Aside from stories about U-Boats and how German Admiral Karl Donitz took over for Hitler when the dictator killed himself, you don’t really hear much about the German Navy in World War II. There are a lot of reasons for this, and like most problems with the Nazis, much of it is due to incompetence of leadership.
One of the Kriegsmarine’s earliest adventures in the war was Operation Wikinger. The operation was a response to sightings of British submarines in the North Sea. If the British were out there, they reasoned, the best response would be to go after them and clear the seas.
This turned out to be a terrible idea.
The German Navy’s issues were manyfold, and much of it happened right from the start of the Nazi regime.
Hitler had high hopes of building a Navy that could go toe-to-toe with the British but didn’t really guide his military leadership from there. Karl Donitz said he would need 1,000 submarines to take on the Royal Navy. He got 57.
To top it all off, the rest of the world powers had realized that the age of big battleships was over and that naval air power would be the deciding factor at sea. Meanwhile, Germany was finishing the world’s largest battleship, the Bismarck.
Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering is equally to blame for Germany’s ptificul naval forces during the war. Unwilling to cede any command of the air from the Luftwaffe, he wouldn’t divert resources to create a naval air force. It was also Goering’ Luftwaffe that put the nail in the coffin of Operation Wikinger.
When Wikinger was finally launched in February of 1940, the task force consisted of six destroyers with two land-based Luftwaffe bomber squadrons in support. This should have been fine for such a small and nearby area of operations like the North Sea, but exchanging information between two services meant information had to go all the way down the chain of one command, all the way up another, and back again.
So when a lone German bomber flew over the six destroyers without indicating whether it was friend or foe, the ships opened fire on it. The bomber returned fire, but the Luftwaffe had more experience. It scored a direct hit on one of the destroyers, cutting it in two. The rest of the ships returned to help the crew as the bomber flew home.
That’s how another destroyer suddenly hit an undersea mine. At this point, no one in the task force knew what was happening, who was attacking them, or how they were being attacked. One of the ships, believing it was being attacked by a submarine, dropped its depth charges, damaging its own rudder in the process.
By the time the ships were finally ready to go home, the German Navy had lost two destroyers and 578 sailors. Poor communication was to blame. The Kriegsmarine knew the bombers would be in the area, but they failed to inform the ships. The Luftwaffe bomber didn’t even know there were German ships in the North Sea.
The whole debacle took 30 minutes. To this day, no one knows if the mine that struck one of the destroyers was German or British. Not a single officer was disciplined for the losses.
A Navy Seabee is probably the one sailor that Marines love the most — next to the platoon doc, of course.
Camouflage is their typical working uniform. They spend most of their time in the field and dirt. They don’t shy away from messy jobs. As one Marine captain once told a journalist in Iraq: Seabees build things, they blow things up, and they shoot straight.
The Navy’s “Can Do” sailors do a lot. They build field toilets and bunkers, construct camps and pour concrete, fix damaged utilities and buildings, help civilians in distress and even kill the enemy when required. Their work building airfields and camps across the Pacific during World War II undoubtedly helped in the allied victory.
A fraction of that force today, Navy Seabees are the backbone of the Naval Construction Force that includes 11 naval construction battalions and two amphibious construction battalions. Battalions send detachments of Seabees to as many as a dozen countries, and missions vary from repairing water lines, building schools and roads or pulling camp security.
Seabees serve in one of seven ratings – builder, construction mechanic, engineering aide, equipment operator, steelworker and utilitiesman – but every one will tell you they’re a Jack-of-all-trades among warfighters. Seabee ingenuity gets things done.
The classic round Seabee logo of the “Fighting Bee” holding a Tommy gun, wrench, and hammer — one of only a few Navy-approved insignias that sailors can wear on their uniforms — is as relevant today, 75 years after the first Seabee units were formed, as it was on March 5, 1942.
Combat readiness is a critical a mission because Seabees training for, say, a western Pacific rotation to Okinawa might be sent to a combat zone elsewhere. “You could be building a schoolhouse in the Philippines… and go to war,” said Chief Utilitiesman Phil Anderton, 31, a Seabee with Naval Construction Battalion 3 based at Port Hueneme, Calif.
Anderton learned that lesson as an 18-year-old Seabee in 2005. His battalion prepared to deploy to Rota, Spain, but ” they canceled leave, and for three weeks we trained to go to war,” he recalled. “It’s like that fast. Three weeks.” They ran scores of convoy security missions across volatile Iraq.
It’s little surprise that Seabees going through their battalion final training exercise, required to certify as combat-ready, looks like they’re already in the hot zone. “This right here is the culmination of ‘be ready for war.’ It’s awesome,” Anderton said as he escorted a journalist through an expeditionary forward operating camp NMCB-3 built on an empty lot for its final training exercise at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., last fall.
The air hummed with the sound of diesel trucks, generators and heavy machinery. Dust kicked up from medevac Humvee. The sound of gunfire echoed. Helping set that combat mindset was an opposing hostile force that kept trying to sneak along a creek to infiltrate perimeter lines and attack the camp. For three days since they arrived, and with little sleep, the battalion’s 550 Seabees grappled with an indirect fire attack from the mock enemy that wounded 17 and damaged the nearby airfield.
“Lately we’ve been seeing the small-arms attacks in the dark,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Matthew Lundeen, the quick reaction force commander.
In the midst, civilian-actors pleaded in their native language for the Americans to leave while others wanted their help, or so it seemed.
All Seabees get combat tactics training, and they have to learn what seasoned grunts do by instinct. “We put a lot on our E-4s and E-5s to make very sound, tactical decisions, putting bullets down the range to keep us safe,” said Anderton, the Bravo Company operations chief and a former drill instructor. “The first line of defense is them. They’re the ones in the pit when the aggressions happen.”
“Making that tactical decision that is either going to put him in jail or save his life,” he said. “That’s the most critical, that they would pull the trigger at the right time.”
“This is a pressurized environment that really tests the leaders,” said Cmdr. Laurie Scott, NMCB-3’s commander, especially for junior Seabees who haven’t yet served overseas. “This is a lesson in sleep deprivation,” he said. “You kind of get the sense of how people react under pressure.”
The night before, a Seabee spotted some infiltrators in the scrub and bushes who had been harassing them. “We walked down to the lines and, sure enough, there was someone out there and we started shooting,” said Steelworker 2nd Class Shianne Chlupacek with Charlie Platoon. “It was pretty cool.”
A half-dozen or so enemy tried to infiltrate the camp. “We saw them with the thermals setting up,” Builder 3rd Class John Skoblicki[cqgf] said. “They set up right in between (Pit) 4 and 3, and then they opened up. We shot back.”
“We’d been tracking them for awhile,” as enemy flashlights prodding the pit line gave them away, said Steelworker Seaman Korey Benton[cqgf], 20. “We engaged and fired back,” added Skoblicki. No casualties among the Seabees, but Skoblicki blew through the first can of ammo with the M240 machinegun before it jammed with the blanks. “It tends to do that,” he said. Benton provided covering fire with the M16 rifle until they could get the 240 up and running. “You just have to keep racking,” he said.
Chlupacek stood in an M16 pit the Seabees carved from the brown-mocha dirt with their E-tools and the help of a Catepillar 420 backhoe. (To a Marine, it’s a fighting hole. To Seabees, it’s a “defensive fighting pit.”) “It’s definitely part of being a Seabee,” said Chlupacek, who grew up around farms and hunting and got into welding in her small Nebraska town.
This was her third FTX. A cold front had blown chilly rain through the region just as the Seabees arrived to build their FOB. “It was the first day when we started doing trenching. It was hard to keep morale up,” she said. “I’d walk the lines for about 16 hours, and I’d keep telling the troops that it’ll be over soon. It was wet and it was cold.”
“Once you get entrenched, it’s pretty easy,” she said. “We didn’t get entrenched until the third day we were here. At first, it was just sitting on the ground, in like a skirmish room.”
Perhaps more than most seagoing sailors, Chlupacek is comfortable in the rugged outdoors. “I love tactics, so this is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “You get in the game, and you feel it. OK, there’s enemy out there, and let’s kill ’em. I like it.”
Living like a grunt isn’t for every Seabee. Others take well to the “build-fight” life. “I love either side, tactics or building. I joined to be a Seabee,” said Builder 2nd Class Harlee Annis, 23, of Ukiah, Calif., who enlisted after he saw a pamphlet about Seabees while at a junior college. “I got my first gun when I was 7 years old.”
On this day, Annis was the gunner who manned the M16 service rifle, a qualification he earned during NMCB-3’s “homeport” period at Port Hueneme. “This is probably the funnest part, to get to fire it,” he said. He wasn’t on shift during the attack the previous night and was eager to get this first shot off. “I was hoping,” he said. “Today. Maybe.”
“American Sniper,” “Dunkirk,” and “Fury” are just a few the great war films that have hit theaters with in the last few years. These films help inspire today’s youngsters to consider joining the military.
In the next few decades, they will be remembered as among “The Classics” when it comes to ranking war movies.
But as we move forward, the classic war movies that inspired our past generations are the ones that helped get the modern day war films greenlit. Because of this, we should always recognize and never forget them — ever.
Grab your popcorn and check out our list of classic war films every young trooper should watch.
1. The Great Escape
Steve McQueen stars in this epic WWII film about a group of POWs trying to escape from a German prison camp.
2. Kelly’s Heroes
Directed by Brian G. Hutton, the film follows a group of American troops who travel deep behind enemy lines to retrieve some Nazi treasure.
3. Paths of glory
This classic stars Kurt Douglas as Col. Dax, an officer who attempts to defend his troops who are accused of cowardice while fighting in the dangerous trenches of WWI.
4. Hamburger Hill
Directed by John Irvin, this story depicts one of the bloodiest American battles to take place during the hectic Vietnam War.
5. Apocalypse Now!
This film is considered one of the greatest movies ever produced. The story follows Capt. Willard’s journey to locate and assassinate a renegade Army colonel during the Vietnam War.
6. The Green Berets
John Wayne plays Col. Mike Kirby, an Army Special Forces officer tasked with two vital missions consisting of building a camp and kidnapping a North Vietnamese General.
7. Sands of Iwo Jima
This time John Wayne plays Sgt. John Stryker, a Marine who puts his men through his rough style of training to prepare them to fight in one of the Corps’ most historic battles.
Directed by Jack Smight, this classic tale re-enacts the American victory at the Battle of Midway — considered one of the most critical turning points in the Pacific during World War II.
This 1970 film focuses on the incredible career of Gen. George S. Patton during WWII.
10. To Hell and Back
In this 1955 release, real life war hero Audie Murphy plays himself in the story of how he became one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history.
11. The Dirty Dozen
This epic motion picture follows Maj. Reisman, a rebellious soldier assigned to train a dozen convicted murders to carry out a deadly mission to kill multiple German officers.
12. The Fighting Seabees
John Wayne plays Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovon, a construction worker building military bases in the Pacific. After they come under fierce attack from Japanese forces, the Seabees have to defend themselves at all costs.
13. The D.I.
Directed and starring Jack Webb, this film follows one of the toughest Marine drill instructors to ever serve on Parris Island as he pushes a recruit platoon through basic training.
You might ask how someone could be so nerdy as to want a calendar of the CIA’s best operations, but let’s face it: Spies are cool. The American CIA has some of the best stories of the coolest secret operations ever — they just can’t talk about them.
Fortunately, the CIA headquarters in Virginia has an amazing series of paintings depicting the astonishing stories of the Agency’s operations. Unfortunately, you have to be able to get into the CIA’s headquarters in Virginia to see it.
“It dawned on me that the public will never see the dramatic artwork in person,” says publisher Erik Kirzinger. “As someone who lost a relative KIA as a contract pilot for the CIA, it was important to me that these stories will be told via historically accurate paintings by the best military and aviation artists in the world.”
Each painting was commissioned directly from the artist and is unique to the walls of CIA headquarters. Private citizens and corporations commissioned the early artwork and donated the completed painting to the CIA for permanent display. For the first dozen and a half paintings, there was no cost to the taxpayers, making this collection unique among all other government art collections.
Kirzinger resolved to create this special series of calendars, further documenting the amazing operations from the CIA’s long history.
Secret Ops of the CIA calendars aren’t just calendars, they’re more like a mixture of history books and coffee-table readers. There’s a clear-cut, beautiful effort to preserve history here.
“I hate using the word ‘calendar’ because our layout is more like a small, coffee-table book,” Kirzinger says. “In fact, many of our customers don’t hang their calendars and instead display them on their coffee tables.”
Pictures in the 2018 calendar depict outstanding, real-world CIA missions that might just blow your mind. The paintings are done by world-famous military and aviation artists and are fueled by painstaking research. In some cases, the artist is an active CIA employee.
“These calendars are like gems,” says Allison Bishop, the book buyer for the International Spy Museum. “I love them because they’re not mass-produced. And the CIA is a group out there putting their lives on the line for the country and they aren’t always recognized positively for it.”
There are two different calendars: aviation operations for you A-12 enthusiasts and tradecraft ops for you cloak-and-dagger fans. The calendars are reviewed by the CIA’s Public Review Board, who gave the information a thumbs up. The historians at the Center for the Study of Intelligence also gave their approval. Most importantly, the stories are all declassified.
Considered one of the most important battles in U.S. Marine Corps history, the story of Belleau Wood continues to have a significant impact on military culture today. On the evening of June 1, 1918, the German Army breached the western front and came within just 45 miles of Paris.
The Marines weren’t going to let them go any further. They positioned themselves and were ready to strike once the orders were passed down. The ensuing battle would last for weeks and was the first large-scale battle fought by American soldiers in World War I. U.S. forces suffered over 9,000 casualties — just over 1,800 killed. The German body count is still unknown — but it was high.
Historians have gone on at length about many of the incredible details of the famous battle, but several aspects have gone largely undiscussed — until now.
Capt. Lloyd Williams, USMC
As the Marines were arriving, the French were retreating
On June 2, 1918, the Marines arrived on the scene under the command of Capt. Lloyd Williams only to see French troops in retreat from the German enemy. The French told the Marines to turn around and head back to from where they came.
Capt. Lloyd Williams replied,
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
The Marines finally got their orders
On June 6, 1918, Allied powers launched their attack on the Germans who were busying preparing to do the same. Marines maneuvered up Hill 142 to prevent a flanking attack on their French allies.
Although 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were heavily outnumbered, that didn’t stop them from bravely dashing toward the enemy across open wheat field.
American Marines are depicted fighting German soldiers in the Battle of Belleau Wood, 1918.
The Marines saw the enemy before they were spotted
As Capt. George Wallace Hamilton and the 49th Company were getting into position, he noticed that they were surrounded by German machine guns — he had caught them off guard. He and his men stormed the guns with bayonets fixed and secured the guns for friendly forces.
Hamilton was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and a Navy Cross for his bad*ssery.
Twelve on one
After enduring the first round of attacks, the Germans rallied and attempted a counterattack on Hill 142. As 12 German soldiers began their advance, they were met by Gunnery Sgt. Ernest Janson, who wasn’t fond of their idea. He alone prevented the dozen Germans from going any further by killing two of them with his bayonet. The others quickly fled.
For his actions, Janson became the first U.S Marine to earn the Medal of Honor during the war.
After 6 attacks, the Germans finally threw in the towel.
During the multi-week campaign, the Marines suffered heavy losses, but dealt out ass-kickings in kind. Like much of World War I, the Battle of Belleau Wood was slow-moving and brutal, but the Americans finally claimed victory after attacking six separate times.
On Jun. 26, 1918, the Germans decided the battle was unwinnable and retreated from the blood-soaked arena.
Check out the Marines video below to watch the footage from an immensely important time in military history.
The Confederate Army had better things to do than decide how it would award medals to its fighting men. In that era, Americans weren’t really into medals and ribbons, as it was considered a very European military tradition. The Civil War changed all that. The brutality of the war, combined with the feats of heroics performed by those who fought it inspired the need for such awards.
That being said, the Confederacy had its heroes as well, but aside from a Confederate Congressional “Roll of Honor,” nothing much was ever done in terms of awards and decorations – until the Second Battle of Sabine Pass.
Sabine Pass is a small outlet from Lake Sabine that pours into the Gulf of Mexico, bordering both Texas and Louisiana. During the Civil War, it was a lightly defended Western outpost, far from the central fighting of the war. As a result, the shoddy earthwork fortifications at the pass had mostly old smoothbore cannon to defend it, eight guns in total. But then the French installed a pro-French Emperor in Mexico, opening the possibility for Confederate supplies to reach Mexico by rail, then onto Europe under French-flagged ships, completely circumventing the Union blockade and providing the South with crucial money, arms, and supplies.
The Union sent 5,000 troops, 18 transports, and four armed gunboats to capture the pass and cut the South off from French Mexico. Defending the fort were the Jeff Davis Guards, named for the Confederate President, 47 Irish immigrants from bigger cities in Texas, and well-trained and drilled artillerymen. This was the largest amphibious assault ever taken by the United States until this point so you’d think the Union would have come prepared. You’d be wrong. So wrong.
Only the lightest of the Union ships could enter the river, due to the shallow nature of the entryway. Four steamers and 150 Union sharpshooters were to cross the sandbars then take out the fort and its guns so the rest of the Union force could take the town and then move on to Houston. That never happened. Instead, accurate cannon fire from the fort hit one of the steamers in her boiler, disabling another and grounding the USS Arizona. The two ships surrendered, and the rest of the invasion force ended up running back to New Orleans.
In all, the battle last 45 minutes. The Davis Guards fired 137 rounds from their eight guns, dwarfing the Union’s rate of fire and ensuring those guns couldn’t be used for weeks after the battle. The handful of Confederates then went to capture the Union troops on the disabled ships, taking 315 Union troops prisoner. The Union forces suffered a further 19 killed and nine wounded at the cost of zero casualties to the Confederates. It was the most lopsided victory of the war.
Richard Dowling, commander of the Davis Guards, wearing his medal.
Grateful Texans decided to reward the men for not only staying at their posts in the face of overwhelming odds, but for actually winning. They cast medals from Mexican silver coins, engraving “DG” on one side with a Malta Cross and the date of the battle on the other. It was hung on the uniform by a green ribbon, representing the Irish heritage of the fort’s defenders. In all, 47 were awarded to the men, with two more awarded to their officers, and one struck just for their namesake, Jefferson Davis. Davis ensured the Confederate Congress authorized the medal for wear, the only medal so authorized.
The President had his on him when he was captured after the war’s end.
Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.
All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.
Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.
Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.
That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.
McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.
McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.
The B-26 Marauder.
Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.
“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”
“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”
It’s usually awesome when life imitates art – especially when that art form is an action movie. The good guys usually overcome big odds and the bad guys usually get put away. But cop life doesn’t work out like that sometimes. In the movies, when a cop is just days away from retirement, the audience knows he may not make it. But real life isn’t supposed to be like that.
Unfortunately for NYPD officer John William Perry, the morning he turned in his retirement papers was Sept. 11, 2001. And he wasn’t about to miss his calling that day.
John Perry was not your average New York cop. A graduate of NYU Law School, he had an immigration law practice before he ever went to the police academy. He was a linguist who spoke Spanish, Swedish, Russian, and Portuguese, among others. Not bad for anyone, let alone a kid who grew up in Brooklyn with a learning disability. He even joined the New York State Guard and worked as a social worker for troubled kids.
He was a jack of all trades, beloved by all. He even took a few roles as an extra in NY-based television and film.
He was appointed to the NYPD in 1993 and was assigned to the 40th Precinct, in the Bronx borough of New York. The morning of September 11, he was off-duty, filing his retirement papers at 1 Police Plaza. In his next career, he wanted to be a medical malpractice lawyer. That’s when someone told him about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Instead of leaving his badge, he picked it back up.
He dashed the few blocks to the scene and immediately began assisting other first responders with the rescue operation. Perry was last seen helping a woman out of the South Tower when it fell just before 10 a.m. that day.
“Apparently John was too slow carrying this woman,” said Arnold Wachtel, Perry’s close friend. “But knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.”
Some 72 law enforcement officers and 343 FDNY firemen were killed in the 9/11 attacks that morning. John William Perry was the only off-duty NYPD officer who died in the attack. An estimated 25,000 people were saved by those who rushed to their aid, leaving only 2,800 civilians to die at the World Trade Center site. President George W. Bush awarded those killed in the attack the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor. Perry was also posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department’s Medal of Honor.
It was 1962 and only four days after Independence Day, but people living on the islands dotting the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to New Zealand were about to see a light show brighter than any July Fourth fireworks display in history.
More ominously, many of those same people would get a taste of how a single nuclear weapon could wipe out a nation’s electrical grid – and the U.S. military at the time had no clue how damaging the results would be.
Codenamed Starfish Prime, it was part of a series of nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and the Pentagon. Some of those tests included launches from Johnston Island of the U.S. Air Force’s PGM-17 Thor intermediate range ballistic missiles with live W49 thermonuclear warheads.
The aurora from a U.S. nuclear test in space, dubbed Starfish Prime, could be seen as far away as Hawaii. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The purpose: rocket the warheads to the edge of space and detonate them to determine whether thermonuclear fireballs could be used to destroy incoming nuclear warheads from the Soviet Union.
Crazy? Perhaps – but keep in mind the events of the age.
In 1958, the Soviet Union called for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing and abided by a self-imposed moratorium. Eventually, the United States followed suit. During 1959, neither superpower tested any nukes, but the brief lull in testing did not last. Soon, both nations were back at it.
In 1961, the Soviets detonated the humongous “Tsar Bomba.” Though capable of a 100 megaton yield, scientists decided to dial back Tsar Bomba’s destructive power to reduce the chance of fallout. At about 50 megatons, it still is the most powerful nuclear explosion in history. In fact, Tsar Bomba was so powerful, its heat caused third-degree burns on the exposed flesh of Soviet observers more than 60 miles away.
So, in a twisted, Cold War, Dr. Strangelove kind of way, launching nukes into space made sense.
Starfish Prime was really the third launch attempt for the U.S. – the first missile was destroyed seconds into its flight and the second blew up on the launch pad. Both incidents rained nuclear contamination down on the Johnston Island test facility.
But on July 9, 1962, the third Thor missile performed flawlessly and lifted its payload into space.
The 1.4 megaton warhead detonated about 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean – and then all hell broke loose.
“Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or the electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books,” Lowell Wood, a physicist and expert on EMP at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Congress in 2004. “As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.”
In Hawaii, the effects were almost immediate: streetlights blew out, circuit breakers tripped, telephone service crashed, aircraft radios malfunctioned, burglar alarms sounded, and garage door openers mysteriously activated.
As the flash from the nuclear explosion dimmed, an aurora formed in the sky that could be seen for thousands of miles. One reporter in Hawaii wrote, “For three minutes after the blast, the moon was centered in a sky partly blood-red and partly pink. Clouds appeared as dark silhouettes against the lighted sky.”
The high-energy radiation not only created a massive light show; it temporarily altered the shape of the Van Allen Belt – part of the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth that actually protects the planet from solar storms that could destroy life on the world’s surface.
The Van Allen Belt had only been discovered four years earlier by University of Iowa physicist James A. Van Allen. The bands of high-energy particles held in place by strong magnetic fields were first seen as a threat to early space explorers – or a possible weapon to use against the Soviet Union.
In fact, there are historians of the Cold War who argue that there is compelling evidence indicating that both the United States and the Soviet Union contemplated exo-atmospheric nuclear explosions to blow up the Van Allen belt either to permit space travel or destroy their respective enemy.
Fortunately, there is no evidence that either the U.S. or Soviet nuclear testing in space permanently damaged the magnetosphere. As the weeks and months went by, however, there were other casualties from the Starfish Prime blast. At least six satellites – including Telstar, the world’s first telecommunications satellite – were either damaged or destroyed by passing through the lingering radiation belt left by the detonation.
Scientists and the military were stunned by the results of Starfish Prime. They knew about EMP, but the effects of the blast far exceeded their expectations.
Despite the very public detonation of the weapon, the cause of the power failures and satellite malfunctions remained secret for years, as did a new discussion that began: how a single nuclear weapon might be used to cripple a nation in one blow.
It is a discussion that continues to this day as those in the national security community consider how a weapon like Starfish Prime detonated over or near the United States could plunge the country into darkness.
The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.
He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.
At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.
By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.
The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.
Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.
Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.
America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.
It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.
Say what you want about President Nixon, the man knew what the greatest asset in the U.S. military was – the people who served. As a veteran himself, he could appreciate what it was like to be in the military during wartime. What Nixon couldn’t know as a vet was what it was like to be captured and tortured by the enemy. As Commander-In-Chief during the Vietnam War, he knew exactly how many Americans were held captive.
When they came home, he showed his appreciation in style.
President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon on stage at the White House Dinner for the American Prisoners of War (POW) who were returned by the North Vietnamese government. On stage with President Nixon and Mrs. Nixon are singer Vic Damone, comedian-actor Bob Hope, “God Bless America” songwriter Irving Berlin, and singer-actor-dancer Sammy Davis, Jr.
It was three months after the repatriation of American POWs from North Vietnam that a huge tent was erected on the back lawn of the White House. The President and the First Lady were about to throw the largest White House dinner in the history of the American Republic. The guests of honor were every single Vietnam POW who just came home, more than 590, 34 of which couldn’t make it due to continued treatment. Along with them came a star-studded guest list that included John Wayne, Bob Hope, and Jimmy Stewart.
“President Nixon made us feel like we were the stars,” said retired Air Force Col. Robert Certain. “President Nixon is one of our heroes.” Nixon also took the time to meet every single of the POWs.”
“He was a hero to us. He will always be revered by us as a group because he got us home,” said retired Marine Corps Capt. Orson Swindle, who spent more than six years in a Hanoi prison camp.
Some 40 years later, the same POWs re-gathered for a reunion at the Richard Nixon Memorial Library in Yorba Linda, Calif. They brought their families along to celebrate the anniversary of their release as well as the unforgettable dinner the President threw for them, taking them from eating with their hands in a cell to eating on White House china and shaking hands with the stars.
As of the 2013 reunion, the 1973 dinner was still the largest dinner ever held at the White House.
First Lady Pat Nixon greets touring POW families during the evening events.
The POWs were also given unfettered access to areas of the White House normally off-limits to the public. They were able to tour the historic mansion without guides or maps. One pair of veterans even told ABC news they accidentally walked into President Nixon’s private study, with the man himself seated at its desk. He told them it was alright and he would be out to greet them in a minute.
But the President could not stay up all night with the troops and retired before the evening was over, ordering the staff to let everyone stay until they wanted to go. But before leaving he told the POWs:
“I have spoken to many distinguished audiences. I can say to you today that this is the most distinguished group I have ever addressed, and I have never been prouder than I am at this moment to address this group.”
Before he was a U.S. senator, and later a presidential candidate, John McCain was a naval aviator over the skies of Vietnam. But the 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy is probably known less for his flying skills and more for what he did on the ground, as a prisoner of war for more than five years.
“I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison,” McCain wrote in a post on Quora, in response to the question of what it was like to be a P.O.W.
When he was shot down, McCain was on his 23rd mission: A bombing run over Hanoi. “A Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up — the sky was full of them — and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber,” he recalled in U.S. News World Report.
With his jet traveling at roughly 575 mph, he was able to eject. But when he landed in enemy territory, he had broken his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right leg near the knee. He was captured soon after, and taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, better known by its prisoners as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
In his Quora post and in his book “Faith of my Fathers,” he recounted his poor treatment and very limited contact with the outside world. But there were two big things McCain learned:
“I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough,” he wrote. “And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”
The Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observations Group, now better known as SOG, was one of those true dark-arts units that hid dangerous men with dangerous jobs behind a boring name. The missions that these special operators, including a large number of U.S. Army green berets, undertook helped save the lives of infantrymen fighting across Vietnam.
Now, these warriors are telling their story.
Then-Sgt. Gary M. Rose, a member of Studies and Observations Group, is led away from a helicopter after heroic actions that would later net him a Medal of Honor.
Warriors In Their Own Words, a podcast that captures the authentic stories of America’s veterans as they tell them, spoke with two members of the unit. You can enjoy their riveting tales in the episode embedded above — but make sure you carve out time for it. The episode is just over an hour, but once you start listening, you won’t want to stop.
J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy describe their harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam with the SOG, and they both tell amazing stories.
J.D. Bath was an early member of SOG, recruited after his entire team was killed in a helicopter crash. He tells of how his SOG team bought pipes, tobacco, and bourbon for local tribes to enlist their help. Later, he and his team came under fire from a U.S. helicopter that had no idea that Americans were so far behind enemy lines. Luckily, another U.S. aircraft threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it didn’t stop immediately.
Bill Deacy, on the other hand, survived multiple firefights and endured a bad case of malaria before ending up on the wrong part of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Special Forces soldiers planned an ambush against a small North Vietnamese force, and Deacy had no way of warning his men when he spotted a massive column of enemy soldiers approaching just as the ambush was being sprung.
These are incredible stories coming straight from the heroes who were there. We’ll be featuring a story each week, so keep your eyes peeled. If you can’t wait, Warriors In Their Own Words has a massive archive on their website.