So, you just became friends with a Recon veteran and he’s got a decorated wooden paddle on his wall. What the f*ck is that all about? Well, it’s a tradition. Simple as that. But there’s history behind that tradition and, if you really want to really wow your new Recon Marine friend, you can throw this little tidbit out there.
In fact, there’s a good chance they don’t even know the true story behind it.
The Viking misconception
A lot of people believe Recon inherited the paddle tradition from Vikings. While there certainly are similarities between these seafaring badasses of old and today’s Marines, the paddle is not one of those traditions.
The paddle is a little more of a contemporary tradition. It got its start with the Marine Raiders of WWII.
The Raider origin
According to legend, modern Recon Marines can trace their military family tree back to the Raiders of the Pacific, who had military-issued paddles because, well, clandestine means f*ck your boat motor, you got good, ol’ fashioned manpower.
Like all most issued gear, these paddles had to be returned prior to parting ways with the unit. Thing is, after spending so much time with these paddles, they started to feel more like yours than the government’s. So, boat-mates would break into supply lockers and steal the paddles back for their “true” owners.
Upon successfully stealing your paddle back, your boatmates would decorate that sh*t and give it to you before you left as a going-away present. Today, even non-Recon Marines are gifted paddles, but the tradition started out with the Raiders.
Would you like to know more? Watch the video for the full story, as told by Brad “Ice Man” Colbert (of Generation Kill fame). Of course, there’s some explicit language in there, so be aware.
It’s hard to let go. If you’re a sports fan, then you’ve probably watched your favorite players age well past their primes. They cling to their identities as athletes, as competitors, and they refuse to hang up their titles even as the competition gets younger, faster, and stronger around them. Well, this same thing can happen to planes, too.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was a technological breakthrough when it first flew in 1932. But, when combat came in 1941, it was hit by a double whammy of being obsolete and badly outnumbered — and the loss rate was abysmal.
The Boeing P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane fighter to see service in the United States. It officially entered service in 1934 and remained the fastest fighter in the skies until 1938.
The P-26 Peashooter was the first all-metal monoplane to enter American service, but within a decade of its first flight, it was greatly outclassed.
Not only that, this plane was also the first to introduce flaps to U.S. aviation — a piece of technology used to make landings easier and safer. The plane needed flaps because it had a then-blistering landing speed of just under 83 miles per hour.
In the skies, it reached a top speed of 227 miles per hour and had a range of 360 miles. The plane’s initial armament included two .30-caliber machine guns — one of which was later upgraded to .50-caliber. Either two 100-pound bombs or five 31-pound bombs could be carried for ground-support missions.
P-26 Peashooters on the flight line at Hickam Field, Hawaii.
The last P-26s to serve defended the Panama Canal until 1942, when they were exported to Guatemala. There, they hung on until 1957, four years after the Korean War saw jets fighting for control of the air.
Watch a classic video of these legendary planes in service below!
Prior to World War II, the United States Army — and many other armies — simply thought of tanks as having one purpose: to support the infantry. They really weren’t intended to deal with other tanks; a different vehicle had that job.
Those vehicles were known, aptly, as tank destroyers. The Achilles, which served with the British Army in World War II, was one such tank destroyer. This vehicle was a modified version of the American M10 Wolverine. The big difference between the two vehicles was that the American version had a three-inch gun, while the British Achilles had a quick-firing (or QF) 17-pounder gun (which referred to the weight of the shell fired).
Primary armaments aside, the two vehicles were a lot alike. They had top speeds of 25 miles per hour, could go 200 miles on a tank of fuel, packed a M2 .50-caliber machine gun as a secondary weapon, and had a crew of five. The Wolverine held 54 rounds, while the Achilles had 50.
The 17-pounder gun of the Achilles was able to kill just about any Axis tank in a fight. The tank destroyer was intended to move fast and hit enemy tanks hard, using their speed to get into a good position to hit the enemy tanks and then scoot from the firing position. This was a good thing for the Wolverine and Achilles since there was one thing they lacked: armor.
The real problem, though, was that, all too often, the tanks supporting the infantry, like the M4 Sherman, ended up fighting the German tanks. Eventually, Shermans received tank-busting guns, like the 17-pounder and the three-inch gun.
Today, the tank destroyer concept centers around faster, lightly-armed vehicles that carry anti-tank missiles, as opposed to guns. Today’s tank is still seen as an infantry-support vehicle, but it is also capable of killing enemy tanks.
Watch this video from the Smithsonian Channel to learn more about the Achilles.
You’ve heard of the Rough Riders, Teddy Roosevelt, his Medal of Honor, and the ass-beating the United States gave Spain in Cuba. But do you know just how much went down at San Juan Hill that day?
Let’s start off with a big reveal: There’s no reason the United States should have won in Cuba against the Spanish. With the exception of the Americans (especially Roosevelts’ volunteers) being extremely hardy due to being raised in the rough backcountry of the American wilderness, the Spanish definitely had the upper hand.
Spain was in Cuba for centuries before the Americans invaded. They had hardened fortifications, strengthened over the years by repeated attacks from pirates, rebels, and conventional foes alike. Moreover, they were in the middle of putting down a slave uprising, so their troops were battle-hardened veterans. They also had better weapons, better food, and better gear.
By the time the Americans wanted to take the San Juan Heights (and Roosevelt charged Kettle Hill), the Spanish should have been ready to push the U.S. back into the sea.
But they didn’t count on how difficult it is going up against America in what is, essentially, a home game.
1. The Rough Riders were mostly famous before leaving for Cuba.
Imagine the sitting Secretary of the Navy resigning his office to join a bunch of cowboys, Native Tribesmen, the sheriff of Houston, Robert Mueller, Baker Mayfield, Rafael Nadal, Michael Phelps, Malcolm Gladwell, and Sebastian Junger as they team up to finish Afghanistan off once and for all. That was, in essence, the Rough Riders.
2. They were woefully underprepared.
The Navy had no real way to land horses in Cuba and many drowned. Even when they did have horses, the Americans had to hack their way through the dense jungles to get anywhere they wanted to go. By the time Roosevelt got to Kettle Hill, he and his men had hacked all the way there. They also had only one black powder cannon and a few gatling guns, not to mention black powder rifles that gave away their position to the Spanish. They also were issued heavy wool uniforms to fight in Cuba in July.
The Spaniards, in contrast, had new Maxim machine guns and smokeless Mauser rifles.
It’s helpful when the enemy comes to you. In the open. Wearing bright colors.
3. Spain messed up San Juan Hill, bigtime.
The Spanish commander, Arsenio Linares, didn’t fortify the area where his gunners would have clear lines of fire to anyone mounting an assault. Instead, he fortified the top of the hill and his gunners couldn’t necessarily see what the enemy was doing at the bottom.
4. Roosevelt was only supposed to move up in support
T.R. and the Rough Riders were pinned down in high grass getting shot up by snipers on the nearby hill for hours before Roosevelt asked to advance and was told to only support regular Army troops attacking the front of the hill. Instead, he and his men charged the hill through the 3rd Cavalry, some of which joined them. Among the 10th Cavalry assaulting the San Juan Heights were the African-American Buffalo Soldiers, who joined Roosevelt in his charge up Kettle Hill.
5. One of America’s greatest soldiers was at San Juan Hill.
A young Lieutenant John J. Pershing had to take command of D Troop when their captain was killed trying to breach Spanish defenses. He led the Buffalo Soldiers up the crest of the hill. One of Pershing’s Buffalo Soldiers was the first to plant the Stars and Stripes on the hilltop.
6. Roosevelt almost lost the battle.
Roosevelt bravely led the charge up San Juan Hill, an act which would earn him the Medal of Honor one day. But, in doing so, he left Kettle Hill lightly defended and subject to a Spanish counterattack. By the time Roosevelt realized what happened, 600 Spaniards were on their way to exploit his mistake. Luckily, the Americans moved Gatling guns to the crest of Kettle Hill by then and most of those attackers died.
7. San Juan Hill was not a flawless win.
The 1st Volunteer Cavalry suffered a 37-percent casualty rate, the highest of any unit in the entire Spanish-American War. Still the heights belonged to the Americans by 3 p.m. on July 1st. On July 4th, the Spanish fleet sailed out of the nearby harbor and met the U.S. Navy, which took down every last Spanish ship.
The war was over by mid-August, 1898, just six weeks later.
After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.
Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.
Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.
From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.
The face you make when you haven’t slept since 1915 and have time to do literally everything.
Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.
One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.
Don’t let Adderall-starved college students find out about Russian bullets.
Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.
Considering the fact that the president is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, it would make sense for presidential candidates to have some military experience. But veterans have often struggled in their bids for the White House.
While these five men all had plenty of experience in government — and at least a little experience in uniform — they all fell short in a bid for the leader of the free world:
1. Michael Dukakis
A former Army private, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis held a commanding lead early in the 1988 presidential race in which he faced then-Vice President and fellow veteran George H. W. Bush. But Dukakis spent the early weeks of the general election finishing up governor work and vacationing while Bush closed the 17 percent polls gap and took the lead.
As the race ramped up in the summer of ’88, Dukakis worked to take back the initiative. Under criticism that he would be soft on defense, he conducted a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank, but he looked so ridiculous in the tank that the journalists covering it burst out laughing in the stands. The resulting photos sank his campaign, and Bush won in a landslide.
2. George H.W. Bush
And how about President George H. W. Bush? He struggled four years later and lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton. Bush, a World War II Navy vet, announced his candidacy at a high point in his popularity, right after the completion of Operation Desert Storm.
But soon after his announcement, public perception shifted and people began to question whether America pulled out of Iraq too soon as well as whether Saddam Hussein should have been allowed to remain in power. Meanwhile, economic stagnation and new taxes soured Bush’s appeal on domestic issues. Clinton won the presidency and Bush left office.
3. Jimmy Carter
Don’t feel too bad for Bush. He only got his vice presidential spot in the first place by kicking another Navy veteran turned president, Jimmy Carter, out of the top job. Carter faced trouble early in the election due to dwindling popularity, the ongoing Iran Hostage Crisis, and economic troubles. Carter had to beat down a primary challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy before the general election.
In the general election, Bush and presidential candidate Ronald Reagan toured the country, ridiculing Carter over and over. Carter tried to counter by calling Reagan a right-wing radical, but the Republican ticket won a massive victory and even picked up enough Senate seats to regain control of the legislature for the first time in 28 years.
4. John McCain
John McCain grew up as Navy royalty, with both a father and a grandfather who were four-star admirals. He became a popular senator after his own Navy career that included more than 5 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
McCain actually lost two presidential bids. In the 2000 primary, he won New Hampshire but lost South Carolina and most Super Tuesday states before withdrawing from the race and endorsing George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas.
In 2008, he attempted to follow Bush to the presidency. He won the primary but the 2008 recession turned opinions against the Republicans and Sen. Barack Obama launched a big-data-based campaign that got him ahead of McCain in the polls. McCain earned a respectable 46 percent of the popular vote but lost most battleground states and suffered a 173-365 electoral defeat.
5. Adlai Stevenson
Adlai Stevenson and David Dubinsky shake hands on stage at an AFL convention, September 1952. (Photo: Kheel Center via Flickr)
Gov. Adlai Stevenson was a former sailor and a former special assistant to the secretary of the Navy. He was defeated three times in bids for the presidency, falling each time to a more popular veteran.
In 1952 Stevenson ran against Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower only eight years after Eisenhower led the Allies to victory in a world war. He suffered a crushing defeat, then came back in 1956 to be beat even worse.
In 1960 he ran against John F. Kennedy for the Democratic nomination but refused to campaign until the night before the convention. He came in fourth.
Kennedy, also a former sailor, received the nomination and won the presidency. Kennedy eventually named Stevenson as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.
Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.
After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.
Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.
Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.
The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.
Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.
Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.
Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.
On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.
Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.
On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”
The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.
Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.
All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.
In 1947, British officer Yahya Khan offered his colleague 1,000 rupees for his spiffy red motorcycle. His colleague, Sam Manekshaw, agreed. But before Khan could pay, he was off to what was going to become Pakistan. The British split its Indian colony, and things on the subcontinent have been pretty tense ever since. To top it all off, Yahya Khan didn’t pay for the motorbike.
But he would, even if it took almost 25 years.
Manekshaw (middle) whose mustache game was top notch.
The Partition of India was much more than the splitting of the British Raj into two independent states. It was a catastrophic split that tore apart the country and created millions of refugees, cost millions of lives, and split the armed forces of the country in two, all based on religion. Violence erupted almost immediately between the two groups on such a large scale that much of it has never been forgotten or forgiven. Animosity continued between both sides for decades, and the two have fought war after war because of the myriad issues left unaddressed.
By 1970, Sam Manekshaw was a Field Marshal, the Chief of Staff of India’s Army, and war hero known to the people as “Sam the Brave.” Yahya Khan was a General who fought for Pakistan against India in 1947 and again in 1965. Now he was the president of Pakistan who had taken power using the Pakistani military. East Pakistani refugees were flooding into India because Yahya would not accept the most recent elections, and India’s President, Indira Gandhi, told Manekshaw she wanted Pakistan split into two by force, creating the new country of Bangladesh. Gandhi gave him free rein to do it however he could.
Khan would be deposed and die under house arrest after being stripped of his honors during the rest of the decade.
In Pakistan, the ever-present tensions with India were ready to boil over once again. But the Pakistanis didn’t send the Army to India; they sent it into East Pakistan – where the Pakistanis immediately began slaughtering Bengalis in East Pakistan. By 1971 Bengalis in Pakistan declared independence from Pakistan in response. India immediately supported the new country, first vocally, then though training the Bangladeshis, and next with air support. Finally, in 1971, Manekshaw was ready. He had spent much of the year readying and positioning Indian armor, infantry, and air units. On Dec. 3, 1971, he struck.
The Pakistani Navy’s fuel reserves were destroyed. The Indian Air Force hit Pakistan with almost 6,000 sorties in the next two weeks, destroying much of Pakistan’s Air Force on the ground as the Indian Army advanced, capturing some 15,000 square kilometers. Within two weeks, Pakistan folded like a card table. All Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to India, the genocide ended, and Bangladesh was born.
After the surrender agreement was signed, Manekshaw was said to have remarked:
“Yahya never paid me the 1,000 rupees for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”
In August 1944, the successes of D-Day were in the rear-view mirror and American troops were engaged in the long slog to Berlin. One group of American soldiers got a surprise when, while chasing German soldiers east, they captured a military train only to find that sections of it were filled with lingerie, perfume, and other treats.
(Chris Tingom, CC BY 2.0)
After Allied troops took the beachheads at D-Day, there were optimistic predictions that they could take Berlin by Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. It took weeks just to fight through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Germany stiffened its resistance everywhere possible.
Free French forces, resistance members, and British and American units maneuvered east, trying to keep as much pressure on German troops as they could.
As the line shifted east, German troops would burn supplies they were abandoning, but tried to keep vehicles, especially tanks, in good working order, so they could use them to kill American and other Allied soldiers. So the attackers quickly learned to seize as much as they could whenever possible.
German armored troops roll through Denmark in April 1940.
(Danish Ministry of Defence)
As June ground into July and then August, the push east accelerated. Paris was liberated and, on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a parade into the city.
About that time, the 3rd Armored Division was pushing to Soissons, a city 55 miles northeast of Paris. German soldiers pulling back were using railroads to quickly move equipment but, according to a story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers, one unit had overestimated how long it had to load onto the train and get going.
When U.S. troops arrived, they saw a train preparing to roll out with tanks and armored vehicles loaded onto it. Every armored vehicle that escaped would need to be killed in eastern France, Belgium, or Germany. The train had to be stopped.
U.S. troops fire their machine gun during battle in Aachen, Germany.
U.S. tanks and half-tracks opened fire as machine gunners and mortarmen rushed into position. Most of their rounds were bouncing off the German armor, but the sheer volume of fire was keeping German drivers and crew out of their vehicles, allowing American troops to keep the upper hand.
Most of the Germans who stayed to fight were killed or captured, and those who escaped into the woods were rounded up by the French resistance. The Germans had dallied too long, and now the train belonged to the U.S. troops.
When they began assessing their find, they were surprised to find little ammunition, medical supplies, or food, all materiel that they needed. Instead, the Germans had loaded the train with candy, women’s lingerie, and lipstick.
It appeared that the German soldiers had raided French shops and, when it came time to run, had prioritized gifts for girlfriends and family over packing or destroying their own supplies, getting a faster exit to save the vehicles, or even just absconding with their lives and arms.
A woman writes a message on a U.S. tank in Belgium
Their mistake was U.S. gain. The 3rd Armored took the vehicles, other U.S. troops seized millions of pounds of beef, grain, flour, coal, and more. Many items were given to the French public to alleviate shortages caused by Nazi occupation, but other items were pressed into the war effort to keep American troops moving.
Ambrose doesn’t reveal what happened to the love train’s more romantic contents, but it’s likely that some of it made it back to the states in reverse care packages, but most of it probably stayed right there in France, consumed by the people lucky enough to get their hands on it.
These days, when you see a rocket or missile launch, it almost seems routine. The engines fire and the rocket starts taking off, either sending an object directly to orbit or carrying enough firepower to blow something into orbit. What looks like standard procedure from the outside masks the fact that these rockets and missiles are very complex pieces of technology — and when this routine process goes wrong, it goes wrong very quickly and very violently.
Missiles are complex pieces of technology that are surprisingly delicate (a dropped tool once destroyed a Titan missile and its silo). With so many critical details involved, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong — and occasionally, they do. For example, in the 1980s, two RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles were accidentally launched, one by the United States Navy and one by the Royal Danish Navy. Thankfully, no injuries (outside of the respective captains’ pride) occurred in either incident.
A 2016 Trident II test for the Royal Navy is the most recent launch to have gone bad — and this test led to some disagreements between the Americans (who claimed the missile had to be destroyed) and the UK (who called the test a success). Thirty years earlier, the United States Navy had egg on its face when the first at-sea Trident II launch went out of control. Thankfully, in both of these cases, nobody was injured.
Mitrofan Nedelin’s tenure as the Soviet Army’s chief marshal of the artillery ended when the test of a SS-7 ended in a horrific explosion.
Video stills showing a Chinese Long March rocket going out of control before it crashed into a nearby village.
(United States Congress)
Today, failures are fewer and further between. One big reason for this is that many missiles now use solid fuel as opposed to liquid fuel. Liquid fuel is far more volatile and leads to explosions more frequently.
The launches you see nowadays may look routine from the outside, but remember, that’s the result of thousands of tests.
Watch the 1965 Air Force video below to see some missile launches, both successes and failures.
“Big Wind” is a 92,600-pound beast made from a tank chassis and two turbojet engines that are powerful enough to blow out oil fires like candles on a birthday cake.
While it looks ridiculous and would be nearly useless in a tank fight, this modified military hardware fought some of the largest fires set by Saddam Hussein‘s withdrawing army in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
When oil wells are on fire, the pressure under the earth’s crust keeps the oil rushing to the surface until the well is capped. Crews can’t cap the well until the fire is put out.
Once there, the crew begins pumping water into the exhaust of the idling jet engines before ramping up the jet power. The result is a thick, fast-moving steam that cuts through the oil and smothers the fire. The fire, robbed of oxygen and separated from its fuel, quickly goes out. The “Big Wind” stays in position for another 20 minutes, spraying steam on the hot oil to cool it down.
Then, oil workers begin the dangerous job of capping the well.
No one knows more about political drinking than author Mark Will-Weber, whose book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking, explores the stories behind each president’s favorite alcoholic beverage.
“Presidents drink for the same reasons we all drink,” Will-Weber recently told Business Insider. “Sometimes because it’s part of the job, sometimes it’s because they’re lonely or depressed — there’s a whole gamut of reasons of why people drink.”
For Will-Weber, knowing what the former presidents like to drink brings a “human side” to those who we “normally hold on a pedestal.”
Ahead, take a look at the presidents’ favorite alcoholic beverages, rounded up from Will-Weber’s book and The New York Post.
Our first president, George Washington, was a whiskey drinker, as were Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson. According to Will-Weber, Johnson was so inebriated when he arrived at the 1865 inauguration as Lincoln’s vice president that he had to be pulled off the stage.
John Adams reportedly started every morning with a hard cider. William Henry Harrison was also a big fan.
According to Will-Weber, Thomas Jefferson purchased so much wine it put him on the brink of financial ruin.
James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Ulysses S. Grant were all champagne lovers. Of these, Polk was the most modest drinker. Will-Weber told us about a small scandal that happened under Monroe, when a whopping 1,200 bottles of Burgundy and Champagne from France were charged to the White House.
John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and James Buchanan enjoyed Madeira wine, which gets its flavor by being heated repeatedly.
According to Will-Weber, Franklin Pierce was one of the heaviest drinkers to fill the White House. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 64.
On the flip side, Abraham Lincoln apparently drank the least while in office. Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Calvin Coolidge were also light drinkers.
Beer was the drink of choice for James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.
According to Will-Weber, the temperance movement tried to convince Chester A. Arthur to have a dry White House, but he refused.
The McKinley’s Delight was coined for President William McKinley. It was a strong drink made with whiskey, sweet vermouth, cherry brandy, and absinthe.
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.