Given how long America has been fighting wars, one would think that special operations were among the first thing Americans developed and perfected. But it wasn’t — not really. The tactics used in the Revolutionary War were considered guerrilla tactics and U.S. troops were the first to openly fire at officers.
This did not endear America to the rest of the world community.
Despite this long history, America’s special operations community is relatively young. During World War II, the British created their famous Commando units. Seeing this, President Franklin Roosevelt asked his military leadership for something similar to what the British were doing.
The Marine Corps was first tasked with creating such an elite group. Already the smallest branch and specialized in amphibious landings, they created two battalions: the 1st Raider Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Merritt A. “Red Mike” Edson, and the 2nd Raider Battalion, commanded by Maj. Evans Carlson.
Each man had their own ideas on how they would command their units. For example, the 2nd Raiders had a much more relaxed posture when it came to military discipline, quickly creating unit cohesion.
Many in the Marine Corps’ hierarchy didn’t like the idea of a small Marine Corps unit — most believed that the Raiders did the exact same thing as the rest of the Corps. The major difference was, however, that the Raiders worked as a small force and didn’t participated in big landings. In fact, they would land during the night and move into the Japanese-held territories, creating havoc, disrupting enemy supply lines, and taking them completely by surprise.
One of the biggest successes of the Marine Raiders was how they worked in support of bigger forces — a tactic developed to perfection today by modern special operators.
The Marine Raiders were later turned into the 4th Marine Division in 1944. The Raiders were only around for two years, but are heralded as some of the best warriors in the whole Pacific Campaign. The Marine Raiders left a huge legacy for special operations in America.
In 2014, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos announced that the 1st Marine Special Operation Battalion would be renamed the 1st Raider Battalion, connecting the Raiders of the past with the Raiders of today.
When World War I ended and the smoke settled, the United States military was left with an overabundance of men, vehicles, ships, supplies and horses. The demobilization of the effort needed to fight in Europe and elsewhere was chaotic and abrupt.
President Woodrow Wilson quickly set to work getting the U.S. military and the government bureaucracy that managed it back to its prewar size and role. In hindsight, the quick movement was a huge mistake.
During the war, Britain experienced a shortage of horses early on, which led to the U.S. sending 1.1 million horses overseas. By the end of the war, the U.S. forces had some 60,000 horses at its disposal. Back home, horses were plentiful, but no longer in demand.
Four million soldiers and sailors were suddenly discharged from the military, and were subsequently unemployed. Those who were working found themselves in the middle of labor strikes amid an economic crisis. Critical industries were not as productive as they were during wartime and farm prices dropped.
This included the meatpacking industry, which also saw production shortfalls. The prices of meat rose sharply as Americans abandoned some of their wartime practices, which included swapping out beef for horse meat so the beef could be sent to the front lines.
Horse meat gained a reputation for being inferior, even the cause of illness, and fell out of favor, leading to surplus of horses in the United States.
Ken-L-Ration, get it? Because soldiers eat rations. It’s a colorful play on words at a time when most Americans were familiar with many aspects of military life. As for the horses, the animal was still as beloved as they are today, but Americans had been raising horses as food animals for years, even before World War II.
They also made the same dietary changes during World War I and the interwar years. It was never as popular as other meat animals, but Americans did what they had to support the country’s war efforts.
Horses were being used less and less with the rise of the automobile, and Americans still found the idea of eating a useful animal unsettling, so the dog food didn’t take off right away, but it eventually found its niche.
While USDA-inspected, Grade A horse meat appeared unfit for the family dining room, some clever marketing made Ken-L-Ration’s “lean, red meat” a premium meal for Fido. Ken-L-Ration first debuted in 1922 and was a dog food staple for decades.
Ken-L-Ration’s marketing was so good that the reason Americans refer to dogs as “Fido” is because the company’s trademark yellow mascot was named “Fido.” The brand became the biggest dog food brand in the United States and was eventually sold to the Quaker Oats Company in 1942.
Many readers will still be able to remember the company’s jingle from the 1960s, called “My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog.”
Before canned dog food, people commonly fed their dogs whatever they had laying around. The first specially made dog food available to consumers was a dog biscuit made by James Spratt, which consisted of a mixture of vegetables, wheat, and beef blood.
Spratt’s creation sparked an entire market, which eventually led to today’s industry devoted to canine nutrition.
Staff Sgt. William “Wild Bill” Guarnere and Pfc. Edward “Babe” Heffron’s stories were immortalized on screen by HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers. The 2001 TV show follows the exploits of the famed Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division which both men served in during WWII. Despite growing up just a few blocks from each other in South Philadelphia, Guarnere and Heffron did not meet until WWII and Easy Company brought them together in Europe. Their meeting is depicted in Band of Brothers’ third episode, Carentan.
Following their meeting, Guarnere and Heffron became close friends. They fought together in Holland during Operation Market Garden and in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. Guarnere lost his right leg during the latter battle while trying to drag another friend, Staff Sgt. Joe Toye, to safety after he lost his own right leg. Both Guarnere and Heffron survived the war and left the Army in 1945.
Afterwards, Guarnere and Heffron returned to their hometown of South Philly. Despite the loss of his leg, Guarnere worked odd jobs until he secured full disability from the Army. He became an active member of numerous veterans organizations and presided over many of Easy Company’s reunions. Moreover, he was best man at Heffron’s wedding in 1954 and was godfather to Heffron’s daughter. Heffron worked for Publicker Industries and later as a clerk and cargo checker on the Philly waterfront. Both men gave interviews and provided guidance on the making of Band of Brothers. Heffron even has a cameo in the fourth episode, Replacements, as a Dutch man waving a small flag as the troopers enter Eindhoven. Together, they later wrote a book about their experiences with Easy Company in Europe. Brothers in Battle, Best of Friends: Two WWII Paratroopers from the Original Band of Brothers Tell Their Story was published in 2007.
The two men remained close friends until Heffron’s death on December 1, 2013. A bronze statue called “Babe” was erected in his honor in 2015. The statue stands in front of Herron Playground at the corner of 2nd and Reed in South Philly. A portion of Heffron’s and his wife’s ashes are encased in a bronze heart inside of the statue. Guarnere passed away just a few months after Heffron on March 8, 2014. In 2019, the “Babe” statue was joined by “Wild Bill”, a second bronze statue that depicts Guarnere. The two friends and brothers in arms are reunited and immortalized in bronze in their hometown.
The statues, and Band of Brothers itself, pay tribute to the brave men that they depict and remind people today of their sacrifices. “Generations of Philadelphians will now be able to visit these statues dedicated to war heroes and close friends who bravely served their country,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “They’ll be able to remember and honor Wild Bill and Babe as well as the many active duty and veteran soldiers who have risked their lives to keep all of us safe.”
No other soldier in American history has ever come close to earning the level of respect dutifully given to Lieutenant Audie Murphy. To date, no other soldier has managed to earn every single award for valor — including the Medal of Honor, two Silver Stars, and three Bronze Stars.
His legendary story has humble beginnings — he was a 5’5″, 17-year-old kid from Texas who tried to enlist with every branch and wasn’t admitted until he falsified his age to get into the Army. His heroic exploits are countless: Jumping on a burning tank and mowing down Nazis, single-handedly taking out German armor, and out-shooting snipers at every turn. If you’ve seen it in an action film and thought to yourself, “no way,” Audie Murphy probably did it.
But this isn’t a retelling of his high-profile heroics. If you’ve served in the U.S. military and don’t know the story of this man, then you should probably be doing push-ups and ordering a book about him right now. For the rest of you, enjoy these lesser-known facts about the legendary Audie Murphy
Then, of course, came what he would be known for — fighting in Germany.
(Signal Corps Archives)
His rise in the ranks
After Pearl Harbor, Murphy was desperate to enlist. He finally got into the Army as a private on June 30, 1942 — just ten days after his 17th birthday. By February 20, 1943, he was shipped to Casablanca as part of the North Africa Campaign.
He was promoted to PFC while training for Sicily in May and, upon landing at Licata in July, he made corporal. After taking Campania in December, he was promoted to sergeant. He was again promoted to staff sergeant just a month later. He earned the Bronze Star with a “V” device and an oak leaf cluster before finishing up in Italy and moving onto the rest of Europe.
In less than a year, he went from private to staff sergeant.
Murphy wanted to make a second film, titled ‘The Way Back,’ that chronicled his life after service, but it never came to fruition.
His acting career
After the war, he was offered the opportunity to attend West Point, but instead decided to pursue a career in acting. He practiced Shakespeare in his free time until he landed his first major role in The Kid From Texas, in which he played Billy the Kid.
Meanwhile, Murphy was working alongside one of his Army buddies to write a semi-autobiographical novel, To Hell and Back, which was adapted to film — Murphy played the lead role. In both the book and resulting film, he downplayed some elements of his service during the war as to avoid accusations of exaggeration. That’s how badass his actual actions were.
Even in his darkest hours, he was still a fantastic human being.
He never wanted to sell out
To put it bluntly, Audie Murphy had hit rock bottom in the 60s. He suffered from an addiction to the prescription drug Placidyl – a habit that he kicked by locking himself in a motel room until he was clean – became reclusive, attempted suicide several times, and lost much of his money to gambling and poor investments.
Throughout all of his struggles, however, he got offers to star in commercials for cigarettes and alcohol. Taking a single deal would have put him back on his feet, but he knew that if he took the money, he’d be setting a bad example for the countless children who looked up to him — so he declined them all.
The gravestone was made before it came to light that he and his sister had falsified his year of birth so he could serve in WWII. He was actually born in 1925.
His grave is one of the most visited graves at Arlington
On May 28, 1971,Audie Murphy boarded a private jet in Atlanta, Georgia, and made hisway toward Martinsville, Virginia. There was heavy fog but the pilot chose to fly through it. The Aero Commander 680 carrying Murphycrashed into the side of Brush Mountain, 20 miles west of Roanoke. There were no survivors.
He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery,Section 46, headstone number 46-366-11. Outside of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldierand President John F. Kennedy, Murphy’s headstone is the most-visited grave. The volumeof tourists visiting to pay respects was so great that they had to buildan entirely new flagstone walkway to accommodatethe foot traffic.
I’ve had the honor of serving under a few S.A.M.C. members. To this day, many years later, I know that they’d gladly give me the shirt off their back at the drop of a dime.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)
A club of the finest NCOs in the Army is named in his honor
The spirit of Audie Murphy lives on through the outstanding non-commissioned officers of the United States Army. Formed in 1986, the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club recognizes the most professional, most intelligent, and most decorated leaders in the Army today.
The requirements for entry into this club are stringent, but above all, an NCO must be known for putting the well-being of his or her soldiers above their own. Earning the medallion is one of the surest ways to let the troops serving under you know that they’ll be well taken care of.
It’s not every day a commander is faced with the decision of whether to court-martial someone or to put them in for the Medal of Honor. Such was the situation of a daring pilot of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force after a harrowing, unprecedented rescue behind enemy lines on August 18, 1944.
The airman was Lt. Royce “Deacon” Priest, a newly-minted pilot who had just arrived at the 354th in early June. Prior to becoming a full-fledged pilot, Priest trained to fly gliders. He was sent to flight school when it was realized no more Airborne divisions were going to be created. He was also offered admission to West Point but he turned it down to realize his dream of being a fighter pilot.
The 354th was led by a daring but new-to-combat pilot, Maj. Bert Marshall. He just arrived in the squadron in early June after a long stint as a pilot trainer stateside. D-Day was his second mission ever. It was there Marshall scored his first aerial victory, but he would already be an ace by August of that year. He also gained a reputation, as Lt. Priest put it, “for not matching wheels down landings with take-offs.” His aggressive flying style earned him the respect of his men and a promotion to Operations Officer and then Squadron Commander in a very short time.
On August 18th Maj. Marshall was leading a flight of four P-51 Mustangs on a bombing and strafing mission against German marshaling areas that supplied forces battling the Americans breaking out of Normandy. As they came upon their primary target, they noticed railway cars marked with red crosses and moved on to a better target. About twenty miles away, they found it.
As the fighters swept in to attack, their target of opportunity turned into an ambush. The sides of a rail car fell away exposing a German anti-aircraft battery hidden within. 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft rounds ripped through the formation. Maj. Marshall’s plane took the worst of it and pulled away smoking badly and fatally crippled. Lt. Priest, flying beside him, saw the whole thing and reported the damage to Marshall. While Marshall looked for a place to belly land his plane Priest pointed out a field nearby and suggested that he would land and pick up Marshall. Marshall was adamant that he take the rest of the flight and get out of there.
However, Priest idolized Marshall, having known of him from his high school and college football days. He couldn’t believe his luck when they were assigned to the same squadron. He wasn’t just going to let him fall into German hands. He radioed the others in his flight to let them know his intention of landing to rescue the commander. When Marshall heard the chatter over the radio he told Lt. Priest he was ordering him not to land and to return to base.
Disobeying those orders, Lt. Priest spotted a wheat field nearby that would do nicely as an improvised landing strip. Just before landing, he spotted Marshall tossing a thermite grenade into his plane and then heading toward the field he was landing in.
Once Priest had landed and positioned his plane for a quick take-off he surveyed the area looking for his commander. Instead, he saw a truckload of German infantry approaching. He immediately called the remaining two airborne pilots. They responded that they were inbound and made quick work of the truck and its occupants with the Mustang’s four .50 caliber machine guns but also alerted Priest that more Germans were heading his way. He was running out of time and there was still no sign of his commander.
As he started to consider his options, he saw Marshall come into the field, visibly angry that Priest was even there. Marshall refused to get into the airplane and told Priest to get out of there. Not knowing what else to do, Priest exited the airplane and took off his chute and dinghy signaling that he was not leaving without his commander. Marshall climbed in first followed by Priest. There was barely enough room to close the canopy but the cramped couple managed to take off just in time to avoid the second German patrol.
Once they returned to England and Marshall was less angry, he expressed his thanks for the rescue. Priest told Marshall he was too important to the squadron to allow him to be lost to the Germans.
“I must admit I was very concerned regarding my own fate, having disobeyed a direct order, in combat – twice,” Priest wrote in a letter to Bert Marshall’s son. “I wondered if I would be transferred out, taken off combat operations, etc. I did not expect to be decorated.”
But that was what happened. Despite his seemingly reckless rescue of his commander, Lt. Priest was put in for the Medal of Honor. Gen. James Doolittle said he struggled with the decision and ultimately gave Priest the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions because he did not want to encourage other pilots to risk themselves and their aircraft in similar attempts. When presenting the award to Priest, Gen. Doolittle told him he “had never thought about issuing a regulation to ‘not land behind enemy lines to attempt a rescue,’ who would be that stupid? Because what you just did was just crazy to even think about!”
Both Priest and Marshall would finish the war and have long careers in what became the U.S. Air Force. Marshall was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership of the 354th Fighter Squadron in Europe. His son would later write two books about his father’s squadron during World War II.
It took more than three months after the fall of Fort Sumter, South Carolina for Union and Confederate armies to meet on the battlefield. At Centreville, Virginia on July 21, 1861, groups of civilians, including women and children, joined U.S. Senators to watch the first battle of the Civil War.
Many in the Union government thought the war would be a short one. The Union troops who fought the battle were mostly made up of new recruits on a 90-day enlistment. The Senators and the civilians packed lunches carried in picnic baskets to watch the grim melee. They had no idea the battle was not going to go as well as expected.
In all fairness, no one quite knew how the battle was going to develop. The southern forces were equally as inexperienced as the northern troops. The United States hadn’t seen a pitched battle since its 1846-1848 war with Mexico and that war never came home. The last time the United States saw a war on its own soil was during the War of 1812.
Even long-serving Senators would not realize the magnitude of watching a Civil War battle while trying to eat lunch until it was running them down on the battlefields. But after the fall of Fort Sumter, the American public demanded some kind of action from the U.S. government before the Confederate Congress convened in Richmond, Virginia for the first time.
The Union’s plan to recapture the south was a mess from the start. Its most capable commander, Gen. Winfield Scott, created the “Anaconda Plan,” a strategy that would strangle the south by taking New Orleans while the U.S. Navy blockaded it from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. But since Scott was 75 years old and unable to lead the Army himself, he was widely written off. The American press pushed for an assault on the Confederate capital, just 100 miles from Washington, DC.
President Abraham Lincoln called on 75,000 volunteers to bolster the small, 15,000-strong U.S. Army, an act which forced the last four Confederate states to secede from the Union. Under mounting pressure from all sides the Federal troops had little to no time to train for combat. By July 1861, all 11 Confederate states had seceded and the stage was set for the two inexperienced armies to meet in battle for the first time.
Even the already green Union Army was going into the battle with a lot going against it. Its commander, Irvin McDowell, had spent most of his career as a staff officer and was promoted three ranks in order to take command of the Union Army. To make matters worse, a Confederate spy ring in Washington had already informed the Confederate Army of the Union’s plan to move on Richmond.
Across the battlefield from the Union Army and its picnickers, was a Confederate force led by Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, a veteran of the Mexican War, a skilled engineer, and a defensive mastermind. A number of Confederate forces met at Manassas Junction to bolster the Confederates and by the time the two armies met, they were equally matched in number. Fighting began in earnest in the early morning hours of July 21st.
The Union forces saw some initial successes, and before noon the Union had forced the rebels into a disorderly retreat to nearby Henry House Hill. But the south’s superior, experienced leadership reformed the rebel line and by 3pm, the rebels had pushed the Union forces back from the hill and captured a significant number of their artillery pieces.
By 4pm, the Union was in full retreat and the army itself was falling apart. The lunching civilians were suddenly overrun by Union soldiers retreating from the battlefield, some who had dropped their weapons and bolted. The roads were clogged with wagons, horses, and soldiers who were warning the onlookers to beat a retreat themselves. Many prominent U.S. Senators were almost captured by the Confederate Army.
They, and likely the remnants of the Federal Army, were saved by the south’s own inexperience. The commanders themselves didn’t know whether or not to pursue the fleeing enemy. By the time they were finished squabbling, it was too late.
What everyone did come to realize was that the Civil War was much more serious than previously believed and the battles yet to be fought were not occasions watch over picnic lunches.
The father of our country was famous for his moderation but when he did imbibe, he made sure his drink packed the punch of a Brown Bess. Not only did Washington keep a healthy supply of imported Madeira, he also distilled his own distinctive rye whiskey and the Commander-In-Chief always made sure his troops were well-lubricated when on the march. The most powerful weapon in his cellar came only once a year, however, the General’s egg nog made its presence felt.
“I cannot tell a lie, I’m totally wrecked. Merry Christmas to all, including the Mahometans.”
In the years since historians have rifle through all of our first president’s personal papers and diaries, a number of interesting recipes have been found, including Washington’s small beer recipe. Though his personal egg nog recipe has never been found written in his own hand, it is at least a good representation of what such a recipe in the days of yore would have been like – at least for a wealthy man such as General Washington. It is, unlike most recipes found online nowadays, remarkably blunt. No intros, just straight to the business of catching a buzz.
Maybe colonials weren’t the biggest fans of family get-togethers.
“One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, ½ pint rye whiskey, ½ pint Jamaica rum, ¼ pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of 12 eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently.”
“Taste frequently” being the operative command from the first Commander-In-Chief. Be careful, this drink packs a wallop.
William Henry Harrison was a wuss.
While even the Farmer’s Almanac lists the recipe as General Washington’s, there is no evidence he ever wrote it, made it, or drank it. The earliest mention found of the recipe was in a 1948 book called Christmas With The Washingtons by Olive Bailey. While this recipe can’t really be found in earlier papers or other works, the book is in the catalogue at the Mount Vernon Archives and there is definitive proof that George and Martha Washington entertained Christmas guests with some kind of egg nog.
So why not this one?
The egg nog is a strong but delicious concoction that takes some work, like separating eggs and beating the whites until fluffy, then folding the whites into the mixture, but it is well worth the effort. Take heed, though: General Washington would not care much for soldiers in his army in a constant state of inebriation.
Griffin Johnsen (The Armchair Historian himself) narrates the video and summarizes the effectiveness of line formations succinctly. They were influenced by cavalry, order and communication, and the tactics of the enemy. As warfare technology advanced, so, too, did battlefield tactics. One example Johnson gives is how horses influenced warfighting.
Cavalry was effective against infantry, so the line formation was adopted to defend against cavalry. Once munitions became more accurate and lethal, cavalry became less effective… and the evolution continued.
Line formation warfare was developed during antiquity and used most notably in the Middle Ages, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battle of the BastardsBattle of Cannae. It was seen as late as the First World War before giving way to trench warfare and specialized units with increased firepower and weaponry.
“Despite the prolific casualties suffered by units in close order formations during the start of the First World War, it should still be understood how effective line formations were in their heyday,” narrates Johnsen.
But seriously, can we talk about the Battle of the Bastards? Geek Sundry broke down the tactics displayed (omitting the tactics not displayed — SERPENTINE, RICKON, SERPENTINE!!!) in what is arguably one of the most riveting Game of Thrones episodes created.
The Boltons’ tactic of using Romanesque scutums to surround the Stark forces was unnerving and would have delivered a crushing victory without the intervention of the Knights of the Vale.
The probable Bolton trap of allowing the appearance of an escape path (in this case…a mountain of bodies — talk about PSYOPS) effectively tempted their enemy to break formation.
Even commanding archers to volley their arrows into the fray of the battle was a gangster move; it killed Bolton’s own men, but for a man who believes in the ends justifying the means… it was a very lethal means to an end.
Imagine one day you’re sitting along the coast of Northern England, taking a rest from farming in a bog, fishing, or whatever it was ancient villagers did up there back then. Chances are good you had a hard day of farming or catching fish and the end of the day was a welcome respite, even though you knew you’d probably have to go right back out and do the same thing the next day. But maybe you wouldn’t, because Viking raiders were going to burn everything you love and there’s nothing you could do about it.
That got real dark, real fast. Just like a Viking raid.
“It’s a special operation because we steal the gold and it becomes ours.”
They were like today’s special operators
Viking raids usually consisted of a small number of ships and limited manpower, headed for a very specific, small objective. They weren’t out to capture towns or topple governments, they wanted food, booty, women, plunder, gold… you get the idea. The effectiveness of their raids hinged very much on their ability to surprise the opposition. They would move just over the coastal horizon, with their sails drawn down to mask their approach. Once inland, they would hit hard and fast, leaving before reinforcements could be brought to bear.
There should be about 4,000 more arrows in this painting.
They weren’t trying to sink ships.
You can’t sell or reuse a sunken ship, after all. Though Viking naval combat was not very common, it happened. And like their land attacks, Viking longboats would swarm a target to overwhelm it, or they would attempt to ram the enemy in the open sea. Rather than have a distant naval battle, Vikings threw that doctrine out, preferring to move in close and kill the enemy crew with archers, hidden behind a hastily constructed shield wall.
Pictured: all the f*cks the Vikings gave for military doctrine.
In an age where tight formations and discipline in combat were all the rage, it was unlikely anyone expected a Viking horde to ambush their army as it marched through the woods. But here they were. Vikings used to lie in wait in the wooded areas along the roadsides, in order to get the drop on an enemy unit.
Shield Walls help.
Adapting to the battle quickly.
Even the best plan can get tossed out the window once the sh*t hits the fan. The Vikings weren’t perfect and would occasionally get their asses handed to them. On the occasion where that occurred, they adapted to the situation as quickly as they could. Once confronted by real opposition, raiders would take on infantry formations, especially the wedge, with berserks at the tip of the spear. They would then drive this into an enemy formation, negating the enemy’s use of their archers or other ranged weapons.
A book is a terrible defensive weapon.
Nothing was sacred. Sometimes literally.
These days, we talk about military norms that we all hold to be true – doctrine – as if it came from the gods themselves. Well, the Vikings didn’t care much for your gods or your doctrine and pretty much flaunted both. They shook off the sacrilege of sacking religious sites because religious sites are where the best loot was kept. They shook off the doctrine of combat formations, fighting seasons, and times to do battle because that’s when you were expecting them and it’s so much easier to surprise you.
“Reach out and crush someone.”
They wanted to get in close.
Many, many weapons of the middle ages were ranged weapons, designed to get into action at a distance and keep the enemy from smashing your squishy skull in. The longer one army could pummel another with arrows and boulders, the less likely their infantry or cavalry would die fighting. The Vikings, on the other hand, like the up-close-and-personal touch of smashing in your squishy skull and designed their battle tactics to get all up in your face, scare the crap out of you, and either kill you or make you run away.
Though the latest explosive ordnance tech may trace an innovation curve toward tiny/powerful similar to that of the smartphone, for the purposes of terrorism, a few sacks of the right garden-variety chemicals packed in a vehicle is all it takes to cause mass destruction and appalling casualties. A car bomber doesn’t even necessarily need to die behind the wheel to detonate it. He or she can live to attack again.
That was certainly Timothy McVeigh’s thinking on Apr. 19, 1995, when he lit timed fuses to a massive homemade explosive device in the yellow Ryder truck he’d parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The ensuing detonation, registered by seismometers at the nearby Omniplex Science Museum at approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale, destroyed one third of the building, killed 168 people (including 19 children) and wounded over 680 others.
McVeigh’s truck bombing was, to date, the deadliest act of domestic terror in U.S. history. It was the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil prior to the September 11th attacks, which would eclipse the memory of McVeigh’s villainy just three months after he was executed by lethal injection on June 11th, 2001.
Terrible as it was, the Oklahoma City bombing paled in comparison to the strength and lethality of the 1983 car bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport. In that attack, a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with over 2,000 lbs. of explosives directly into the heart of the facility.
The blast, which FBI investigators later qualified as the largest non-nuclear detonation since WW2, killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers. Estimated to have delivered an explosive force equivalent to 21,000 pounds of TNT, it was the largest car bomb ever detonated. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building levitate off its support columns on a cloud of concussive fire before thundering down into a plinth of stratified rubble.
The 1st Battalion 8th Marines stationed there was part of a multinational peacekeeping force supervising the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut. Under the peacetime rules of engagement, security around the barracks was relatively light, with sentry’s weapons unloaded and on safe. However, given the size of the explosive device, investigators concluded that the barracks would have been destroyed even if the bomber had been stopped at the last checkpoint and detonated it there.
Converting cars into mass-casualty weapons has been repeatedly demonstrated as an effective, go-to tactic for insurgent forces and terror organizations. It works to create chaos and inflict collateral damage and serves to erode the momentum of the mission wherever the U.S. deploys its armed forces.
But the sowing of terror has as much to do with the conversion aspect as the deaths that result from the bombs. The psychological shock of a terrorist act is heightened in the imaginations of those left alive by the awareness that a common token of peaceful, everyday life — a yellow box truck, a commercial jet, some dude’s underwear — has been turned, by fanatical human creativity, into a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a move tailor-made to mess with the mind of comfortable society. And even though it’s been happening with increasing frequency since the turn of the 20th century, the shock of the vehicle bomb never seems blunted or dulled, and the dread of it, never fully absorbed.
We can’t get used to the horror of it. To the moral mind, it smacks of such desperation and depravity, we won’t allow it to become normal. And in that, there’s some small hope to be had.
In May 1945, the Axis powers were all but beaten, but the war was far from over for the United States. Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 8 but a lot of work was left to be done – namely, the invasion of mainland Japan. It was assumed that many Purple Heart medals would be needed, but history took a different course.
The ongoing Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.
The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.
So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course.
World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.
“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.
The refurbished and new Purple Hearts are almost identical.
A recipient may never know for which war their medal was made.
“You are talking about minute types of differences where only a specialist, somebody who really looks at this stuff, and looks at it often, can tell,” Giangreco said.
Either way, if you earn a Purple Heart, you can wear it with pride.
Aerial combat has been around for a little over 100 years, and during that time there have already been plenty of epic air battles in the skies. Here are 7 of the most intense:
1. Battle of the Philippine Sea
The Japanese fleet securing the Marianas Islands in 1944 was in a tough spot. If it gave up any more ground, America would have bases to attack Japan and the Japanese-occupied Philippines. So, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet was spotted on its way to Saipan, the Japanese attacked it.
96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs moved to destroy Syrian surface-to-air missile sites on Jun. 9, 1982, successfully knocking out 17 of the 19 missile batteries in the first two hours. The Syrians launched their own jets to fight back, 100 of them.
And the Israelis stomped them. The air battle ran for two days and the Israelis scored 29 jet kills the first day and 35 the second without the loss of a single fighter.
At the end of the battle, 40 Royal Air Force planes and many crews were lost, but 56 German craft were downed and Germany was forced to cease daylight bombing raids.
4. Black Tuesday over MiG Alley
On Oct. 23, 1951, nine U.S. bombers with 89 jets escorting them stumbled into a group of 150 MiG-15s over MiG alley in Korea. The furious 20-minute battle resulted in six downed bombers and an escort lost. The Americans were able to down four of the Russian MiGs attacking them.
5. The Ofira Air Battle
In one of the first engagements of the Yom Kippur War, Syrian and Egyptian jets moved to bomb the Israeli aircraft at a base near Ofira. Two Israeli F-4s were in the air and took insult at 28 MiGs thinking they could just bomb Israelis whenever they liked.
In the dawn of jet combat, a group of German Me-262 jet fighters attacked an Allied formation of 1,329 bombers and 700 fighters. The numbers reported for the German jets vary, but most estimates are between 35 and 60.
The small German force used air-to-air rockets and jet engines, both new technologies at the time, to down 13 bombers and six fighters. Two German aircraft were shot down.
7. The air battle over the St. Mihiel Salient in WWI
In one of history’s largest and earliest air battles, nearly 1,500 Allied planes under the command of the First U.S. Army Air Force.
From Sep. 12-16, 1918, 610,000 men fought for the ground at St. Mihiel as the air forces clashed overhead. Despite a limited number of fighters and severe losses on the ground, German gave as good as they got in the air battle. They fought for control of the air for the first two days of the battle and killed 62 enemy aircraft while losing 63 of their own birds. The Germans did lose 30 balloons to the Allied loss of 4 though.
Some of the iconic photos of the combat in the Pacific theater feature the Douglas SBD Dauntless. This dive-bomber was the plane that won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, fatally damaging three Japanese carriers in a span of five minutes. What may not be as famous, however, is the SBD’s successor.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was in the works at the start of World War II but didn’t really see combat until November 1943. While the SBD was a popular plane — proving to be not only a capable Japanese ship killer, it was also a deadly air-to-air combatant in the hands of pilots like Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa — it was relatively old, having entered service in 1938.
That replacement was the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. This far-more-modern plane could carry a greater payload and was faster than its predecessor. The problem was, however, that the plane wasn’t the easiest to fly, which helped it earn a dirty nickname — one that claimed it had some canine ancestry.
Yes, they called it the “Son-of-a-Bitch Second Class.”
Despite the moniker, the SB2C became a very good plane in its own right. Not only could it carry a heavy bomb in its bomb bay, rockets could also be carried under the wings when necessary. This is very useful when you want to suppress the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire. The SBD, despite its superb track record in combat, couldn’t do that. The SB2C also had two 20mm cannon that were forward firing, giving it a far greater punch than the SBD could provide with two M2 .50-caliber machine guns.
The dive-bomber, though, was in its twilight. One big reason was that fighters like the F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair were both capable in air-to-air combat and very proficient in dropping bombs. On a carrier deck, space is limited, and the multi-role fighters proved to be better, more efficient investments than dive-bombers. Still, the Helldiver played its part in bringing victory over the Axis in World War II.
Learn more about this plane with a nasty nickname in the video below.