7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

You’ve heard of the Rough Riders, Teddy Roosevelt, his Medal of Honor, and the ass-beating the United States gave Spain in Cuba. But do you know just how much went down at San Juan Hill that day?


Let’s start off with a big reveal: There’s no reason the United States should have won in Cuba against the Spanish. With the exception of the Americans (especially Roosevelts’ volunteers) being extremely hardy due to being raised in the rough backcountry of the American wilderness, the Spanish definitely had the upper hand.

Spain was in Cuba for centuries before the Americans invaded. They had hardened fortifications, strengthened over the years by repeated attacks from pirates, rebels, and conventional foes alike. Moreover, they were in the middle of putting down a slave uprising, so their troops were battle-hardened veterans. They also had better weapons, better food, and better gear.

By the time the Americans wanted to take the San Juan Heights (and Roosevelt charged Kettle Hill), the Spanish should have been ready to push the U.S. back into the sea.

But they didn’t count on how difficult it is going up against America in what is, essentially, a home game.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
That looks way too boring for TR.

 

1. The Rough Riders were mostly famous before leaving for Cuba.

Imagine the sitting Secretary of the Navy resigning his office to join a bunch of cowboys, Native Tribesmen, the sheriff of Houston, Robert Mueller, Baker Mayfield, Rafael Nadal, Michael Phelps, Malcolm Gladwell, and Sebastian Junger as they team up to finish Afghanistan off once and for all. That was, in essence, the Rough Riders.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Pew… wait for it… pew

 

2. They were woefully underprepared.

The Navy had no real way to land horses in Cuba and many drowned. Even when they did have horses, the Americans had to hack their way through the dense jungles to get anywhere they wanted to go. By the time Roosevelt got to Kettle Hill, he and his men had hacked all the way there. They also had only one black powder cannon and a few gatling guns, not to mention black powder rifles that gave away their position to the Spanish. They also were issued heavy wool uniforms to fight in Cuba in July.

The Spaniards, in contrast, had new Maxim machine guns and smokeless Mauser rifles.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
It’s helpful when the enemy comes to you. In the open. Wearing bright colors.

It’s helpful when the enemy comes to you. In the open. Wearing bright colors.

3. Spain messed up San Juan Hill, bigtime.

The Spanish commander, Arsenio Linares, didn’t fortify the area where his gunners would have clear lines of fire to anyone mounting an assault. Instead, he fortified the top of the hill and his gunners couldn’t necessarily see what the enemy was doing at the bottom.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Nothing supports a battle like winning it.

 

4. Roosevelt was only supposed to move up in support

T.R. and the Rough Riders were pinned down in high grass getting shot up by snipers on the nearby hill for hours before Roosevelt asked to advance and was told to only support regular Army troops attacking the front of the hill. Instead, he and his men charged the hill through the 3rd Cavalry, some of which joined them. Among the 10th Cavalry assaulting the San Juan Heights were the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, who joined Roosevelt in his charge up Kettle Hill.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
His leadership is how he earned his nickname.

 

5. One of America’s greatest soldiers was at San Juan Hill.

A young Lieutenant John J. Pershing had to take command of D Troop when their captain was killed trying to breach Spanish defenses. He led the Buffalo Soldiers up the crest of the hill. One of Pershing’s Buffalo Soldiers was the first to plant the Stars and Stripes on the hilltop.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
“Someone’s watching the other hill, right? Right?”

 

6. Roosevelt almost lost the battle.

Roosevelt bravely led the charge up San Juan Hill, an act which would earn him the Medal of Honor one day. But, in doing so, he left Kettle Hill lightly defended and subject to a Spanish counterattack. By the time Roosevelt realized what happened, 600 Spaniards were on their way to exploit his mistake. Luckily, the Americans moved Gatling guns to the crest of Kettle Hill by then and most of those attackers died.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Getting hit by giant caliber bullets is never fun.

 

7. San Juan Hill was not a flawless win.

The 1st Volunteer Cavalry suffered a 37-percent casualty rate, the highest of any unit in the entire Spanish-American War. Still the heights belonged to the Americans by 3 p.m. on July 1st. On July 4th, the Spanish fleet sailed out of the nearby harbor and met the U.S. Navy, which took down every last Spanish ship.

The war was over by mid-August, 1898, just six weeks later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Boston Tea Party and the ungrateful colonists who started it all

On December 16, 1773 a bunch of rebel colonists from Massachusetts got sassy and decided to defy their one true king. While disguised as Indians, they dumped 342 chests of perfectly good tea into Boston Harbor – setting off a chain of events they’ll never come back from. 

Ungrateful, that’s what they were. How dare they throw a tantrum over another tax imposed by King George of Britain and the North Ministry. Didn’t they know that the temporary tax was for a good reason? Without it, the East India Company would have gone under and the British would lose money. The seven year French and Indian War depleted the treasury of Britain, the colonists needed to do their part and shore it up! Maybe the British screwed up by initially trying to hide the tax and collect it later on, but it’s only because they didn’t want to trouble colonists with the headache of knowing what it was really for. It was for their own good after all. But all those colonists cared about were their merchants who were illegally smuggling in Dutch tea to make a living and their so called “rights” for representation when taxed.

Selfish!

So, under the cover of painted faces and Indian garb, men snuck onto the ships that had pulled in and dumped all the tea into the harbor under protest against the British. Even Benjamin Franklin said it was wrong and that the East India Company should be paid back for the destruction of tea. After catching wind of the colonists despicable behavior, the rightfully angry Parliament enacted The Intolerable Acts law. For some reason, this made these heathens even more angry. Rules are for everyone’s good!

They didn’t need to be able to govern themselves anyway and what was so bad about having the British military keeping everyone safe in town? Britain was doing them a favor! Maybe the troops had to be housed inside the homes of colonists and empty buildings, but wasn’t it a small price to pay for safety and security? Well, apparently they didn’t think so because they got all of the colonies to rise up in indignation against Britain. 

What followed would be events that would live on in infamy. 

colonist

How dare these colonists thing they could “declare” independence. Who would have thought of such a thing? Certain people should have a place, especially the colonists, who were basically the step-children of the British. Equality disrupts too much, rules and rankings were put in place for a very good reason: order and decorum, staples of the British. Instead of remaining appreciative of this gift to be able to call oneself British, the colonists rebelled and fought. The American Revolutionary War would lead to the formation of a united country that fought for “liberties” and “freedom” for everyone. Sure those colonists eventually may have also won the war against the world’s leading power against all odds, but whatever. And okay, maybe the United States of America now has the world’s oldest written constitution that has been duplicated by numerous free countries since, but so what. 

Now they are stuck with a country that continues to extend equality for all people, evolving and modernizing with the changing times. This new country even apologizes for mistakes and changes its mind on issues by amending rules and law. Blasphemous. I hope the ancestors of those ungrateful tea throwing colonists are happy being American. 

Articles

6 heroes who kept going after insane injuries

Most of us would quietly go home after losing limbs, our eyesight, or other vital capabilities while in service to our country.


But for these six badasses, grievous physical injury was just the warm up:

6. French Legionnaire Jean Danjou led one of the Legion’s most famous fights after losing a hand

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
French Foreign Legion sappers (Image: Imgur)

French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was working as a staff officer in Mexico in April 1863 after losing his left hand while fighting rebels in Algiers. When the command needed an officer to lead a convoy of pay for legionnaires, Danjou volunteered.

His column of 65 men came under attack by 3,000 Mexican soldiers near Camerone and he led his men in a fighting withdrawal to a nearby inn. Despite certain doom, Danjou and his men held out for hours and refused repeated requests to surrender. They killed 90 Mexicans and wounded hundreds more before the last two French Legionnaires were allowed to leave the battlefield with Danjou’s body.

The Legion now parades Danjou’s hand every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Camerone.

5. At least three soldiers have returned to front line combat in the modern U.S. Army after leg amputations

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
(Photo: U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Bryan Mitchell)

Typically, amputations are career-ending injuries, and the small handful of people who go back to active service are typically restricted to desk jobs. But the Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne Division have all deployed with soldiers suffering from a leg amputation.

Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski asked doctors to remove his leg after it failed to heal from a grenade blast, then conducted four combat deployments with his prosthetic. Airborne 1st Lt. Josh Pitcher led a 21-man platoon through a deployment to the Afghan mountains with one leg. And Capt. Daniel Luckett came back from a double amputation to earn the Expert Infantry Badge and deploy with the 101st.

4. Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez defied doctors to go to Vietnam, then kept fighting after dozens of potentially lethal wounds

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
(Photo: Department of Defense)

Master Sgt. Roy P. Benavidez walked onto a mine in 1965 and suffered an injury that was supposed to stop him from ever walking again. Against the orders of doctors, he rehabilitated himself in secret at night and walked out of the ward on his own power instead of accepting his military discharge.

He deployed to Vietnam again and — on May 2, 1968 — learned that a 12-man sniper team was under extreme fire and three extraction helicopters had been driven away. He rode in on the fourth and rescued the wounded while killing dozens of enemies and suffering 37 wounds, including a number of bayonet and gunshot wounds.

He was rolled up in a body bag but spit in the doctor’s face to let him know he was alive.

3. Canadian Pvt. Leo Major lost an eye, broke his back, then earned three Distinguished Conduct Medals in two wars

Léo_Major,_Libérateur_-Canadian sniper liberated Zwolle Netherlands Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)

Canadian Army Pvt. Leo Major was severely wounded during the D-Day invasions when a phosphorous grenade took part of his vision. He also could have turned back later in 1944 when a mine broke his back.

Instead, he captured 93 German troops in 1944 and was supposed to get the Distinguished Conduct Medal from Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Major didn’t like Montgomery and refused the award, but he did get one in 1945 from King George V after he liberated a Dutch town on his own.

His last DCM came during the Korean war when he lead a group of snipers to take and hold a hill from the Chinese Army for three days.

2. Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader lost both legs in an air show accident and then became a stunning flying ace in World War II.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Royal Air Force Spitfires, like the plane Douglas Bader piloted, fly in formation. (Photo: Public Domain)

As a young pilot in 1931, Douglas Bader was a bit showy and lost both of his legs after an accident during an airshow caused him to lose both of his legs. He begged to stay in the service but was denied with the suggestion that he try again if war broke out.

He spent the next few years training on his own and re-entered the Royal Air Force in 1939. In the first two years of the war, he earned 23 kills including a victory over the beaches of Dunkirk. In August 1941, he was shot down and became a prisoner of war. He spent the rest of the conflict pissing off his captors with comedic hijinks and attempts to escape.

1. Admiral Horatio Nelson stomped multiple navies after losing an eye and an arm

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. (Painting: Public Domain)

The future admiral Horatio Nelson first joined the navy at the age of 12 as an apprentice, but was so skilled that he rose to captain by the age of 20. He fought in the West Indies during the American Revolution before reporting to the Mediterranean to fight French revolutionaries where he lost the use of his right eye.

Despite this handicap, he fought a massive Spanish fleet in 1797 and managed to capture two of their man-of-wars, using the first one captured to attack the second. But then he lost his right arm at the Battle of Tenerife later that year.

Luckily, that handicap didn’t stop him from annihilating the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the Dutch at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, and the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The victory at Trafalgar protected Britain from a possible invasion by Napoleon, but cost Nelson his life when he was shot twice by snipers.

Articles

What is the big deal about Kwajalein?

According to a report by UPI, an LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was taken from Minot Air Force Base and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test America’s land-based deterrence force.


The missile landed at the remote Pacific base of Kwajalein Atoll. Now, the United States has used these islands for atomic tests and as a place for missiles to land for years.

But Kwajalein has a bit more significance to the U.S. than most other atolls out there. You see, it was one of the many islands American forces had to take from Japan during World War II – and thus, it is consecrated ground.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Diagram of the American plans to attack the Marshall Islands. (USMC graphic)

During World War I, Japan had taken the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Caroline Islands from Germany. According to an official Marine Corps history of the 4th Marine Division, the islands were soon fortified with bunkers, air strips, a lot of firepower, and very fierce troops.

In Nov., 1943, the United States had taken Tarawa in the Gilberts – and paid a heavy price. According to Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, published by the Center for Military History, 3,301 Marines were killed, wounded, or missing after the effort to take Tarawa. Kwajalein was expected to be even tougher, prompting legendary commanders like Raymond Spruance, Richmond K. Turner, and Holland Smith to oppose hitting Kwajalein at all.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Troops of the 24th Marines near the beach on Namur, thankful for having made it safely ashore, are now awaiting the inevitable word to resume the attack. (USMC photo)

Admiral Nimitz overruled their objections, and Kwajalein it was. Taking into account the lessons of Tarawa, this time, the United States brought overwhelming force. The major targets were Roi Island, Namur Island, and Kwajalein Island. For almost two months, air strikes were launched, including some with B-24 Liberators and others by carriers, on the Marshalls.

When the attack on Kwajalein came, it still took time, but only 142 American military personnel were killed in attacking Kwajalein Island proper.  Another 190 died while taking the islands of Roi and Namur. Total casualties in those assaults – dead, wounded, and missing – were 1,726.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Map of the Reagan Test Site. (DOD graphic)

After World War II, most of the American forces left, but Kwajalein today serves as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.  332 Americans paid the ultimate price to take it 73 years ago. Today, it helps America develop systems that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.

Articles

That time the Air Force dropped a ‘waterfall of bombs’

When American intelligence detected the massive buildup of North Vietnamese troops that preceded the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland gave the base priority access to all American airpower in theater, leading to Operation Niagara and a “waterfall of bombs.”


Khe Sanh was the westernmost base in a strong of installations along the crucial Route 9 in late 1967. It was in the perfect position to block North Vietnamese Army forces and other fighters moving in from Laos or other NVA areas.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
NVA Troops with Chinese SAM launcher (U.S. Air Force Photo)

But Westmoreland believed that Khe Sanh was crucial to victory and worth heavy investment despite its relatively small size as home to one Marine regiment and 5,000 support troops. To ensure the Marines could hold out against anything, he ordered improvements to infrastructure on the base and the installation of thousands of remote sensors in the surrounding jungle.

By the first week of January 1968, sensors and reconnaissance data made it clear that the NVA was conducting a massive buildup in the area of the base. All indications were that the North Vietnamese wanted to recreate their success at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 when a prolonged siege led to the withdrawal of French forces.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Second battle for Khe Sanh began on Jan. 20, 1968 when Marines from 3/26 attacked a North Vietnamese battalion between Hill 881 South Hill 881 North. Above, Marines stack mounds of expended 105mm casings after constant pounding of enemy forces. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Artillery rounds were stockpiled at the base and intelligence was collected. The intel cells were able to get a good idea of where Communist forces were concentrating forces, artillery, and command elements. They were also able to track tunneling efforts by the North Vietnamese trying to get close to the base.

And the North Vietnamese were able to get close — in some cases within a few thousand meters.

On Jan. 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a simultaneous attack against Khe Sanh itself and some of the surrounding hills. Their massed forces would eventually number 20,000, more than three times the number of the 6,000 defenders.

The U.S., with a mass of intelligence and stockpiled weapons, went on the offensive against the North Vietnamese. Artillery shells shot out of the base against pre-identified targets, and a waterfall of bombs started pouring from B-52s.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The long-planned Operation Niagara II was underway. Over the following 77 days, strike aircraft from the Air Force flew 9,691 sorties and dropped 14,223 tons of bombs, those from the Marine Corps flew 7,098 missions and dropped 17,015 tons of bombs, while the U.S. Navy strike aircraft dropped 7,942 tons of bombs over 5,337 missions.

The heavy lifters were the Air Force B-52s who dropped 59,542 tons of bombs. The combined total of ordnance dropped around Khe Sanh by air was 98,721 tons, approximately 5,700 tons more than the total weight of the USS Enterprise.

Initially, the bombs were dropped relatively far from the base. The B-52s tried to stay three miles out, but the communists figured out the restrictions and moved their fighters in close, forcing the B-52s to operate closer to the base and making the ground pounders rely more heavily on strike aircraft and the AC-47 gunship.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Team 21 compound at Pleiku in May 1969. This time lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. (Photo: U.S. Army Spec. 5 Thomas A. Zangla)

Of course, not everything went smoothly for the Marines and their support. An enemy artillery strike by the North Vietnamese managed to hit the ammo dump, destroying 90 percent of the stockpiled rounds in a single hit.

Marines patrolling the jungle were also hard-pressed time after time. One patrol, conducted by two squads from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, on Feb. 25, 1968, was almost completely wiped out and became known as the “Ghost Patrol.” One survivor was taken captive and reported dead for nearly five years before he was released in a prisoner transfer.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
F-100 strikes close to the lines, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, on March 15, 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Moore)

While the leadership did entertain the idea of calling in tactical nukes of necessary, the efforts of the Marines on the ground — sometimes conducted by nearly starving troops after 11 weeks of rare resupplies — combined with the Herculean-levels of air support were enough to keep the North Vietnamese at bay.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the most decorated enlisted sailor in US military history

When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better, or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.


It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Chief Ryback approves.

Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.

It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Yeahhhhhhhh buddy. I don’t know this guy, but I’d follow him anywhere.

Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.

That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…

An enemy stronghold.

Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

If you guessed the Americans retreated, I’m showing you this photo again because you clearly forgot about it.

Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.

For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

That’s how James Williams earned the Medal of Honor.

Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars, and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.

He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 mind-boggling facts about the Cold War

The United States and the Soviet Union fought together during World War II, but quickly turned against one another in the years that followed. The Cold War was a period marked with tension — this is well-known, but the complexities of the relationship between capitalism and communism are less so.

“To put it bluntly, America feared that the commies… would take over the world.”

That fear not only brought the world to a nuclear stand-off, it led to some of the most vicious war-fighting in history.

So, what did it look like as we shifted from friends to enemies to frenemies?


Let’s look at some surprising Cold War facts:

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

(Photo by National Archives Records Administration)

1. There’s a reason Nixon acted crazily

In what has become known as The Madman Theory, it’s said that Americans deliberately portrayed President Richard Nixon as crazy — and a crazy person is capable of anything, even launching a nuclear attack. The intent here was to intimidate the enemy into backing down from a fight.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

(Photo by wikipedia user Queery-54)

2. One man saved the world from nuclear war

In 1983, Stanislav Petrov was the commanding officer on duty at a nuclear early warning facility when his system reported that the United States had launched missiles towards Moscow. His training and protocol demanded an immediate retaliatory strike, but Petrov just couldn’t believe it was true. He chose to disregard the warnings as a false alarm.

Petrov’s instincts were correct. Had he launched “retaliatory” missiles at the U.S., he would have actually fired a salvo to begin a war. The U.S. would have then returned fire and only alternate universes know how that could have escalated…

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Close up of one of two Mark 39 thermonuclear bombs in a North Carolina field after falling from a disintegrating B-52 bomber in an incident known as the “1961 Goldsboro B-52 crash.”

(Photo by U.S. Air Force)

3. In the 60s, U.S. planes carried nuclear bombs “just in case” — and sometimes they lost them

We weren’t only in danger from Soviet weapons — in the dawning of the nuclear age, we were barely able to contain our own devices.

The Defense Department recently disclosed 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons between 1950 and 1980. In one such incident, two nuclear bombs crashed in North Carolina. Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara stated that it was “by the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.”

Had those bombs detonated, it could have caused more damage than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

4. The CIA took codes and super-secret squirrelly spy sh** seriously

A training manual instructed agents on the use of many deceptions — one includes tying shoelaces to communicate in code. There were shoelace patterns for “I have information” and “follow me.”

This is yet another example of how seriously they took the threat of KGB spies (which did give us The Americans, so that’s at least something to be grateful for).

There are 50 crazy facts about the Cold War in the video below. (Number 19 is about how the U.S. paid million for a cat that could spy on the Soviets. That actually happened.)

Check out the video to get facts you never knew you needed about a pivotal moment in history that is still shaking the U.S. today:

www.youtube.com

Articles

That time an American cruise missile hit the wrong continent

Today, we see cruise missiles as very accurate. This was not always the case. In fact, one cruise missile has the distinction of hitting the wrong continent – and it was quite a miss.


7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
SM-62 Snark in flight. (USAF photo)

The missile in question was the SM-62 Snark. It was intended to help deter Soviet aggression. According to Designation-Systems.net, with a maximum range of 6,000 miles and a top speed of 550 knots, it had a W39 nuclear warhead with a 4 megaton yield – 20 times as powerful as the W80 used on the Tomahawk cruise missile and the AGM-86 Air Launched Cruise Missile.

It flew at 50,000 feet – which at the time made it hard to intercept with enemy anti-aircraft missiles.

The Snark needed the big warhead. The closest it came to hitting its target was within about eight miles. That is a very far cry from the 260 feet that Designation-Systems.net cited the early models of the Tomahawk cruise missile achieving.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
SM-62 Snark missile on display in the Cold War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

But Air Force magazine described the miss to end all misses. On Dec. 5, 1956, a Snark was launched with a flight plan to cruise to Puerto Rico and return to its base in Florida. Only, it stopped responding to signals.

Even a self-destruct command didn’t work. The Air Force scrambled fighters to shoot down the wayward missile, but they couldn’t pull off the intercept – proving that the design got that part right.

Ultimately, the missile went beyond tracking range – last seen headed towards Brazil. The missile would remain missing for 26 years until some wreckage was found in that South American country.

According to a Reuters report in the Regina Leader-Post, unidentified Brazilians found the parts and reported them.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
SM-62 Snark launching from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. (USAF photo)

Designation-Systems.net reported that the Snark would achieve a brief period of fully operational service from February to June 1961 (an initial operating capability was established in 1959). But then-President John F. Kennedy ordered the one active wing to stand down, largely due to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How sailors navigated before GPS

Humanity is fated to explore, colonize, and come up with new ways to assert dominance over the forces of nature. The timeline of recorded history is marked by inventions that have propelled us forward to achieve the impossible and expand our collective intelligence. The early explorers navigated the violence of the open ocean by using the stability of the heavenly bodies to guide them.

Before sailors could brave the blank spots on the map, they had to know where home was and how to find their place in the world. By charting the stars, keeping precise time, and using their honed senses, humanity was given the tools needed to explore ever outward.


7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

(HISTORY’s ‘Vikings’)

The Vikings used known points

The vikings sailed far enough from shore to lose sight of landmasses in a time before there was a proven method of navigation. They passed down knowledge of stars, coasts, currents, navigational landmarks, and wildlife to create mental maps.

They would make notes of unique mountain formations and follow currents favored by pods of whales for feeding. They also used a plumb bob, an instrument used to determine water depth by tying a weight to a rope and plopping it into the ocean. Viking sailors navigated by using their senses: listening to the calls of seabirds, allowing them to estimate which region they were in. They’d verify their guess by tasting the water to gauge the amount of fresh water flowing into the sea.

Flóki Vilgerðarson, who appeared in HISTORY’s Vikings, was a real person who used caged ravens when traveling. When he thought land was near, he would release a raven. If it circled the boat, there was no land. If it flew away, the ship followed it towards land. This technique was adopted by other vikings who followed in the footsteps of this pioneer.

Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland using these techniques and raided western Europe with impunity, without fear of sea.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Let me sing you the song of my people…

(Maui Guide)

The Polynesians used songs

The Polynesians used songs to navigate the seas, an art passed down from master to apprentice over generations. They maintained guilds on each island that would identify sources of food and directed sailors towards them in times of famine and traded this knowledge for other resources. To identify where they were, they made close observations of sea signs, just as the vikings did, and recorded extremely detailed directions in the form of song lyrics.

The guilds also safeguarded the secrets of constructing outrigger canoes capable of making long voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

With this, I will make my own empire! With blackjack — and freedom!

(ResearchGate)

The British invented the chronometer to identify latitude

Celestial navigation was turned into a science by the British. In 1714, the British government declared a prize of £20,000 be award to whomever could solve the problem of finding a ship’s current longitude position while out on the open ocean. John Harrison was clockmaker who believed the answer was in accurate timekeeping. He proved that one could find their latitude by calculating the position of the sun, moon, stars, or other celestial bodies in relations to the current time to find where you are on the globe.

Making a correct calculation required a timepiece that would not lose its accuracy due to storms, temperature changes, or manufacturing limitations. If one didn’t know the exact time, the almanacs and journals that outlined the location of celestial bodies were, basically, useless.

Harrison made the H4, a chronometer the size of a watch, and it was able to accurately keep GMS time in any clime and place, regardless of conditions. On its maiden voyage to Jamaica, it was only off by five seconds by the journey’s end.

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.

 

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
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.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

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

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
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.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
u200b

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Stacy Hughes)

MIGHTY CULTURE

You have to see this hilarious A-10 training guide from the 70s

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is often lovingly referred to as the “grunt of the skies,” referring to the nickname given to U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps infantry troops. If the A-10 is the Air Force’s grunt, then its pilots are gonna need some things broken-down “barney style” – that is to say, into as few basic instructions as possible.

Have no fear, the U.S. Air Force did just that for pilots who might have encountered the Soviet Union’s T-62 main battle tank. In order to teach the grunts of the sky how to take one of them down, the Air Force issued this marvelous coloring book.


7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

So right from the get-go, you can totally judge this book by its cover. Sure it’s been photocopied a few times and is looking a little rough, but this is not exactly the kind of technical manual you see in film and television. The book is designed to inform pilots about just where the rounds from their GAU-8 Avenger cannon are most likely to penetrate a tank’s armor – because while the A-10’s main cannon is an anti-armor weapon, it’s not an anti-tank weapon. Still, the rounds do have a chance of penetrating the T-62’s armor, but only from certain angles.

That’s what this coloring book is for.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

As you can read for yourself, the idea of even an A-10 attacking the USSR’s T-62 Main Battle Tank head-on is absurd. The GAU-8 rounds, even being depleted uranium, will not penetrate the armor and slope of the Soviet tank’s armor. It even addresses common misconceptions from casual observers, like the idea of taking out the tank’s treads. Even the armor-piercing incendiary round will simply put holes in the tank’s tread.

Also, try finding an Air Force manual that personally insults the pilots these days.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Here’s how to get to the meat inside all that armor plating – through the soft underbelly. The manual describes at what range and angle the API rounds can hit a T-62 ad penetrate to the main crew cabin. The T-62’s sides offer the least protection from the Warthog’s main cannon at its sides and its wheels. Coming in a very precise angle will allow the airborne grunt to get through its armor plating.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

Just like many tanks of the era, the rear of the T-62 is one of its most vulnerable spots, from many, many angles and ranges. Despite including an anal sex reference, this Air Force instruction manual is really helpful in determining just where the best place to hit the main battle tank is. Even if the GAU-8 can’t penetrate the crew through the back door, it can still hit the engine and drive gear, shutting down the tank’s advance.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

This diagram shows what to do when the tank’s crew – a crew of pinko commie atheists – is outside the hull of the vehicle. The answer is, duh strafe those swine! As for hitting the tank from the side, an A-10 pilot isn’t going to have much luck getting through the turret that way. But he could penetrate the side plates, and there’s always the possibility of hitting the tank from directly above it.

The whole point is that the GAU-8 Avenger isn’t going to be effective if a pilot just swoops in from whatever angle he wants. He’s got to hit these pinko swine from a specific angle to penetrate its armor, just like any of the armor troops on the ground.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Panzerfaust was one of the best weapons against tanks

The Panzerfaust had limited range, limited stopping power, and required brave troops to draw deeply into a tank’s range to kill it, but it was still one of the more effective tank weapons of the war, and they instilled fear in Allied tank crews forced to drive against it.


Panzerfaust – How Effective was it? – Military History

www.youtube.com

As World War II progressed, tanks got beefier and beefier, forcing infantrymen to find new ways to wreck panzers. They eventually turned to an idea first pioneered in the 1880s by German and American scientists.

The scientists had found that when a hollow was left in explosives, they produced a jet of hot air that did more damage than a solid block would, and the effect with high explosives was much greater than the effect by any other explosives. This knowledge was largely unexploited in World War I but many academics, especially in Germany, did research and weapons design in the 1930s.

In 1943, the first Panzerfaust was created, and the shaped-charge breakthroughs were key to its design. It was a recoilless rifle that could launch a shaped charge anywhere from 30 to 200 yards, depending on the model. When the munition hit a tank, a shaped charge at the front of the warhead detonated and sent a jet of hot metal into the tank’s cabin, usually killing the crew and potentially setting off fuel or ammo stores in the vehicle.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

A soldier with a Panzerfaust from the Panzer Division Hermann Göring smiling to the camera, Russia, 1944.

(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY 2.0)

Early Panzerfaust could penetrate 5.5 inches of steel, and Germany later upgraded it to penetrate almost 8 inches of armor. Meanwhile, a T-34 turret had 3.5 inches of armor, and the M4 Sherman had up to 3 inches. This overkill could terrorize Allied tank crews who knew that, if it was hit with a Panzerfaust, it was likely all over.

Luckily for them, the Panzerfaust did have one big shortcoming: It was an infantry weapon with a range between a few dozen yards and 200 yards, and the 200-yard variants weren’t deployed during the war. So, tank crews could slaughter Panzerfaust crews from hundreds of yards outside of the anti-tank team’s range.

But only if they could spot the anti-tank teams from out of the weapon’s range. Panzerfaust teams would hide in brush or trenches and wait for tanks to roll up, or they would sneak through buildings and hit the tanks from close range.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill

A soldier inspects his Panzerfaust.

(Bundesarchiv Bild, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Either way, the weapon was the most effective Germany had against tanks at close range, taking out about half of the Allied tanks killed at short range. And the weapon was nearly on par with dedicated anti-tank guns, requiring just a little over twice as many shots per tank killed despite having much lower logistics and training requirements.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first POW captured by the U.S. was at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was meant to be supported by five midget submarines. These submersibles were less than 80 feet long, crewed by two men, and carried just two torpedoes. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki was the commander of midget submarine HA-19. The midget sub, also crewed by Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, piggybacked across the Pacific on the Japanese submarine I-24. However, while none of the midget submarines at Pearl Harbor were successful in the attacks, HA-19 suffered a particularly bad streak of luck.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Ensign Sakamaki’s naval photo

Before the midget sub even launched, there was an issue. A short distance from Pearl Harbor, the crew discovered that one of the torpedoes had been crushed during the trans-Pacific voyage. Although a replacement torpedo was loaded, the trouble continued. During final checks, Sakamaki found that the sub’s gyro had failed. Despite his best efforts, Inagaki was unable to repair it. This meant that the two men would have to navigate by memory and come up to periscope depth to check their progress intermittently. This would increase their risk of being spotted as they entered the harbor.

When HA-19 finally launched, the sub nosedived and almost ended its journey then and there. After adjusting their ballast, Sakamaki and Inagaki righted their vessel and headed for the harbor…or so they thought. Navigating from memory, they ended up sailing adjacent to the harbor entrance and back out into open water. The nosedive and navigational error cost them hours. When they finally reached the harbor entrance, they found it guarded by a blockade of U.S. destroyers. Sakamaki decided to run the gauntlet and force their way into the harbor.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
HA-19 washed ashore the day after the attack (U.S. Navy)

USS Ward (DD-139) had already sunk one midget sub that had attempted to enter the harbor earlier. Upon sighting HA-19, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges that knocked Sakamaki and Inagaki unconscious. By the time they came to, the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor was underway. HA-19 made a second run for the harbor entrance but ran aground on a coral reef. This time, USS Helm (DD-388) spotted the midget sub and engaged it with her deck gun. Although HA-19 was freed by the shelling, its hull was compromised. Seawater mixed with the sub’s batteries and caused gas to leak from them. Fighting the gas leak and electrical shocks, Sakamaki and Inagaki also had to continuously adjust their ballast to account for the incoming seawater.

The two Japanese sailors then discovered that their torpedo housing was damaged and couldn’t fire. They devised a bold plan to ram the nearest ship, climb on board, and fight to the death on deck. After stripping down to their suicide outfits of their underwear, undershirts, and headbands, the two men sailed for the harbor entrance one last time. They were spotted and hit by more depth charges. This time, the sub’s steering was damaged. Both men were knocked unconscious again and HA-19 drifted at the mercy of the currents.

When Sakamaki and Inagaki awoke, HA-19 was completely disabled and had run aground again. They lit the fuse on the sub’s scuttling charge and swam for shore. Inagaki drowned during his escape and his body was recovered a few days later. Sakamaki, weary and wounded, almost met the same fate as he floundered towards land.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
POW #1 (U.S. War Department)

Two soldiers from Bellows Field, Lt. P. C. Plybon and Sgt. D. M. Auki spotted Sakamaki in the water. At first, they thought that the nearly nude Japanese sailor was a sea turtle coming ashore. When they saw his arms flailing though, they knew it was a person and rushed to help. At this point, Sakamaki realized that the scuttling charge had not gone off, but was too exhausted to swim back to the sub. Instead, he continued to the beach. Auki quickly realized that Sakamaki was Japanese and took him prisoner. Sakamaki became Prisoner of War Number 1 for the United States in WWII.

Upon his capture, Sakamaki’s only request was that he be allowed to commit suicide to make up for the shame of not dying in battle. Naturally, this request was denied and he was held for the entirety of the war. HA-19 was recovered and used on a war bond tour before it was placed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX. After the war, Sakamaki was returned to Japan. He got married and worked for Toyota for most of his life. Sakamaki was reunited with HA-19 in 1991 when he accepted an invitation to speak at the National Museum of the Pacific War. He passed away in 1999.

7 cool facts about the Battle of San Juan Hill
Sakamaki visits HA-19 (National Museum of the Pacific War)