That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The National Archives and Records Administration recently marked the 45th anniversary of a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, that destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) documenting the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912 to 1964.

Shortly after midnight on July 12, 1973, a fire was reported at the NPRC’s military personnel records building in St. Louis, Missouri. The fire burned out of control for 22 hours and it took two days before firefighters were able to re-enter the building. Due to the extensive damage, investigators were never able to determine the source of the fire.


The National Archives focused its immediate attention on salvaging as much as possible and quickly resuming operations at the facility. Even before the final flames were out, staff at the NPRC had begun work toward these efforts as vital records were removed from the burning building for safekeeping.

“In terms of loss to the cultural heritage of our nation, the 1973 NPRC fire was an unparalleled disaster,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said. “In the aftermath of the blaze, recovery and reconstruction efforts took place at an unprecedented level. Thanks to such recovery efforts and the use of alternate sources to reconstruct files, today’s NPRC is able to continue its primary mission of serving our country’s military and civil servants.”

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

A fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

Removal and salvage of water- and fire-damaged records from the building was the most important priority, according to NPRC Director Scott Levins. Standing water—combined with the high temperatures and humidity—created a situation ripe for mold growth. This work led to the recovery of approximately 6.5 million burned and water-damaged records, Levins said.

The estimated loss of Army personnel records for those discharged from November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1950, was about 80 percent. In addition, approximately 75 percent of Air Force personnel records for those discharged from September 25, 1947, through January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) were also destroyed in the catastrophe.

However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

(National Archives photo)

Bryan McGraw, access coordinator at the NPRC, emphasized the gravity of the loss of the actual primary source records. “Unfortunately, the loss of 16–18 million individual records has had a significant impact on the lives of not only those veterans, but also on their families and dependents,” McGraw said. “We can usually prove eligibility for benefits and get the vet or next of kin their entitlements; however, we cannot recreate the individual file to what it was—we don’t know what was specifically in each file, and each of these was as different as each of us as individuals. So from a purely historic or genealogical perspective, that material was lost forever.”

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Recovery efforts at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, salvage documents after a fire on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

In the days following the fire, recovery teams faced the issue of how to salvage fire-damaged records as well as how to dry the millions of water-soaked records. Initially, NPRC staffers shipped these water-damaged records in plastic milk crates to a temporary facility at the civilian records center where hastily constructed drying racks had been assembled from spare shelving. When it was discovered that McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, the NPRC diverted its water-damaged records there for treatment using a vacuum-dry process in a chamber large enough to accommodate approximately 2,000 plastic milk cartons of water- and fire-damaged records.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Preservation staff must restore and preserve documents nearly destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center staff in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973 .

(National Archives photo)


“This is a somber anniversary,” Levins said. “In terms of the number of records lost and lives impacted, you could not find a greater records disaster. Although it’s now been 45 years since the fire, we still expend the equivalent of more than 40 full-time personnel each year who work exclusively on responding to requests involving records lost in the fire.”

Much has been written about the fire and its aftermath. A white paper, The National Personnel Records Center Fire: A Study in Disaster, provides an extensive account. It was originally published in October of 1974 in The American Archivist, Vol. 37, No. 4. In addition, Prologue magazine published “Burnt in Memory: Looking back, looking forward at the 1973 St. Louis Fire.”

Each year, the NPRC connects more than a million veterans with their OMPFs as part of the National Archives’ services to the nation.

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

These Army drink packets can deliver the hydration of an IV

The Army used to have a powder chock full of electrolytes to add to water for rehydration. But there was a problem.


“It was terrible — tasted so bad that nobody would use it,” said Gregory Sumerlin, senior director of Government Military Accounts for DripDrop ORS (Oral Rehydration Solutions).

Enter DripDrop, with packets of lemon-, cherry- and watermelon-flavored powders that were on display Tuesday at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington.

Sumerlin said the packets, which cost about $1.82 a piece, have been used by the Army for about four years. The other services also have shown interest, he said.

Medics in Afghanistan and Iraq have carried a supply of the packets, and troops also can keep a few stuffed in their packs, he said.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
DripDrop is medical grade rehydration. (Image DripDrop Facebook)

According to DripDrop’s website, the powders have “proven to hydrate better and faster than water or sports drinks, and are comparable to IV therapy.”

“By solving the taste problem, DripDrop ORS has made the most highly effective oral hydration solution known to medical science, practical for use by anyone who finds themselves with a hydration need where water and sports drinks just aren’t enough,” the site says.

The packets contain a balanced amount of electrolytes, including sodium citrate, potassium citrate, chloride, magnesium citrate, zinc aspartate and sugars to provide what DripDrop called “a fast-acting, performance-enhancing hydration solution.”

The product also has an endorsement from Bob Weir, co-founder of the Grateful Dead:

“There is no better test of a hydration drink’s effectiveness than a summer tour. If I didn’t have DripDrop, I’d have to rethink about how I would go about performing a 3.5-hour show.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

7 lesser-known facts about the National Guard

Sometimes it can feel pretty darn easy to forget about the National Guard – especially when the branch doesn’t get any traction for high visibility news coverage. But the truth is that the National Guard actually has a long and distinguished history, and has been a cornerstone to the support of other branches of the military.

Here’s a list of 7 lesser known facts about the National Guard.


Earliest beginnings 

Did you know that the National Guard is older than the United States? It’s true. In 1636, the first militia units were organized in the Massachusetts Bay Colony under three permanent regiments, and each of these militia units trace their lineage back to 17th century armed forces. However, colonists were fearful of a militia and vehemently opposed a standing army.

Over 100 years later, the 1792 Militia Act gave the president powers to call forth the militia whenever the United States might be invaded or be in face of imminent danger of invasion.

Evolution of the Guard

Free, able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were conscripted into local militia during the 19th century in the United States. The militia units were divided much like the current modern military into divisions, brigades, battalions and companies.

What’s in a name?

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
It was the Frenchman who helped America fight for its independence that popularized the name “Nationa Guard” decades before being an official title. (Wikimedia Commons)

The use of the term “National Guard” occurred after the end of the Civil War. In 1878, the National Guard Association of the United States was formed to lobby for the formation of the National Guard in states and territories. The term was popularized by Marquis de Lafayette, but didn’t become an official term until 1916.

During the Revolutionary War, National Guard service members were called “Minutemen” for their rapid response abilities, making them the original Rapid Deployment Force.

Official recognition 

During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), reforms to government and private industry saw a shift in the perception of the National Guard. Of the most pressing reforms was the Militia Act of 1903 which established training and organizational standards across all Guard units in the country.

The amendment of the National Defense Act in 1933 officially created the National Guard of the United States and formally established it as a separate reserve component of the Army. This revision allowed for the creation of training standards and clearly defined the role of National Guard units when they’re called into service.

Swearing in ceremonies are unusual

Each member of the National Guard has to swear to uphold both the federal constitution and their state constitution. This oath hearkens back to the origins of the National Guard as a state militia.

Presidents serve, too

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
President George W. Bush as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, where he served from 1968-1973 (U.S. Air Force)

Two presidents have served in the National Guard in its current iteration – Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush.

A National Guard for every state

Guard units are everywhere except in American Samoa, which is the only U.S. territory not to have a unit.

To join the National Guard, a person has to be between the ages of 17 and 35, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have at least a high school diploma or GED. Enlistment is eight years, minimum. However, a person can elect to serve three or six years and spend the remainder of the time in Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). IRR soldiers don’t train with a unit but can be called up in the event of an emergency.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Marine ‘Hero of Nasiriyah’ is retiring

While the saga of Private First Class Jessica Lynch, a soldier assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company who was captured by Saddam’s forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is well known, the incredibly heroic story of the attempt to rescue that unit isn’t. Now, the brave Marine behind that rescue attempt is retiring.

According to a report by the Marine Corps Times, Sergeant Major Justin LeHew is set to retire after 30 years of service in the Marine Corps. His most recent assignment has been with the Wounded Warrior Battalion — East, based out of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

LeHew became a legend while serving as a platoon sergeant with Company A, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the chain of command learned about the dire situation the 507th Maintenance Company was in, they sent LeHew’s unit to try to rescue the soldiers.


According to his Navy Cross citation, when they arrived on the scene, LeHew helped his Marines evacuate four soldiers from the beleaguered maintenance unit. Then, an intense, three-hour-long firefight broke out. When an AAV-7 was destroyed, LeHew sprang into action.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

One of the AAV-7s destroyed in the Battle of Nasiriyah. Justin LeHew earned the Navy Cross for heroism in retrieving dead and wounded Marines from a similar vehicle.

(USMC photo by Master Sergeant Edward D. Kniery)

According to a release by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he made multiple 70-yard sprints to the destroyed vehicle, retrieving nine dead and wounded Marines, picking body parts out from the wreckage — all while under fire from the enemy.

He received the Navy Cross for his actions while on another deployment to Iraq with C Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Around the time he was awarded the Navy Cross, he would again distinguish himself in combat — this time in Najaf. During a battle against insurgents, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire, helping, once again, to evacuate the wounded, including taking one Marine with a sucking chest wound straight to a forward operating base. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star with the Combat Distinguishing Device in 2005.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

After his second tour in Iraq, LeHew held a number of senior leadership positions.

(USMC photo)

Since then, LeHew has held a number of senior NCO assignments. LeHew has also an obstacle in the Crucible named in his honor. In the opinion of this writer, LeHew also makes the short list of people who deserve having a ship named after them.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This F-35 ‘Lightning Carrier’ test frees up supercarriers, makes US more powerful

The US Navy sent the USS Wasp into the South China Sea early April 2019 loaded with an unusually heavy configuration of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

“We are seeing a fleet experiment going on right now,” Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and naval-affairs expert, told Business Insider, explaining that the Navy and the Marines are experimenting with the “Lightning Carrier” concept.

Light carriers armed with these short landing and take-off F-35s could theoretically take over operations in low-end conflicts, potentially freeing up the “supercarriers” to focus on higher-end threats such as Russia and China, or significantly boost the firepower of the US Navy carrier force, experts told Business Insider.


That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The USS Wasp with a heavy F-35 configuration, with 10 Joint Strike Fighters on its flight deck.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The USS Wasp has been drilling in the South China Sea with at least 10 F-35s on board.

The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship, is participating in the ongoing Balikatan exercises with the Philippines. It deployed with at least 10 F-35s, more than the ship would normally carry.

“With each new exercise, we learn more about [the F-35Bs] capabilities as the newest fighter jet in our inventory, and how to best utilize them and integrate them with other platforms,” a Marine Corps spokesperson told Business Insider.

The Wasp was recently spotted running flight operations near Scarborough Shoal, a contested South China Sea territory.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The USS America.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Thor Larson)

The Navy and Marine Corps began experimenting with the “Lighting carrier” concept a few years ago.

The Marine Corps did a Lightning carrier proof of concept demonstration in November 2016, loading 12 F-35B fighters onto the USS America, the newest class of amphibious assault ship intended to serve as a light aircraft carrier.

“The experiments led to the realization that this is an option,” Bryan Clark, a naval-affairs expert and former special assistant to the chief of naval operations, told Business Insider.

“I think the Marine Corps may be realizing that this is the best use of their large amphibious assault ships. I think you are going to see more and more deployments like that,” he added.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Possible Lightning Carrier configuration.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

A Lightning carrier might carry almost two dozen F-35s.

The Marine Corps elaborated on its plan for the Lightning carrier in its 2017 Marine Aviation Plan, which suggests that the Marines should be operating 185 F-35Bs by 2025, more than “enough to equip all seven” amphibious assault ships.

“While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier,” the corps said, “it can be complementary if employed in imaginative ways.” These ships, the America-class ships in particular, could theoretically be outfitted with 16 to 20 F-35s, along with rotary refueling aircraft.

“A Lightning Carrier, taking full advantage of the amphibious assault ship as a sea base, can provide the naval and joint force with significant access, collection and strike capabilities,” the service said.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

An AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron 311 landing aboard USS Bonhomme Richard.

(U.S. Navy)

The Lightning carrier is based on an older concept that has been around for decades.

The Lightning carrier concept is a rebranded version of the classic “Harrier carrier,” the repurposing of amphibious assault ships to serve as light carriers armed with AV-8B Harrier jump jets.

“We would load them up with twice or even three times as many Harriers as what they would normally send out with an amphibious readiness group and then use it as, essentially, a light carrier to provide sea and air control in a limited area,” Hendrix said.

The “Harrier Carrier” concept has been employed at least five times. The USS Bonhomme Richard, for example, was reconfigured to serve as a “Harrier Carrier” during the invasion of Iraq, the Navy said in a 2003 statement.

“This is not the norm for an amphib,” a senior Navy officer said at the time.”Our air assets dictate that we operate more like a carrier.”

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

F-35B Lightning II aircraft on the USS Wasp.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)

The Lightning carrier could boost the overall firepower of the US carrier force.

Lightning carriers, while less effective than a supercarrier — primarily because of the limited range of the F-35Bs compared with the Navy’s F-35Cs and the much smaller number of aircraft embarked — offer a real opportunity to boost the firepower of the carrier force. “You are going to see an increase in strike control and sea-control potential,” Hendrix told Business Insider.

The amphibs could be integrated into carrier task forces to strengthen its airpower, or they could be deployed in independent amphibious readiness groups with their own supporting and defensive escorts, dispersing the force for greater survivability and lethality.

“You can turn the light amphibious ships into sea-control, sea-denial, or even strike assets in a meaningful way to distribute the force and bring this concept of distributed lethality to bear,” Hendrix said, adding that this is a “wise” move given the rising challenges of adversaries employing tactics such as long-range missiles and mines to deny the US Navy access.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The USS Wasp.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Barker)

Deploying light carriers armed with F-35s to deal with low-end threats also frees up the supercarriers to address more serious challenges.

“What we’ve been seeing over the past year is the Navy using Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARGs) with [amphibious assault ships] in the Middle East in place of Carrier Strike Groups,” Clark said.

The Navy has then been able to focus its supercarriers on the Atlantic and the Pacific, where great powers such as Russia and China are creating new challenges for the US military.

Last fall, the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, sailed into the Persian Gulf, and it was during that deployment that a Marine Corps F-35B launched from the ship and entered combat for the first time, targeting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

The USS Harry S. Truman, initially slated for service in the Persian Gulf, relocated to the north Atlantic for participation in NATO exercises.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy says it’s finally ready to test railgun

The US Navy is planning to finally test the electromagnetic railgun it has spent years and hundreds of millions of dollars developing aboard a warship, according to new documents detailing the service’s testing and training plans.

Unlike conventional guns, a railgun uses electromagnetic energy rather than explosive charges to fire rounds farther and at six or seven times the speed of sound.

“The kinetic energy weapon (commonly referred to as the rail gun) will be tested aboard surface vessels, firing explosive and non-explosive projectiles at air- or sea-based targets,” the Navy’s 1,800-page Northwest Training and Testing Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment revealed.


The Seattle Times, followed by Task Purpose, was the first to report the Navy’s latest testing plans and the possibility of a milestone achievement for the railgun program.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Electromagnetic Railgun located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)

The Navy, which has spent more than a decade and at least 0 million trying to build a working railgun, was initially expected to conduct a sea test of this new weapon aboard the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Trenton at Eglin Air Force Base’s maritime test range in the summer of 2016.

That test never took place. Instead, the Navy chose to continue testing the weapon on land. If the Navy’s new testing and training plans are approved, sea trials for the railgun could take place as early as next year. It’s unclear what type of test platform might be involved.

Should the Navy test its railgun at sea, it will be a major achievement for a program that has struggled for quite some time now. When asked about the program earlier this year, the best answer Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson could offer was: “It’s going somewhere, hopefully.”

The US is not the only country chasing this technology. Another clear competitor is China, which has already managed to arm a warship — the Type 072III Yuting-class tank-landing ship “Haiyang Shan” — with a railgun. The weapon is believed to have been put through some preliminary sea trials.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Photograph taken from a high-speed video camera during a record-setting firing of an electromagnetic railgun at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, Va., on Jan. 31, 2008.

(U.S. Navy)

It is unclear how far along the Chinese railgun program is, but the competition is on. Chinese media proudly boasted in January that “China’s naval electromagnetic weapon and equipment have surpassed other countries and become a world leader.”

The railgun is a curious weapon, one that some naval affairs experts feel offers prestige to the innovator but little military advantage to the warfighter, no matter who gets their first.

“It’s not useful military technology,” Bryan Clark, an expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and former US Navy officer, previously told Business Insider, arguing that it is a poor replacement for a missile. “You are better off spending that money on missiles and vertical launch system cells than you are on a railgun.”

So far, the most impressive thing to come out of the US Navy’s railgun research is the hypervelocity projectile, which the Navy has tested using the Mk 45 five-inch deck guns that come standard on cruisers and destroyers.

The Army is also looking at the HVP for its 155 mm howitzers.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The awkward truth about military spouses and their service

When, at a ceremony or event, an emcee asks that all active military, veterans, and spouses stand together to be recognized, there is not distinction between the groups.

They all stand. If the woman is a service member or veteran, they know that when everyone stands together the assumption will be they are a military spouse. And what about military spouses? How does this make them feel? They don’t quite fit into the category of service member since they are a spouse. Although they appreciate being recognized for their sacrifice, it just doesn’t feel quite right.


Grouped together

Situations like this especially aggravate an already existing complicated relationship between female service members and female military spouses. Women who serve in the military are constantly overlooked and their service is devalued. They often have to defend their service to the men who they either serve with or men who never served at all. Grouping their service with the service of non-veterans is very disingenuous.

Military spouses appreciate being recognized for the work they do to support the military because it is often an unseen and thankless job. But when everyone is pushed into one category, military spouses find themselves feeling awkward or uncomfortable. The very group they are trying to recognize doesn’t feel supported or appreciated.

Instead, they still feel like outsiders.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

But treated differently

As both a veteran and a military spouse, I am in a unique position to see how military spouses and service members are treated in similar situations.

Military spouses are classified as dependents, and are often treated just like the title sounds. And while some rules are made to protect the military and the member, they often make life a lot harder to be a military spouse.

A basic task like getting an identification card renewed or having repairs done to your home when you live on base require the service member. In the civilian world, a spouse is not dependent on their husband or wife to get basic tasks done. But the same cannot be said for military spouses. When I was in the military, I was treated with respect and always had great customer service.

As a military spouse, if I go on base to get help without my husband, I have found myself leaving in tears, treated unprofessionally and feeling like no one even cares. While military spouses don’t hold rank, they should be treated with respect.

Instead of support for spouses, there seems to be an unwritten rule where people can say negative things about military spouses, but if you say anything negative about a service member you are being disrespectful. Even military spouses who are just trying to engage in conversation with female service members may feel the need to tread lightly based on past experiences when stating their opinion ended up in a situation where they were humiliated.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

And then there is the “I serve too” issue

Military spouses and service members use the same words to describe different things or don’t understand the other side’s experience. When military spouses say, “I serve too,” this can ruffle all kinds of feathers on both sides. For the military service member, the word service is tied to signing up to join the military and being willing to give the ultimate sacrifice.

While military spouses don’t serve the military in that function that doesn’t mean they don’t serve the military. Military spouses make countless sacrifices to support their service member. Maybe they gave up their career to follow their service member to the next assignment. Maybe they are the one who constantly has to take time off work or bend their schedule to accommodate the deployments, training and endless temporary duty assignments. Being a military spouse is often a lonely, hard and thankless job.

Understanding our stories

The best way to bridge the gap between military spouses and service women is by getting to know the other’s story. Until you actually meet and get to know a military spouse the only thing you know are the stereotypes. And until you actually meet and get to know a female service member all you know are the stereotypes. Stereotypes that are not good. Stereotypes that are often expanded stories or perceived truths that are rarely factual.

Military spouses are not lazy, attempting to get a free ride. Military spouses are strong, determined and are willing to bend over backwards to make military life work while taking care of their family. Many military spouses are working in careers that don’t meet their qualifications, but they have a hard time finding and keeping a job with all the demands of the military.

Female service members are not sluts, using pregnancy as a means to get out of military obligations, or fooling around with married service members. Female service members are strong, determined and work hard to make it to the rank they have obtained.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

They are professionals. And, if they stay in after marriage and kids, they have to make countless sacrifices while trying to find the balance of keeping a career and raising a family.

How many stories do you know about the women who have served our country? Or how many military spouses do you know and can talk to about their experience? The only way we can close the divide is to listen to the other side.

Want to share your story or thoughts on this topic or other important topics facing the military community? Email us at editorial@militaryspouse.com.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The ‘most hated person in the Air Force’ just died

During its development in the late 1960s, the C-5 Galaxy was more than $2 billion over budget – more than $7 billion in today’s dollars, and well more than the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The troubled program nearly broke the back of its developer, the Lockheed Corporation, and was the subject of House and Senate investigations once Congress found out about it. Enter A. Ernest Fitzgerald, once Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Management Systems, suddenly reduced to managing a bowling alley in Thailand before being dismissed altogether.

The reason for his dismissal was the disclosure of secret material… to the U.S. Congress. Eventually, he would be reinstated and, for the rest of his tenure in the Defense Department, he would be known as the “Most Hated Person in the Air Force.”


That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The C-5 Galaxy carries almost anything in the world but almost sunk Lockheed and the US Air Force.

Fitzgerald not only divulged the information to Congress, but he also testified before a Senate subcommittee on the subject of government waste, specifically targeting the C-5A program. He knew that just by testifying before the committee, he would be the subject of reprisals by his peers and his superiors. The program was years behind schedule and costing the government billions in its development. Lockheed, the civilian agency working on the program, even needed a bailout from the government to keep the C-5 program from taking the company down with it.

The expected reprisal was swift and harsh. Fitzgerald, a civil servant since 1965, lost his tenure, then lost his Pentagon position. He was transferred to managing chow halls and bowling alleys in Thailand before his job was eliminated completely. The entire process took less than a year and was approved by President Nixon himself.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

“Get rid of that son of a b*tch.” – President Richard Nixon on Ernest Fitzgerald. No joke.

The C-5 Galaxy program was just the beginning for the man who preferred the term “truth teller” to “whistleblower.” His testimony to Congress was repaid in full by the Civil Service Commission when they forced the Pentagon to restore Fitzgerald. The man was shut out from oversight of weapons development, but secrets are hard to keep in the Pentagon. He continued to inform Congress about cost overruns and inefficiencies.

When Boeing overcharged the government for cruise missiles, Fitzgerald was there. When the Air Force paid 6.55 for plastic stool caps that cost 34 cents to produce, Fitzgerald told the world. He was even invited to show the American taxpayers on Late Night With David Letterman. Eventually, he was the go-to guy for whistleblowers in the Pentagon who wanted to leak info about fraud, waste, and abuse.

Fitzgerald died on Jan. 31, 2019, at age 92. He is remembered by everyone who ever tried to curb government spending, who thought that 0 was too much for a toilet seat, and the non-profit that carries his legacy forward, the Project on Government Oversight.

popular

How the Allies used math to save bomber crews during WWII

When retelling stories of war, our focus tends to fall where the action was. Tales of battlefield bravery have been around for as long as there has been language and battlefields, but securing victory over a powerful foe requires more than the strength of will and courage under fire. Often, it takes the calm, calculating mind of strategic leaders, the tireless efforts of scientists and researchers, and as was the case in the skies above World War II… the unusual approach of an Austrian mathematician.


Abraham Wald was born in Austria-Hungary in 1902, and by 1931 he had completed his Ph.D. in mathematics. However, despite possessing a gifted scientific mind, Wald couldn’t find work in his home country upon his return. The problem? It was 1931, and Wald was Jewish.

By 1938, the Nazis were invading Austria and Wald and his family were on their way to the United States, where Wald had no trouble securing a job at the Cowles Research Commission in Economics, and then with the American government assisting with the war effort.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Abraham Wald. (Konrad Jacobs via WikiMedia Commons)

 

Wald quickly proved to have a powerful analytical mind, making a name for himself with the U.S. government’s Statistical Research Group (SRG) where he worked on classified programs despite his status as a “potentially hostile immigrant.” Just as his Jewish heritage made him a pariah in Austria, his Austrian heritage made Wald a bit of an outcast in Uncle Sam’s ranks. He wasn’t even allowed to look at his own equations after submitting them, as the programs Wald worked on were classified. Wald’s secretary was even known to joke that her job was to yank Wald’s pages away as soon as he finished writing them “for the sake of national security.”

Despite this looming prejudice, Wald thrived in his role as a mathematician for the allies, contributing to multiple programs over the years and securing a place in history thanks to his groundbreaking work in “survivorship bias.”

Allied forces were feverishly working on ways to help their B-29 bombers survive anti-aircraft fire, but knew that limitations on weight and available resources would bar them from adding armor to the entirety of the aircraft. So they began collecting data on returning B-29s in hopes that the data would eventually produce a working theory. Soon enough, it did.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
This graphic shows where the majority of holes were recorded on returning B-29s. (WikiMedia Commons)

 

Officials took note of how the B-29s that made it back were often riddled with holes in specific areas. Some of these bombers were even described in official documents as looking like “swiss cheese,” but the heaviest concentration of holes were always all over the aircraft’s fuselage. By the time they had translated their observations to hard data, they had confirmed that the fuselage and wings of the aircraft took rounds at nearly twice the rate of the aircraft’s engines.

The data seemed to be pointing at a clear answer to their problem: if the fuselage was taking the brunt of the of damage, they should add armor to that portion of the aircraft. After all, it housed all of the plane’s internal systems and its crew, it made perfect sense that taking so much fire to the fuselage must be what was bringing these bombers down.

Wald, however, knew immediately that placing armor on the fuselage of these bombers wasn’t going to solve the problem. He asserted instead that additional armor needed to be placed on the parts of the aircraft that had the smallest number of recorded bullet holes, rather than the highest. His assertion, and the premise of “survivorship bias,” was basically that these airplanes could survive taking a great deal of fire to the wings and fuselage because they were making it back riddled with holes all over both. Instead, Wald posited, it’s the places they didn’t see holes that couldn’t handle direct fire.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Like this but with more holes. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Erin McClellan)

 

Wald believed that these planes were getting hit in the engines just as often as the fuselage or wings, but because the bombers that got hit in the engines didn’t survive, no data could be collected from them. Lacking data from the aircraft that didn’t make it back had skewed the numbers to show the exact opposite of what they had been looking for.

Wald proposed adding armor to the engines, rather than the fuselage and his premise was swiftly adopted, and soon that premise was proved true. Bombers that had additional armor added to their engine shrouds saw much higher rates of return, and before long, armoring the engines of B-29s became standard practice.

In fact, Wald’s approach continues to be employed in military aircraft design today, making it hard to even guess just how many aircraft, missions, and lives Abraham Wald is ultimately responsible for saving… all through his unique combination of perspective and arithmetic.

 


Feature image: U.S. Air Force

MIGHTY CULTURE

3 real life consequences that movie fights totally miss

Although we’re not always keen to admit it, the way we see the world and how we function in it tends to be largely informed by the pop-culture we consume along the way. The movies and TV shows we watch as kids not only help us to perceive a world beyond our views out the window, they have a habit of planting the seeds of foolish thought in our brains Inception-style; leaving us with a skewed idea of things like what really goes on in a fight, thanks to how often we see them depicted inaccurately on screen.

In fact, if you’ve never had the misfortune of suffering a nasty injury on one of your limbs, getting knocked out, or being in close proximity to an explosion, you might be harboring some pretty unrealistic ideas about just how deadly each can be. It might sound silly to suggest that people can’t tell the difference between something Wolverine can do and something your average Joe can… but many of these movie tropes have become such deep-rooted parts of our cultural lexicon that it starts to get difficult to discern truth from fiction. That is, unless you’ve been there first hand.


That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

This is actually how Chuck Norris babysits people’s kids.

Being knocked out is totally fine

It’s Batman’s bread and butter, it helped Marty McFly’s mom gets handsy with her time traveling son, and it’s the most common workplace hazard for henchman and thugs, but the truth is, getting knocked out could seriously mess you up.

Movies may make it seem like getting knocked out with a single blow is basically the same thing as racking out for an impromptu nap, but here in the real world, blunt force trauma to the head tends to come with some serious repercussions. The Riddler’s henchman may come to in a few hours and complain of feeling groggy, but if you’re ever knocked out for hours, you’ll almost certainly wake up in the ICU of your local hospital, surrounded by some very concerned family members (and hopefully you’ll still know your name).

Head trauma that’s sufficient to knock you unconscious actually creates a neurochemical reaction in the brain that causes cell death that can potentially affect you for the rest of your life.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Seems legit.

Fire is apparently the only dangerous part of explosions

Watching a protagonist walk toward the camera while a slow-motion explosion unfolds in the background might be one of the most overused (and somehow still rad) shots in cinematic history… but it’s also totally ridiculous. Movies treat explosions like it’s the fireball you have to be worried about, but the most dangerous part of an explosion is usually invisible to the naked eye: the shockwave.

Way back in the first “Mission Impossible” movie, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt actually managed to seemingly ride the shockwave of an exploding helicopter (that was foolishly made out of dynamite, apparently) onto a speeding train. The shot is incredible, and it actually makes the superhero-like sequels make a lot more sense, since Ethan Hunt must actually be dreaming in a coma from that point on, while surgeons try to do something about the soup that used to be his organs.

Anyone that’s ever thrown a grenade can tell you that explosions are far faster and more dangerous than they’re depicted in movies. Most happen so quickly that we perceive them as little more than a thunderous impact and sudden poof of smoke, but it’s the shockwave that will literally liquify your inside parts (like your brain). In the medical community, they call this internal mushification “total body disruption,” which may not sound as cool as “internal mushification” but is apparently just as deadly.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

I mean, the bleeding has already stopped. This guy might actually make it if he quits now.

Flesh wounds are no big deal

There’s no faster way to show us how badass a movie hero really is than to watch him dismiss a gunshot to the arm as “nothing but a flesh wound.” John Mcclane loses enough blood in the “Die Hard” movies to keep the Red Cross from chasing down donations for at least a year, but somehow those injuries never seem to slow him down at all.

These “flesh wounds” usually exist only so the female lead’s character arc can develop from annoyed at the hero to empathetic: “You’re hurt!” She exclaims as she runs to check the flap of skin hanging off of our hero’s tricep.

“It’s nothing,” he grimaces as he loads another seemingly infinite magazine into his weapon. As Jesse Ventura said in “Predator,” and probably at least once as Governor of Minnesota, “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

The problem is, you can absolutely die from a wound on your arm or leg. In fact, you can die pretty damn quickly if you rupture an artery. When it comes to unchecked bleeding, what you really don’t have time for is ignoring it.

popular

From stewards to pandemic leaders, the evolution of the Filipino-American sailor

“Sir, one of your officers refuses to address me and the other stewards by our names. Instead, he only calls us ‘Stew’. I do not find this behavior to be acceptable for an officer.”

“And so you shouldn’t,” replied the Captain. “Which of my officers is doing this? I’ll take care of it.”

The 1947 Military Bases Agreement provided a 99-year lease on many Philippine military and naval bases to the United States Military. Under Article 27, Filipino citizens could also be recruited into the U.S. military. However, they were restricted to serving as stewards. Despite this restriction, the Navy would recruit anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Filipinos every year according to a New York Times article from 1970.

With many of these men coming from poverty, a job with the US Navy presented a better prospect than what they could find in the post-war Philippines. While Filipino sailors were paid equal wages, they, like Tongson, often experienced racism and differential treatment. However, following a modification to the Military Bases Agreement in 1971, Filipinos could enter into any enlisted rating that they were qualified for. In Tongson’s case, he became an Electrician’s Mate and eventually rose to the coveted rank of Chief Petty Officer.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Tongson (first row, first from the left) as an Electrician’s Mate Petty Officer First Class (USS Montrose Cruise Book/released)

Today, Filipino-Americans can be found in all branches of the U.S. military—although their presence is still strongest in the Navy. Anyone who has spent time aboard a ship is familiar with the “Filipino Mafia”, the network of Filipino-American sailors that seem to be able to get you anything you may need while underway, including Filipino food like adobo, pancit, and lumpia. Filipino-American sailors have made greater strides than just acquiring scarce goods and sharing delicious meals, though.

In 1992, Rear Admiral (then Commander) Eleanor Mariano was selected to serve as the Navy physician to the White House Medical Staff. President Clinton later selected her to serve as the White House Physician and director of the White House Medical Unit for which she was promoted to Captain. In 1999, she was nominated to the rank of Rear Admiral and was formally promoted in 2000, becoming the first Filipino-American to reach the rank. In 2014, Captain Ronald Ravelo took command of the USS Ronald Reagan, becoming the first Filipino-American sailor to do so. A year before, Rear Admirals Rauqel Bono and her brother Anatolio Cruz became the first and (so far) only Filipino-American siblings to simultaneously hold a flag-officer rank. While Cruz retired later that year, Bono was appointed by President Obama to the position of Defense Health Agency director and promoted to Vice Admiral in 2015.

Following her retirement from the Navy in 2019, Bono became a Senior Fellow with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. On March 22, 2020 she was appointed as the head Washington State’s COVID-19 health care response team by Governor Jay Inslee. The state’s COVID-19 confirmed case, hospitalization, and death statistics peaked on March 23rd, 2020. Shortly after, all three statistics have more than halved.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, DHA Director, command portrait (U.S. Army photo by Monica King/released)

Filipino-Americans continue to serve as an integral part of the U.S. Military. The naval officers previously mentioned all descend from parents who served in the U.S. military. As for Tongson, his daughter served in the U.S. Army as a nurse during Desert Storm and his grandson, the author, currently serves in the U.S. Army as a 1st Lt. with the 10th Mountain Division. Tongson gave his grandson his first salute at his commissioning ceremony aboard the USS Midway, a ship that Tongson served on, in 2017.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Tongson with the author at the commissioning ceremony (photo taken by Laceé Pappas/released)
MIGHTY CULTURE

This soldier saved his entire crew after taking an RPG to the head

When Johnson Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross, it was the first time a living soldier received the award in over 30 years. It’s not an easy award to pick up, and perhaps Lance Sgt. Beharry should have died in Iraq – but he didn’t. And because he survived, so did many, many men from his unit.


In May 2004, Beharry was driving an armored vehicle to help rescue a foot patrol that was caught in an ambush. The Warrior, an armored infantry fighting vehicle used by the UK military, had taken so many RPG hits that most of his crew were injured and he was unable to see using his periscope.

So, he popped open the hatch.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

A British Army MCV-80 Warrior Infantry Tracked Fighting Vehicle.

He drove the rest of the way with his head outside of the protection of the vehicle. In doing so, he exposed his head to the same nonstop barrage of bullets and RPG fire that wounded most of his fellow soldiers. He drove the Warrior right through the ambush until he got to the threatened foot patrol.

He drove through multiple ambushes, small arms fire, heavy machine gun fire, several RPGs, and even improvised explosive devices. His commander and gunner, along with others in the crew, were wounded and incapacitated. Beharry didn’t know their status because the Warrior’s communications system was damaged in the initial ambush. With smoke pouring into his vehicle, he drove through the Iraqi night.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Beharry’s Warrior fighting vehicle after arriving at Cimic House outpost.

At one point, he could see an RPG flying at him, directly toward his face. He quickly pulled down the lid of the hatch with one hand, while driving the vehicle with the other. The blast pulled the hatch out of his hand but allowed the force and flame to pass over him.

Next, a 7.62 round hit Beharry in the head, lodging into his helmet, but miraculously not wounding him. Beharry pressed the vehicle on, away from the ambush area. He saw another Warrior from his unit and followed it through the dark streets of al-Amarah until they reached their destination: a British Army outpost. Still under intense fire, Beharry lifted his platoon commander and then his gunner out of the vehicle’s turret and into the safety of the other Warrior. He then went back into his Warrior and drove it to the outpost.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Lance Sgt. Johnson Beharry poses with one of two captured Chinese cannons used to create Victoria Cross medals.

Once inside a defended perimeter, Beharry secured the Warrior, pulled the fire extinguisher, and moved to the other, seemingly undamaged Warrior, where he passed out from sheer exhaustion. But his story doesn’t end there – Victoria Crosses, the UK’s equivalent to the Medal of Honor, are exceedingly difficult medals to earn. A month later, Johnson Beharry was back in action in Iraq.

The coalition base in al-Amarah was under attack from a mortar team in June, 2004. Beharry was part of a quick reaction force sent to neutralize the threat to the base. Driving again through the city at night, Beharry’s armored vehicle was ambushed on its way to the attackers. The initial volley of that ambush saw an RPG explode just six inches from the young soldier’s head, causing serious injury.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

Beharry is presented with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II.

Other RPGs rocked the vehicle, and the turret, again incapacitating and wounding the vehicle commander and the others in the crew. With blood pouring into his face, Beharry stayed in control of the vehicle. He drove the vehicle out of the ambush area – in reverse – until it became lodged in the side of a building. Only then did he lose consciousness from loss of blood. But in moving out of the ambush zone, other Warriors were able to come to their aid. All of them survived both of the deadly attacks.

The attack put him in a coma, and his wounds ultimately required him to leave the service. Before that, he was presented with the Victoria Cross by Queen Elizabeth II on Apr. 27, 2005. Since then, he has made a number of public appearances and implored veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to seek mental health assistance for post-traumatic stress. These days, he runs a youth foundation to keep kids away from gangs and rehabilitate former gang members.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

To celebrate Ken Burns’ documentary, “The Vietnam War,” PBS and USAToday created a Vietnam War Draft Lottery calculator. Simply enter your birth month and day to find out if you would have been drafted for wartime service in Vietnam.


Check Out USAToday’s Draft Number Calculator.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
A U.S. soldier turns to give instructions as firing continues in front of him during Operation Byrd.

The calculator, of course, does not use your birth year because many of us were born well after the Vietnam War. For those born in 1950, however, being drafted in 1970 was a very real prospect. In today’s all-volunteer military, the idea of someone being forced into that lifestyle change can seem very bizarre. Most of the men who rotated through the country were volunteers, but a significant number were not.

Unlike World War II, there were no lines to sign up for service. And unlike the Civil War, there was no paying a substitute to take your place. But still, the perception existed that with money and connections, someone could avoid serving. So in an effort to make the draft more fair (or appear fair), a lottery was put in place.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
It was seriously a draft lottery.

Draft age men were assigned a number between 1 and 366, depending on their birthday. The lowest numbers were called first. This was all entirely at random.

Of course, that didn’t stop some of those who were called to service from further avoiding Selective Service. Some went to college or graduate school or faked medical conditions, while others fled to Canada. In all, half a million Americans dodged their Vietnam War service.

They were fugitives until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter ordered a general amnesty. Deserters, however, were not given amnesty.

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records
Carter pardoned draft dodgers the day after his inauguration.

 

Ken Burns’ film recalls the accounts of more than 100 witnesses to the war in what he calls a “360-degree narrative.” The 10-part, 18-hour documentary “The Vietnam War” is available for streaming on PBS.

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