Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.
In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.
German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…
Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.
The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.
After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.
The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.
One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.
Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”
The most lasting image of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev with a U.S. leader will always be his close relationship with Ronald Reagan. In managing a very tense period toward the end of the Cold War, the image of the two leaders together has been enshrined in Cold War history. But the American President he teamed up to win a Grammy Award with would come to power four years after Reagan’s era ended, President Bill Clinton.
These two leaders never squared off in Cold War weapons agreements or faced a standoff between Russian and American forces. What they shared was the interpersonal foundation of a lasting peace.
Boris Yeltsin was hammered the day they called. And probably every day.
Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s seventh and last President and Communist Party Chairman. He managed the final days of the Cold War as the Iron Curtain came tumbling down. Reagan was gone by then, succeeded by his Vice-President-turned-President, George H.W. Bush, who masterfully handled the U.S. response to the end of the Cold War. Clinton would be the first president to have to deal with the new Russian Federation and its former Soviet client states.
Gorbachev wouldn’t be his Russian counterpart. Boris Yeltsin came to power in the 1990s. But the two men were integral to shaping the post-Cold War relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union. They were also integral to the 2003 children’s album, Wolf Tracks: Peter and the Wolf.
Gorbachev with a decadent Western awards statue, likely sad he missed the chance to meet Christina Aguilera.
Peter and the Wolf is a 1936 children’s story, first written by Soviet Composer Sergei Prokofiev. It originated as a piece of Soviet propaganda, telling the story of a young boy challenging his grandfather who chided him for going out alone into the world, for fear of being devoured by a wolf. When a wolf does appear, the brave boy gets the best of it and makes sure it ends up in a zoo.
Clinton and Gorbachev performed spoken parts of the story, while actress Sophia Loren performed other sections. The album was an international hit, and was soon translated into multiple languages with more celebrity voices, including Antonio Banderas in the Spanish-language version. But the Grammy went to Gorbachev and Clinton, the first of such awards for a former American President or a former Soviet Premiere.
Just a few years later, Clinton would win another Grammy for the narration of his autobiography, My Life. Following that, other American Presidents would win for spoken-word works of their memoirs, including then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama for his memoirs, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams of my Father, and former President Jimmy Carter for his work, A Full Life: Reflections at 90. Carter would win another spoken-word Grammy in 2019 for his personal religious memoir, Faith – A Journey For All.
Carter has nine Grammy nominations, Clinton has four, and Obama has two, though he has won both years he earned a nod.
Art Jackson, who singlehandedly destroyed a dozen enemy pillboxes and killed 50 Japanese soldiers during a fierce battle on the Pacific island of Peleliu. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 92, but his legacy is far from over.
Nine Marines, including Jackson, were presented the Medal of Honor for their roles in the battle.
Art Jackson’s Medal of Honor citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of” Peleliu Island. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Fighting for control of the island lasted for two months, beginning in September 1944. The Japanese, entrenched in caves, killed 1,800 American soldiers and injured 8,000 more.
Decades after his service, Jackson visited military cemeteries and spoke about fallen soldiers as a way to keep their memories alive.
“The First Lady and I are saddened by the loss of a great and iconic American hero, recipient Art Jackson,” Idaho Gov. Butch Otter wrote on his Facebook page. “As an unforgettable member of the Greatest Generation passes into history, we wish the Jackson family all the comfort that our prayers can provide and all the respect that Art’s life and valor deserve. Well done Marine. Semper Fi.”
Family friend Rocci Johnson, who earlier confirmed Jackson’s death, praised Jackson for his devotion to his country.
“Art Jackson was a true American hero. He was from the Greatest Generation. If it wasn’t for men and women like him, it would be a very different world,” Johnson said. “We owe a lot to his dedication and hope that his legacy will serve as an example for all of those who are currently fighting for freedom.”
The Boise Police Department sent condolences to Jackson’s family. Former Chief Mike Masterson met Jackson during his time as chief and several other officers befriended Jackson and maintained a friendship with his family.
“It is with great sadness that members of the Boise Police Department hear the news that recipient Arthur Jackson recently passed away at the Boise VA,” the department wrote in a statement.
Services, including military honors, are pending. Flags at state offices throughout Idaho will be lowered to half-staff on the day of Jackson’s internment, said Mark Warbis, a spokesman for the governor.
Art Jackson saved his platoon from almost certain destruction. A book about the battle described him as “a one-man Marine Corps.” His citation credits him with single-handedly confronting enemy barrages and contributing to “the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island.”
Despite a barrage of gunfire, Jackson charged a large pillbox, as the concrete guard posts were known. He threw white phosphorus grenades to provide cover, set off munitions charges that destroyed the pillbox and killed the 35 soldiers inside.
Jackson kept advancing and picked off one enemy position after another.
“His gallant initiative and heroic conduct in the face of extreme peril reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. Jackson and the U.S.Naval Service,” according to the citation.
Jackson, then 19, was wounded on Peleliu and during the Battle of Okinawa and returned to the United States with two Purple Hearts.
President Harry S Truman presented him with the during a ceremony at the White House. He was congratulated by Marine Corps Commandant Alexander Vandegrift, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal; celebrated with aviation legend and fellow recipient Jimmy Doolittle; and rode with celebrity columnist Walter Winchell in a New York City ticker-tape parade.
During the Cold War, Jackson was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, where he killed a suspected Cuban spy who lunged at him and tried to take his sidearm . Instead of reporting the incident, Jackson hid the man’s body. After the body was discovered, Jackson was arrested and forced to leave the Marines. He told his full story of the incident to columnist Tim Woodward in 2013.
Jackson was born Oct. 18, 1924, and moved to Portland, Ore., with his parents in 1939. He graduated from Ulysses S. Grant High School and worked for a naval construction company in Alaska before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in November 1942.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter honored Jackson by declaring Feb. 24, 2016, as Art Jackson Day.
In 2015, when the USS Peleliu assault ship was decommissioned, the ship’s flag was sent to Jackson to commemorate his service on the island.
According to a report by UPI, an LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was taken from Minot Air Force Base and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test America’s land-based deterrence force.
The missile landed at the remote Pacific base of Kwajalein Atoll. Now, the United States has used these islands for atomic tests and as a place for missiles to land for years.
But Kwajalein has a bit more significance to the U.S. than most other atolls out there. You see, it was one of the many islands American forces had to take from Japan during World War II – and thus, it is consecrated ground.
During World War I, Japan had taken the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Caroline Islands from Germany. According to an official Marine Corps history of the 4th Marine Division, the islands were soon fortified with bunkers, air strips, a lot of firepower, and very fierce troops.
In Nov., 1943, the United States had taken Tarawa in the Gilberts – and paid a heavy price. According to Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, published by the Center for Military History, 3,301 Marines were killed, wounded, or missing after the effort to take Tarawa. Kwajalein was expected to be even tougher, prompting legendary commanders like Raymond Spruance, Richmond K. Turner, and Holland Smith to oppose hitting Kwajalein at all.
Admiral Nimitz overruled their objections, and Kwajalein it was. Taking into account the lessons of Tarawa, this time, the United States brought overwhelming force. The major targets were Roi Island, Namur Island, and Kwajalein Island. For almost two months, air strikes were launched, including some with B-24 Liberators and others by carriers, on the Marshalls.
When the attack on Kwajalein came, it still took time, but only 142 American military personnel were killed in attacking Kwajalein Island proper. Another 190 died while taking the islands of Roi and Namur. Total casualties in those assaults – dead, wounded, and missing – were 1,726.
After World War II, most of the American forces left, but Kwajalein today serves as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. 332 Americans paid the ultimate price to take it 73 years ago. Today, it helps America develop systems that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.
When Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Ukraine’s navy lost nearly all of its ships and most of its sailors quit or defected. Now, with help from its allies, Ukraine is slowly getting its sea legs back. This is the story of those who remained loyal to Ukraine and were forced to choose between family and country when they left Crimea. But, as they rebuild their lives and their nation’s fleet, rough waters lie ahead with Russia flexing its maritime muscle on the Black Sea.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to make you sympathize with the Nazis. They were literally a hate group that committed murder on a national scale in addition to helping start and prosecute the deadliest war in human history. They were evil, so don’t let a title like “Underdog” garner them any sympathy. It’s the fault of the fascists that this war ever happened in the first place.
But, while the German military was one of the most feared and successful in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Third Reich had a severe weakness that would hamper the military at any turn: economics.
We know, we know. It’s not a very sexy flaw, but industrial warfare relies on an industrial base, and I’m here to tell you that Germany’s industrial base was horrible. Its coal deposits were of mostly low quality and, more importantly, its oil deposits were limited and were much better suited for creating lubricants than fuels.
Not all oil is equal for all purposes, and German crude oil was waxy. It had few of the chemicals necessary for refining fuels, like diesel and gasoline. So while Germany was one of the top producers of iron and steel in the 1930s, often sitting at number two in the world, it relied heavily on imports to fuel its industry.
In 1938, Germany used 44 million barrels of oil. Only 3.8 million barrels of crude had been made in Germany, and the country was able to produce another nine million barrels of synthetic oil. Imports made up the difference, but many of those imports would dry up when the war started, just as the necessity of increasing war production demanded much more oil.
The Third Reich also needed additional access to cobalt, copper, and some other important minerals.
France and Britain, meanwhile, had large networks of colonies around the world that could send important resources back to the motherland. They had the navies necessary to keep those supply lines open everywhere but the Pacific, where Japan would hold sway. And, France and Britain could buy more oil from the U.S., the top producer at the time with up to 1 billion barrels per year.
When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Great Britain instigated a blockade of Germany. At that point, Germany could no longer buy oil from the U.S. But the Nazis had thought ahead, signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Soviet Russia in August 1939. For the time being, imports to Germany from Russia could keep the Nazi war machine going.
It was partially thanks to this imported oil that Germany was able to invade France and the Low Countries on May 10, 1940, and quickly roll across the country thanks to France’s stubborn belief that that the Ardennes was impassable to armored vehicles. France fell in mid-June.
This was, arguably, the high-water mark for the Third Reich in economic terms. Its industry was strong and undamaged by the war, it had seized vast swaths of Europe including Norway, France, and Austria, and its ally Italy was having some success in seizing resource-rich areas in North Africa.
And, on paper, Germany had ample access to the oil products of the world’s second largest producer, Russia. In theory, this made Germany a powerful force against Britain, its only real adversary at the time. America, the world’s top producer of steel and oil among other industrial and wartime goods, wasn’t officially part of the war. Germany appeared to be top dog.
Except, it wasn’t. Hitler planned to invade Russia, so counting Russian petroleum towards German needs only makes sense in the very short term. And Germany was reliant on Russia for 20 percent of its oil, even after Romania joined the Axis powers.
This was especially true when it came to Destroyers-for-bases, since this resulted in America gaining bases and stationing troops on British territories around the world. Germany couldn’t possibly conquer Britain and consolidate the gains without entering conflict with the U.S.
So, if you look at this high-water mark of the Third Reich in 1940, but you place an asterisk next to Germany’s imports from Russia and added U.S. industrial output to the Allies, even with an asterisk, it’s clear that Germany was always underpowered against its enemies.
At its zenith, with its allies doing reasonably well, and with goods flowing into Germany like food from conquered France, aluminum and fish oil from conquered Norway, iron from Sweden, and oil from Romania, Germany still faced constant shortages of key war resources.
None of this is to say that the outcome of the war was determined before it was fought. The fascists brought World War II upon themselves, and it was thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of millions everywhere—from the Polish Resistance to British Royal Air Force to the Soviet Army to the U.S. Navy—that the fascist countries were stopped and defeated.
After all, if the Axis powers had successfully seized all those oil fields in Russia or North Africa, or if Germany had successfully invaded Britain in 1940, they may, may, have been able to win and consolidate their international gains. With the added power from conquered European, African, and Asian nations, the Axis powers might have even swallowed America.
So, we are duly grateful to all the veterans of World War II, but we should also thank our lucky stars for the miners, oil workers, farmers, and factory workers who made sure that the Allies were always better supplied than the Axis.
You’ve probably heard of the Memphis Belle, especially after the 1990 film starring Matthew Modine and Harry Connick, Jr.
That film took a lot of liberties with the story of the actual B-17 that was the subject of a documentary done during World War II, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress.”
But history can also be very malleable, especially in the hands of Hollywood.
When Hollywood director William Wyler was doing a documentary for the U.S. government on the first Allied bomber crew to complete a 25-mission “tour” over Europe, he took some liberties. Why? Because it was World War II, and the bombing campaign over Europe was a bloody affair. In fact, the Directors Guild of America notes that during the filming of the documentary, cinematographer and World War I vet Harold J. Tannebaum was killed when the Nazis shot down the B-24 Liberator he was in.
According to the memoirs of Robert Morgan, the pilot of the Memphis Belle, Wyler had picked a different bomber for the feature film, a B-17 known as “Invasion 2nd.” That plane – and five others – were shot down on an April 17, 1943, mission to Bremen. The Memphis Belle was chosen to replace Invasion 2nd – Morgan related how he was told that another plane had a back-up film crew on a bomber called “Hell’s Angels” in case the Memphis Belle went down. Wyler actually filmed parts of multiple missions for the documentary – the mission portrayed on the film was actually the Memphis Belle’s 24th mission.
Of course, the Memphis Belle did complete the tour – and she got all the accolades of being the “first” to do so. The crew of Hell’s Angels, though, actually flew their 25th mission a week before the Memphis Belle flew her 25th mission. The documentary, though, became a classic.
Wyler went on to direct a documentary about the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt’s operations in Italy, titled, “Thunderbolt!” He was wounded by an exploding anti-aircraft shell, losing some of his hearing.
After the war, he went on to direct the classic films “The Best Years of Our Lives” — a movie about veterans who returned home that won nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director — and “Ben Hur,” featuring former B-25 gunner Charlton Heston, which won 11 Oscars.
Today, “Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress” is available via the Internet Archive and Netflix is also streaming the film. It is also on Youtube. Feel free to watch it below. The Memphis Belle is currently being restored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio.
Most of us will never know for sure, but there must be something about absolute power that drives a person absolutely insane. For some reason, the dictators that capture and hold power for decades start exhibiting strange behaviors that definitely weren’t apparent when they were just a simple goat herder (Moammar Qaddafi), weatherman (Joseph Stalin) or doctor (François Duvalier).
Those obsessions might have been present while they were nobodies, but they definitely got the chance to bloom once they started living life with a cheat code for unlimited money and power inside their own country. Here are a few of the most bizarre obsessions:
1. Kim Jong-Il – Food
While it may surprise no one that a North Korean is obsessed with food, most of them are obsessed with finding food. Former dictator and dad to current dictator Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il, had no problems finding it, but he was very particular about it.
Legends say he had a team of female servants who would go through each individual grain of rice destined for his plate to ensure they were all exactly the same size. He also demanded that rice be cooked on a fire made from wood from sacred Mount Paektu – 420 miles from Pyongyang.
When he wanted a taste of international cuisine, he had it flown in… brick by brick. To make the perfect pizza, he flew in a pizzeria from Italy. To make beer, he moved a brewery from Germany. It’s a good thing he wasn’t into wings, because the Pyongyang Hooters would be incredibly depressing.
2. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier – Black Dogs
The former doctor and Haitian dictator was a longtime diabetic who suffered a heart attack and went into a coma after an insulin overdose. He recovered, but as he convalesced, he left power with an ally, Clement Barbot. Of course, he soon began to accuse Barbot of trying to steal that power and overthrow Papa Doc. It wasn’t true, but Barbot then actually tried it by kidnapping Papa Doc’s family.
The coup failed and a nationwide manhunt soon began for Barbot. When he couldn’t be found, Papa Doc somehow got it in his head that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog. So the dictator, despite being an educated doctor, had all the black dogs in Haiti put to death.
3. Fidel Castro – Ice Cream
Even before he seized power in Cuba, Papa Fidel was known to be obsessed with ice cream. Supporters sent him ice cream cake for his birthday while he was fighting in the jungles. He celebrated seizing power in Havana with a nice milkshake and once ate 18 scoops of ice cream for lunch.
There’s no insane, over-the-top story about his obsession. He did create one of the world’s best ice cream parlors, Coppelia, for the Cuban people, which the government still subsidizes. The closest the CIA ever got to assassinating the Cuban dictator was poisoning one of his milkshakes.
4. Joseph Stalin – Nude Drawings
We aren’t saying Stalin was making nude drawings or forcing people to draw in the nude. His obsession was much more specific. He really liked making rude comments on drawings of nude men. It didn’t matter if it was a classical painting or a doodle on a cocktail napkin, he was going to write something on it.
The comments sometimes had nothing to do with the drawings. On one nude male figure, the Soviet dictator wrote, “Ginger bastard Radek, if he had not pissed against the wind, if he had not been angry, he would still be alive.”
Radek was a former Trotsky supporter who disappeared into Stalin gulags. At least the world knows what happened to him.
5. Adolph Hitler – Western Novels
The Fuhrer was obsessed with the writings of German author Karl May. He was more specifically obsessed with the author’s novels set in the Old American West, featuring a fictional Apache war chief named Winnetou and a German called Old Shatterhand. He even mentions May in “Mein Kampf.”
As World War II dragged on, Hitler still forced his generals, troops and the German people to read the Old West works of Karl May, despite widespread shortages in everything needed to actually make books. He even demanded his generals read it for inspiration in fighting the Red Army.
6. Moammar Qaddafi – Condoleezza Rice
The Libyan dictator had an obsession with Condi that she described as “weird and a bit creepy.” Of course, she knew about his obsession with her: he made a video about her called “Black Flower in the White House,” complete with an original score by a Libyan composer. Luckily, she wrote in her memoir, the video was not raunchy.
When anti-Qaddafi rebels captured his compound, they found a homemade scrapbook of her in his personal quarters, one that was filled with photos and press clippings. They, of course, showed the world immediately to let the public humiliation of Qaddafi begin.
Iva Toguri had the bad luck of being sent to Japan to take care of her aunt in 1941. While she was there, the Japanese Empire launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, starting the Pacific War with the United States.
The Los Angeles-born Toguri was stuck in a country at war with her home country at age 25. She refused to renounce her American citizenship and was closely watched as an enemy alien. She moved to Tokyo where she took a job as a typist at Radio Tokyo.
By the end of the war she would find herself wanted by the U.S. Army, the FBI and other counterintelligence agencies on charges of aiding the enemy – but that’s not how she saw what she was doing at all.
While working at the Radio Station, she met an Australian prisoner of war, Capt. Charles Cousens. After he was captured in the Japanese invasion of Singapore, his captors learned he had worked in radio before the war and he was put to the task of producing a morale-sapping propaganda show called “Zero Hour” with a handful or other POWs.
He and two other prisoners, U.S. Army Capt. Wallace Ince and Philippine Army Lt. Normando Ildefonso “Norman” Reyes were determined to make the show as lame and harmless as they could, effectively canceling out the enemy propaganda effort. After meeting Iva Toguri, he decided he would bring her in on the joke.
She outright refused to say anything anti-American on the show. Instead they openly mocked the idea of being a propaganda message. When she finally took up the mic in earnest, she lampooned the idea of the show, even explicitly saying things like “here’s the first blow at your morale.” Their Japanese captors didn’t understand the Western humor and double entendres they used.
Toguri even used her salary on the show to get supplies for prisoners held there. She would eventually marry Felipe D’Aquino, who also worked at the station.
Now named Iva D’Aquino, her personality on the show was a character called “Orphan Ann,” but American troops in the Pacific began referring to her (and other Japanese women on the radio) as “Tokyo Rose.”
“Zero Hour” only ran for little more than a year and a half, and her appearances became less frequent as the war turned south for the Japanese. When Japan surrendered, she found herself wanted by almost everyone who had ever heard one of the broadcasts.
When a magazine reporter offered a $2,000 reward for an interview with Tokyo Rose, she actually stepped forward to claim the reward. Instead she was apprehended and accused of treason for aiding the enemy in her broadcasts.
D’Aquino was originally held in jail for a year while the Army tried to gather evidence against her, but nothing she ever said on Radio Tokyo was anti-American. Neither the FBI nor the Army in Japan could find any evidence of treason. The officers she worked with on “Zero Hour” would not say anything against her. She was eventually released.
After trying to return to the United States, public opinion was turned against her by the American media and she was arrested yet again, sent to San Francisco, and put on trial once more, facing eight counts of treason for her work at Radio Tokyo. She was convicted on one count, mentioning the loss of ships on the radio, “on a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown.”
There was no evidence of D’Aquino mentioning any ships, and Charles Cousens was present as a defense witness, but she was convicted anyway and sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served six years in a West Virginia reformatory, alongside Mildred Gillars, also known as “Axis Sally.”
It’s not everyday you hear about an American rising through the ranks of a foreign army, at least not in the last century. But it was surprisingly recently that one American did in an army in just that way. A U.S. citizen rolled over to Armenia during its Nagorno-Karabakh War with neighboring Azerbaijan. He entered the Armenian army having never fought with an actual army and rose through the ranks to command a force of 4,000 men.
California-born Monte Melkonian’s training regimen looks like the resume of a radical terrorist or Communist. But while he held some leftist views, his experience came fighting only for the lives of Armenians – and when the time came, Armenia itself. If you ask Armenians, who today live in a parliamentary republic, he’s a hero.
In 1988, the breakaway Azerbaijani oblast (province) of Karabakh voted to join the vote to leave not just the crumbling Soviet Union, but also the new country of Azerbaijan. It declared the creation of a new state apart from the USSR while the autonomous oblast of Karabakh declared itself free of Azerbaijan, joining Armenia instead. After all, it did have a majority Armenian ethnic makeup. In 1992, things really hit the fan, and Armenia made decisive territorial gains. At the center of some of those gains was Monte Melkonian, an Armenian-American who had traveled to Armenia at the end of the USSR’s lifetime.
Armenians, after facing a genocide and forced exile from their homelands, are a proud and patriotic people, and Melkonian was no different. He believed that if Azerbaijan were allowed to force Nagorno-Karabakh back into Azerbaijan, then other parts of Armenia would be taken by the Azeri military forces. This was unacceptable to Melkonian, who joined the fighting in 1991. By early 1992, he was a regional commander and quickly began to turn the tides of the war in favor of Armenia.
The California native might have had little experience running an army, but he knew how to fight. As a youth, he helped overthrow the Shah of Iran while a student in Tehran. After witnessing Iranian troops firing on student protesters, he moved north where he learned to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga, still one of the most effective fighting forces in the Middle East to this day. He then traveled to Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War to protect the Armenian Quarter of the Middle Eastern city from right-wing militants.
While in Beirut, he decided to work toward the independence of Armenia and after years of imprisonments and living underground in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, he found himself in Armenia’s disputed territory, leading thousands of men. His training at the hands of the Peshmerga and Palestinians was paying off as he not only pushed the Azerbaijani forces out of Karabakh in less than a year, he captured the region between Nagorno-Karabakh and the Republic of Armenia, unifying the two on the map.
Just two months later, he was dead.
Monte Melkonyan’s tomb.
The Armenian hero was killed in a firefight after Azerbaijani troops got lost in the dark and stumbled into his camp. He was given full military honors at his funeral and is interred outside the Armenian capital of Yerevan, where he is still revered as a legend and brilliant military strategist. His ability against the enemy combined with his political views and personal charisma means Armenians and historians remember him as a sort of Armenian Che Guevara.
He is still revered in his adopted homeland, and the Armenian Military Academy, as well as a number of villages, streets, and schools were renamed in his honor. Armenia still controls the areas captured by his forces, even if the borders are still disputed.
They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.
Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)
America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.
But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.
Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.
PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)
These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.
Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.
The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.
They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.
U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.
All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.
But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”
Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.
The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.
The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.
American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.
Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.
There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.
Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.
So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.
Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.
The Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 1) gives American presidents the power to grant full pardons. Throughout history, presidents have used this power, some more than others. Presidents Harrison and Garfield issued zero pardons, mostly because both of them died shortly after taking office. (Harrison died of pneumonia and Garfield was assassinated.) President Franklin Roosevelt issued 3,687 pardons, but a factor in that total is the fact he held office for 12 years. President Andrew Johnson either pardoned over 7,000 or just 654 people, depending on how you score it. (See below for details.)
The average number of pardons per president to date is just over 665.
Pardons have taken many forms. Some have been high-visibility because of their impact on politics and pop culture like when President Ford pardoned former President Nixon or when President Clinton pardoned publishing heir Patty Hearst following her stint as a domestic terrorist. Some have been personal like when President Clinton pardoned his brother Roger following a conviction on cocaine possession charges.
But presidents also being commanders-in-chief, naturally, some pardons in American history have had something to do with the military. Here are 5 of the most important among them:
1. James Buchanan pardons Brigham Young
In the mid-1800s the Buchanan administration grew concerned about the activities of the Latter Day Saints, led by Brigham Young. The president was afraid that Young was on the verge of creating a theocracy out west and so he sent the U.S. Army to intervene. The resulting “Utah War” was mostly without bloodshed, with the notable exception of the time some Mormons murdered 12o settlers from Arkansas. Young was accused of giving the order or, at least, not doing enough to prevent it. He was later able to prove that he’d actually sent a dispatch ordering his people to let the settlers pass in peace, but it got there two days after the massacre. As a result, Young was ultimately pardoned by President Buchanan.
2. Andrew Johnson let the Confederate military get off scot free
During the election seasons in the years immediately following the Civil War, it became politically expedient to get the conflict behind the country. In fact, the U.S. Senate was so disappointed in President Johnson’s Reconstruction progress that they impeached him. So on Christmas Day in 1868, Johnson offered amnesty to all Confederates. At about the same time he also pardoned Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland doctor who patched up Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth. President Grant, who’d led the North to victory as a Union general, finished the process, later signing the Amnesty Act of 1872, which pardoned all but 500 of the top Confederate leaders.
3. Gerald Ford pardons ‘Tokyo Rose’
Iva Toguri D’Aquino was an LA native Japanese-American who had the misfortune of being in Tokyo when war broke out between the U.S. and Japan. She became the voice of Japanese propaganda aimed at American servicemembers across the Pacific Theater. She was frighteningly accurate with military details from time to time, which did cause GIs some concern, but she was also a source of entertainment for them because her broadcasts were equally campy as provocative.
When the war ended “Tokyo Rose,” as D’Aquino was popularly known, was charged with treason, convicted and imprisoned until 1956. In time the facts emerged that she had been pressed into service for the Japanese war machine under duress. She was pardoned by President Ford in 1976.
4. Richard Nixon lets William Calley off the hook
William Calley was a community college dropout who found himself in charge of a platoon fighting the Vietnam War. His weak leadership and lack of military skill led to the systematic murder of 500 Vietnamese civilians. Life magazine broke the story over a year and a half later with a graphic photo essay that shocked the nation and did much to shift public sentiment against the war once and for all.
Calley’s court-martial was a high-visibility event, and he was eventually found guilty of 22 counts (of the 109 he was charged with) of premeditated murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Leavenworth. President Nixon, reacting to another public sentiment that Calley had been made a scapegoat and that the punishments should have gone higher up the chain of command, ordered his sentence modified to house arrest. Eventually, his time was reduced from life to 20 years. He served three and a half years of that when Nixon pardoned him.
In 2009, while speaking a Kiwanis Club in Ohio, Calley issued the following apology for his role at My Lai:
There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry…. If you are asking why I did not stand up to them when I was given the orders, I will have to say that I was a 2nd Lieutenant getting orders from my commander and I followed them—foolishly, I guess.
5. Jimmy Carter pardons the Vietnam draft dodgers
Although Gerald Ford had been the first to deal with letting draft dodgers off the hook, his version had been conditional and only affected one-third of the population. President Carter, elected on a progressive agenda, took it the rest of the way by issuing an unconditional pardon for all of those who’d evaded the draft, about 150,000 young American men — including a number of aspiring politicians who would go on to hold the highest offices in the land.