Today, Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia supports more than 120,000 active duty military, family, Reserves, retired military, and employees every day. The Army Infantry School, Army Armor School and the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation call Fort Benning their home. The installation has the ability to deploy forces ready for combat by air, rail and highway. So, all in all pretty badass as far as installations go. But Fort Benning’s history is a little more complicated than it might seem.
Its story begins in WWI
However, Fort Benning hasn’t always been such a powerhouse. In fact, Fort Benning’s history were pretty darn modest. Originally it was called Camp Benning because it resembled a camp more than an installation. It also wasn’t supposed to be around for that long. Monterey, California, and then Fort Sill, Oklahoma, were the original homes of what eventually became Fort Benning. It moved from Oklahoma to the east side of Columbus, Georgia in 1918 because Fort Sill was too crowded. That’s because WWI was raging and the military needed to grow – fast.
You could call Benning a camp and be right
The Infantry needed its own home separate from the Artillery School. So here’s when Fort Benning’s history really started. Camp Benning was born. Forget barracks and a DFAC – the original Camp Benning was more like camping than being in the Army. It was dirty, muddy, and there were no paved roads. Most Soldiers even lived in tents. When their families moved in, they moved right into the same tents as the Soldiers. It even got to the point where some Soldiers decided to build their own quarters so they wouldn’t have to live in tents anymore.
The little camp that could
Yet even living with their families, the soldiers were in the middle of full-on combat training. Talk about having divided attention. And speaking of, the government wasn’t super interested in improving the conditions either. The installation was supposed to be temporary so it’s possible that the earliest Camp Benning soldiers were the first to coin the phrase, “Embrace the suck.” (Just kidding. No one really knows where that apt phrase came from.)
Eventually, the government got wise and decided to establish a permanent installation at Camp Benning. You could say this is where Fort Benning’s history was born.
As anyone who’s had the pleasure of PCSing to Benning, it’s muggy, buggy and in the middle of nowhere. Talk about an ideal location for an installation. Four years after WWI ended, Camp Benning became what we all know and love as Fort Benning and legions of Army Soldiers have grit their teeth through the Georgia climate.
Despite the weather (or maybe because of it?) Fort Benning’s Soldiers have gone on to do really amazing things, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served at Benning as an XO.
Related: Proof that the Army continues to produce some of the best service members in the world. Check out this former Ranger who was just recognized by the Guinness Book of Records for most pull ups in 24 hours.
In 1986, a pair of aviation movies took America by storm. Both Doug Masters in Iron Eagle and Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun took to the skies and dominated America’s enemies (we all know who the better pilot was). But in the five months between those two blockbuster releases, U.S. Navy pilots did some butt-kicking for real in the Mediterranean Sea. The butt-kickee? Libya, who endured several days of naval battles that were originally intended to just be some exercises.
Those exercises were planned in response to constant Libyan claims over the Gulf of Sidra. In 1981, the newly-elected President Ronald Reagan ordered the United States Navy to carry out some “freedom of navigation” exercises in the area. Just days into the exercise, two Libyan Su-22 Fitters attacked a pair of F-14 Tomcats. The Fitters were quickly were shot down, shutting down Libyan aggression for a while.
But similar exercises in March 1986, involving three carriers, their air wings, and over a dozen other vessels, would evolve into an epic brawl that made the 1981 incident look very tame by comparison.
According to the Air Combat Intelligence Group, the Libyans tried to approach the American carriers (USS Coral Sea (CV 43), USS Saratoga (CV 60), and USS America (CV 66)) that were on the scene during the exercises. Each attempt was turned back by American F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets.
On March 24, things got serious. Libyan MiG-25 Foxbats once again tried to approach the American carriers. F-14 Tomcats went toe-to-toe with the Russian-built fighters and wound up in a non-lethal dogfight. After the Foxbats were chased away, Libyan commanders ordered SA-5 Gammon batteries to open fire. The F-14s dodged the missiles — with help from an EA-6B Prowler.
Such aggression couldn’t go unanswered. The counter-attack came shortly afterwards. A mix of A-7E Corsair attack planes armed with AGM-88 high-speed, anti-radiation missiles and A-6E Intruder all-weather attack planes armed with a mix of CBU-100 Rockeye cluster bombs and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were launched. Within a half-hour, first blood had been drawn.
A pair of A-6 Intruders located and attacked a Libyan Combatante II-class missile boat. The first one fired a Harpoon, damaging the vessel, making it an easy target for Rockeye cluster bombs dropped by the second. Then, A-7s fired off HARMs, destroying a SA-5 site. Two A-6s followed that up by disabling a Nanuchka II-class corvette with a Harpoon missile. That corvette was later towed back to port.
But aircraft weren’t the only ones that got in on the action. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Yorktown (CG 48) fired two Harpoon missiles that disabled yet another Combatante II. The Libyans continued to fire SA-5 and SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles at the American planes. A-6 Intruders responded to those attacks by sinking a Nanuchka II-class corvette.
When all was said and done, 35 Libyan personnel were killed during the fighting. The United States Navy, conversely, suffered no losses.
An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.
Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.
The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.
In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.
Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.
On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.
Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.
The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.
The A-10 is justifiably celebrated for its tank-killing prowess.
After all, it destroyed 987 tanks and a metric buttload of other Iraqi stuff during Desert Storm, and its GAU-8 got a lot of use, including some Iraqi helicopters who felt the BRRRRT! But the Air Force once planned for a tank-buster with a gun that made the A-10’s GAU-8 look puny.
The Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly was intended to be a close-air support plane to bust up tanks and bunkers in front of the infantry. Beechcraft, ironically, is best known for civilian planes like the King Air.
To accomplish that mission, it was given a powerful armament. In the nose was a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns and a powerful T15E1 75mm automatic cannon. It had a pair of twin .50-caliber turrets as well (one on the top, one on the bottom), and the ability to carry up to 2,000 pounds of bombs, according to MilitaryFactory.com.
Yeah, you read that right. The Army Air Force in World War II was developing a specialized tank-buster that was two and a half times bigger than the GAU-8. Of course, a 75mm gun had been used on variants of the B-25, but the XA-38’s gun was essentially a semi-auto.
The plane had a top speed of 376 miles per hour, a range of 1,625 miles, and a crew of two. With all that performance, it had a lot of promise when it first flew in May of 1944. But that promise was never seen by the grunts on the ground.
The XA-38 project never got past the two prototypes, because a different aviation project took up all the engines that the Grizzly was designed to use. The Wright GR-3350-43 engines were needed by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which in 1944 was needed to bomb Japan.
One prototype was scrapped, while the other’s fate remains unknown.
After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.
Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao, at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.
The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.
The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.
Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.
Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.
The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.
Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.
But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.
In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.
The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.
Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.
Encephalitis lethargica is a disease that seems to belong in a horror movie, complete with brain damage that causes victims to sleep for years or to hack away at their own bodies — and it all started in Europe during World War I.
It was first described by World War I pilot and noble, Constantin von Economo, who switched to a career in medicine at the request of his parents after family members died in the war. As a physician, he served both civilians and the Central Powers, and his historical significance comes from being the first to describe a neurological disorder that popped up during the war.
His first patients reported constant exhaustion despite constantly sleeping, leading some people to call it the “sleeping disease” or “sleepy sickness.” This wasn’t exactly correct, though, as many patients never truly slept. They remained aware of their surroundings even when seemingly in deep sleep. As the disease progressed, patients also began exhibiting symptoms like abnormal eye movement, delirium, headache, or paralysis.
The paralysis and other symptoms were sometimes limited to one side of the body, giving off the surreal result that one side of the face and body became sluggish and tired while the other side remained relatively alert and functional.
From here, patients’ symptoms would progress in a couple directions. 5 million people were afflicted with the disease from 1917 to 1928. Approximately a third died, a third survived, and the final third were trapped in endless sleep. But the scary part for survivors was that symptoms could return years later — or they could suffer from Parkinson’s brought on by the disease.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a physician famous for his work with encephalitis lethargica patients who slept for decades before awaking for a short period.
(Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0)
And that endless sleep thing wasn’t a euphemism or anything. Some patients went to sleep for decades, only coming out of their near-endless rest when given an anti-Parkinson’s medication in 1969 through an effort led by Dr. Oliver Sacks. Unfortunately, Sack’s treatment with L-DOPA only provided a temporary relief of their symptoms. All patients eventually regressed back to permanent sleep or a catatonic state.
Oddly enough, those afflicted with long-term catatonia did get one benefit: They aged much more slowly than people awake.
People attacked members of their own family, authority figures, or random passersby, often with little visible emotion afterwards.
Encepheilitis lethargica could strike people of any age, and it often caused long-term Parkinson’s in the months or years after a patient had seemingly recovered from the condition.
(British Medical Journal 1925, Gullan)
Obviously, for troops in the war and returning veterans, the idea that exhaustion could be a sign of their imminent demise was terrifying, and the fact that their families could be afflicted by this mysterious disease was terrifying, but another outbreak pushed the sleepy sickness to the back of most people’s minds.
The Spanish flu pandemic broke out in 1918 and eventually killed between 20 and 50 million victims of the roughly 500 million people affected.
Today, we still don’t know the cause of encephelitis lethargica, but new cases fortunately fell off a cliff in 1926 and continued to dwindle in the 1930s. Now, new cases are extremely rare, but the exact symptoms of encephelitis lethargica were so varied that it’s hard to even be sure that new cases are from the same cause.
The title page of Constantin von Economo’s 1931 description of encephalitis lethargica.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)
There does appear to be an auto-immune element to the disease with nearly all sufferers showing damage to the brain stem consistent with it coming under attack from the body’s immune system. This, combined with the disease’s first appearance around the same time as the flu pandemic, has led to speculation that it comes from the body’s overreaction to a virus. But that’s still not certain.
Analysis of other influenza and viral outbreaks, both before World War I and after, show some connection between viral outbreaks and the onset of encephelitis lethargica.
It’s still possible that the world could see a sudden resurgence of encephelitis lethargica, especially if there’s a new influenza outbreak, but our luck has held for over 70 years — fingers crossed.
When considering the origins of legendary cocktails, it’s doubtful that Egypt is the first place to spring into anyone’s mind. Like many culinary innovations made during World War II, “The Suffering Bastard” is a concoction birthed from a world of limited supplies in which everyone had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on – and it shows.
The Suffering Bastard is a legendary beverage, created by a legendary barman, in time and place where new legends were born every day. The unlikely mixture is said to have turned the tides of the war against Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps in Egypt. True or not, it succeeded in its original mission: curing the hangovers of British troops so they could push Rommel back to Tunisia.
In 1941, World War II was not going well for the British Empire. Even though the previous year saw British and Imperial troops capture more than 100,000 Italian Axis troops in North Africa, Hitler soon sent in his vaunted Afrika Corps to bolster Axis forces in the region.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel with staff in North Africa, 1942.
Crack German troops led by capable tank strategist and Field Marshal, Erwin Rommel, the British experienced a number of defeats in the early months of 1941. They were pushed out of Libya and the lines were within 150 miles of the Egyptian capital of Cairo. His goal was to capture the Suez Canal and cut the British Empire in two.
During the Battle of El-Alamein, Rommel was quoted as saying “I’ll be drinking champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon,” referring to the world-famous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Inside the hotel was the well-known Long Bar and behind that bar was bartender, Joe Scialom, whose stories could rival anyone’s, from Ernest Hemingway to Ian Fleming.
Scialom behind the Long Bar in Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel.
Scialom was a Jewish Egyptian with Italian roots. Born in Egypt, he was a trained chemist who worked in Sudan in his formative years but soon found he enjoyed applying the principles of chemistry to making drinks. The chemist-turned-barman who spoke eight languages would eventually travel the world over, to Cairo, Havana, London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, and Manhattan, drinking alongside folks like Winston Churchill and Conrad Hilton. Much of that would come later, however. In 1941, he was the barkeep at the Long Bar and he was faced with a unique problem.
The war made it very difficult to get good liquor in Egypt. British officers resorted to drinking liquor that wasn’t made of such high quality and soon began complaining about terrible hangovers. In an effort to do his part for the British, Scialom set out to make a drink that would give them the effect they wanted while curing their inevitable hangovers. He used an unlikely combination of bourbon and gin along with added lime, ginger ale, and bitters to create a drink that did the job perfectly.
Many variations on the original recipe exist, to include ingredients like pineapple syrup and rum, but the original Suffering Bastard used bourbon and gin as its base.
The first Battle of El Alamein in 1942 resulted in a stalemate. The Axis supply lines from Libya were stretched out to their breaking point and Rommel could not press on to Alexandria. Before the second Battle of El Alamein, the ranking British general, Claude Auchinleck, was replaced. His spot eventually taken by one General Bernard Montgomery. The next time the two sides met at El Alamein, Montgomery was in command and British hangovers were a thing of the past. Monty and the British Empire troops turned Rommel away and pushed him westward toward an eventual defeat.
There’s a subsection of YouTube dedicated to playing the same song on repeat, over and over again, for hours at a time. Parents think it’s just a part of raising children when they have to listen to the same kids’ song, over and over again, for days at a time. Both of these cases have nothing on the five months of playing the exact same polka song over 1,500 times, continuously, as the Soviets retreated from Finland during the Continuation War.
As the Finns recaptured the city of Vyborg from the Soviets, they would have to travel across land saturated with mines left behind by the Soviets. When the Finns chased out Soviet soldiers, the Soviets retreated to safety, the mines detonated and devastated the Finns. There were so many mines left that civilians, even after reclaiming the city, were still forbidden to reenter their homes.
This was until an unexploded mine and the radio equipment next to it was brought to Jouko Pohjanpalo, credited as being the “father of Finnish radio” for his work establishing the Finnish radio field. Jouko tinkered with the explosives and the associated radio device and discovered that it operated at the frequency 715 kHz. Inside the radio receiver were three tuning forks. When a certain three-note sequence was sent over the radio and all three forks vibrated — boom.
Now all they needed to do was send out a signal to jam the sequence. They needed something fast with a lot of chords that wouldn’t also set off the mines. So, they played Säkkijärven Polkka by Viljo “Vili” Vesterinen. It was an immensely popular song at the time and many Finns associated it with great national pride, similar to how Americans feel today hearing America, F*ck Yeah!
And so began Operation: Säkkijärvi Polkka. The Finns blasted the song at 715 kHz so the mines wouldn’t explode and they continued to fight. The Soviets learned what was going on and changed the radio frequency for their mines. Because the Soviets didn’t change the mines, just the frequency, the Finns played the song on repeat on every frequency the mines could possibly operate on. Out of the one thousand or so mines in the city, only 12 went off.
In a press interview years later, Jouko told them,
In the crowds and the homeland, the operation received a legendary reputation because of its mystery. Säkkijärvi’s polka went together about 1,500 times. All kinds of rumors circulated about somebody crazy enough to have emitted it on every radio station.
To hear the majestic polka song that helped win a war, check out the video below.
The book character Dracula is based on Vlad Dracula, a 15th-century royal often known as Vlad the Impaler for his tendency to place human beings on spikes, largely because of a stunning June, 1462, attack on the armies of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.
Vlad III, the ruler of Wallachia who would be known as “The Impaler” and “Dracula.”
First, let’s acknowledge that Vlad is world famous because he was a literal monster who would later be immortalized as a fictional vampire. His actions, including the ones discussed herein, were horrible — some of which would be considered war crimes today. So, you know, don’t keep reading if you don’t want to hear about Vlad the Impaler’s war crimes. (Also, in the future, don’t click on articles about Dracula’s brutal attacks. There’s no way these articles won’t be monstrous.)
Vlad was the son of a smart and capable ruler of the realm of Wallachia, a small territory on the Black Sea that was trapped between the then-large and powerful Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Vlad and his brother were taken by the Ottoman Empire as hostages when young, growing up in the sultan’s court. Vlad’s brother took to Ottoman life and converted to Islam, but Vlad developed a deep hatred of the sultan and his kingdom.
When Vlad ascended to the throne, Sultan Mehmed II sent envoys to demand a tribute from the young ruler. Vlad, giving a hint as to how he would also rule his own people, ordered the two Ottoman men executed and their heads impaled with long nails. The sultan was understandably angry at this treatment and sent a top general to exact revenge.
But Dracula, which translates to “Son of the Dragon,” was an heir to a successful military leader and a smart tactician in his own right. He led his own forces against the sultan’s army and set a successful ambush, capturing many of the Ottoman soldiers sent against him.
Mehmed II had been engaged in a lengthy siege, but he abandoned it to answer this new threat. Vlad had marched into the sultan’s lands and laid waste, poisoning water, burning villages, and yes, impaling soldiers and civilians. Some were even impaled alive, and the sultan’s men began finding some still breathing and gurgling on the spikes as the Ottoman army closed on the forces of Wallachia.
It was these attacks on Turks and Bulgarians that would cement Vlad’s status as the “Impaler.” By his own estimates, Vlad and his men killed 23,844 people, not counting those who burned in their homes rather than come out and face the Wallachians’ spears and swords.
Mehmed II was a great military leader of the Ottoman Empire.
Mehmed II ordered mercy killings for those who were on spikes but still alive, and the sultan prepared to go on the warpath within Wallachia. But Vlad had continued his devastation within his own country. Vlad had done many of the same things to his own people while withdrawing ahead of the much larger Ottoman army.
The scorched earth campaign worked; the Ottomans could find little food or water for them or their horses. Any foragers who strayed too far were killed by Vlad’s men. The rest of the Ottoman army were forced to make camp and resupply.
But they did so near the fortress of Targoviste, and Vlad was waiting for the sultan. When he saw the large tents going up, he disguised himself as a senior member of the Ottoman army and walked right up to the gate guards, using his accent-free Turkish that he had gained as a hostage in the Ottoman court to get in unchallenged.
Unfortunately, the sultan was absent from the tent, so Vlad burned it to the ground, attacked the tent of the sultan’s top advisers, and pulled out before the Ottomans could launch a proper counterattack. Luckily for them, the Ottomans spent the first couple of hours fighting each other in the confusion caused by the raid.
Over the following days Mehmed regrouped his forces and marched to the fortress of Targoviste, where there worst horror of the whole campaign waited for them.
Vlad and his men had erected a massive forest that covered a square mile outside the fortress. It was made of 20,000 sharpened stakes, and each stake had at least on body impaled on it. While many were prisoners of war, some were women and children. The worst were the mothers whose babies were attached to their bodies. Birds had made nests in some of the corpses.
Mehmed II had the numbers and the experience to lay siege to the fortress, but in the face of these horrors, he pulled back. Vlad ruled Wallachia off and on until 1477, when he was killed in battle. Wallachia would survive as a principality until merging with Moldovia in 1859. It would eventually become part of modern-day Romania.
They have served alongside each other for decades, but they’ve been rivals for just as long. The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet went toe-to-toe ever since the Lightweight Fighter Competition. But which is really the better plane?
Both planes were replacing the Pentagon’s first joint strike fighter, the F-4 Phantom. The F-16 won the original competition, but the Navy based their VFAX on the YF-17, essentially circumventing Congress in the process.
The F-16 is a single-engine fighter (using either a Pratt and Whitney F100 or a GE F110) that can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance, and up to six air-to-air missiles, either the AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-9 Sidewinder. It also has a M61A1 20mm Gatling gun with 500 rounds – or about five seconds of firing time. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Falcon has a range of over 2,100 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 2.
The Hornet uses two F404 engines, and like the F-16, can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance. However, it can carry up to six air-to-air missiles as well (either the AIM-120, the AIM-9, or the older AIM-7), and it has a M61 with 570 rounds (about six seconds of firing time). GlobalSecurity.org credits the Hornet with a range of over 1,800 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 1.8.
Both planes have long and distinguished combat careers. The F-16 got its first combat action in 1981, with the famous raid on the Osirak reactor. The F/A-18 made its debut in 1986 with the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that year. Since then, they have fought side by side. Both have been exported, with the F-16 having an edge on that front, while the F/A-18 operates from carriers as well as land bases.
So, which is better? If you needed one plane for all the military services, which would be the right choice? While the F-16 might win in a dogfight, the F/A-18 offers more versatility, and its ability to operate from carriers is a huge plus. While Congress was irritated with the Navy, and later ordered it to purchase some F-16s, which aviation historian Joe Baugher notes were used as aggressors, the fact remains that the DOD may have been better off buying the F/A-18 for all services.
Women have played a part in war and the military ever since the birth of our nation, whether it be disguising themselves as men to secretly join the Army during the Civil War, tending to the wounded on the battlefield as nurses in WWII, or, more recently, taking up arms alongside their brothers in combat positions.
Elsie Ott, for example, made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.
It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.
Take Elsie Ott, for example, who was one such woman that made a name for herself in the world of flight nursing. Ott was born in 1913 in Smithtown, New York, and attended nursing school at Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City right after high school.
It was 1941 when Ott joined the Army Nurse Corps, and she became a true trailblazer for women in the military. She was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and stationed in Louisiana and Virginia before flying on a mission that would make history.
During WWII air evacuation of casualties was in its infancy and procedures, as well as training of flight nurses, was not perfected. Before aeromedical evacuation, the injured would have to wait weeks and often months, to be sent back home to the U.S.
The Army Air Corps started to spin up a program for flight nurses in 1941 in order to aeromedically evacuate patients from the field.
Ott had never even been on an airplane, nor had training on the aircraft when she was assigned to fly a week-long mission. On Jan. 17, 1943 the flight originated in Karachi, India, and was to fly to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Five patients were assigned to the flight and Ott was only given a simple first aid kit to care for all of them.
It was a week later when Ott reached Walter Reed with the patients, all of them alive and well. She made sure to take detailed notes throughout her journey to improve the procedures and training for future flight nurses. Some of the suggestions she noted included, oxygen bottles, blankets, more medical supplies, and a change of uniform from skirts to pants.
Above, Army nurses tend to patients on aircraft.
Ott’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed and were used to improve aeromedical evacuation processes, to this day. Two months after her groundbreaking first flight she was awarded the U.S. Air Medal. She was the first woman in U.S. Army history to obtain such and honor.
Brigadier General Fred Borum presents the Air Medal to 2nd Lieutenant Elsie Ott
(Photo by the U.S. Air Force).
Due to Elsie Ott’s unwavering persistence while caring for her patients and individual contributions, flight nurses today can give their patients the highest level of care in the air while returning them safely home.
The American Civil War was a bloody, brutal time in the history of the United States. It not only pitted “brother against brother,” as the saying goes, it was a fight over the soul of the country for (at least) the next 150 years.
But while most people know the broad brushstrokes of the war’s causes and conflicts, there are some little known facts that for some might cast America’s bloodiest war in a whole new light.
1. The first soldier killed in the war died entirely by accident.
The opening salvos of the Civil War were fired during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina. When P.G.T Beauregard accepted the surrender of the fort, there were zero fatalities on either side. When the Union troops lowered the American flag, they gave it a 100-gun salute.
2. The Civil War began and ended at the same guy’s house.
While the opening shots of the war were in Charleston Harbor, the first major battle was fought nearly three months later at the First Battle of Bull Run, also known as “First Manassas.” General Beauregard used the house of Virginian Wilmer McLean as his headquarters during the fight. McLean moved his family away from the area shortly after to a two-story house at a place called Appomattox Court House.
3. Battles have multiple names because the of the backgrounds of their soldiers.
The bulk of the Union troops were city dwellers and townspeople. When they talked about a battle, the notable things they saw were the natural features of the battlefield. Confederates were by and large from rural areas. When they remember a battle, their inclination is to talk about the manufactured, populated, or otherwise man-made features of the area.
For example, both times the two forces met near Manassas Rail Station, the Southerners dubbed the fights First and Second Battle of Manassas, while the Union troops named it after Bull Run, the nearby stream. At least 230 such Civil War combat actions are known to have multiple names.
4. Black soldiers refused their pay in protest for 18 months.
In 1864, Congress ordered they be paid equal wages, with full pay, retroactive to the start of their enlistment. In a seemingly odd historical contrast, black soldiers fighting for the South were paid equal wages from the start of the war.
5. A disproportionate number of black men and immigrants fought the Civil War.
Meanwhile, roughly 25 percent of recruits for the Union army were immigrants. By 1860, 13 percent of Americans were born overseas and 43 percent of the armed forces were either immigrants or the sons of immigrants. Foreigners lined up at U.S. diplomatic legations abroad to join the Union cause — so many that the U.S. minister to Berlin had to put a sign up to tell people his office was not a recruiter, for example.
6. Slavery didn’t end until eight months after the war ended.
President Lincoln outlawed slavery in U.S. territories in 1862. He freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held in rebel states. The President worked to eliminate slavery from the U.S. in the most piecemeal fashion he could. There was no formal law abolishing slavery until the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery — except by punishment of a crime.
The 13th Amendment was passed on January 31, 1865, but that didn’t end slavery there. For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the States – including those in rebellion. When the war ended in April 1865, the amendment needed 27 of the 36 states, but only had 22. Georgia became the 27th when it ratified the 13th amendment on December 6th, 1865. About 45,000 slaves were freed in the last two slave states (Delaware and Kentucky) 12 days later.
7. Men drafted by the Union during the Civil War could hire a substitute.
The first-ever forced conscription in American history was enacted by the Confederacy. White men between ages 18 and 35 (and later, 45 as the war dragged on) had a three-year mandatory service obligation. The Confederate draft was very unpopular because it was viewed as a government violation of personal rights — the reason the South was fighting the Civil War.
8. Lincoln’s first War Secretary thought Gen. William T. Sherman was insane.
It was Sherman’s capture of Atlanta that won Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, ending the Democratic Party’s call for peace talks. His March to the Sea and subsequent uncontested sweep through the Carolinas devastated the South and hastened the end of the war.
But in 1861, Sherman wasn’t himself. When then-War Secretary Simon Cameron asked Sherman how many men he needed to defend the North, the general’s request for 260,000 men caused Cameron to remove Sherman from command and send him to Kentucky under the command of a Brigadier of U.S. Volunteers, Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman had a nervous breakdown and was considered unfit for duty.
After Grant’s rise to prominence in the Union Army, Sherman was moved to Grant’s old command and the rest is history. When Congress moved to have Sherman elevated to Grant’s position, Sherman wrote to them:
General Grant is a great general. I know him well. He stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk; and now, sir, we stand by each other always.
9. Neither side could actually afford to fight the war.
The Union, as any high school history class teaches us, was the manufacturing center of the United States in 1861, while the South had a mostly agrarian economy. With this industrial base, the North was able to produce the goods needed to fight the war while the South had to make do with what it could scrape together.
But history shows neither side could really afford the war. The Union’s total income through taxes could only account for 15 percent of its spending. Even with increased tariffs, the first income tax, and other excises taxes, the Federal government only ever made a quarter of what it spent. The Union was forced to take on foreign debt to finance itself – $2.7 billion worth.
The South fared no better, of course. Its tax revenues only earned 11 percent of its fiscal needs. A third of its revenues came from printing money, as opposed to 18 percent in the North. Where the North’s borrowed money would lead to a post-war boom, the interest on Confederate debt being bought in England and the Netherlands began to cost more than the war itself. Tax revenues in the South actually declined as the war continued.
10. The Civil War killed more American troops than any other war, and 2/3 died of disease.
An estimated 625,000 people were killed in the Civil War, and that number only includes those who died fighting. There an estimated 225,000 civilian casualties, which would set the total as high as 850,000.
The number one killer of Civil War troops was disease – the most prevalent were dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, pneumonia, and simple childhood troubles like measles and mumps. Flies, mosquitoes, ticks, lice, maggots, and fleas were rampant and germ theory was not yet accepted medical practice.
11. The Rebel Flag isn’t really the Confederate Flag.
The now-controversial and highly recognizable rebel flag, or “Dixie Flag,” wasn’t the official banner of the Confederate States of America. The crossed bar flag was actually just the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
A few states still base their flag on different iterations of the actual, official CSA flag, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee. The “Stars and Bars” flag that represented the Southern states features three bars and seven stars. The battle flag was used to make it easier to distinguish it from the North’s flag in combat.
12. The U.S. government is still paying a Civil War pension.
“Whenever there is no surviving spouse entitled to pension, the Secretary shall pay to the children of each Civil War veteran who met the service requirements of section 1532 of this title a pension at the monthly rate of $73.13 for one child.” Thus reads the text of Title 38 of the U.S. Code regarding the rules for veterans’ benefits to spouses and dependents of former soldiers.
In 2014, the Wall Street Journal found Irene Triplett, the 86-year-old daughter of Civil War veteran Mose Triplett (a rebel, in case you were curious, who deserted and joined the Union). Mose died in 1938, but his daughter continued receiving the $73.13 owed to her from Department of Veterans Affairs.
Once upon a time, Fort Wetherill was a coastal artillery installation on Conanicut Island in Jamestown, Rhode Island. It was a beautiful post that sat atop tall granite cliffs that looked over Narragansett Bay. Today, Fort Wetherill no longer exists in its former state. After it was used as a coastal defense during World War I and World War II, the fort was effectively abandoned by 1946.
What to do with an abandoned military fort?
Then it sat, slowly decomposing for about 30 years. In 1972, the US government gave the installation back to the state of Rhode Island. Luckily, the state recognized Fort Wetherill as not only a historic site, but a gorgeous piece of land. That’s why they turned it and the surrounding 51 acres into Fort Wetherill State Park.
Visiting the actual fort inside the state park today, you’ll find it covered in colorful graffiti. It might be hard to believe, but these graffiti-painted cement remnants of Fort Wetherill used to be active parts of combat. For instance, it’s easy to spot where the cannons would have been mounted if you know what you’re looking for: denoted circular areas of the fort. Some of those circular areas still have the screws in place that would have mounted the cannons and the tracks for rotating them.
Explore the underground bunkers
The often crumbling remains of Fort Wetherill aren’t just for outdoor browsing either. With a little maneuvering, you can enter some of the fort’s underground bunkers and walk through its narrow corridors and rooms, also covered in bright graffiti. However, bring a flashlight because you won’t be able to see anything without one. Aside from the graffiti, you might also notice that some of the corridors have tracks that run along the ceiling. These tracks were for storing and easily moving cannon ammunition.
Walking around the remains of the abandoned Fort Wetherill, it quickly becomes obvious just how huge it was. Some of the more interesting places to visit are its old lookout towers, where it’s easy to imagine Military personnel standing on watch, looking straight out to the bay for enemies.
The public access is much appreciated
If you couldn’t tell by all the graffiti, Rhode Island is not exactly “preserving” Fort Wetherill, even though it is the base for a state park. Overgrown with trees and all kinds of foliage, exploring its ruins probably feels like a true adventure into long-lost history. However, even though it may feel like you’re sneaking around a place where you’re not supposed to be, most of the old Fort Wetherill remains open to the public.