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.”
When American forces stormed ashore at Saipan on June 15, 1944, they knew they were in for a fight. Saipan was strategically important to both the Americans and the Japanese. It is the largest island in the Marianas chain and close enough to the Japanese mainland for American B-29’s to launch bombing missions.
Though it is often overshadowed by other battles, the battle of Saipan was the most costly operation for the Americans in the Pacific up to that point. 31,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island from some 71,000 Americans of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division.
Through June and into July, American forces made slow but steady progress across the island. Brutal fighting occurred in places that earned names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.”
By July 6, the situation was desperate for the Japanese. With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, there was no hope of rescue or reinforcement for the remaining defenders on Saipan.
Gen. Saito, the Japanese commander on Saipan, ordered all remaining defenders, wounded or not, and even civilians on the island to conduct a massive banzai charge against the American positions. “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops,” Saito said. “It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than to be captured.”
Saito would not join his troops in the attack, though. After transmitting an apology to Tokyo for his failure, he committed ritual suicide.
Leading the way were soldiers carrying a massive red flag, followed by sword-wielding officers and the rest of the infantry. Behind them came the wounded and what civilians decided to join the attack. There was an insufficient number of rifles for all, so many wounded came with bamboo spears, rocks, or anything else they hoped could do damage.
As some 4,000 Japanese swarmed over the American lines, intense close quarters combat broke out.
Leading the 1st Battalion was Lt. Col. William O’Brien. Since the first days his unit had landed on Saipan, he had shown his bravery and skill as a commander. O’Brien had personally led several assaults to reduce Japanese strongpoints while continually exposing himself to enemy fire.
When the Japanese came at the 1st Battalion that morning, O’Brien was once again in the thick of the fighting and leading from the front.
As the enemy swept over his lines, O’Brien steadfastly held his ground and rallied his men. Like a modern-day Call of Duty character, he dual-wielded two .45 caliber pistols and shouted encouragement to his men as he blasted the onrushing attackers.
As the attack continued, O’Brien received a painful wound to his shoulder but refused to quit. When his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he picked up a discarded rifle and continued to fight. When he again ran out of ammunition, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and poured fire into the advancing Japanese.
O’Brien was last seen alivesurrounded by sword-wielding Japanese, blasting the .50 caliber machine gun and yelling at his men, “Don’t give them a damn inch!”
Elsewhere on the 1st Battalion line, one Thomas Baker, a private in A Company, was also giving the Japanese hell. Like O’Brien, from the early days of his unit’s involvement on Saipan he had exhibited tremendous bravery in fighting the Japanese.
As the Japanese rushed his position, Baker delivered deadly fire with his rifle. When he was wounded he refused to be evacuated and continued to fight on. With his ammunition exhausted, Baker turned his rifle into club and desperately fought off the Japanese attackers until his weapon was battered beyond use.
At this point, a fellow soldier withdrew him from the line, but in carrying him from the field was himself wounded. Baker refused to be taken any further due to the risk to his friends. He made a simple last request — to be left propped against a tree, facing the Japanese, with a .45 pistol with eight shots.
When friendly forces retook the position in the following days, they discovered Baker’s body, just as they had left it, with eight dead Japanese laying in front of him — each killed with a single shot from his .45.
Further down the line from the 1st Battalion, the 2nd Battalion was having problems of its own. Japanese forces had breached the perimeter and were attacking the battalion aid station just behind the front lines.
As Japanese continued to infiltrate his aid station, Salomon, with the help of wounded soldiers, expertly dispatched them until he realized the situation was untenable. Ordering the wounded to make their way back to the regimental aid station, Salomon joined the defenses and manned a machine gun.
Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his body riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, with scores of Japanese dead in front of his position. It was later determined that he had been wounded over 20 times and had moved the machine gun four times in order to get a clear field of fire around the bodies before he was overcome.
The battle for Saipan would be declared over two days later. Afterwards, O’Brien, Baker, and Salomon would all be awarded the Medal of Honor.
There’s nothing like a bowl of strong French onion soup on any given day, who cares how cold it is outside. But rampaging Norsemen from the days of yore had no need for the froufrou gimmicks that the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys of France use to adorn their stanky broth. There’s no need for croutons and definitely no time to melt cheese over it all.
That’s because viking warriors eating onion soup were probably close to bleeding out.
“Stay back! Your breath is most foul!”
Medieval combat was a brutal affair in Europe and the areas along its northern shores were no exception. For 400-some years, the coasts of Ireland, England, and Frankish territories, all the way east to Russia were the subject of frequent Viking raids. When confronted on land, Vikings would form a wedge with their feared berserkers at the tip of the formation as they rushed forward, hurtling spears and fighting in close combat.
This kind of shirtless, unarmored, Viking rage could get a guy killed – and often did. It definitely saw a lot of injuries and war wounds. But the Viking society wasn’t all piracy and plunder. They actually formed a vast trade and agricultural network they depended on, but this access was limited due to climate.
“Good kill today. Gotta go milk the sheep.”
Vikings planted and gathered food throughout the year, but when the weather turned cold, conservation became a necessary way of life. It wasn’t just food that became a scarce resource, the herbs Vikings used to cure disease and heal wounds became just as scarce, so they needed some metric of how to dole out the lifesaving plants. Not having access to the medical knowledge we enjoy today meant that they needed some way to determine who had the best chance of survival.
Onion soup soon became a form of triage and resource conservation.
“Seriously Karl, someone’s gonna get hurt.”
If a Viking warrior was wounded in the stomach during a battle, they were fed a strong, pungent onion soup. Afterward, the Vikings tending to the wounded would smell the belly wounds to look for the signature onion smell. If they could smell the onions through the man’s wound, then they knew the stomach wall was cut, and the man would not survive his wounds. It would be pointless to try to save the man and another with a better chance of survival would be treated.
That’s just life (and death) as a Norseman. Enjoy your croutons.
It seems like, every so often, every branch of the military updates its tattoo policy. It’s done for various reasons, but ultimately, it’s to keep an orderly and professional appearance. But ever since the first tattoo parlor opened its doors in 1846, tattoos have had a well-seated place in the hearts (and on the skin) of many troops and veterans.
The art of body-marking and tattooing as a status symbol for warriors dates back well over five thousand years. Everyone from the Ancient Greeks to the Maori tribes of New Zealand marked their warriors as a sign of their strength. Even before tattoos were widespread among the U.S. military, Revolutionary War sailors tattooed personal identifiers on their skin to avoid being illegally conscripted by the British Navy.
During the American Civil War, early tattoo artist Martin Hildebrant traveled the battlefields and decorated the troops with various, patriotic designs. Even Marine Corps legend, Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, was said to have an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattooed across his chest
Despite a general disinterest in tattoos among civilians in a post-WWI society, the 1925 book, The History of Tattooing, states that a whopping 90% of U.S. Sailors were tattooed. This was the golden age of sailors using their bodies as secondary service records of their achievements. Sailors would get a shellback turtle for crossing the equator, a golden dragon for crossing the International Date Line, and a golden shellback for crossing both at the same spot. Even rarer is a purple porpoise, which is for making this same crossing during the sacred hour of the spring equinox.
Seeing a tattoo on an older sailor means either they sailed through a very specific spot at a very specific time — or they just really like purple dolphins.
In today’s military, the old traditions still ring true. Sailors will still mark themselves for their Naval achievements. Marines still get the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor on their first liberty. Soldiers will still get one or more of the same six tattoos. And airmen will probably get something nice in a spot that doesn’t hurt too much.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is often lovingly referred to as the “grunt of the skies,” referring to the nickname given to U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps infantry troops. If the A-10 is the Air Force’s grunt, then its pilots are gonna need some things broken-down “barney style” – that is to say, into as few basic instructions as possible.
Have no fear, the U.S. Air Force did just that for pilots who might have encountered the Soviet Union’s T-62 main battle tank. In order to teach the grunts of the sky how to take one of them down, the Air Force issued this marvelous coloring book.
So right from the get-go, you can totally judge this book by its cover. Sure it’s been photocopied a few times and is looking a little rough, but this is not exactly the kind of technical manual you see in film and television. The book is designed to inform pilots about just where the rounds from their GAU-8 Avenger cannon are most likely to penetrate a tank’s armor – because while the A-10’s main cannon is an anti-armor weapon, it’s not an anti-tank weapon. Still, the rounds do have a chance of penetrating the T-62’s armor, but only from certain angles.
That’s what this coloring book is for.
As you can read for yourself, the idea of even an A-10 attacking the USSR’s T-62 Main Battle Tank head-on is absurd. The GAU-8 rounds, even being depleted uranium, will not penetrate the armor and slope of the Soviet tank’s armor. It even addresses common misconceptions from casual observers, like the idea of taking out the tank’s treads. Even the armor-piercing incendiary round will simply put holes in the tank’s tread.
Also, try finding an Air Force manual that personally insults the pilots these days.
Here’s how to get to the meat inside all that armor plating – through the soft underbelly. The manual describes at what range and angle the API rounds can hit a T-62 ad penetrate to the main crew cabin. The T-62’s sides offer the least protection from the Warthog’s main cannon at its sides and its wheels. Coming in a very precise angle will allow the airborne grunt to get through its armor plating.
Just like many tanks of the era, the rear of the T-62 is one of its most vulnerable spots, from many, many angles and ranges. Despite including an anal sex reference, this Air Force instruction manual is really helpful in determining just where the best place to hit the main battle tank is. Even if the GAU-8 can’t penetrate the crew through the back door, it can still hit the engine and drive gear, shutting down the tank’s advance.
This diagram shows what to do when the tank’s crew – a crew of pinko commie atheists – is outside the hull of the vehicle. The answer is, duh strafe those swine! As for hitting the tank from the side, an A-10 pilot isn’t going to have much luck getting through the turret that way. But he could penetrate the side plates, and there’s always the possibility of hitting the tank from directly above it.
The whole point is that the GAU-8 Avenger isn’t going to be effective if a pilot just swoops in from whatever angle he wants. He’s got to hit these pinko swine from a specific angle to penetrate its armor, just like any of the armor troops on the ground.
Well into the attack, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.
Due to the events of that traumatic day, 1,177 Sailors and Marines lost their lives, but the numbers of those men buried at the historic site continue to increase.
Master Chief Raymond Haerry (ret), served as a Boatswain’s Mate on the Arizona as it was bombed by enemy forces in the pacific fleet, which threw him from the ship and caused him to land in the oil and fire covered water.
Haerry had to swim his way to Ford Island — then got right back into the fight by firing back at the enemy. He was just 19 years old.
75 years after the attack, Haerry returned; his ashes were laid to rest inside the sunken ship’s hull, rejoining approximately 900 of his brothers. More than 100 people gathered at the USS Arizona Memorial for the symbolic funeral in his honor — a ceremony only offered to those who survived the deadly attack.
The retired Master Chief became the 42nd survivor to be placed at the site out of the 335 men who survived.
Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.
All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)
Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.
Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.
One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.
Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.
Troops today love to liken themselves to the warfighters of old — Spartans, crusaders, knights, pirates, or whatever else. It helps our troops buy into the classic warrior mentality and it makes us feel more badass. When it comes to U.S. Marines, there’s really one comparison that stands out above the rest as apt: the Vikings of the middle-ages.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you, young Marine, which historical badass you should try to emulate — you do you. But if you’re looking for some inspiration from history’s toughest customers; if you’re looking for some sea-faring, slightly-degenerate tough guys that howl for a fight, you’d do well to start your search with the Vikings.
Here’s where Vikings and modern Marines overlap:
1. Both were masters at disembarking amphibious landing ships to fight on land
First and foremost, there are no two groups in history more feared for their ability to storm beaches and absolutely destroy everything within range than Vikings and U.S. Marines. The Vikings are famous for their sieges on Northumbria while the Marines are known for successes during the South Pacific campaign of WWII. For both groups, their presence alone is often enough to force a surrender.
But their skills on the coastline don’t discredit their ability to fight inland. Vikings, accustomed to the frigid north, fared extremely well when fighting in the Holy Lands — not too far from there was where the Marines fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah.
Hell, one of the stories of Thor is about him basically trying to drink an entire ocean made of booze.
2. Both are known for intense post-combat partying
Another key trait of the Viking lifestyle that isn’t too far off from what happens in the average lower-enlisted barracks of any Marine Corps installation: consuming volumes of alcohol that would incapacitate mere mortals is just the pregame for Vikings and lance corporals.
I’m highly confident that a Jomsviking leaderwould have been completely cool with wall-to-wall counselling to solve any issues.
3. Both share a deep brotherhood with their fellow fighters
Most troops, regardless of era, become friends with the guys to their left and right, but Marines and Vikings are known for taking that brotherhood to a new level.
The Viking mercenaries, known as the Jomsvikings, followed a strict code that revolved around brotherhood among their ranks and their motto is roughly translated as, “one shield, one brotherhood.” This way of live was written into their 11 codes of conduct. It doesn’t matter who you were before you became a Jomsviking, but so as long as you’re a brother, you will not fight with each other and you will avenge another should they fall in combat. And if there was infighting, the dispute was mediated by the leadership (or chain of command).
All of these things are essentially within the UCMJ.
Or the story of Harald “Bluetooth”… because he ate a blueberry that one time.. Yep, Vikings were creative like that.
4. Both had a penchant for giving each other nicknames
Giving someone a terrible nickname after they made a silly mistake is one of the more bizarre tidbits of Viking lore — but it is exactly what Marines still do to one another today. The platoon idiot is “boot,” the big guy in the unit is “Pvt Pyle,” and you know damn well that certain guy they call “Mad Dog” did something to earn that name.
History speaks of the famed viking warrior named Kolbeinn Butter Penis (named after his sexual exploits) and Eystein Foul-Fart (named for the noxious small that came from his ass). Hell, even Erik the Red got his name because he was a ginger — or because he was a violent sociopath at the age of ten… nobody can say for certain there.
On the topic of Valhalla, Marines hold Tun Tavern with about the same level of respect.
5. Both believe that the older the fighter, the more terrifying the man
Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young.
The only thing more terrifying than a 47-year-old Master Gunnery Sergeant who’s fueled entirely by alcohol, tobacco, and hatred was a 47-year-old, bearded-out berserker who’s lived in the woods for the better part of twenty years.
Unlike their contemporaries, Vikings had a special place in their groups for the older warrior men and treated their cumulative knowledge as sacred. Younger Vikings would pick their brains, trying to learn their tactics. And, at the end of the day, the old viking were said to fight even more ferociously in battle, knowing that their time was short. After all, dying sick in bed won’t get the Valkyries’ attention — only through glorious combat could they earn entry into the hall of Valhalla.
Ah, vikings. You unruly, blood-thirsty a**holes. Some things never change.
6. Both enjoyed fighting more than anything else
The most glaringly obvious similarity between these two groups of warriors is how sacredly they hold the concept of fighting. Much like a Marine being told their deployment got pushed back a few months, Vikings would complain if they weren’t given their time on the battlefield.
Vikings’ culture wasn’t based entirely on fighting, but man, were they good at it. That’s probably why nobody ever talks about the Vikings’ expansive trading network. There’s also a reason why people never really talk about a Water Dog’s “water purification skills.”
H/T: to Ruddy Cano, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and fellow We Are The Mighty contributor, for helping with this article.
Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.
In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.
Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.
The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.
In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.
Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.
The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.
Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.
Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.
Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.
Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.
Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.
The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.
In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.
On May 2 and 4, 1972, two SR-71 Blackbirds overflew Hanoi, North Vietnam at noon. The first plane broke the sound barrier, causing an ear-splitting sonic boom over the city. Fifteen seconds later, the other Blackbird did the same thing.
Prisoners at Hoa Lo developed a code-tapping language to communicate with each other. Capt. James Stockdale, who was the senior ranking officer at the prison, taught many incoming POWs this code. It kept the men sane and their spirits up.
Communicating with Washington was trickier. Three months into his captivity, Stockdale was allowed to write to his wife, Sybil. Two months later, he was allowed to write again. When she received the letters, she found them confusing. Nicknames and references to their mutual friends were wrong.
Sybil gave the letters to Naval Intelligence in San Diego who figured out he was using doublespeak – deliberately misleading language –to let his superiors know he was not being treated well in North Vietnam. With her cooperation, the CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence decided to use her correspondence back to her husband as a way to communicate with the prisoners.
Her first letter included a Polaroid of her with a secret message sandwiched between the sheets of photographic paper. It explained the process of using invisible ink to send messages to the CIA. He listed the other POWs with him and detailed the abuses inflicted on American prisoners there.
The new communication policy allowed the prisoners and the CIA to trade a wealth of information, so much so that the prisoners were actually able to assemble a small shortwave radio, which was eventually discovered during an inspection).
In 1969, two prisoners, Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Edwin Atterberry, escaped from the prison at Cu Loc but were recaptured the next day. Massive reprisals from their captors followed, and thus the prisoners’ leadership determined the retribution was too much and escape attempts should only be made with a “high likelihood of success and assurance of outside assistance.” That’s when they came up with the Red River plan.
Members of the escaping POW group sent their plan to the U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird approved the plan in January 1972. By May, everything was in place. The sonic booms were a go.
Despite a few setbacks, members of SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team Eleven used SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV – mini-submarines) and HH-3A helicopters to patrol the coastline throughout May and June looking for escaped POWs. They never found any.
As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale forbid any escape attempts. He judged the plan too risky and the threat of reprisals too harsh. (Prisoners were often killed during these reprisals). The would-be escapees were frustrated by the policy, but they obeyed.
Article III of the Code of Conduct for prisoners does say American POWs should make every effort to escape captivity. Article IV, however, prohibits any action that would cause harm to other captured personnel. So Thunderhead was terminated.
The POWs would communicate with Washington throughout the war. Eventually, another radio was smuggled in, which gave POWs a direct line from the camp to the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanders aboard ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In January 1973, 591 POWs were repatriated back to the United States. For his leadership among the prisoners and work to galvanize the resistance to their captors, Stockdale received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford.
Weaver passed out. He and Jim Zwayer, the flight test specialist, continued to fly through the air, propelled by their own inertia at hundreds of miles an hour. Weaver passed out before the plane even broke apart.
When he woke up, he was flying through the sky high above the earth. Initially, he thought he was dreaming, then he realized that it wasn’t a dream so he must be dead. And finally realized that he was neither dead nor dreaming.
A layer of ice covered his visor, but he could tell he wasn’t tumbling so the stabilization chute must have deployed. His emergency oxygen tank had functioned as well, inflating his suit to compress his blood and feed him breathable air.
As Weaver reached for his main chute, it deployed on its own. He got his frozen face plate open and was able to spot Zwayer who he would later learn had died.
He landed a few miles from the wreckage of his burnt up plane and collapsed his chute, preparing for a long night in the freezing winter weather of the desert. Then he heard a voice asking, “Can I help you?”
Turns out, Weaver had landed on a large ranch, and the owner had flown his helicopter to go check out the wreckage that had just crashed on his land.
Weaver later learned that the straps from his seat were still fully attached to him, but the ejection seat had stayed with the plane. When the plane broke apart, the entire cockpit, including Weaver’s seat, had broken up around him as his seat belt and harness continued to hold on to him.
The thing that saved him was the pressurized suit which had acted like a tiny escape capsule. An inspection of that suit revealed that one of the oxygen canisters had broken off, nearly removing what little protection Weaver had during his flight through the air at multiple times the speed of sound.
Weaver placed a collect call to Lockheed, letting the crew in the control area know that he had survived and surprising many of them. Weaver got behind the controls of another SR-71 only two weeks later.
Richard “Dick” D. Winters was born in rural New Holland, Pa. in January 1918. Richard graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 1941 with a bachelor degree in economics. On Aug. 25 of the same year, he enlisted into the Army to fulfill a one-year service requirement. He said he had done this as an attempt to avoid completing a full three-year tour if he had been drafted.
Nonetheless, he reported for basic training at Camp Croft, S.C. In 1942, Richard was selected to attend the Army Officer Cadet School (OCS) in Fort Benning, Ga. Once he completed his time at OCS he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division commissioned as a second lieutenant. In the 101st, Richard volunteered for the rigorous paratrooper training program and was assigned to Company E, commonly referred to as “Easy Company,” of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2ndPlatoon, where he was made platoon leader. The regiment was considered experimental at the time as they were part of the first soldiers to be given airborne training. While still in paratrooper training, Richard would receive another promotion, this time to the rank of first lieutenant and assigned the role of executive officer of 1st Platoon. Richard, along with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division, was deployed to England in September 1943 to begin preparing for the invasion of Normandy.
Richard “Dick” Winters.
Eventually, this training was put into action and in the early hours of June 6, 1944, Easy Company was deployed alongside the 82nd and the rest of the 101st Airborne Divisions to commence Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion. During the early moments of this operation, the plane carrying all of Easy Company’s leading officers, who made up the company’s headquarters, was shot down, which left Richard, a first lieutenant, as the acting commanding officer. In the following days, he destroyed a full battery of German howitzers and the platoon that commanded them, as well as acquired key information detailing German defenses at Utah Beach. Richard achieved these feats with only 13 of his men used in the action dubbed, the Brecourt Manor Assault. Richard was recommended for the Medal of Honor and received the Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to the rank of captain for his actions. He would go on to fight heroically in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. On March 8, 1945, Richard was promoted to the rank of major.
After World War II, he stayed in Europe as part of the occupation and demobilization effort even though he had the option of returning home. Richard was later offered a regular commission, as opposed to his reserve commission, but declined and was discharged Jan. 22, 1946. Upon his return to the United States, Richard would meet and marry Ethel Estoppey on May 16, 1948. In 1951, Richard was reactivated by the Army and trained infantry and Army Rangers at Fort Dix, N.J.for three more years. He then moved to Hershey, Pa. with his family and founded his own company, R.D. Winters Inc., which sold feed for livestock to Pennsylvania farmers. After retirement, he would speak with historian Stephen Ambrose who would turn his stories into a book named Band of Brothers in 1992. In 2001, actor Tom Hanks adapted that book into an Emmy winning HBO miniseries. Richard would go on to publish his memoirs and give public speeches. Richard passed on Jan. 2, 2011 in Campbelltown, Pa.
We honor Richard’s service.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
Every job has its unexpected perks. Even being a Marine Corps aviator in World War II had some unexpected benefits. This is because Marines make do, as the saying goes, and are used to making the most out of whatever Uncle Sam provides them to get the mission done. They will even make miracles happen when it’s not part of the mission.
That’s just what Marines do, even when it comes to ice cream.
You read that right.
Everyone loves ice cream and I state that firm belief as someone who has been lactose intolerant his entire life. Marines these days give the Air Force a lot of smack for (almost) always having sweet treats present wherever there’s an Air Force dining facility. But let’s be real, after a few days, weeks, or however long being deprived of even the simplest luxury, a bit of ice cream goes a long way. Marine aviators in the Pacific Theater thought so, too.
The United States captured the island of Peleliu from Imperial Japan after more than two months of hard fighting toward the end of 1944. Marines on Peleliu were within striking distance of the enemy, but since there was no real threat at the time, they were not on combat patrols or supporting operations elsewhere in the theater. The Marines were getting bored and if you’ve ever made it past basic training in any branch of the military, you know there are few things more inventive or more dangerous than bored Marines.
The crew of the USS Lexington raided the ice cream stores after being torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. That’s not a joke.
One squadron commander, J. Hunter Reinburg, figured he could probably raise morale among his men if he could fix one of his F4U Corsair fighter-bombers to become a high-altitude ice cream maker. It wouldn’t be that hard. His crews cut the ends off a drop tank, created a side access panel, and strung a .50-caliber ammo can in the panel. He instructed the mess sergeant to fill the ammo can with canned milk and cocoa powder. All he had to do was get it cold enough to freeze – no problem for a high-altitude fighter.
There was something to Reinburg’s thinking. Ice cream has long been a staple of American morale. During the years of Prohibition, ice cream and soda jerks replaced bar nuts and bartenders for many Americans. Ice creams were marketed toward helping people cope with suffering during the Great Depression. When World War II broke out, other countries banned ice cream to enforce sugar rations — but not the United States. Americans loved the sweet treat so much the U.S. military even planned to build a floating ice cream factory and tow it into the Pacific Theater.
For Marines stranded on a hot island with no fresh food and no refrigeration, high-altitude ice cream was a great idea.
I need to get me one of those old-time ice cream makers.
Army Air Corps bombers had been making the sweet treat in the same way for years, flying at frigid high altitudes while the hum and vibrations from the engine churned the milk and sugar into frozen ice cream. For the Marines, the first run was a disaster. Reinburg circled the island at 33,000 feet for 35 minutes. When he landed, the mixture was still liquid. But Marines don’t give up so easily.
The second run saw ammo cans bolted onto the underside of wings to keep the ice cream base far from the hot engines. The mixture froze, but didn’t have the creamy texture the men wanted so badly. The third run was the most inventive of all. This time Marines rigged the ammo cans themselves with propellers which turned a screw inside the ammo cans, churning the ice cream as it froze.
This time the ice cream was perfect. The only hitch was they forgot to let the Operations Officer, a Colonel, have a ration of ice cream.