadmaster

Airman First Class Levitow cross-trained into the Loadmaster career field after a couple of years in the Air Force. This cross-train is what ultimately placed Levitow on board the Spooky 71, an AC-47 gunship, during that fateful night.

 

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The man, the myth, the legend.

A legend born

On Feb. 24, 1969, Levitow was aboard the Spooky 71 AC-47 gunship flying missions in South Vietnam. During the flight, a mortar round struck the side of the aircraft, ripping holes all across the plane, including an approximately two-foot puncture in the wing.

After impact, Levitow, while suffering from over 40 fragment wounds, helped a fellow wounded airman away from the now-open cargo door. As he moved his comrade to relative safety, he spotted a Mark 24 flare that was seconds from igniting.

Mind you, the Mark 24 flare is a three-foot metal tube weighing roughly 27 pounds that, once ignited, generates the light of 2,000,000 candlepower and burns at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Levitow dragged himself towards the flare, which was rolling to and fro as the Spooky 71 pilots fought to regain control, hurled himself atop of it, pushed the flare towards the cargo door, and flung it out into the Vietnam sky just before ignition.

This really happened. It is not an exaggeration or poorly documented folk tale. Levitow literally placed his body atop a flare powerful enough to turn the Spooky 71 into a crisp with no real idea of how long he had until the flare ignited. This is one of the most selfless acts ever documented.

After the amazing feats he accomplished that night, he would return to Vietnam after recuperating to fly another 20 missions.

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Awarded the Medal of Honor

Levitow was awarded the nation’s highest military honor on May 14, 1970 by President Richard Nixon. Levitow separated from the Air Force in 1970.

Also Read: This is why Killmonger is the most operator villain in the MCU

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On May 14, 1970, Armed Forces Day, John L. Levitow was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon

(White House photo)

Following his separation, Levitow worked diligently with the veteran community, showing up to events that honored or featured veterans. On Nov. 8, 2000, John Lee Levitow passed away after a year-and-a-half battle with an unspecified cancer. He was 55 years young.

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(Photo by Airman 1st Class Stacy Hughes)

MIGHTY HISTORY

A hidden Civil War fort in Queens, NY is the reason the Corps of Engineers have the insignia they do

What does a building supposedly designed by Robert E. Lee have to do with the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia? More than you think.

Fort Totten is a stunning piece of land located on Cross Island Parkway between Totten Avenue and 15 Road in Queens, New York, which is actually an abandoned Civil War fort – hidden in plain sight. 

It’s even on the MTA subway map, even though it’s partially obscured by the legend explaining the different symbols on the map mean. 

The underfunded and almost obscure city park is located in the Bayside area of Queens. As a military installation, it was built in 1862 to protect against Confederate ships from approaching New York via the East River. 

Civil War History

Fort Totten was initially called Fort at Willets Point. The government purchased the land in 1857 from the Willets family, but the name was changed to Fort Totten in 1898. The original intent of Fort Totten was to defend the East River, but it was also to add auxiliary support to Fort Schuyler, which faces the East River in the opposite direction. Fort Totten was part of several installations of seacoast defense in the US that started during the first year of the Civil War. The initial design was created by Robert E. Lee in 1857 and modified by Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten, where the installation got its name.

Fort Totten was designed with four tiers of cannons facing the water, for a total of 68 defensive guns. The only other installations in the US to share this feature are Castle Williams, Fort Wadsworth, and Fort Point. 

Construction on Fort Totten was abandoned after the Civil War, in part because masonry forts were considered obsolete after the war. Only one tier and part of a second tea of the two seacoast walls were completed.

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(NYC Parks)

WWI and onward 

When the United States entered WWI, coastal defensive installations got an upgrade. Because threats from German shifts seemed unlikely, these installations became mobilization and training centers. Garrisons were reduced to provide trained heavy artillery crews for the Western Front. 

After WWII, Fort Totten’s last heavy armament, the mortars of Battery King, were removed, and the Harbor Defenses of Eastern New York were inactivated. 

In December 1941, Fort Totten became the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command. Then in 1954, the installation became a Project Nike air defense site. No Nike missiles were located at Fort Totten, but it was the regional headquarters for the New York area. By 1966, it was home to the 1st Region, Army Air Defense Command. It also headquartered the 66th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion and the 41st AAA Gun Battalion. 

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(NYC Parks)

Currently, the 77th Sustainment Brigade, subordinate units, and the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion of the Army Reserve call Fort Totten home. But most of the installation is a public park and open for tours. Most of the Civil War-era buildings are in ruins, giving Fort Totten an old world-new world sort of offset vibe. Visitors can also explore the Cold War era buildings, including a movie theater, former officer’s quarters, a laboratory, and a hospital. The entire area has a spooky stopped-in-time feel, especially if you’ve never seen any old military ruins. 

In the middle of the part is a building called The Castle, which was once the officer’s club. Now it’s home to the Bayside Historical Society. The Castle hosts historical exhibitions, cultural programs, and events. In 1986, The Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the rest of the Civil War buildings, The Castle was designed by Robert E. Lee in his pre-Civil War capacity as a military engineer. Some historians suspect that Lee didn’t actually design it, just signed off on the plans. 

The building was designed in a neo-Gothic style and wasn’t created specifically for Fort Totten but was the approved generic design for use in all military installations during that time. Identical structures could be found at installations around the country during that time, and the Corps of Engineers eventually adopted the design as their insignia.

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