The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

As members of England’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANYs, during World War II, Odette Sansom, Violette Szabó, and Noor Inayat Khan might have worked in hospitals, driven ambulances, sent coded radio signals, fixed trucks, or even, as one FANY did during the war, taught the future Queen Elizabeth to drive.

But when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill instructed the nation’s clandestine spy agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to “set Europe ablaze,” the three FANYs merged their nursing roles with espionage. The SOE, which carried out audacious sabotage plots across Europe, recruited 2,000 FANY members to the secret service. But only 39 went into the field to conduct commando operations, including Sansom, Szabó, and Khan.

Each brought her unique upbringing to her missions. Sansom (pictured above) and Szabó were both born in France; Sansom to a French man killed in World War I, whereas Szabó’s father had been an English soldier. Khan was a Muslim from India descended from a sultan. But their French fluency and familiarity with military skills like marksmanship caught the eye of England’s spy masters.

The commandos working for SOE in North Africa, the Far East, and particularly across Europe were the No. 1 targets of the Gestapo and the Abwehr, German military intelligence. “From now on, all men operating against German troops in so-called Commando raids in Europe or in Africa, are to be annihilated to the last man,” read Adolf Hitler’s secret Commando Order (Kommandobefehl) issued on Oct. 18, 1942. If members of the SOE were discovered, man or woman, they’d be hunted, tortured, and executed. 

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Noor Inayat Khan was a Muslim princess who volunteered for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. She became one of the first women awarded the George Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest civilian honor. It was accepted posthumously on her behalf. Photo courtesy of the Soefi Museum.

Sansom, Szabó, and Khan had to be discreet and keep their identities secret. They carried false papers with fake names, home addresses, and occupations. Virginia Hall, famously known as “The Limping Lady,” who served with the SOE early in the war, used a cover as a French American stringer for the New York Post writing under the public persona of Brigitte LeContre. The FANYs received training in weapons handling, fieldcraft, and sabotage, and assumed their own disguises.

Sansom took the code name Lise as a courier for the Spindle spy ring, or “circuit” under the SOE’s F Section (France). Circuits were generally composed of three officers: a circuit leader, a courier, and a radio operator. A wife and mother of three children, Sansom transported messages and money to associates in the French Resistance. After seven months of clandestine fieldwork, she was captured by the Nazi officer Hugo Bleicher, a notorious spy catcher who personally arrested more than 100 agents and officers. Sansom was interrogated for hours at Fresnes Prison in Paris, subjected to techniques including the removal of her toenails. 

When she wouldn’t confess, the Nazis sent her to Ravensbrück, the most feared concentration camp for women in Europe. Her cell was in an underground prison infamously known as “The Bunker.” For three months and eight days she lived in solitary confinement next to a furnace, in total darkness, starving. Her hair and teeth fell out. She even lapsed into a mini-coma but ultimately survived the war. Many of her fellow FANYs, however, did not, including Szabó and Khan.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Odette Sansom at the FANY memorial at St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, in 1948. She is holding Tania Szabó, daughter of SOE officer Violette Szabó. Photo courtesy of FANY.

On her second mission in France, Szabó parachuted behind German lines the day after D-Day and established contact with resistance forces in the area. On June 10, 1944, she joined Jacques Dufour in a car to Salon-la-Tour. Along the route the Germans set up a roadblock, and Dufour stopped the vehicle 50 yards away. He instructed Szabó to dash into a field as he provided covering fire. Szabó instead pulled out her Sten submachine gun and joined the fight before the pair fled into the field. She fought until she had fired all her ammunition and was captured. She joined Sansom in Ravensbrück but was executed in January 1945.

Khan’s fate was equally senseless. The Muslim princess was a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore state — today, a part of India — who pioneered rockets used as military weapons. Khan worked as a wireless radio operator in Paris. At one point she was the only SOE wireless operator in the city, operating under the code name Madeleine, and was critical in communications with the Prosper resistance network and the outside world. A Frenchwoman betrayed Khan to the Gestapo, and she and three other female SOE officers were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. There, they were executed.

All three women — Sansom, Szabó, and Khan — were awarded the George Cross, Britain’s highest civilian honor. Among the 39 FANY and SOE commandos who went into the field, 13 died as German prisoners or were killed in action. On May 7, 1948, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, unveiled a plaque at St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London, dedicated to all 52 FANYs who died during World War II. In attendance was Odette Sansom. In her arms she held Tania, the only daughter of Violette Szabó, who would later accept her mother’s medal and write a book about her famous mother’s life. Khan became the first Indian woman in history to be honored with a memorial and a permanent Blue Plaque awarded by the English Heritage charity. These Blue Plaques honor notable people and organizations connected with particular buildings across London — and Khan’s can seen at 4 Taviton Street in Bloomsbury, where she lived before joining the SOE.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army designed divisions to fight a nuclear war

The advent of nuclear weapons on the battlefield left the Army very worried. It’s understandable; a bomb that could take out an entire city was rightly seen as a game-changer.


Over the years, the Army has shifted its divisional formations, from the “square” formation in World War I (two brigades each with two regiments) to a “triangle” formation (three regiments). But everything changed when the United States Army designed nukes for use on the battlefield, as they presumed the Soviets were going to eventually develop their own.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
A chart showing the organization of the 3rd Infantry Division. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The solution was a new, pentomic divisional organization. Instead of regiments and battalions, each infantry and airborne division would have five battlegroups, each with five companies of infantry, a mortar battery, and a headquarters unit. Furthermore, each division had two battalions of artillery. Looking at it mathematically, the “triangular” infantry division had three regiments, each with three battalions that had three infantry companies, making for a total of 27 infantry companies. The pentomic structure had 25 infantry companies.

The first unit to adopt this structure was the 101st Airborne Division. As Time Magazine reported in 1957, the Army planned to re-organize 19 infantry and airborne divisions along the pentomic structure.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The pentomic divisional structure was meant to fight on atomic battlefields. (US Army photo)

However, the Army soon found some problems with this structure. The first was that there was a long gap between command tours. The companies were commanded by captains, but you had to be a full colonel to get a “battlegroup.” Keeping the same person in charge for so long means command skills will get rusty. It also caused consternation among those concerned with tradition. The “battlegroup” concept placed the storied histories of regiments at risk.

Ultimately, the pentomic structure failed to take hold as growing arsenals made a nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact unlikely. The Army ended up going back to a triangular structure that used brigades instead of regiments — just in time for the Vietnam War. In the 2000s, the Army shifted to modular brigade combat teams and put four to a division, before dropping that number to three per division in the 2010s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Learn how to live off grid from this legendary Navy Vet

Nowadays, you can find entire sections of the internet devoted to mastering the art of “off-grid” living. There, you can find both experts and charlatans exchanging argumentative blows in the never-ending digital debates we’ve let permeate through every facet of our modern lives. Back in 1967, however, things were different.

The internet was still a long way off, as were debates about the best solar-powered showers and thousand-dollar coolers. Getting off the grid back then was a conceptually simpler exercise: you just went into the woods and made do with what you had. Of course, without much of the technology even the saltiest of outdoorsmen have come to rely on today (like modern waterproofing and insulation in our clothes), living off the land was only simple in concept.

Doing so, of course, took hard men with even harder wills; men like Dick Proenneke.


The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Dick Proenneke hard at work in Twin Lakes, Alaska.

(National Parks Service photo taken by Richard Proenneke and donated by Raymond Proenneke)

Proenneke joined the Navy the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as a carpenter, honing his woodworking skills until the end of the war. Upon leaving service, he trained as a diesel mechanic, quickly earning a name for himself that allowed him to travel around the West Coast for work before once again loaning his skills to the Navy as a civilian heavy equipment operator and mechanic at the Naval Air Station Kodiak in Alaska.

After an accident at work years later nearly left Proenneke blind, he decided to devote the remainder of his life to living it as he saw fit. A modest and responsible man, he’d saved enough by age 50 to start his retirement, though while most see retirement as an end to hard work, for Proenneke, it was just the beginning.

An avid naturalist and amateur filmmaker, Proenneke set off to build a log home in the unsettled wilderness of Twin Lakes, Alaska–far from the closest remnants of human civilization. Aside from a few tools and some waterproofing materials he utilized in the construction of his home, he built the entire cabin by hand using only what he had available in the dense Alaskan bush. While this is a feat many others have accomplished, what made Proenneke special was that he filmed the whole thing, giving us a first-hand look at how off-grid living was done back before people debated it in online forums instead of doing it for real.

Dick Proenneke in Alone in the Wilderness

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Proenneke leaned hard on his days as a Navy carpenter in the construction of his home, building most of it with little more than hand saws, mallets, and a sharp ax. He even fashioned the hinges on his doors out of wood he harvested from nearby trees. In the videos he captured along the way, you can see the combination of expertise and patience guiding Proenneke’s hands, making quick work of complex tasks and, if you’re anything like me, occasionally even fooling you into thinking the work looks easy.

Proenneke remained in his modest but expertly crafted cabin for the better part of three decades before finally returning to civilization at age 82. Four years later, he passed away, leaving the cabin to the National Parks Service to be preserved for posterity, as his remote home at Twin Lakes had already become a bit of a tourist attraction for like-minded adventurers that imagined their own lives away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

Dick Proenneke in Alone in the Wilderness part II

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Today, Dick Proenneke’s legacy lives on not only thanks to visitors reaching his remote cabin, but in a series of books and television specials compiled before and after his death. His footage, combined with journals Proenneke maintained over the years, offer a glimpse into the reality of embraced solitude, self-reliance, and what man is capable of if he’s willing to forgo convenience in favor of purpose.

Much of his footage can now be found on YouTube, allowing an entirely new generation of aspiring outdoor enthusiasts to see what getting “off the grid” meant back before that turn of phrase was even invented. Watching Proenneke’s films not only serves as a how-to of sorts, but it also serves as a reminder that humanity wasn’t always so tied to electricity, comfort, and recreation. There was a time when our lives were intrinsically linked to the world around us, when our survival was predicated on our wits and work ethic, and when our job was just a list of things that had to get done before sunset.

Dick Proenneke in The Frozen North

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Dick Proenneke is a reminder to us all that we aren’t the consumers and couch potatoes we’ve been groomed to be: we’re powerful, capable men and women wired just like the survivors, warriors, and hunters that came before us. The only difference between Dick Proenneke and each of us is a bit of know-how and a lot of heart. These videos can help with the former, but for the latter, you’ll have to look for inside yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How an addict became a Navy SEAL and a nightmare for the Taliban

The biographies of most Navy SEALs probably don’t include a rap sheet — theft, possession of meth, possession of crack, and so on. But if there’s ever been a story of redemption through continued hard work and perseverance, it belongs to Adam Brown. Facing 11 felony drug and weapons charges after being found in a pool of his own blood, he opted into a drug rehab program — which only worked for a short while.

His best chance at turning his life around came in the form of a SEAL trident.


Brown’s life began like so many other good-ol’ American boys before him. The Arkansas native was a straight-A student and star football player. He was kind, respectful to his elders, and always ready for goodnatured fun. It wasn’t until he met an old flame that his descent into addiction began. She had a drug habit and, though Brown enjoyed a drink, he wasn’t inclined toward anything harder than that. Eventually, his girlfriend wore him down and he was hooked after one hit of crack-cocaine.

From there, he devolved into injecting it into his veins. Then, he began to try other drugs. Eventually, he could only be found on the floors of crack houses. He hit rock bottom when the girl who helped get him hooked eventually left and he began stabbing himself in the neck with a knife. When police found him, he was laying in a pool of his own blood. That’s when they discovered all his outstanding warrants. Facing massive jail time and a family that was done with his addictive behaviors, the judge gave him the choice: rehab or jail.

It was in rehab that Brown gave his life over to Christianity and met his soon-to-be wife, also a fervent believer. The two were happy, but Brown soon regressed. After a short disappearance, his new bride found him in a crack house. Addiction is a viscous and persistent curse, and this same scenario repeated itself until his new love threatened to leave.

By 1998, he knew he had to do something, so he stopped into a recruiter’s office after finding out a friend was joining the Navy as an aviator. The recruiter balked when Brown revealed his drug use and rap sheet, but Brown had a friend in a high place: the highest-ranking recruiting officer in the region. He vouched for Brown, who was almost immediately shipped out to basic training.

He showed up with just the clothes on his back and went straight for SEAL training.

“The training awakened in Adam the psycho who never quit,” Eric Blehm, author of ‘Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown’ told Investors Business Daily. “He also had Kelley [his wife] and his faith, which gave him a refuge and a shield of strength.”
The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Brown and Family, shortly before his last deployment to Afghanistan.

He was sent to SEAL Team Four, where he ended up with a knife in his eye due to a training accident. He covered the wound and continued on, eventually having to have the eye stitched up due to a loss of blood. He later lost his right eye — his dominant eye — during a room-clearing exercise and still he pressed on. He just learned to shoot with his left eye in SEAL sniper school.

Even with a 50-percent washout rate among those with two eyes, Adam Brown succeeded. He decided he wanted to join what he thought was the best of the best: SEAL Team Six. While waiting for the right time to train with SEAL Team Six, he took a deployment to Afghanistan in 2005, where a freak convoy accident left his right hand mangled and missing fingers. Instead of tending to his own wounds, he tended to others and pulled security until the last casualty was evacuated from the site.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

When you can’t shoot with your dominant hand, just use the other hand.

With his dominant eye and his dominant hand both out, Brown did exactly what you’d expect him to do: he simply learned to work with his other hand. For a year, he made history as the only SEAL to ever attempt (let alone pass) the training with only one eye. And he was shooting almost-perfect scores.

By November, 2006, Brown was Chief Petty Officer Brown and the following years saw more hardship and deployments for the SEAL. He bore the pain of arthritis, a bad back, a broken leg, and surgery on both ankles so he could return to combat duty. He deployed to Afghanistan’s Kunar Valley and to the cities and villages all over Iraq, going on nightly raids chasing IED bomb-makers. Brown was only 33.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Navy SEAL Adam Brown personally went out of his way to hand out shoes and socks to Afghan kids in need.

(NavySEALs.com)

His final deployment came in March of 2010. Their mission was to kill or capture a high-value Taliban leader, code-named Objective Lake James. Just like the bomb-makers in Iraq, the target was responsible for the deaths of many American and NATO soldiers. Flying into the mountains of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush via Chinook Helicopter, Brown and the other STS SEALs fast-roped into the area and humped to a nearby village.

As the SEALs approached a stronghold, they managed to silently take out an enemy sentry, but another fired at the SEALs with his AK-47. As the area opened up with small arms fire, the SEAL Team needed to get a grenade in a nearby window. It was close, but not close enough to throw one in. As Brown made his way around with a grenade launcher, shots rang out to his left, riddling the determined SEAL with bullets. He was hit in both legs. Once he was down, other enemy positions poured bullets toward him.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

His fellow SEALs got him out of the line of fire, but it would not be enough to save Adam Brown’s life. He died later that day, back at the base.

Though Brown’s story ends in his tragic death, it’s nonetheless a story about the power of human will in overcoming any challenge. Brown showed us that you can always shape your life in any way you want, and all it takes is the love and support of your family, friends, and the people who will always have your back. Fearless is a fitting name for his story – there was nothing in life that Adam Brown couldn’t overcome to shape his own destiny.

Read about Brown’s struggle against addiction along with all his combat successes and failures in Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown, by Eric Blehm.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Israelis planned to kill Saddam Hussein

During the thick of the 1991 Gulf War, anti-Iraqi coalition forces were mounting some 2,000 air sorties against Iraqi targets in the Middle East. In retaliation, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel.


Who wasn’t part of the coalition.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

It actually wasn’t that crazy of an idea. Many Arab countries joined the coalition and getting Israel to join it would put those Arab countries in the awkward position of fighting alongside Israel instead of attacking it, as they usually did.

The U.S. obviously wanted to keep that from happening.

Now, if you’ve been keeping track, the Israelis don’t take kindly to threats. Or attacks. Especially scud missile attacks. Over the course of 17 days, Iraq fired 39 Scud Missiles at the highly populated coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. An estimated 147 Israelis were killed.

To give you an idea of how Israel tends to retaliate to this sort of thing, the 1972 Munich Olympics attack killed 11 Israelis. In response, Israeli intelligence – the Mossad – launched Operation (no joke) WRATH OF GOD. They hunted down every Arab plotter of the Munich massacre and killed them. For 20 years.

Only the Mossad wasn’t about to wait 20 years to ice Saddam.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
That’s our job.

In 1992, they came up with Operation Bramble Bush, their plan to assassinate the Iraqi dictator. One agent, Nadav Zeevi, was tasked to find a pattern in Saddam’s movements. Then, the Israelis would track the dictator to where he would spend a longer amount of time. Once Saddam settled into a location, the Israelis would have their revenge.

But instead of an air strike, Israel wanted to mount a “glamorous” commando raid, using Sayeret Matkal special operators in a kill, definitely not capture mission. One version of the proposed raid had commandos launching missiles at Saddam during a funeral.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Israel mounted crazy, balls-out commando raids in the past. Their legendary raid on Entebbe featured a caravan of cars designed to resemble Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s entourage. They flew into Uganda, landed at the airport, drove off to the terminal, killed every terrorist, and then took their hostages to waiting planes in a hail of gunfire.

Unfortunately for history, they had to abort the idea. It was difficult to track Saddam because of the sheer number of his body doubles. Agent Zeevi even thought to just watch the dictator’s mistresses, but the body doubles also fooled the mistresses.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
I don’t know what’s real anymore.

To make matters worse, a dry run in Israel’s Negev Desert went horribly awry. Troops training for the raid in 1992 accidentally fired a live missile, killing five IDF soldiers. The accident led to officials canceling the operation.

They thought they might try again in 1999, waiting until Saddam was in a designated location. 40 operators divided into two groups; one within 200 meters of the location, painting the location as a target, the other six miles away, firing three Midras missiles on that target.

That plan was scrapped because the Americans and British were bombing Iraq anyway. And in the end, they didn’t have to assassinate the dictator. But let their effort be a lesson: just leave Israel alone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy used to have nuclear-powered cruisers

While nuclear-powered carriers and submarines are all the rage in the U.S. Navy today, the sea-going service used to have a much wider nuclear portfolio with nuclear-powered destroyers and cruisers that could sail around the world with no need to refuel, protecting carrier and projecting American power ashore with missiles and guns.


The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

The USS Long Beach fires a Terrier missile in 1961.

(U.S. Navy)

The first nuclear surface combatant in the world wasn’t a carrier, it was the USS Long Beach, a cruiser launched in 1959. That ship was followed by eight other nuclear cruisers, Truxtun, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Arkansas was the last nuclear-powered cruiser launched, coming to sea in 1980.

During the same period, a nuclear-powered destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, took to the seas as well. Due to changes in ship nomenclature over the period, it was a frigate when designed, a destroyer when launched, but would be classified as a cruiser by the time the ship retired.

The head of the Navy’s nuclear program for decades was Adm. Hyman G. Rickover who had a vision for an entirely nuclear-powered carrier battle group. This would maximize the benefits of nuclear vessels and create a lethal American presence in the ocean that could run forever with just an occasional shipment of food, spare parts, and replacement personnel.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

The Navy launched Operation Sea Orbit where nuclear-powered ships sailed together in 1964. This is the USS Enterprise, a carrier; the USS Long Beach, a cruiser; and the USS Bainbridge, classified at the time as a destroyer.

(U.S. Navy)

The big advantage of nuclear vessels, which required many more highly trained personnel as well as a lot of hull space for the reactor, was that they could sail forever at their top speed. The speed thing was a big advantage. They weren’t necessarily faster than their conventionally fueled counterparts, but gas and diesel ships had to time their sprints for maximum effect since going fast churned through fuel.

That meant conventional vessels couldn’t sail too fast for submarines to catch them, couldn’t sprint from one side of the ocean to the other during contingency operations, and relied on tankers to remain on station for extended periods of time.

Nuclear vessels got around all these problems, but their great speed and endurance only really helped them if they weren’t accompanied by conventional ships. After all, the cruisers and destroyer can’t sprint across the ocean if that means they are outrunning the rest of the fleet in dangerous waters.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

The Navy detonates an explosive charge off the starboard side of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered cruiser, during sea trials.

(U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Toon)

That’s why Rickover wanted a full nuclear battle group. It could move as a single unit and enjoy its numerous advantages without being slowed down by other ships.

And the ships were quite lethal when they arrived. Nuclear carriers at the time were similar to those today, sailing at a decent clip of about 39 mph (33.6 knots) while carrying interceptor aircraft and bombers.

The 10 nuclear cruisers (counting the Bainbridge as a cruiser), were guided-missile cruisers. Four ships were Virginia-Class ships focused on air defense but also featuring weapons needed to attack enemy submarines and ships as well as to bombard enemy shores.

The other most common nuclear cruiser was the California Class with three ships. The California Class was focused on offensive weaponry, capable of taking the fight to enemy ships with Harpoon missiles, subs with anti-submarine rockets and torpedoes, and enemy shores with missiles and guns. But, it could defend itself and its fleet with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Ticonderoga-class cruisers like the USS Hue City, front, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers like the USS Oscar Austin, rear, replaced the nuclear cruisers.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Wilson)

But the nuclear fleet had one crippling problem: expense. Rickover knew that to ensure that the larger Navy and America would continue to embrace nuclear power at sea, the ships had to be extremely dependable and secure. To do this, ships needed good shielding and a highly capable, highly trained crew.

Nuclear cruisers had about 600 sailors in each crew, while the Ticonderoga-class that took to the sea in 1983 required 350. And the Ticonderoga crew could be more quickly and cheaply trained since those sailors didn’t need to go through nuclear training.

Also, the reactors took up a lot of space within the hull, requiring larger ships than conventional ones with the same battle capabilities. So, when budget constraints came up in the 1990s, the nuclear fleet was sent to mothballs except for the carriers.

And even at that stage, the nuclear cruisers cost more than their counterparts. Conventional cruisers can be sold to allied navies, commercial interests, or sent to common scrap yards after their service. Nuclear cruisers require expensive decommissioning and specially trained personnel to deal with the reactors and irradiated steel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Turns out, Ohio and Michigan have been at odds for a long time

Ask a Buckeye why they think Michigan sucks and they’ll probably spout off some college football stats. But the truth is, this deep-seated rivalry actually stretches back almost two hundred years ago and it’s all to blame on a poorly-drawn map.

Today’s hatred both Buckeyes and Michigan fans are quick to express is fueled by each state’s claim to the Toledo Strip, a 468-square mile region of land that borders each state. Ohio natives will tell you that Toledo is as Ohioan as Cincinnati, but Michiganders will tell you the land truly belongs to them. So who’s right?

Back in the day, Toledo was an economic hotspot. When Michigan tried to join the country in 1835, it wanted to take Toledo for itself. But Ohio said in no uncertain terms that was never going to happen. Eventually, President Andrew Jackson had to step in a find a compromise. But before that could happen, mistrust and rivalry between the two states took hold.

It all began with a bad map

Turns out that the whole OH vs. MI thing started long before the Mitten State tried to join America. Roughly 50 years earlier, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance created the Northwest Territory, which included the land to the northwest of the Ohio River. The plan was to divide the land into at least three states and maybe five. There was also really clear language on where Michigan’s southern border should be … but it was wrong.

The idea of where to “end” Michigan was based on an error on that map which incorrectly included Toledo as part of MI. When Ohio Congressional delegates heard that, they jumped into action trying to secure as much of Lake Erie’s shoreline as possible. Of course, that included Toledo. Then they drafted a new provision that said the map was wrong and Toledo should be part of Ohio.

That all sounds pretty straightforward, but there was one small problem. For some reason, Congress decided not to address that provision. So, when the US established the territory of Michigan a couple of years later, they ended up using the original language of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, despite it being based on a faulty map. 

Toledo still up for grabs

Ohio became a state way back in 1803. They kept trying to get Congress to establish a northern border for the state. But Congress kept dodging them. It took almost 20 years for the government to respond and when they finally sent surveyors in 1816, they determined that Toledo was Ohio’s. (No shock there for anyone living in Ohio at the time!) Naturally, Michigan’s governor was not having it. At this point, President Monroe stepped in to re-determine where the border was. Monroe decided Toledo was part of Michigan.  

This conflict went back and forth without resolution for years. Then when Michigan applied for statehood in 1835, they tried to officially claim Toledo as its own. Of course, Ohio was not going to let that fly, which prompted both states to deploy their militias to take matters into their own hands. While no violent battles nor casualties occurred, the Militias of each state went back and forth arresting each other’s partisans as well as causing plenty of disturbances to the peace. 

Enough is enough

In the meantime, discussions of Michigan statehood halted until they resolved the dispute over Toledo. Finally, in June 1836, President Jackson was sick of dealing with the matter and signed a bill to give Michigan statehood, only if it would let go of its claim to Toledo. In exchange, Jackson gave Michigan what became known as the Upper Peninsula. After a while, Michigan eventually accepted the deal, achieving its statehood but losing the Toledo War, giving it to Ohio once and for all. 

These days, the only war OH and MI are fighting is the one during football season. Of course, the Bucks are always going to outplay the Wolverines – even if the score doesn’t always reflect it.

Related: The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

MIGHTY HISTORY

This mathematician was the ‘Rick Sanchez’ of the Cold War

Born in 1903, John Neumann was a true prodigy. He specialized in mathematics, even in school, but he also gobbled up languages, science, and every other subject. He lived through World War I as a teen, and spent the inter-war years, World War II, and the Cold War changing science and technology in fields as far apart as computing, economics, nuclear physics, and quantum theory.


And he did so even while he built a reputation for drinking, partying, and eccentricity, sort of like a certain scientist from pop culture: Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty fame.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

First, though, we should point out some key ways von Neumann (his family received the honorific “von” in 1913) was different from Sanchez out of respect for the dead.

There’s no evidence von Neumann was nearly as troubled as Sanchez. He had a dark view of humanity, thinking nuclear war was inevitable and would likely result in near extinction, but he also loved his family and worked hard to make sure America would come out on top in a war. And he was impeccably dressed, usually rocking a three-piece suit, something Rick Sanchez did not do.

But he was a drinker, if not on the same dysfunctional scale as Rick, and he was a party-goer, even if he never had an orgy with an entire planet like Sanchez. Most importantly, he was easily as brilliant as Sanchez.

And when we say he was brilliant like Sanchez, we mean it. He could reportedly memorize dozens or hundreds of pages of text in a single read through, even mentally holding onto long numbers that went deep past the decimal. And he invented stuff or predicted inventions with offhand comments. He once “blue-skyed” to an Army officer about a machine that would quickly compute artillery tables for more accurate fire.

The officer he was speaking to was on the ENIAC project, a machine in development that did exactly that. The officer got von Neumann permission to see the machine, and Neumann was able to improve it almost immediately. He also began developing his own, smaller, less complicated, and more nimble machine. The Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer, or EDVAC, which would have been the first programmable computer ever invented.

The war ended, and EDVAC was abandoned, so von Neumann pushed for a second computer design, the Mathematical and Numerical Integrator and Computer, the MANIAC, arguably the first modern computer. Programs were stored inside of it, it was a fraction of the size of all other computers at the time, and it was much more powerful than other machines.

It was used to do much of the calculations for the first hydrogen bombs. In fact, it was so powerful and accurate that someone asked if von Neumann had created a machine so powerful even he couldn’t out calculate it.

So a contest was held between von Neumann and the MANIAC. At lower levels of complexity, von Neumann was faster than MANIAC and perfectly accurate. But as the Princeton researchers running the test upped the mathematical complexity, the time difference between machine and man narrowed and, eventually, von Neumann made a mistake.

So, yes, von Neumann had made a machine so powerful that even he couldn’t out compute it.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

(YouTube/Helidon)

And the MANIAC’s aid to thermonuclear development created a new problem for von Neumann to work on. He had done the calculations to decide what cities to drop the atom bombs on to end World War II and what altitude they should go off at (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1,800 ft., if anyone was curious). But hydrogen bombs quickly became thousands of times more powerful than the atom bombs. Von Neumann had to figure out how they would be used.

This involved not just figuring out what weapons would be employed where, but how likely the Soviets were to use their atomic bombs and, later, hydrogen bombs. To figure this out, he went back to a theory he had developed in the 1920s: minimax, the idea that a person works to minimize their losses and maximize their gains in zero-sum events when competing against a single opponent.

You know, events like war. Von Neumann used this theory to help inform American leaders on how likely the Soviet leaders were to use their weapons.

Not that minimax was perfect for nuclear standoffs. It led von Neumann to believe that a nuclear exchange was inevitable and America should launch a first strike to destroy the Soviet facilities while it was still small. History would prove this aggression unnecessary.

Sort of like how history would prove Rick Sanchez’s proposal to destroy the earth with a nuclear bomb in the Rick and Morty pilot episode proved unnecessary.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This guy kept fighting World War II for 30 years after Japan surrendered

Hiroo Onoda was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who refused to believe that World War II had ended. He spent nearly 30 years holding out in the Philippine jungle waiting to be officially relieved.


Also Read: The Most Famous Photograph Of World War II Was Taken 70 Years Ago

According to his memoir, Onoda – just an apprentice officer at the time – received direct orders from the division commander to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerilla warfare. His men were to destroy the airfield and harbor installations to stop the advance of American forces.

Before carrying out his orders, he got a pep talk from Lieutenant General Akira Muto, Chief of Staff of the Fourteenth Area Army who dropped in unexpectedly:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.

To put it in perspective, that was the equivalent of having an O-8 and an O-9 giving orders to an O-1. On top of that, he believed the emperor was a deity and that the war was a sacred mission. Onoda was deeply honored and impressed; he took these orders more literally and seriously than any trooper could have.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Japanese reps sign the article of surrender aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A few months later, the Imperial Japanese forces surrendered, leaving thousands of soldiers scattered across the South Pacific and Asia. Many of these stragglers were captured and sent home while others went into hiding, committed suicide, or died of starvation and sickness. The remaining stragglers – including Onoda – took leaflets and radio announcements of Japan’s surrender as enemy propaganda and trickery.

On Lubang, Onoda’s men and several other groups retreated into the jungle when the allied forces overran the island. They continued to fight, but after several attacks the groups dwindled into cells of less than five men each. There was four in Onoda’s cell: Cpl. Shoichi Shimada, Pvt. Kinshichi Kozuka, Pvt. Akatsu, and Onoda.

Thinking that they were still at war, they survived by eating coconuts and wild fruits, stealing from locals, and occasionally killing their livestock for meat. They evaded Filipino search parties and killed 30 people who they believed were enemies. In 1950, one of the enlisted men surrendered and the other two were later shot dead by the local police in 1954 and 1972.

In 1974, Norio Suzuki, a Japanese college dropout, found Onoda shortly after arriving in the Philippines. According to Onoda’s memoir, “when Suzuki left Japan, he told his friends that he was going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”

Onoda didn’t budge with Suzuki’s request to return to Japan because he still considered himself to be under orders. Suzuki took photos with Onoda and returned to Japan to show the government that the World War II vet was still alive. The Japanese government sent Onoda’s former commanding officer to formally relieve him of his duty.

Onoda came home to a hero’s welcome filled with parades and speeches by public officials. He was the pride of Japan, the loyal soldier, who some believed could claim victory because he never surrendered.

Onoda died on January 16, 2014 at the age of 91.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Solomons campaign

After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.

The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.


Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.

(US Army)

The original plan called for taking Rabaul

MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.

Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.

(USMC)

The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies

The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.

The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man

According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.

(US Navy)

Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even

In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.

(US Navy)

John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign

John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.

(Australian War Memorial)

The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war

The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.

(US Navy)

Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign

During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.

Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).

MIGHTY HISTORY

The chemical weapon so deadly even the Nazis couldn’t use it

In World War II, every country was looking for an edge, so it’s pretty amazing that the Nazis found one and then decided against it – and rightly so. Chlorine trifluoride ignites on contact with almost any substance, burns at over 2000°C, and will melt tanks, bunkers, schools, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with.

Some things are better left alone.


The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

It must have been one helluva weapon if even Hitler didn’t use it (Spoiler Alert: It was).

In 1930, German scientists came across a volatile new discovery. Dubbed “Substance N,” the concoction boiled at room temperature and produced a toxic gas. When ignited, this toxic gas also burned at thousands of degrees Celsius. After decomposing, it turned into the slightly-less-dangerous-hydrochloric acid (that was actually more dangerous because it occurred as steam). It was also corrosive and exploded on contact with water. Or carbon, which is everywhere. This stuff set fire to asbestos.

At first glance, it might seem like an ideal weapon of war, one that keeps killing in many, many forms and doesn’t stop. And the Nazis thought so too. For years they tried to produce enough of the material to effectively weaponize it. The stuff ate through everything, and what it didn’t eat through, it burned.

It burns concrete. No joke.

Nazi Germany would have totally used this weapon if they could have produced and stored enough of it to actually convert to weapons. If they could have safely transported those weapons and used them before the chemical violently exploded, burned, or otherwise ate through whatever it was in.

Turns out the only safe way to store it is to seal it in containers made of steel, iron, nickel, or copper after they’ve been treated with fluorine gas. The fluorine protects the other substances from the Chlorine Trifluoride. The stuff is so unstable, Chemist John D. Clark once said the best way to deal with a failure to contain the resulting fire from a chlorine trifluoride storage failure is “a good pair of running shoes.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Activists are restoring these war monuments after years of neglect

A World War I monument in Rhode Island no longer bears the names of soldiers who died fighting; the bronze plaques were stolen decades ago. A statue of a WWI soldier in New York City has a dented helmet and missing rifle. The wooden rifle stack on top of a monument in Washington state has rotted away. Trees memorializing soldiers from Worcester, Massachusetts, have died.


The 100th anniversary this year of America’s involvement in the “Great War” has drawn attention to the state of the monuments to its soldiers and galvanized efforts to fix them.

Many were forgotten about over time, or no one took responsibility for their care. Some were looked after, but they’re in need of repairs, too, after being outside for so long.

“There are some cases of vandalism, but in general it has been time and a lack of maintenance and really nobody paying much attention,” said Theo Mayer, program manager for the US World War I Centennial Commission’s 100 Cities/100 Memorials program. “Somehow the war slipped into our historic unconscious, and so did the memorials.”

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
The World War I Memorial Grove in Worcester, Massachusetts. Photo from TreeWorcester.org/

The centennial commission and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in Chicago are helping communities that are restoring and rescuing their memorials. Fifty matching grants of up to $2,000 each were awarded in late September. They’re accepting applications for another 50 grants, to be awarded in April.

The nation owes it to WWI veterans, “lest we forget,” said Kenneth Clarke, president and CEO of the military museum.

“They can’t speak for themselves. There’s none of them left. It’s up to us to carry this legacy forward,” Clarke said. “That’s a responsibility we have as citizens of this great country.”

The first group of grant recipients includes a project to replace the plaques in Newport, Rhode Island; repairs to the World War Memorial in Raymond, Washington, and to the Highbridge Doughboy statue in New York City; and tree plantings and restoration work for Memorial Grove at Green Hill Park in Worcester.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
World War I memorial tower on the hill at the park. Wikimedia Commons photo by Swampyank.

The plaques were stolen from the Miantonomi Memorial Park Tower in Newport nearly 40 years ago.

“Why hasn’t anyone replaced them? I don’t know. Apathy? I just don’t understand,” said Bob Cornett, who’s working with the city on the project.

The Washington memorial, tucked in the corner of a park, was becoming an eyesore because of the missing top and paint peeling off the pillar, said Army veteran Gordon Aleshire. Now it has been recoated, a bronze rifle stack has been made and it’s being moved next to another war memorial.

“We were embarrassed over it,” said Aleshire, coordinator of the project. “The VFW thought the city was going to take care of it, and the city thought the VFW was going to take care of it, and no one did. Now we’ll have a plan to make sure we won’t let it get into such disrepair in the future.”

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II
Victory Monument at Chicago in Illinois, USA. Wikimedia Commons photo by Joe Ravi.

The Highbridge Doughboy was erected in the Bronx in 1923. It was later vandalized and moved into storage in the 1970s. It’s currently on display in Central Park. It will be relocated to a park near Yankee Stadium when it is cleaned and fixed. The grant will help the city’s parks department replicate the main dedication plaque.

In Worcester, an American Legion post planted maples to honor those who died in WWI, dedicating it in 1928. The post later closed, and about half of the trees have died. The Green Hill Park Coalition is working with the city to restore the grove.

The first 50 memorials selected are in 28 states. The Victory Memorial in Chicago, also known as Victory Monument, commemorates the 370th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit that served with French soldiers. It has been well cared for. Local residents are going to plant a memorial garden and teach high school students more about the war. A poppy garden is being planted at North Carolina State University’s Memorial Bell Tower, as well.

The projects that received grants must be completed by the centennial of the war’s end, Nov. 11, 2018. The centennial commission is building the National WWI Memorial in Washington, DC.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 awesome heroes of the French Foreign Legion


The French Foreign Legion looks for brave men from around the world to fill their ranks. When you cast a net that wide, you’re bound to catch some pretty awesome soldiers. Here are seven of the most decorated and vaunted members of the Legion:

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

French Foreign Legion Capt. Jean Danjou was a veteran of three wars, an amputee, and an all-around pimp when he slapped the crap out of Mexican infantry with his prosthetic hand.

(French Foreign Legion Museum)

Jean Danjou

Capt. Jean Danjou was a French Army officer and veteran of fighting in Algeria when he volunteered for legion duty in 1852. He later fought in the Siege of Sevastopol where he lost his left hand — but his greatest heroism was still before him.

Danjou was a staff officer in Mexico in 1863 when he volunteered to lead a guard force of only 65 legionnaires on a convoy deeper into the country. When the unit was ambushed by nearly 2,000 Mexican soldiers, Danjou ordered his men into an abandoned nearby farmhouse where they fought to nearly the last man, inflicting 300 casualties. Danjou was killed, but his prosthetic hand is still kept in reverent storage by the Legion, which parades it on the anniversary of the battle.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

​Sometimes called the “Swallow of Death,” Eugene Bullard distinguished himself as an infantryman, a fighter pilot, and a spy.

(U.S. Air Force)

Eugene Jacques Bullard

After his father was lynched in Georgia in 1903, a young Eugene Bullard decided to move to France. He worked for ten years to earn his passage and made it to France just in time for World War I. He enlisted in the Legion on the day he was of legal age, 19 years old.

He fought on the front lines of France and was twice in units that took so many losses that they had to be combined with other forces. In March, 1916, Bullard was with a group of men hit by an artillery shell, killing four and knocking out most of Bullard’s teeth. He volunteered to keep fighting and was hit by artillery again three days later. This time, a thigh injury ended his service on the ground and in the Legion.

But the young hero wasn’t done. He would go on to become the first Black fighter pilot, netting his first aerial kill in late 1917. When World War II rolled around, Bullard served as a spy until he was injured while resisting the German advance on Orleans in 1940. In 1954, he went to Paris as one of the military heroes invited to relight the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

John F. Hasey

Known as the “only American in the Free French Forces,” John F. Hasey served in World War II. He transferred into the Legion from an American ambulance unit that he helped form. He was made an officer and served with distinction at the Battle of Enghiahat, where he took command after his captain and first lieutenant were injured. He “patrolled without stopping” for three days, according to his award citation.

He later led his platoon at Massawa against numerous enemy positions, capturing them and a “large number of prisoners.” He was severely wounded near Damascus by machine gun fire, taking rounds to his hand, chest, arms, and face. Still he worked to get his men a new officer to lead them while heading to the aid station. While recovering, he received a letter from Gen. Charles de Gaulle, telling him that he would be the first American to receive the Croix de la Libération.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari eschewed a comfortable life in the countryside for a tough existence as a legionnairre. He later wrote a book about his service, mostly in Morrocco.

Prince Dmitri Amilakhvari

A Georgian Prince, Dmitri Amilakhvari joined the Legion in 1926 and saw action in South Morocco in 1933 and 1934. When World War II began, he went to Norway and worked with British forces to resist the German invasion there, fighting at Bjervick and Narvik, netting him the Norwegian War Cross with Sword.

After France fell, Amilakharvi reported for duty with the Free French Forces and was deployed to Eritrea and Syria before being named lieutenant colonel and commander of the Legion’s 13th Demi-Brigade. He led that force in Libya as part of the coalition fighting Rommel’s drive towards the ports in 1942. He was awarded the Ordre de la Libération for his actions there, but died later that year at the Battle of El-Alamein. He posthumously received the Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, the only award higher than his Ordre de la Libération.

The Fanys: The nurses who became commandos during World War II

A celebrated football star and coach, Bluenthal volunteered for the ambulance services and the Lafayette Flying Corps before America joined World War I.

(North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources)

Arthur Bluenthal

Arthur Bluenthal was a wealthy son of German immigrants and a successful football coach when he volunteered for ambulance duty in France. He served in Verdun before heading to the Balkans where he earned the Croix de Guerre for his “indefatiguable ardor and ignoring of danger” while driving to and from the front on a road under artillery bombardment.

He later transferred to the Lafayette Flying Corps, an aviation unit in the Legion. He was a bomber pilot cited for bravery. In early 1918, he made the decision to transfer to an American unit as soon as they joined active fighting or his French unit took a break from the front. On June 5, he was killed in French service after four German fighters spotted him and his artillery spotter surveying German positions. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Alex Rowe

Alex Rowe was a British child when an injury — a detached retina — prevented him from achieving his lifelong dream of joining the British Forces. He tried anyway, but was turned away. He later joined the Foreign Legion with his mother’s blessing. Funnily enough, he was made a sniper.

Rowe was awarded his fifth medal for bravery in 2010, France’s highest military honor, the Légion d’honneur. He has been awarded for shielding a Bosnian mother and child with his body during a gunfight, and was involved in a 360-degree ambush in Afghanistan where U.S. troops and French legionnaires had to fight their way out.

Ferdinand Capdevielle

Ferdinand Capdevielle was a private first class in the Legion when he took part in the charge on Navarin Farm in the Battle of Champagne, fighting that saw two-thirds of his section killed or wounded. Then, he accepted a transfer to the 170th Line Infantry Regiment, a unit that was soon sent to Verdun. Capdevielle was quickly awarded the Croix de Guerre for his coolness under fire while serving as a dispatch-bearer in the Battle of Caillette Wood.

Capdevielle was cited for bravery multiple times in multiple battles over the following year, eventually rising to the rank of second lieutenant. The American Army offered him a commission as a captain, but the legionnaire preferred to stay with French Forces. He led his men during the wildly successful advance on the Marne in July 1917, seizing miles of territory, hundreds of prisoners, and tons of supplies. He was posthumously awarded the Légion d’honneur after his death in October, 1918.

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