There’s no denying the fact that fashion trends change over time. Think back to what we were wearing 10 years ago … or 20. The clothing choices of our past are laughable. But when we go even further back, to the days of discomfort and disfunction, that statement is brought to an extreme. Wartime clothes and civilian wear alike was completely different in the 1860s. Bonnets and skirs abounded, and war uniforms were hot and rarely functional.
Take a look at just how different the clothing was during these times — and consider how life might have been in wearing these complicated rigs. (And with no air conditioning — we shudder at the thought.) Together, we consider just how far military wear has come and how function meets daily operations.
Considering we were fighting ourselves, it’s not hard to believe that solider uniforms — Union and Confederate alike — were quite similar. The main distinction between sides were the colors and footwear.
Union soldiers wore a navy blue top and a lighter blue on their pants. They also wore black boots that were cuffed with white ankle coverings. Meanwhile, Confederate soldiers wore gray pants, gray tops, and black boots. The cuts and manners in which gear was worn were very similar, most notably, a roll pack on the back and spike bayonet on the rifle.
Meanwhile, women wore big, billowing dresses that flowed out with hooped undergarments. Gloves, bonnets and button-down boots were also daily norms. These fancier outfits were common at the time for women who spent their days socializing. But after the onset of the war, dresses became less elaborate and certain accessories, like gloves, were often done away with altogether. Higher classes still dressed to impress, while those who joined war efforts had to opt for more practical wear.
Working dresses were most often long sleeved and accompanied by aprons. Classes usually wore different types of fabrics, too. With lower class opting for cotton or coarser materials, while upper class chose fabrics with big patterns, stripes, and textures like velvet and silk.
Due to the high death rate of the war, all classes usually owned black outfits to express their mourning after losing a loved one.
Those who were not fighting had their own style of dress during the Civil War. Rich men usually wore suits and hats. Suits had big long coats and hats were tall and wide-brimmed. The thought process at the time was that excess fabric cost more money, so clothes were often big and billowing. Dresses also had excess fabrics on the skirts.
While working classes wore big, loose pants that were usually held up with suspenders. Loose, long-sleeved cotton shirts topped off the look with a tie or ascot for style, and tall boots.
Kids were usually dressed in clothing very similar to their parents … just shorter. For instance, dresses and trousers were usually mid-calf level for girls and boys, respectively. This was to differentiate kids’ clothing. It also allowed kids to wear the same pieces as they grew taller. The main difference was younger males who wore dresses, which traditionally took place until or around the age of 5. However, this tradition changed around the 1860s — the start of the war — when young boys began wearing knickerbockers, which were wide-legged pants that buttoned at the knee.
One of the Central Intelligence Agency’s biggest intelligence coups (without instigating a real coup) came in Tehran in 1980. While every westerner was scrambling to escape Iran in the days following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the CIA was trying to shuffle people in.
After all, the embassy staffers were being held hostage and six Americans were hiding out from Iranian police in the Canadian Embassy. Those six Americans might have met the same fate as the 52 embassy employees, being held hostage for 444 days, were it not for Canadian intervention.
When the six Americans were safely out of Iranian airspace, the CIA agents on the ground who aided the effort to extract them still had to get home. They were also running out of time. One of them was detained as he was leaving Tehran on a false West German passport.
The CIA made a serious error in creating the fake passport, and it might have gotten their man killed – were it not for his quick thinking.
Documents released in the CIA’s Reading Room website list details that were later dramatized in the 2012 film Argo. The CIA document essentially picks up where the film left off during the credits. Carter announced the successful extraction of employees hidden by Canadian officials in Tehran in January 1980.
Carter directed the CIA to enter Tehran as a film crew and in other capacities to train the embassy employees on how they could best be extracted from the suddenly hostile country. He also said that Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor, was “justifiably an American hero.”
The former president went on to say that the two or three of the agency were experts in documentation and were critical to securing the visas for the trapped Americans suddenly using Canadian passports – with no entry stamps.
Canada was not severing diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic in its effort to rescue the Americans. It was simply sending its personnel home under the cover of temporarily shuttering the Embassy in Tehran. The Americans were smuggled out of Iran on a morning Swiss Air flight, while the ambassador left on a later flight the same day.
The Americans all made it through the airport terminal and boarded their Swiss Air flight without incident. The CIA agents who were leaving later were not so lucky. One of them was traveling with a false West German passport, one that featured a fatal mistake, a middle initial. West German passports did not use initials and one Iranian immigration official noticed.
If caught using a suspected fake passport, and discovered to be intelligence agents for the United States, the clandestine CIA operatives could look forward to beatings, torture, mock executions and, of course, a hanging in Tehran’s Azadi Square.
The official told the undercover operative that in all his time working in immigration, first for the Shah’s government and then for the Islamic Republic, a total of 25 years, he’d never seen an initial. The operative, thinking quickly, asked for the official to speak with him privately. The two men stepped aside and talked in low tones.
The CIA officer leaned in and told the Iranian official that he was born in the early 1930s, and that his middle name was “Hitler,” given to him by his parents. Because of this, the West German government had always allowed him the special privilege of using an initial, rather than having “Hitler” on his passport.
Hitler, oddly enough, seemed obsessed with America in many ways. He admired Henry Ford and American industrialization. He liked American films and Mickey Mouse cartoons. And, perhaps most oddly for a man of Hitler’s obsession with perception and propaganda, he even named his rolling fortress of a train after the rival country, calling it “Amerika.”
Hitler had a few iconic pieces of transportation, from a famous Mercedes to the SSS Horst Wessel sailing vessel, but his headquarters train was one of the most famous during the war. Nazi soldiers would march along routes ahead of the train to make sure no one was lying in wait for it, and there were multiple decoy trains that would run up to 30 minutes ahead of or behind Hitler’s train.
And each train was a beast. Hitler had a car for meetings as well as a living car with space for his bath and sink, complete with gold-plated faucets, according to the above documentary about it. There was also a communications car and multiple cars for defense against air and land attacks. It could house up to 200 leaders, staff, and soldiers.
Hitler set an example by rolling out his train, and other Nazi leaders began buying their own top-tier trains complete with command wagons and defenses. They all had individual names, but only Hitler’s was named for a future Allied power. But it wasn’t out of respect for the American nation or people. Hitler had named the train for the destruction of Native Americans by western settlers.
Hitler holds a meeting in his personal train during World War II.
(YouTube/World at War)
Keeping these trains moving required regularly changing out the engines. After all, Hitler couldn’t be left cooling his heels on a train platform as wood and water was loaded onto the train when it ran low. Instead, the train would pull into a station, and railway workers would quickly swap out the nearly empty engine with fully fueled cars. The Fuhrer could be back on his way in minutes instead of hours.
And these swaps were required multiple times per day. Every 30 miles or so, the train would run low on fuel, partially thanks to the massive weight of all the armor on some of Amerika’s cars.
Of course, the train had to be renamed when America entered the war on the side of the allies. The name changed from Amerika to “Brandenburg,” and Hitler reduced his use of the train for meetings, instead primarily using it as secure transportation. The meetings that were held on the train were held in bunkers instead.
As the Allies started to retake territory from 1942 to 1944, the trains themselves got bunkers. One is still in decent shape in Poland, an enormous concrete bunker surrounded by grass and trees in southeastern Poland. These bunkers were primarily needed for protecting the trains from attack by air.
After all, the Allies developed tools to crack apart sub pens by using bombs that mimicked the effects of earthquakes, cracking the concrete foundations of the structures. Destroying a train is relatively easy, needing just a few lucky bomb hits to destroy even an armored engine or the tracks themselves.
For security reasons, crews were required to destroy much of the paperwork generated in support of the train; everything from supply paperwork to schedules. And the train itself was partially destroyed in May 1945. The surviving components of the train passed into civilian use after the war.
These days, when things go south while in a fighter, pilots are trained to reach for the loops that trigger their ejection seats. You just give it a yank and the ejection seat takes it from there, launching you from the stricken plane and setting you up for a safe(ish) landing on the ground (hopefully far from people you’ve just bombed or strafed).
Easy as pie — but it’s still something you don’t wanna do.
But in World War II, the process was very different. Today’s ejection seats use technology that didn’t exist in that era, so much of the process had to be handled manually, which was extremely hazardous.
When future president George H. W. Bush’s Grumman TBF Avenger was hit by enemy over Chichijima, the other two men on board were immediately killed and he had to bail out. In the chaos, Bush ejected improperly and collided with the plane’s tail — luckily, his injuries were minor compared to what could’ve happened. He drifted to the ocean below tethered to a parachute and was eventually rescued.
The method of properly ejecting from a World War II-era fighter varied depending on the plane. What worked for a P-38 Lightning wouldn’t work for a F4U Corsair. But, in general, the procedure was to slow the plane down as much as possible and manually open up the canopy. That’s when things got real tricky.
A pilot’s natural instinct is to use their foot to jump from the side of the cockpit, but that would expose him or her to the slipstream — and that means a collision with the tail. Instead, pilots must use their hands on the side of the cockpit and roll over the “wall.” Then, the pilot waits to clear the plane (usually with a ten count) before pulling the ripcord, deploying a parachute.
The War Office has the unique ability to censor letters, media reports and controls the flow of information from forward-deployed units to the general public. While most military members know this inherently, it might surprise you to understand how censorship got its legs in America and what it looks like today.
With all likelihood, there was probably some censorship happening during the Civil War, but because so many service personnel were illiterate, it’s hard to know exact numbers. But there had to be some censorship since often letters crossed into enemy territory. But the real start to military censorship started during WWI and the Espionage Act of 1917.
This act allowed the government to fine citizens for interference with recruiting troops or the refusal to perform military duties. The charge came with a fine of $10,000 and 20 years in prison. Within six months of the act being signed, there were over 1,000 people imprisoned.
The Sedition Act of 1918 meant that it became a crime to criticize the government, the Constitution, the flag, or the uniform of men in military service. This applied to both speeches and writing. Under the two laws, thousands of people were imprisoned for acts of nonviolent protest against the war. Additionally, at least 75 newspapers lost mailing privileges and were under governmental pressure to change their outward-facing editorial attitudes.
President Wilson went so far as to create a Committee on Public Information. This committee created a “voluntary censorship code” with newspaper journalists. The committee released a sanitized version of the news to over 6,000 newspapers every single day.
By WWII, censors were on the lookout for anything a soldier might say that would be of value to the enemy or anything that would contradict the official Committee on Public Information reports. The formal establishment of the Office of Censorship in 1941 gave e formal power to censor all communication between the US and foreign countries and prevented news organizations from publishing information that might inadvertently aid the enemy.
By 1942, the Office of War Information took over the flow of information into and out of the government to pass on “approved” versions of news events to news organizations. The OWI prevented any pictures of graphic photos from being released. It also severely limited the letters that it allowed to get through from forward-deployed service members to their families. Letters sent in foreign languages were intercepted, and since most censors didn’t understand what was written, the letter simply wasn’t delivered.
The Vietnam conflict saw the introduction of “5 O’Clock Follies” where press and military officials would gather to receive information about battles ahead of time. Then, the press would wait to report on them until after the battle started. Service member’s letters were heavily censored during this time as well.
During the Gulf War, censorship was not only blatantly accepted by all media outlets, but it was also expected. News reports were submitted to a security review before being released, and a press pool was established to allow one reported to accompany soldiers to combat areas. Letters from service members continued to be intercepted, and information relating to operational security was removed.
Our current conflicts in the War on Terror are still heavily censored, both in what’s allowed to be known ahead of time (like re-deployment dates and precise locations) and in the access the press has to battles. Most often, journalists are no longer allowed to embed in units, and the government has purchased the exclusive rights for commercial satellite imagery of Afghanistan.
Now more than ever, OPSEC is important, since we all have smart devices that we carry with us. Imagery is shared in our modern world in ways it has never been in the past, making it even more important to keep up situational awareness and not give up secrets. For military members and this community, it’s not as much about free speech as it is protecting and defending the ones we love.
During World War II, more than 425,000 German prisoners of war were held in some 700 camps across the United States. Some of them did their duty to try and escape, but most spent the remainder of their war in these camps, entertaining themselves however possible.
For many POWs, this included the latest in Hollywood cinema, which was, of course, so much propaganda at the time. The Germans enjoyed them anyway. But when the Americans began to show them footage of the Holocaust, the good time suddenly stopped.
German prisoners, those who surrendered to the British or Americans, were shipped back to the U.S. on Liberty Ships. Most went quietly, thankful to not be killed – and avoiding capture by the Red Army. The United States followed the Geneva Conventions to the letter, paying Germans for labor and constructing camps equivalent to their own military quarters. For some, their lives as prisoners were better than their lives as civilians back in Germany. This was especially true in passing the time.
The prisoners worked, maintained their own discipline, were provided art supplies and letter writing materials. Many camps even had film projectors, and showed movies provided by the Americans. The U.S. was happy to oblige, as Hollywood films of the era could be a good way to de-program the captured soldiers from the effects of Nazi propaganda. Even War Department films such as Why We Fight were popular.
The movie nights were really popular among many of the camps, no matter what the marquee was showing. It was a great morale booster for many imprisoned so far away. Until one day, it wasn’t. After the Allies began liberating concentration camps, they began showing the footage of those camps to Nazi POWs. The films sparked rage and disbelief among many of them, including one instance where the camp detainees burned their German uniforms.
In a few extreme cases, some POWs held in the United States called on Germany to surrender. But the most stirring moment was a plan devised to create units of German troops who volunteered to fight against their onetime Axis ally, Japan, in the Pacific War.
By war’s end, only the most hardcore Nazi POWs were still against the United States. Many POWs met their wives in the U.S. and settled in the unspoiled land of plenty that had become their new home. While there were many, many resisters throughout the war, there were few incidents of escape or chaos created by the prisoners.
Army Air Forces Lt. Col. Louis E. Curdes got a piece of every original signatory to the Axis Pact: Germany, Italy, and Japan. If that wasn’t outstanding enough, it’s how he got an American flag kill mark on his fuselage that earned him a place in military history — and maybe even the Distinguished Service Cross.
It’s not a mistake. The young, 20-something pilot earned every single one of his kill marks. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at the age of 22 to fly planes against the Nazis. By 1943, he was a hotshot lieutenant scoring three kills against Nazi Messerschmidt Bf-109s, the workhorse of the German Luftwaffe, in his P-38 Lighting. That was ten days into his first assignment. Within the next month, he notched up two more kills, earning fighter “ace” status.
In August of that year, he ran into an Italian Macchi C.202 and shot that one down. Unfortunately, that was his last combat kill over Europe. He was shot down by Nazi pilots over Italy and captured by the Italians, resigning himself to spending the rest of the war in a POW camp.
But that didn’t happen. Italy capitulated a few days into Curdes’ internment.
Curdes was then sent to the Philippines and put behind the stick of the new P-51 Mustang fighter, going up against talented Japanese pilots. He was quickly able to shoot down a Japanese recon plane near the island of Formosa. His hat trick was complete, but that’s not where the story ends.
He and his plane, “Bad Angel,” were fighting over Japanese-held Bataan when his wingman was shot down over the Pacific. Soon after, he saw a C-47 transport plane, wheels-down, headed to land on the Japanese island. When he was unable to make radio contact, he tried to physically wave the transport off, but came up empty. So, rather than allow the American plane and its crew to be held prisoner by the Japanese, he used the option left: He shot them down over the ocean.
Curdes skillfully took out one engine and then the other without blowing the entire cargo plane to bits. He was able to bring the C-47 down just yards from his downed wingman. Curdes returned to the site the next morning as an escort to an American “flying boat.” The pilot, crew, and its human cargo were completely intact.
Among the passengers he shot down was a nurse Curdes dated just the night before, a girl named Valorie — whom he later married. The story was rewritten by Air Force Col. Ken Tollefson in his book US Army Air Force Pilot Shoots Down Wife.
But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.
The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.
So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.
Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.
In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.
“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”
Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.
The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.
“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”
The guard did.
The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.
In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.
Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army.
He toured to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp until his passing in 2017 at the age of 98.
“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.
When the Germans wanted to shell Paris during World War I, they knew exactly what they were doing. The only problem was the Germans just couldn’t quite break through to get Paris in their artillery crosshairs. So they did what any German might do: build a gun that could hit Paris from where they were – 75 miles away.
The Paris Gun, as it was named, had the longest range of any artillery weapon in history.
Here comes the boom.
Nobody really knows what the Paris Gun’s full capabilities were because all of them were destroyed by the retreating Germans. All that was ever captured were fixed-gun emplacements. And since all the men who might have fired one are dead, it’s just a design lost to history. What we do know is that the weapon was able to hurl 230-plus pounds of steel and explosives some 75 miles, over the World War I front lines and into the streets of Paris in just about three minutes. More interesting still is that the rounds flew 25 miles into the air, the highest point ever reached by a man-made object at that time.
The reason the gun wasn’t more popular among the Germans is that it did relatively little damage. It carried only 15 pounds of explosives, and only 20 rounds could be fired per day. Parisians didn’t even realize the shelling was coming from artillery at first – they thought they were being bombed by an ultra-high zeppelin. With some 360 rounds fired, the guns only killed 250 people, mostly civilians. It did not have the terrorizing effect the Germans hoped.
Though one round did collapse the roof of a church during services. Not great PR when you’re trying not to be evil.
To make matters worse, the rounds ate away at the barrel of the gun as they fired, so rounds had to be used in a strict numerical order with ever-changing sizes as the crew fired. Once all the rounds were fired, the barrel had to be removed and sent back to Germany to be re-bored.
Allied forces never captured one of these record-setting artillery pieces, as the Germans either destroyed them as the Entente troops advanced or sent them all back to Germany after the Armistice of 1918. They were supposed to provide France with one of the weapons, as set in the Treaty of Versailles, but never did. No schematics, parts, or barrels survive. Only the static emplacements captured by the Americans in 1918.
The Cold War was one of the most trying times for both Americans and Russians, who constantly lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. If they only knew about the other weapons the superpowers were coming up with, no one would ever have slept at night. The struggle against Communism was a field day for weapons manufacturers and government war planners. It seemed the military was open to almost anything that could kill or stymie the Russian menace.
Even if that meant getting a little creative.
The Blue Peacock
Land mines are a dangerous, tricky business for a couple of reasons. The first is that they’re hidden, of course, and no one knows where they are until it’s too late. With the Blue Peacock, “too late” came with a lot of baggage – eight to ten kilotons worth. In the Cold War, everyone wanted their special atomic weapon, it seemed. For the British, that came in the form of denying the Soviets an area to occupy in the event of World War III. Blue Peacock was a large atomic weapon that would have been buried in areas around Northern Germany and set to trigger if someone opened the casing or if it filled with water.
The idea was for the bomb to be left unattended, so on top of its itchy trigger finger, it could be set off with an eight-day timer or just detonated by wire. What’s truly silly about this weapon is that British engineers didn’t know how to address the extreme cold of the North German Plain, so their plan was to either wrap the bombs in blankets or keep live chickens with them to keep them warm.
Chrysler TV-8 Tank
Is this the goofiest tank you’ve ever seen? Me too, but it’s an American-engineered nuclear tank, imported from Detroit. This behemoth was nuclear in that it was powered by a nuclear reactor that was designed to use closed-circuit television for the crew to see. The crew would reside in the tank’s massive pod area, along with the engines and ammunition storage but the pod design would also allow the TV-8 to float, along with two water jet pumps, giving it an amphibious landing capability.
Along with the tank’s main turret, the TV-8 carried two manual .30-caliber machine guns along with a remote-controlled .50-cal mounted on top of the pod. At 25 tons, this incredible hulk was still half the mass of the M1 Abrams.
Still riding high from the possibilities of nuclear power, American engineers thought going to Mars and beyond would be possible with the use of an atomic engine. But this isn’t an engine that is propelled by some sort of atomic chain reaction or any kind of vacuum energy, no. This engine was powered by atomic bombs. Nuclear bombs were supposed to give the spaceship lift and, once in space, the energy needed for an interplanetary excursion.
The only problem was it left nuclear fallout and radioactive waste spread throughout the atmosphere.
“Rods from God”
Finally, someone decided that nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons were being a little overdone (probably, anyway) and came up with the idea to design a weapon that could hit with the force of a nuke, but without actually nuking a city.
If there was ever a contest for the biggest “f*ck you” weapon of the Cold War, the United States’ Project Pluto is the top contender. The weapon was an unmanned ramjet loaded with nuclear weapons that, once launched, would fly around for as long as it could at supersonic speeds. This jet engine was special, though, because it was heated by a nuclear reactor, so that turned out to be a very, very long time. Once the nuclear drone bomber delivered its payload to targets, it would just fly around, dropping its nuclear waste on everyone it flew over.
The Pentagon scrapped the idea because there was no known defense and they didn’t want the Soviets to develop a similar weapon and use it on the United States.
Soviet Ekranoplan – “The Flying Boat”
Unlike a couple of the other crazy superweapons of the Cold War that made this list, the Ekranoplane was actually built by the Soviet Union. Faster than any ship and bigger than any plane, the Flying Boat could carry anything from troops to cargo to nuclear weapons, all at a crazy speed. And just 13 feet off the ground. Its engines were some of the most advanced of the time, each producing thrust equal to the F-35’s engines.
It could carry some two million pounds, flying low over water to evade detection, moving small, portable D-Day invasions across the globe. Luckily only one was ever built, and the Soviets lost the Cold War anyway.
Despite their usefulness, however, there have still been numerous times when paratroopers were not used in which they could have had a significant impact on the battle. These are four of those battles:
1. The Battle of Bastogne
In December 1944 the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes forest that would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
As the situation deteriorated, Gen. Eisenhower decided to commit his strategic reserves, primarily the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, in an attempt to blunt the German attack. In the ensuing melee, the 82nd helped hold back the Germans at Elsenborn Ridge while the 101st became encircled holding Bastogne.
The effort to relieve the 101st fell to Patton’s Third Army to drive through the Germans and reach Bastogne.
However, Eisenhower had one remaining airborne division in reserve in England.
On Dec. 23, the same day Pathfinders landed in Bastogne to guide in supply drops, the 17th Airborne Division flew to France in order to join Third Army in its counter-offensive.
A more decisive move would have been to have the paratroopers of the 17th jump into the perimeter of Bastogne in order to shore up the lines and bring much needed relief to the beleaguered paratroopers of the 101st. This tactic had been used to great effect during Operation Avalanche in Sicily in which 82nd paratroopers reinforced the Allied beachhead at Salerno.
This would have then allowed the defenders to affect a breakout towards friendly lines or to go on an offensive of their own to drive the Germans back and break the siege.
2. The Landing at Inchon
On Sept. 15, 1950, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces as part of Operation Chromite assaulted the beaches and harbor of Inchon — then well behind enemy lines.
In a coordinated effort with the forces encircled at Pusan, the United Nations forces delivered a striking blow against the North Koreans driving them back towards the 38th Parallel and recapturing Seoul.
The attack was a textbook amphibious assault comparable to those undertaken in Europe during World War II in which paratroopers spearheaded an assault followed by seaborne infantry. However, MacArthur had been in command in the Pacific and thus had utilized airborne forces much differently. His assault plan did not include the use of paratroopers.
Though only the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team was available, they could have been put to good use.
Their first order of business could have been the seizure of Kimpo Airfield, a task not completed until Sept. 18 by a battalion of Marines. The early capture of the airfield would have allowed American fighters a forward base sooner and would have allowed follow-on forces to be flown in.
Other elements of the 187th could have also been used to cut off the forces retreating from Pusan. Though the UN was able to eliminate nearly half of the 70,000 North Koreans in the South, the other half was able to regroup in North Korea.
Had paratroopers been employed they could have potentially stopped more — if not all — from reaching North Korea, leaving the communists with virtually no military.
3. The Siege of Khe Sanh
Just before the launch of the Tet Offensive in January 1968, the North Vietnamese attacked and laid siege to the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Though they held their positions in the hills around the base and the base itself, they were soon cut off from ground support and resupply when Route 9 was closed. The Marines in and around the combat base — mostly the 26th Marine Regiment as well as 1st Battalion, 9th Marines — held out against the North Vietnamese for 11 weeks before finally being relieved by elements of the 1st Cavalry Division as part of Operation Pegasus.
However, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade was alerted and deployed to Vietnam in early February 1968 in order to shore up defenses against the Tet Offensive.
The brigade could have instead been dropped into the Khe Sanh Combat Base in order to strengthen the defenses there and improve the offensive capabilities of the defenders. The paratroopers could have been used to seek out the NVA artillery that continually pounded the base and silenced it. This would also have freed up other units that were instead used to break the siege.
Furthermore, the paratroopers would have brought with them valuable assets such as artillery, engineers, and intelligence that would have improved the fighting ability of the defenders.
4. Operation Iraqi Freedom
Although there was one large and several smaller airborne operations during the invasion of Iraq the role of paratroopers in the initial assault should have been much greater. Another operation, a likely jump by the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Ranger Battalion onto Saddam International Airport, was scrapped after an overzealous journalist revealed the plan on public television.
However, there were many other targets of opportunity and uses for the available paratroopers. Much like the Rangers’ seizure of H-1 Airbase in Western Iraq, the paratroopers of the 2nd Brigade could have opened an airhead just north of Baghdad with an airborne assault of Balad Air Base.
Reminiscent of WWII operations in Europe, they could have cleared the way for the 3rd Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division as they made their way toward Baghdad. The seizure of key infrastructure was vital to keep Saddam from repeating his scorched earth retreat from 1991.
This could have been more quickly facilitated if paratroopers had been employed. With air superiority from the beginning, the possibilities for airborne assaults were great though unfortunately under-utilized.
When the paratroopers did enter the fight they proved their mettle when they earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their actions at As Samawah.
In the closing days of 2020, the Department of Defense released its 2021 Defense Budget. A voluminous document that contains the projected spending for all services for the next year, the Defense Budget also includes small tidbits of seemingly unrelated information, including proposals for awarding the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor under fire, or upgrading a lesser award to the Medal of Honor
In the 2021 Defense Budget, there were four recommendations for an upgrade. Specialist Dwight Birdwell (Vietnam War), Sergeant First Class Earl Plumlee (Global War on Terror, Afghanistan), Sergeant First Class Ashlyn Cashe (Global War on Terror, Iraq), and finally retired Colonel Ralph Puckett (Korean War).
Although the first three of their families are still waiting for news, Col. Puckett’s case moved forward, and the legendary Ranger was awarded the Medal of Honor last month. A true warrior, Puckett received the Medal of Honor at the age of 94.
Destined for Glory
Puckett was born in 1926 in Tifton, Georgia, and commissioned in the Army as an infantry second lieutenant in 1949 after he graduated from West Point. His first duty station was in Okinawa, as part of the occupation force there.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Puckett volunteered for the Rangers, a light infantry, special operations unit. During World War Two, the Rangers had undertaken a series of the hardest and most sensitive missions, including scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and destroying fortified German positions in Normandy during D-Day and the Cabanatuan prisoner of war rescue mission in the Philippines.
By now a 1st Lieutenant, Puckett was selected to lead the only Ranger company at the time, the 8th Ranger Company, 8213th Army Unit, 8th U.S. Army. He had only a little over a month to train his troops to work as a team before they deployed to the front.
A Leader to Follow
On 25 and 26 November 1950, Puckett and his Rangers were attached to Task Force Dolvin and led the advance of the 25th Infantry Division in the vicinity of Unsan. His unit attacked and captured Hill 205. However, the Chinese were determined to recapture the strategic position regardless of casualties.
For over four hours, the Chinese threw wave upon wave of troops at Puckett and his men. The Americans were outnumbered by ten to one but they kept fighting into the night. Finally, after having repelled five counterattacks, the Rangers were overrun in the sixth. By that point, they had no supporting artillery and were low on ammunition with multiple casualties. Hand-to-hand combat reminiscent of the trenches of World War One ensued, and the Rangers were forced to fall back in the face of overwhelming numbers.
By that point, Puckett had suffered multiple wounds throughout his body, a testament to his dedication to his troops and to leading from the front. He exposed himself to enemy snipers and machine-gun fire several times to reveal their positions so his Rangers could take them out. When the Chinese eventually overran their position, Puckett ordered his men to leave him behind, an order which they openly disobeyed, fighting their way to their wounded leader and taking them with them. For his actions, leadership, and fighting spirit, Puckett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross at the time, the second-highest award for valor in combat.
The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Puckett received is telling:
“With complete disregard for his personal safety, First Lieutenant Puckett led his company across eight hundred yards of open terrain under heavy enemy small-arms fire and captured the company’s objective. During this operation he deliberately exposed himself to enemy machine-gun fire to enable his men to spot locations of the machine guns.
After capturing the objective, he directed preparation of defensive positions against an expected enemy counterattack. At 2200 hours on 25 November 1950, while directing the defense of his position against a heavy counterattack, he was wounded in the fight shoulder. Refusing evacuation, he continued to direct his company through four more counterattacks by a numerically superior force who advanced to within grenade range before being driven back During these attacks, he left the safety of his foxhole in order to observe movements of the enemy and to direct artillery fire. In so doing, he repeatedly exposed himself to heavy small-arms and mortar fire.
In the sixth counterattack, at 0300 hours on 26 November 1950, he was wounded again, so seriously that he was unable to move. Detecting that his company was about to be overrun and forced to withdraw, he ordered his men to leave him behind so as not to endanger their withdrawal. Despite his protests, he was dragged from the hill to a position of safety.”
Warrior for Life
Despite the action he saw in Korea and the wounds he received as a result, Puckett decided to stay in the Army and continue to serve his country. A decision he affirmed even after the Army offered him a medical retirement.
After he recovered from his wounds, Puckett was assigned as an instructor to the U.S. Army Ranger School, West Point, and as a Ranger advisor to the Columbian Army, where he established the famous Escuela de Lanceros special operations course. Puckett, however, had had enough of cozy assignments, and he volunteered and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1960 and was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in Bad Tolz, Germany.
In 1967, Puckett, a lieutenant colonel at that point, found himself again on the front lines as commander of 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
On August 13, 1967, elements of his unit came upon a North Vietnamese battalion and a fierce fight ensued. Puckett went straight to the frontline and coordinated defense. He moved through a heavily mined area several times while directing the fight. Day gave way to darkness and the battle was still going. Puckett repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to visit foxholes and rally his troops. At one point, he personally evacuated two wounded soldiers after a mortar barrage. Even as the battle was going badly, he refused evacuation and instead stayed with his men.
One of his lieutenants who was preparing his platoon for a final stand recalled that “word of Colonel Puckett’s arrival spread like wildfire. We all stiffened up and felt that nothing bad could happen now because the Ranger was with us.”
Puckett retired in 1971, after 22 years of service.
After his retirement, the 75th Ranger Regiment made him an Honorary Colonel of the Regiment from 1996 to 2006 and also established the annual Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award, which is awarded every year to the best junior Ranger officer in the unit whose actions and leadership during demanding circumstances made the difference. Given that the 75th Ranger Regiment has been continuously deployed in Global War on Terror for more than 7,000 consecutive days, competition for Colonel Ralph Puckett Leadership Award is fierce.
In 1992, Puckett was inducted into Ranger Hall of Fame, in 2004 he was selected a distinguished graduate of the US Military Academy, and in 2007 he received the Infantry’s Doughboy Award.
“He feared no man, he feared no situation and he feared no enemy. Clearly a unique, courageous Soldier in combat and even more importantly, in my opinion, Col. Puckett was an ultimate Infantry leader,” General Jay Hendrix, a former commander of the US Army Forces Command, the largest Army formation, said.
Puckett’s awards include the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars (the third-highest award for valor), two Bronze Stars for Valor (the fourth-highest award for valor), two Legions of Merit, five Purple Hearts, ten Air Medals, and the Army Commendation Medal, among other decorations.
Puckett also earned the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with star, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Glider Badge, and the Columbian Lancero Ranger Badge.
After Tennessee seceded from the Union in June 1861, the Civil War began in earnest. It would be won by force just a few years later, in a war that tore the country apart — a war that Americans still haven’t forgotten. So when North Dakota governor William “Wild Bill” Langer declared North Dakota’s independence — in 1934 — you have to wonder what he was thinking.
It’s likely he was thinking about anything that would get him out of going to a federal prison. Langer was just convicted of a felony and the state Supreme Court upheld a conviction that would remove him from the Governor’s office. His lieutenant governor, Ole Olson (yes, that’s really his name), took over.
Good thing the National Guard was already on the streets.
Langer was skimming money from government paychecks into an account run by the group that put him in the office of governor. But that’s not even what he was convicted for, which was conspiracy to violate an act of Congress. His jail sentence was longer than his time in office.
But the voters loved him anyway. Despite the charges and convictions, they voted for him.
Martial law had to be declared in North Dakota. Earle Sarles, adjutant general of the North Dakota National Guard and the man technically in charge of the entire state at that moment, basically decided, on the spot, who would be governor: Olson or Langer.