The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

After the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781, the Revolutionary War started to die down and peace talks began between Great Britain and America. The attention of the Continental Army shifted from battle to pay. Many soldiers fought without pay, but were promised backpay by Congress after the war. However, with the dissolution of the Army on the horizon and no news of financial restitution in sight, many began to question the promise they were made.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
The patriots had many years of hard fighting that led up to Yorktown (Public Domain)

In 1780, Congress promised Continental Army officers a lifetime pension of half of their pay following their discharge. However, in 1782, the pay was stopped as a cost-saving measure and promised as future backpay. These issues of owed money became a common topic in the Continental Army’s main camp at Newburgh, New York. The camp sat on the Hudson River north of New York City where British activity could be monitored as the war wound down.

Though small groups of soldiers wrote to Congress to express their concern with the pay issue, no action was taken and no response was given. Instead, General Henry Knox organized enough officers to draft a letter to Congress that couldn’t be ignored. The letter, which was delivered to Congress in December 1782, expressed the concerns that many soldiers had over their lack of pay and threatened that, “any further experiments on their [the Continental Army’s] patience may have fatal effects.”

As ever, Congress was divided on the matter. The national treasury was depleted by the war and Congress lacked the power to draw funds from the states. A tax proposal was struck down for fear that it could be used by Congress to raise funds for itself. The members of congress continued to deliberate, but could not reach an agreeable solution.

By February 1783, rumors began to circulate that a preliminary peace agreement had been reached in Paris. This, of course, meant that the dissolution of the Army had grown that much closer. Alexander Hamilton wrote to Washington urging him to, “take the direction of them [the disgruntled army].” Washington was stuck between a rock and a hard place. While he sympathized with his unpaid soldiers and officers, he also sympathized with the impossible situation of Congress. However, he refused to use the military to threaten the government. Still, more rumors circulated throughout the Newburgh camp that the majority of the army would refuse to disband until it was paid.

On the morning of March 10, an unsigned letter began to circulate the camp calling for the army to send Congress an ultimatum. Simultaneously, another anonymous letter was put out calling for a meeting of all field officers the next day at 11 AM. Washington responded with the issuance of a general order on the morning of March 11 in which he called the anonymous letters “disorderly” and “irregular.” He also called for his own meeting of officers on the 15th. However, he detailed that the meeting would be presided over by the senior officer present and requested a report of the meeting, implying that he would not attend. The next morning, another anonymous letter circulated claiming that Washington’s call for the meeting was a sign of support for the conspirators.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh. The meeting was held in a building that no longer stands. (New York State Parks)

On the evening of March 15, General Horatio Gates opened the meeting as the senior officer present. To everyone’s surprise, Washington himself entered the building just afterwards. He asked to address the officers and Gates, stunned by the appearance of their Commander in Chief, relinquished the floor. However, the surprise of the other officers quickly dissipated and returned to anger over their lack of pay. Washington noted how they did not display the respect or deference that they had shown him in the past.

Washington delivered a short but passionate speech, now known as the Newburgh Address, in which he called for patience. He asked his officers to oppose anyone “who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.” Afterwards, he pulled out a letter from a member of Congress to read to the officers. However, Washington simply gazed upon the letter and fumbled with it. Then, he pulled out a new pair of glasses and said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

In the 18th century, glasses were far less common than they are today, and the levels of healthcare and life expectancy were similarly lower. For Washington to produce his glasses before his officers, most of whom had never seen him with spectacles, was an admittance of age and weariness. This great hero of the American Revolution that they had followed for years reduced himself to an old man before their eyes. Washington’s display of vulnerability brought many of the officers to tears. Their gripes over pay were eclipsed by Washington’s own sacrifices and the conspiracy of a coup dissolved as he read the letter from behind his glasses.

After Washington read the letter, he departed. General Knox and other officers immediately drafted resolutions affirming their loyalty. Knox and Colonel John Brooks were then appointed to a committee to draft a suitable resolution. All but one officer in the assembly approved of the resolution which expressed an “unshaken confidence” in Congress and a “disdain” and “abhorrence” for the anonymous letters previously published.

Meanwhile, Washington delivered the anonymous letters to Congress which James Madison called “alarming intelligence”. A final agreement was reached for five years of full pay rather than the lifetime pension. Government bonds were issued and, though many were wary of their value, were redeemed in full by the new government in 1790. Congressional financier Robert Morris issued $800,000 worth of personal notes to soldiers upon the disbanding of the Continental Army in 1783.

The Newburgh Conspiracy validated Washington’s position on civilian control of the military. His show of humility before his officers allowed cooler heads to prevail and demonstrated the efficacy of the republic he was trying to, and did, create.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
(Public Domain)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard took the first Nazi prisoners of World War II

Built in the early 1930s, the 165-foot “B”-Class cutters were often referred to as the Thetis-Class. The Thetis-class cutters proved good sea boats becoming the backbone of the Coast Guard’s coastal patrol and convoy force during World War II.


Among these cutters was the Argo, which escorted Nazi Germany’s last surrendered U-boats into captivity and the Thetis, one of 11 Coast Guard cutters credited with sinking a U-boat. However, the most honored of these cutters was Icarus, which sank U-352 and captured its crew at the beginning of World War II.

Icarus and its sister cutters were designed for Prohibition enforcement, specifically tracking down rum running ships outside U.S. territorial waters. These cutters required excellent sea-keeping qualities, long-term accommodations for crew, and greater fuel capacity. Icarus was built by Bath Iron Works in Maine and commissioned on April 1, 1932.

The cutter reported for duty at Stapleton, New York, on Staten Island, and served as part of the New York Division’s Special Patrol Force, which conducted law enforcement patrols in support of Prohibition regulations. After passage of the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, Icarus continued sailing out of Stapleton on law enforcement and search and rescue patrols.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Official photograph of Lt. Cmdr. Maurice Jester and his family. (Coast Guard Collection)

After war erupted in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard assigned Icarus to Neutrality Patrols protecting merchant vessels from attacks by European combatants. With the 1941 U.S. entry into World War II, Icarus joined its sister cutters in escorting coastal convoys and anti-submarine patrols in American waters.

On the morning of Friday, May 8, 1942, Icarus departed Staten Island for Key West, Florida. On Saturday at about 4:20 p.m., while off the coast of North Carolina, Icarus’s sonar operator picked up a “mushy” contact 2,000 yards off its port bow. The cutter’s crew went to general quarters and assumed battle stations.

Ten minutes after the first sonar contact, an explosion believed to be a torpedo rocked the cutter about 200 yards off the port side. Reversing course, Icarus sped toward the contact, which was heading toward the spot where the explosion had occurred. The underwater contact sharpened and, for the first time, propeller sounds were heard by the sonarman. The contact was lost at 180 yards but, after a calculated interval, Icarus dropped five depth charges in a diamond shape with one charge in the center.

The sonar operator next determined that the contact was slowly moving west, so the cutter altered course to intercept it. Two more charges were dropped in a “V” pattern at a point leading the contact’s underwater track and, as roiling water from the explosions subsided, large bubbles were observed on the surface. Icarus reversed course again and dropped a single charge on the spot where the air bubbles had surfaced. Six minutes later, the cutter dropped a second charge in the same location.

Now Read: This is how the Coast Guard got its stripes

At 10 minutes past 5:00 p.m., shortly after the last charge had been dropped, a U-boat broke the surface 1,000 yards from Icarus. The heavily armed sub emerged bow first and down by the stern. The cutter’s crew was ready, opening fire with all machine guns that could bear on the sub. Meanwhile, the U-boat’s crew began abandoning ship. Icarus’s commanding officer, Lt. Maurice Jester, altered course to ram and the cutter’s 3-inch main battery was brought to bear on the submarine. The first 3-inch round fell short ricocheting off the water and through the conning tower. The second round overshot the sub, but the next 12 rounds hit the U-boat or came close, with seven of them hitting home. Minutes later, the damaged U-boat began to subside into the sea.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Coast Guard Cutter Icarus disembarking U-352 crew members at the Charleston Navy Yard in Charleston, S.C. (Coast Guard Collection)

As the submarine sank, Icarus ceased firing, but the cutter circled the spot where the U-boat had disappeared. Icarus re-established sonar contact with the submerged sub and the cutter’s sonarman heard propeller noises again. Taking no chances, Jester ordered one last depth charge dropped over the U-boat, which brought a large air bubble to the surface. No further noises were heard from sub; the vessel had finally been vanquished. Meanwhile, 35 Germans were struggling on the surface to avoid the cutter’s path and its deadly depth charges. Expecting to be machine-gunned in the water, many yelled, “Don’t shoot us!”

At 5:50 p.m., the Icarus crew began rescue operations and retrieved Germans from the water. Except for the wounded survivors, the prisoners were placed under guard in the cutter’s forward crew compartment. The U-boat’s commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Helmut Rathke, was among the survivors. At this point, it was learned that the submarine was U-352, carrying a complement of 48 men. Seven of the crew went down with the U-boat while others died in the water after abandoning ship. By 6:05, 33 survivors had been rescued and the cutter proceeded to Charleston Navy Yard as ordered.

Also Read: How Hitler terrorized the seas with U-boats during World War II

The German prisoners exhibited good discipline and were surprised by the fine treatment they received on board Icarus. Several of the U-boat’s crew spoke English and talked freely on personal matters, but disclosed no military information. Three of Icarus’s crew also spoke German and conversed with the prisoners. The prisoners wished to know how much money the Coast Guard crew would receive for sinking a submarine and if crewmembers received promotions for doing so. The Germans related that they received medals and bonuses for sinking ships, the amount depending on the size and tonnage of their victims. Four of the prisoners also mentioned they had relatives living in the U.S.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Hellmut Rathke (bearded, standing left) and a junior officer after disembarking in Charleston, S.C. (Courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

On Sunday morning, Icarus arrived at the Navy Yard. There, the cutter delivered 32 prisoners and one prisoner who died of his wounds en route to Charleston. To keep the enemy in doubt about the U-boat’s fate, naval authorities did not disclose the sinking of U-352 until almost a year later, on May 1, 1943. For the remainder of the war, Icarus continued its convoy escort work, search and rescue duties and anti-submarine patrols. In the fall of 1946, the ship was placed in reserve status and stored at Staten Island. The Coast Guard decommissioned Icarus in 1948 and sold it to the Southeastern Terminal and Steamship Company.

Icarus was the second American warship to sink a U-boat and the first to capture German combatants. For his command of Icarus in the attack and sinking of U-352, Jester received one of only six Navy Cross Medals awarded to Coast Guardsmen during the war. Icarus was one of numerous combat cutters that served the heroic Coast Guardsmen of the long blue line during World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II vets rebuilt an APC to drive through the Iron Curtain

On July 25, 1953, seven Czechoslovakians rolled across one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world to freedom in the West. They rolled over three rows of barbed wire, land mines, and guard towers on their way into West Germany. The Czech border guards didn’t even try to stop them. No one fired a shot. They all just watched in stunned disbelief as the Nazi armored personnel vehicle just tore its way across the Iron Curtain.


The story of Vaclav Uhlik is a success story for American soft power, specifically the Cold War-era broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. Uhlik was an engineer in the new, Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia following the end of World War II. He was a concentration camp survivor, a fighter for the Czech Underground, and mechanic who hid a big secret from the new Communist authorities in his country: there was an armored vehicle in his backyard – and he was rebuilding it.

For three years, he listened to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe as he gathered parts and materials needed to get the APC operational again. The broadcasts gave him hope. His progress gave him patience. He was assisted by former Czech soldiers Walter Hora and Vaclav Krejciri in his efforts, and they were rewarded by riding in the vehicle the night it was to drive to the West.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The Czech-West German Border in 1980.

(Photo by Alan Denney)

Starting nearly from scratch, the men slowly reconstructed a battered Nazi Saurer RR-7 Artillery Tractor. Vaclav Uhlik, the engineer, rebuilt the vehicle as an armored personnel carrier. He made it large enough to carry himself, his wife and two children, the two veterans, Josef Pisarik, and Libuse Hrdonkova, a Czech woman who married an American after the war. Since he could only stay with her for three months, she decided to come to him in Iowa.

After years of tinkering and preparation, the modified RR-7, covered in the brush and foliage that hid it from Czechoslovakian authorities for so long, rumbled its way to the West German border. They drove through the Bavarian forest to the Wald-München (near Nuremberg) border crossing. And he did cross the border, except he didn’t go through the gates, instead opting to go right through the rows of barbed wire between guard towers and minefields.

The border guards just watched in awe, as they thought the APC was a friendly army vehicle. The Czechs inside had only what they wore with them, but they were on the right side of the Iron Curtain.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The seven Czechs drove the APC for several miles into West Germany and away from the border until they were stopped by West German police, taken to an American installation to be interviewed by intelligence officers, and then welcomed to their new home in the West. They would eventually be resettled in Springfield, Mass. – all except Hrdonkova. She would move to Sioux City, Iowa, to be with her long-separated husband.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the helicopters of World War II

Think of a military helicopter. Think of it in combat. Is it a Black Hawk dropping off operators in urban combat? A Chinook picking troops up from a remote ridge or rooftop? Maybe you’re old school and you see a Piasecki H-25 or H-19 Chickasaw from the Korean War. But few people will think all the way back to World War II when German and American helicopters all served on the front lines.


The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The Sikorsky R-4 helicopter was one of America’s only helicopters to see active service in World War II, acting predominantly as a rescue and transportation asset in the China-Burma-India Theater.

(U.S. Coast Guard photo)

America’s military helicopter program was largely carried by two companies, both prominent helicopter manufacturers today who, oddly enough, are now competing to create the Army’s next generation of vertical lift aircraft. Sikorsky’s founder, Igor Sikorsky, was a Russian-American immigrant who wanted to help his adopted country fight in World War II.

He received financial backing from friends to start manufacturing aircraft, predominantly fixed-wing planes, for the U.S. military. But, off to the side, he was developing new helicopter designs including the VS-500, an aircraft that used one large rotor blade to generate lift and another, smaller rotor blade mounted on a long boom to generate anti-torque. This is the same blade configuration now used on everything from the UH-60 to the AH-64 Apache.

The VS-300 prototype quickly gave way the R-4, a two-seater helicopter that would serve most predominantly with the U.S. Army but also the Navy, Coast Guard, and the Royal Air Force. It first began rolling off the production line in 1942 and was primarily used for observation and to ferry supplies.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The German-made Flettner 282 helicopter was employed against Allied naval assets near the end of World War II, but was then captured by Allied troops. In this photo, it’s undergoing testing with the U.S. military.

(Public Domain)

But, the helicopter was also employed in two daring rescue missions in the challenging terrain of the China-Burma-India Theater. The helicopters could just barely make it through the high mountain passes that planes could easily fly over, but the rotary aircraft could land in small clearings that were impossible for planes to stop in or take off from.

Other helicopters were in development during the war. The Bell Aircraft Corporation, later known as Bell Helicopters and now Bell Flight, created the Bell Model 30 that would see limited use on the home front, but it would not be deployed overseas.

Meanwhile, Germany’s helicopter program was much more advanced than America’s or the Allies’. They debuted experimental helicopter designs before the war and even flew prototypes in front of adoring crowds for weeks in 1938.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The Focke-Angelis Fa-223 helicopter was a German machine popular during the war. It had a heavy lift capability for the day that allowed it to re-position artillery in forward positions.

(U.S. Air Force)

This pre-war research led to the Fa-223, the “Dragon.” Five types were planned with missions from anti-submarine, to search and rescue, to cargo carrying. But it really predicted future developments when it was used to recover crashed aircraft and to move artillery batteries to inaccessible mountaintops where they would have greater range and better defenses.

Meanwhile, the Flettner-282 Hummingbird was designed to seek out enemy submarines at sea and other threats. It was completed late in the war with early models going through testing in 1943. But the first 24 were completed in time for limited deployments to the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean Sea.

A number of other models were in experimental phases during the closing months of the war, but saw limited or no combat use before war’s end. But the American, German, and other designs that didn’t quite make it into the fight would prove influential for decades to come.

Articles

This is the massive Nazi sneak attack at the Battle of the Bulge

On Dec. 16, 1944, Adolf Hitler launched an ambitious but badly planned counterattack meant to break the back of the Allied forces and allow the Nazis to dictate the peace terms that would end the war.


Instead, it guaranteed his defeat, but not before forcing hundreds of thousands of soldiers on each side to fight in bitter, near-Arctic levels of cold amidst driving winter storms and winds. Managing a surprise attack with dozens of divisions is no easy feat. Here’s how they did it at the Battle of the Bulge.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
American soldiers man a roadblock during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

First, the Germans initiated a crackdown on all communications. Transmissions related directly to the offensive were limited to the telephone lines and couriers. But American intelligence was also struggling with a general plunge in the volume of intelligence since the Germans had pulled out of France and concentrated in Germany.

In France, German communications were more reliant on the use of radio waves, which could be intercepted. French citizens were also likely to report Nazi movements, providing near real-time intel. On the German side of the border, both of these advantages disappeared.

Worse, the few reports that did indicate a German buildup, such as the statements of captured German deserters, were ignored or brushed off as untrustworthy.

In the days leading up to Dec. 16, these problems were compounded by a dense fog that grounded Allied reconnaissance planes and limited visibility to the point that Allied soldiers were unlikely to spot much German movement, especially in the thick Ardennes forest.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
U.S. medics evacuate a casualty through the thick forest during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Despite these advantages, the German troop buildup was a logistical nightmare. Hitler’s plan required 30 divisions, including 12 panzer divisions, and over 1,000 planes be transported to the Ardennes using only trains and horses to limit fuel consumption. In addition to all supplies consumed, Hitler wanted to stage 4.5 million gallons of fuel and 50 trainloads of ammunition for the advance.

All of this buildup had to take place under Allied air attack without the Allies getting wise. Surprisingly, the Germans were mostly successful.

The troop buildup portion was actually more successful than planned with approximately 1,500 troop trains and 500 supply trains carrying 12 armored divisions and 29 infantry divisions to the staging areas for the offensive.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Army Pfc. Frank Vukasin of Great Falls, Montana, stops to load a clip into his rifle at Houffalize, Belgium, on Jan. 15, 1945, near the end of the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army from the Eisenhower Archives)

The aerial buildup was less successful. The Germans had 1,250 planes ready before Dec. 16 — 250 less than originally planned.

But the weather turned in the German’s favor in the days before the attack. The heavy fogs that limited reconnaissance flights also grounded most other planes, neutering the Allied air forces and eliminating that advantage.

So, on Dec. 16, the Germans launched their three-pronged attack against what were largely inexperienced and exhausted troops defending the forest. The most combat-ready troops had been moved to other areas to prepare for an Allied invasion across the German borders.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Infantrymen of the 3rd Armored Division advance under artillery fire in Pont-Le-Ban, Belgium. January 15, 1945. (Photo and cutline: U.S. Army)

The Germans further complicated the American’s situation by sending thousands of English-speaking German troops behind American lines in captured uniforms and jeeps to commit acts of sabotage and to spy on the American response.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff briefing was interrupted that night with word of the German advance, and he immediately pegged it as a massive counterattack with the goal of driving to the Atlantic. He ordered both the 7th and 10th Armored divisions to drive in to help.

Army Gen. George S. Patton, the commander of the Third Army, which contained the 10th Armored Division, was ordered to “attack in column of regiments and drive like hell.”

Many American units were quickly surrounded and forced to fight against a siege by German units. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were ordered forward to relieve pressure on the American lines, arriving before the siege was complete.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
American Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The 101st was dedicated predominantly to the defense of Bastogne, a city where seven key highways met, making it crucial for the victory or defeat of the German attack. When the Germans requested the 101st’s surrender from Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe and his staff, the general famously responded with “NUTS!” and continued the defense.

For the first week, the Allies fought desperate defensive and delaying actions against the Nazi juggernaut, usually at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, supplies, and equipment.

But the weather cleared on Dec. 23, and Allied air forces surged into the sky to beat back the Luftwaffe and provide support to the beleaguered forces on the ground. Bombing runs broke up German forces in staging areas while strafing by fighters tore through attacking columns.

A few days later, Patton’s Third Army reached the German lines and cut a path through them. Hitler’s bold advance had fallen well short of its goal of the Belgian coast and German units, overextended and undersupplied, began to be rounded up and captured. By the end of January, the Allies had regained the lost ground and were once again marching towards Berlin.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘1917’ is going to be the coolest World War I movie ever

After a century, World War I is finally getting the treatment in American cinema it so richly deserves. While some of the best war movies were World War I movies, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lawrence of Arabia, there were also many misses. What’s surprising is that there are relatively few WWI movies, when compared to those depicting other wars.

No longer. 1917 is a new movie based on the Great War, coming in December. And it looks like it could be the definitive WWI movie.


The film takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres, where a British contingent of 1,600 men is due to walk into a German trap. Two Tommies are given the assignment to proceed on foot to warn the unit about their orders – the ones that take them directly into an ambush. Their mission takes them across the Ypres battlefields and through the deadly trench warfare that is now synonymous with the Great War.

What’s more remarkable about 1917 is that it’s based on a true story, one told to director Sam Mendes by his own grandfather, Alfred. Alfred Mendes received the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” during the war. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in the UK armed forces in 1993, and would be the fifth-highest medal awarded by the United Kingdom today.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

Relentless rain, mud, and death marked the Battle of Ypres.

The elder Mendes ran through snipers, trenches, moving artillery barrages, and machine-gun fire to deliver messages for two full days during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Mendes’ grandfather was raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but left to join the fight against Germany, joining the British Army in 1916, at the age of 19. He saw action at the WWI Battles of Passchendaele (Ypres) and Poelcappelle. He was sent to go find survivors of a failed attack during Poelcappelle. It was a dangerous assignment, one his commander said he might not return from.

Despite encountering all of World War I’s signature death traps, he still managed to find survivors while surviving himself. He made it back to his company’s shell hole intact.

“In spite of the snipers, the machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back at C Company’s shell hole without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end,” he would later write in his autobiography.

1917 is based on Medes’ experiences on this mission. The film is set to release on Dec. 25, 2019.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Author traces family’s MIA journey through Laos

When Jessica Pearce Rotondi lost her mother to breast cancer in 2009, she had no idea of what she would gain: the chance to become a part of her military family’s history. The unexpected journey took her from her childhood home in Massachusetts to the lush mountains of Laos, where her airman uncle was shot down in 1972.


“Sending a loved one away and not knowing if they’ll walk through the door again is an incredible sacrifice,” Rotondi said.

It’s a sacrifice her mother’s family made multiple times. For not only was her Uncle Jack shot down alongside his AC-130 crew during the “secret war” in the neutral nation of Laos, her grandfather — Jack’s father — fell from the sky too, spending two and a half years in a German POW camp during WWII.

As “What We Inherit: A Secret War and a Family’s Search for Answers” so arrestingly confesses in its first sentence, Rotondi comes from “a family that loses children.”Rotondi spent a decade researching and writing her debut novel, a deeply personal family memoir and obscure history lesson released this April. Historical supporting evidence, it turns out, would be hard to come by.

Read more about Vietnam War vets traveling to find answers.

“Much about what happened in Laos has only recently been declassified. I embedded photographs of some of the reports and letters I found directly into the book, because I wanted to recreate that sense of expectation to show how the force of a single document can change a family’s hopes,” Rotondi, a Brooklyn resident, said. “Getting CIA officers, refugees and former soldiers on the record about their role in the war was a slow exercise in trust-building but led to some incredible conversations.”

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

Before her mother’s death, conversation about Rotondi’s uncle and grandfather’s wartime experiences were few. A chance discovery of a hidden-in-the-closet file cabinet just hours after her mother’s passing launched Rotondi onto what would eventually become “What We Inherit.” It involved thousands of hours of research, sifting through redacted files, yellowed newspaper clippings and maps of questionable accuracy.

Rotondi, whose work has been published in the likes of The Huffington Post and The History Channel, traveled to Southeast Asia in 2013 to locate her uncle’s crash site. She was not the first family member to do so; she was simply retracing her grandpa’s steps through Laos as he obsessively searched for answers about his missing son years earlier.

The process of writing her family’s tragedies reminded Rotondi of the incredible strength of military families.

“I had the incredible privilege of speaking to other families of the missing for this book, and the biggest takeaway from them was the strength of the unspoken bond between military families,” she said. “I read somewhere that we never truly die until our name stops being spoken aloud. There is power in talking about our lost and missing veterans — especially with the next generation.”

What We Inherit,” a book worth reading, ensures that will never happen on Rotondi’s watch.

Articles

These Combat Tracker teams were America’s secret weapon in Vietnam

As American forces became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam it was quickly apparent to commanders that they were fighting a war for which they were not prepared.


The guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics of the Viet Cong were difficult to counter, especially for conventional forces. Luckily, our allies, the British, had already developed a tactic that they had used to great effect in Malaya.

Facing a communist insurgency of their own, but with limited resources, the British had developed specialized teams to track the enemy through the jungle and destroy them. This tactic was so effective the British would employ it against insurgencies all across the empire.

Knowing the French tactics had been insufficient, and not wanting to meet the same fate, Gen. Westmoreland sent observers to the British Jungle Warfare School in Malaya to see if the tactics could be adopted by American forces.

Impressed by what they saw the Americans made a deal for the British to train fourteen teams, to be known as Combat Tracker Teams, at the British Jungle Warfare School. Due to British neutrality, the soldiers to be trained traveled on official government passports and used only British gear while in training so as to maintain secrecy and low-visibility.

The basic organization of the Combat Tracker Teams consisted of two to four sections of five-men. The section was composed of a team leader, a visual tracker, a cover man, a radio operator, and a dog handler with a well-trained Labrador retriever. Not typical for combat operations the Labs were highly-effective in Vietnam. They were effective trackers, quiet in the field, and, most importantly, due to their even-temperament could more easily change handlers – a prized-quality for an army rotating men out of country, but often heart-breaking for their handlers.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Australian soldiers helped Americans train for combat tracking tactics in Vietnam. (Photo Bryan Campbell via Flickr)

The teams were in for intense training once they arrived in Malaya. For the dog handlers training was three months long, for everyone else it was two months. The cadre consisted of British and New Zealand SAS as well as Gurkhas, who usually played the enemy to add to the realism. Wash out rates were high.

The initial address to the trainees was often quite shocking to them. They were told the problem with the American army was that it was more focused on rank than knowledge. And that by the time they were done, they would feel more at home in the jungle than the North Vietnamese themselves.

After surviving the grueling training, the first teams returned to Vietnam in 1967 to be assigned to combat units. The team assigned to the 101st Airborne Division was told they must go through the division’s finishing school before they would be allowed in the field. Part-way through the first day it became obvious to the cadre that the trackers knew more than they could possibly teach them and they were passed through the course on the spot.

According to their group’s website, once in country, the Combat Tracker Teams were to “reestablish contact with the ‘elusive enemy’; reconnaissance of an area for possible enemy activities; and locate lost or missing friendly personnel.”

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Americans in Vietnam adopted a tactic used by the British for decades during their insurgent wars throughout the empire. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Once the troops hit the ground, they knew why their trainers had pushed them so hard – keeping up with a dog in the jungle while staying absolutely silent, as well as being alert and constantly ready for action is very hard work.

But that work paid off for the Americans. It was common to hear from the grunts about how the enemy could just “melt back into the jungle.” And that was where the trackers came in. Pushing out well ahead of the line infantry units no detail was too small for either the visual tracker or the working dog to pick up.

John Dupla, a combat tracker with the 1st Cavalry Division, said “we were taught to develop a sixth sense, utilizing methods Native American scouts used, such as looking for broken twigs and turned over leaves and rocks.”

Depending on the conditions and situation either the visual tracker or the dog handler and his lab would lead the team. Always right behind him was the cover man. Since the point person’s attention was focused on searching for trails and clues the cover man became his lookout, providing protection.

Although the unit’s mission was often not to directly engage the enemy, sometimes it was unavoidable. As one combat tracker related “if you got into something, you shot your way out.” Ideally, the trackers would locate the enemy and call the infantry behind them into the fight.

However, as the Viet Cong became aware of the effectiveness of the trackers they sought ways to counter them. Retreating groups would often send a contingent off in a different direction to draw the trackers away from the main force and into an ambush. One Combat Tracker Team lost their visual tracker and cover man to enemy snipers in this manner.

In a further effort to disrupt the trackers, and a sure sign of their effectiveness, the North Vietnamese put out bounties on their heads. The fear they struck in the enemy gave the trackers great pride.

Despite their effectiveness many American commanders simply did not understand how to properly employ the trackers. Their small size and the secrecy of their training meant few in the infantry understood how they operated. They were sometimes thought of as scouts and to simply walk point for a larger formation.

The program was disbanded in 1971 as American drew down forces in Vietnam. The trackers were broken up and folded into their parent infantry units. Veiled in secrecy and lacking the notoriety of Special Forces the legacy of the Combat Tracker Teams quietly faded away.

There is no doubt though that the Combat Tracker Teams were effective, saved lives, and made life much harder for the enemy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How battleship salvos worked in sea combat

There are no battleships left in active service. But they were once the kings of the seas, essentially sea dragons that could literally breathe fire. But these behemoths didn’t take shots in combat willy-nilly. They typically fired in salvos or partial salvos, with all or most of their guns firing at once. How come?


Salvo (Military Tactic)

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Well, there are actually a lot of good reasons why battleships and other large artillery platforms typically fire all of their guns or a lot of them at once. This practice, known as a salvo, has different uses.

The most common and obvious reasons to fire all the guns at once is to knock out the enemy’s ability to make war as quickly as possible. Battleships are mobile platforms. That means that they are out of range of the enemy until, suddenly, they’re not. And if the ships are still closing or if the enemy has better range, then the battleship is in as much danger as the enemy.

But if the battleship fires all of its guns at once and manages to land a couple hits home, then the enemy ship will be forced to fight while crippled. Crucial manpower will be diverted to damage control, some guns could be knocked completely out of service, and there’s a chance that the engine or the bridge or another essential area could be destroyed.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

The USS Missouri fires a broadside.

(U.S. Navy)

If the battleship isn’t sure of exactly how far away the enemy ship is, it might fire partial salvos instead. This is when the ship fires a third or half of its guns at once to find the enemy range. While this can technically be done with single shots, it’s easy for the fire control officers to miss a round or two hitting the water in the chaos of combat. But if five or ten shells hit the water at once, the officer can definitely tell if the rounds landed far or short.

And salvos typically create a tighter spread of impacts than individually fired guns, so partial salvos to find range can be more accurate than firing individual guns.

But best of all against enemy ships, a salvo could be fired with guns aimed at different points, dropping shells both at the spot where the commanding officer thought the enemy ship would be as well as the point where it would most likely be if it attempted to maneuver away from the impacts. So, even if the rival ship attempts to escape, it’s still catching multiple shells in its decks.

But even against shore targets, firing in salvos can be good. That’s because taking out a bunker takes a near or direct hit, but bunkers have much less exposed area than an enemy ship does. Firing more guns gives a better chance of busting the bunker in one pass.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Fidel Castro froze the body of an American airman

Lieutenant Thomas “Pete” Ray, a member of the Alabama Air National Guard, was shot down during the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. When he was found by Cuban soldiers on the ground, he was shot along with his flight engineer Leo Baker. Unlike Baker, Ray’s body was frozen for the next 18 years.


The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

At the time of the invasion, the CIA denied any American involvement. The agency also denied recruiting civilians in the Alabama Air National Guard to provide air support and hit Fidel Castro’s field headquarters with Napalm. But survivors of the failed venture say they definitely were involved.

Castro wanted to prove the Americans were not only responsible but they were providing real support to the invasion. That’s why he kept the airman on ice. But the U.S. government would not take responsibility and so could not repatriate Ray’s body.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
The flag of assault brigade 2506, who invaded the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

The CIA would have to admit they were involved. Which meant they would have to admit their failure. Cuba told the world it had Ray’s body, so the body was no secret. The Cubans, according to the LA Times, were puzzled. In December 1979, the cuban government learned that Ray’s daughter was attempting to negotiate the release of her father’s body.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

Ray’s body was held for 18 years. The CIA denied involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion until 1998 when they admitted U.S. pilots were shot down. But the agency never owned up to knowing where Ray’s body was. The LA Times forced the CIA to admit that Ray was one of theirs.

The CIA waited until the events surrounding the death of Ray and other members of their secret air force were declassified. They also revealed that Ray was awarded the CIA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, and his name was added to the Book of Honor in the foyer of CIA headquarters.

Articles

This animated map shows Gettysburg in a whole new way

The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.


The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.

Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUKreep2P1M
MIGHTY HISTORY

13 new photos from the Air Force’s D-Day flyover

Seventy-five years ago, tens of thousands of men were churning their way through the hedgerows of Normandy, fighting tooth and nail to liberate French towns and to ensure the security of the tenuous toehold that the Allies had opened against Germany in Operation Overlord on D-Day. This toehold would grow until it was a massive front that made it all the way to Berlin in less than a year.


Now, 75 years later, the U.S. and Allied militaries are celebrating their forebears’ success with a series of events in the U.K. and France. As part of these celebrations, the U.S. Air Force flew two F-15E Strike Eagles with special, heritage paint jobs over the fields and hedgerows of modern day Normandy on June 9, 2019. Here are 13 photos from an Air Force photographer sent to document the event:

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The special Strike Eagles are part of the 48th Fighter Wing and took off from Royal Air Force Base Lakenheath, England, for the flyover. During the D-Day invasion, U.S. Army Air Corps fighters and bombers took off from English air bases to support the landings on the beaches, pushing back the Luftwaffe screens and reducing the number of bombers and dive bombers that troops on the ground would have to endure.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The Army Air Corps’ bombs softened targets and reduced enemy artillery positions and other defenses, but the fight in the hedgerows was still bloody and vicious. And the German coastal artillery had to be eliminated to keep as many pilots in the sky as possible.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

But the pilots who preceded the modern Air Force began the important preparations for D-Day months ahead of time, sending increased bomber formations against Germany, including Berlin, for five months ahead of D-Day. These bomber formations doomed the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, in two ways.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

First, there’s the obvious. The bombers destroyed German factories and war machines, annihilating German equipment and crippling the country’s ability to rebuild it. But Germany responded by sending up their fighters to stop the bombers, and that’s where new American fighters came into the fray.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The P-47s with drop tanks led the charge in 1943, but other fighters joined the fray at the end of ’43 and start of ’44. The P-51B, along with other fighters including the British Spitfires and Typhoons, slayed the German fighters that rose to counter the bombers. By June 1944, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

Army Air Corps pilots gave their lives to prepare for June 6, 1944, and other pilots would make the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and in the weeks and months that followed. But that perseverance and sacrifice paid dividends, allowing for the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The odd and beautiful art form of the Afghan war rug

As troops walk through the bazaars of Afghanistan, they’ll always see the same collection of things for sale. Bootleg DVDs of shows that weren’t even interesting during their time, horrible knockoffs of brand-name clothing, souvenirs with the names of neighboring countries (mostly) scraped off, and gorgeous, handcrafted rugs depicting the mujahedin fighting the Soviets.


It’s almost surreal. Among the piles of junk are these masterpieces marred with spelling errors.

Afghanistan has a history filled with constant warfare. So, it makes sense that their cultural art reflects this. Afghan carpets have been a staple of the culture’s art for hundreds of years, but it was during the 1979 Soviet invasion that the rugs were used as a form of quiet protest.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
To every other vet who’s been to Afghanistan, it’s nice knowing their most common design has barely changed.
(Courtesy Photo)

Their AK-47s and tanks were woven into the rugs next to geometric shapes and flowers. The Baluch or Tup-e-Tung (or just “war rugs”) began appearing all over the country. The tradition continued well into America’s intervention in 2001. Contemporary war rugs now include the attack on the World Trade Center and drones.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
The rugs are often so well made and sell for such a high price, a single rug sale could bring a family out of poverty.
(Photo by Sgt. Heidi Agostini)

Funnily enough, the Afghan people prefer not having a constant reminder of the warfare that has plagued their homeland for generations. However, Westerners go crazy for them. War rugs almost exclusively sold to foreigners can fetch up to $25,000 at auction — but are often bartered for much less.

While it’s true that they’re very well-crafted and are the cause for much employment in the country, it still needs to be said that the U.S. Department of Labor recognizes that some are created using child labor. The rugs sold on U.S. and NATO military bases in Afghanistan are carefully vetted to avoid the exploitation of children.

The time George Washington prevented a military coup with his glasses
Still a worthwhile addition to any vet’s collection.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)