One of the first-ever Special Forces underwater operations wasn’t targeted against an enemy. Rather, it was to assist in the search and recovery of 26 Americans who had perished in a freak aircraft collision.
On March 7, 1958, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) R4Q (C-119) “Flying Boxcar” transport and a United States Navy (USN) AD-6 Skyraider fighter were returning to Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base (AFB) after a mission in the Philippines. As they prepared for their final approach to the base, the weather suddenly turned to rain, seriously limiting visibility. The pilots, thus, decided to make an instrument landing.
At that crucial moment, however, the Navy Skyraider lost its communication with both the USMC transport and the control tower. The Marine pilots frantically tried to reach their Navy colleague on the radio, to no avail. Moments later, the Skyraider smashed into the fuselage of the R4Q, turning both aircraft into a fireball of debris and human flesh.
After the aircraft were lost from the radar, the call went out to the standby Search-and-Rescue (SAR) crews. SAR planes and helicopters from Naha AFB and other bases scrambled into action and scoured the cold Pacific Ocean for traces of the wreckage with hopes of finding survivors. After days of futilely combing the ocean, the search was called off.
In the end, the wreckage of both aircraft was discovered on the floor of the Pacific about three miles offshore. Faced with a delicate and complex recovery effort, the Marine Corps and Navy turned to the Green Berets of the 1st Special Forces Group (SFG). Dive operational detachments were then assigned to the task. In the end, after herculean efforts, they managed to recover all 26 bodies.
In the wake of their success, the Commanding General of the IX Corps sent a letter to the 1st SFG.
“In times of such tragedy and sorrow, it is most gratifying to know that local military personnel and organizations, as exemplified by the First Special Forces Group (Airborne), may be relied upon to render promptly such outstanding professional assistance,” he wrote. “I am confident that the parents, wives and loved ones of the deceased share my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for [your] outstanding contribution…to the successful accomplishment of the search and salvage operation.”
Tragically, a number of the Green Berets who participated in the recovery operations would be killed in action in Vietnam a few years later.
The year 1958 was a bad one for the C-119. In total, an astounding five aircraft were lost due to accidents, with a total loss of life of 34 servicemembers. But the venerable Flying Boxcar continued to serve in numerous capacities in the U.S. military for a number of years.
This article was originally published in June 2020.
Sitting in the White House reading the citation for the Medal of Honor doesn’t give the real flavor of why retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer and special warfare operator Britt K. Slabinski is receiving the award.
The nicely air conditioned room with comfortable chairs, impeccable floors, historic artwork and gilt on many surfaces isn’t right, somehow.
The dispassionate words on the award talk of Slabinski’s heroism in assaulting bunkers, rallying his men, and going back into the center of the firefight.
The White House is literally half a world away from a mountain in Afghanistan in 2002, where Slabinski — and America — lost seven good men.
When the master chief talks of the action, you realize he is reliving his time atop Takur Ghar — a 10,000-foot mountain near Ghazni, on March 4, 2002. He is remembering his decisions. He is remembering what he felt. And he is remembering his brothers who were killed.
He speaks in present tense, because in his mind’s eye. It is still happening.
‘I Was Just Doing My Job’
He believes he did nothing special. “I was just doing my job that day,” Slabinski said during an interview.
Slabinski — then a senior chief petty officer — and his men were just supposed to set up an overwatch position on the mountain to support the conventional forces in the valley below. “Now the enemy gets a vote,” he said. “We plan, we train, we rehearse and we rehearse some more for every possible contingency, but sometimes the fog and friction of war is just out of your control and a leader has to adapt.”
The team was aboard an Army MH-47 helicopter and as it was landing, well dug-in al-Qaida fighters opened up. “When we land, the ramp goes down,” he said. “I’m standing on the very back of the helicopter … and almost immediately take an RPG rocket to the side of the aircraft. It goes off, fills the aircraft full of smoke and we are getting shot up right away. There’s bullets flying through the aircraft the size of your finger [from] 12.7 machine guns that were up there.”
The pilot was able to take off, but the bird was wounded and experienced what Slabinski called “the worst turbulence you could imagine.”
Those gyrations caused Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts to fall off the ramp. The crew chief grabbed Roberts’ pack, and the weight of the SEAL pulled him off the ramp, too. But the crew chief was tethered into the aircraft and was able to get back in. Roberts fell 10 feet into the meter-deep snow.
“It happens that fast,” Slabinski said as he snapped his fingers.
He told the pilot that he had lost a man, but with the chopper’s hydraulics shot out, there was no way the bird could circle and retrieve him. “[The pilot] was flying a brick,” Slabinski said. “It was basically a controlled crash into the enemy-held valley.”
The master chief assessed the situation. “Now my mission originally was to support the overwatch, then my teammate Neil fell out, and now I have a downed helicopter I have to deal with,” he said.
Calling For Support
The first problem he dealt with was the helicopter, and he called in a second aircraft to take the crew and team to a safe place. Once there, Slabinski was able to focus his attention on Neil.
The information he received was Roberts was alive. “I knew there was a superior enemy force up there and they had heavier weapons than I had,” he said.
The enemy, the cold, the altitude — “Everything that could be stacked against us, was stacked against us going back, and I had the feeling that this was a one-way trip,” he said. “I knew though, that if I go now, there’s a chance I could rescue Neil. I knew if I tried to develop a battle plan more on my terms, it would certainly be better, but I knew Neil didn’t have that time.”
The weight was on Slabinski’s shoulders. “I remember sitting in the helicopter,” he said. “The [rotors are] turning, it’s cold, trying to sort through the tactical piece of it … and this thought keeps coming back to me: If I go now what’s the cost going to be versus the cost if I wait. If you are the leader and you have peoples’ lives that you are responsible for, the decisions don’t come easy.”
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Matthew R. Loken)
This was Slabinski’s loneliest moment. He was sitting in the chopper with a headset on and people are talking to him. He was thinking of all the tactical problems and the lives. “And this thought kept coming back to me, and it’s the first line of the Boy Scout Oath … ‘On my honor, I will do my best,'” said Slabinski, who attained the rank of Eagle Scout at his hometown troop in Northampton, Massachusetts “The only thing that is in the back of my mind is, ‘On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best, On my honor I will do my best.’
“That’s when I said, ‘I’m gonna go do this.'”
The master chief assigned his men jobs, and the pilot of the first aircraft, Army Chief Warrant Officer Al Mack, went up to Slabinski and told him he would be flying them back in the new MH-47, even though he had just survived a harrowing experience with the first helicopter.
There was no other place to land, so the team had to go right back to the place the first bird took the fire. As the chopper took off, it got quiet for Slabinski and he thought of his son, who was 6 years old at the time. “I remember saying, ‘I love you. Sorry for what’s to come. Be great,'” he said. “Then I put it in another room in my brain and went on with my duties.”
This Chinook also took fire coming in to the landing area, and as soon as the ramp went down, the team went off the back of the ramp. Two men went to the right, two to the left and the master chief and Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, went out together.
Slabinski and Chapman were hit by a burst of automatic weapons fire. “The burst hit John and he went down,” Slabinski said. “The bullets from the same burst went through my clothes on each side, and I jumped behind a rock.”
The belt-fed weapon kept firing at them. “I looked for John and he is lying in a very odd position, and I look to my other guys and they are engaged with another dug-in position and the two to my left are engaged there. There are enemy muzzle flashes on three sides.”
There is no cover, and Slabinski tosses two grenades at the bunker, but the position is too well dug in. He looks to his men and sees Chapman still in the same odd position and the others engaging the enemy. His M60 gunner is next to me. “I have a 40mm grenade launcher … and I have six grenades,” he said. “I’m too close to the big bunker because they won’t go off. They have to spin to arm.”
He fired at the farther bunkers and silenced those, but the big bunker remains a deadly problem. He has the M60-gunner fire on the bunker and he wants to charge to the bunker to clear it under the cover of that automatic fire. Before he could do that, a grenade flies out of the bunker and explodes right in front of the barrel of the M60, wounding the gunner.
Slabinski again assesses the situation. “The gunner is down. John hasn’t moved and my other two guys are still engaged in contact,” he said. “The plan in my head isn’t working so I have to do something different.”
(Painting by Keith Rocco)
He decided to get his small band out of direct fire. As he is doing that another SEAL was hit in the leg from the same machine gun Slabinski was trying to take out. “I sent the wounded over first and I crawled over to John, looking for some sign of life from John and didn’t get anything,” he said.
The place he chose to seek shelter from the fire was just about 30 feet away over the side of the mountain.
Slabinski called for support from an AC-130 gunship to hit the bunkers. At the same time as the aircraft was hitting the mountain he noticed shell fragments were landing around the team. Slabinski thinks at first it is the AC-130, but it is from an enemy mortar that is ranging his position.
He moves again to a more protected area and now the U.S. Army Ranger quick reaction force is coming in. The first chopper is hit and crashes on the top of the mountain. Slabinski contacted the second bird and it lands on another spit of land and the Rangers work their way to the SEAL position and attack up the mountain to secure the top.
The master chief can’t move his wounded to the top of the mountain, so he moved to a place he could secure and await medevac, which came that night.
Estimates of the number of al-Qaida fighters on the top of that mountain range between 40 and 100. They had heavy weapons galore with automatic machine guns, mortars, RPGs and recoilless rifles. It was the headquarters for al-Qaida operating against U.S. forces engaged in Operation Anaconda. The SEAL team went in to try to rescue Roberts with six men.
Footage taken by a remotely piloted vehicle and examined later showed that Chapman was not dead. The technical sergeant regained consciousness and engaged the enemy killing two of them — one in hand-to-hand combat. “I was 100 percent convinced that John was dead,” Slabinski said. “I never lost track of John.”
He never would have left the airman on that mountain, he said, if he thought for an instant that Chapman was alive.
For his actions that day, Slabinski received the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. As part of then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s directive to the services to re-examine all of the valor awards beginning in 2001, the Navy recommended upgrading that award to the Medal of Honor. The master chief — who retired from the Navy in 2014 — received a call from President Donald J. Trump in March telling him of the decision.
The master chief is conflicted about the award. He believes he was just doing his job and still feels the loss of the seven men — Navy, Army and Air Force — he served with that day. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said. “If I could give up this medal to have them back, I would.”
WWII pilot Capt. Jerry Yellin decided to join the military after the attack against Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
I decided at that moment that I was going to fly fighter planes against the Japanese.
And he did. A P-51 driver, he flew 19 missions in total — including the very last combat mission over Japan on Aug. 14, 1945. After the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Yellin said he didn’t think they’d ever have to fly again, but when Japan refused to surrender, he and his wingmen took to the skies.
On Aug. 13, four days after the bombing of Nagasaki, Yellin was ordered to fly a mission over Nagoya, a hub for Japanese aircraft manufacturing and war equipment production. Before takeoff, his wingman, Phil Schlamberg, told Yellin, “If we go on this mission, I’m not coming back.”
Yellin told his wingman to stay on his wing. They exchanged a thumbs up from their cockpits, but Schlamberg’s feeling proved to be true — he went missing during the mission.
It was the last combat mission of World War II, and according to Yellin, Schlamberg was the last casualty. To his dismay, Yellin learned that the Japanese had surrendered three hours before, but the pilots didn’t receive the message in time.
This year, Yellin took to the skies again in a Stearman PT-17, just like the one he trained in during the war at the once-called Thunderbird Field II at the Scottsdale Airport. His flight was part of a Veterans Day event to build a memorial to honor early aviation pioneers and veterans.
Having a museum to remind people of who we were then and what we are now is extremely, extremely important.
Check out Capt. Yellin’s flight and hear the inspiring vet talk about what it meant to serve during World War II right here:
In the early days of the Cold War, the United States was working on developing advanced surface-to-air missiles to intercept Soviet bombers. The first and only missile for a while that fit the Air Force’s bill was dubbed the “Bomarc.”
According to Designation-Systems.net, the missile was first called the XF-99, as the Air Force was trying to pass it off as an unmanned fighter. Eventually, the Air Force switched to calling the Bomarc the IM-99.
The system made its first flight in 1952, but development was a long process, with the IM-99A becoming operational in September 1959. The IM-99A had a range of 250 miles, a top speed of Mach 2.8, and could carry either a 1,000-pound high-explosive warhead or a 10-kiloton W40 warhead.
The IM-99A had a problem, though – its liquid fuel needed to be loaded into the booster before launch, a process that took about two minutes. The fueling was not exactly a safe process, and the fuel itself wasn’t entirely stable. So, the Air Force developed a version with a solid booster. The IM-99B would end up being a quantum leap in capability. Its speed increased to Mach 3, it had a range of 440 miles, and only carried the nuclear warhead.
The Bomarc also has the distinction of making Canada a nuclear power. Well, sort of. Canada bought two squadrons’ worth of the missiles, replacing the CF-105 Arrow interceptor. Canada’s Bomarcs did have the nuclear warhead, operated under a dual-key arrangement similar to that used by West Germany’s Pershing I missiles.
The Bomarc, though, soon grew obsolete, and by the end of 1972 they were retired. However, the Bomarc would end up sharing the same fate as many old fighters, as many of the missiles were eventually used as target drones since their speed and high-altitude capability helped them simulate heavy Russian anti-ship missiles like the AS-4 Kitchen and AS-6 Kingfish.
Over 700 Bomarcs were produced. Not a bad run at all for this missile.
When the Axis attacked the town of Sommocolonia the day after Christmas, 1944, they thought they made quite a breakthrough. Dislodging elements of the 92nd Infantry Division, they stormed through the town intent on retaking it.
They didn’t reckon on running into Lt. John R. Fox.
Fox grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio before attending Wilberforce University outside of Dayton. While at Wilberforce, Fox was a member of the University’s ROTC detachment and studied under retired Chief Warrant Officer Aaron R. Fisher.
Fisher was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross during WWI for holding his position against superior odds while a member of the 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Infantry Division.
Upon his graduation in 1940, Fox was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of artillery in the U.S. Army. When World War II broke out, Fox, being African-American, was assigned to the segregated 92nd Infantry Division as part of the 598th Field Artillery Battalion.
The 92nd arrived in Italy in August 1944 and participated in actions in the Allied drive northward. The Division crossed the Arno River and contributed to the attack on the Gothic Line. By November, the division was holding the line and conducting patrols in the Serchio River Valley.
Around this time, Fox was transferred from the 598th Field Artillery to the Cannon Company, 366th Infantry Regiment – the same regiment his mentor, Aaron Fisher, bravely served in 26 years earlier.
Opposite the Americans was an amalgamation of Italian and German infantry forces preparing for a renewed offensive.
On the morning of Dec. 26, 1944, this group of eight Axis battalions launched Operation Winter Storm and crashed into the 92nd Infantry Division’s positions in the Serchio River Valley.
Caught off guard by the surprise attack, units of the 92nd fell back across the line.
As his unit retreated from Sommocolonia, Lt. Fox volunteered to remain behind to call for defensive fire against the attacking enemy. Several other members of his forward observation party agreed to stay behind as well.
They took up a position in the second story of a house which offered an excellent vantage point as the Germans poured through the streets. While the Germans pressed the attack, Fox rained down fire into the village.
The Germans came closer and closer to Fox’s position, and as they moved, so did the artillery fire – until it was nearly right on top of him.
At this point, the Germans must have realized where Fox was positioned as they were swarming around the house. He radioed, “that last round was just where I wanted it, bring it in 60 yards more.”
He was asking for the fire to be brought down right on top of his position.
The man on the other end was confused and asked Fox if he was sure of what he was asking. “There are more of them than there are us,” Fox said “fire it.”
American artillery obliterated the house, but Fox had not died in vain. His heroic deeds held up the German advance and allowed for American forces to regroup for a counterattack.
When the Americans retook the village, they found the rubble of the house Fox had made his stand in. In the ruins were the bodies of Fox and eight Italian partisans who had been fighting alongside him. Surrounding the house, the bodies of over 100 German soldiers were counted.
Unfortunately, due to the pervasive racism of the time, Fox’s sacrifice was not immediately recognized. A later review in 1982 recognized the error and awarded Fox a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
A second review in the 1990s once again came across Lt. Fox’s actions and upgraded his award to the Medal of Honor. His widow received the award from President Bill Clinton in 1997.
The grateful Italians of Sommocolonia erected a monument to the sacrifice of Fox and the eight Italians who died by his side.
“Forward, the Light Brigade! ‘Charge for the guns!’ he said: Into the valley of Death. Rode the six hundred.”
This was part of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem about how much of a cluster f*** the Battle of Balaclava truly ended up being. It is also the subject of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper.”
The song directly states, “And as I lay forgotten and alone. Without a tear I draw my parting groan,” as a tribute to unnamed troops who were killed that day. In the many years that have since passed, letters have been discovered of first hand testimony of the ill-fated battle.
From 1853-1856, French, British, and Ottoman forces fought against the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. Conflict began after the Russians occupied Ottoman territory in modern day Romania. Within this war, the most infamous battle was at Balaclava where “The Charge of the Light Brigade” took place.
Under the command of Maj. General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, the light cavalry brigade consisted of roughly 670 men. Lord Raglan, the Commander of the British forces, intended to prevent Russian troops from maintaining their guns on Ottoman positions.
There are many historical discrepancies on who ordered the actual charge, but the fact remains: the cavalrymen charged directly into enemy cannons, killing roughly a sixth of brigade and another sixth wounded, totaling 271 casualties.
It was later discovered that the Russians numbered 5,240 strong.
An unknown officer of the 17th Lancers wrote in a recently discovered letter, “We all knew the thing was desperate before we started, and it was even worse than we thought. However there was no hesitation, down our fellows went at a gallop — through a fire in front and on both flanks, which emptied our saddles and knocked over our horses by scores. I do not think that one man flinched in the whole Brigade — though every one allows that so hot a fire was hardly ever seen.”
The loyalty of the British cavalry became well respected. The London Gazette wrote of the charge weeks after. While the commanders became despised, the troops were revered for their courage in the face of certain death.
Private Pearson of the 4th Light Dragoons wrote to his parents, “I shall never forget the 25th of October — shells, bullets, cannonballs, and swords kept flying around us. Dear Mother, every time I think of my poor comrades it makes my blood run cold, to think how we had to gallop over the poor wounded fellows lying on the field of battle, with anxious looks for assistance — what a sickening scene!”
Roger Fenton is regarded as one of the first war photographers and was present at the charge. Fenton refused to photograph dead or wounded as to not upset Victorian Era sensibilities, but he did capture troops and many moments after.
This photo that J. Paul Getty Museum called “one of the most well-known images of war” shows the aftermath of cannonballs that littered the landscape. The photograph titled “Valley of the Shadow of Death” has been on exhibition with the over 300 other images of the Crimean War
Today, the Light Brigade is remembered in the song “The Trooper.” Bruce Dickinson frequently on tour wears the British “red coat” smock as he waves a war-torn Union Jack. There has never been a more appropriate time to form a wall of death in the mosh pit.
Check out Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” here, in all its glory:
From a faith-based U.S. Army unit to an entire “ghost” army, take a look at the four most unusual military units of all time.
An inflatable tank, styled after the M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons)
The Ghost Army
Inspired by a trick that the British pulled in North Africa, the summer of 1944 found soldiers of the U.S. Army undertaking a very unusual task – building a phantom army. To achieve this goal, the Army gathered artists, designers and sound effects experts to encourage confusion behind enemy lines. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is better known as the Ghost Army because it used inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps, along with sound effects and subterfuge to deceive Germans during WWII.
The 23rd took part in more than 20 missions, many of which used illusion and artistry that rivals any Hollywood set. Painters and illustrators worked collaboratively to design uniforms and create dummy vehicles. Sound engineers helped by broadcasting phony radio traffic and mimicked the sounds of an army on the move. There were even actors hired to spread misinformation that would hopefully get picked up by Nazi spies.
The Germans fell for it, and the ruse worked. With the Ghost Army in place, Germany had no clear idea of the US forces’ actual size. The Ghost Army was so convincing that they were even plugged a hole in General Patton’s lines for several days without being discovered. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Ghost Army’s contribution became public knowledge, and by then, many of its members had gone on to illustrious careers in art and design.
The Monuments Men
This particular unit was tasked with attempting to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage during WWII. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archies unit included handpicked art historians, museum curators and academics who skirted the front lines of combat to prevent historically essential buildings and art from being destroyed.
Members from the unit created special maps for the Allies to ensure that culturally significant structures weren’t inadvertently destroyed as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe. To do this, the unit drew plans that showed aircraft pilots where to avoid on bombing runs. While the war was in full swing, the Monuments Men even set about restoring landmarks that were already damaged.
As the war wound down, the unit shifted its focus from preservation to rescue. It tracked down and recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Monuments Men found thousands of pieces of art stolen from Jewish families and museums. Most of these pieces of art were placed deep in salt mines and castles to avoid detection. The Monuments Men did their part in finding the pieces, and then after the war, the artwork was returned to its original owners.
The Mormon Battalion
Composed entirely of Latter Day Saints service members, the Mormon Battalion has the unique and unusual honor of being the only faith-based battalion in all of U.S. Army history. When negotiations between Brigham Young’s church leaders and the US military reached an impasse, it was suggested that a battalion be formed made up of all Mormons. The Mormons hoped their unit might pave the way for their planned exodus to the American West by providing training, equipment and pay. But President Polk saw it as a way to make allies of the Latter Day Saints.
The 500-person battalion never saw any combat, but it became one of the most well-traveled units in all of American history. The service members marked the start of their service by making a grueling might from Iowa through indigenous lands all the way to Santa Fe. From there, they marched on through the untamed lands of Arizona and then to southern California. Once in SoCal, the battalion performed garrison duty in both San Diego and Los Angeles.
Just two years after being formed, the battalion was retired in July 1847. Most of its members headed back north to the Utah Territory to join the rest of their religious pioneers.
King Frederick William I (Wikimedia Commons)
The Potsdam Giants
Everyone always wants to have the biggest army, but for King Frederick William I of Prussia, the idea of having the strongest soldiers in the world was an obsession. At the start of the 18th Century, the monarch tried to gather the tallest troops he could find in all of Europe and create an elite regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Records indicate that several of the service members were over seven feet tall.
To entice this elite unit, King Willian spent a fortune hiring tall soldiers from other militaries in the world. He even instructed his own covert agents to conscript unusually tall civilians into the unit. At one point, William tried to encourage his tallest soldiers to marry tall women. The unit eventually disbanded, but not before William managed to spend a significant amount of money.
From a ghost army to a unit dedicated to preserving history, these four units prove that there’s a lot more to being part of a military than just standing in formation.
Today, Liechtenstein is a small country – the fourth smallest state in Europe and sixth smallest in the world. It rests on the banks of the Rhine between Switzerland and Austria. It was named after the Princes of Lichtenstein, who united the County of Vaduz and the lands of Schellenberg in 1719, forming their small but charming Principality of Liechtenstein.
They managed to remain neutral (and thus largely avoid) both world wars. In 1943, the principality went so far as to ban the Nazi party. By this time, indeed, they didn’t even have an army, having disbanded it completely in 1868.
And yet their final deployment in 1866 remains notorious for two reasons: first, they lost no battles and suffered zero casualties (having avoided all fighting). Second, they left with a force of 80 men — and returned home with 81.
Or so the legend goes…
During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Liechtenstein sent an army of 80 strong to guard the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy while a reserve of 20 men stayed behind. While the deployed force was there to defend the territory against any attack from the Prussian-allied Italians, according to War History Online, “there was really nothing to do but sit in the beautiful mountains, drink wine and beer, smoke a pipe and take it easy.”
In the main theater of the war, the Battle of Königgrätz would earn Prussia a victory, decisively ending the war.
According to The World at War, an Austrian liaison officer joined them. Lonely Planet seems to share a version naming the newcomer an “Italian friend” — other sources have suggested that he was a defector.
None of the stories seem to be substantiated — but no one has debunked them either.
Meanwhile, Liechtenstein remains a thriving and successful country — that still has no army to this day.
In the last part of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army’s chief enemy was the scores of Native American tribes who still roamed America’s Great Plains and dominated the American Southwest, among other places. As sporadic attacks against settlers in those regions increased, the U.S. government decided it had to act. By the dawn of the 20th Century most of the tribes had capitulated and resigned themselves to their reservations.
And it all started with a lame cow.
Lameness describes an injury to the cows foot that adversely affects its life.
A cow can become lame for any number of reasons, such as a toe abnormality, something getting embedded in its hoof, or even just walking long distances regularly. When a cow’s hoof becomes bruised or worn down, the animal spends more time laying down and tends to eat less, adversely affecting its condition. A cow with this condition passed through Fort Laramie, Wyoming one day in 1855 along with a group of Mormon immigrants.
While the group of settlers rested at Fort Laramie, their lame old cow wandered off by itself. Eventually, it came across a group of Mniconjou tribesmen who were waiting for an annuity from the U.S. government. It was late, the men were starving and had no means to procure food for themselves. Naturally, once the cow was in sight, it became dinner.
The cow was allegedly worth four dollars, but when the Natives tried to trade a good horse for the lame cow (the one they already ate), the offer was rejected. Instead, the settlers demanded for the cow. At first, the Army was willing to brush the incident off as trivial and stupid, but the officer of the post was no fan of the Indians. He set out with some 30 troops and departed for one of the Indian Camps to confront them about the cow. After brief words were exchanged by a drunken translator that was also really bad at his job, the soldiers began to fire into the Indians.
The Indians fought back. By the end of it, the leader of the Lakota was dead along with all the Army soldiers. The Army retaliated by gathering 600 troops and assaulting the Lakota where they lived. The Plains Wars just began in earnest. The Army struck a number of tribes over the next few years, as President Ulysses S. Grant decided he’d had enough of the natives and it was time to pony up the resources to get them onto reservations.
All because of one lame cow.
The fighting began with the Lakota, then came the Cheyenne, the Kiowa, Apache, Arapaho, and eventually, even the dreaded Comanche tribe were systematically subdued by the Army and forced onto reservations. One by one the tribes were forced to abandon their traditional lands and ways of life, for life on the reservations. Most of the Indians never received anything promised by the government and fought on until they were forced to capitulate.
Few military leaders in history are as iconic as General Douglas MacArthur. He was a bigger-than-life figure who rose to five-star rank and grew to believe in his own myth so much that he thought he was above the Constitution and ultimately had to be brought down by the President of the United States.
Here are 8 amazing facts about the general known as the “American Caesar”:
1. His parents were on different sides of the Civil War
MacArthur’s father, Douglas Jr., was a Union general, and his mother was from a prominent Confederate family. Two of her brothers refused to attend the wedding.
2. His father and he are both recipients of the Medal of Honor
Douglas MacArthur, Jr. was bestowed the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863. His son received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt in 1942 for defending the Philippines.
3. His mom lived at a hotel on the West Point grounds the entire time he was a cadet
MacArthur’s mom told him he had to be great like his dad or Robert E. Lee, and she made sure he stayed focused by living on campus near him. The semi-weird strategy worked in that he was number one in his class by far. His performance record was only bested in history by two other cadets, one from the Class of 1884 and Robert E. Lee himself.
4. He puked on the White House steps
During a heated defense budget discussion with FDR in 1934, MacArthur lost his temper and told the Commander-in-chief that “when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” He tried to resign on the spot but Roosevelt refused it. MacArthur was so physically upset by the exchange that he threw up on the White House steps on the way out.
5. He wanted to be president
Although he was still on active duty in 1944 he was drafted by a wing of the Republican Party to run against FDR. He even won the Illinois Primary before the party went with Dewey. He tried again in ’48 but quit after getting crushed in the Wisconsin Primary. His last attempt was in ’52 but the Republicans bypassed him for a less controversial (and more likeable) war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
6. He didn’t return to the United States for six years after World War II
Because he was in charge of ensuring post-war Japan didn’t fall into chaos (and became a democracy) and then in command of the Korean War effort, MacArthur didn’t return to the U.S. between 1945 and 1951.
7. He got a ticker tape parade in NYC after he was fired by Truman
MacArthur was defiant in carrying out President Truman’s plan to end the Korean War, and the general carried out a campaign in Congress to authorize the complete takeover of North Korea. Truman was convinced that would result in World War III, and when MacArthur refused to back down the President had no choice but to remove him from command. Although disgraced, MacArthur was so popular he was treated like a hero on his way out, including having a ticker tape parade thrown in his honor down the streets of Manhattan.
8. He designed his signature look
His cover, shades, and corncob pipe were all part of a look MacArthur cultivated himself. The pipe company, Missouri Meerschaum, continues to craft replicas of the general’s customized pipe, and Ray-Ban named a sunglass line after him in 1987.
It has been 75 years since upward of 150,000 Allied troops began storming the beaches of Normandy by air, land, and sea. As the June 6 anniversary of the largest amphibious assault in military history approaches, journalist Sarah Rose illuminated several less widely known combat heroes who fought for the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe in Operation Overlord: Andrée Borrel, Lise de Baissac, and Odette Sansom. They are among the 39 female agents who served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secret World War II intelligence agency created in 1940 to “set Europe ablaze.”
“Women are the hidden figures of D-Day,” says Rose, who started researching the history of women in combat and was surprised to learn that their roles dated back to World War II. “People tend to think women were ‘just’ secretarial couriers and messengers. No, there were female special forces agents on the ground and working to keep the Allies from being blown back into the water. They did what men did. They led men.”
In her new book, D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II, Rose chronicles three of these agents’ contributions to the Allied victory in Normandy and the liberation of Western Europe.
1. Andrée Borrel, the first female combat paratrooper, fought for the liberation of France until Nazis executed her a month after D-Day.
Born to a working-class family on the outskirts of Paris after World War I, Borrel left school at 14. She had a job at a Paris bakery counter when World War II broke out.
Once the war began, Borrel left Paris and took a crash course in nursing with the Red Cross.
After a stint treating people wounded by the German Army, she joined a group of French Resistance operatives organizing and operating one of the country’s largest underground escape networks, the Pat O’Leary line. She aided at least 65 Allied evaders (mainly British Royal Air Force airmen shot down over enemy territory) on their journeys out of France to Spain through the Pyrenees.
When she herself got ratted out, she escaped to Lisbon, Portugal. She then moved to London, eager to continue fighting for the liberation of France. In the spring of 1942, the SOE recruited her. She was trained not only to jump behind enemy lines, but also to spy on, sabotage, and kill Axis troops occupying her home country.
Borrel parachuted into France in September of 1942, becoming the first female combat agent to do so. She worked as a courier for the SOE network Physician (nicknamed “Prosper”), which raised bands of Resistance members in the north to carry out guerilla attacks against Nazi troops. Moving between Paris and the countryside, she coordinated aerial supply drops and recruited, armed, and trained Resistance members.
She rose to second in command of the network’s Paris circuit, which was also funneling enemy intelligence back to the Allies in London. She was in the SOE’s first training class for female agents, where she learned skills from hand-to-hand combat to Morse code. When asked, “How might you kill a Nazi using what you have on you?” she is said to have responded: “I would jam a pencil through his brain. And he’d deserve it.”
Her commanding officer described her as “the best of us all.”
The Nazis arrested Borrel in 1943 and sent her to a concentration camp.
Nazis, allegedly leveraging intelligence from a double agent, arrested Borrel and fellow Physician leaders in June 1943. After being interrogated and imprisoned around Paris, she was transferred to the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in July 1944 with three other female SOE agents and executed a month after D-Day.
Even from prison, she is said to have continued fighting by inserting coded messages about her captors in several letters to her sister. She was 24.
Honors: Croix de Guerre, Medal of the Resistance, the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct
2. Lise de Baissac parachuted into France twice and became the No. 2 commander of a French Resistance group fighting Nazis during the Battle of Normandy.
Andrée Borrel was the first female SOE agent to parachute into France during World War II, but her jumping partner, 37-year-old Lise de Baissac, was right behind her. The daughter of a wealthy family in British-ruled Mauritius, de Baissac was in France when Hitler’s troops moved into Paris in 1940. She fled to the south and then to London. When the SOE started recruiting multilingual women as agents, she joined the fight.
After parachuting into Central France with Borrel, de Baissac set up an Allied safe house for agents in the town of Poitiers in western France, selecting an apartment near Gestapo headquarters — a hiding-in-plain-sight strategy she felt would arouse less suspicion.
She bicycled around occupied territory as a liaison among different underground networks, often riding 60-70 kilometers a day and carrying contraband. On one occasion, a Nazi stopped her and her clandestine radio operator, patting them down. The officer searched them for guns, which they didn’t have, so he let them go. She’d later report that a radio crystal fell out of her skirt as she was leaving but that she leaned over, grabbed the crystal off the ground, and pedaled on.
In August of 1943, when her network in Poitiers was blown, the SOE airlifted her back to England by Lysander aircraft. She trained new female SOE recruits in Scotland. In April of 1944, after recovering from a broken leg, she jumped back into occupied France. She made her way to Normandy, joining her brother, fellow SOE agent Claude de Baissac, in leading a network of Resistance fighters in Normandy. They carried out attacks to weaken Nazi communication and transporation circuits, strategically cutting phone lines and blowing up roads, railways, and bridges to hinder the movement of German reinforcements Hitler was ordering to the beaches.
De Baissac raced out of Paris to assist the allies when she learned D-Day was imminent.
On June 5, 1944, de Baissac was in Paris recruiting when she learned D-Day was imminent. She biked for three days, speeding through Nazi formations, sleeping in ditches, and reaching her brother and their Resistance circuit headquarters in Normandy.
As the bloody Normandy campaign raged and the Allies struggled to penetrate the Axis front, the de Baissacs continued leading espionage and sabotage operations. They gathered intelligence on enemy positions and transmitted messages back to England, helping lay the groundwork for Operation Cobra, the Allied breakout in which U.S. Army forces came out of the peninsula and pierced Hitler’s front line seven weeks after D-Day.
After the war, she worked for the BBC.
Honors: MBE, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur Croix de Guerre avec Palme
3. Odette Sansom blew up Nazi train lines and, upon being arrested and tortured, told Gestapo officers: “I have nothing to say.”
Odette Sansom was a 28-year-old homemaker in Somerset, England when she answered the British War Office’s call for images of the French coastline, offering photographs she had from her childhood. Born in France as “Odette Brailly” in 1912, she had lost her father in the final months of the World War I. With World War II raging and her English husband already away fighting in the British Army, she didn’t take lightly the decision to leave her three young daughters. But with Hitler already occupying her old home and threatening her new one, she felt compelled to join the fight.
She was tough, determined, and persistent. When a concussion during parachute training left her unable to jump into France, she docked in Gibraltar on a gunrunner disguised as a sardine fishing boat, only to arrive in France’s “free” zone the same week in November 1942 that Hitler’s forces began occupying the region. So began several months working as a courier in SOE agent Capt. Peter Churchill’s network, Spindle. Churchill relied heavily on her to set up clandestine radio networks, coordinate parachute drops, and arm Resistance fighters in the Rhône Alps in preparation for D-Day.
She and Churchill fell in love and continued working together mobilizing Resistance members in southeast France until April 1943, when the Gestapo arrested them. Knowing that they were at risk of being executed as spies, she convinced their captors that her commanding officer was a relative of UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill and that she was his wife and only in France at her urging. Peter Churchill was not, in fact, related to Britain’s prime minister, but Sansom figured that if she could trick the Germans into thinking they were VIPs, there would be incentive to keep them alive.
Sansom emerged from the largest, most lethal women’s concentration camp in history with evidence used to convict its leaders of war crimes.
While Sansom was imprisoned around France and then at Ravensbrück concentration camp, enduring solitary confinement and somewhere between 10-14 torture sessions – she survived.
By the time Ravensbrück was evacuated in the spring of 1945, Sansom’s back was broken, and she had been starved and beaten, with her toenails pulled out and her body burned in attempts to get her to reveal information about her fellow agents. She is said to have revealed nothing.
In the years after the war, Sansom’s testimony was later to convict Ravensbrück camp commandant Fritz Suhren, as well as other SS officers, of war crimes. Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 came less than a year after the sweeping invasions that began the Battle of Normandy, now memorialized as “D-Day.”
Honors: George Cross, Member of the Order of the British Empire, Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
During World War II, the Red Army employed old canvas and wood built biplanes to instill fear in the German Army on the Eastern Front. A squad of all-female pilots would fly Polikarpov PO-2 and Yakovlev Yak-18 planes from the 1920s over Nazi barracks and drop bombs on them in the middle of the night. Soon, the Germans began calling them the “Night Witches,” fearful that they would wake up to the sound of exploding ordnance– or worse, die from it.
The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment would fly in and cut the engines of their prop planes to drop their bombs, so there was no warning, no radio traffic and no way of knowing when they would strike.
The effect on German morale was devastating. It was so devastating that North Korea revived the idea after they started to lose the Korean War. North Korea began using the old biplanes in the exact same way, with the same tactics and many of the same effects, although North Korea wasn’t limiting its night raids to women pilots. They were happy to take anyone who could fly.
Americans began to call these fly by night attacks “bedcheck charlie” or “Washing Machine Charlie,” due to the noise they made upon their approach.
They would appear briefly in the dark and disappear just as fast. While the Night Witches typically carried two bombs on their planes, the North Koreans used around five, flying in on Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes at its maximum speed of 94 miles per hour.
The Polikarpovs would fly in with little planning, drop their bombs and be on their way before the Americans could respond effectively, usually hitting very little. It was the only air tactic that they could use to their advantage, as the United Nations forces maintained full control of the skies, even at night.
Even if the UN air forces could get planes in the air fast enough to intercept the puttering bombers, they couldn’t be seen on radar and would fly too low and too slow to actually bring them down. In fact, only a handful of these North Korean bedchecks were ever shot down.
In April 1953, one of these night raids hit an American position on the North Korean island of Cho-Do, in the Yellow Sea. Several Polikarpov PO-2s dropped their ordnance on an artillery position, hitting two Army anti-aircraft artillerymen and bleeding away into the night before UN F-94 Starfires could intercept them. Pfc. Herbert Tucker and Cpl. William Walsh were both instantly killed.
In June 1953, a similar attack from North Korean biplanes hit the South Korean port city of Inchon, igniting a mushroom cloud of flame that took days to extinguish. While “bedcheck charlie” wasn’t as deadly or devastating to morale as the Night Witches were to the Nazis, they were still a dangerous tactic that harassed the United Nations forces in Korea.
The Philadelphia Experiment is one of the most grotesque military urban legends ever — and it has endured as an infamous World War II conspiracy theory. But is there any truth to it? Let’s take a look.
According to legend, on Oct. 28, 1943, the USS Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, was conducting top-secret experiments designed to win command of the oceans against the Axis powers. The rumor was that the government was creating technology that would render naval ships invisible to enemy radar, and there in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was time to test it out.
Witnesses claim an eerie green-blue glow surrounded the hull of the ship as her generators spun up and then, suddenly, the Eldridge disappeared. The ship was then seen in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia before disappearing again and reappearing back in Philadelphia.
The legend states that classified military documents reported that the Eldridge crew were affected by the events in disturbing ways. Some went insane. Others developed mysterious illness. But others still were said to have been fused together with the ship; still alive, but with limbs sealed to the metal.
That’ll give you nightmares. That’s some Event Horizon sh*t right there.
I’ll never sleep again.
(Event Horizon | Paramount Pictures)
Which is actually a convincing reason why the Eldridge’s story gained so much momentum.
But before we break down what really happened that day, let’s talk about the man behind the myth: Carl M. Allen, who would go by the pseudonym, Carlos Miguel Allende. In 1956, Allende sent a series of letters to Morris K. Jessup, author of the book, The Case for the UFO, in which he argued that unidentified flying objects merit further study.
Jessup apparently included text about unified field theory because this is what Allende latched onto for his correspondences. In the 1950s, unified field theory, which has never been proven, attempted to merge Einstein’s general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. In fact, Allende claimed to have been taught by Einstein himself and could prove the unified field theory based on events he witnessed on October 28, 1943.
Allende claimed that he saw the Eldridge disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and he further insisted that the United States Military had conducted what he called the Philadelphia Experiment — and was trying to cover it up.
This is one of the weirdest details. The annotations were designed to look like they were written by three different authors – one maybe extraterrestrial? According to Valle’s article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jessup became obsessed with Allende’s revelations, and the disturbed researcher would take his own life in 1959. It wasn’t until 1980 that proof of Allende’s forgery would be made available.
Inexplicably, two ONR officers had 127 copies of the annotated text printed and privately distributed by the military contractor Varo Manufacturing, giving wings to Allende’s story long after Jessup’s death.
So, what really happened aboard the USS Eldridge that day?
Somewhere in Delaware there are secret military canals that have all the answers…
According to Edward Dudgeon, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Engstrom, which was dry-docked in the Philadelphia Naval Yard while the Eldridge was, both ships did have classified devices on board. They were neither invisibility cloaks nor teleportation drives designed by aliens, but instead, they scrambled the magnetic signatures of ships using the degaussing technique, which provided protection from magnetic torpedoes aboard U-boats.
How Stuff Works suggested that the “green glow” reported by witnesses that day could be explained by an electric storm or St. Elmo’s Fire which, in addition to being an American coming-of-age film starring the Brat Pack, is a weather phenomenon in which plasma is created in a strong electric field, giving off a bright glow, almost like fire.
Finally, inland canals connected Norfolk to Philadelphia, allowing a ship to travel between the two in a few hours.
The USS Eldridge would be transferred to Greece in 1951 and sold for scrap in the 90s, but Allende’s hoax would live on in our effing nightmares forever.