The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most iconic monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus sits on top of a hill that overlooks Washington, DC. Here are five facts you might not know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
5 Facts you might not know
In March 1921, the U.S. Congress accepted the remains of an unknown American soldier who fought in World War I to be buried in a tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. This soldier was buried with full honors.
2. On Memorial Day of 1921, four unknown soldiers were relocated from their World War I American cemeteries in France. Sergeant Edward F. Younger placed roses atop one of four identical caskets.
3. Then on November 11, 1921, the Unknown Solider was moved to Arlington and officially interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Since 1918, November 11 had been marked by somber remembrances of the service personnel lost in WWI. President Harding led the charge by officiating the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he awarded the Unknown Soldier two high military awards: the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.
4. Three years after the Korean War ended, on August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill to allow unknown soldiers who fought in the Korean War and World War II to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.
5. In 1958, unknown Soldiers who fought in World War II and the Korean War were permitted to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.
The Old Guard
Members of the Old Guard have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since April 6, 1948. Currently, The Old Guard monitors the memorial twenty-four hours a day, year-round. These Sentinels do not move from their station and are equipped to withstand all kinds of weather and extreme conditions. After a Solider has volunteered to become a Tomb Guard, they have to undergo a strict screening process and several weeks of intensive training. Every element of the Tomb Guard’s routine has a deeper meaning than what’s shown on the surface.
Guard movements harken back to the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed – a 21 gun salute. Tomb guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Unknown Tomb, then turn and face east for precisely 21 seconds. Then, they turn and face north for precisely 21 seconds, followed by 21 steps back down the mat. Each Guard carries their weapon at “shoulders-arms,” signifying that they stand between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and any possible threat.
Marooned. Left on a sandbar or other island in the middle of nowhere with just a little food, water, and a loaded pistol to end your suffering. In the world of pirates, it was a punishment for breaking the pirates’ code – and was usually fatal. But the real-life Robinson Crusoe survived his marooning and lived to tell the tale of life on an island in the middle of nowhere, completely alone.
Not a Wilson in sight.
Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor with William Dampier’s second expedition to circumnavigate the globe while privateering; legally pirating Spanish ships. Selkirik was aboard a 16-gun ship named Cinque Ports, a ship that was rather unseaworthy. When Selkirk repeatedly complained to Dampier and the captain of the Cinque Ports, the men decided to maroon him on an island off the coast of Chile.
Selkirk didn’t die there, however. While the Cinque Ports later sunk with almost a total loss of her crew, Selkirk survived and was rescued by English privateer Woodes Rogers… four years later. All that for wanting to make repairs to the ship – a ship he was right about needing repairs. The crew that did survive the ships founding off of Colombia were captured by the Spanish and imprisoned.
Which, historically, does not end well.
The islander spent much of his time at first at the shoreline, scanning for ships and eating seafood. But eventually, the sounds of mating sea lions drove him further inland. Despite suffering from crippling loneliness, he managed to domesticate the island’s wild goats and cultivate the local vegetation. He was eventually attacked by the island’s wild rat population, but simply domesticated feral cats to stave off the attackers. He even built two huts from the trees that grew pepper plants.
He soon began to hunt by hand and spear, as his gunpowder was in limited supply anyway. He also began to make new clothes from the skins of his goats. The only ships that stopped on his island were Spanish. Not only did he not get a rescue, he had to hide lest the men torture and imprison him. But eventually, he was rescued by British seamen.
Which, historically, does not end well.
The British sailors were astonished at the life Selkirk made for himself. He had survived an accidental fall from a cliff, learned to hunt and clean the wild animals of the island, and was the picture of physical fitness. Selkirk was even able to address the ships’ illnesses and clear its sailors of scurvy. Selkirk was able to maintain his sanity because the captain of the Cinque Points left him a bible to read and entertain himself. By the time the English came for him, he was still of sound mind, able to command a prize ship and even returned to privateering against the Spanish.
Selkirk was even one of Daniel Defoe’s inspirations for the title character of Robinson Crusoe. The story of the marooned sailor just goes to show no matter how tough things might seem, a little perseverance might see you through. Alexander Selkirk became a national hero while the people who marooned him died tragically, despite his warnings.
November 2020 is coming in fast, and we’re likely to see a similar pattern in voting turnout as seen in previous elections; of all eligible voters, females turnout in higher proportions than men. This trend has held steady since the 80s, helping the female voice to grow in volume and strength in American politics. This November marks an important milestone for female voters. It’s the 100th year women have had the right to vote!
The 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4th, 1919, and formally ratified over a year later on August 18th, 1920. While that breakthrough deserves celebration, it also deserves perspective. While women have had the right to vote for a century, it took nearly a century to win it. Even before the Civil War, reformers and suffragists were discussing the future of women’s rights, paving the way for the liberties we are proud to have today. The 10 amazing women below are just a few of the figures who dedicated their lives to our rights. When you cast your vote this year, don’t forget to say thanks!
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
One of the most recognizable names in women’s rights history, Susan B. Anthony was raised by her Quaker parents to be confident, independent and dedicated to her beliefs. She was encouraged to believe that men and women should live equally and strive to rid the world of injustice, and she took that message to heart. She started out campaigning for married women to have property rights, before joining abolitionist leagues and speaking out against slavery.
So firmly did she believe in equal voting rights for men and women, however, that she refused to support any suffrage movements for African Americans that only included men. This created a divide between activists, but the two groups eventually joined forces to form the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its president. Anthony later became the group’s second president, and she dedicated the rest of her life to the suffrage movement she helped to found.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
Another early suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a philosopher and a pioneer of the women’s rights movement. She married an abolitionist named Henry Brewester Stanton in 1840 and traveled with him to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. After being told women were not permitted, she was enraged. With the help of other reformers including Lucretia Mott, she planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. It’s reported that 240 people attended, agreeing that women’s rights were non-negotiable and it was time to fight for equality. This was the true beginning of the women’s suffrage movement.
Like Susan B. Anthony, Stanton was against the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men voting rights, but not women. While she passed away 18 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, a statue of her, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott stands at the U.S. Capitol in honor of her achievements.
Lucy Stone (1818-1893)
Lucy Stone was tough as nails. She boldly refused to take her husband’s last name, stating that the age-old tradition “refused to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being” and “conferred on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” She worked hard as a traveling lecturer against slavery and sexism, and unlike some activists, she supported the 15th Amendment.
Stone continued to fight for universal suffrage, however, assisting with the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1871, she and her husband founded a feminist newspaper called “The Woman’s Journal,” which remained in publication until 1931, nearly 40 years after her death!
Lucy Burns (1879-1966)
A fiery activist in both the British and American suffrage movements, Lucy Burns was a good friend of fellow activist Alice Paul. They were leaders in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, and Burns in particular was known for her passionate and aggressive tactics. She was among the suffragettes arrested for protesting at the White House, later being force-fed during a hunger strike.
By the time the 19th was ratified, Burns had suffered through a considerable amount of jail time and was understandably exhausted. She retired from activism, reportedly saying, “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” Her later years were devoted to the Catholic Church and the upbringing of her orphaned niece.
Alice Paul (1885-1977)
Building on the work of earlier activists, Alice Paul was even more bold in her approach to winning the vote. The Quaker suffragette spearheaded the most militant branch of the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside Emmaline Pankhurst in the Women’s Social and Political Union in London. Their tactics were far from “ladylike,” using civil disobedience to capture media attention and raise awareness. When she became the chair of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, she organized a massive suffrage parade to clash with President Wilson’s inauguration- a mass publicity stunt that ignited further protests. In 1914, she moved on to start her own organization, the Congressional Union.
This soon evolved into the National Woman’s Party, which was responsible for many loud, highly-visible protests including a picket of the White House that lasted for months. As retaliation for this act of rebellion, she was imprisoned and force-fed for weeks, eventually winning the sympathy of the public…and the president. The pickets were one of the final moves leading to the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Paul also proposed an additional Equal Rights Amendment, but 100 years later, it still has yet to be ratified.
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)
Ida B. Wells started out as a schoolteacher in Memphis. While she was there, she wrote for the city’s Black newspaper, The Free Speech, covering the racial injustice and violence in the South. Many were outraged and violently threatened her, destroying The Free Speech office in an angry mob. She moved north for her own safety, but never stopped campaigning for civil rights.
In addition to her anti-racism activism, she was determined to fight for women’s suffrage- even when she wasn’t welcome. Although most early suffragists supported racial equality, by the beginning of the 20th century that wasn’t always the case. Many white suffragists only joined the cause in hopes of giving “their” women the right to vote to maintain their hold on white supremacy. Many white suffragists didn’t want to march with Black people at all, but that didn’t stop Wells. She marched anyway, continuing to fight for civil rights for the rest of her days.
Frances E.W. Harper (1825–1911)
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper didn’t have the easiest upbringing, but that didn’t slow her down. She was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, William Watkins. He was the founder of the Watkins Academy for Negro youth and an outspoken abolitionist, and Harper followed in his footsteps. She became a teacher at schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but couldn’t return to her hometown Maryland without risking her freedom. Her writing and lectures advocated for both women’s rights and anti-slavery groups. She was one of just a handful of Black women involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century, founding the National Association of Colored Women Clubs. She was also one of the first Black women to become a published author in the United States.
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)
Mary Church Terrell was raised in Tennessee by remarkably successful parents. They were once enslaved, but they defied the odds and built extremely successful businesses. Her father became one of the South’s first Black millionaires! After she graduated from college, she worked as a teacher and became an activist, supporting women’s rights and Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Women Clubs with Wells and acted as the organization’s first president.
Later, she picked alongside Alice Paul in front of the White House. She spoke prolifically on civil rights, trying to engage more Black women in the suffrage cause. She didn’t soften with age, either. When she was over 80 years old, she sued a D.C. restaurant after she was refused service, leading to the desegregation of Washington’s restaurants in the early 50s.
Carrie Chapman Catt (1859- 1947)
Susan B. Anthony had some big shoes to fill when she left her position as president of the NAWSA, but she left it in good hands. Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to take on the role, representing the less confrontational branch of the women’s rights movement. During her many years as an activist, she also contributed to the formation of the Women’s Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association. Once the vote was finally one, she said, “Now that we have the vote let us remember we are no longer petitioners. We are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”
She retired after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but not before establishing the League of Women Voters. She also co-authored a book called “Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement” in 1923.
Lucretia Mott (1793- 1880)
One of the earliest women’s rights activists, Lucretia Mott was a social reformer who sought to change the role of women in society entirely. Her Quaker roots instilled a fundamental belief in equality, inspiring her to attend early women’s rights and abolitionist meetings. When she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she thought they had been invited as delegates.
Instead, she was taken to a segregated women’s section, furthering her resolve to bring about social change. She helped draft the Declaration of Sentiments during the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and she didn’t stop there.
When slavery was outlawed, she advocated giving former slaves of both genders the right to vote. She was later elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention, and she attempted to use the platform to conduct women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements at the same time. Her skill as a speaker helped further both movements, establishing her as one of the most memorable and accomplished female activists of the 19th century.
When it comes to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — two films stand out.
There is the 1970 classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” which featured some of the biggest directors from American and Japanese cinema.
And then there is the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, and which had major stars like Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Jon Voight.
So, which film was better?
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Pros: This film really delved into the history of the attack, including many of the factors as they were known back then. The strategic context of Japan’s decision to launch the attack is covered here.
Within the very real limits of special effects technology, you experience the attack. The cast plays the roles well — remarkable given the lack of big-name stars. They also catch the American arrogance at the time – underestimating Japan while at the same time knowing they were going to hit us somewhere.
Using American and Japanese talent also brought much more realism to this film, bringing a very good balance. The footage was so good, it was re-used in a number of other World War II epics, and for a flashback in a Magnum, P.I. episode!
Cons: The special effects are pretty cheesy in some cases. You also catch historical anachronisms – like the presence of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14). Also, this film is 46 years old – in some ways, scholarship and history has overtaken it.
Pros: The special effects make the experience of the attack far more intense. You also have some very good talent on screen, including three who won various Academy Awards. There were other future stars as well, including Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “The Kingdom,” “Elektra”).
Cons: Where do we start? How about the contrived storylines, particularly with Ben Affleck’s character? Maybe the unrealistic stuff as well, like the implausible selection of the characters played by Affleck and Hartnett to take part in the Doolittle Raid?
Not to mention the still-obvious errors (many of the “ships” hit in the film were Spruance-class destroyers in reserve). Not to mention the distracting romantic triangle. The biggest con is that we had a chance to capitalize on 30 years of new scholarship on World War II, and we got melodrama instead.
Which of these films comes out better? Believe it or not, the classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” despite its age, holds up much better.
On Apr. 4, 1951, a Navy inductee burst into the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, blood gushing from his nose, doubled over in pain. There was no trauma, but the soon-to-be sailor could barely walk and was covered in blood. The doctors began to suspect poison was the culprit – and they were right.
The name of the would-be recruit was not recorded in the literature, but he was slated to join the Army during the Korean War. But he soon regretted his decision and tried to shirk his duties by shuffling off his mortal coil. His preferred method of self-inhumation was poison: rat poison.
Proving that US troops can and will eat anything.
The man had been so desperate not to deploy that he would rather have offed himself with rat poison. Eventually, while taking the load of rat poison he thought it would require to kill an adult male, his senses returned to him, and he decided that would not be the best course of action. It took him more than four days to realize that rat poison wasn’t going to kill him, but it was going to be a very painful experience. That’s when he went to the hospital.
How did he manage to survive a dose of poison that should have easily killed its intended target? The toxic substance he used was Warfarin, an agent derived from a notorious poison affecting livestock. Warfarin decreases the body’s ability to clot blood, and the colorless, odorless substance is used to kill rats and vampire bats by forcing internal bleeding.
I’m suddenly okay with that.
Warfarin is in the powerful family of anticoagulants found accidentally by farmers who wondered why their livestock suddenly bled to death after eating slightly spoiled sweet clover. It turns out mold can reprogram a certain chemical in the clover. While the anticoagulant kills animals, it keeps humans from clotting in seriously life-threatening situations, like surgery and World War II – which is exactly how the substances in the clover were first used.
Researchers at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation derived more versions of the anticoagulants based on the chemical in sweet clover. One of them proved mighty useful in killing rats. That compound was dubbed “warfarin.” While America began to use it in pest control substances, researchers kept testing its blood-related properties. So when the sailor stumbled into the hospital with a belly full of Warfarin, the team was able to reverse the effect by dosing him with Vitamin K.
Attempted suicide is some hardcore skating.
And now that there was a tested, effective antidote, the team could go to work researching the effects on Warfarin on humans. On top of preventing fatal blood clots throughout the human body, they found the drug could restore blood flow in stroke victims. The FDA soon approved its use for treating blood clots. But the true test came after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack.
He was in Denver in 1955 visiting friends and family when he suffered the attack. Doctors were concerned that errant blood clots throughout his body could soon cause a stroke, killing or incapacitating the 34th President. They gave him the newly-approved Warfarin, saving the President’s life and allowing him to serve two terms in the White House.
“President Nixon” would just have to wait.
Because one depressed would-be sailor attempted suicide using rat poison and doctors were able to give him an antidote, thousands of tests were able to be conducted on the efficacy of the dangerous drug. Warfarin has since saved countless cardiovascular patients in the United States and abroad, including the man that led the United States into its mid-20th Century Golden Age.
Why on Earth would an army provide its enemy with ammunition? So they would use it, of course. The United States wanted the North Vietnamese to use the ammo they provided because they would take out the weapon (and maybe even the person) using it.
There was no unconventional war like the one that played out behind the scenes of the greater war in Vietnam. One small aspect of that hidden war was Project Eldest Son, a plan that would take out the enemy’s individual infantry rifles using its own ammunition.
Viet Cong soldiers.
It was carried out by a U.S. military entity called the Studies and Observations Group, the Special Forces unit that was behind many of the top secret missions and operations inside the Military Assistance Command Vietnam. The unit was in many of the major battles and offensives of the war, including the Tet Offensive and the Easter Offensive. But Project Eldest Son was different. It was a slow burn, a subtle influx of materiel into the enemy’s supply and ammunition depots, with one marked difference – one that wouldn’t show itself until it was too late.
Soldiers from the regular North Vietnamese Army.
Starting in 1967, the United States and the MACV-SOG began sending the Communist forces throughout the area ammunition for the AK-47, machine guns, and even mortars. They all looked ordinary, but they didn’t work like any ordinary ammo – and they weren’t just duds, either. These rounds were filled with high explosives, enough not just to fire the projectiles, but enough to destroy the weapon and severely wound the shooter. For the mortar rounds, the explosives together could kill an entire mortar crew.
After a while, the United States hoped the Vietnamese Communists would be afraid to use their own weapons and ammo. Killing the enemy was a good side effect, but the SOG needed some of them to survive.
For two years, special operators all over Vietnam would capture ammunition and supply centers, infuse cases of ammo with the faulty ammunition and then let it end up back in the hands of the enemy. Like seemingly everything in Vietnam, you never knew what might be booby-trapped. Eventually, the SOG would have to warn U.S. troops against using Communist weapons and ammo over the defective new M-16 to prevent the explosives from killing friendlies.
The program only ended because it was leaked to the media in the West, but even so, the efficacy of the program was never fully known.
The call rang out in the firehouse of Rescue Company 1 reporting a jumper at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Ed Loder, a 41-year-old firefighter with 20 years on the job, threw on his gear and pulled himself into the driver’s seat of their fire engine. The sirens wailed as they sped down the narrow city streets of Back Bay, an affluent neighborhood in Boston. Loder steered the rig in front of the hotel, jumped out, and was handed a set of binoculars from the hazmat truck.
Against the dark sky he located a distressed woman on the 16th floor, sitting with her feet dangling over the ledge of a windowsill. A negotiation team of the Boston Police Department pleaded with the woman from inside the hotel room, but she wasn’t complying. Loder soon joined the other firefighters on the roof.
“We could look over the edge of the roof and see her, but she couldn’t see us because she wasn’t looking up,” Loder told Coffee or Die Magazine in a recent interview. “She was looking in the room and talking to the cops.”
The woman had a razor in her hand. This rescue wasn’t going to be easy.
Boston firefighter Ed Loder talking to other firefighters on the ground while a building is ablaze. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
While other firefighters searched for a viable anchor point, Loder tugged ropes through the carabiner on his bumblebee suit. The nearby ductwork was unusable, but a window through an electrical structure on the roof was perfect. Loder tied in his line.
Their plan was to have the police distract the woman long enough for Loder to complete the rescue.
“They got her attention and the minute she looked inside of the room, I went off the roof,” Loder told Coffee or Die. “When I went off the parapet I naturally swung and kicked her in the side and she went into the room.”
The police officers immediately jumped on top of her and placed handcuffs around her wrists to prevent her from harming herself or anyone else. Loder, however, was left swinging outside and hollered for one of the officers to pull him in too.
A newspaper clipping about the incident at the Ritz-Carlton, showing Boston firefighter Ed Loder after he made a daring rescue of a suicidal woman. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
The Boston Globe would describe the heroic nighttime rescue that occurred on May 30, 1990, as “Mission Impossible.” Bill Brett, a Globe photographer, was a witness alongside 300 other spectators on the ground. “I never expected someone to come down and knock her in the window,” Brett said. “He drops down, and boom, she’s inside! Down where I was, everybody cheered; the crowd clapped and yelled; it was unbelievable, like a movie.”
For this action, the Board of Merit awarded Loder the Walter Scott Medal for Valor, the second highest in the fire service. But as he puts it, it was just another day on the job at Rescue Company 1.
The War Years
Ed Loder grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had long admired the World War II veterans who took jobs with the fire department down the street from his home. In fact, he wanted to be them.
The Boston Fire Department is rich with tradition and history that date all the way back to 1631. America’s first publicly funded fire department saw numerous innovations over the next handful of centuries. The first leather fire hoses were imported from England in 1799; all fire engines were equipped with aerial ladders by 1876; and radios were installed in all fireboats, cars, and rescue companies by 1925.
A train collision that occurred in the Back Bay of Boston in 1990. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
In 1970, when 21-year-old Fire Fighter Edward Loder was appointed to Ladder Company 2 in East Boston, the Boston Fire Department was in the midst of the “War Years.” Between 1963 and 1983, there was at least one major fire every 13.6 hours. On average, a fire company reacted to as many as five to 10 fires in one tour of duty. Loder joined the fire service to be in on the action, and like the majority of other sparkies rising through the ranks, that’s exactly what he got.
Over the next decade, Loder responded to a variety of emergency situations as a part of Ladder Company 2, and later Ladder Company 15 in the Back Bay. He was there for a big oil farm fire in Orient Heights and a ship fire from Bethlehem Steel, but the most memorable for him was the 1800 Club, partly owned by former Red Sox player Ken Harrelson. The entertainment complex along the waterfront burned to the ground, with an estimated loss of id=”listicle-2648495230″ million.
Even some calls he didn’t participate in had an impact. After ending his shift on the morning of June 17, 1972, Loder and his wife went out in the afternoon, only to be stopped by a familiar face.
“We ran into this cop that I knew and he said to me, ‘What are you doing here?'” Loder remembered. “He had this look on his face that I’d never seen before.”
The seven-story Hotel Vendome had caught fire and collapsed on top of Ladder Company 15’s truck. Nine firefighters were inside the hotel, and tragically, all nine lost their lives.
Boston firefighter Ed Loder, kneeling second to left from Pickles, the “Dandy Drillers” Dalmatian. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
The following year he responded to the worst plane crash in Boston’s history. Delta Airlines Flight 723 hit a seawall while trying to land at Logan International Airport. All 89 passengers and crew were killed.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘Geez, is this what the fire service is all about?’ It didn’t bother me in a way, but it was like a shock and awe after a little bit, and you adapted to it,” Loder said. “I said, ‘I don’t think there is anything else on this job that I could come across that’s probably going to bother me.'”
The days and nights spent on the job weren’t all tragic or intense. Every October throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Boston Fire Department raised awareness through Fire Prevention Week with a squad dubbed the “Dandy Drillers” performing high-wire aerial exercises around the city.
“We took two 100-foot aerial ladders, we put them together at the tips, we tied them together up at the top, and hung a 150-foot piece of rope down the middle of it,” Loder told Coffee or Die. “I used to do the upside-down no-hands exercise. We had platforms attached to these aerial ladders probably 20 feet in the air, and we’d jump off of that into the life nets. We would also have 10 guys on each ladder that would hook into the ladder and lean out with no hands. I understand it was the only type of thing in the country.”
Boston City Hospital Rescue
After 12 or 13 years with various companies, Loder transferred to Rescue Company 1, where his reputation grew to legendary status. At one rescue, a deranged man was on the roof of Boston City Hospital. The man had hurled several brick-sized boulders at pedestrians standing on the sidewalk and at cars driving by on Massachusetts Avenue.
“If you come out, I’m gonna jump,” the man told the cops as they tried to talk him off the ledge.
Ladder Company 15, Loder’s old team, had arrived just as Rescue Company 1 pulled up to the scene. “Throw your aerial up on the side of the building,” Loder told them. “That way there if they chase him over here, he will see the aerial and he’ll go back.”
Boston firefighter Ed Loder, right, was awarded the Walter Scott Medal for Valor and four Roll of Merit awards, including one for a water rescue in the Charles River. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
Loder took charge and ordered Ladder Company 17 to be posted on the other side to sandwich the man in between.
In the meantime, Loder went up the aerial ladder to get a better view of the rooftop and the distraught man.
“I’m gonna jump,” the man said once more.
“I looked at him and said, ‘What are you gonna do that for, you’re going to make a mess down there if you jump,'” Loder said.
The man ran to the edge only a few feet from where Loder was positioned. “We’ve been here for an hour playing with you — it’s lunch time, I’m hungry and want to go get a sandwich. How about you go inside the hospital and get something to eat?”
A screenshot from the Boston Globe newspaper showing Boston firefighter Ed Loder holding a man by his shirt with his fingertips while suspended 100 feet in the air.
“Fuck you,” the man hollered, as he climbed over the side and proceeded down a conduit pipe attached to the hospital building.
Arm by arm, the man took off his coat, threw it to the ground, and said for the final time, “I’m jumping!”
From the side of the aerial ladder, Loder reached out with both his arms and grabbed the man by his shirt. Dangling 100 feet in the air, Loder screamed at the aerial operator to lower the ladder.
“Instead of lowering the aerial, he hits the rotation on the turntable and slams me and the guy in the side of the building,” Loder said, explaining that the operator likely panicked during the split-second action. “He dropped the aerial down to maybe 10 to 15 feet off another roof that was there, and I let him go. I couldn’t hang on to him anymore.”
Paul Christian, left, Boston fire commissioner between 2001 and 2006, and Ed Loder wearing Liar’s Club golf shirts. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.
A row of cars with the doors ripped off and the metal frames crumpled are remnants of a previous fire academy training class. There in the parking lot sits a small and unassuming office trailer known as The Liar’s Club. Since 1968, retired Boston firefighters have been meeting here every Wednesday morning to share stories, reminisce, and — sometimes — tell a few lies.
Driving up to the Liar’s Club in Loder’s pickup, we didn’t get very far before the first young fire captain approached the driver’s-side window, wanting to shake Loder’s hand. With some 43 years on the job, Loder is the most decorated firefighter in Boston Fire’s nearly 400-year history. Not that he boasts about the glory.
Inside, beyond the coffee and donuts, an old retiree says, “You know he’s one of the most decorated in the fire service?” while Loder rolls his eyes in the background.
In the back room, nicknamed “Division 2” in homage to the two districts between which the city is split, I listen as Paul Christian, the former Boston fire commissioner, shares a story about the old days.
An infamous photograph snapped by a Boston newspaper photographer of Ed Loder wearing Sperrys on the job. Photo courtesy of Ed Loder.
“Today they have to put bunker gear on, put the boots on, put the hood on, put this on, put that on, get up on the truck, put their seatbelts on,” Christian said, in reference to the new OSHA regulations. “When I came on the fire department, you had to run to the piece [fire truck] while you jumped on with your coat while you’re going down the street. You’re putting on your belt, and the best you could do was kick your shoes off and put your boots on.”
Sometimes they forgot — and a Boston news photographer was there to snap the picture to prove it. “I get a call from headquarters and they wanted to know who the guy was with the Sperrys on,” Loder said and laughed. “Of course everybody said that nobody knew nothing, but it was me.”
Loder just celebrated his 72nd birthday and continues to give back to the fire service, teaching classes to the next generation. All the medals and the accolades later, Loder maintains that he was just doing his job.
On the evening of March 24, 1944, a Royal Air Force airman jumped out of his damaged bomber without a parachute.
Not only did he survive, but he landed with little more than bumps and bruises.
His name was Nicholas Alkemade. Or should we say, the “indestructible” Nicholas Alkemade. Born Dec. 10, 1922, Alkemade was a rear gunner on a four-engine Avro Lancaster its crew had nicknamed “Werewolf.”
In March 1944, the crew was on a bombing mission over Berlin, which went without incident. But on their way back to England, the bomber caught on fire after being razed by machine-gun fire from a German fighter. The order came from the Werewolf’s pilot to abandon the crippled bomber, but Alkemade wasn’t wearing his parachute, since the gunner’s area was too cramped for it to be worn all the time.
When he tried pulling his chute out of storage, it was in flames. The plane was going down and he had few options.
“I had no doubts at all that this was the end of the line,” he told Leicester Mercury years later. “The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry or jump to my death. I decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things. I backed out of the turret and somersaulted away.”
So out he went, headed from 18,000 feet above the Earth to the ground at 120 miles per hour. He lost consciousness during the descent, which would have been the end of this story. Except, three hours later, Alkemade — now safely lying on the ground — opened his eyes.
He was lying on snowy ground in a small pine wood. Above him the stars were still visible, only this time they were framed by the edges of the hole he had smashed through the tree canopy. Assessing himself, Alkemade found that he was remarkably intact. In addition to the burns and cuts to the head and thigh, all received in the aircraft, he was suffering only bruising and a twisted knee. Not a single bone had been broken or even fractured. Both of his flying boots had disappeared, probably torn from his feet as he unconsciously struck the tree branches. Being of no further use, Alkemade discarded his parachute harness in the snow.
Though his incredible survival arguably made him the luckiest man in the world, his luck soon changed. He began to blow on his emergency whistle, which got the attention of German civilians nearby. After he was taken to a local infirmary, he was interrogated by the Gestapo the next day.
He told them what happened, and like anyone else would, they basically called bullsh-t.
“You say you fell from a plane, but you have no parachute,” the Gestapo interrogator asked him, according to the Mercury. His interrogators accused him of burying it and being a spy, until he told them to find his discarded harness, along with the crashed aircraft that was nearby, according to the RAF Museum.
The Germans investigated and found he was legit. They even gave him a certificate stating, “It has been investigated and corroborated by the German authorities that the claim of Sergeant Alkemade, No. 1431537, is true in all respects, namely, that he has made a descent from 18,000 feet without a parachute and made a safe landing without injuries, the parachute having been on fire in the aircraft. He landed in deep snow among fir trees.”
Alkemade spent his next 14 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in Poland, and returned to England after the war ended. He died in 1991.
America’s F-16 multi-role fighters are some of the most advanced aircraft on the planet, carrying precision weapons and using them to kill bad guys around the world.
But in March 2003, two F-16 pilots were called to assist 52 British special operators surrounded by 500 Iraqi troops — meaning the friendlies were outnumbered almost 10 to 1.
Worse, there was essentially no light on the battlefield. It was so dark that even the pilots’ night vision goggles weren’t enough for the F-16s to tell where forces were on the ground.
But the pilots could hear through the radio as the situation on the ground went from bad to worse. The Iraqi troops were pressing the attack, pinning the Brits down and preparing to overrun them.
Thinking fast, Lt. Col. Ed Lynch climbed to altitude and then went into a dive, quickly building up sonic energy around his plane as he approached the speed of sound.
As he neared the ground with the massive amount of sound energy surrounding his cockpit, he broke the sound barrier and pointed the bulk of the energy at the ground where he believed the Iraqi troops to be. Lynch pulled up a mere 3,000 feet from the ground, sending the massive sonic boom against the troops below.
The energy wave struck with enough force that the Iraqi troops thought the F-16s were dropping bombs or firing missiles. The Iraqi troops broke apart and the British special operators were able to get out during the chaos.
It may surprise amateur historians to discover that wars can take a humanitarian turn. There are many, many recorded instances of exceptional displays of humanity, even during the most brutal fighting. Considering the Nazis’ monstrous reputation, it would surprise many others to discover that kind of kindness among the German officers in World War II.
Even in the Wehrmacht’s most desperate days, there were some among them who retained their humanity in the middle of one of the world’s deadliest conflicts. In the Hürtgen War Cemetery in Hürtgen, Germany, you’ll find a small monument to one of these brave souls.
“No man hath greater love than he who layeth down his life for his enemy.”
As the Allies pressed their post-Normandy advantage against the Nazis in Europe, they began to outrun their supply lines. Unfortunately, the men and materiel required to bring down the Nazi regime weren’t as fast at replacing the men and materiel who were actively taking down the regime. The Allies were forced to slow down and, in some places, pause as their supplies caught up to their breakneck drive toward Germany.
This lull gave the Germans time to regroup and rest.
The worst was yet to come.
Before the Allies could enter Germany, there were a few things they had to consider. They had to cross the Rhine, the city Aachen was under siege and refused to surrender, and the Allies were afraid the Germans would destroy the Ruhr Dam. To avoid this, the Allies needed to enter the dense woods that lay between the city and the dam and do it before the Germans thought to blow the dam.
During the relatively brief lull in the fighting, the Germans made good use of the Hürtgen Forest. Its hills and ravines were loaded with minefields, booby traps, barbed wire, and anything else they could think of that might halt the Allied advance or end it entirely. What’s more, deep inside the woods were the overgrown and abandoned remains of the concrete Siegfried Line. The advantage in numbers and air superiority the Allied troops enjoyed would be completely negated by the forest. The dark woods were now almost impenetrable, and the Allies were walking into it.
This is not the place you want to assault.
For four months, the Allies sent men into the German-held meat grinder trying to dislodge the Nazis. Among the Germans trying to keep the Americans out was a Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. Lengfeld was a young officer who had just taken command of his unit in November 1944, after his commander was killed in combat. He and his men were holed up in a lodge of some kind, sheltering themselves from the elements and trying to stave off their hunger. Next to their shelter was a minefield known as the Wilde Sau.
An American attack pushed Lengfeld’s Germans from their shelter, but his men quickly counterattacked and retook it the day after. The U.S. troops scrambled out so fast that one of them walked right into the Wilde Sau and immediately stepped on a mine. The man survived and began calling for help.
None came. And to this day, no one knows who the wounded American was.
This road once bisected the Wilde Sau minefield.
Lieutenant Lengfeld ordered his troops that no one was to fire at any Americans who would come for the man. Hours passed, the man begged anyone within earshot to help him. But no one came. The man cried for his compatriots the entire time, but still, no one came to his aid. Lengfeld decided he would help, and took a team of his medics along a road that led to the minefield. He was determined to help the man, but while his team had placed anti-tank mines along the road, he did not know the location of anti-personnel mines. Lengfeld stepped on one immediately, shredding his back. He would die later that night.
In 1994, a monument was erected at the Hürtgen Forest Cemetery, bearing the name and wartime deeds of Lt. Friedrich Lengfeld. It read:
Here in Huertgen Forest on November 12, 1944, Lt. Lengfeld, a German officer, gave his life while trying to save the life of an American soldier lying severely wounded in the “Wilde Sau” minefield and appealing for medical aid.
The monument was placed there by the American members of the 22nd Infantry Regiment to honor Lt. Lengfeld.
Fighter aces—those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircrafts—are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds”. There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, and many who have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.
That is, none except one…
Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.
When war came he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On November 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.
All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.
It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.
Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter ace, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.
On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan it made no difference. He’d flown, fought and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.
His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables) and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.
Neither would his life.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.
Soon all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.
Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built, this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.
Le Gloan, in severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground the undercarriage collapsed.
The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.
Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.
In 1916, the people of the United States were not feeling good about the rest of the world. President Woodrow Wilson easily won re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” as World War I raged on in Europe and elsewhere. The Mexican Revolution threatened to pull the United States back into conflict in the American Southwest. On top of all that, the U.S. military was a conscripted, third-rate power; a far cry from the professional, all-volunteer force that we enjoy today.
But it was almost an Army comprised only of those who wanted to go to war in the first place.
Five months after his inauguration, we were at war. Just sayin’.
The Constitution of the United States says only that the U.S. Congress can declare a state of war. There are no formal rules for how and when the Congress can do so, only that they can. In one instance, the President signed the legislation for war, and in others, it simply passed as a resolution. In 1916, the Congress had only declared war three times: against Britain in 1812, Mexico in 1848, and against Spain in 1898. The American people were not looking forward to a potential war in Europe, no matter who was on the other side.
Especially a concerned group of citizens from Nebraska, who created legislation that would change how the United States declared war – and who would fight it.
“Get in, loser. We’re going to liberate Belgium.”
This proposed amendment to the Constitution outlined the process of declaring war as a national referendum, a direct vote by American citizens, where the majority would decide if the country was going to war or not. If the war referendum passed, all those who voted in favor of the war would be enlisted to fight that war.
Folks in Nebraska were surprised by how much popular support their proposed amendment received. The petition to submit the amendment to Congress had so many signatures, scraps of paper had to be added after the fact to ensure they all ended up on the document. While deciding who fights a war is very important, declaring a state of war comes with many automatic legal triggers, many of which have likely kept Congress from declaring war in the past few decades. An official state of war has not been declared since World War II.
That face you make when you can still use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to bomb Southeast Asia.
While the rules for how the United States conducts itself in a declared war versus an undeclared use of military force vary greatly, the rules for who fights the wars do not. All American male citizens are required to register for Selective Service at age 18, but the draft has not been used as a means of military recruiting since 1973, and was finally ended by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ever since, the U.S military has been an all-volunteer force.
The question that has come out of the formation of an all-volunteer military in the past few years is one of disproportionate representation. If only certain segments of the American population have to fight the wars of the future, is it easier for a political class to launch unnecessary wars if they don’t have to be personally affected by its manpower needs? Those Nebraskans might have had a good point.
At the height of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo guys who wanted to learn the art of radio operation would walk into a classroom and see a huge number five written on the chalkboard.
Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and they’d ask what the big number meant. The instructor would then calmly tell them, “That’s your life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, listen up and you might learn something that’ll keep you alive.”
That number wasn’t some outrageous scare tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were tremendously stacked against radio operations — and that 5-second life expectancy was, for some, a grim reality.
To make matters worse, you can’t really control the volume on those radios since the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your position away, too.
(USMC Historical Archives)
In all fairness, that number was on the more extreme side of estimates. The life expectancy of a radio operator in the Vietnam War ranged between five to six seconds all the way up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending on your source. If you look at all of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo guys weren’t expected to last long.
The first and most obvious tally in the “you’re screwed” column was the overall weight of the gear radio operators were expected to carry into battle. The PRC-77 radio system weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption device called the NESTOR and you’re looking at carrying 54lbs on your back at all times. Now add your weapon system onto that and try to keep up as you fight alongside your unencumbered brethren. It took a lot of getting used to — but they managed.
If the weight wasn’t problem enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, but they were extremely uncomfortable to use and would often give your position away to the enemy. The three-foot version was easier on the radio operator, but it wouldn’t work in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna to stick out of their back, which was a great way to draw unwanted attention.
The Viet Cong knew what it meant to take out a guy with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their back — you might as well have painted a bullseye on them. You take out the radio operator and you effectively avoid dealing with air support. Additionally, it was well known that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels of the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.
And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had to watch out for. The large antenna also acted as a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. All they had to do was aim for the antenna and they could wipe out anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as it sounds, this meant that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, away from the rest of the squad.
It’s unclear exactly how many radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, others just had a radio strapped to them in times of need. One thing is for certain, though: Being a radio operator back in the Vietnam War puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.
To hear one of these badasses explain what life was like in his own words, check out the video below.