This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Born as a slave in February of 1840, William Carney’s father managed to escape and make his way north via the Underground Railroad, ultimately earning the funds to purchase his wife and son’s freedom.


The family moved to Massachusetts, where Carney began to get involved in academics even though laws and restrictions still prevented African Americans from learning how to read or write.

Although pursuing a career in the ministry, once the Civil War erupted, Carney determined the best way he could honor God was by enlisting in the military to help rid the world of oppression.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
William Carney holding his flag. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In March 1863, Carney entered the Union Army and was assigned to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment along with 40 other African American men. This was the first official black unit fighting on behalf of the North.

Carney and the other men were sent to James Island in South Carolina where they would see their first days in combat.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

 

On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment were led on a charge on Fort Wagner. During the chaos, Carney witnessed the unit’s color guard as he was mortally wounded, nearly dropping their flag to the ground.

Carney, who was also severally injured, dashed toward the falling patriotic symbol and caught it before it touched the dirty ground.

With the flag in his hand, Carney crawled up to the walls of Fort Wagner while motivating his fellow troops to follow his lead. He managed to plant his flag at the base of the fort and angled it upright for display.

Although Carney suffered deadly blood loss, it’s reported he never allowed that flag to touch the ground. This action inspired his fellow troops, and the infantrymen managed to secure the fort.

For his bravery in action, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900, making him the first African American to ever earn the distinguished accolade.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 of the ballsiest WWII POW escape attempts – all by the same pilot

William Ash wasn’t going to wait for the United States to enter World War II. He left for Canada from Detroit in 1939 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to take his own fight to the enemy.


And he lost his American citizenship for his effort.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Bill Ash at the cockpit of his Spitfire, greeted by the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King. (Bantom Press)

 

By 1941, the Texas native was in the Battle of Britain, flying his Spitfire fighter over London and the English Channel, taking down Hitler’s Luftwaffe one plane at a time. In 1942, Ash was shot down over the Pas-de-Calais.

He only ever managed to shoot down one bogey.

After his capture in northern France, he would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner, but he wouldn’t make it easy on the Nazis. Instead, Ash became something of an escape artist, attempting to break out of Nazi prison camps so many times, he lost count.

“My idea was always to get on the other side of the wire and run like hell,” he once told a close friend.

His schemes were as simple as running away from a work detail to more complex plans like digging a 100-yard tunnel through a latrine hole.

Here are five of his ballsiest POW escape attempts.

1. The Tourist.

The best way to avoid detection is to simply pretend you belong in whatever place you’re in. After Ash was first shot down, he made his way to Paris with the help of the French Resistance.

Instead of evading into the woods, the pilot attempted to hide in plain sight — by visiting museums, bathhouses, and galleries as if he were simply a tourist.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Ash’s POW file.

 

He was eventually captured by the Gestapo, who brutally beat the pilot and almost executed him. Luckily for Ash, the Luftwaffe intervened and claimed him as its prisoner, considering his RCAF status.

2. The Latrine Tunnel…probably the grossest escape attempt.

A BBC Magazine story about Ash’s time in camp Oflag XXIB in Poland details this complex escape plan. For three months, a team of diggers would crawl through a trap door in a toilet seat attempting to dig a 100-yard tunnel from the latrine to the woodline.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Ash in his RCAF Spitfire.

 

It was March 1943 when the POWs made their move through the tunnel. Disguised in modified uniforms and carrying forged passports, 35 of the men escaped the camp. Unfortunately, most were hastily recaptured.

3. Trading Places.

The daring Ash traded identities with another POW, Don Fair, as Fair was being transferred to Stalag Luft IV in modern-day Lithuania. Since the guards of Stalag Luft IV didn’t know he had a record of trying to escape, so they wouldn’t be ready for his many escape attempts.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Ash’s wartime RCAF Portrait

 

He immediately escaped his new camp and made his way to a beach, where he found a boat. Ash ran into a few guys in the middle of a field, and after telling them he was a downed American pilot, they informed him that they were German soldiers growing cabbages.

4. Why not escape through the shower drain?

Ash’s first major escape attempt involved a shower drain. The idea was to stay put for a while, living under the shower huts until life outside the camp went back to normal. Then he and another prisoner planned to leave without anyone sounding the alarm for missing POWs.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Ash in 1941 (Bantom Books)

He and his fellow escapee filled their pants full of a high-calorie mixture of chocolate and nuts from Red Cross packages and slipped into a manhole in the shower. When the other POWs emerged to be counted, the Germans noticed the missing men and found them in the manhole.

Ash and his partner couldn’t let the Nazis know about the survival food the men used to prepare for an escape, so they ate it all. They were pulled from the shower with their faces covered in chocolate.

5. Walking Out the Front Door.

At one point, he joined up with a group of Soviet detainees on a slave labor detail. As they walked out of the prison on their way to work, Bill Ash worked his way into the group and attempted to make his exit from from the front gates.

Ash was liberated by Allied forces after a final escape in April 1945. His exploits as an escapee and the unbelievable amount of time he spent in solitary confinement (aka “the cooler) for those exploits may have earned him a spot in Hollywood lore.

According to his New York Times obituary, the character Virgil “the Cooler King” Hilts in the 1963 film “The Great Escape” was famously portrayed by Steve McQueen.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Ash denied the character was supposed to be him. He maintained that even though the escape from Stalag Luft III depicted in the film was real, he could not have joined it – he was in the cooler at the time.

Ash’s exploits are recounted in 2015’s “Under the Wire: The World War II Adventures of a Legendary Escape Artist and ‘Cooler King.’ ”

Ash died in 2014 at 96.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coast Guard commander returned to an ambush to save Navy operators

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Paul A. Yost, Jr., later a Commandant of the Coast Guard, was leading a group of 13 swift boats during the insertion of Navy Underwater Demolition Team-13 and some Vietnamese marines when his column came under attack from a Viet Cong ambush that managed to heavily damage multiple boats, kill American and Vietnamese troops, and isolate the last boat.


 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Naval War College Museum)

When Yost found out that his last boat was trapped in the kill zone and his other ships weren’t in shape to recover it, he took his command boat and one other back into the kill zone to rescue the sailors who were still under attack.

The 13-boat movement was part of Operation Silver Mace II, which was put into action to break up Viet Cong operations in that section of Vietnam. The boats were to drop off the ground forces and then provide support from the river. The first five boats reached the insertion points for their marines and completed their mission without incident.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Naval War College Museum)

The other eight boats continued upriver. When they went to drop off their marines, a U.S. Marine major assigned as an advisor went to Yost and asked that the Vietnamese marines be dropped another mile upriver because the going was hard and no Viet Cong activity had been spotted. Yost agreed.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Riverine craft make their way up a narrow river in Vietnam. PCF-23 was one of the craft involved in Operation Silver Mace II. (Photo: Naval War College Museum)

Just to be safe, Yost ordered the two Seawolf attack helicopters assigned to him be launched. They were based on a ship 15 minutes away, meaning they would arrive as the boats got to the more dangerous parts of the river.

But Yost’s superior, Navy Capt. Roy Hoffman, ordered the helicopters to sit tight, possibly to ensure that they wouldn’t run out of fuel before they were needed. Yost wasn’t told of the change.

A short time later, everything went sideways. The eight boats were proceeding upriver when PCF-5, the lead boat, was suddenly hit with a claymore mine from the riverbank. More claymores, rockets, and machine gun fire rained down on the boats.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Naval War College Museum)

Yost was in the second boat and ordered it to push through the kill zone, and the rest of the column followed.

The rear boat, PCF-43, was the slowest and needed maintenance, according to then-Lt. j.g. Virgil A. Erwin III — a boat commander during the operations. In addition to its maintenance issues, it was weighed down with 800 pounds of explosives, 10 UDTs, and all of their gear.

That boat was unable to keep up with the rest of the column as they pushed through the kill zone, and it was left as the sole target for a few fatal seconds during the ambush. The corpsman on board was hit with a rocket and killed just before another rocket struck the cabin, killing the boat commander and severely wounding the two others in the cabin.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Naval War College Museum)

The boat ran out of control and beached itself, hard, on a mudbank. It hit so hard that it slid most of the way out of the water, leaving the engine’s water intake above the waterline and making it impossible for the boat to propel itself back off.

As the engine overheated, the UDT members jumped from the boat and established a defensive perimeter behind it, using the wreck as cover from the Viet Cong fire coming from a mere 20 feet away.

The closest boat, PCF-38, attempted to assist PCF-43, but their steering gear was damaged and they were forced to head back upriver. Once they reached the lead perimeter, they alerted Yost to the state of PCF-43.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Naval War College Museum)

Yost took his craft, PCF-31, and the former lead boat, PCF-5, back downriver. Once they reached the ambush site, 5 and 31 began pouring .50-cal. rounds into the jungle and forced the Viet Cong fighters to take cover. As 5 kept the fire up, Yost and 31 pulled up to the stricken 43 and began evacuating the wounded and dead.

The two crafts escaped with 15 survivors and the bodies of the two men killed in action.

Just a few hours later, PCF-43 exploded. The most likely cause was that the engines, which typically were cooled by water flowing through the engine for propulsion, had overheated and set fire to the leaking fuel. The fuel ignited the explosives and the whole thing burned hot until the boat itself exploded.

Yost was later awarded the Silver Star for his part in the fight. In 1986, he became the 18th Commandant of the Coast Guard.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The only legal pirate ship of the 20th century was the Goodyear blimp

There’s a lot to unpack in this headline – the legality of pirates, why there would be pirates in the 20th century, how they came to be flying the Goodyear Blimp of all things, and what would be the best way to be a pirate when your only ship is an unarmed airship that proudly displayed your tire company of choice.

First, let’s talk about legal piracy.


This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Definitely not your torrent collection. If you don’t know what torrents are, then you’re probably good.

Know that “piracy” is always illegal, and the only time it’s not against the law is when we agree to call it something else. In the old days – that is the old days of wooden sailing ships – ships known as “privateers” sailed the high seas. These were privately owned and operated ships that were allowed to board and capture this ship of a particular nation, claiming it and its cargo as prizes. A privateer is not a pirate for one simple reason: the privateer carries a Letter of Marque.

A Letter of Marque is issued by one country, listing the specific assets available to the privateer, the enemy nation from which those assets can be seized or destroyed, and the authorization for the privateer to do it in the name of the issuing country. Famous privateers include Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh (who raided Spanish gold ships for the English) and the Goodyear Blimp Resolute.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Wait, what?

(U.S. Navy Photo)

For the first time since the War of 1812, the President, through Congress, issued a Letter of Marque to a civilian ship. In this case, the letter of marque allowed the private-owned airship to search for Japanese submarines in the Pacific Ocean, and allowed its crew to be armed without violating any laws of armed conflict.

And it was. The Resolute was based in Los Angeles and was used in regular patrols of the Pacific Ocean, searching for Japanese submarines operating along the United States West Coast. Its crews’ only armament was small arms, but there was little chance of the airship successfully boarding and capturing a Japanese submarine. The airship would just have radioed the location of the submarine to ships who could come do something about it.

Too bad there would be no chance of taking prize money.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 legendary speeches delivered on D-Day over 75 years

June 6, 2019, marks 75 years since D-Day, when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

On June 6, 1944, roughly 160,000 troops landed in Normandy, France, on five beaches with the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

D-Day involved astonishing coordination between Allied forces. Over 13,000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines before daybreak. At approximately 6:30 am, the first wave of assault troops hit the beach.

It was one of the most important moments in the war and represented the largest amphibious invasion in world history. D-Day marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany, which would surrender less than a year later in May 1945.


But it was by no means an easy victory, and cost many lives along the way: roughly 22,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on June 6 alone.

On that day, and in the seven and half decades since, world leaders have delivered legendary speeches about D-Day — including on the blood-stained beaches where it occurred.

Here are five of the most powerful speeches on D-Day.

D-Day Prayer

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day Speech

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Normandy Speech: President Reagan’s Address Commemorating 40th Anniversary of Normandy/D-Day 6/6/84

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President Obama Commemorates the 70th Anniversary of D-Day

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The Queen pays tribute to D-Day veterans

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

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This Delta Force rescue was the first attack of ‘Operation Just Cause’

As the United States was preparing to carry out the invasion of Panama, dubbed “Operation Just Cause,” there was a very real problem that had to be dealt with before any meaningful operation against Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega could take place.


The regime had an American hostage in its prison, and the guards where this hostage was being held had orders to kill him if America attacked.

According to an account posted on SpecialOperations.com, Kurt Muse had been making pirate radio broadcasts until he was arrested in early 1989. He’d received some technical assistance from the CIA to make those broadcasts, which had the goal of taking Noriega down a peg or two.

Muse would daily hear – or see – Noriega’s thugs torture inmates at the prison.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A MH-6 Little Bird carrying troops on the outrigger, similar to the technique used during Operation Acid Gambit. (DOD photo)

As tensions increased, Muse was visited by a military officer, later identified as Air Force Col. James A. Ruffer, who would pass reports to Delta Force. The special operators constructed a full-scale mock-up of the prison where Muse was held captive, and the Delta commandos carried out numerous rehearsals.

On December 19, 1989, Muse would receive his last visit. In the presence of reporters, prison guards, and others, the colonel asked Muse if he was aware that orders had been issued by Noriega to kill him if the United States carried out any military action against Panama.

Muse said he understood.

The colonel then made a statement that if Muse were to be harmed, nobody in the prison would emerge alive.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A US Army MH-6 Little Bird. (DOD photo)

Muse knew that something was up.

At 12:45 AM on the morning of Dec. 20, 15 minutes before the official H-Hour, two AH-6 Little Bird helicopters carried out an attack on a nearby military compound using M134 Miniguns and Hydra rockets. One of the helicopters would be damaged and forced to crash-land, with the crew making an escape.

Two AC-130H Spectres then carried out their own attack on that compound, using a tactic called “Top Hat.” The massive volume of fire from the gunships had the effect of drawing the attention of Noriega’s goons.

As that went on, MH-6 Little Birds landed on the roof of the prison and deposited Delta commandos. The operators went through the prison, killing anyone who resisted the rescue. They reached Muse’s cell, forced it open, bundled Muse into body armor and a helmet, then began their exfil.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A M113 armored personnel carrier. (DOD photo)

The MH-6 Muse was loaded on took some hits. In a display of superb airmanship, the pilot would fly the helo down a side street until it was hit again and crashed. Ironically, Muse would help defend the perimeter until they were retrieved by U.S. Army armored personnel carriers.

Operation “Acid Gambit” ended with the mission accomplished.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time ‘Fighting Dick’ fought ‘Fightin’ Dick’ at Antietam

High-ranking officers often have monikers that accompany them for their military prowess in battle or how they conduct themselves. General “Mad Dog” Mattis was given his by the press after his “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet” speech. Colonel “Mad Jack” Churchill got his when the British Expeditionary Force moved in on France and he became the only Brit to score a long bow kill in WWII.


Rarely will a moniker be used for more than one military leader, especially within the same time or military. Even more rare is when they two meet on opposite ends of the battlefield. This is exactly what happened when Maj. Gen. “Fighting Dick” Richardson fought Maj. Gen. “Fightin’ Dick” Anderson for the “Bloody Lane” at Antietam during the Civil War.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Bloody Lane was smack-dab in the middle of the battle. (Image via Wikicommons)

Israel B. Richardson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fighting Dick” after his last name. He lead the 1st Division of the II Corps into the Battle of Antietam.

And in the other corner, Richard H. Anderson was a United States Army officer who fought in the Mexican-American War and was eventually promoted to Major General while serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was nicknamed “Fightin’ Dick” after his first name. He lead the appropriately named “Anderson’s Division,” who were tasked with defending the Sunken Road.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
The Sunken Road would later be known as Bloody Lane after the fighting ended. (Image via History)

On Sept. 17, 1862, 87,000 Union troops met the 38,000 Confederates near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Richardson’s men charged the road to pierce through the Confederate defenses. For nearly four hours, both sides fought until Union troops finally took the hill. However, Union troops were not able to hold the new ground and were forced back. The battle was declared tactically inconclusive but was a strategic victory for Richardson.

Both “Fighting Dicks” were critically wounded in battle; Anderson was wounded in the thigh and Richardson was struck by a shell fragment. Anderson would recover and continue on fighting into Gettysburg and Appomattox, but Richardson’s wound became infected and he passed of pneumonia nearly a month later.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How one man defeated the US military by enlisting 8 times

In 1980, Walter Banks Beacham enlisted in the United States Navy. He was excited for the signing bonus of $4,000, a cool $12,000 when adjusted for inflation in 2018. In 1984, Mark Richard Gerardi joined the U.S. Army Reserve. In 1986, Cedrick L. Houston joined the Navy. The next year, Chris Villanueva joined the Army. Zachary Pitt joined the Navy in 1989. And, finally, in 1992, George Perez joined the Army.

The trouble was that these were all the same person.


Beacham assumed the identities of six different individuals he came across through his life in coastal California. The Oakland native even somehow managed to enlist as himself, social security number and all, twice. The Los Angeles Times reported that Beacham was able to do this because he looked like he could be any of a number of ethnicities and he was able to procure fake drivers’ licenses, social security cards, and other identifying paperwork to support his claims.

Keep in mind, this was during the height of the Cold War and military recruiters have quotas to make. They relied a lot on personal integrity to make sure they put good — and real — people into the U.S. military. And there was a time when young Walter Beacham really did want to serve his country, but he failed to adapt to military life when it counted, and the rest is history.

*Note: Beacham is not in any of the photos below. I used photos that give an idea of how much time passes.

1. Walter Banks Beacham

The first time he enlisted, Beacham was drawn in by the guaranteed signing bonus and he really wanted to defend his country. When the recruiter came to his home, he saw Beacham and a few of his friends sitting, smoking, and drinking. He was able to recruit them all.

But the Navy wasn’t really for him. After six weeks and a few AWOL incidents at boot camp near San Diego, he was done.

“I put away my uniform, I got my money, I took a cab out of the front gate and then a Greyhound to L.A.,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

What graduating from Army basic training looked like in 1980.

2. Walter Banks Beacham, Jr.

Maybe it wasn’t the military that was the problem — maybe he just wasn’t cut out for the Navy. Six months after leaving the Navy, he was on a bus, headed for Army basic training. This time, he simply threw a “Jr.” on the end of his name. When the Army asked if he’d ever served before, he said no, and that was that.

For about six months.

The Army eventually realized his Social Security Number matched that used during his previous, Navy life and he was promptly discharged from the U.S. Army.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

What graduating from the Navy’s boot camp looked like in 1980.

3. Walter Banks Beacham

When he got back to his native Oakland, it was only three months before he decided to give the life of a sailor another chance. He dreamed of foreign lands and exotic ports and was ready to forego the sign-on bonus (if necessary). He again used his real name and was shipped back to San Diego. He made it through five weeks this time.

“I would have made it through but, five weeks into it, they found drugs in my urine and one of the company commanders was still there from the time before and he saw my name on a list,” Beacham said. “I went AWOL.”

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

A U.S. Army Korean DMZ patrol in 1984.

4. Mark Richard Gerardi

In 1984, he joined the Army again, this time using an alias of his high-school friend. Beacham borrowed his friend’s diploma and birth certificate and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training — which he completed.

He was sent back to California, attached to a unit in San Francisco, and eventually sent over to Korea for three weeks. It was all for naught when he got a girl pregnant and then left her. She threatened to turn him in to the Army. Beacham tried to play it cool, but eventually bolted. He never heard from them again.

“I guess they just cut you loose after awhile. I don’t know,” Beacham told the Los Angeles Times.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Navy boot camp graduates in San Diego, 1986.

5. Cedrick L. Houston

In 1986, Beacham used the name of someone he met in Hollywood who was trying to be a dancer. He told the aspiring dancer he would get him work if he could use his identification papers… to join the Navy.

He actually finished Navy basic training this time around and was sent to learn to be a submariner on the East Coast of the United States. Of course, it didn’t last. He used a racial slur during the course of his duties and the Navy ended up booting him out for it.

“I was selling doughnuts on the base there until classes started and I called this sailor a silly-ass cracker,” Beacham said.
“And they put me out of the Navy for that.”

6. Chris Villanueva

Back in California in 1987 and using the name Walter Banks Beacham again, he went down to Glendale, outside of Los Angeles, to join the Army as a truck driver, which is where he got his new name, Chris Villanueva. The real Villanueva was an unemployed truck driver Beacham ran into in the Valley one day. The born-again Villanueva (Beacham) was sent to basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. and was sent to Germany right after.

He survived another boot camp only to come under suspicion for some cocaine found in soldier’s duffel bags while in Germany. He was afraid he would get arrested for it, so he went AWOL again and headed for home.

7. Zachary Pitt

Beacham doesn’t even remember the real Zachary Pitt, but the new Zachary Pitt made it through Navy training in San Diego in 1989 and was inducted into the Navy as a Mess Management Specialist — better known as “a cook.” When his ship was set to leave for Japan, Zachary Pitt just walked out and disappeared.

“I met him in the Bay Area. I don’t even remember if he was white or Mexican,” Beacham said of the real Zachary Pitt.
This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Army basic training graduates in 1992.

8. George Perez

In his last enlistment in 1992, he left before he even received his signing bonus. Now George Perez, Beacham completed Army basic training at Fort Bliss in Texas and was back at Fort Sill for AIT, where he became an artillery unit’s forward observer. This time, he just couldn’t do it.

“Something happened,” he recalled later. “I couldn’t stick around. Time was choking up on me. I was in trouble for staying out late, and I was afraid I’d be busted right then.”

Eventually, he was caught by civilian police officers and turned over to the U.S. military, who court-martialed him on multiple counts of wrongful enlistment, AWOL charges, and desertion. At age 34, he pled guilty to all of them. The old U.S. military would have executed this guy. Luckily for Beacham, there was no war on and he spent just under eight months in an Army prison and was released with a dishonorable discharge.

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This is how presidents-elect learn about covert operations before they’re sworn in

Now that the Republican Party has officially nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president, briefers from intelligence agencies will soon begin detailing America’s current covert operations to both Trump and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.


And that’s if they haven’t already begun.

So how does a presidential candidate — and later a president-elect — get caught up on everything that’s going on in the cloak-and-dagger world of international intelligence?

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
President Barack Obama receives his daily intelligence briefing. Presidential candidates will not receive his level of information, but presidents-elect do. (Photo: White House Photographer Pete Souza)

Intelligence officials give them a series of briefings that former NSA Director Michael Hayden described as “a college seminar on steroids.”

When possible, the briefings take place in secure areas. But more often than not, briefers are sent to meet candidates and presidents-elect where they are.

In 1992, the Deputy Director of the CIA flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, and rented a cheap motel room to inconspicuously brief then-President-elect Bill Clinton.

When candidates are on the campaign trail, the briefers plan spots on the route where they can establish a temporarily secure area to brief.

These initial briefings to candidates are not as in depth as the president’s daily brief. The idea isn’t to give the candidate a detailed breakdown of each operation and how it works, it’s to give them a broad understanding of what America is doing around the world and why.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that all major candidates for president must receive the same intelligence briefing. (Photo: Kit Fox/Medill)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that each candidate receives the exact same briefing. But this wasn’t always the case.

For instance, the intel briefings were first given to Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 election. During the run-up to Election Day, Eisenhower was receiving more sensitive information than Stevenson. This was because Eisenhower had extensive experience with intelligence from his command time in World War II, while Stevenson did not.

Once a candidate is selected, though, the briefings become more detailed and some of them become decision briefs. Even though the president-elect is not yet in charge, the intelligence agencies have to be prepared to immediately execute his or her orders on Inauguration Day.

The president-elect receives a roughly complete copy of the president’s daily brief — sometimes as early as election night. The only information omitted is operational information that isn’t useful to the president-elect.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
President John F. Kennedy was a war hero and senator before campaigning for the presidency. But he didn’t gain access to America’s top intelligence until after winning the election. (Photo: National Archives)

For presidents-elect who need a primer on intelligence, such as John Kennedy, there will also be a series of general briefings to provide context and understanding. For those with an extensive intelligence background, such as former Vice President and Director of Central Intelligence George H.W. Bush, the general briefings are skipped.

Once the president-elect has a base of knowledge about the situation, senior intelligence officials begin coming to him or her for their expected orders on Jan. 20. If the president-elect wants to cancel a covert operation or change its course, the decision is made ahead of time so the agency can prepare.

In 2000, then-President-elect Barack Obama made it clear that the detention and interrogation program would cease the moment he was in charge. That allowed Hayden to prepare to cut that program while keeping most other covert operations going full-bore.

You can learn a lot more about these briefings and their history in former-CIA Analyst John L. Helgerson’s book, Getting to Know the President. The book is available for free on the CIA’s website.

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How this brave Marine saved the day at Tarawa Atoll

“If you are qualified, fate has a way of getting you to the right place at the right time – tho’ sometimes it appears to be a long, long wait,” professed Marine Col. Dave Shoup.


Fate was certainly on Shoup’s side at Tarawa Atoll, and he didn’t shrink from the occasion.

The 38-year-old Indiana native was one of the four Marines awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Tarawa Atoll in November 1943, one of the most brutal engagements fought in the Pacific during WWII.

Shoup was the only recipient to survive the battle and receive this honor in person.

The battle as a whole was plagued by bad planning and poor decision making, but individual acts of heroism and the sheer willpower of the troops engaged in combat won the day for the Americans.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
General David M. Shoup (1904-1983), Medal of Honor recipient and 22nd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps (1960-1963). (Photo courtesy of the United States Marine Corps)

Shoup was born in December 1904 on a farm in Battle Ground, Indiana, near the site of General William H. Harrison’s victory at Tippecanoe in 1811. Shoup would mirror the same bold leadership qualities of the leader of that battle fought in his backyard 90 years before.

Upon completing high school, Shoup desired to attend college and not remain as an “Indiana plowboy” for the remainder of his life. He attended DePauw University as an ROTC student and successfully graduated in 1926. He transferred to the Marines in the same year after spending only one month in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

Leading up to 1943, Shoup spent time on a number of assignments in the United States, China, and Iceland. He slowly climbed up the ranks in his 15 years of service leading up to WWII, when he was promoted to colonel.

He had a reputation of being a straightforward officer, earning the praise of the men under his command for sharing in their hardships on and off the battlefield. One correspondent described him as “a squat red-faced man, with a bull neck,” known by those who surrounded him as a “profane shouter of orders.”

The greatest trial of Shoup’s life came during the invasion of the Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.

Tarawa Atoll consisted of a series of islands surrounded by a large coral reef stretching up to 1,100 yards from the shoreline. The Japanese occupied Tarawa Atoll in December 1941 and spent two years leading up to the battle turning it into a formidable obstacle. They fortified the islands with barbed wire and a network of trenches and built an airfield.

The Japanese garrison consisted of about 5,000 men, all willing to die to the last man. Occupation of the island was critical for the U.S. to establish forward operating bases in the Pacific, and the Japanese continued to fortify it up to the day of the invasion.

Shoup was one of the 20,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to land at Tarawa Atoll on November 20, 1943. The Marine division — meshed with veterans of Guadalcanal and raw recruits — made their way to the beach transported by amtracs and landing craft.

The small perimeter of the beachhead became cluttered with bodies and debris as parties of Marines attempted to gain a foothold and power their way inland, while exposed to a barrage of Japanese machine gun and mortar fire. Chaos reigned supreme as the some of the vehicles loaded with reinforcements became bogged down on the reef.

For a time, it appeared the attack on Tarawa Atoll would falter, as many men were pinned down in the shallow water near the reef, either unable or unwilling to move to reinforce the beachhead.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
U.S. Marines storm the beach at Tarawa Atoll, November 1943. (U.S. Archives)

Shoup ordered his men to advance forward from the reef to the beachhead as Japanese artillery, machine gun barrages, and rifle fire rained down on them. Suddenly, a Japanese mortar round exploded nearby, flinging shrapnel into his legs.

He refused to be evacuated despite the severity of the debilitating wound.

At one point, the defiant colonel shouted to his men, “Are there any of you cowardly sons of bitches got the guts to follow a colonel of the Marines?” The Marines were inspired by his valor and selflessness, and followed him forward.

Shoup assumed command of all land troops upon reaching the beachhead. He ignored the agony of his wounds, and marched up and down the line with his pistol unholstered, coolly directing the advance of Marines further inland.

Success was measured in yards, and the Marines methodically overcame the Japanese defenses.

By the time the battle ended, less than 200 of the original 4,000-man Japanese garrison remained to surrender. They had inflicted a staggering 3,000 casualties on the Second Marine Division. Shoup remained on his feet directing the fight for about 50 hours, finally relinquishing command to be treated for his wounds only when most of Tarawa Atoll was in Americans hands.

Without Shoup’s direction and valor, Tarawa Atoll may well have been a catastrophic defeat. Shoup lived for another 40 years until his death in 1983 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This medieval warrior was the first to use a now-famous insult

Götz von Berlichingen was known for a lot of things. The most obvious was that he lost an arm to cannon fire in the heat of battle. Unfortunately for him, it was his right arm, the one that swung swords and dealt death. Unfortunately for all of his enemies, he wouldn’t die until age 82 – and he had a mechanical arm built just so he could keep killing them all.

That’s not even his most enduring legacy.


He was the first to tell an enemy to kiss his ass.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

The phrase caught on like wildfire.

When your name is literally pronounced “Guts,” it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It took him only three years to get sick of fighting for God and country for the Holy Roman Empire. So, the young von Berlichingen turned to fighting for something more tangible: money. He and his squad of Teutonic mercenaries fought for all levels of feudal lords and barons — anyone who could afford to have a soon-to-be legendary badass on their side.

It was in 1504, while fighting to take Landshut for the Duke of Bavaria, that a cannonball lopped his arm off at the elbow. He had two prosthetic arms created for himself – and one of them could still hold his sword or shield. So, von Berlichingen continued to make money the best way he knew how.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

This time, he was more machine than man.

The knight seized merchant shipping, kidnapped nobles for ransom, and raided towns around Germany as a means of making money. This, unfortunately, earned him few powerful friends, and he found himself banned from the Holy Roman Empire on multiple occasions. He was even captured and held for ransom himself.

After his final ban, he joined the German peasants in exacting revenge on the leadership of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite that failure, he fought on until he was captured again. When finally liberated by Charles V, he was forced into a sort of house arrest, only allowed to come out in case Charles needed his services.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Of course Charles needed his services. You would, too.

Berlichingen would assist German knights in fighting the Ottoman under Suleiman the Magnificent and invade France against the famous King Francois I. By then, however, he had already uttered his famous phrase. It was somewhere near Baden-Wurttemburg, while under siege, that the seemingly-immortal knight received a surrender demand. He was not impressed by it at all. He returned it with a famous response, telling the Swabian army (and their leaders) to kiss his ass.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Though some translations have it as “lick my ass.”

After he was sick of mercilessly slaughtering Europeans all over the continent, Götz von Berlichingen decided to sit down and write his memoirs, which were apparently the greatest story ever told in German for the longest time. The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe penned a 1773 drama that is still retold to this very day, based solely on the story of von Berlichingen’s account of his life.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Aerial combat has been around for a little over 100 years, and during that time there have already been plenty of epic air battles in the skies. Here are 7 of the most intense:


1. Battle of the Philippine Sea

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A Japanese bomb nearly hits an American ship during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. (Photo: US Navy)

The Japanese fleet securing the Marianas Islands in 1944 was in a tough spot. If it gave up any more ground, America would have bases to attack Japan and the Japanese-occupied Philippines. So, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet was spotted on its way to Saipan, the Japanese attacked it.

The 430 Japanese aircraft were spotted by naval radar operators and the U.S. planes launched to fight over the Pacific. In the end, the American fleet lost 29 planes but downed a stunning 365 and sank two Japanese carriers, sending an estimated 115 more planes to the deep.

2. The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

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(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs moved to destroy Syrian surface-to-air missile sites on Jun. 9, 1982, successfully knocking out 17 of the 19 missile batteries in the first two hours. The Syrians launched their own jets to fight back, 100 of them.

And the Israelis stomped them. The air battle ran for two days and the Israelis scored 29 jet kills the first day and 35 the second without the loss of a single fighter.

READ MORE: This dogfight with nearly 200 jets was like the Battle of Britain on steroids

3. The Battle of Britain

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Photo: Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry

In Sep. 1940, Britain had already endured months of Luftwaffe attacks with over 1,000 bombers striking the country nearly every day. But on Sep. 15, the British launched a counterattack to cripple the Luftwaffe.

At the end of the battle, 40 Royal Air Force planes and many crews were lost, but 56 German craft were downed and Germany was forced to cease daylight bombing raids.

4. Black Tuesday over MiG Alley

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US Air Force F-86 Sabres flying over Korea. Photo: US Air Force

On Oct. 23, 1951, nine U.S. bombers with 89 jets escorting them stumbled into a group of 150 MiG-15s over MiG alley in Korea. The furious 20-minute battle resulted in six downed bombers and an escort lost. The Americans were able to down four of the Russian MiGs attacking them.

5. The Ofira Air Battle

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Mig-17 wreckage from the Ofira Air Battle. Photo: Israel Defense Forces

In one of the first engagements of the Yom Kippur War, Syrian and Egyptian jets moved to bomb the Israeli aircraft at a base near Ofira. Two Israeli F-4s were in the air and took insult at 28 MiGs thinking they could just bomb Israelis whenever they liked.

So, the two Israeli jets turned into the enemy formation and downed seven of them in six minutes. The attackers decided seven was enough and bugged out.

6. The first jets fight the Allies over Berlin

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A captured Me-262 was test flown by the US. Photo: US Army Air Force

In the dawn of jet combat, a group of German Me-262 jet fighters attacked an Allied formation of 1,329 bombers and 700 fighters. The numbers reported for the German jets vary, but most estimates are between 35 and 60.

The small German force used air-to-air rockets and jet engines, both new technologies at the time, to down 13 bombers and six fighters. Two German aircraft were shot down.

7. The air battle over the St. Mihiel Salient in WWI

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Photo: US Army Air Force

In one of history’s largest and earliest air battles, nearly 1,500 Allied planes under the command of the First U.S. Army Air Force.

From Sep. 12-16, 1918, 610,000 men fought for the ground at St. Mihiel as the air forces clashed overhead. Despite a limited number of fighters and severe losses on the ground, German gave as good as they got in the air battle. They fought for control of the air for the first two days of the battle and killed 62 enemy aircraft while losing 63 of their own birds. The Germans did lose 30 balloons to the Allied loss of 4 though.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how a dress code change won us Guadalcanal

The spirit of the thing started with neckties.


It was the first year of full-on naval warfare in the Pacific following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Navy had a morale problem.

In the absence of Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, overall command of U.S. operations in the region had collapsed into timorous indecision and defensive-mindedness. After a string of bold victories by sea, land, and air, the US was losing the initiative and it was entirely a question of leadership.

The opening months of the Pacific campaign against Imperial Japan were defined by a profound shift in how the naval brass regarded warfare at sea. They went into it thinking that winning sea engagements would amount to outgunning the enemy, battleship vs. battleship, while their aircraft carriers provided defensive air support against submarines and shore-based bombers.

That proved to be firmly 19th century thinking, as vessel-based aircraft quickly proved themselves deadly against ships of all sizes and armaments.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Naval air power was where it was at. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
The USS Enterprise endures an attack from a Japanese bomber during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Halsey was an early adopter of the aircraft carrier’s offensive potential, summing up his preferred strategy as follows:

…get to the other fellow with everything you have as fast as you can and…dump it on him.

Halsey was a born brawler.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

He made his name going punch for punch with the Japanese, always on offense, always pressing the message that, far from being cowed by its losses at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was energized and hungry for a fight.

Halsey’s Carrier Division 2 had spent the spring of 1942 executing a series of run-and-gun raids that had captured the imaginations of the public and the momentum of battle for the U.S. His audacity culminated with the Doolittle Raid, the retaliatory bombing run against Tokyo, which shattered Japanese certainty that their homeland was unassailable.

But Halsey was sidelined that summer by the mother-of-all tropical skin conditions, causing him to miss out on the Battle of Midway, where the U.S. decisively crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy. And as the war in the Pacific shifted to a series of amphibious assaults on Japanese-held islands, the momentum that Halsey had gained for the U.S. began to falter.

Nearly 11,000 Marines were dug in deep on Guadalcanal but were struggling to hold the position and it was becoming clear that Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, the man in charge of Pacific operations, was catastrophically unfit for his job. He was tactically indecisive, wedded to defensive posturing and perhaps worst of all, was suffering from a deep malaise that was spreading to the soldiers, sailors and Marines in his command.

On Oct. 18, 1942, Adm. Nimitz sent the recuperated Halsey in to replace Ghormley as Commander of the South Pacific. And one of Halsey’s first moves in that capacity was to issue an order stripping neckties from the uniforms of all naval officers.

Imagine the power of the message that order sent to sailors demoralized by weeks of stalemate and command-chain confusion. Like a gentleman who’d endured one insult too many, the Navy would now remove its finery and invite the Japanese to settle this little disagreement outside. All bets were off. All points of civility were suspended. Halsey’s Navy would be settling things old school, bare knuckles and mean. Reinvigorated by Halsey’s leadership, the Navy went on to win a series of pitched naval engagements that helped secure Guadalcanal for America.

Halsey’s strategy of pure aggression would get him into trouble in the later stages of the war, but the importance of his leadership at a critical phase of the War of the Pacific is undeniable. His ability to fire the fighting spirit, to boost morale in his command, was indispensable as the U.S. vied for control of the Pacific against the most implacable enemy it had every faced.

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