Arlington National Cemetery holds over 300,000 United States veterans. Veterans from every US war or conflict since the Revolutionary War lie here. Founded in 1866, this cemetery is the largest and most prestigious in the nation. It is meant to honor all men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.
The grounds are steeped in history
The cemetery grounds, formerly Arlington House, used to be the property of George Washington’s adopted grandson and his wife. In 1831, their daughter married Robert E. Lee, and the couple lived there until Virginia ceded from the Union in 1861. A tax dispute led the federal government to reclaim the property in 1864. However, the land was later returned to Lee’s son after a lawsuit, though the government promptly repurchased it for about $150,000. This made little Lee a very rich man—the equivalent in today’s world would be roughly $4 million.
Presidents, change-makers, and military leadership
One of the most prominent people buried there is 27th US President William Howard Taft, a man who never really wanted to be president at all. His real dream was to become a Supreme Court Justice, a goal he achieved later. No other man has ever served as President of the United States and Chief Justice on the Supreme Court.
Another notable figure buried at Arlington is Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court. He argued on the Brown v. Board of Education case, where the Supreme Court finally determined racial segregation to be unconstitutional once and for all.
JFK and Bobby Kennedy have a special, solemn place in Arlington. Above their graves, an eternal flame is lit. Jackie Kennedy was so moved when she saw the eternal flame over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that she wanted the same thing for her husband. When Jackie passed years later in 1994, her remains were placed next to her husband’s.
David Hackworth, a colonel in the US Army who served in Korea and Vietnam, is also buried in Arlington. He was a highly decorated serviceman with tons of honors, including a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart with many oak leaf clusters attached to several. Hackworth also wrote a book that criticized how the Vietnam War was handled, for which he took some heat from the government—oops.
Speaking of famous, one of the most famous women buried at Arlington is Admiral Grace Hopper. A leading programmer in the US Navy between 1943 and 1986, Hopper was a pioneer of computer programming and one of the first to use the Harvard Mark I. She was also the inventor of one of the first linkers. Today we think of linking as such a standard computer action, but we wouldn’t have it without Hopper.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, USS Utah (BB-31) was moored off of Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. Utah was struck by two torpedoes during the infamous attack and quickly took on water. The order to abandon ship was given. Chief Watertender Peter Tomich stayed below decks to ensure as many of his shipmates could escape and keep the pumps going for as long as possible. Tomich would posthumously earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. Utah took only 14 minutes to capsize. Fifty eight men would perish on board the battleship and remain entombed there to this day. These men also stand eternal watch over an unexpected visitor, a two-day old baby girl.
Chief Yeoman Albert Thomas Dewitt Wagner was one of the hundreds of men assigned to the USS Utah at Pearl Harbor during the attack. Four years earlier, on August 29, 1937, Wagner’s wife gave birth to twin girls while they were stationed in the Philippines. Nancy Lynne and Mary Dianne Wagner were born prematurely. Sadly, Nancy Lynne lived only two days. Her body was cremated and brought back to Hawaii when Chief Wagner was assigned to the Utah. Wagner was hoping to give his daughter a proper burial at sea and was waiting for a new chaplain to join the crew to perform it. Unfortunately, the ceremony was not to happen.
Wagner had just finished his breakfast when the Japanese surprise attack started. “Suddenly, the air was bent by a terrific explosion,” Wagner wrote in his journal. “Rushing to a porthole I saw a huge column of black smoke bellowing high into the heavens.” Wagner hurriedly rushed to his battle station on the third deck at the ship’s aft. Suddenly, Utah was rocked by a torpedo explosion that threw Wagner off of his feet. He was forced to abandon ship with his daughter’s ashes still in his locker in the chief’s quarters.
According to the surviving twin sister, Mary Dianne Wagner Kreigh, attempts were made to recover Nancy Lynne’s ashes. “Frogmen did go down about two weeks after the attack and tried to enter the quarters,” she recalled, “but it was too badly smashed to get in.” It was not until 1972 that Nancy Lynne and the 58 sailors about the Utah received a proper monument. The Navy erected a concrete pier and memorial slab and dedicated it to those that remain entombed aboard the Utah. “I don’t think there is a better tribute to my twin sister than to have all of those wonderful and brave men guarding her,” Kreigh said. “I could not have asked for anything better than for her to be tenderly, carefully looked after by America’s finest.” In 1990, Kreigh started a Thanksgiving tradition to visit the USS Utah memorial and place a lei in the water in her sister’s honor.
When the B-52 was originally conceived, its express purpose was the delivery of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. However, America’s Cold War interventions had other plans for the venerable aircraft.
As America’s role expanded in Vietnam, so too did the B-52’s.
This came in the form of Operation Arc Light — the initial deployment of B-52’s from the United States to Guam to support missions in Vietnam. These bombers, in the B-52’s combat debut, first struck North Vietnamese targets in June 1965 using standard 750 and 1,000 pound bombs.
The B-52’s expanded role led the Air Force to modify numerous existing B-52D models under a program called Big Belly. This modification turned the B-52 into an absolutely devastating conventional bomber.
The improvements allowed the B-52 to carry 84 500-pound bombs internally as well as another 24 750-pound bombs mounted on wing pylons. This gave the bomber a total of 108 bombs or 60,000 pounds of bombs to drop on the enemy.
By comparison, the B-17G, America’s bombing workhorse of WWII, could only carry about 9,600 pounds of bombs on missions.
When flown in a pair of cells — or a group of three B-52s in formation — the bombers could leave behind a swath of destruction a mile long and a half mile wide.
In addition to the B-52’s massive bomb load, it was especially effective for another reason: ground-directed bombing.
Air Force technology had come a long way since the days of carpet-bombing the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. This meant that the destruction the B-52s could be brought to bear was much more accurate than ever before.
This was accomplished using Combat Sky Spot, an interlinked system of radar sites, utilizing the MSQ-77 radar/computer system, to accurately direct bombing missions.
These sites were manned by airmen of the Combat Evaluation Group. With numerous sites located throughout the region, they provided guidance across the entire battlefield.
The MSQ-77, or Miscue 77 as it was often referred to, was revolutionary because it used an algorithm to determine exact bomb impact points, rather than specific release points for aircraft as earlier versions had done.
This meant that bombers and fighter-bombers operating at night, in bad weather, or near friendly troops could be directed to where their bombs would land.
This level of accuracy meant that large scale bombing runs could safely be made within 1,000 meters of friendly forces, closer with the approval of a Forward Air Controller.
This ability would be used to devastating effect against the North Vietnamese in numerous battles.
During Operation Harvest Moon, the Marines used the giant B-52 bombers against stubborn Viet Cong resistance.
The B-52s also helped the 1st Cavalry Division troopers fighting in the Ia Drang.
By 1966, B-52 bombers flew over 5,000 missions against targets in Vietnam, accounting for more than 8,000 tons of bombs per month. Besides just supporting ground troops the bombers also flew interdiction missions against North Vietnamese convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
By 1967, the number of Arc Light missions had nearly doubled with most missions being in direct support of troops in contact.
In 1968, Arc Light B-52s flew numerous close air support missions in support of the Marines under siege at Khe Sanh. Flying high above the monsoon rains that had grounded the fighters, and aided by the MSQ-77, the B-52s put 60,000 tons of the proverbial warheads on foreheads.
This round-the-clock punishment helped to break the siege.
Because the B-52s flew so high as to remain unseen and unheard by the enemy, they had to find other ways to counter. This meant the men of the Combat Evaluation Group at the Combat Sky Spot sites were the most likely target.
The North Vietnamese realized if they could take out the radar sites then they could impair American bombing efforts. This led to the largest loss of airmen on the ground when the North Vietnamese overran Lima Site 85 and took out its Combat Sky Spot.
Despite the dangers to all involved, the Arc Light missions were a great success and continued through the end of the war.
The Iranian Navy sure does talk a big game for the sheer number of times it got slapped around in its home waters. When Iranian sailors captured U.S. Navy sailors in 2016, the usual response would have been a short, potent facepunch from a nearby carrier group. When President Obama opted not to slap them around, what should have seemed like a close call instead appears to have artificially inflated some Iranian egos, because traditionally, Iran is not good at Navy things.
Iran has been hit or miss on the water (usually miss) since they lost to the outnumbered Greeks at Salamis in 480 BC. Its biggest naval win came against Iraq on Sept. 28, 1980, a day they still celebrate as “Navy Day” because no other engagement would qualify. Ever since, Iran has been threatening anyone within earshot with its aging, rusted patchwork of garbage scows it calls a navy.
Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran, 1941
During World War II, the Allied powers thought neutral Iran was more likely to aid the Axis powers than the allies when push came to shove. Since Iran’s rich oil fields were not something anyone wanted in Hitler’s hands, the Soviets and the British Empire invaded Iran in August 1941. The British Commonwealth ships steamed into Abadan Harbor and promptly lit up the Iranian fleet, killing its leadership and deposing the Shah. The two allied powers then divided the country between them.
Operation Prime Chance 1987
After Iran crippled the Iraqi Navy during the early days of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians pretty much had free rein to wreak as much havoc as they wanted on Iraqi shipping – even if those ships weren’t flagged as Iraqi. The Iranians began targeting tankers and container ships flagged as neutral countries in an effort to choke Iraq into submission. Pretty soon, other countries were reflagging their ships as American, both to deter the Iranians from attacking or laying mines and benefitting from U.S. protection.
The Iranians did not stop mining the Gulf, so the United States began setting up oil platforms as maritime staging areas for special operations missions. Operating from these bases, the Navy took down a number of Iranian minelayers while protecting international shipping lanes.
Operation Nimble Archer, 1987
U.S. forces attacked and burned Iranian oil platforms after Iran fired a missile at a Kuwaiti tanker, hitting it and wounding dozens of sailors. The Navy determined the attack came from an otherwise-unoccupied oil platform, which they next surrounded, boarded, and destroyed – using both Navy SEALs and accurate fire from four destroyers as well as aircraft.
The special operators who boarded the platforms also seized valuable classified intel, as the platforms were controlled by the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Operation Praying Mantis, 1988
In 1988, it wasn’t a flagged merchant who hit an Iranian-laid mine. This time it was a US Navy ship, the USS Samuel B. Roberts. Unfortunately for Iran, Ronald Reagan was still President, and the USS Enterprise carrier group was in the area. An entire battalion of United States Marines assaulted an oil platform being used to stage Iranian attacks in the Gulf. When the platform tried to fire on the Americans, they were punished for the effort from US Navy destroyers and Cobra helicopters.
The Iranians responded by sending an Iranian missile boat, the Joshan, straight at the U.S. fleet. When Joshan missed that shot, the American fleets overwhelmed the ship with missiles and guns, sending her to the bottom. Meanwhile, Iranian aircraft and destroyers joined the fray, one destroyer was sunk the other was heavily damaged, and the Iranian fighters were no match for US Navy A-6 Intruders.
Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.
Revolutionary War re-enactors.
(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)
See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?
Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.
A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.
Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.
A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.
But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.
In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.
At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.
The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.
For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.
It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.
During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?
In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.
A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.
The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.
President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.
“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”
The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”
Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”
The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the World War II Commander of the Pacific Fleet, delivered remarks at Golden Gate National Cemetery on the 10th Anniversary of V-J Day, August 14, 1955. The remains of many men who died under his command had been repatriated and rested before him. Nimitz took the loss of life made by his decisions personally and carried the burden with him throughout his life. He spoke directly to his fallen men on this occasion and promised them that the survivors of the war would honor their memory by maintaining military strength to deter future calamity.
Over the next decade, Admiral Nimitz decided that, in death, he wanted to join his men at Golden Gate with a standard military funeral and regulation headstone. He took steps to assure that the shipmates closest to him during World War II could join him as well.
Admiral Nimitz was a humble and no-frills type of man; still, his funerary and burial decisions surprised some. He was the third of four admirals promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy during WWII. All were entitled to a state funeral and three accepted.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s family standing outside of Golden Gate National Cemetery’s chapel, February 24, 1966. Mrs. Nimitz is seated in front of her son and daughters. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115073, NARA II, College Park, Md.)
When the Kennedy administration approached Nimitz—the last of the surviving Fleet Admirals—about planning his own state funeral and burial in Arlington, Nimitz balked. He told his wife Catherine that “He did not love Washington, he loved it out here, and all of his men from the Pacific were out here.”
Instead, Nimitz had only one special request: that the five stars of his Fleet Admiral insignia be placed in the space reserved for an emblem of belief on his headstone. His biographer, E.B. Potter, speculated that Nimitz, a religious man outside of denominations, made the decision to show that “He had done his best in life.”
There were spaces for six graves in Nimitz’s designated burial plot at Golden Gate. When asked if he had preference for who went into the other four graves, Nimitz said, “I’d like to have Spruance and Lockwood.”
Admirals Raymond Spruance and Charles Lockwood were two of Nimitz’s closest friends during the war and after. Their competency as warfighters and leaders contributed greatly to victory in the Pacific. Spruance delivered key victories, such as Midway, the Philippine Sea, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Lockwood commanded the successful U.S. submarine operations in the Pacific.
Admiral Chester Nimitz (CINCPAC) gives a dinner party in Hawaii for First Lady Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt on September 22, 1943. (L-R): Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, Mrs. Roosevelt, Admiral Nimitz, Vice Admiral Raymond Spruance. (NH 58521, Naval History and Heritage Command, WNYD)
As a bonus, another close friend and architect of all major Pacific amphibious landings, Admiral Richmond Kelley Turner already occupied a grave very close to the Nimitz plot. When Nimitz posed the idea to Spruance, he “took to the thing like a duck to water,” as Mrs. Nimitz recalled. Lockwood agreed with the plan as well.
A friend in death
Nimitz died February 20, 1966, with his wife Catherine at his side. He was laid to rest on the cold and blustery afternoon of February 24 (his 81st birthday). Admiral Spruance, recovering from the flu, respectfully stood at attention in his uniform throughout. Mrs. Nimitz found some humor in the day when an uninvited sailor who had served in the Pacific Fleet arrived at the grave dressed in his best cowboy boots and hat. He refused to leave because “This was his commander, [and] he was going to be there come hell or high water.”
While this circumstance would likely have annoyed many, this type of admiration from those who served under him embodied the leadership style of Nimitz. Two nineteen-gun salutes, a 70-plane flyover, and the playing of “Taps” concluded the service.
Funeral of Fleet Admiral Nimitz. Procession about to begin journey from the chapel to the gravesite at Golden Gate National Cemetery, February 24, 1966. (U.S. Navy Photo 1115072-B, NARA II, College Park, Md.)
There are a lot of hated people in military history and no one is more hated than a turncoat. Even the troops on a traitor’s new side will never trust them entirely — after all, they turned their back on their own country for personal gain. How trustworthy can they be?
This list details the most notorious, most gut-wrenching, most fatal backstabs in military history. These are direct betrayals of historical figures, in alphabetical order.
There are no abstract judgement calls (like naming Judas Iscariot), no political statements (like calling out Nixon for extending the Vietnam War), and no traitors for good causes — Rommel tried to kill Hitler, but that’s hardly “notorious.”
1. Emilio Aguinaldo
Aguinaldo fought many foes to liberate the Philippines and its people, including the Spanish and the Americans. Once captured (he was actually betrayed by his own men) and released, he would wear black to mourn lost Philippine independence. When the Japanese brutally occupied the island, you’d think he’d go right back to fighting invaders killing Filipinos.
You’d be wrong.
He made radio addresses and speeches, imploring the Americans and Filipinos to surrender on Bataan in the hopes of getting the Japanese to make him President of their puppet government. The people ignored him.
When the U.S. retook the islands, he was jailed as a collaborator. Although remembered as the first President of the Philippines, “Japanese collaborator” is a huge stain on his anti-colonialist résumé.
2. Benedict Arnold
The name Americans love to hate. His name is so synonymous with the word “traitor” in the U.S., calling someone a “Benedict Arnold” can still cause fists to fly over 200 years later. Arnold wasn’t a bad general — his skills were critical to early American victories, especially at Saratoga. However, Arnold felt passed over and used.
Instead of pressing on and waiting for his day to come, he offered to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for money and a general’s commission in the British Army. The British didn’t get West Point, though, because Arnold’s plan was discovered and he escaped to British lines.
3. Ephialtes of Trachis
This is the guy who the historian Herodotus says betrayed the Greeks at Thermopylae. It was there the outnumbered Greeks formed a bottleneck in the pass between the Malian Gulf and the “impassable and precipitous” mountain to the west.
Herodotus’ account says Ephialtes showed the much-larger Persian army a “single-wheel track” that ran behind the Greek lines. Once surrounded, the Greeks were, of course, slaughtered.
4. Qin Hui
While Europe was busy obsessing with who was in charge of everyone else, in China, Jurchen raiders from the north were having their way with the Song Dynasty and running off with its emperor. That’s when a general named Yue Fei had enough. He crushed the Jurchens in fight after fight, trying to win back the emperor.
Then, Qin Hui convinced the replacement emperor that a Yue Fei victory meant a much shorter time on the throne. Yue is recalled and eventually executed for treason. Predictably, losing their best general also meant losing their dynasty.
Yue Fei was exonerated after death. These days, the region where Fei was buried houses statues of Qin and his wife, bound and on their knees, so people can throw things at them for eternity.
5. Mir Jafar
Britain ruled India for almost 200 years. How is it possible for such a small, far-away country to invade and conquer one of the richest, most populous places in the world? The answer is Mir Jafar.
Jafar was made the new Nawab. Today, Jafar’s name is equivalent to the American “Benedict Arnold” and the European “Quisling.”
6. Vidkun Quisling
Nothing makes a traitor more heinous than collaborating with the Nazis. Quisling was the President of Norway from 1942 until the end of WWII. While most presidents in Europe end their tenure with a wave and a smile, Quisling’s ended with a trial and execution for carrying out the “Final Solution” in Norway.
A former Norwegian Army officer, Quisling declared a coup during the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. Having already met with Hitler, he was reasonably sure this coup would put him in control. He was wrong. Eventually the Nazis made him “Minister President,” subordinate to a Nazi official.
7. Andrey Vlasov
Vlasov’s entire career in the Red Army was made by turning terrible units and armies into formidable fighting forces. He cut his military teeth in the Bolshevik Revolution and by the time WWII came around, he was the epitome of a combat-hardened veteran. So, when the Nazis invaded the USSR, Vlasov’s troops were the only ones seeing success.
After his capture, he detailed to the Germans how the Russians could be defeated. Using anti-Communist Soviet citizens, they created the Russian Liberation Movement, and later the Russian Liberation Army.
They were the only Eastern Front divisions with major successes against the Red Army in the closing days of WWII. If Nazis had not betrayed them over and over, they might have pushed the Red Army back.
Vlasov was eventually captured by the U.S. Army and handed over to the Russians. You can probably guess what happened after that.
Few soldiers are as legendary as Finland’s Simo Häyhä. Known as the deadliest sniper in history, Häyhä served for just under 100 days during the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.
In that short time, he is credited with killing over 500 men.
At long range Häyhä was lethal; his M28/30 sniper rifle (the Finnish version of Russia’s legendary Mosin-Nagant) accounted for half his estimated 500-542 kills. At close quarters, he was equally deadly with his Suomi KP-31 sub-machine gun, with some 250 Soviets falling victim to it. Not surprisingly, Soviet troops soon assigned Häyhä an appropriately sinister nickname: White Death.
Häyhä’s transformation into history’s most accomplished sniper traces back to 1925, when at twenty years old he served his mandatory year in Finland’s Army and afterward joined Finland’s volunteer militia known as the White Guard. Häyhä’s time with the militia sharpened what were already remarkable shooting abilities; a farmer and hunter, he was a natural marksman who regularly collected trophies at local shooting competitions.
When the Winter War broke out on November 30, 1939, Häyhä was nearly 34 years old. By the war’s end on March 13, 1940, he would become a legend. While most snipers used telescopic sights, Häyhä did without. Using a scope forced a sniper to lift their head a few inches higher than ordinary sights, making them an easier target for enemy snipers. Telescopic sights were also vulnerable to extreme cold. Häyhä’s solution was simple: Even in the poor light of a Finnish winter, he would rely on iron sights and the naked eye.
As the Soviets soon realized, the dim lighting didn’t affect his aim.
Finnish Army documents (as cited on Wikipedia) reveal just how deadly Häyhä was as a soldier. The war began on November 30, 1939. According to these documents, Häyhä had racked up his first 138 kills by December 22–only 22 days for 138 kills. The entry for January 26, 1940 ups his count to 199, an extra 61 in 35 days. By February 17, he was up to 219. In the 18 days after that, Häyhä killed another 40 enemy soldiers.
These stats reflect his sniping kills. Häyhä was just as deadly up close. His sub-machine gun accounted for another 250 kills. By March of 1940, he’d racked up an astonishing 500+ kills. Yet on March 6, his military career came to a sudden and near-fatal end.
Häyhä was a primary target of the Red Army; Soviets were keen to eliminate this seemingly unstoppable soldier who had spread so much fear, injury, and death among their ranks.
They’d tried everything, pummeling Häyhä’s presumed locations with artillery fire. Soviets also employed counter-sniping, flooding an area with snipers whose primary mission was to kill the White Death.
On March 6, 1940, the Red Army nearly succeeded. A Soviet sniper spotted Häyhä and shot at him with an explosive bullet, striking him in his lower left jaw.
The shot should have killed him. Häyhä, though severely wounded, somehow survived. Found by Finnish troops, he was brought into a field hospital. He wasn’t a pretty sight. One of the soldiers who brought him in bluntly described his injuries, saying “half his face was missing”. But once again, Häyhä had beaten the odds: permanently disfigured, but alive nonetheless.
Häyhä was lucky. Only days after he was shot, the Winter War ended on March 13, 1940 — the same day Häyhä regained consciousness. Finland honored the soldier for his service. Starting as a private in 1925, he’d only made ‘Alikersantti’ (corporal) when the Winter War started. After it ended, Corporal Häyhä was commissioned, becoming a “Vanrikki” (second lieutenant) with multiple decorations. He would spend the next few years recovering from the shot to his head, but Häyhä would eventually regain his health.
After the war, he became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder. Against him, the moose stood no chance. Finland’s President Urho Kekkinen was also a keen hunter and Häyhä, once a nobody from the Finnish border country, became one of the President’s regular hunting partners.
Entering a veteran’s nursing home in Hamina in his old age, Häyhä spent his remaining years quietly. He died on April 1, 2002 aged 96, a national hero in his native Finland and a legend in military history. Asked how he’d been so successful he answered simply: “Practice.”
Anyone who survived the Cold War likely remembers the fear that, with almost no notice, an endless rain of Soviet missiles and bombs could begin that would end the war. Even if your city wasn’t hit, the number of nukes that America and Russia would have exchanged would have ended the war. But there was a problem: the Soviet Union had a tiny fraction of the missiles necessary. The confusion can be traced back to one flawed report.
In the early 1950s, rumors were growing that the Soviet Union was developing better ballistic missiles, massive weapons that took off, reached a high altitude, and then fell on or near a specified target. Early ballistic missiles were used in World War II, and they were unguided and crude weapons.
But the U.S. and Russia had seized as many German scientists as they could in the closing days of World War II, and the U.S. and the Soviet Union were each suspicious of what the other was doing with the co-opted scientists. If the Soviet Union was concentrating on missile research, they could beat America to space, and they might get a massive missile arsenal that could deliver nuclear warheads by the dozens.
And then the Soviets launched a missile test, sending a ballistic missile 3,000 miles across Siberia and other Soviet territories.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles are a highly inefficient way to deliver warheads, but they’re also hard to defend against and you don’t have to risk the lives of your own troops to attack your enemy.
(National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
Herb York was part of the scientific director at Livermore Laboratory, a nuclear research lab. And Jerome Weisner was a science adviser to the president. They were both capable men, but they had to do their research with very little information.
They figured out how much factory floor space the Soviet Union had and then tried to work out how many rockets they could build per year. But they didn’t know how much of that factory floor space was actually dedicated to rocket production, whether sufficient quantities of materiel was dedicated to the cause, or how efficient the Soviet’s manufacturing methods were.
So York and Weisner prepared a worst-case number to the president. Basically, if the Soviets were as efficient as America in rocket production, dedicated most of their available factory space to the effort, and gave sufficient labor and materiel to the project, they could produce thousands of missiles in just a few years. That was at least one new missile a day, and potentially as many as three to five missiles, each capable of taking out an American city.
Now, this wasn’t a complete stab in the dark. York and Weisner had looked at Soviet factory output, and there was a curious gap between America and the Soviet Union on the production of consumer goods and some war materials. Basically, Soviet factories were either drastically under producing, or else they were producing something hidden from America.
And what America did know of Soviet re-armament after World War II indicated a nation that was preparing for war. They had rapidly developed an arsenal of atomic and then nuclear bombs, produced hundreds of heavy bombers, then developed capable jet engines and re-built their air force for the jet age, all while churning out thousands of radar systems and armored vehicles and tanks.
So, if you thought the Soviet Union had a lot of unused factory space and wanted to create a massive missile capability, you would probably assume that they were going to churn them out by the thousands, just like they had with radar and other capabilities.
Explosions like this, but in American cities. It’s a problem.
And York and Weisner’s numbers were included in the document Deterrence Survival in the Nuclear Age, better known as the Gaither Report in November 1957. It was supposed to be secret, but it quickly leaked, and the American people suddenly learned that the Soviets might already have hundreds of missiles with thousands on the way.
Oh, and Sputnik had just launched, so it was clear to the public that Soviet missile technology was ahead of American. Eisenhower tried to play down the report, and might have comforted some people, but plenty of others saw it as a sign that he was hiding an American weakness.
And so the idea of a “missile gap,” that the U.S. was far behind the Soviet Union in terms of missile technology and numbers was born. This set off a short-lived panic followed by years of anxiety. It also underlined the importance of two other aspects of the Gaither Report: deterrence by America’s nuclear arsenal and survival through shelters and, later, civil defense.
America would drastically increase its missile development and other aspects of its nuclear arsenal, seeking to close the gap from the Eisenhower through the Kennedy administrations. But, under Kennedy, the U.S. would learn through improved spy satellite and plane imagery that the missile gap actually went the other direction.
America’s arsenal was massively larger than the Soviets’. At the time of the Gaither report, the Soviet Union only had four intercontinental ballistic missiles, the really capable ones.
And, instead of building thousands by 1960, they constructed about 100 more in the first few years after 1957.
If it weren’t for the Japanese, the Marine Corps’ biggest enemy in the Pacific theater of World War II might well have been the U.S. Army. On at least five occasions, Army commanders were relieved of command for what the Corps deemed was a lack of proper aggression. Those commanders were given the benefit of being relieved by their Army commander. When one brigadier was relieved by his Marine commander, it caused a grudge the branches held on to for years.
Gen. Ralph Smith began World War II with a promotion to brigadier general and a command of American soldiers in the Pacific. With Smith came his experience in previous American conflicts. He served under Gen. John J. Pershing in Mexico, during the Punitive Expedition. He also fought on the Western Front of World War I and was among the first American troops to land in France. He earned two Silver Stars in combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. His bravery and combat credentials were without question.
When he earned his second star, he also took command of the 27th Infantry Division, an Army unit that was soon folded into the 2nd Marine Division. The new mixed unit formed the V Amphibious Corps under Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith and its target was the Gilbert Islands. The Marines would attack and capture Tarawa while the Army did the same on Makin. The Marine Corps’ Smith thought the Army’s 6,400-plus troops should be able to overwhelm the 400 defenders and 400 laborers who held the reinforced island.
But it didn’t happen as quickly as “Howlin’ Mad” Smith though it should. This would build tensions when it came to take Saipan.
As if Saipan wasn’t tense enough.
On Saipan, the Marines and the Army would fight side-by-side on a dream team that would not be matched until the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team in 1992. When the U.S. began its assault on Mt. Tapochau in the middle of the island, the Marines found themselves advancing much further, much faster than their Army counterparts. The soldiers at Mt. Tapochau were tasked with taking an area known as “Hell’s Pocket.” The Army was expected to go into a valley surrounded by hills and cliffs under enemy control.
Now, if terrain is given a nickname by the Americans tasked to take it, that’s a pretty good indication of some intense fighting. But Holland Smith didn’t know that because he hadn’t inspected the terrain. The Army commander devised a plan to split his forces, using one battalion to hold the pocket while the other outflanked the Japanese defenders. Unfortunately, he would not be in command to implement it. It turns out “Howlin’ Mad” Smith was about to live up to his nickname.
The U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division marches to the front on Saipan.
With what he saw as a lack of aggression on Makin fresh in his mind, the inability of the Army to advance on Saipan made the Marine Corps’ Maj. Gen. Smith furious. He not only relieved the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith of command of the Army on Saipan, he ordered Ralph C. Smith off the island. It would be the only time an Army commander would be relieved of command by a superior from another branch, and the Army wouldn’t forget it for years. The firing was so public that Smith could no longer command a unit in the Pacific and spent the rest of the war in Arkansas.
After the war, a panel of inquiry was convened. Known as the Buckner Board, it was staffed entirely by Army brass. When it looked into the Saipan incident, it found that Holland Smith had not looked at the terrain facing the Army on the island and was not in possession of all the facts. The plan hatched by the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith to take Hell’s Pocket worked, and the Army was able to catch up to the Marines.
Plaid fabric is fairly innocuous. It’s been borrowed by all sorts of groups in America, from hipsters to lumberjacks and punk rockers to professors.
But, in the 18th century, it was the semi-official uniform of Scottish rebels branded as terrorists by the Protestant King George II.
King James II and his wife, Anne, before they were violently deposed and forced to flee to France and exile.
The problems started in 1688 when Catholic King James II was overthrown by a Protestant rebellion. In his absence, who, exactly, would be the legal holder of power in England was thrown up for debate. Would the Catholic king, who had cast away the Seal of the Realm while fleeing to France, or the Protestant William III and his wife, Mary, be the true authority of England?
“Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the world’s hardest pandering claimant to the English throne in 1745.
Boasting Scottish blood, Charles decided to start his campaign in Scotland in 1745. The Parliament of Scotland had initially acquiesced to the rise of Queen Mary and King William III, but the Scottish, as a whole, still supported Catholic rule. And Scotland had been angered by a series of acts by London and the Crown during the early 1700s, including the dissolution of the Parliament of Scotland.
The ploy worked, and many Scots, especially Highland Scots, decided to support the invasion, creating the Jacobites, as they were known. But, some Lowland Scots supported Mary and William, leading to fighting in Scotland even before Charles began his push south.
Soldiers of a Highland Regiment just before the Jacobite uprising. After the uprising, soldiers serving the British crown could continue to wear patterns like this, but it was banned for nearly all others.
The Highland Scots, often wearing their traditional garb made with tartan fabrics, delivered a number of victories to “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Think Braveheart clothing but The Patriot weapons).
But popular support for Charles and the House of Stuart dried up the further the Jacobites marched south, and so they were soon forced to start pulling back north with his largely Scottish forces.
This led to the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746, where Charles and the Scots attempted to score a defensive victory against government forces led by the Duke of Cumberland. Both sides were bogged down in the mud, but greater numbers on the Protestant side allowed them to pin down Scottish fighters with some units while others maneuvered. Their artillery advantage played a large role, as well.
Battle of Culloden, where a Jacobite uprising supporting a Catholic claim to the British throne was ended by government forces.
But the real brilliance of the Protestant attack came in how they ordered men to attack with bayonets during hand-to-hand fighting. Rather than fencing with the man directly in front of them, as was normal, the men were ordered to thrust into the exposed right side of the enemy adjacent to them.
Charles fled the country, never to return. But the Scots he left behind found themselves in the unenviable position of being stuck in the kingdom they had just rebelled against.
They were branded as terrorists and insurgents, and many of those who took part in the rebellion were hunted and executed. Meanwhile, their traditional fabric had been outlawed for general wear. Only highlanders who joined the British military were allowed to wear tartan fabrics, and usually only in Scottish units.
Oddly enough, its popularity had greatly grown among Lowland Scots who had fought against their tartan-wearing brethren. They collected tartan patterns like souvenirs of their fathers’ victories over the Catholics.
Finally, the Protestant aristocracy embraced the pattern after King George IV visited Edinburgh and led a tartan procession of Highland chiefs through the Scottish city.
Now, of course, its popular around the world, but known as plaid in the States. Scottish clans reclaimed their historic patterns or generated new ones that would be tied to families forever. It’s no longer the fabric of a military rebellion. It’s just a cool pattern, often woven of warm cloths, like flannel.
In fact, the rebellious nature of the pattern has been so degraded that one of the most recognizable and broadly used tartan patterns is that of the the Royal House of Stewart, the royal family of England which defeated the 1745-1746 Jacobite Rebellion and then outlawed the fabric for almost 40 years. Oddly enough, it’s very similar to the “Jacobite” pattern worn by the rebels.
So, enjoy your flannel, but maybe tip a Scotch whisky over for the tartan-wearing warriors in the sky while you do so.
Hamilton, the phenomenal Broadway musical, landed on Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ on Friday. Here are 10 reasons why every service member and veteran should watch it.
1. It tells the story of an unlikely American Hero
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot In the Caribbean by providence impoverished In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar founding father without a father Got a lot farther by working a lot harder By being a lot smarter By being a self-starter By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a trading charter
(Song: Alexander Hamilton)
The opening lyrics to the now legendary Broadway musical call out to all history buffs, patriotic Americans, hip-hop fans and lovers of culture and just takes off from there.
When Lin-Manuel Miranda first floated the idea of doing a hip-hop concept album about Alexander Hamilton, people scoffed. There is even a famous video of him performing the opening (and only song at that point) at the White House for President Barack Obama. Everyone laughs, but by the end he got a standing ovation.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam: (8 of 8)
Miranda likened Hamilton to a hip-hop artist. A young man who came from an impoverished background and worked his way to the top. Growing up in the Caribbean, he worked his way off the British West Indies and ended up in New York City.
2. If you love American history, you will love Hamilton
Raise a glass to freedom
Something they can never take away No matter what they tell you Raise a glass to the four of us
Tomorrow there’ll be more of us
Telling the story of tonight
(Song: The Story of Tonight)
The play starts off while America is in the throes of Revolutionary fervor. Hamilton meets several men that will be his brothers during the Revolution (Aaron Burr, Marquis de Lafayette, John Lawrence and Hercules Mulligan). He also meets the women that will shape his life (Eliza, Angelica…. And Peggy)
The songs that follow take us on the journey that Americans felt while championing for their rights to be free.
3. You like to poke fun at the British
Oceans rise, empires fall
We have seen each other through it all And when push comes to shove I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!
(Song: You’ll Be Back)
Yeah, there are a lot of jokes at England’s expense, especially the Monarch we despise; King George III. Hamilton makes him a fool instead of a villain, a king from afar that is very out of touch with his colonies. He comes off like a bad boyfriend and just to make sure we know the English are different; he sings his songs in a Beatles-like style.
4. It’s got a great love story
So, so, so So this is what it feels like To match wits with someone at your level What the hell is the catch? It’s the feeling of freedom Of seein’ the light It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right?
Hamilton takes on its namesake’s love story by being as honest as possible. His love for his wife Eliza, his connection with her sister Angelica and his affair with Maria Reynolds. That affair was one of the first political scandals in the young United States’ history and would be pivotal in shaping Hamilton’s career and his marriage to Eliza.
5. We win our independence
We negotiate the terms of surrender.
I see George Washington smile. We escort their men out of Yorktown. They stagger home single file. Tens of thousands of people flood the streets. There are screams and church bells ringing. And as our fallen foes retreat I hear the drinking song they’re singing
The world turned upside down
(Song: Yorktown – The World Turned Upside Down)
The play’s most thrilling moment is the Battle of Yorktown. Hamilton and his buddies rally together and beat the British, under the leadership of General George Washington. The thrill of victory and, later King George’s agony of defeat, make this such an amazing moment.
6. You love politics
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
We fought for these ideals we shouldn’t settle for less These are wise words, enterprising men quote ’em Don’t act surprised, you guys, ’cause I wrote ’em (ow)
(Song: Cabinet Battle #1)
In the second act, we meet two of the men that would be a thorn in Hamilton’s side as a new country finds its footing. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison make their appearance and Miranda famously portrays their bitter Cabinet arguments as rap battles. Nothing like learning about big government vs small government with two men spitting lyrics at each other.
7. If you want to know why our country is set up the way it is
No one else was in
The room where it happened The room where it happened The room where it happened
In God we trust But we’ll never really know what got discussed Click-boom then it happened
And no one else was in the room where it happened
(Song: The Room Where it Happened)
Ever wonder why we had a strong central bank? Ever wonder why Washington D.C. ended up being the capitol instead of New York? Ever wonder who made those decisions? Hamilton does an amazing job of bringing up political intrigue and quid pro quo. Hamilton has a closed-door meeting with Jefferson and Madison to discuss how the country should be organized. The event spurs Hamilton’s acquaintance Aaron Burr to seek more political power as he now wants to be “In the room where it happens”.
8. It has heartbreak
There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name You hold your child as tight as you can And push away the unimaginable The moments when you’re in so deep It feels easier to just swim down
(Song: It’s Quiet Uptown)
In a precursor to his own fate, Hamilton deals with the death of his son Philip who dies after a duel while defending his father’s reputation. Hamilton and his wife (who were on the rocks after his affair) find solace with each other as they grieve for their son together.
9. It has duels
It’s the Ten Duel Commandments Number one
The challenge, demand satisfaction If they apologize, no need for further action
If they don’t, grab a friend, that’s your second
Your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned
Number three Have your seconds meet face to face
Negotiate a peace
Or negotiate a time and place
This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits
Most disputes die, and no one shoots
(Song: The Ten Duel Commandments)
Of course, you know that Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury, and Aaron Burr, a Vice President under Thomas Jefferson, have a duel which results in Hamilton’s untimely death. Can you imagine if Timothy Geithner dueled with Dick Cheney? Yeah, crazy times back then. Miranda, over the course of the whole play builds up the relationship with Burr and Hamilton from their days pre-Revolution to political rivals. Unfair of not, it makes Hamilton to be Mozart while Burr is his Salieri. It comes to a head on that fateful day in New Jersey.
10. It is our story and we shouldn’t forget it
I’ll give him this: his financial system is a work of genius I couldn’t undo it if I tried And I’ve tried
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
President Madison: He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity I hate to admit it But he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us
(Song: Who lives, Who dies, Who Tells Your Story)
Before the play Hamilton came out, there was actually a movement to replace Hamilton on the bill as many didn’t know the impact he had on our country’s foundation. That plan was scrapped after the play was released as Miranda did bring awareness to the complexities of our Founding Fathers. They weren’t perfect, they weren’t without sin and they were perfectly human. But when you hear their words, you find that regardless of your background, political beliefs, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you have a lot in common with the men that founded the United States. There is a reason why many younger people have been inspired by the musical.
Check it out on Disney+ and let us know what you think!