On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese hit the U.S. Navy with a decisive surprise attack that they thought would cripple American resolve about joining World War II. Not only were they wrong about the Americans joining the war, the attack on the Pacific Fleet would be remembered for generations to come.
The most devastated ships were the USS Oklahoma and the USS Arizona, the only two ships that never saw active service again. The vast majority of Arizona’s crew were trapped in the ship after it sank into the shallow waters of the harbor.
Even then, the hulk of what was left of the Arizona became a memorial to the sailors who died aboard it during the attack. By the late 1950s, the U.S. allowed the private nonprofit Pacific War Memorial Commission to raise funds for a dedicated, permanent memorial to be built where the Arizona was once moored.
With the goal of raising $500,000 (more than $4.5 million in today’s dollars) for its construction, a public drive for funds began almost as fast as then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Congress allowed it.
But despite the ongoing public effort, they were only able to raise a fraction of the necessary cost, $155,000 (or $1.4 million when adjusted for inflation), according to the U.S. Naval Institute. That’s when the King decided to get involved, the King of Rock n’ Roll, that is.
By the time the fundraising effort had stalled, Elvis Presley was fresh out of his stint in the Army and, having been out of the public eye for a number of years, needed a freshening up of his public image and career. The Colonel and the King offered their services to the Pacific War Memorial Commission, who gratefully accepted their help.
Elvis gathered the likes of country music legend Minnie Pearl, gospel singers the Jordanaires, and his go-to backup players DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore to play with him in Hawaii’s Bloch Arena, near Pearl Harbor. Tickets cost anywhere from $3-$100 ($29-$879 when adjusted for inflation) and all money raised would go toward the USS Arizona Memorial.
In another effort to cut the costs of putting on a show, Parker cut a deal with Paramount Pictures for the production of the movie “Blue Hawaii,” which would cover the cost of getting the singer and his band to Hawaii for production of the movie and to put on the show.
Most importantly, everyone who wanted to attend the show had to pay the price of admission, from the highest ranking admiral stationed in Hawaii to the King, Elvis Presley himself. Presley, known for his generosity and patriotism, footed the bill for patients of local military hospitals.
That night, Elvis played all of his fans’ favorite songs, like “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “All Shook Up,” and “It’s Now or Never.” The concert was not only one of the King’s best shows, it helped the stalled fundraising effort with a shot in the arm it hadn’t seen in years. The benefit concert raised more than $60,000 ($527 million) for the memorial commission. Best of all, the publicity encouraged more donations, which came pouring in the the days and weeks that followed.
By the end of the year, the Pacific War Memorial Commission had all the money it needed to build a memorial for the USS Arizona. Construction of the project began immediately and it was completed in May 1962.
Over 200 vehicles provided to the Afghan government by the United States have fallen into the hands of the Taliban in Badakhshan province. That shocking claim comes from a former Afghan intelligence chief who claims that the vehicles include High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.
“We lost 200 Humvees and Rangers in two or three months as the result of incompetence. Imagine what has happened to the people in those two or three months,” Rahmatullah Nabi told TOLO News. Faisal Bigzad, the governor of Badakhshan province, has urged that NATO assist the Afghan government by destroying the stolen vehicles.
The story might sound familiar for another reason. Humvees and other vehicles provided to the Iraqi government were captured by ISIS when the terrorist group seized control of portions of Iraq. American air strikes have since destroyed some of that equipment. However, ISIS and the Taliban aren’t the first American enemies to get their dirty mitts on American military gear.
Artists rendering of the capture of the USS Chesapeake. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Way back in the War of 1812, several American vessels, including the frigates USS Essex, USS Chesapeake, and USS President were among those captured by the British in the fighting. The U.S. Navy, of course, captured or sank a number of British ships as well.
At the end of the Age of Sail, the Civil War saw some American ships captured. Most famous was the USS Merrimac, which was repurposed into the ironclad CSS Virginia. But the USS United States, one of the original six frigates ordered in 1797, was also captured by the Confederacy and briefly used until it was scuttled.
In World War II, Japan captured the four-stack destroyer USS Stewart (DD 224). The Stewart had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign in January and February 1942 before being damaged. As Japanese forces neared, Allied personnel used demolition charges to try to scuttle her.
Despite the scuttling attempt and a hit from a Japanese bomber, the Stewart’s wreck was captured and the Japanese fixed her up and put her into service as Patrol Boat 102. The ship would be notable for assisting the sub chaser CD 22 in sinking the USS Harder (SS 257). After Japan surrendered, the old USS Stewart was recovered, although the name had already been assigned to an Edsall-class destroyer escort, DE 238. The ship was eventually sunk as a target.
Germany, though, takes the prize for its acquisition of American gear. Perhaps its most notable coup was the way the Luftwaffe was able to either capture or cobble together as many as 40 B-17 Flying Fortresses.
The captured planes were often used by Kampfgeschwader 200, sometimes for inserting agents or for reconnaissance. But some were used to infiltrate Allied bomber formations.
Even after World War II, American gear fell into enemy hands far too often. In 1975, a lot of American equipment fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell, including F-5E Tiger IIs, C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider transports, and A-37 Dragonfly attack planes.
In 2005, Hugo Chavez threatened to give China and Cuba F-16 Falcons that the United States had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. The Soviet Union acquired an F-14 Tomcat from an Iranian defector. In 2006, Marines in Iraq killed a sniper team of two insurgence who were trying to carry out a sniper attack, and recovered a M40A1 sniper rifle that had been lost in a 2004 ambush.
American gear falling into enemy hands is not new — there has been a long history of that happening in the past. Infuriatingly, it will happen in the future, despite the best efforts of American military personnel.
The actual translation of Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak’s epic nickname might be “The White Lily of Stalingrad,” depending on the language you speak. Considering the Lily’s association with death and funerals, it’s rather fitting for such an incredible pilot.
Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.
In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.
The Soviets, probably realizing that this fight was going to kill a lot of Soviet people (and it did, to the tune of 27 million), were foresighted enough to consider gender equality when it came to their military units. Where American women pilots were only allowed to transport planes, Stalin was forming three fighter regiments of all-female pilots.
Young Lydia Litvyak flew a few missions with the all-female unit before transferring to a mixed-gender unit — over Stalingrad. It was here she earned her illustrious moniker, “The White Rose of Stalingrad.” She flew around a hail of anti-aircraft fire to engage an artillery observation balloon from the rear. She shot it down in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled mayhem — a notoriously difficult task for any pilot.
Litvyak wasn’t finished; she later became one of two women to be crowned “first female fighter ace” as well. She wasn’t flawless — she was shot down more than once and bled more than her share over Russian soil.
But even when forced to make belly landings, she hopped right back into the closest cockpit.
She was so good, the Russian command chose her to be Okhotniki, — or “free hunter” — a new tactic that involved two experienced pilots who were free to hunt the skies on seek and destroy missions. She terrorized German pilots all over the Eastern Front.
“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.
The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.
The Russians have a strange history with the Unidentified Flying Objects. While 99 percent of the UFOs encountered by Russia and the Soviet Union over the years were probably American spy planes, they insist that one of them actually landed and its crew decided to step out and stretch their legs.
And then they shot a bunch of children.
In the late 1980s, The New York Times quoted Soviet police Lt. Sergei A. Matveyev, who swore he saw the spaceship, saying that lanky, three-legged creatures landed in a park in the Russian city of Voronezh on Sept. 27, 1989. Some 300 miles from Moscow, citizens of Voronezh reported a deep red ball, around 10 feet in diameter, landing in a park.
“It was not an optical illusion,” he told the Russian TASS News Agency. “It was certainly a body flying in the sky. I thought I must be really tired, but I rubbed my eyes and it didn’t go away.”
Admit that you were thinking about this meme.
A hatch opened and out stepped a three-eyed creature that stood nine feet tall and was dressed in silver overalls and bronze boots. It left the ship with a companion and a robot. After taking a triangle formation around the robot, the robot came to life. A boy began to scream in terror. That’s when the stuff hit the fan. With a look, the boy was paralyzed.
The aliens disappeared briefly and returned with “what looked like a gun” and shot the boy, who disappeared. He reappeared later, after the spacecraft had departed. Citizens of the town reported multiple sightings of the ship between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, but when Soviet investigators came to the scene, their only abnormal finding was elevated levels of radioactive Cesium-23.
As for the children who witnessed the landing in the park, they were all separated. When asked to draw what they saw that day, they all drew “a banana-shaped object that left behind in the sky the sign of the letter X.” The boy who was abducted could remember nothing about the craft.
The local interior minister said that if the craft appeared again, they would dispatch the Red Army to investigate the event. If the aliens had returned in full force to invade the Soviet Union, they would have met the joint capability of the Soviets along with the United States, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at the 1985 Lake Geneva Summit to join forces against any extraterrestrial invader.
“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” — every fighter pilot ever including “Duke” Cunningham, U.S. Navy fighter ace
Lt. Randy “Duke” Cunningham woke up aboard the USS Constellation on the morning of May 10, 1972 with two MiG kills under his belt. He’d used Sidewinder heat seeking missiles to shoot down North Vietnamese opponents on January 19 and May 8 of that year. A recent increase in enemy sorties made Cunningham and the other carrier air wing fighter pilots sure they’d have more chances to bag bandits. Cunningham just needed three more kills to attain “ace” status. The aircraft carrier had plenty of time left on station, so he allowed himself to believe it could happen. He had no idea he’d earn the balance in one flight.
Cunningham and his radar intercept officer Lt. Willie Driscoll launched in a VF-96 F-4J — tactical callsign “Showtime 100” — from the Constellation as part of a strike package against the Hai Dong rail yards in North Vietnam. After dropping its bombs, Showtime 100 took up a combat air patrol position to cover other airplanes on bomb runs.
The American strike package was jumped by a group of MiG-17s. Cunningham downed one of them with a Sidewinder after the MiG pilot overshot him. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and looked down and saw eight MiGs tangled with Navy Phantoms. He rolled in on one that was threatening to shoot his squadron XO, transmitting, “If you don’t break now you are going to die,” after the XO didn’t respond to two previous calls to turn hard. Once his squadronmate complied and was clear, Cunningham loosed another Sidewinder and killed his fourth MiG.
On the way back to the carrier, Cunningham spotted another MiG, which — in spite of his low fuel state — he decided to engage. He wound up flying in front of the enemy airplane, which allowed the MiG to shoot at him with the nose cannon. Cunningham made a hard pull into the vertical, and the bullets missed. To his surprise the MiG followed him up, something MiGs tended not to do because the airplane’s climb performance lagged that of the Phantom.
What followed was one of the legendary dogfights of the jet era. Cunningham and his opponent mixed it up for several minutes, going from a high-speed vertical fight to a low-speed horizontal “rolling scissors” fight. The MiG had more maneuverability in the low-speed regime, and as the enemy pilot pulled his nose up for a shot, Cunningham — in spite of his low fuel state — selected full afterburner and put enough distance between his F-4 and the MiG to avoid getting shot by an ATOLL missile.
Driscoll was in the backseat strongly suggesting they keep heading east to the carrier, which would have been the prudent thing to do, but Cunningham didn’t want to wait any longer to be an ace. He turned back toward the MiG and another rolling scissors ensued. The advantage went back and forth, and finally the MiG — probably low on gas as well — made a move to exit the fight, which allowed Cunningham to make one last-ditch move to fire his last Sidewinder.
It worked. At first Cunningham thought the missile missed, but a few seconds later the MiG started to come apart. Cunningham was an ace, the first of the Vietnam War.
But his problems weren’t over. Before Showtime 100 got “feet wet” it was hit by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. He managed to coax the crippled fighter far enough over the Gulf of Tonkin to avoid falling into enemy hands and winding up a POW. After successfully ejecting, both Driscoll and he were picked up by an Air Force SAR helicopter.
For his efforts on that day, Cunningham received the Navy Cross.
Cunningham left the Navy at the 20-year mark, retiring at the rank of commander after serving as a Top Gun instructor and the commander officer of VF-126, the aggressor squadron based at Miramar. He became the dean of the National School of Aviation and started his own marketing company, Top Gun Enterprises.
Cunningham became one of CNN’s go-to military experts in the late ’80s and early ’90s — especially on the eve of Desert Storm, and that visibility brought him to the attention of Republican power brokers around San Diego, Cunningham’s hometown. The Democratic incumbent of the 44th District, Jim Bates, was vulnerable in the upcoming election because of an ongoing sexual harassment scandal.
He wound up breezing to victory and took office in January of 1991. In short order he established himself as an outspoken conservative champion and in many cases just plain outspoken. He brought the same intemperate disposition that served him as a fighter pilot to the Washington arena, flipping off reporters and calling gay service members “homos” on the floor of the House while arguing with backers of a conservation amendment. That act played well with a majority of his constituents — he was reelected with ease six times — but it also earned him some enemies and the attention of the press.
In 1996 Cunningham criticized the Clinton Administration for being “soft on crime.”
“We must get tough on drug dealers,” he said, adding that “those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly.” He voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers. Four months later his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. Representative Cunningham broke down in court and pleaded with the judge for leniency in his son’s case, which his critics found very hypocritical.
Then in June of 2005 the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a defense contractor named Mitchell Wade had purchased Cunningham’s house in Del Mar in 2003 for $1,675,000 and put it back on the market a month later. (Cunningham was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at the time.) Wade’s company, MZM Inc., started receiving tens of millions of dollars of defense and intelligence contracts.
The Union Tribune later reported that Cunningham was living rent-free aboard one of Wade’s yachts docked in a harbor in Washington DC and that he was throwing parties for young women aboard the yacht on a regular basis.
The FBI raided his home, Wade’s home, and the MZM corporate offices on July 1, 2005. A few months later, Cunningham pleaded guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter’s college graduation party.
Cunningham read the following statement at the press conference where he announced he was resigning from Congress:
When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public – even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.
The truth is – I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. … In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Vietnam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity.
I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.
Cunningham wound up serving seven years in a minimum security satellite camp near Tucson, Arizona. He was released to a halfway house in New Orleans in February of 2013. He now lives in Arkansas and still receives his Navy retirement pay as well as a pension for 14-plus years as a Congressman. (Legislation introduced to prevent convicted lawmakers from receiving their pensions died in committee.)
The San Diego Union Tribune received the Pulitzer Prize for the reporting surrounding the takedown of Congressman Cunningham.
We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.
This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.
Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.
The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.
Players do their best work when they’re in a system that works for how they play. Sometimes, they fare better with the team that drafted them. Others break out when they get traded.
Sorry for this analogy. Football is back and I’m super stoked about it.
For example, Jim Brown was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1957 and played there his entire career. He might be one of the greatest backs of all time. Then there’s Marshawn Lynch, who did his best work after being traded to Seattle and will definitely be a Hall-of-Famer.
Benedict Arnold was definitely more of a Jim Brown.
As an American general, Arnold saw massive successes early on in the war. He captured Fort Ticonderoga with Ethan Allen, captured Lake Champlain for the nascent nation, led an invasion into Canada, and was instrumental at the Battle of Saratoga.
But that was in the past. Arnold was wearing a new uniform by 1781.
In January 1781, the revolution was still anyone’s game. The morale of the Americans was at its lowest and it would be another nine months before Generals Washington and Nathaneal Greene would force British General Cornwallis into Virginia’s Yorktown Peninsula and into a general surrender.
Some 63 miles north of Yorktown, the newly-minted British Brigadier was leading a force of American Loyalists against the capital of Virginia at Richmond. The city was virtually undefended and Thomas Jefferson – Patriot governor of the colony– fled. Arnold easily captured the city, barely firing a shot.
Arnold ordered the city be looted and burned the next day. They then went to the surrounding areas to wreak havok. Mills and foundries were destroyed, their arms and goods were captured by the British loyalist force. Arnold then took to destroying plantations and family homes, seizing crops and slaves.
The raid lasted a full 18 days.
When Jefferson and Samson Matthews gathered the Virginia militia and caught up to Arnold’s force with about 200 men. and caused the British force so much harm, Arnold had to retreat to Portsmouth and wait for reinforcements.
When the war ended later that year, Arnold found himself retired on half pay, refusing to believe the war could be over and that he’d chosen the wrong side.
Word finally got to George Washington that the traitor was spilling patriot blood in his home state. Washington sent French Marquis de Lafayette to kick Arnold out of Virginia and capture him if possible. Lafayette arrived in time to prevent another attack on Richmond from the newly-reinforced British under General Cornwallis, but he was too late to capture Arnold, who was already sailing for New York.
In the end, Richmond wasn’t prize enough for Cornwallis. He instead moved south, toward Yorktown. And you know how that ended up.
Deep in the Nevada desert — approximately 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas — sits a small town where the human population on a non-work day is zero. But this town wasn’t made for real people to inhabit. Rather, it was specially built just to test atomic blasts that would consume the area with its crushing power and unbelievable heat.
In the 1950s, nuclear testing began at the Nevada National Security Site as technicians mounted the Apple-2 bomb on top of a detonation tower.
The tower stood 1,500 feet above ground level so that when the colossal explosion occurred, the fireball blast wouldn’t effect or damage the monitoring equipment.
The testing facilities’ employees manufactured and assembled shops, gas stations, and homes made of brick and wood — dubbing these areas “Doom Towns.”
Inside these buildings, the workers staged the interiors with full-size mannequin families wearing various types clothing to witness how the different fabrics would hold up during the energy bursts and extreme heat. After denotation, the homes that were within 6,000 feet from ground zero lost rooftops, suffered broken windows and the several coats of paint blistered and scraped off in a matter of a few moments.
By contrast, the homes that were located near the initial blast zone were completely incinerated and their ashes sailed into the wind.
Kelly Johnson wasn’t the first man to build an airplane, nor was he the first to push the limits of what an airplane could do, but few men have played a more vital role in shaping mankind’s ascent into the skies.
According to the latest expert estimates, human beings just like you and I have been walking on earth for over 200,000 years. That figure gets even tougher to wrap your head around when you consider that a mere 200 years ago, mankind had yet to develop matches or typewriters. A century ago, we didn’t have antibiotics or movies with sound. These, along with countless other advancements, played a roll in a technological revolution that continues to this day, like a snowball rolling down hill, enveloping everything in its path.
Of course, mankind didn’t come by these incredible advancements by accident (most often, anyway) and behind each groundbreaking technology is a man or woman, dedicated to solving the problems of their day, and to getting out in front of those coming tomorrow. Nowhere is this human-driven rapid advancement of technology more prevalent than in one of our species most recent civilization-altering breakthroughs: aviation.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers first took flight in Kitty Hawk. Less than forty years later, the first B-29 took to the skies with a pressurized cabin and a wingspan that stretched further than the length of Orville Wright’s entire first flight. A mere 19 years after that, Yuri Gagarin flew in space.
There’s no doubt that countless hands, hearts, and minds played vital roles in our rapid progression from the steam engine to the SpaceX Starship, but even amid this sea of engineers and aviation pioneers, some names stick out. Because while millions may have helped mankind reach the sky, some men’s contributions stand head and shoulders above the rest; Men, like Kelly Johnson.
Forged in the fires of World War II
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson was born in 1910, seven years after the Wright Brothers changed the world in Kitty Hawk. The son of Swedish immigrants, Johnson would win his first prize for aircraft design at the age of 13. By the time he was 22 years old, he was working as an engineer at the legendary aviation firm Lockheed.
At 28, Kelly Johnson’s role at Lockheed would bring him to London, where the island nation was preparing for the onslaught of Nazi Luftwaffe fighters and bombers that were to come just three years later in the Battle of Britain. The British were unconvinced that such a young man could produce an aircraft that could turn the tides of an air war, but the fruit of Kelly Johnson’s labor, dubbed the P-38 Lightning, would go on to become one of the most iconic airframes of the entire war.
At the start of the fighting in Europe, many Allied air units were still operating bi-planes. By the end of World War II, Kelly Johnson and his team delivered the United States its first ever operational jet-powered fighter, the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. Johnson had been tasked with building an aircraft around the new Halford H.1B turbojet engine that could compete with Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe. In just an astonishing 143 days, Kelly had gone from the drawing board to delivering the first operational P-80s.
The original Skunk Works
It was during World War II that Kelly Johnson and fellow engineer Ben Rich first established what was to become the legendary Lockheed Skunk Works. Today, the Skunk Works name is synonymous with some of the most advanced aircraft ever to take to the skies, but its earliest iteration was nothing more than a walled-off portion of a factory in which Johnson and his team experimented with new technologies for the P-38, developing the first 400 mile-per-hour fighter in the world for their trouble, in the XP-38.
Later, Kelly’s secretive team again came through with the P-80, and again with the design and production of the C-130 Hercules, which remains in service for the U.S. and a number of other Air Forces around the world today. Then, in 1955, they received yet another seemingly impossible assignment: The United States needed an aircraft that could fly so high it could avoid being shot down, or potentially even detected.
Soviet Radar and intercept fighters of the era were limited to altitudes below 65,000 feet, and the highest any American aircraft could reach was just 48,000. In order to continue keeping tabs on the Soviets, the Air Force solicited requests for an airplane that could fly at an astonishing 70,000 feet with a long 1,500 mile fuel range.
Kelly Johnson’s Skunk Works responded with a design that they claimed could fly as high as 73,000 feet with a range of 1,600 miles, based on the Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter, a slender and supersonic intercept fighter. The Air Force rejected his design… but it caught the attention of America’s secretive spy agency, the CIA.
President Eisenhower wanted eyes on the Soviet nuclear program, and Johnson’s unusual aircraft design with long slender wings and no retractable landing gear seemed like it could do the job, despite its shortcomings. Johnson and his team were given a contract to design and build their high-flying spy plane, and in just eight months, they delivered the U-2 Dragon Lady.
In order to test this incredible new aircraft, Kelly Johnson needed a remote air strip, far from the prying eyes of the American public. He chose a dry lake bed in Nevada for the job, and it proved particularly well suited for testing classified aircraft. Eventually, that little airstrip and accompanying hangars and office buildings would come to be known popularly as Area 51.
Taking spy planes to the next level
The U-2 may have been an immense success, but just as aviation advancements were coming quickly, so too were air defenses. In 1960, Soviet surface-to-air missiles finally managed to get a piece of a CIA operated U-2 flown by pilot Gary Powers. The aircraft was flying at 70,000 feet, higher than the Americans thought could be spotted or targeted by Soviet radar, when it was struck by an SA-2 Guideline missile. Powers had to ride the Dragon Lady down from 70,000 feet to 30,000 feet before he could safely eject, and as the secretive spy plane plummeted to the ground, Kelly Johnson and his team at Skunk Works were already developing a platform to replace it.
With spy satellites still more than a decade away, the United States needed a new aircraft it could rely on to keep tabs on the Soviets. It would need to not only fly higher than the U-2, but faster–much faster, so even if it was detected, no missile could reach it.
Johnson and his team designed a twin-engine aircraft with astonishing capabilities in the A-12, which then led to the operational SR-71 Blackbird — an aircraft that retains the title of fastest operational plane in history to this very day. Lockheed’s SR-71 could sustain speeds in excess of Mach 3.2, flying at altitudes higher than 78,000 feet. During its 43 years in service, the SR-71 had over 4,000 missiles fired at it from ground assets and other aircraft. Not a single one ever found its target.
Another aviation revolution
Kelly Johnson and the team at Skunk Works were on the cutting edge of speed and power, but as the Cold War raged on, it was Johnson and his team that recognized how the battle space was shifting. For years, the United States had focused on developing aircraft that could fly ever faster and ever higher, but with the advent of computer-aided engineering, yet another technological leap was within Lockheed’s grasp.
Johnson and his team needed to develop an aircraft that could defeat detection from not only enemy radar, but also other common forms of detection and targeting, like infrared. Using the most advanced computers available at the time, Skunk Works first developed an unusual angular design they dubbed “the hopeless diamond,” as it seemed unlikely that such a shape could ever produce aerodynamic lift.
Undaunted, development continued and by 1976, they had built a flyable prototype. The aircraft was called Have Blue, and it would lead to the first operational stealth aircraft ever in service to any nation, the legendary F-117 Nighthawk.
The F-117, or “stealth fighter” as it would come to be known, played a vital role in America’s combat operations over Iraq in Desert Storm and elsewhere, but this program produced more than battlefield engagements. The technology developed for the F-117 directly led to America’s premier stealth fighters of today: the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The latter of those two is expected to serve as the backbone of America’s air superiority strategy for decades to come.
“The damn Swede can actually see air.”
In total, Kelly Johnson had a hand in the design and development of some 40 aircraft for commercial and military purposes, with seemingly countless awards and credits to his name for his engineering prowess. The man had a genuine affection for his work, to the degree that he turned down the presidency of Lockheed on three separate occasions to retain his role within the Skunk Works he helped to found.
Kelly’s boss at Lockheed, Hall Hibbard, once exclaimed, “The damn Swede can actually see air,” as he tried to understand how one man managed to play such a pivotal role in so many aircraft, and in turn, in how the Cold War unfolded. Finally, Kelly retired in 1975, but remained a senior advisor to Skunk Works for years thereafter.
He passed away in 1990 at age 80, just one year before the United States, with all its incredible military technology, would emerge the victor of the Cold War.
In 2017, Puerto Ricans battled economic hardship and the lasting effects of Hurricane Maria at home as they celebrated 100 years of American citizenship. On March 2, 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act was passed by Congress, making the island a U.S. territory and guaranteeing citizenship to all Puerto Ricans born after April 25, 1898. With citizenship came all the requirements of citizenship: serving on juries, paying taxes, and being drafted for military service.
Just in time for World War I.
Welcome to the party, pal.
It was just twenty years after the United States usurped the island’s Spanish rulers in the Spanish-American War and annexed Puerto Rico as a territory of the United States. By the end of the United States’ participation in World War I, the Selective Service Act would draft some 2.8 million men, sending an estimated 10,000 troops to France every day. The U.S. Army had come a long way from the third-rate militia it was before the war. To meet the requirements of becoming a great, global power, it needed the manpower of one.
American territories, which at the time included Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and others, were exempt from the draft. The legislature of Puerto Rico immediately asked Congress to extend conscription to American territories – namely Puerto Rico. But this was purely at the request of the Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rican Cpl. Ricardo LaFontaine in 1917.
In all, some 236,000 Puerto Ricans from the island signed up for selective service for a potential draft notice. Of those, 18,000 would go on to serve in the war. But they weren’t always welcome. African-American Puerto Ricans, like many minorities in the U.S., weren’t entirely welcome and ended up in segregated units. For those Puerto Ricans not of African descent, they would be assigned to some regular units in the U.S. military. Still, President Wilson, in the face of discouragement from the War Department, created a Puerto Rican Division.
A full 70 percent of those Puerto Ricans who signed up for service in World War I were rejected for no other reason than the War Department didn’t know what to do with them in a segregated Army. Despite this, there has long been a conspiracy theory that held Puerto Rico was only granted citizenship so they could fight in the war. If that were true, the U.S. would have sent a lot more Puerto Ricans than it did.
But since 1945, submarines have had a mostly dry spell. In fact, most of the warshots fired by subs since then have been Tomahawk cruise missiles on land targets – something Charles Lockwood and Karl Donitz would have found useful.
There are only two submarines that have sunk enemy ships in the more than 70 years since World War II ended.
1. PNS Hangor
The sub that provides the first break in the post World War II dry spell is from Pakistan. The Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor — a French-built Daphne-class boat — was the vessel that pulled it off during operations in the Arabian Sea during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.
According to Military-Today.com, a Daphne-class vessel displaced 1,043 tons, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had 12 22-inch torpedo tubes (eight forward, four aft), each pre-loaded.
On Dec. 9, 1971, the Hangor detected two Indian frigates near its position. The submarine’s captain dove deep and got ready to fight.
India had sent two Blackwood-class frigates, INS Khukri and INS Kirpan, out of three built for them by the United Kingdom to patrol in the area. These frigates were designed to hunt submarines. Only this time, the sub hunted them.
According to Bharat-Rakshak.com, the Hangor fired a torpedo at the Kirpan, which dodged. Then the Khukri pressed in for an attack. The Hangor sent a torpedo at the Khukri, and this time scored a hit that left the Indian frigate sinking. The Kirpan tried to attack again, and was targeted with another torpedo for her trouble.
The Kirpan evaded a direct hit, and Indian and Pakistani versions dispute whether that frigate was damaged. The Hangor made her getaway.
It didn’t do India that much harm, though. India won that war, securing the independence of what is now Bangladesh. Pakistan, though, has preserved the Hangor as a museum.
2. HMS Conqueror
Just over 10 years after PNS Hangor ended the dry spell, HMS Conqueror got on the board – and made history herself. The Conqueror so far is the only nuclear submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat.
The Conqueror, a 5,400 ton Churchill-class submarine, was armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes. With a top speed of 28 knots, she also didn’t have to come up to recharge batteries. That enabled her to reach the South Atlantic after Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falklands, touching off the Falklands War.
In a sense, the Argentinean cruiser ARA Gen. Belgrano — formerly known as USS Phoenix (CL 46) — really didn’t stand a chance. GlobalSecurity.org notes that the 12,300 ton cruisers were armed with 15 six-inch guns, eight five-inch guns, and a host of lighter anti-aircraft guns.
As the Gen. Belgrano approached the exclusionary zone declared by the Brits, the Conqueror began to track the cruiser. Finally, on May 2, 1982, she got the orders to attack. The Conqueror fired three Mark 8 torpedoes and scored two hits on the cruiser. The General Belgrano went down with 323 souls.
The Conqueror’s attack sent the rest of the Argentinean fleet running back to port. The British eventually re-took the Falkland Islands. The Conqueror is presently awaiting scrapping after being retired in 1990.
There has been no friendly fire incident in the history of the world like the 1788 Battle of Karansebes. The Austrian Army had been at war with the Ottoman Turks for more than a year when another contingent of Austrian soldiers stumbled upon another part of their army. What should have been a general misunderstanding turned into a full-on battle with more than ten thousand killed or wounded and the Ottoman capture of Karansebes anyway.
The story starts with a band of gypsies.
As every good story should.
It’s necessary to know that the Austrians of this time weren’t simply Austrian, they were fighting for the Hapsburg Empire, and their fighting force was comprised of several different languages, with no real common means of communicating between units. Still, units made up of these single language-speakers would regularly patrol by themselves, rather than joining other units to learn multiple languages or having a common tongue.
It was one of these units, a cavalry patrol, that was out looking for any signs of enemy Ottomans around. They didn’t find any Turks, but what they found was a group of Romani Gypsies who were just settling in for the night. The Gypsies offered the Austrians a good time with dancing and drinking, which the grateful cavalrymen eagerly took. Then, more Austrians showed up, but these were a group of infantry, and the cavalrymen refused to share.
Anyone who’s ever known infantrymen can probably guess what’s about to happen.
This started a fistfight, of course. As the rival groups started fighting over the booze, shots rang out from across the nearby river. All the fighting Hapsburg men stopped fighting and took cover, quickly making it back to their camp to warn the others that Turks were shooting from the other side of the river. The camp exploded in a frenzy of men who thought Turks were overrunning their camp. When the German officers tried to get their fleeing men to calm down and come back, they shouted “halt,” which in a German accent, was mistaken for “Allah.” part of the Ottoman’s battle cry.
All the sides fought one another until the camp commander believed he was being overrun, at which point he ordered the artillery to pound his own men.
Imagine this but with cannon fire landing everywhere around them.
When the Turkish Army did arrive to take the town two days later, it was completely deserted by the opposition. They rolled into the city immediately, and the Austrians didn’t talk about Karansebes for another forty years.
James Armistead was an enslaved African-American man who was born in Virginia. Different historical sources put his birth in either 1748 or 1760. He was owned by William Armistead of New Kent County, Virginia. However, being born into slavery, Armistead would play a crucial role in securing America’s freedom during the Revolutionary War.
With his master’s consent, Armistead volunteered to join the Continental Army in early 1781. He was placed under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette who saw his potential in specialized military service. Posing as a runaway slave, Armistead was sent to link up with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold’s camp. Arnold, whose treachery had already been exposed, was leading an outfit of Redcoats in Virginia. Armistead gained Arnold’s trust and worked as a double agent against the British. Armistead guided the British along local roads and fed them misinformation while secretly reporting back to Lafayette on their movements.
In the spring of 1781, Arnold departed for the north. Meanwhile, Armistead linked up with the camp of Lord Charles Cornwallis and continued his work as a double agent. Because of his status, British officers would speak openly about plans, logistics, and troop movements in front of him. He documented all the information that he could and sent it back to Lafayette in writing through a network of other Patriot spies. This intelligence gathering proved to be instrumental in the British defeat at Yorktown in October of that year.
Although Virginia passed a manumission act in 1782 that allowed slaves who fought in the Revolution to be freed, Armistead remained in bondage. A 1783 law specifically freed slaves only if they had served in their master’s stead as a soldier during the war. Because he served as a spy, he did not qualify. However, in 1786, Armistead petitioned the Viriginia Assembly for his freedom. With the support of his master, himself a member of the House of Delegates, and a written testimony from the Marquis himself, Armistead was finally granted his freedom in 1787. On January 9, Armistead became a free man and added “Lafayette” to his name in honor of the Marquis.
James Armistead Lafayette remained in New Kent County where he married, started a family, and became a wealthy farmer. He also received financial aid and a pension for his service during the war. In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to the United States to tour the 24 states. During his tour of Richmond, the Marquis spotted Armistead Lafayette in the crowd. He abruptly ordered his carriage stopped and ran out into the crowd to embrace his wartime friend. As with his birth, historians disagree on both the year and location of his death. He died either in Baltimore in 1830 or in Virginia in 1832.
Intelligence is the driving force of any war and James Armistead Lafayette’s work in the field was crucial to securing America’s independence. His legacy is the free country and the liberties that we enjoy today.