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.”
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.
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.
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.
In March 1941, over 500 British and Allied commandos, sappers, and sailors launched a daring four-pronged raid against Norwegian towns occupied by the German Army. Despite the German forces spotting the commandos 24 hours before the attack, the British suffered only one casualty.
An officer accidentally shot himself in the thigh.
The islands are 100 miles into the Arctic Circle and guarded by a force of over 200 German troops. The commandos expected potentially heavy resistance and spent about a week in the Orkney Islands rehearsing their assault plan.
On March 1, they began a three-day journey through rough seas to the targets. Two days later, they were spotted by a German aircraft but pressed forward, risking the possibility of hitting beaches with prepared and dug-in Nazi defenders.
In fact, the local Norwegians watched the British coming at them like it was a small show, and the commandos made it into the buildings before they even began to see German uniforms. With many of the defenders separated or still asleep, the attackers were able to quell resistance with few shots fired.
They captured 225 prisoners while taking every one of their objectives. Despite the attack force having been spotted by the German plane, none of the defenders were ready.
The grateful locals brought out coffee and treats for the attackers, the sappers planted charges against the fish oil tanks, and the Norwegians started recruiting the citizens into the Free Norwegian Forces.
There was an additional lucky break for the commandos. They hit a German-held trawler and killed 14 of the defenders.
The mission was a huge success, but as mentioned above, the British did suffer a single casualty when an officer accidentally shot himself in his thigh with a revolver.
The British knew how well the mission had gone, and got a bit cocky about it.
One group sent a telegraph to Hitler with the captured communication gear asking him where his vaunted German soldiers were. Another group hit a nearby seaplane base and took all their weapons, just for additional giggles.
The German commander, who probably should’ve been grateful that he and his men weren’t added to the 225 prisoners the British had captured, later complained to his fuhrer that the commandos had displayed “unwarlike” behavior.
(Pretty sure the dudes captured without a shot fired were the “unwarlike” fellows, but whatever.)
The Drug Enforcement Administration is the premier law enforcement agency on the front lines fighting the War on Drugs. The mission of the (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminals involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States.
This Federal Law Enforcement Agency recruits, trains, and deploys America’s elite agents into the world’s harshest environments to combat cartels and disrupt their operations. Due to the dangerous nature of their job, 85 agents have sacrificed their lives in service to the United States. Here are 6 things you didn’t know about these clandestine operators fighting the evils of narco-terrorism.
No one: Nixon: That’ll teach those hippies!
It was founded by President Richard Nixon
On July 1, 1973, President Nixon merged the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) and over 600 Special Agents from the Customs bureaus into the consolidated force we know today.
“Why is the DEA storming the lobby, Karen?”
They provide oversight of legal drugs too
The Drug Enforcement Administration licenses anyone who prescribes or dispenses drugs. However, the license must be renewed every three years. The DEA has strict rules on prescription authority and record keeping. Prescribing personnel who, in the view of the DEA, abuse their privilege, are subject to the full extent of the law and loss of said license.
To date, over 60 doctors and counting have been charged with pushing opioids and healthcare fraud by the Department of Justice. This greed is the root cause of today’s opioid epidemic exacerbated by secondary and tertiary problems as well.
You can rest assured, when medical professionals behave like drug dealers, the Department of Justice is going to treat them like drug dealers. – Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski
Operation Albatross in Afghanistan, 2007
They were trained for combat by the Army
The drug trade also funds actual terrorists in the middle east, and their source of income had to be destroyed. The U.S. expanded its counter-narco mission in Afghanistan in 2005 with the DEA at the helm. The U.S. military provided air support and cargo planes to the DEA, as well as intelligence and logistics support.
The Army trained agents in spotting IEDs, combat maneuvers, and weapon systems.
Leyenda means legend in Spanish.
Enrique S. Camarena was a Marine
If you’re familiar with the hit Netflix series Narcos, you’ll remember that one of the main characters in season 4 is Enrique S. Camarena, also known as Kiki. The series did not emphasize that he was a U.S. Marine. Oorah.
Prior to joining DEA, Special Agent Camarena served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He worked in Calexico as a fireman and then as a police investigator, and was a narcotics investigator for the Imperial County Sheriff Coroner. Special Agent Camarena was survived by his wife, Geneva and three children, Enrique, Daniel and Erik. – dea.gov
This special agent was part of the DEA’s Guadalajara Mexican cartel investigation. He was kidnapped and tortured by drug traffickers on February 7, 1985, for over 30 hours. He was also injected with drugs to ensure he remained conscious. He was a tough one, but even Marines aren’t immortal.
In the wake of his death, Operation Leyenda was formed to solve his murder and was the largest homicide investigation ever conducted by the DEA.
Kiki Camarena was posthumously awarded the Administrator’s Award of Honor, the highest award given by the DEA.
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, Eskimo p-“
They have Spec Ops all over the nation
Special Response Team (SRT) program was created in 2016. The SRT was designed to bridge the gap between tactical operations conducted by field agents and those requiring specialized tactics due to elevated mission risks. SRT operators are highly trained in breaching tactics and an array of weapon systems.
Considered one of the most covert outfits in federal law enforcement, very little is known about DEA SRT capabilities and its operator selection process. – dea.gov
“This is your new partner, Special Agent Dogg.”
The DEA wants to double marijuana production…for research
The agency has increased the amount of marijuana from 978 pounds in 2017 to more than 2,500 pounds in 2018. In 2019, the agency proposed a cannabis quota to more than 5,400 pounds — that’s a lot of weed.
This move is to support federally-sanctioned research in preparation for nationwide legalization — whenever that will be is uncertain.
Commemorations are being held to mark the 75th anniversary the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, when thousands of young Jewish fighters took up arms against occupying Nazi German forces during World War II.
The uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 Jewish fighters armed with pistols and other light arms attacked a German force more than three times their size.
Many left last testaments saying that they knew they would not survive but that they wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing and not in the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, where more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews had already been sent.
Only a few dozen fighters survived when the Germans crushed the uprising. Most have since died or are no longer healthy enough to attend the observances.
Polish President Andrzej Duda is scheduled to visit a Jewish cemetery and then take part in the official ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument.
The commemoration comes at a time of heightened tensions between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s new Holocaust law, which came into effect in March 2018, and led to harsh criticism from Israel, Jewish organizations, and others.
The legislation penalizes statements attributing Nazi German crimes to the Polish state with fines or a jail term. Polish government officials say the law is meant to protect the country from false accusations of complicity.
Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany in World War II and ceased to exist as a state. An estimated 6 million Poles, about half of them Jews, were killed.
Long before the first bombs fell on Baghdad Jan. 16, 1991, the man who would be in charge of one of the most effective air campaigns in history was hearing whispers from another war.
Then-Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, who, as a young captain, flew Wild Weasel missions attacking radar sites during two tours in the Vietnam War, was determined to avoid the same strategic mistakes in the Persian Gulf that plagued the U.S. military in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, his boss – Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf – and other military leaders executing Operation Desert Storm had Vietnam, and the hard lessons learned there, in their memories, as well.
An oil storage tank at a refinery that was attacked by coalition aircraft during Operation Desert Storm continues to burn days after the air strike. The refinery is located approximately seven miles west of the Kuwaiti border.
Twenty-five years later, Horner, now a retired four-star general residing in northwest Florida, looks back on the Air Force that struck Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm as perhaps the best-trained force to date. Five days after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, a U.S.-led coalition of about 30 nations placed more than 900,000 troops in the Arabian Peninsula in what became known as Operation Desert Shield, the campaign to prevent Iraqi incursions into Saudi Arabia, and build up forces to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait should diplomacy fail to secure a peaceful solution. When the United Nations Security Council for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait came and went the following January, Desert Storm kicked off with an air campaign that would become the largest employment of U.S. airpower since the war in Vietnam.
“When I think back on the past 25 years after Desert Storm, I see the immense impact that particular war had on how we planned to fight in the future and the kind of equipment we would need,” Horner said. “But most of all, I think about the spirit and attitude of our young warriors who were going to be faced with the next battle.
“I’m so proud of the way we performed in Desert Storm because of the leadership we had from Schwarzkopf and (Gen. Wilbur L. “Bill” Creech, former Tactical Air Command commander), and the way we had equipment that worked. We had all of the advantages the world had not seen before Desert Storm.”
A framed photo on a bookshelf, of then Colonel, and now retired Gen. Charles A. Horner and his wife Mary Jo, in front of his F-15 at Luke AFB, where he was wing commander in March of 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
One of Horner’s first priorities, while planning the air strategy as Schwarzkopf’s joint force air component commander, was to avoid making what he considered the main mistake from Vietnam. He didn’t want bombing target selection to come from the president or defense secretary. As the architect of the air campaign against Iraq, Horner wanted targeting decisions to be made by commanders directly involved in the area of operations. “Washington was not the place to plan a war,” he had said. “If people there wanted to fight, let them come to the theater (of combat).
“That is the lesson of Vietnam,” Horner said in “Airpower Advantage: Planning the Gulf War Campaign 1989-1991,” a book by Diane Putney for the Air Force History and Museums Program. “Remember our great president (Lyndon B. Johnson) saying, ‘They don’t bomb a shit house in North Vietnam if I don’t approve it.’
“Well, I was the guy bombing the shit houses, and I was never going to let that happen if I ever got in charge because it is not right. If you want to know whether war is going to be successful or not, just ask where the targets are being picked. If they say, ‘We picked them in Washington,’ get out of the country. Go to Canada until the war is over because it is a loser.”
The day Horner, then the commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, received the call that eventually launched Desert Storm, he was flying his F-16 Fighting Falcon on an air-to-air training mission near the North Carolina coast with two F-15 Eagles from Langley AFB, Virginia.
He’d expected the call from Schwarzkopf since the invasion of Kuwait. But once the call came from the Federal Aviation Administration to notify him to return to Shaw AFB, he instantly knew what it meant. He and his staff had to prepare the air portion of a CENTCOM briefing for President George H.W. Bush at Camp David, Maryland, the next morning.
After the invasion of Kuwait, the coalition’s first priority was protecting Saudi Arabia. Horner developed friendships with the Saudis earlier in his career during Operation Earnest Will in 1987-88 and other exercises and remained in Saudi Arabia after he and Schwarzkopf went there a few days after the invasion of Kuwait. The coalition organized for Desert Shield and Storm gave the U.S. military an opportunity to work closely with each other, as well as with forces from other nations, as they would later do during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
A massive prepositioning of equipment, supplies, munitions and fuels around the Persian Gulf, begun by the Joint Rapid Deployment Force in the 1980s, expedited preparations to conduct military operations in the area of responsibility, Horner said.
“When our aircraft landed in the Gulf airfields, they were met with spares, fuel, munitions, living facilities and all the other things they would need to survive and fight,” he wrote in “Desert Storm: A View From the Front.” “This material had been stored on ships anchored in theater and in leased warehouses throughout the AOR.”
Well before the crisis in the Gulf began, the military had trained for an eventual showdown with Iraq. A month before the invasion, a CENTCOM war game used a scenario of a “Country Orange” attacking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from the north. When Schwarzkopf, who died in 2012, accepted command of CENTCOM in November 1989, he told his military leaders that since a war with Russia wasn’t likely to happen, “we have to find a new enemy or go out of business,” Horner said.
At the time Iraq invaded Kuwait, it fielded the world’s fifth-largest army at a million soldiers; larger than the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined, according to a Los Angeles Times article on Aug. 13, 1990. The weaknesses coalition military planners hoped to exploit included an incompetent senior staff chosen for their devotion to Hussein rather than their military prowess, and only about one-third of its soldiers were experienced combat troops, according to U.S. officials quoted in the article.
After its eight-year war with Iran, Iraq owed a huge debt to Kuwait and many other Arab nations, which funded Iraq’s purchase of high-tech weapons, according to an American Patriot Friends Network article published in 2004. Kuwait’s oil made it one of the richest countries in the world and cash-strapped Iraq wanted it.
Pilot gazes out into the wild blue yonder.
“When General Schwarzkopf took command of (CENTCOM), he said we have to plan for an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because Iraq came out of the Iran-Iraq War very powerful militarily,” Horner said. “So, of course, they were sitting right next to the Fort Knox in the Middle East. So when it happened, I wasn’t surprised. We’d anticipated it was going to happen, but the speed with which we had to react was surprising.”
A United Nations Security Council deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait passed on Jan. 15, 1991, with no action from Iraq, so at 2 a.m. Jan. 17 (Baghdad time), coalition forces began a five-week bombardment of Iraqi command and control targets, beginning with eight Army AH-64 Apache helicopters led by two Air Force MH-53 Pave Hawks that destroyed radar sites near the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, according to Putney. About an hour later, 10 Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth bombers, protected by three EF-111 Aardvarks, and Navy BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck targets in Baghdad. The initial attacks allowed the coalition to gain control of the air for its fighter aircraft.
At the cessation of hostilities, coalition forces had destroyed 3,700 of Iraq’s 4,280 tanks and 2,400 of its 2,870 armored vehicles. The bomb tonnage dropped by U.S. planes per day equaled the average tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan during the entirety of World War II, according to the “White Paper – Air Force Performance in Desert Storm, Department of the Air Force,” published in April 1991.”
“The things that guided our strategy was to be unrelenting and to bring such a powerful force, so quickly and so thoroughly on the enemy, that they would be forced to leave Kuwait,” Horner said. “It was not going to be piecemeal. It was not going to be to play Mr. Nice Guy. It was going to be as vicious as possible, and that drove the strategy. The second part of our strategy was to get control of the air first and foremost, which we did not do in Vietnam.”
Civilian and military officials pose for a group photograph prior to discussing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Dignitaries include, from left: P. D. Wolfowitz, under sec. of defense for policy; Gen. C. Powell, chrm., Joint Chiefs of Staff; R. Cheney, sec. of defense; Gen. N. Schwarzkopf, cmdr-in-chief, USCENTCOM; Lt. Gen. C. Waller, dep. chief of staff, USCENTCOM; and Maj. Gen. R. Johnston. Back row: Lt. Gen. C. Horner, cmdr., 9th AF, TAC; Lt. Gen. J. Yeosock, cmdr., 3rd Army; Vice-Adm. S. Arthur, cmdr., Seventh Flt. and Col. Johnson.
The result was a prolonged air campaign that set up a short but decisive ground campaign. As the air war kicked off the first night of Desert Storm, Horner watched from the tactical air control center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as coalition aircraft flew north. At first, he wasn’t completely confident about how successful the attack would be or the cost it would take in aircraft and personnel.
However, Horner knew it was going well when he saw CNN’s live feed from Baghdad disappear. As CNN’s television satellite transmission equipment was not allowed entry into the highly controlled, secretive, authoritarian state, they had to transmit through antennas atop the ATT building in downtown Baghdad. It was the same building that housed Iraq’s air defense operations and from which communications emanated from Iraq’s air command control system. It was the target of one of the first bombs dropped from U.S. planes. When CNN reporter Peter Arnett went off the air at the precise moment the strike was scheduled, cheers went through the air operations center, Horner said. If CNN was off the air, so was Iraq’s air defense system.
“So as the sun came up the next morning and all of our airplanes were coming home except one, we became aware that this was going to go a lot better than even the best critics thought it might,” Horner said.
By Feb. 23, the air campaign was mostly complete and coalition ground forces swiftly drove the Republican Guard from Kuwait and advanced into Iraq, forcing a ceasefire within 100 hours. Desert Storm was won at a much lower cost than even in the most optimistic prognostications, with 148 Americans killed in action and another 145 non-battle deaths. The Defense Intelligence Agency numbered the Iraqi casualties at about 100,000, although later the figure was disputed to be more in the 20,000 to 40,000 range.
Horner said bombing campaign proved most productive attacking Republican Guard and armor units because Hussein depended on them to retain power. The attacks to gain control of the air, coupled with medium-altitude operations, air-to-air excellence and defense suppression attacks were also effective, he said.
“When the ground war started, I expected rapid gains given the fact that we had reduced the Iraqi ground units to a level of ‘not combat ready,’ using our Army’s definition,” Horner said. “What surprised most of us was the surrender rate. That was beyond our expectations. Once I became certain, early in the war, that our losses were manageable, I knew the ground war would go well, but I underestimated how well.”
Horner, who co-wrote his account of the air war with the late Tom Clancy in “Every Man a Tiger,” gives much of the credit for the training of the force he led during Desert Storm to Creech and Marine Corps Gen. George B. Crist, Schwarzkopf’s predecessor as CENTCOM commander-in-chief, who both placed great importance on making training as close to real world as possible. They led the push for more realistic exercises, an emphasis on aircraft maintenance, bomb scores, and the right tactics, which all came together during Desert Storm.
A close-up view of M-117 750-pound bombs loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm.
Another lesson from Crist that played into Horner’s strategy was to force decisions down to the lowest level and hold those people responsible. Horner saw the benefits of that policy during a meeting with a munitions technical sergeant. Horner was visiting the bomb dock where munitions were built and saw the NCO sitting on a dust-covered wooden crate, and he asked him how things were going and if he was running into any problems.
“He said, ‘Well, those dumb guys in Riyadh, (Saudi Arabia), meaning me, told me one day to load 2,000-pound bombs on each F-16,” Horner said, smiling. “Those dummies didn’t know that I didn’t have any 2,000-pound bombs, so I went ahead and put four 1,000-pound bombs on each of the airplanes, and the mission flew. If he had not been empowered, all he had to do was say I don’t have two 2,000-pound bombs, and we would have never gotten those two planes off. It was empowerment that made the difference, and that was one of the secrets we saw in Desert Storm.”
F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Iraq’s air force was almost non-existent during Desert Storm. Hussein hoped to wait out the coalition bombardment, which he didn’t expect would last more than four or five days. As a result, gaining control of the air almost immediately allowed the coalition forces to interdict supply lines and degrade command and control links, according to a GlobalSecurity.org article. Air supremacy also drastically destroyed the will of the Iraqi army; they surrendered in droves when the ground war began 38 days later.
Aside from the superior training that was on display during Desert Shield and Storm, Horner believes another legacy of the first war in the Gulf was the technological advances it put on display for the Air Force.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
“I think the American public and the world were amazed at the technology that was exposed by Desert Storm,” he said. “The stealth of the F-117 and its ability to go anywhere in heavily defended areas of the world and carry out its mission with absolute precision, the training of our air-to-air combat people and the ability to defeat a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile threat all came into play, and they weren’t appreciated because of our experiences in previous wars such as Vietnam. It served us very well and created an illusion that we were more successful than we really were. But I’ll accept that.”
When British General William Howe landed 20,000 Redcoats on Long Island, the situation looked grim for the young Continental Army. General George Washington’s Continentals seemed to be pinned down as Howe simultaneously attacked the Americans head-on while he moved his troops behind Washington’s position.
In his book, “Washington’s Immortals,” Patrick O’Donnell describes how their only way out was a small gap in the British line, somehow being held open by a handful of Marylanders.
Well before the signing of the Declaration of Independence put the nascent United States on a war footing with the world’s largest, most powerful empire, Col. William Smallwood started forming a regiment of men for the coming conflict.
Smallwood formed nine companies of infantry from the north and west counties of the Maryland Colony. Though they would be reassigned multiple times, the 400 men of the 1st Maryland Regiment took part in many major battles of the American Revolution, most notably covering the American retreat out of Long Island through a series of brave infantry charges.
British forces occupied “The Old Stone House” with a force that outnumbered the aforementioned Marylanders. While the rest of the Americans retreated in an orderly fashion, the few hundred Maryland troops repeatedly charged the fortified position with fixed bayonets.
American forces survived mostly intact — except for the Marylanders. Only nine of them made it back to the Continental Army.
Their rearguard actions against superior British troops in New York City earned them the nickname “The Immortal 400.” Their stand against 2,000 British regulars allowed Washington’s orderly retreat to succeed so he could fight another day.
The Immortal Regiment went on to fight at the pivotal battles of Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown. The unit continued its service long after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War.
Maryland earned one of its nicknames, “The Old Line State,” because Washington referred to Maryland units as his “Old Line.” The U.S. Army National Guard’s 115th Infantry Regiment could trace its origins back to the Immortal 400, but the 115th is now merged with the 175th Infantry Regiment.
When you think of airborne troops, there’s one unit that comes to mind because of its place in both history books and pop culture: the 101st Airborne Division. Nearly every major World War II film features — or at least mentions — the bravery and tenacity of the Screaming Eagles that jumped into action on D-Day.
Even after the triumphant stand of Easy Company at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, the 101st Airborne kept performing heroics that would land them in history books. This happened in the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and again in the Global War on Terrorism.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t immediately recognize the iconic 101st patch — the Screaming Eagle. And when civilians see that patch, they immediately think of elite paratroopers. Here’s the thing: we technically haven’t been an airborne unit since 1968, but you’ll still find the words “AIRBORNE” above Old Abe — here’s why.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Screaming Eagles have largely been re-designated away from the airborne world since their reactivation following Post-WWII restructuring. Fun fact: During the Korean War, the 101st was actually a training unit out of Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, until 1953.
The unit bounced around a little before landing at Fort Campbell and being made into a “pentomic” division — meaning it was structured to fight with atomic warfare in mind. As the possibility of nuclear war grew, the role of the paratrooper in war shrank. The airborne infantrymen of the 101st were still needed — mostly involved in rapid deployment strategies — but the training was shifting with the times, and the times were changing indeed.
Then, on July 29th, 1965, the 1st Brigade landed at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, and the 101st adapted to their new role in the jungle. Now, we’re not saying that combat jumps into Vietnam didn’t happen — they definitely did — but the 101st wasn’t conducting them.
In case you’re wondering. Yes. It did have a loudspeaker to blast Ride of the Valkyries or Fortunate Son for Charlie to hear.
The Screaming Eagles were tasked with one of the largest areas of operations during the early days of the Vietnam War. Given the terrain and the nature of the enemy, airborne insertion at one point and moving from town to town just didn’t make good sense. They needed an alternative. They needed a way to get from place to place faster, efficiently, and safely. Enter the helicopter.
Helicopters saw use in the Korean War, but it was fairly rare — mostly just for medical evacuations. In the jungles of Vietnam, however, The UH-1 (or “Huey”) Iroquois and the 101st Airborne Division were like a match made in military heaven. The division designated itself as an airmobile division in mid-1968 and became the Air Assault division it is today in 1974.
If you really want to be technical, the airborne tab itself isn’t isn’t given to the troops. That still has to be earned individually. Think of the tab in the same vein as a unit citation.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kevin Doheny)
That leaves the 101st Airborne Division legs in everything but name. The air assault capabilities of the 101st are the contemporary evolution of the paratroopers of old. Now, don’t get this wrong: There are still several units on Fort Campbell that are still very much on airborne status, such as the 101st Pathfinders
Today, the Screaming Eagles are the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) — with “Air Assault” in parentheses. It’s a more accurate description of the unit, since we’re still involved with airborne operations — just not the paratrooper, jump-out-of-planes-and-into-combat type. Screaming Eagles just fast-rope from a helicopter or wait for it to make a solid landing for insertions.
The reason “airborne” is still in the name (and on a tab above Old Abe) is because it’s difficult as hell to change a division’s name while it’s still active. Go ahead and ask the 1st Cavalry Division about the last time they rode horses into combat or the 10th Mountain Division about when they last fought on an arctic mountaintop.
The names and insignia are historic. They’re part of a legacy that still lives on within the troops.
Saying that General William T. Sherman was unforgiving to his enemies is the understatement of the 19th-Century. The man who burned Georgia to the ground was as tough as they come and in the South, he earned a reputation for being particularly evil, even though the truth is much further than the Confederates would have you believe.
One such exaggeration is how Sherman used Confederate prisoners of war to clear a confederate minefield near Sandersville, Ga. during his infamous “March to the Sea.” Sherman is remembered to have seen one of his soldiers lose a leg to a land mine. In a rage, he tells a prisoner to deliver a message to Confederate leaders in Georgia: he is going to use POWs to clear every minefield in Georgia as he walked to Savannah, no matter how many it took to clear the mines.
To read this, one would think Sherman is going to send a mass of men into a minefield to clear mines by setting them off, killing and maiming the POWs in the process. After all, this is the man known for saying, “War is cruel. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
This context would have you believe Sherman is the Confederacy’s Attila the Hun, relentlessly destroying everything in his path with zero compassion. And while Sherman may have destroyed a lot of what he found in Georgia, he also fed citizens from his army’s stores and allowed emancipated slaves to follow his army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman was very dedicated to the laws of war, even if he was pushing the envelope of those laws. He even challenged his critics to “see the books” of those laws for themselves.
As for the POWs clearing mines, he did use the Confederates to clear minefields. His order was more than rushing them into the middle of the field to be blown up, however. His logic was that those troops had buried those mines near Sandersville and they should be the ones to dig them up. He did the same thing outside of Savannah later in the campaign.
Copy print of a well-known photograph of airmen at Bertangles stripping the remains of Richthofen’s wrecked Fokker Dr.1 Triplane and his two Spandau machine-guns, 22 April 1918. Salvaged by No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
The world is full of mysteries and the military world is no exception. Each war has been accompanied by strange stories, potential double agents, secret messages and unsolved disappearances. Scary? Intriguing? You tell me! Keep scrolling to learn about the top 10 mysterious events in military history.
1. The foo fighters were more than a band name.
Almost everyone has heard of the foo fighters, but few realize the origins of the 90s rock band name. In WWII, the foo fighters were a genuine concern. At night, American and British aircraft pilots frequently spotted bright lights in the distance. At first, they assumed the lights were Russian or German flyers. Until they began to move, that is.
The lights would change direction and speed away faster than any aircraft possibly could. Hundreds of reports were recorded, with some pilots even reporting dogfights with them. Since no one was able to figure out what the crafts were or who piloted them, they were given the nickname “foo fighters.” To this day, it’s one of the biggest military mysteries of WWII.
2. The Red Baron’s killer was never found.
The Red Baron, a German fighter pilot during WWI, was so famous that even Snoopy knew of his aerial prowess. He was one of the most lethal fighters in history, with over 80 confirmed kills. He was a serious threat to the Allied forces throughout the majority of WWI, until he was mysteriously shot down.
A Canadian pilot named Roy Brown claimed to have shot down his plane, but the details of his story didn’t quite make sense. No one knows for sure who killed him, but whoever it was would have had their name in the history books. The Red Baron was such an amazing pilot that the Allies helped to give him a decent burial in France in honor of his skill.
3. A Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer…and he was never found.
During WWI, a man named Bela Kiss enlisted in the Hungarian army. He notified his landlord that he would be away for some time, and left for war. Some time later, the landlord heard that Kiss had died in combat, so he decided to rent the house to someone else. When he arrived to clean it out, however, he walked into a house of horrors. Several bodies were inside preserved in alcohol, all belonging to women who had disappeared.
It turns out, Kiss had been tricking women into marriage before killing them and taking control of their finances. Despite an extensive search, and a few reported sightings, he was never found.
4. A plane vanished out of thin air, starting the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.
It’s hard to imagine that six planes could straight up disappear, but that’s what happened. On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, collectively known as Flight 19, stopped responding to the control tower while on a training flight. A Mariner flying boat was deployed to search for the missing planes, but the Mariner soon vanished too. While no bodies or wreckage was ever found, 27 men and six aircrafts were never seen again.
While many rumors cropped up over the years, the disappearance probably has nothing to do with the supernatural. The most likely explanation is that Flight 19’s leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Taylor, got so disoriented that he led the planes out to sea until they ran out of gas and crashed into the Atlantic. The rescue sea plane is likely to have exploded, as flying boats were prone to catching fire. Still, after all these years the resting place of the planes have never been found.
5. A strange ad was placed in the New Yorker magazine. But who published it?
Anyone can put an ad in the paper, but one published in the New Yorker was more than a little suspicious. The ad was for a real game called “Deadly Double,” but the copy gave a not-so-secret message: “We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking … it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. … And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.”
A similar ad for the same product included the phrase, “Warning! Alerte! Achtung!” Okay, then. The dice shown in the ad’s images were even more strange. Instead of numbers 1-6, numbers like 7, 20 and 12, were shown. Some believe these bizarre ads were really a hint to American spies that an attack on Pearl Harbor was on the horizon. The creator’s widow has denied any suggestion that the game had any connection with spy activity, but it still seems a little fishy.
6. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis predicted the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 20 years before it happened.
In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis was a bit of an oddball in the Navy. He was known for being pretty solitary and working late into the night. When asked what he was doing in his office so late, he said he was working on “a special project.” A year later, he appeared to go mad. He gave a lengthy prediction of the future, including Japan’s attack on several islands on the Pacific, the targeting of Pearl Harbor, and the use of torpedo planes. Considering torpedo planes hadn’t been invented yet, he sounded crazy…except he was right.
All his predictions were dead on. After his prediction, he asked for a 90-day leave, which was personally approved by the Secretary of the Navy. He was given a sealed envelope and sent off to Europe, but he never arrived. He went to Japan instead, where he mysteriously died. A man who knew him travelled there to search for him…but he was found dead too! It’s a strange story with many loose ends, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details.
7. Ralph Sigler’s death doesn’t seem like an accident.
Ralph Sigler, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, arrived in America when he was eight. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 and got married to a German woman shortly after while he was stationed abroad. When his tour was over, he brought her back to the states and the couple had a child. Over a decade later in 1966, FBI agents arrived at his doorstep to let him know he had been randomly selected to participate in counterespionage. The family’s ordinary life was turned upside down overnight.
In the following years, Sigler fed a great deal of false information to the SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. When he met Russian officials in person, he quickly earned their trust. He identified 14 SVR agents and over time grew worried that the Russians were starting to suspect something. The FBI approached him by this time, but Sigler made plans to retire from the Army
His first contact with Russian officials came in 1968 in Zurich, and he soon earned their trust. Authorities have speculated that Sigler’s work led to the identification of 14 SVR agents. He was given an estimated 0,000 in compensation, every last penny of which he gave to the Army.In the mid-1970s, Sigler worried that he was “getting in too deep” and the Russians were becoming suspicious, which may have led him to offer extra information under pressure. By this time, the FBI had approached him.
The situation grew complicated, and some American intelligence officers were suspicious of his loyalties too. He was forced to take a polygraph test, which showed he was extremely on edge. Concerned, the Army arranged for Sigler to stay at a motel. Sadly, he never left. His body was found in the motel room after he had been electrocuted by two motel lamps. While the Army ruled his death a suicide, most believe he was killed and possibly tortured by Soviet agents. In his last call to his wife, he ominously told her, “I’m dying. I never lied.” He was later awarded the Legion of Merit cross for his sacrifices.
8. During the Vietnam War, troops on both sides claimed to be attacked by large, ape-like creatures. Vietnam doesn’t have apes.
The Vietnam war was chaotic to say the least, but there’s one mystery that has never been explained. Troops from both sides often reported exchanging blows with a group of human-like creatures who had reddish hair and ape-like features. Strangely, there isn’t a single known species of ape in Vietnam.
Other soldiers reported an enormous snake around 100 feet long with a massive, three-foot head. In Vietnamese folklore, such a creature was known as a “Bull Eater.” For comparison, the largest snake ever recorded is a reticulated python named Medusa, who’s 25’2″ long. Either that was a massive exaggeration or a tall tale…or a 100-foot mystery monster is lurking in the jungle.
9. A Revolutionary War hospital dealt with plenty of death, yet no one knows where the dead were laid to rest.
During the American Revolution, there were obviously a lot of injuries. To serve these wounded soldiers, a hospital was built in the new town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, 18th-century medicine wasn’t the best. While medical records were poorly kept, it’s safe to say that hundreds or thousands died there. The strange part is that there’s no record at all of where they were buried. Since there was no formal grave yard nearby, the easiest assumption is that somewhere around Easton, there’s a mass grave from the Revolutionary War that has yet to be found. If I lived in Easton, I might move.
10. What happened to Paul Whipkey?
Fast forward a few years to the 50s. Lieutenant Paul Whipkey was working in the Air Force at Fort Ord, California. He was one of the first to witness an atomic bomb test, and he was doing pretty well. When 1957 arrived, however, things began to go awry. Whipkey stopped acting like himself, dropped weight, and appeared to be constantly ill. He developed black moles all across his body and lost all his teeth. While he was at work, two men in suits frequently arrived to speak with him, and colleagues reported that he always appeared tense when the men left. On July 10th, he left on a trip to Monterey, but he was never seen again.
The events following are shrouded in secrecy. The army cleaned out his apartment almost instantly, and he was classified as a deserter. The army seemed reluctant to search for Whipkey, and in 1977 they destroyed all files on him, yet his status was updated from “deserter” to “killed in action.” Some believe he died on a secret CIA mission, but most people believe he suffered from radiation poisoning due to the atomic bomb detonation he witnessed. I guess we’ll never know!
Fun fact: Inauguration wasn’t always on January 20. Once upon a time (ha!) it was scheduled for March in order to give everyone time to make the journey to the event, since winter can put a damper on horse/buggy travel. This isn’t the only thing that may make you pause. Throughout our nation’s history of inaugurating presidents, some pretty interesting things have occurred on that new president’s special day. Here are 10 of the most bizarre moments:
Short and sweet
We couldn’t start this countdown without putting our very first president and founding father at the top of the list. When President George Washington raised his hand at his second inauguration on March 4, 1793, he must have been tired. Expected, since he had just spent those years prior fighting and then leading our new nation. When he turned to address the attendees who came to see him sworn in, his speech was only 135 words in length. Another fun fact is that for his first presidency, he reportedly had to borrow money to be able to travel. His first inauguration is also the only time a president has had two swearing-ins.
2. Lucky talismans
According to history, President Theodore Roosevelt was a super fan of President Abraham Lincoln. So much so, that he wore a piece of jewelry to his inauguration that held a lock of his hair. We don’t know whether to applaud his dedication or say something many of us are probably thinking: ew. Reports indicate he may have paid upwards of $100 for hairs to be removed from the president’s head during his autopsy and mounted one in a ring. Now, there are other reports that he simply wore a piece of President Lincoln’s jewelry but we think the hair rumor is better.
President Ulysses S. Grant thought birds would be a nice touch for his inauguration. Sadly, the weather didn’t corporate and it was so cold upwards of 100 of the birds they’d planned to release quite literally froze. Oops.
4. It’s lonely at the top
When President John Adams took the Oath of Office, he did it alone. Well, there were people. But history and several biographies have revealed that none of his family members were able to attend. It would take a long time before spouses of any presidents attended the ceremony. In 1809, Dolly Madison was the first to do so. The spouses themselves didn’t take part in anything either, until Lady Bird Johnson held the Bible that her husband took his oath on in 1965.
5. Whiskey lullaby
Vice President Andrew Johnson was drunk at his swearing in on inauguration day. He slurred his way through the whole thing! To be fair, reports state that he was very ill with typhoid fever and had used the whiskey to numb the pain. Poor guy!
6. Roped in
When President Eisenhower was sworn in, he did a lot of things differently. Like reciting a different prayer after the swearing in instead of kissing the Bible. But what he did after that definitely broke tradition! After getting permission from the Secret Service, he had a trick roper lasso him. Like, literally snag him with rope while on horseback. Interesting times.
7. Putting in the miles
President Jimmy Carter often said he wanted to be the “people’s president”. One way he showed this with action is by walking ahead of his inauguration parade. Not since Thomas Jefferson did it in 1803 had it been done by a president. He would start a trend, with many presidents walking at least part of the way.
8. It’s a party
After the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson, he led the celebration back to the White House. Completely terrible idea! The party goers basically trashed the place and rumor has it that the president had to escape everything through a window. Maybe setting up “washtubs” filled with whiskey was a bad idea.
9. Pants party
President John Quincy Adams was the first president to wear pants to his inauguration. Really. To be fair, the tradition prior to this was “knee breeches” or shorts that went to the knee. He broke this and went rouge.
And the final bizarre or weird fact/moment from inaugurations past… drum-roll, please! This may be the very worst of them all, especially for all of you animal lovers! Before Watergate, there was pigeon-gate. No, really! President Nixon didn’t want his inauguration marred by what he reportedly thought were annoying pigeons. He spent around $13,000 to treat the trees with a chemical that would deter the pigeons from perching on the branches. Unfortunately, the inaugural committee didn’t plan on the pigeons eating it. Instead of a few troublesome pigeons, his inauguration was marred by dead and dying ones.
Charles Portis’ 1968 novel, True Grit, has become a staple of Western fiction. In the story, 14-year-old Mattie Ross teams up with Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn and a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf to avenge the death of her father. The book has been adapted a few times, famously earning John Wayne an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of “Rooster” in the 1969 film of the same name, while Jeff Bridges reprised the role in the 2010 Coen brothers adaptation that earned him an Oscar nomination.
While True Grit has clearly left its mark on both the literary and film worlds, it’s mostly unknown that Portis’ character “Rooster” was actually inspired by a real-life gunslinger. John Franklin Cogburn, nicknamed “Rooster” by his uncle, made his own rules in late-1800s Arkansas. Though he never carried a badge of his own, Franklin was out for blood when it came to Deputy Marshal Trammel. Working undercover to identify moonshiners, Trammel had threatened the women in Cogburn’s family—strong-arming them for information—which is something that didn’t sit well with Franklin. On June 21, 1888, Franklin, his cousin Fayette, and a few others attacked lawmen—including Trammel—near Black Springs, Arkansas. The bloodbath that followed would result in a manhunt for Franklin and crew.
Brett Cogburn details the life of his great-grandfather, John Franklin Cogburn, in Rooster. While the character Charles Portis made famous is not entirely based on Franklin, there are most certainly elements from his life that inspired the classic story.
Read on for an excerpt from Rooster.
By Brett Cogburn
Black Springs wasn’t much of a town as towns went, even in the backwoods of Arkansas. It might have been more aptly termed a “spot in the road,” as some folks will say, more of a community than a town proper. There was only one building that bore a second look and that was the general store. Even that wasn’t much in the way of opulence, its weathered timbers grayed and lacking a single coat of paint. The store commanded the settlement more by height than by any pretentious display of architecture and beauty, being the only two-story structure in sight. The first floor consisted of the meager offerings of merchandise the poor folks who graced its dark interior might want or afford, and the upstairs served duty as the local Masonic lodge. The large front porch overlooked the hardscrabble log and sawmill lumber buildings scattered along a stretch of dusty road that led west through the mountains into Indian Territory. The mangy old hound lying at the foot of the porch and scratching a flea off its bony ribs was in perfect keeping with the pace and prosperity of the tiny settlement.
The cold wind blowing and the gray clouds sliding over the pine treetops on the mountaintop above town reminded everyone that it was the dead of winter. Most folks were huddled around their fireplaces or standing over warmly ticking stoves, so not many saw the tall young man ride into town. He came up the trail from Fancy Hill on a pretty good horse for a hill boy. He left the animal out of the wind on the leeward side of the store and began to eke his way on foot from one building to the next.
Many in Black Springs would have known him, or at least recognized him for one of his clan. All of the men of his family were stamped much the same—high cheekbones, square chins, thick mustaches, and brown eyes that glittered like those of an Indian. The fact that he was bigger than most of his clan wasn’t what gave pause to those who saw him on that morning. Every man in the mountains was a hunter in some form or fashion, and it was obvious that Franklin “Rooster” Cogburn was stalking somebody.
It wasn’t unusual for a man to arrive in town with a rifle in his hands, as the roads could be dangerous to travel and leaving your shooter at home was a sure way to run short of meat in the cookpot. An armed man usually stored his gun to pick up later in whatever business or home he visited first if he came on foot, or he left it on his horse. Franklin didn’t leave his Winchester anywhere. In fact, he carried it across his saddle when he arrived instead of having it in a scabbard, as if he were ready to jump shoot a deer or a turkey. And when he started down the street on foot, the gun was still in his hands.
(Paramount Pictures photo)
Mountain folk can smell trouble just as easy as smoke on the wind, and the word rapidly spread throughout the settlement that Franklin was on the prowl. And word spread just as quickly who it was that he was hunting. Folks gave him room just like you did a mean old bull when you had to walk across your neighbor’s pasture. Butting into somebody else’s business was always chancy, much less antagonizing one of the Cogburns. There were too damned many of them to risk getting crossways with—not if a man valued his peace and wanted to stay out of a fight. It was best to let the Law handle the matter, and that was bound to happen, considering it was a Deputy U.S. Marshal that Franklin was looking for with blood in his eye.
Franklin made no attempt to hide the fact that he was looking for a fight with J. D. Trammell, and he quietly slandered the man’s name to any who asked. He had heard Trammell was in town, and had ridden seven miles through the mountains to corner him. The rumor mill had it that Cogburns believed Trammell was working undercover either for the Revenue Service or for Judge Parker’s court. Trammell had lived and worked for a while among the Cogburns in their stronghold at Fancy Hill, but had recently fled the community due to tension between him and some of the clan.
Lots of the citizens of Montgomery County made whiskey, and the Cogburns made more than anybody. The old Hanging Judge and his army of badge packers out of Fort Smith got a lot of press chasing train robbers and murderers in the Indian Territory, but people of the time knew that the marshals’ main job was arresting whiskey peddlers and moonshiners. The Law was bound and determined to stem the distilling of illegal liquor, and especially to keep it out of the nearby Indian Territory. The mountain folks begrudgingly admired craftiness, and the “revenuers,” as they often called the deputy marshals and other government men, could be especially sneaky in locating and busting up a man’s stills. The kind of men brave enough or outlaw enough to break the law making whiskey often didn’t look too kindly on anyone threatening their means of living, and a detective working undercover risked life and limb.
And there were other things that a Cogburn would tolerate even less than a revenuer. Many of the wives of the Cogburns and other families in the area claimed that Trammell was visiting their homes while their men were gone and using strong-arm tactics to force them to inform on who was making whiskey and where the stills were located. Always hotheaded and ready for a fight, Franklin had come to Black Springs to set things right. Nobody, and he meant nobody, was going to abuse the women of his family. A killing was in order.
J. D. Trammell was indeed a Deputy U.S. Marshal, but what Franklin didn’t know was that Trammell wasn’t in Black Springs. However, Montgomery County Sheriff G. W. Golden just happened to be in town on other business. The first thing he came across at a distance was Franklin armed, angry, and hunting a man whom Golden knew to be a fellow officer of the law. He immediately went to seek the help of the local constable, whose name has unfortunately been lost to history. Both lawmen were in agreement that Franklin should be disarmed, but neither of them was anxious to confront him.
Among the people of southern Montgomery County, the twenty-two-year-old Franklin was known as an honest fellow, quick to lend his help, and a fine hand with a team of horses. While he may have been a likable sort, he was also known to be a part of the large moonshining operation run by some of the rougher sort in his family. He had a quick temper and would fight at the drop of a hat, and it was the opinion of more than a few citizens that his wild streak would eventually come to no good end.
In the 1950s, nuclear reactors and weapons were all the rage. Bombs were getting bigger, people were hosting nuclear parties, and reactors were enabling the Navy to launch submarines and ships that could go years without refueling.
But all that nuclear activity had a dark consequence — and no, we’re not talking about the fun Super Mutants of Fallout.
We love them, too, Vault-Tec boy!
As most everyone knows, using radioactive materials to generate power also creates waste. Triggering the nuclear process in a material (which is what you need to do to create said power) is basically irreversible. Once activated, nuclear material is dangerous for thousands of years.
The Navy was still in the process of learning that fact in the 1950s as they tried to decide what to do with a newfound problem: dealing with nuclear waste.
Their initial solution, unsurprisingly, was similar to how they dealt with chemical waste and other debris at the time. They dumped it — usually in 6,000 to 12,000 feet of water.
At this point, Godzilla is your best-case scenario.
Sailors like George Albernaz, assigned to the USS Calhoun County in the ’50s, were left to decide how they’d go about their job dumping the materials, typically low-level nuclear waste.
They would take about 300 barrels per trip out into the ocean from docks on the Atlantic Coast and roll them to the edge of the ship. When the ship tipped just right on the waves, they would push the barrels over.
Most of them, filled with dense metals, salts, and tools encased in concrete inside the barrel, would sink right away. Barrels that bobbed back up were shot with a rifle by a man standing on the end of the ship, which usually sent it directly to the bottom of the sea.
But the rifle fire wasn’t always enough.
Navy aircraft take off after during operations in 1957.
In July 1957, two barrels bobbed back up during a dumping mission and simply would not sink. So, the Navy sent two aircraft to fire on them with machine guns until they finally sank to Poseidon’s depths.
While shooting radioactive barrels actually sounds sort-of fun, the sailors involved said that the Navy failed to properly inform them of the dangers of working with radiation, took shortcuts on safety and detection procedures, and failed to provide necessary safety gear.
That left men like Albernaz susceptible to a number of diseases and conditions associated with radiation, including cancer and other lifelong ailments.
A 1992 article in the New York Times detailed other shortcomings of the Navy’s programs, including instances where dumps occurred mere miles from major ports, like Boston, in only a few hundred feet of water, increasing the chances that radioactive particles could make their way into civilian population centers.
These days, Navy nuclear waste is taken to be stored on land, but the U.S. still lacks permanent storage for high-level nuclear waste. Instead, nearly all high-level nuclear waste in the U.S. is stored in temporary storage, often on the grounds of nuclear power generation facilities.
It’s not ideal, and a number of potential permanent sites have been proposed and debated, but at least barrels probably won’t come bobbing back up.
If they do, well, even the F-35 could probably sink them.
Major H.G. Duncan of the United States Marine Corps once defined a grunt as, “a term of affection used to denote that filthy, sweaty, dirt-encrusted, footsore, camouflage-painted, tired, sleepy, beautiful little son of a b*tch who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years.”
While this is true, we often think of the term as being synonymous with infantryman — you know, the guy who kicks in the doors and blows things up — but the fact of the matter is that terms like this and ‘POG’ have relatively unknown origins. If you were to ask a service member about these terms, the response is typically a definition, not a history lesson.
Some say the term started in Vietnam when POGs needed their own term to describe the dirty, smelly infantrymen who made fun of the troops who sat in air-conditioned buildings all day instead of getting stuck in the jungle. Legend has it that the first POG to use the term was making a reference to the same term as used in the early 1900s to describe those who performed the less desirable jobs, which were typically physically demanding but not mentally stimulating. In this story, the first grunt to hear the term was unfamiliar with its history and instead took it as a compliment.
But, much like the term ‘POG,’ ‘grunt’ can also be thought of as an acronym. This origin story takes us back to the second World War when infantry united sustained extremely high casualty rates, forcing troops from rear-echelon units (often referred to as rear-echelon motherf*ckers or REMF) forward they were quickly trained, often in-theatre, to be foot soldiers. These troops were categorized as “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained,” or GRUNT.
Whichever piece of history you find to be more believable, the fact remains that infantry soldiers and Marines really do a lot of grunt work. These days, you might find infantrymen who have spent just as much time with a mop or broom than with their own rifles. Being just as accustomed to the smell of Pine-Sol as spent brass.
No matter the case, infantrymen tend to see their nickname as a compliment — unlike those uptight POGs.