For most people, the Vietnam War is best represented by the grunts on the ground. Movies like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, or Full Metal Jacket dominate the public perception of the war and the films focus primarily on infantry. But the Vietnam War saw a lot of air power as well.
Although helicopters like UH-1 became an icon of the war, fixed-wing planes also saw a lot of action. Some, like the A-1 Skyraider, were legendary for providing close-air support. Others, like the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, and the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom, went “downtown” to bomb Hanoi or kill MiGs. Then, there’re the B-52s that famously supported Operation Arc Light over Hanoi.
Uniquely, all of this was caught on film. It gets saved as historical record, but the cameras weren’t just recording for us to watch years later. Their purpose was to help intelligence personnel assess just how badly the strikes launched damaged a target, or if a MiG was destroyed in combat or just merely damaged. It helped to back up the observations of pilots, who were busy trying to get home.
So, what was it like seeing the war through pilots’ eyes? Well, we can see exactly what it was like, thanks to what they call Combat Camera. The Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines all have combat cameramen. It’s not exactly a risk-free job. Stars and Stripes reported that three combat cameramen were killed during the War on Terror, and two others died in a 2015 crash during post-earthquake relief operations in Nepal.
Whether it was a strike on an enemy supply convoy or a dogfight with a MiG, much of it was caught on camera. In the video below, you can see what pilots saw during the Vietnam War. Of particular interest are the gun-camera shots showing enemy forces in what is their last few moments before the Air Force brought the firepower on top of them.
With more than 900 missions under his belt, Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff was one of the most famous German fighter pilots during WWII and was reportedly known as the “Handsomest Man in the Luftwaffe.”
Operating everywhere from the western to the eastern fronts, Steinhoff squared off with some of the world’s best pilots at the time and racked up 176 victories. But he was also shot down a dozen times.
The German ace nearly rode his damaged plane all the way down to the ground every time because he didn’t trust that the parachutes would properly deploy if he jumped out.
Although he was very efficient during the war, Steinhoff was known for spearheading the fighter pilots’ revolt of January 1945 by voicing concerns to the corrupt leadership in the Third Reich’s high command who in return accused their pilots of cowardice and treason.
For this role in the rebellion, Steinhoff was threatened by his commanders with court-martial and banishment to Italy.
Towards the end of the war, Steinhoff took flight on a mission in his Messerschmitt Me-262 jet but was shot down soon after by Allied forces — officially ending his involvement in war.
The German ace fighter was so badly burned in his last crash he would receive 70 operations to help restore his facial structures.
In February 1994, the German general passed away from heart failure at the age of 80.
The Cold War was a worldwide war that often manifested in bizarre ways that aren’t fully understood, even today. In 1958, Richard Nixon was veep to Dwight Eisenhower’s Presidency and the Cold War was in full swing. Latin America was experiencing a tide of anti-American sentiment, and Nixon was sent to Venezuela on a goodwill tour to help stem that tide.
By the end of his trip, Ike almost had to send the Marines in to get him out.
In truth, the U.S. government should have been prepared for what (at the time) was called the most violent attack ever perpetrated on a high American official while on foreign soil. The United States had just granted asylum to Venezuela’s recently overthrown dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez and awarded him the Legion of Merit. Nixon was on a goodwill tour of the entire continent and had already visited Uruguay and Ecuador, and it was well known that Nixon was on his way.
With the wounds of the departed Jimenez still fresh, anti-U.S. sentiment running high, and a long-planned visit from a high-ranking American official in the works, Nixon should have been ready for anything. Instead, he was largely “uninterested,” according to his biography. The VP and his wife arrived to an angry crowd of demonstrators who threw stones and spat at them. Instead of a planned visit and wreath laying at the Tomb of Simon Bolivar, the Nixons went right to the U.S. Embassy. It seems a crowd of Venezuelans had met the Vice-Presidential team at the tomb, attacked them, and destroyed the wreath anyway.
As their car made its way through the capital of Caracas, traffic began to build, slowing down Nixon’s motorcade. As the procession slowed, crowds of angry Venezuelans began to mob the vehicle, banging on the windows and shattering the glass. As they attempted to flip the car, the 12 Secret Service agents protecting the Veep drew their pistols and prepared to fire into the crowd. Nixon stopped them and ordered them to fire only on his order. According to Nixon, the Press Corps’ flatbed truck kicked into high gear and began to push through the crowd as protestors began to climb aboard. The truck cleared the way for Nixon’s car to escape to the Embassy.
When news of the incident reached Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke, he immediately prepared “Operation Poor Richard,” an invasion of Venezuela using the 2nd Marine Division, the 101st Airborne, and the USS Tarawa Carrier Group, all coming from Guantanamo Bay. The Venezuelans weren’t going to have Dick Nixon to kick around.
But despite a lack of protection from the Venezuelan military during the incident, they were omnipresent in the hours and days that followed. The streets had been cleared with tear gas, and infantry and armor units protected Nixon’s motorcade as it went to the airport the next day. The invasion of Venezuela would never have to materialize.
Nixon never forgot the events in Caracas that day, as the violence of the crowd would certainly have led to the death of almost everyone involved. His experience later helped form his foreign policy decisions regarding South America during his Presidency.
When Richard Sorge was born, his German parents were living in what is now Azerbaijan, working for the Russian government. He moved with his family to Berlin at a very young age. He was raised in a typical upper-middle-class family, supporters of the German Empire and the Kaiser.
Like many Europeans, he became disillusioned with the state of affairs during and after World War I, and his political views changed. If Richard Sorge hadn’t become a Communist, World War II might have lasted much longer – or ended differently.
At age 18, Sorge enlisted in the German Army and was sent to the Western Front. As a member of a reasonably wealthy family, he was supportive of the Kaiser and the war – at first. As the war dragged on, his views on war not only changed, his entire political point of view changed along with it.
Sorge was wounded in his hands and both legs and was discharged in 1916. By the time he left the army, he was no longer a German nationalist. As he recovered from his wounds, he read the works of Karl Marx and became a Communist. After earning a doctorate degree, he joined the Communist Party and moved to the Soviet Union.
It was in the USSR that he was recruited to work for the Red Army’s intelligence directorate. He was sent back to Germany posing as a journalist. He would spend years in Germany, China, and Great Britain, reporting back to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) on the development of communist parties in those countries and the outbreaks of violence in China.
Once Japan had taken parts of China in 1931, the Soviet Union was worried that the Japanese Empire would invade the Soviet Far East. Sorge was sent to Germany to join the Nazi Party, get a job as a correspondent in Japan, and set up an intelligence gathering ring there.
That’s exactly what he did. After reading Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, he became adept at creating Nazi propaganda and began attending beer hall meetings. He was so good at his work in Germany that three publications commissioned his work in Japan. Sorge’s farewell dinner was attended by Joseph Goebbels himself.
By 1933, Sorge was working in Japan as a correspondent for Germany’s top newspaper. His real job, from his Soviet handlers, was to determine if Japan was planning an attack on the USSR. He recruited a team of communist informants and by 1935 had contacts in both the German military presence in Japan, as well as the Japanese military and government.
Sorge was, soon after he was established, committed to the role of the hard-drinking playboy and ladies man, a typical Nazi diplomat in Japan at the time. He was so trusted by the German delegation in Japan that they weren’t just sharing information with the Soviet spy, Sorge was actively writing diplomatic cables back to Berlin.
After some Japanese officers started a border clash with the USSR near Manchuria, Sorge learned that it was an isolated incident and that Japan had no intentions of an all-out invasion of the USSR.
By far, the two most important intelligence findings of Sorge’s time in Japan came after World War II had started in earnest. He learned that Nazi Germany was planning its invasion of the USSR in 1941, but Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wrote off Sorge as a drunkard. Sorge’s next intelligence coup would not be ignored.
In September 1941, Sorge learned that the Japanese military command was resisting German pressure to go to war with the USSR and wanted to attack the United States’ possessions in the Pacific instead. He reported to Moscow that the Japanese would not invade the Soviet Union until the Nazis captured Moscow, the Japanese had enough troops to invade Siberia, and a civil uprising could be started there.
After receiving this intelligence and seeing the Germans halted before Moscow, Stalin felt he could move Soviet Far East divisions to counter the Nazi invasion and turn the tide against the Germans.
Sorge was eventually arrested under the suspicion of espionage. He confessed under torture and was hanged as a spy in November 1944.
So, if you’re a loyal WATM reader, you’ve probably noticed that, when we’re talking Chinese or Russian aircraft, they’ve got some odd-sounding names. Fishbed, Flanker, Backfire, Bear, Badger… you may be wondering, “how the f*ck did they get that name?” Well, it’s a long story – and it goes back to World War II.
In 1942, Captain Frank McCoy of the Army Air Force was tasked with heading the materiel section of Army Air Force intelligence for the Southwest Pacific. Early on, he realized that pilots could get confused about enemy fighters. To address this potential confusion, the Tennessee native began giving them nicknames. Fighters got male names, bombers and other planes got female names, and transports were given names that started with the letter T. Training planes were named for trees and gliders for birds.
The idea was a good one – and it began to spread across the entire Pacific. All went well until a new Japanese Navy fighter got the nickname, ‘Hap.’ You see, that was also the nickname of the Army Air Force Commander, General Henry “Hap” Arnold. To say Arnold wasn’t happy is an understatement. McCoy was quickly called in to explain it.
When the Cold War started, and both the Soviet Union and Communist China became threats, the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization turned to a version of McCoy’s naming conventions. They adjusted the system. This time, code names for fighters started with the letter F, those for bombers started with B, transport planes start with the letter C, other planes start with M. If the name has one syllable, it’s a prop plane. If it has multiple syllables, it’s a jet. Helicopter names start with the letter H.
Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Russian 101st Motorized Rifles were caught in a firefight with the Mujahideen near the city of Herat. A young soldier, 20-year-old Bakhretdin Khakimov, was wounded in the fighting, lost on the battlefield, and presumed dead.
Khakimov was a draftee from Samarkand who had only been in the Red Army a short time when he was injured in Herat Province, near Shindand. Some 30 years later, a group of Soviet war veterans founded the Committee for International Soldiers, a group whose mission is to find and identify missing Soviet soldiers or their remains. Most, like Khakimov, are presumed to be dead.
The young soldier now goes by the name of Sheikh Abdullah. He was rescued from the battlefield by locals, nursed back to health and opted to stay with those that helped him survive. He later married an Afghan woman and settled down to a semi-nomadic life. His wife has since died and he does the same work as the man who rescued him.
“I was wounded in the head and collapsed. I don’t remember much about that time,” he told TOLO news.
There are an estimated 264 Soviet soldiers currently missing from the 1979-1989 Afghan War. The Committee for International Soldiers actually found 29 living servicemen, 22 of which were repatriated to the former Soviet Union. The rest stayed in Afghanistan. The CIS has also identified 15 graves of Soviet war dead, exhuming and identifying five of those.
It is estimated that the decade-long war cost the Soviet Union 15,000 lives — not to mention those of an estimated one million Afghan civilians.
Bakhretdin Khakimov was an ethnic Uzbek, with family roots not far from Afghanistan’s northern borders. Staying in the country was dangerous for Khakimov and those like him. The USSR would trade submachine guns to locals in exchange for “turncoats” trying to defect from the Red Army.
Russians captured by the Mujahideen did not fare so well — they could expect to be tortured to death. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the Soviet soldiers were often brutally mistreated by their own officers. They would then take out their rage on the civilian population, sometimes even wiping out entire villages.
The last two battalions of Russian spetsnaz crossed the “Friendship” Bridge into neighboring Uzbekistan on Feb. 15, 1989. At that moment, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, told reporters, “There is not a single Soviet soldier or officer left behind me.” He was wrong.
One of America’s longest-serving retailers is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. While this doesn’t mark the end of the 130-year-old retailer, it doesn’t exactly bode well for its future, either. With 700 just over Sears and K-Mart stores nationwide, the company is bleeding money it doesn’t have. Hopeful sources tell the Wall Street Journal that there will still be upwards of 300 stores open for the coming holiday season, but the company is a shadow of its former self.
The once-dominant retail sales company, first founded as a mail-order catalog in 1891, has been in a slow decline over the past decade.
(Wall Street Journal)
The company once sold everything, from dresses to appliances to even cars at one point. In fact, President Jimmy Carter even grew up in a shotgun-style house his family purchased through a Sears catalog. Hell, the company even sold cocaine and opium at one point. Try getting that on Amazon.
While anecdotes about Sears, Roebuck, and Company selling patent medicine are quaint, this was a company that was — for much of its life — ahead of its time. The story of the rise of Sears is almost the story of the American century — of the American dream.
An automobile offering from a 1909 Sears catalog.
In the months and years after the Civil War, communication and transportation technologies that were developed to help the Union fight and win the war were still on the cutting edge. While working as a railroad agent around the early 1880s, Richard Warren Sears purchased a collection of unwanted watches from a local jeweler and then resold them to his coworkers — picking up a big profit along the way.
He used this experience to start a mail-order watch business with a watch repairman named Alvah Roebuck. The duo moved to Chicago, a rail hub, and expanded their offerings to other jewelry. After selling that business, he moved away to Iowa but came back to the mail-order business shorty after. That’s when Sears and Roebuck founded Sears, Roebuck, Company.
They began to expand into the rest of the postwar United States. Not through brick and mortar stores, rather the company expanded the offerings in its catalog. Most importantly, they began to service the more remote areas of the United States, lending dependability and stability to the supply side of these remote markets — something local stores could not do.
Eventually, the company went public, survived the Great Depression, changes in ownership and direction, and by the 1930s, was opening stores in urban areas to respond to the American population moving closer to those areas and away from rural ones. The company still distributed goods to rural communities from its multi-million square foot warehouse in Chicago. Control over its distribution was one of the stores’ original keys to success.
Fashionable and functional.
Sears was the original “everything” store. Rather than sell the latest fashions or flash-in-the-pan trinkets, the original Sears stores sold reliable consumer staples at a lower cost. Socks and sheets aren’t sexy, but everyone needs them and the Sears Tower, then the world’s tallest building, was built on a foundation of consumer needs.
This is strangely also the foundation of Sears’ downfall. A company that had survived everything from the Panic of 1893 to the Great Depression and two World Wars would begin to lose sight of what once made it great and profitable. While Sears’ dedication to consumer needs helped drive American industry, helped develop suburban areas in the days following World War II, and even drive U.S. companies into Mexico and Canada, it began to lose sight of that foundation.
In the 1980s, the company expanded into credit holdings, stocks and financial products, even real estate. By the 1990s, it was no longer a price leader. Years of inflation in the 1970s and 1980s led to the foundation of similar department stores based on competing with companies like Sears through lower prices. K-Mart, Target, and Walmart fired the first shots that led to Sears’ decline. Amazon just put the nails in the coffin. Allen Questrom, a retired retail executive says 1985 was the year Sears made its first mistake.
“They took their eye off the ball,” Questrom, former head of Sears rival J.C. Penny, told the Wall Street Journal, referring to Sears opening the Discover Card brand. Other industry insiders say it happened earlier, when it purchased brokerage and real-estate firms like Dean Witter Reynolds and Coldwell Banker.
But by the time Sears decided to get rid of its financial holdings, it was too late. It survived the Great Recession, but its last profitable year came in 2010, posting losses of over billion since. Despite a further shedding and sales of unprofitable assets and an increased focus on what does work for the company’s remaining stores, the 70,000 employees left at the once-iconic retailer no doubt wonder if there’s anyone in the wings that could make Sears great again.
There are a handful of men in military history that could accurately be described as a “one man army.” You may never have heard of Lawrence Dominic “Fats” McCarthy, but you’ll remember his story after hearing the end of it. An orphan who enlisted to fight World War I for Australian forces, he would leave the war having survived its most intense fighting and wearing the Victoria Cross – the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor in combat.
Dominic McCarthy was hard to miss. He was a large man, with a few extra pounds that earned him the nickname “Fats.” But that never held him back as a soldier. By the time he arrived to fight the ill-fated Battle of Gallipoli, he was already wearing the stripes of a Lance Corporal. Despite falling ill, he would survive Gallipoli as one of the last men of his battalion to depart the fighting.
The fighting at Madame Wood may not be as infamous as the fight for Gallipoli or the similarly-named Belleau Wood, but it was just as intense and – at times – treacherous. The hazards in the fighting weren’t just in no man’s land. The English trenches themselves were muddy and full of twisted metal and refuse. Fats was ready to move his men forward toward the German lines, but the units to his left were being held up by stiff enemy resistance. He decided to do something about it.
He grabbed a sergeant and took off for the German position, moving so fast (especially for a man his size), he was able to deftly avoid the incoming German machine gun bullets. He arrived at the enemy machine gun nest well before his battle buddies, eliminated it, and moved on to the trench before the other Aussies even hit the first position.
He entered the enemy trench with just his service rifle as the sergeant, now wounded, caught up to him. The two men swept through the enemy, picking up their grenades and turning the explosive on them. The two Aussies knocked out three machine gun emplacements while inflicting heavy casualties as they moved. McCarthy then shot two more officers and used his captured grenades against another enemy position, bombing it until the Germans waved a blood-soaked white flag.
For his efforts, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V himself at Buckingham Palace. The British press dubbed McCarthy the “Super VC,” but the big man demurred when given that moniker, saying he believed there was a VC inside every soldier.
He survived the war, being repatriated to England after coming down with the Spanish Flu that affected millions of others around the world, surviving until the ripe old age of 83.
Sports, in large part, were halted when the U.S. military became involved in World War II. The Indy 500 was canceled to save gasoline, and the U.S. Open golf tournament was scrapped favoring resources in rubber, which typically made golf equipment. Several professional athletes, managers, owners, and even rules officials across many leagues enlisted, commissioned, or were drafted.
These sports icons sacrificed the prime of their careers for a cause bigger than themselves. On the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we celebrate the lives of some of sports’ greatest stars who served during this time.
(Courtesy of World Golf Hall of Fame)
“I don’t suppose that any of the pro and amateur golfers who were combat soldiers, Marines, or sailors will soon be able to think of a three-putt green as of the really bad troubles in life,” Mangrum said when he returned from World War II. Mangrum was both a veteran of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Before he left for war to fight with General Patton’s Third Army, he made a pact with his friend, Sergeant Robert Green. Each ripped a id=”listicle-2641582160″ bill in half, vowing to each return it when the war ended. Green was killed in action, thus the pair never rekindled their promise.
Mangrum and his brother spent their childhood in the backyard where his thirst for competition began. “A small creek ran behind our house,” he told the NY Times. “My brother, Ray, and I built a crude green on the opposite bank and had [sic] pitching contests with a rustyblade old mashie somebody had discarded.” Soon he was a caddie learning how to approach the game through judgment. He took first place in the first US Open (1946) golf tournament since its hiatus during World War II. He became known as “Mr. Icicle” for his calmness on the links, which he credits how nothing on the golf course could rattle him like the battlefield.
Ralph Houk is not a name that is first mentioned when thinking of a New York Yankee, but he should be. His commanding officer, Caesar Flore, spoke of his battlefield fearlessness when he sent Houk out in a jeep to do reconnaissance on enemy scouting positions. He didn’t return until two nights later, and Flore listed him as ‘missing in action.’ “When he had returned, he had a three day growth of beard and hand grenades hanging all over him,” Flore said. “He was back of the enemy lines the entire time. I know he must’ve enjoyed himself. He had a hole in one side of his helmet, and a hole in the other where the bullet left. When I told him about his helmet he said, ‘I could have [sic] swore I heard a ricochet.'”
Houk rose from Private to Major in four years and earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, and a Purple Heart for when he was wounded in the calf during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he secured the back-up catcher’s position behind Yogi Berra and became a manager where players referred to him as “The Major” for his wartime discipline.
(Courtesy of the New York Times.)
Gino Marchetti was known primarily for two things: being a Hall of Fame defensive end for the Baltimore Colts and an entrepreneur who co-owned a restaurant called Gino’s with teammate Alan Ameche. Their influence was so great that members of the community, including New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, often muttered their slogan “Gino’s, oh yeah!” while they visited players at their favorite hamburger joint.
What most don’t know is that Gino Marchetti served as a machine gunner with Company I, 273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. “You don’t realize that you are going to see some of your friends go down,” Marchetti told ESPN. “You don’t realize any of it. For example, the first time I ever saw snow, I slept in it. It’s hell.” Marchetti credits joining the Army as the greatest thing he had ever done because it gave him the discipline and toughness to compete in the NFL.
Nestor Chylak’s career behind home plate almost never came to be. While serving as a Technical Sergeant in the US Army’s 424 Infantry Regiment, Chylak was severely wounded on January 3, 1945, in the Ardennes Forest. While his battalion braced artillery fire in the blistering cold and blanketed snow, an artillery shell exploded a tree, which sent splinters traveling the speed of bullets into his face. He was blind for ten days, but ultimately regained his eyesight. He was awarded both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Chylak would go on to become one of the most legendary MLB Umpires in the history of the game. He was never one to cower to a feisty manager’s tirade, nor did he get flustered from loud boos from fans. He umpired baseball’s bizarre promotion games like the infamous “10-Cent Beer Night” promotion in Cleveland and Bob Veeck’s “Disco Demolition Night” in Detroit. Both promotions ended in similar flair — a forfeiture and a flying chair. Chylak, however, umpired for 25 years in five World Series and was respected for his fairness.
At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, a bronze plaque in the Umpire Exhibit says in his jest, “This must be the only job in America that everybody knows how to do better than the guy who’s doing it.”
The Industrial Revolution, which spanned over the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, was a pivotal period in history. It brought Europe and the United States into modern times. It is defined by its technological advancements, which revolutionized the means of industrial production and had a deep and long-lasting impact on the demography of the countries it touched.
The faster and more economical production processes led to lower prices, which meant more widespread access to commodities that were previously considered a luxury. The technological discoveries also encouraged the thirst for new knowledge, leading to groundbreaking innovations such as the lightbulb, the telephone, and the X-ray. The wave of discovery also spread to medicine and hygiene, which in turn led to improved health and quality of life, leading to a sharp rise in the population during that period.
The Industrial Revolution also introduced a major shift in energy consumption. Steam power quickly became the main source of power used by machinery or even for the production of electricity. Although it was first produced by burning wood, that resource was eventually replaced by coal.
America controlled energy
The American coal industry became a major player in the Industrial Revolution. It went on to shape the face of the USA in the most profound ways. Until the 18th century, the production of coal in Europe and the USA was marginal. It was a source of power only the wealthy could afford. But with the development of technology and industry, coal quickly became the primary material used to power up industries throughout the two continents. Thanks to the expansion of the iron, steel, and textile industries, the demand for coal rose sharply to fuel steam engines. Coal was also used to power up steamships and steam trains, leading to the development of the transportation system. Coal powered up the machines and allowed them to transport even greater quantities of coal through regions that were previously difficult to service.
The development of the various industries and the transport system caused a sharp increase in the need for manpower, leading to the creation of many factory, mining, and construction jobs, and a burgeoning blue-collar class. It led to a massive demographic exodus that saw a mostly rural population migrate towards the cities, where jobs were widely available, as well as the rise of wage labor.
The working conditions for miners were extremely difficult. The lowering of production costs and the increase in distribution should have led to an improvement in these conditions, but mine owners refused to follow the general trend. The numerous strikes led by coal miners led to discontent in the population. The country had grown completely dependent on coal. In turn, those worries led to reforms in the working laws that still have an impact to this day. President Roosevelt‘s interventionist attitude in the American economy was partially inspired by the coal miners’ plight. Thus, the coal industry helped to shape both the bureaucratic corporation that came for profit-bent owners and the progressive reforms that stemmed from the wish for humane treatment of the American workforce.
Yankee coal won the war
Another major impact of the coal industry was felt during the Civil War. At that time, most of the coal production was located in the north of the country. In fact, the North was producing 38 times more coal than the South. It gave the Union’s war industries such as iron, steel, and weapons. It was a massive advantage over the Confederacy, eventually leading to the Union’s victory.
Despite the environmental and humane controversy stirred by the coal industry, its lasting impact on Europe and the USA is undeniable. The smoke of the coal-powered factories has been the mark of a century that brought about a worldwide transformation so deep that it clearly defined a “before” and an “after.” The coal industry played an important role in shaping the western world as we know it.
Army Sgt. Alvin C. York was one of the early members of the 82nd Infantry Division and helped establish that unit’s legendary status when he captured 132 German soldiers almost single-handedly after his small detachment was drawn into a fight with a massive force.
York was born in rural Tennessee near the Kentucky border and was responsible for helping support his mother and ten siblings from a very early age. Most of his work was physical. It included going into the woods to hunt game to be cooked and served on the family table. This developed the young York into a crack shot, something that would come in handy during the World War in his future.
As a teen, York became a zealous, fundamental Christian. When war broke out and he was drafted, he applied for conscientious objector status on the basis of his religion. It was declined and York was sent to the 82nd.
But if Alvin C. York was going to be a soldier, he was going to be a good one.
Painting of then-Cpl. Alvin C. York depicting the World War I engagement that made him famous.
There, the Germans were preparing for an attack with over 100 soldiers — and the pursuing Americans stumbled right into them.
Sgt. Alvin C. York stands on the hill where he captured the bulk of 132 German soldiers in 1918.
The Americans were in huge trouble. Nine of them were quickly killed. York, as a corporal, took command and begin sending deadly accurate fire into German machine gunners. As he later said,
“…those machine guns were spitting fire and cutting down the undergrowth all around me something awful…. I didn’t have time to dodge behind a tree or dive into the brush, I didn’t even have time to kneel or lie down…. As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. In order to sight me or to swing their machine guns on me, the Germans had to show their heads above the trench, and every time I saw a head I just touched it off. All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had.”
In case you missed it in that quote, York was yelling for the Germans to surrender before he had to kill all of them.
The young hunter had learned on turkey shoots to kill from the back of a rush first, as killing the turkeys near the front would cause the flock to split off in all directions. He applied this technique with his pistol against the rush, killing the Germans at the back first so the rest would keep coming towards him.
Finally, a German officer, surrounded by at least 20 of his own dead troops, decided that his own men were too badly outnumbered and outgunned. Thinking he was highly outnumbered, the officer surrendered approximately 90 men to York, who, by this point, was fighting nearly alone.
Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Alvin C. York returns after the war to the Tennessee home where he grew up. The woman on the left is his mother, and the girl in the middle is one of his younger sisters.
(Underwood and Underwood)
York accepted the surrender, rounded up the last of his living men, and began escorting the prisoners back to American lines and taking on more Germans as they went. By the time the party reached York’s unit, the handful of Americans were escorting 132 German prisoners of war.
York was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his accomplishments and received it in April, 1919, after the war.
It may sound crazy, but an organization suffered worse losses in World War II than the Army, the Marine Corps, or even the Navy that was in charge of guarding it: The Merchant Marine, the sailors who crewed ships carrying goods from U.S. factories to European battlefields, lost nearly 4 percent of its members in the war.
Merchant Marine officers and crew members were in high demand in World War II, but it was a dangerous and largely thankless service.
(National Archives and Records Administration)
The Merchant Marine was never designed for front-line combat on the battlefield or on the ocean. It’s made up of mostly civilian members who conduct almost any type of maritime trade in peacetime, from fishing tours to oil shipping. During a war, the federal government can make these sailors into an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy.
And during World War II, these men went through light training before crewing ships that had to brave not only the seas and storms, but German U-boats that were organized into wolfpacks and ordered to hunt the Merchant Marine.
This forced these men into the worst of the fighting, despite their largely non-combat role. And it made sense for both sides. Logistics moves supplies and, along with the industry that creates those supplies, wins wars. Germany had a weak industrial base and needed to keep American industry out of the war as much as possible. But one of America’s greatest roles in the war was that of “Arsenal of Democracy,” and it couldn’t afford to keep the Merchant Marine at port.
German U-boats sank ships flying under Allied colors and didn’t have the ability to recover and rescue the people imperiled by the sinking.
(Willy Stower, public domain)
And so German U-boats patrolled the American coasts, sinking ships — sometimes within view of their ports. Whenever possible, German U-boats operated on the surface, drawing oxygen to run their diesel motors and attacking with deck guns that could punch holes in ships’ hulls and doom them. When that was too dangerous, they would hunt underwater and attack with torpedoes.
For the sailors of the Merchant Marine, this was terrifying. They were under threat of German attack from the moment they left the range of the shore guns until they reached European ports. American waters were actually some of the most dangerous as U-boats hunted the coast at night, looking for U.S. ship silhouettes blocking out lights from shore. Once they had the target, the subs could attack and disappear.
Counting the waters around the American Philippines, Alaska, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Merchant Marine lost approximately 196 ships in U.S. waters. Meanwhile in the Caribbean, our backyard, we lost another 180 ships. Officially, the U.S. lost 1,554 ships in the war. Approximately 8,000 to 12,000 Merchant Marine sailors were killed.
A ship sinks during World War II.
And the situations during the sinkings were terrifying. When ships were struck, sailors would have only minutes or seconds to get off the boat and to safety. Fires and the twisted hull could block passageways and make escape impossible. Jump into the water too early from too high and you could die from striking the water. Wait too long and the suction of the ship would pull you under to drown. Sharks, oil fires, and starvation could kill even those who made it out safely.
And, oddly enough, since the crews were often still technically civilians even when under Navy control, their pay stopped whenever they weren’t actively serving on a ship. That included when the ships were sunk under them and they had to spend weeks trying to reach a safe port.
The worst year, by far, was 1942, when approximately 500 ships were lost or captured in a single year. When the U.S. and the Axis Powers exchanged declarations of war in December 1941, U.S. ships sunk or otherwise lost skyrocketed from an average of 1 per month from January to November to about 55 in December, not counting Navy warships destroyed at Pearl Harbor.
“Victory” and “Liberty” ships under construction during World War II. These ships allowed American arms and supplies to be shipped en masse to Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.
(War Shipping Administration)
The U.S. rushed the convoy system from World War I back into service. Merchant ships were encouraged to sail in planned convoys with U.S. and British naval escort, and ships that took part were much safer than those who went it alone. Less than 30 percent of U.S. and allied ships lost to U-boat attacks were in a convoy while they were sunk.
This was due to a number of factors, the darkest of which was that, even when U-boats had the edge against Navy vessels, they needed to remain underwater. Since they couldn’t use their deck guns without surfacing, that meant they could only sink as many ships as they had torpedoes.
But British technological advances and the large American industrial base began giving potent sub-hunting weapons to the U.S. and Allied navies and, suddenly, the U-boats had a lot more to worry about when facing convoys than just their limited arsenals. By May, 1943, sonar, radar, improved depth charges, and other tools had tipped the battle in the Atlantic and across most of the oceans.
An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania commissioned by the London Illustrated News. The ship was sank by U-boats, leading to America’s direct involvement in World War I.
In World War II, months before D-Day, a loudspeaker on military bases played a short recruitment message. The few men who answered it would become heroes after tackling one of the deadliest and most complicated missions of D-Day.
Jedburghs train on an obstacle course in World War II.
Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.
Men who volunteered had a chance to be selected for a Jedburgh Team. The teams typically featured a mix of Canadian, British, French, and American troops, but they were tiny, typically with two to four members. So, obviously, there was just one man of each nationality in each team.
So, that was one reason that knowledge of European languages was preferred, the other was that these tiny teams would fight directly alongside resistance forces in Nazi-occupied Europe, mostly in France but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their motto summed up the mission well: “Surprise, kill, and vanish.”
Jedburgh team members in World War II.
Very few people were selected. A post-war accounting put the number at 276 of which 83 were Americans. There were also 90 British and 103 French troops. The most typical team size was three, but all teams were required to have at least a commander and a radio operator.
The Jedburghs trained hard and wanted to go into Europe two to six weeks before the D-Day invasion, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower restricted the Jedburgh insertions until June 5, 1944—the night before D-Day—so the sudden presence of international troops wouldn’t clue in the Nazis to the coming invasion.
So, on June 5, the teams began their insertions, and these few hundred men brought lots of extra weapons with them and rallied the resistance fighters of Europe. The Jedburghs and their allies fought far ahead of the invasion forces, in some cases taking and holding key infrastructure that the rest of the Allied forces wouldn’t reach for weeks.
The Jedburghs severed Nazi supply and reinforcement lines, and they protected key infrastructure like bridges that would be needed by the tanks and trucks of the invasion force. As volume two of the OSS War Report says:
Will well-trained, capable radio operators, the Jedburghs represented, wherever they were, a strong radio link between FFI (French Forces of the Interior) leaders and other Allied groups in the field, such as the SAS (Special Air Services) and headquarters in London … Besides the all-important task of making available … arms and supplies to the resistance and preparing landing and dropping fields, they acted as translators and interpreters, assisting in surrender arrangements, helped lead sabotage and ambush operations, provided intelligence on resistance and enemy strength and other information as well, and worked to coordinate separate resistance forces under a unified command.
Members of the Jedburgh teams prepare to insert via parachute in World War II.
(US Army Signal Corps via CIA.gov)
And yes, the rest of the Allied forces saw and appreciated these efforts. While the Jedburghs complained after the invasion that they wished they were allowed to insert earlier and do more, Allied commanders were just grateful that so many resistance members were well-armed and organized, breaking up Nazi forces and tying up German units, and that so much infrastructure survived the Wehrmacht’s destruction efforts.