One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

It’s not widely known that Marine Corps Raiders trained operatives for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. The forerunner to the CIA, the OSS would conduct clandestine resistance, sabotage, and intelligence-gathering operations all over the world. One of those operatives was a member of UDT-10, an underwater demolition team, who would play a critical role in the recapture of the Philippines during the war, then help create the foundation of maritime special operations forces for the U.S. military and the intelligence community. That operative was a sailor named Hank Weldon and he died on Oct. 5, 2018 in his San Marcos, Calif. home. He was 95 years old.


“My point of view of the war is a little different than a lot of people,” he told the Valley Road Runner in 2013. “I let them [U.S. Marines] in and left. I didn’t see a lot of action on the ground. I went in and cleared the areas for the ships,” says Weldon. “Opened the lanes for them. Took care of mines. Or eliminated markers that the Japanese were using as markers for their artillery.”

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Underwater Demolition Teams used surfboards to haul up to 300 pounds of explosives to shore. (Valley Road Runner)
 

That was just the beginning of a storied career in service to his country.

Born in 1923 and graduating from high school in 1942, Hank Weldon came of age at the outbreak of World War II. He played football at Villanova for two semester before joining a Navy commissioning program. It was while training for that program that General “Wild Bill” Donovan came looking to recruit strong swimmers for the OSS.

His swimming test involved pulling a manhole cover from the bottom of a pool and putting it in an empty canoe without tipping it. He passed. That’s when he was ordered to Camp Pendleton – but he had no idea what branch of the service he was actually in. The truth was, they were from all branches.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Weldon and his full UDT crew on California’s Catalina Island during their training exercises.

 

The OSS recruited men from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy, and Marines to come train with a Marine Raider battalion. When their training was complete, the unit was split up. Some were deployed to hit the beaches at Normandy, while Weldon and others prepared to hit the beaches of the occupied Philippine Islands.

Their trial by fire came when they were sent on the first underwater recon mission of World War II, gathering intelligence on the island of Yap. From there, they saw action at Palau and in five missions in the Philippines – but they didn’t lose a single man there. He even saw General MacArthur as he returned to the island nation, as promised.

When the war ended, so did Hank Weldon’s time in the military.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

But his career in service didn’t stop. He spent 26 years as a beat cop on the Los Angeles Police Department and served during some of the most dangerous times in the force’s history. He served during the 1965 Watts Riots, a six-day civil disturbance that damaged million worth of property and was the most destructive urban uprising of the entire Civil Rights Era. It took a 45-mile exclusion zone enforced by 13,000 California National Guardsmen to quell the violence – with Hank Weldon riding and holding shotgun through it all.

Some 50 years after leaving the military and the OSS Maritime unit, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Special Forces – with good reason. He helped inaugurate the use of fins in maritime clandestine operations and pioneered tactical technology, including the first rebreathers. The tactics, weapons, and hand-to-hand combat techniques he and other OSS operative learned from the Marine Raiders were passed on to other operatives throughout the war and then handed down to new special operations units thereafter.

Members of the OSS were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on March 21, 2018, and Hank Weldon was the surviving member of his OSS team, UDT-10. Weldon’s family turned down an invitation for Hank to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Instead, he will receive a military burial ceremony at home, in the Valley Center Cemetery in California.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: There was a POW Camp in the middle of Mississippi

Located in Clinton, Mississippi, Camp Clinton was a POW facility and the home of about 3,000 German and Italian POWs during World War II. A lot of them were members of the Afrika Corps who were captured in Africa. That’s right: World War II included battles in a continent many people never realize was even a part of the war.

Wait…Africa Was Part of WWII? 

Africa’s involvement in the war had more to do with the big powers in the war using North Africa strategically rather than those countries having their own stake in it. That’s why Britain, German and Italian soldiers went into places like Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in the first place in 1940. 

The US didn’t arrive in the fight on the North African front until 1942. Their attack from the west with Britain’s attack from the east trapped German and Italian soldiers in the middle. And those so-called German and Italian “Afrika Corps” are the ones who became POWs. 

Camp Clinton was the best of the bunch

In total, the US took about 275,000 of those Soldiers as POWs, and 3,400 of them came to Camp Clinton. Of the four main POW base camps in Mississippi, Camp Clinton was the most “prestigious.” It held the high-ranking German officers, including generals, colonels, majors and captains. The highest-ranking of them all even had special housing.

camp clinton POW camp

Many POWs chose to work, with a modest sum of 80 cents a day. After all, there was nothing else to do. They mostly picked cotton and planted trees, not surprising considering their Mississippi locale.

Not All German POWs Were True Nazis 

And here’s another thing you might find surprising: the majority of the German POWs were not all-out Nazis. They were just guys who had gone to war when their country needed them. However, a few of the POWs did indeed subscribe fully to the Nazi ideology. One of them even got so crazy that he ended up killing a non-fanatical German POW. That’s when the US government realized that the animosity between the Nazi fanatics and the rest of the POWs could get out of hand, and they quickly shipped off the fanatics to Oklahoma. 

World War II ended in May 1945, which normally would mean the POWs would return home right away. However, thanks to the labor shortage in the US, which wasn’t the case this time. President Truman had many of the German POWs stay and work until the middle of 1946.

Years later, some of those German POWs came back to Mississippi to visit and pay homage to their experiences. If that doesn’t prove how decently they were treated, I don’t know what would. You might even venture to say that going to the Mississippi POW facilities like Camp Clinton saved their lives. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have survived the war at all. 

Related: The 8 most famous US military recruiting posters of World War II

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what different berets mean in the Army and Air Force

Spend any amount of time on or around an Army or Air Force post and you’ll be sure to find a number of beret-wearing service members around you.


Hell, you’re going to be greeted by a blue beret each and every time you get to an Air Force gate (SecFo HUA!) and, if you were on any Army post between 2001 and 2011, you saw black berets everywhere you went, as they were a part of standard Army uniform.

Got it — but what about the less commonly seen berets? The green, the tan, and the maroon?

This is what berets of all colors mean in the Army and Air Force.

Black — U.S. Army

A black beret is worn by all soldiers in service dress unless they are otherwise authorized to wear a different, distinctive beret.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
The black beret is authorized for wear in service dress for the entire Army. (DOD Photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn)

Black — U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party

A black beret is the official headgear of the Air Force TACP. They’re about as operator as you get in the Air Force without becoming pararescue or combat control.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Black berets look good in Air Force Blue, too. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Blue — U.S. Air Force Security Forces

The most common beret across all branches of service as of writing. Security Forces (the Air Force’s version of Military Police) wear the blue beret with every uniform whenever not deployed or in certain training.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
The second most common beret on this list: Security Forces HUA! (Image from Paul Davis).

Green — U.S. Army Special Forces

This is the cream of the crop of the U.S. Army. The green beret is the single most recognizable sign of a badass.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
They could still probably kick your ass… (Image via Reddit).

Grey — U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

These guys teach most of the other badasses on this list how to survive in the worst conditions. That definitely qualifies them for their own beret.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
A new wave of survival specialists. (USAF photo by Airman 1st. Class Melissa L. Barnett).

Maroon — U.S. Army Airborne

Aside from the Army’s green beret, the maroon beret of Army airborne is one of the easiest to recognize.

These guys drop into any situation with complete operational capability.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Oh, just a bunch of badasses in the midst of random badassery… (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Maroon — U.S. Air Force Pararescue

In the Air Force, the maroon beret means something completely different. While being Army Airborne is an amazing distinction, the Air Force Pararescuemen are truly elite.

The introductory course has one of the highest failure rates of all military schools and the ones that do complete it go on to become the kind of guy that you do not want to fight in a bar.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Ever see a wave of kick*ss? (Image by Stew Smith)

Pewter Grey — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather

These guys do weather in the most undesirable conditions. I know that may not sound very operator, but just take a quick look at the training they endure and the types of operations they conduct and you won’t ever question their beret again.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
A surprising badass, Air Force Special Operations Weather. (Image from Combat Survival Magazine).

Tan — U.S. Army Rangers

The Army Rangers began wearing tan berets in 2001 when the Army made the black beret the standard headgear for the entire Army.

Prior to that, they owned the black beret.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
It’s safe to say the tan beret has grown on us all. (Image from 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs Office)

Scarlet — U.S. Air Force Combat Control

The scarlet beret is the headgear of the U.S. Combat Controller. Their beret is one you’ll rarely see because they’re always on the go, doing what they were trained to do… which is classified.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Navy ‘ace of aces’ shut down a 60-plane attack

Navy pilot David S. McCampbell, a commander at the time, set the single mission aerial combat record when he led a two-plane flight against a 60-plane Japanese attack and shot down at least nine of the enemy himself, forcing the Japanese forces back before they could fire on a single American ship.


One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Navy Capt. David McCampbell as a pilot in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

McCampbell was the commander of the Navy’s Air Group Fifteen, often known as the “Fabled Fifteen,” on Oct. 24, 1944, when a large Japanese force was spotted near the USS Essex during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese would have been nearly guaranteed a victory against the Essex since no aircraft were ready to defend the carrier.

Crews rushed to prepare McCampbell’s Hellcat and the commander jumped into his bird before it could even be entirely filled with fuel. McCampbell took off with just one other fighter to face approximately 60 Japanese planes.

In the air, McCampbell proved his reputation as one of the Navy’s fiercest pilots. He was able to engage the Japanese out of range of the carrier and shot down nine of them while disrupting the formations of the rest. The Japanese eventually turned back without firing a single time on the Essex.

The pilot would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions. His nine aerial victories that day are believed to have taken place in 95 minutes, meaning he averaged about one enemy plane shot down every 10 minutes.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Navy Capt. David McCampbell’s plane undergoes maintenance on board USS Essex off Saipan on July 30, 1944. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Then, the very next day, McCampbell and the Fabled Fifteen went on the attack. McCampbell acted as the targeting coordinator and piloted one of the planes in a massive assault with planes from three task groups. The American formation destroyed an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, and two destroyers while also damaging five other large ships. He later received the Navy Cross for this engagement.

McCampbell’s reputation as a feared pilot was earned well before Oct. 1944, too. In June of that year, he led a flight of U.S. defenders against an 80-plane attack by Japanese forces, disrupting the attack and shooting down seven of the enemy. In September, he led an attack on Japanese ships, shot down four enemy planes, and heavily damaged a merchant ship.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Navy Commander David S. McCampbell’s plane had 34 Japanese flags to represent his victories over that many Japanese planes. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate Second Class Paul T. Erickson)

By the end of the war, McCampbell was credited with 34 victories over enemy planes and went down in history as being the only man to earn a Medal of Honor and a Navy Cross in two days. He was promoted to the rank of captain before his retirement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This powerful speech will get you through deployment Groundhog Day

In 1992, Jim Valvano – a former basketball player, coach of the 1983 champion North Carolina State men’s basketball team, and broadcasting personality – was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread to his spine.


Up until this point, the charismatic Queens, N.Y.-native was best known for his celebration after defeating the Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game. You can see “Jimmy V” running onto the court about 9 seconds into the video below:

“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.”

It was just a decade later that his life was tragically cut short. But before he went, even knowing the end could be near, he was able to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. It was a speech that echoed for years to come and remains one of the most memorable.

Those are words appropriate for fighting cancer, being the underdog in the country’s biggest basketball tournament, or even fighting alongside your brothers and sisters in arms, far from your family and loved ones.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day… Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

But about a week or so before, Jimmy V gave a speech commemorating the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship to the team, current players, and Wolfpack fans. That speech was one for the ages. It will keep you shouting the mantra of, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” during any rough time in your life.

 

Jim Valvano died from the cancer he was determined to fight just a month or so after his legendary ESPY Awards speech. His name and spirit live on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Jim Valvano, truly, never gave up.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Vietnam draft wasn’t as random as you think

December 1969 was not a very merry Christmastime for many American families. The war in Vietnam was ramping up and the draft lottery was held for the first time. 366 blue capsules were drawn, each containing a day of the year. Each calendar date was assigned a number based on draw order. The lower the draft number, the higher the possibility was of being drafted.


soldiers who were chosen in the vietnam draft

Related: This is how to see if you would have been drafted for Vietnam

Conscription in the United States was a common practice, especially during wartime. It had been a part of American life since the Civil War. It wasn’t until 1975 that the draft disappeared and the U.S. military turned into an all-volunteer force.

But back in 1970, one Ph.D. student in computer planning saw the “random” Vietnam draft lottery as flawed — mathematically flawed. According to a New York Times article from the period, he wasn’t the only one.

Mathematicians and statisticians challenged the legality of the process, as it did not produce a truly random result. As the Times’ article points out, hundreds of thousands of men were already preparing for service in Vietnam.

The Nixon White House and the Selective Service System claimed they made a great effort to produce a random result, one that was as fair as possible. Pentagon experts, at the time, estimated that anyone with a number over 200 was unlikely to get drafted.

Soldiers from vietnam draft

Experts said the resulting monthly average number could have been predicted if the capsules containing the dates early in the months were on the bottom and the later days were at the top and the capsules were not adequately mixed — which is exactly what happened.

David Stodolosky, the aforementioned Ph.D. student, is the one who filed a suit against Selective Service, based on the findings that the drawing wasn’t truly random. His lawyers argued that President Nixon’s orders called for a random draft and that wasn’t what they got.

His argument was that later birthdates were drawn much earlier than others and, thus, were more likely to be drafted for wartime service.

The student tried to get an injunction against the government pressing men into service until the draft lottery process was truly randomized — a task as simple as attaching numbers to dates using a random number table and then sorting them.

A judge refused the injunction. Besides, a live lottery made for a much better show.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ultimate Pearl Harbor tour for history buffs

2020 marks the 79th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. While it’s been nearly eight decades since the attacks, December 7, 1941, as noted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is “a date that will live in infamy,” and is never far from these historical landmarks. 

Be sure to bookmark these stops on your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii:

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is an obvious first stop for history enthusiasts. Open daily from 7AM – 5PM (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day), the grounds house a visitor’s center, museum and bookstore. It is also the access point for the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. 

The USS Arizona Memorial, arguably Pearl Harbor’s most recognizable landmark, features a full program for guests that includes a 23-minute documentary film and a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride out to the memorial. 

To note: Due to COVID restrictions, part of the USS Arizona Memorial program has been modified to exclude use of the theater. 

The USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and is a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII. She was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

Before leaving Pearl Harbor National Memorial, buy tickets for the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and Battleship Missouri Memorial on Ford Island. 

To note: The cost of the tickets includes a bus ride to Ford Island, however there is also a parking lot for guests who choose to drive over. 

Ford Island

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
(Kait Hanson)

Driving across the bridge to Ford Island is a bit like stepping back into the 1940s, where historical homes, landmarks, and even bullet strafing, can still be seen. 

Here you’ll find:

The USS Missouri, also known as “Mighty Mo”, was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and was the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, officially ending WWII. The ship offers two daily tours, but is open daily for self-led tours. 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
(Kait Hanson)

To note: The Battleship Missouri Memorial is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, but you can take a virtual tour here.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum allows guests to explore historical aircraft housed in two hangars on Ford Island. General admission covers access to more than fifty aircraft and all exhibits with free guided audio (available in multiple languages).

Ford Island’s 4-mile loop trail offers insight into lesser-known historical moments, which include plaques for clarification. Along this trail, accessible with base access onto Ford Island, guests can see bullet strafing, the CPO neighborhood that sat adjacent to the attack zone, the original Bachelor Officers Quarters and buildings, and the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials. 

Hickam Field

Located adjacent to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field served as the principal airfield and bomber base in 1941. From the National Park Service on the morning of December 7th:

“At Hickam Field, Japanese Zero fighters and Val dive-bombers strafed and bombed the fight line and hangars, concentrating on the B-17 bombers. The 12 U.S. B-17s arrived unarmed and low on fuel during the attack. Most succeeded in landing at Hickam where they were attacked on the ground. The second wave of the Japanese attack struck Hickam at 8:40am and by 9:45 the attack was over. Nearly half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been destroyed or severely damaged. The hangars, the Hawaiian Air Depot, several base facilities–the fire station, the chapel and the guardhouse–had been hit. The big barracks had been repeatedly strafed and bombed and a portion of the building was on fire. Thirty-five men were killed when a bomb hit the mess hall during breakfast. Hickam’s casualties totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing.”

Residents who lived on Hickam Field at the time of the attacks recall blackouts on the base and hearing bullets bounce off the roof. Today, Hickam is home to the headquarters of the Pacific Air Force and features many of the buildings that were standing in 1941.

Wheeler Army Airfield

Exiting Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, hop on H2 North toward Wahiawa, where Wheeler Army Airfield is located. Wheeler Field was a primary target for the Japanese in 1941, as they hoped to prevent planes from getting airborne. While many of hte planes that were parked at Wheeler were destroyed in the attacks, twelve pilots managed to get P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircrafts off the ground and engaged Japanese pilots. After WWII, Wheeler Army Airfield became a National Historic Landmark for the role it played during the war. 

Today, the airfield is accessible with valid military identification and features restored buildings and planes as they would have looked the day of the attacks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 reasons why the Winged Hussars are among the greatest fighters of all time

Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.

Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.


One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”

They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them

When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.

The Ottomans? The Hussars charged through Vienna like it was nothing. The Russians? They toppled Ivan the Terrible in the dead of winter. The Khanates? There’s a reason the Mongols, and, eventually, the succeeding khanates, never made it past Poland and into Europe.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.

Their wings weren’t just for decoration

It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.

Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.

They adapted extremely well to firearms

As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.

Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.

The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?

They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.

Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.

Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.

A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.

The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

The famous winged banners weren’t needed.

They never really went away

As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.

Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.

Today, their spirit lives on with the Polish Land Forces’ 11th Armored Cavalry Division.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War I created millions of conscripted Veterans, improved benefits

World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.


One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.

VA

World War I and the draft

April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.

President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.

Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.

Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”

According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.

Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.

New benefits

Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.

The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.

The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.

Current day

For information on VA life insurance, visit https://www.va.gov/life-insurance/options-eligibility/.

To learn about VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, see https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/.

To read about the current Military Selective Service Act, last amended July 9, 2003, go to the Selective Service System website.

Listen to what the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is working on to report to Congress on the military selective service process.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened when a wannabe pilot was denied entry in the Air Force

Larry Walters had a few lifelong dreams. The first was to be a pilot in the United States Air Force. The second was a crazy idea he had as a teenager. It turns out the Air Force had all the crazy it needed in its test pilot corps, but Walters opted to go for the first choice nonetheless — he was going to be a pilot.

It was a TWA pilot that first reported Walters’ triumphant taking to the skies. He did so by radioing the tower about a man in a lawn chair hovering at 16,000 feet.

Larry Walters didn’t join the Air Force. He couldn’t. It turns out, to join the Air Force as a pilot, you need excellent vision. It was truck driver Larry Walters’ one failing. His eyesight was terrible. So, he opted to finally try out the other choice — his crazy teenager idea — and that’s how Larry Walters made history.


One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

(MarkBarry.com)

He set about constructing his own flying machine, a craft he called Inspiration I. It was an idea he came up with as 13-year-old teen. He saw weather balloons hanging from the ceiling of a local Army-Navy store and was suddenly inspired. It was his “flux capacitor moment.” He did nothing with this inspiration for 20 years… until his rejection from the Air Force made it seem like he would never touch the wild blue yonder.

On Mar. 23, 1982, the Los Angeles native attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to an ordinary Sears lawn chair. Attached to the bumper of a car, he packed a BB gun with him to shoot individual balloons as a means of slowly lowering his altitude. His intended course would take him over the Southern California desert and into the Rocky Mountains in just a few days’ time. But, surprisingly, things went wrong from the start.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Walters aboard Inspiration I.

(MarkBarry.com)

First, one of the tethers holding the craft to the ground snapped early, propelling Walters into the air at 1,000 feet per minute. It caused him to lose his glasses. Secondly, at a cruising altitude of 16,000 feet it not only got much colder than expected, the currents took Walters over the restricted airspace above Los Angeles International Airport and Long Beach Airport.

REACT (a CB radio monitoring organization): What color is the balloon?
Larry: The balloons are beige in color. I’m in a bright blue sky which would be very highly visible. Over.
REACT: [Balloon] size?
Larry: Size approximately, uh, seven feet in diameter each. And I probably have about 35 left. Over.
REACT: You’re saying you have a cluster of 35 balloons??
Larry: These are 35 weather balloons. Not one single balloon, sir. It is 35 weather balloons.
REACT: Roger, stand by this frequency.

Eventually, Larry started to take out some of the balloons, but he was losing feeling in his hands and soon lost his BB gun as well. He finally landed at 432 45th Street in Long Beach, more or less unharmed.

He gave the chair to a local kid named Jerry, who kept the chair for the next 20 years in the same condition.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

“Jerry” with Larry Walters’ lawn chain. The water jugs were used as ballast.

(MarkBarry.com)

“By the grace of God, I fulfilled my dream,” Walters told the Associated Press. “But I wouldn’t do this again for anything.”

Walters didn’t do it again, but his legacy lives on in the handful of civilian aviation enthusiasts who practice the art of cluster ballooning. Some of these enthusiasts have reached altitudes of higher than 20,000 feet — and some of them were never seen again after take off.

Balloon wisely.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Space Force can learn from this NASA spacecraft mutiny

Just before New Year’s Eve 1973, NASA’s mission control center in Houston lost contact with the crew of Skylab 4. For 90 minutes, no one on the ground knew anything about what was happening in Earth’s orbit. The three crew members had been in space longer than any other humans before them. The astronauts were all in orbit for the first time.

All NASA knew is that the rookie astronauts had a tremendous workload but roughly similar to that of previous Skylab missions. They didn’t know that the crew had announced a strike and had stopped working altogether.


One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Skylab 4 Commander Gerald P. Carr, floating in Skylab.

(NASA)

The Skylab crew had been up in space for six weeks, working a particularly rigorous schedule. Since the cost of a days work in space was estimated to be million or more, there was little time to lose. NASA didn’t see the problem, since previous crews had worked the same workloads. The crew of the latest – and last – Skylab mission, however, had been there with a rigorous schedule for longer than anyone before.

Skylab missions were designed to go beyond the quick trips into space that had marked previous NASA missions. The astronauts were now trying to live in space and research ways to prevent the afflictions that affected previous astronauts who spent extended time in weightless orbit. Medical and scientific experiments dominated the schedules, which amounted to a 24-hour workday. On top of that, there was the cosmic research and spacewalks required to maintain the station.

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Skylab 4

(NASA)

NASA had purposely pushed the crew even harder than other missions when they fell behind, creating a stressful environment among the crew and animosity toward mission control. Mission control had become a dominating, stressful presence who only forced the crew to work excruciatingly long hours with little rest.

So after being fed up with having every hour of the stay in space scheduled, they decided to take a breather and cut contact with the ground. Some reports say they simply floated in the Skylab, watching the Earth from the windows. After the “mutiny” ended and communications were restored, the astronauts were allowed to complete their work on their own schedule, with less interference from below. They even got a reduced workload.

But none of the astronauts ever left the Earth again.

Articles

That time George Washington’s dentures were stolen from a museum

The Smithsonian Institution is one place you’d think relics from America’s founding were safe. The security there must be pretty good, right? Well, tell that to a pair of George Washington’s dentures.


According to a 1982 New York Times article, the false teeth were discovered missing on June 19, 1981, by a curator who had gone to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History. The lower portion of the dentures turned up in a secure area of the Smithsonian in May, 1982. They were made of gold, lead, elephant ivory, and possibly human teeth — not wood, as many people believe.

“We never made any effort to have the value of the gold appraised,” Lawrence E. Taylor, a spokesman for the Smithsonian said. “It would be minuscule compared to the historic value of the teeth.”

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Wooden tooth jokes are as funny as actual wooden teeth.

According to Smithsonian magazine, Washington needed dentures because he’d lost most of his teeth from a combination of bad genes and worse dentistry practices at the time. This lead Washington to take measures to correct the tooth loss, including purchasing teeth from African-Americans, according to the official web site of Mount Vernon.

That site also notes that Washington was sensitive about the state of his teeth and tried to keep his dental condition a secret. Documents show he was particularly embarrassed to find out that the British had intercepted a letter in which he asked for a set of tooth scrapers to be sent to him in New York. That said, the intercepted letter helped mislead the British as to his intentions, ensuring the success of the Yorktown campaign.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
George Washington

According to a timeline at the official site of Mount Vernon, Washington was down to one tooth when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789. That tooth would be removed in 1796, before his term of office ended.

To hear Brad Meltzer describe the heist of the dentures, and to get a quick take on the theft, watch the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 of the ballsiest WWII POW escape attempts – all by the same pilot

William Ash wasn’t going to wait for the United States to enter World War II. He left for Canada from Detroit in 1939 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force to take his own fight to the enemy.


And he lost his American citizenship for his effort.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Bill Ash at the cockpit of his Spitfire, greeted by the Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King. (Bantom Press)

 

By 1941, the Texas native was in the Battle of Britain, flying his Spitfire fighter over London and the English Channel, taking down Hitler’s Luftwaffe one plane at a time. In 1942, Ash was shot down over the Pas-de-Calais.

He only ever managed to shoot down one bogey.

After his capture in northern France, he would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner, but he wouldn’t make it easy on the Nazis. Instead, Ash became something of an escape artist, attempting to break out of Nazi prison camps so many times, he lost count.

“My idea was always to get on the other side of the wire and run like hell,” he once told a close friend.

His schemes were as simple as running away from a work detail to more complex plans like digging a 100-yard tunnel through a latrine hole.

Here are five of his ballsiest POW escape attempts.

1. The Tourist.

The best way to avoid detection is to simply pretend you belong in whatever place you’re in. After Ash was first shot down, he made his way to Paris with the help of the French Resistance.

Instead of evading into the woods, the pilot attempted to hide in plain sight — by visiting museums, bathhouses, and galleries as if he were simply a tourist.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Ash’s POW file.

 

He was eventually captured by the Gestapo, who brutally beat the pilot and almost executed him. Luckily for Ash, the Luftwaffe intervened and claimed him as its prisoner, considering his RCAF status.

2. The Latrine Tunnel…probably the grossest escape attempt.

A BBC Magazine story about Ash’s time in camp Oflag XXIB in Poland details this complex escape plan. For three months, a team of diggers would crawl through a trap door in a toilet seat attempting to dig a 100-yard tunnel from the latrine to the woodline.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Ash in his RCAF Spitfire.

 

It was March 1943 when the POWs made their move through the tunnel. Disguised in modified uniforms and carrying forged passports, 35 of the men escaped the camp. Unfortunately, most were hastily recaptured.

3. Trading Places.

The daring Ash traded identities with another POW, Don Fair, as Fair was being transferred to Stalag Luft IV in modern-day Lithuania. Since the guards of Stalag Luft IV didn’t know he had a record of trying to escape, so they wouldn’t be ready for his many escape attempts.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Ash’s wartime RCAF Portrait

 

He immediately escaped his new camp and made his way to a beach, where he found a boat. Ash ran into a few guys in the middle of a field, and after telling them he was a downed American pilot, they informed him that they were German soldiers growing cabbages.

4. Why not escape through the shower drain?

Ash’s first major escape attempt involved a shower drain. The idea was to stay put for a while, living under the shower huts until life outside the camp went back to normal. Then he and another prisoner planned to leave without anyone sounding the alarm for missing POWs.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century
Ash in 1941 (Bantom Books)

He and his fellow escapee filled their pants full of a high-calorie mixture of chocolate and nuts from Red Cross packages and slipped into a manhole in the shower. When the other POWs emerged to be counted, the Germans noticed the missing men and found them in the manhole.

Ash and his partner couldn’t let the Nazis know about the survival food the men used to prepare for an escape, so they ate it all. They were pulled from the shower with their faces covered in chocolate.

5. Walking Out the Front Door.

At one point, he joined up with a group of Soviet detainees on a slave labor detail. As they walked out of the prison on their way to work, Bill Ash worked his way into the group and attempted to make his exit from from the front gates.

Ash was liberated by Allied forces after a final escape in April 1945. His exploits as an escapee and the unbelievable amount of time he spent in solitary confinement (aka “the cooler) for those exploits may have earned him a spot in Hollywood lore.

According to his New York Times obituary, the character Virgil “the Cooler King” Hilts in the 1963 film “The Great Escape” was famously portrayed by Steve McQueen.

 

One of the pioneers of the Navy SEALs lived almost a century

Ash denied the character was supposed to be him. He maintained that even though the escape from Stalag Luft III depicted in the film was real, he could not have joined it – he was in the cooler at the time.

Ash’s exploits are recounted in 2015’s “Under the Wire: The World War II Adventures of a Legendary Escape Artist and ‘Cooler King.’ ”

Ash died in 2014 at 96.

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