Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The involvement of females in the military goes back to the start of United States forces themselves. From lending a consulting ear, to helping create uniforms, to eventually being allowed to join the ranks themselves, women have undoubtedly been a big part of U.S. forces.

Join us in this trip down memory lane outlining how their roles originated and changed over time. 

Civil War-era

During the Civil War, women were not allowed to fight in the war. More than 400 got around this rule Mulan-style by disguising themselves as men and fighting anyway. This is most notable because, years prior is referred to the Cult of True Womanhood by historians. (Think Antebellum period.) This is a term that describes women who worked inside the home, wore intricate dresses, and spent their time socializing and keeping up with the housework. In other words, a far cry from helping in a war — let alone fighting within it. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Most famous and widely circulated photograph of Clara Barton, the Civil War-era nurse who founded the Red Cross.

They also played a huge role in helping the sick and wounded. With or without proper medical training, thousands of women worked as nurses where they helped those who were stricken with illness or who were hurt in the war. Later, in the war they did so officially with the Union’s United States Sanitary Commission. Inspired by trailblazer Florence Nightingale, they helped ensure conditions were as sanitary as possible. 

Women also helped by providing food for soldiers and gathering supplies in the North and South. 

This is noted as the first war in history that women held a true and significant role within the war. It’s also said that women’s position within the war advanced women’s rights by 50 years. 

World War I 

During the first World War, the U.S. was in “total war efforts,” meaning it was all hands on deck. As many men went overseas to participate in the war, that left many women at home to help fill their shoes. Farm work especially was taken on by women, as was household work, child rearing (alone or sharing responsibilities with family members left behind), and earning income to help supplement solider pay, which was not always enough to raise a family. 

This was the first “class-less” war, where those of all income levels worked in the same jobs. Women joined efforts in which they could travel overseas, including the YWCA. Nationwide propaganda also encouraged women to get a job working in the factories. Meanwhile, one of the most popular jobs was working as a switchboard operator; they were known as Hello Girls. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Hello Girls in WWI

The U.S. employed more than 21,000 women as nurses in hospitals stateside and overseas. 

Russia was the only major country of the war to send women to the front lines. However, in the U.S., 13,000 women joined the Navy working stateside and receiving the same pay as men. They were welcomed into the ranks of the Marines as well. 

World War II

This go-round, all major participating countries heavily recruited women into their respective militaries. In most cases, women held clerical or office jobs, including the majority of female soldiers. In the U.S., around 400,000 women served through these support positions. With this installment, women became seen as a permanent part of military forces, formalized by the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948.

WWII also saw the start of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. It began as an auxiliary unit but was converted to active duty just one year later. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Like in WWI, women were heavily relied upon to pick up duties and home and take on labor jobs. This led to the movement of Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII. She is still credited today to advancing women working manual jobs and helping supply war efforts with equipment and ammunition. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the Army plans to conquer Japan

The U.S. had laid a lot of plans for late World War II. After the fall of Italy and then Germany, America wanted to finally crush the empire of Japan and get final payback for Pearl Harbor. Luckily for the infantrymen and other troops slated to die against a determined Japanese defense, the empire surrendered after two atomic bombs and Russia deploying troops. Here’s what the U.S. Army had planned in case that didn’t happen.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

U.S. plans for the invasion of Kyushu in Operation Olympic, the first phase of the planned invasion of Japan.

(U.S. Army)

The assault on Japan was expected to take 18 months, starting with an intense blockade and air bombardment of Japan. Basically, stop Japan from pulling any more men and equipment back to the main islands and bomb the sh-t out of all equipment and forces already there.

While America had already captured or isolated many of the Japanese troops in the Pacific, there was the ongoing problem of Japanese forces in China that could slip back to Japan if the blockade wasn’t firmly in place for months ahead of the invasion.

It was hoped that the blockade and bombardment would weaken the defenses on Kyushu Island, the southernmost of the main islands and the first target. This assault was Operation Olympic, the first phase of Downfall. The Army wanted to land on Kyushu with soldiers and Marines from the Philippines, the Nansei Islands, and others. A total of 14 divisions were scheduled to take the beaches and push north.

This was slated to take months starting in November 1945. Wartime realities would push the date to December 1, and there was pressure to push it even further amid concerns that the blockade needed more time.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

U.S. plans for Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese home islands via two amphibious landings, one at Kyushu Island and one at Honshu.

(U.S. Army)

But that invasion through Kyushu was just phase one, a way of preparing for a second, larger invasion through the Tokyo Plain on Honshu Island, the largest island in Japan and the home of the capital. This was Operation Coronet, and it was thought to require 25 divisions just for the initial assaults, not counting the Air Force’s Pacific divisions held in reserve for additional bombardment and resupply.

The tentative date of March 1 was set for the Coronet invasion, but some officers pushed for a later date as soon as March 1 was announced. They wanted to delay the invasions to allow for a much larger air and sea bombardment as well as all sorts of preparatory operations. This group wanted to hit multiple points on the Chinese coast, in Korea, the Tsushima Strait, and other places.

Worst case scenario, this would’ve made the invasion of Japan much easier, though it would have used a lot of valuable resources. Best case scenario, it might have so crippled the Japanese war machine that it couldn’t hold its territory, allowing America to force a surrender without an invasion.

But these preparations would have required a massive supply of troops and machines, and that would have necessarily delayed Operation Downfall. Worse, the operations in China could have entangled America into the civil war there, preventing them from invading Japan for months or years.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

An Army graphic showing the organization of forces for Coronet, the invasion of Kyushu Island.

(U.S. Army)

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, voted for the full invasion of Japan as soon as logistically feasible. For him, this was the third proposed course of action, and he said:

I am of the opinion that the ground, naval, air, and logistic resources in the Pacific are adequate to carry out Course III. The Japanese Fleet has been reduced to practical impotency. The Japanese Air Force has been reduced to a line of action which involves uncoordinated, suicidal attacks against our forces, employing all types of planes, including trainers. Its attrition is heavy and its power for sustained action is diminishing rapidly. Those conditions will be accentuated after the establishment of our air forces in the Ryukyus. With the increase in the tempo of very long range attacks, the enemy’s ability to provide replacement planes will diminish and the Japanese potentiality will decline at an increasing rate. It is believed that the development of air bases in the Ryukyus will, in conjunction with carrier-based planes, give us sufficient air power to support landings on Kyushu and that the establishment of our air forces there will ensure complete air supremacy over Honshu. Logistic considerations present the most difficult problem.

Nimitz agreed, and the two top commanders began to assemble their forces for the largest amphibious assault ever planned. They relied on all troops, ships, and heavy equipment in the Pacific as well as a steady flow of troops from Europe after the victory there.

And, if the fighting continued past June 1946, they would need to pull an additional four divisions per month from the U.S.

Japan, for its part, dragged its feet in preparing to counter a ground invasion. Even as late as March 1945, there had been little planning and troop buildup for the defense, but Japan finally addressed it. By July 1945, they had 30 line divisions, 2 armored divisions, 23 coastal defense divisions, and another 33 brigades of various types.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Japanese plans for troop deployment to throwback or slow an American invasion of the home islands in 1945.

(U.S. Army)

Those 39 U.S. divisions for Olympic and Coronet are suddenly looking like they’ll struggle, right? Like they could take heavy losses and would require those reinforcements from Europe and America?

Luckily, Japan decided to surrender instead. There are some arguments about whether this was predominantly because of the Russian invasion of Japanese islands to Japan’s north or if it was because of the atom bombs that America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but either way it allowed America to shelve Operation Downfall and execute Blacklist instead, the plan for the peaceful, unopposed occupation of Japan.

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This is the fastest American bomber that ever took to the skies

While Russia has deployed a number of Mach 2 bombers — like the Tu-22 Blinder and Tu-22M Backfire — these were not the fastest bombers that ever flew.


That title goes to the the North American XB-70 Valkyrie.

You haven’t heard much about the Valkyrie – and part of that is because it never got past the prototype stage. According to various fact sheets from the National Museum of the Air Force, the plane was to be able to cruise at Mach 3, have a top speed of Mach 3.1, and it had a range of 4,288 miles. All that despite being almost 200 feet long with a wingspan of 105 feet, and having a maximum takeoff weight of over 534,000 pounds.

That performance was gained by six J93 engines from General Electric, providing 180,000 pounds of thrust.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
The XB-70’s immense size is apparent in this photo of the plane on display at the National Museum of the Air Force. (USAF photo)

The XB-70s had no provision for armament, but the production version of this bomber was slated to be able to haul 50,000 pounds of bombs – either conventional or nuclear. Imagine that plane being around today, delivering JDAMs or other smart weapons.

With the performance and a weapons load like that, buying this plane to supplement the B-52 should have been a no-brainer, right? Well, not quite.

The fact was that the Valkyrie was caught by the development of two new technologies — the surface-to-air missile and the intercontinental ballistic missile. The former made high-speed, high-altitude runs much more dangerous (although it should be noted that the SR-71 Blackbird operated very well in that profile). The latter offered a more rapid strike capability than the XB-70 and was cheaper.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
The cockpit of the XB-70. Despite the plane’s immense size, it was still pretty cramped inside. (USAF photo)

Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that as a result of the new technologies, the XB-70 was reduced by the Eisenhower Administration to a research and development project in December 1959. The B-70 was reinstated for production during the 1960 presidential campaign in an attempt to deflect criticism from John F. Kennedy. But Kennedy eventually threw it back to the lab.

Despite a public-relations effort by top Air Force brass, the B-70 remained an RD program with only two airframes built. A 1966 collision during a flight intended to generate photos to promote General Electric’s engines destroyed one of them. The surviving airframe is displayed at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
This photo of the XB-70 gives another glimpse of its immense size when compared to the X-15, the fastest manned aircraft that ever took to the skies. (USAF photo)

Take a look at this video from Curious Droid on the XB-70.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time Delta burned the barracks down

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

The Ft. Bragg Commanding General’s office agreed to allow us to use an unoccupied barracks for an assault scenario. Something Delta was in constant search of was new floor plans for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) training. The drive for constant realistic training revealed there was diminished value in repetitions in the same structure where everyone was familiar with the internal layout.


Our Operations Cell geniuses had a decent penchant for finding structures that were either brand new and uninhabited, or marked for destruction and again uninhabited. In the case of our barracks structure, it was marked for demolition… but the general would allow no undue damage to the structure, as it had to be in good condition for it to be… uh… torn down.

This all makes sterling sense if you happen to be a general grade officer.The rest of us just need to get in step and stay in our lanes!

Delta doesn’t shoot blanks; all combat training is done with live ammunition. We used special metal structures behind targets to catch the bullets. Faith abounded that there would be no”thrown rounds,” rounds that went wild and missed targets, rendering holes in walls and such.

The breach point — the planned entrance — had its door removed from its hinges and replaced with a throwaway door that we could fire an explosive charge on. Flash-bang grenades (bangers) do not spread shrapnel so they can be used in close proximity to the user, though they are still deadly, and are understood to cause fires in some cases.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Yes, explosive breaching is prone to start fires.

Outside the building several buckets of water were on standby in case of a small fire ignition. These were just routine precautions taken by our target preparation crews. Windows all had a letter “X” in duct tape from corners to corners to help contain the glass in the event that a banger shattered the window as they were so often known to do.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Anti-shatter treatment with duct tape.

Our A-2 troop was the first in on the target. They scrambled from their assault helicopters, blew open the breach point door, and scrambled in shooting and banging room-to-room as they moved. Shouts of: “CLEAR”,”ALL CLEAR”, “CLEAR HERE” echoed from the rooms, then:

“HEY… THERE’S A FIRE IN HERE… NORTH HALLWAY… IT’S SPREADING — GRAB A FIRE BUCKET!”

An assault team member close to the south exit dashed out after a fire bucket as other members stomped and slapped at the fire. He rushed back in with the fire bucket cocked back in his arms ready to douse:

“MOVE! I GOT IT, I GOT IT!”

He snapped his arms forward and let the contents fly as the men darted to the sides. The blaze exploded into an inferno that would have made Dante Alighieri exclaim: “Woah!” The order to “abandon ship” was called out by the troop commander as the men bailed out through every nearest exit. The entire wood structure was very soon totally consumed by fire and burned to a pile of ash that wasn’t itself even very impressive.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Use of explosives on an assault objective can lead to fires.

An investigation very quickly revealed that the engineers building out the target floor plan had used a bucket of gasoline to fill and refill the quick-saws they had been using to cut plywood used in the building. That same bucket unfortunately found its way painfully close to the fire buckets. The assaulter, at no fault of his own, grabbed the bucket and doused the otherwise manageable fire with petrol, causing it to run wild.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The gas-powered quick or concrete saw

“Sir… do you realize what this means??”

“Yes, Sergeant… the General is going to be a very very unhappy man.”

“No, no, no… screw the General… Hand is going to blister us with a derisive cartoon!!”

“My… my God, Sergeant… I hadn’t thought of that. You clean up here and I’ll go break the news to the men; they’ll need some time alone to process this.”

And the men were afraid of what awaited them when they returned to the squadron break room, but it was senseless to delay it any longer. In they strolled, the 20 of them… their assault clothes tattered and torn, their faces long and grim, their spirits craving the Lethean peace of the night.

There pinned to the wall was a completed product immortalizing the A-2 troop’s simple brew-ha-ha for all eternity. They stood and stared stupefied and still:

“There; it is done, men… and yet we’re all still alive. Nothing left to do but wait until the next jackass edges us off the front page. May God have mercy on us all!”

The event is depicted in the cartoon with the gross exaggeration of an entire Shell Corporation tanker truck on the scene rather than just a single bucket of benzine. Cartoons often wildly exaggerate to lend to the humor of the event. Nonetheless it was inevitable that some folks in the unit did query men of the A-2 troop: “Did you guys really spray gasoline on the fire with a Shell Tanker?”

Don’t hate me; I’m just the messenger.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY’: See newspaper headlines from around the world 24 hours after 9/11

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened exactly 19 years ago Friday.

For many people, the attacks were the biggest news story of their lifetime. Almost all who experienced it can remember where they were when they heard of the attacks.

Many people who remember that day also recall the following morning, when newspapers around the world captured the horror, shock, and sadness people felt.


The Newseum, a museum in Washington, DC, that chronicled the history of media, archived more than 100 newspapers from September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks. The front pages of these newspapers, bearing headlines like “ACT OF WAR” and “AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY,” underscore the impact the attacks had on the American psyche.

Here is what newspapers looked like the day after September 11, 2001.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

New York Times / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

New York Post / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

New York Daily News / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Washington Post / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

USA Today / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Atlanta Constitution / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Los Angeles Times / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Detroit Free Press / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The San Francisco Examiner / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Chicago Tribune / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Newsday / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

People / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Seattle Post-Intelligencer / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Globe and Mail / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Daily Telegraph / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Times / Source: Newseum

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Herald Sun / Source: Newseum

Melbourne’s Herald Sun

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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These two ironclad ships almost allowed the South to win the Civil War

Birkenhead, England, is an odd place for a discussion of the U.S. Civil War, but two ships built in the Laird and Sons Shipyard there nearly provided the seapower necessary for the South to break the blockade, get recognized as a sovereign nation, and win their war for independence.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
The HMS Wivern was originally commissioned by the Confederate Navy and was expected to tip the Civil War for the Confederacy. (Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

All that stood in the South’s way was a group of dedicated diplomats and spies who managed to get the ships seized, guaranteeing Union naval superiority and helping end the war.

The Laird shipyards had a strong preference for Confederates during the war and had constructed a number of ships ordered through Confederate Comdr. James D. Bulloch, an uncle to future-President Theodore Roosevelt.

The most famous Laird ship ordered by Bulloch for the Confederacy was the CSS Alabama. The Alabama was technically ordered as a British merchant ship but was outfitted with a Confederate crew and weapons after launch. It went on to destroy 67 Union vessels — mostly merchant ships — before it was sunk.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Confederate officers aboard the CSS Alabama, 1863.

But Bulloch and the Laird company had plans for two even more ambitious and imposing ships. The “El Tousson” and “El Monassir” were, on paper, destined for Egypt but were actually commissioned by Bulloch for the Confederacy.

The two ships are often described as the most powerful in the world at that time and they were custom-built for breaking the Union blockade of the South and with it the Union’s grand “Anaconda Plan” for the war. The Anaconda Plan rested entirely upon Union control of the seas and rivers.

The “Laird Rams” — as they were known — were nearly identical copies of one another. Each ship was 242 feet long and equipped with a seven-foot ram at the front that would allow them to punch holes in enemy ships below the waterline. Each ship also boasted iron armor and two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong cannons.

For those unfamiliar with naval armaments, “220-pounder” doesn’t refer to the weight of the gun, it refers to the weight of each shell. And each gun was “rapidly firing” for the time.

And that iron armor was a game changer in the Civil War. Sufficient iron armor made a ship nearly invulnerable, as the navies learned after the first battle between ironclads took place in 1862. The three-hour battle on March 9, 1862, ended as a tie because neither ship could sufficiently damage the other.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
(Painting: J.O. Davidson)

The “Laird Rams” were so imposing that Assistant Secretary of the Navy G. V. Fox wrote to John M. Forbes, an American sent to England to either get the rams for the Union or else stop the delivery to the Confederates:

You must stop them at all hazards, as we have no defense against them … As to guns, we have not one in the whole country fit to fire at an ironclad…it is a question of life and death.

Early indications were that the British would allow the rams to launch and eventually join the Confederate cause, but diplomats pressuring Great Britain to follow its neutrality obligations slowly made headway.

At the start of the war, the British position was that it couldn’t allow its shipbuilders to sell any warships to a belligerent in war, but that they could sell unarmed merchant ships to anyone without concern as to whether the ship would be later outfitted with weapons.

This was how the Confederacy received many of its early ships. But the Union State Department pressured the English government to start blocking the launches of ships that were destined for wartime duty by basically threatening war if they didn’t.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
The HMS Scorpion was originally ordered by the Confederate Navy. (Engraving: U.S. Naval Historical Center)

But the British required a high threshold of proof that a ship was destined for the war before they would seize it from the shipyards. American consuls and spies in England gathered information on every ship as fast as they could.

Their first major target, the CSS Florida, was still able to reach the water because the evidence against the ship was improperly collected and documented and therefore inadmissible. The consuls and spies tried again with the Alabama and were successful, but not in time. The Alabama launched just before British forces could arrive to seize her.

When it came to the two Laird rams, though, the U.S. pulled out all the stops. They bribed dock officials, recruited spies and informants, and even promised a young mechanic help getting a job in America if he first worked in the Laird shipyards and collected information for them.

The mechanic agreed but was just a boy. When the child’s mother learned of the plan, she threatened to expose the spy operation and the U.S. backed off.

The first ram, the El Tousson, was launched into the water and was being equipped for sea while its sister ship was receiving final touches in the shipyard in October 1863. The U.S. made its final, last-ditch case to the British that the ships were destined for the Confederate war effort.

To add to the pressure, the U.S. ambassador promised war if the ships were allowed to launch, and the English government gave in.

The British Royal Navy deployed two warships, the HMS Liverpool and the HMS Goshawk, to prevent the rams leaving the docks. British sailors were deployed aboard each ship to ensure that no Confederate or allied crew could steal them from the docks. The ships were eventually purchased by the British as the HMS Scorpion and HMS Wivern.

This likely saved the war for the Union. While other Confederate ships made their names sailing the high seas and attacking Union merchant ships, the rams were designed to break the back of the Union ships enforcing the blockade.

Two nearly indestructible ships capable of sinking almost any ship in the blockade would have allowed the Confederacy to sweep it away, re-opening the smuggling trade that helped finance the land war early on. The Union Army would have been hard pressed to win with the two rams erasing the Union’s naval dominance.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 awesome missions you didn’t know were done by the Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard has always been the little agency that could.


It’s the only U.S. military branch that isn’t a permanent member of the Department of Defense, it’s constantly the last in line for the budget (it is one of the agencies with lots of money on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal), and it’s constantly getting made fun of by the other services.

But the Coast Guard steps up and performs when called upon. While many of its finest moments happened when you would most expect — like when it received praise for its actions after Hurricane Katrina or when it rescued sailors trapped on the tankers Pendleton and Fort Mercer — it should also be known for its role in frontline operations against terrorism at home and all enemies deployed.

Yeah, the Coast Guard fights terrorists and deploys, especially when it’s tied up in missions like these:

1. Evacuating and securing key ports during emergencies

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell)

Believe it or not, it’s the Coast Guard that is most likely to save American citizens in a sudden attack. After the attacks on 9/11, the Coast Guard led a boatlift in New York that, in numerical terms, was larger than the evacuation at Dunkirk.

The U.S. Coast Guard also fields the Maritime Security Response Team, which responds to terrorist attacks that are imminent or in progress in an American port or waterway. In 2014, they practiced securing ferries with dirty bombs onboard in New York, one of the world’s busiest ports.

2. Respond to chemical, biological, nuclear, and other threats

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers)

Of course, the Coast Guard doesn’t just field the emergency calls for terror attacks. When law enforcement and intelligence agencies get word of possible threats, they can call the Maritime Safety and Security Teams. These guys specialize in securing American and friendly ports that are at heightened risk of attack.

The MSSTs work to prevent the successful completion of an attack, but they can also respond to attacks in progress like they did in Boston in 2013 after the marathon bombings.

3. Capturing and occupying captured oil rigs at sea

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
A Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team works with the FBI to secure a vessel during a training exercise. (Photo: courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

One of the largest special operations in history took place on March 21, 2003, when Navy SEALs and Polish special operators seized Iraq’s oil platforms at the same time that other forces took land-based sections of Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

The often unsung heroes of that operation are the soldiers and Coast Guardsmen who gave the SEALs the ride and provided the gun platforms that supported the operation from the water. The Coast Guard sent eight 25-foot boats to the platforms and provided the defensive positions that allowed the U.S. to hold the platforms after the SEALs captured them.

The 60 Coast Guardsmen held the platforms and 41 prisoners of war for months despite severe storms that damaged boats and tore equipment—  including food and fresh water — from where it was stored. At one point, they had to fire flares to deter an attack by circling Iranian speedboats.

4. Landing U.S. soldiers and Marines at D-Day, Guadalcanal, and hundreds of other places

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Did anyone think it odd that the Coast Guard would be in charge of landing and supporting operators hitting oil rigs in a carefully synchronized operation? It’s a little unusual, but only because they’re used to hitting beaches and rivers.

During World War II, Coast Guardsmen piloted many of the landing craft at key fights like the invasions of Normandy and the Philippines. The only member of the Coast Guard to receive the Medal of Honor conducted his heroic action while rescuing Marines under fire at Guadalcanal.

The U.S. Coast Guard also took part in riverine and coastal warfare in Vietnam. All of this was, of course, before they took part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time aliens landed in the Soviet Union for a walk in the park

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.”
Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

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.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

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.

Now read: That time the US and Russia agreed to be allies if aliens attacked Earth

MIGHTY HISTORY

Women making WAVES in the Navy

The women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve during WWII is better known as WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. It was established on July 21, 1942, by Congress and signed into law by President Roosevelt just nine days later. This law authorized the Navy to accept women into the Naval Reserve as commissioned officers and enlisted service members, effective for the duration of the war plus six months. This legislation allowed the release of officers and sailors of sea duty and replaced them with women in shore positions.


History of WAVES

In May 1941, Edith Nourse Rogers, a Congresswoman from Massachusetts, introduced a bill to Congress to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Opposition delayed the bill’s passage until 1942, but it was at the time that the Navy realized having women serve would also be beneficial. However, Read Admiral Chester Nimitz was against having women serve in the Navy, saying there was “no great need.” The Bureau of Naval Personnel recommended that Congress be asked to authorize a women’s organization. Eventually, the director of the Bureau of the Budget opposed the idea but agreed to legislation similar to the WAAC.

However, the notion of women serving in the Navy wasn’t widely supported by Congress or by the Navy. Public Law 686 was put forth largely due in part of the efforts by the Navy’s Women’s Advisory Council, along with support from Margaret Chung and Eleanor Roosevelt. Margaret Chung was the first known American-born Chinese female physician who faced significant sexism in her attempts to have a medical career.

Chung and Roosevelt, along with support from Rogers, asked women educators to bring the bill to fruition, first contacting Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College. The Women’s Advisory Council was formed shortly after that, which boasted an impressive roster of several prominent women. Chosen to lead the commission was Mildred McAfee, president of Wellesley College. McAfee became the first director of WAVEs and was commissioned as a lieutenant commander on August 3, 1942, as the first woman officer in the US Naval Reserve. Later, McAfee was promoted to the rank of captain. McAfee played a significant role in the development of policies relating to how women should be treated in the Navy, and the types of assignments female reserve officers and enlisted sailors should be given.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

To be eligible for OCS, women had to be between 20 and 49 and possess a college degree or have at least two years of college and two or more years of professional experience. Enlisted volunteers had to be between 20 and 35 years old and have a high school or business school diploma. Most WAVES officers were trained at Smith College in Massachusetts, and specialized training was conducted on several college campuses and naval facilities around the country. Most enlisted WAVES received their training at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York.

By September, 108 women were commissioned as officers in the WAVES.

Reception among male counterparts

The mission of WAVES was to replace male sailors in short stations for sea duty. This led to hostility from those who didn’t wish to be released. Most instances of hostility were tacit, though there were several occasions when the hostility was open and overt. Sometimes women were assigned to roles for which they were not physically suited, making many historians wonder if these cases of overt sexism were curated to encourage the failure of WAVES. There are several examples of women being assigned to jobs formerly occupied by two men.

WAVES served at 900 short stations in the continental US but were initially prohibited from serving on ships or outside the country. IN 1944, Congress amended the law to allow WAVES to volunteer for service in Hawaii and Alaska. WAVES officers held professional positions, serving as physicians, attorneys, engineers, and mathematicians.

Facts & Figures 

By the end of WWII, 18% of naval personnel assigned to shore stations were WAVES.

Seven WAVE officers and 62 enlisted WAVES died during WWII.

The Distinguished Service Medal was awarded to Captain McAfee for her efforts as the director of WAVES.

Two WAVES received the Legion of Merit, three received a Bronze Star, 18 received the Secretary of the Navy’s letter of commendation, and one received an Army Commendation Medal.

Demobilization

At the end of WWII, the Navy established five separation centers for the demobilization of WAVES and Navy nurses. Separation processes began on October 1, 1945, and within 30 days, almost 10,000 WAVES were separated. By September 1946, the demobilization was almost complete. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether or not demobilizing WAVES meant an end to women in the military altogether. On July 30, 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was signed into law by President Truman, allowing women to serve in both the Army and the Navy permanently. The wartime prohibition of women serving in any unit having a combat mission was carried over in the 1948 Act, keeping women from being fully integrated into the military for another 25 years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A mass murderer allegedly learned to kill from an Army vet-turned hitman

The story of Robert Prongay gets more confusing the more anyone retells it, but it all begins with prolific serial killer and alleged mafia hitman, Richard Kuklinski. Known as “The Iceman” for masking his victims’ times of death by freezing their corpses, Kuklinski claimed to have killed more than 100 people for the five families of the New York City mafia — and he claimed to have learned his skills from a Special Forces veteran.


Kuklinski was only ever convicted of five murders, but it was enough to put him away for the rest of his days. These victims were small-time drug and porn dealers in the mid-1980s. In one of those murders, he used a hamburger laced with cyanide, a murder technique he picked up from a man he described as a Special Force veteran-turned-ice cream man, Robert Prongay.

He taught me a lot,” Kuklinski once said. “But he was extremely crazy… he’d go into these neighborhoods and sell ice cream to the kids, then maybe kill one of their fathers.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Prongay was played by Chris Evans in the 2013 movie about Kuklinski, ‘The Iceman.’

Kuklinski was known as “The Iceman” to law enforcement and Prongay was called “Mister Softee.” According to Kuklinski, the two men met at a New Jersey motel while stalking the same mark. They summed each other up and realized they were both contract killers. Prongay told Kuklinski he was an Army Special Forces veteran, trained in using explosives and poisons.

In Kuklinski’s words, Prongay used his ice cream truck as a surveillance van to follow around his potential victims, whom he would kill using aerosol cyanide and remotely-detonated grenades. It was from Prongay that Kuklinski said he learned to freeze bodies to mask time of death.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
A man who is allegedly Robert Prongay serving ice cream from his Mister Softee truck.
(HBO)

Not much is really known about the real Prongay. Kuklinski claimed to have a very firm moral code when it came to killing. He could kill anyone without feeling anything at all, but he wouldn’t kill innocent women and children. The Iceman claimed that Mister Softee asked Kuklinski to kill his wife and young son for him, which Kuklinski declined. When Prongay began to talk about poisoning an entire reservoir just to kill one family, Kuklinski shot him.

The only verification that Prongay existed and may have known Kuklinski is that an ice-cream man by the name of Robert Prongay was killed in his ice cream truck, shot twice in the chest. On Aug. 9, 1984, his body was found hanging out the side of his ice cream truck. The real Prongay, it turns out, was facing trial in New Jersey for bombing the front house ex-wife and making terrorist threats against his ex-wife and son.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Before murdering Prongay, the Iceman and Mister Softee teamed up on a few occasions. An HBO Documentary in 2001 found old film reels of Prongay and called him an “Army demolitions expert,” a claim verified by Paul Smith of the New Jersey Organize Crime Bureau.

It is our opinion,” Smith told HBO, “that friendship led to Richard Kuklinski learning a lot about killing with different types of chemicals, including cyanide.”

In reality, Kuklinski made a lot of claims about himself and his famous hits. He was convicted of killing the members of a small-time burglary gang he led in New Jersey, along with one of his cyanide suppliers. The claims of the people he worked for and murdered makes his resume sound like one of the most prolific hitmen in the history of the American mafia. If you believe Kuklinski, he was recruited by Gambino capo Roy DeMeo, who gave Kuklinski his death orders.

Kuklinski claimed the murder of NYPD detective Peter Calabro, a murder in which Gambino underboss Sammy “The Bull” Gravano was also charged. The Iceman also claimed the death of Roy DeMeo and claimed to be involved in John Gotti’s famous hit on Gambino boss Paul Castellano. The only mafia hit law enforcement really related to Kuklinski was that of Calabro.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Kuklinski claimed to have killed some 100-250 people between 1948 and 1986 but his claims varied wildly in later years, as some of them were unverifiable and others were found to be complete fabrications (he claimed to have killed famous disappearing act Jimmy Hoffa, for example). Renowned mafia writers and historians claim to never have heard of a hitman named Kuklinski.

If Kuklinski’s claims are true, he would be the most prolific serial killer/hitman in American history.

Articles

That time a Marine cameraman saved his buddies from an NVA ambush

Frank Lee served as a Marine Corps combat cameraman in Vietnam, collecting spool after spool of footage of other U.S. Marines and soldiers fighting in the hottest parts of the conflict.


Like many recruits, Lee was surprised to learn what his job entailed. He had originally enlisted into electronics and photography to stay away from combat as a concession to his mom who had worried about his safety.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
(Photo: YouTube/History)

Lee decided to finally go through some of his more violent footage with his son who had only seen the “G-Rated” footage. In this video, Frank and his son dicuss the day that Lee was wounded in an North Vietnamese Army ambush that left all of those superior to LeeFrank either severely wounded or dead.

Snipers were firing on the Marines and managed to separate the squads. Lee made his way to a small hooch for a little cover and found himself with the platoon’s communication section as the wounded platoon leader sat pinned down 25 yards away.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
(Photo: YouTube/History)

Lee had to step up, relaying instructions from the pinned down, wounded platoon sergeant while calling in air strikes on the village from which the fire was coming. While the film is silent, Lee says that he heard the cries of women and children caught in the fighting, sounds that have haunted him since.

American napalm burned through the fields and village. The Marines maintained their perimeter until darkness fell and their brothers from Kilo company were able to reach them.

A corpsman attached a casualty card to Lee and he was medevaced from the bush. For his contributions to saving the patrol, he was awarded the Bronze Star with V Device. Watch him tell the story to his son in the video below:

Articles

Here is how the Navy feels about finders keepers

The Navy tends to be very strict when people recover items from sunken wrecks. In fact, when an Enigma machine was taken from the wreck of U-85, the Navy intervened. They even tried to grab a plane they left lying around in a North Carolina swamp for over 40 years.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
A U.S. Marine Corps F3A-1 aircraft of Marine Air Group 91 commanded by LCol Joseph M. Renner. (U.S. Navy photo)

According to a 2004 AP report, the plane in question was very valuable. It was the only known surviving Brewster F3A “Corsair.” Well, let’s be honest here. The F3A can best be described as a Corsair In Name Only, or CINO. Brewster’s Corsairs had problems — so much so that in July, 1944, the Navy cancelled the contract and Brewster went out of business less than a month after D-Day.

Brewster was also responsible for the F2A Buffalo, a piece of crap that got a lot of Marine pilots killed during the Battle of Midway.

According to that AP report, the story began with a fatal accident on Dec. 19, 1944, which killed Lt. Robin C. Pennington, who was flying a training mission in the F3A. The Navy recovered Pennington’s body and some gear from the Corsair, then left the wreck. Eventually, the plane was recovered by Lex Cralley in 1990, who began trying to restore the plane. A simple case of “finders keepers, losers weepers,” right?

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Nope. The Navy sued Cralley in 2004 to get the plane back. After the report appeared, comments were…not exactly favorable towards the Navy at one normally pro-military forum.

Eventually, then-Representative Walter Jones (R-NC) got involved. According to a May 28, 2004 report by Hearst News Service, Jones eventually authored an amendment that settled the lawsuit by having the Navy turn the F3A over to Cralley.

The Navy usually has been very assertive with regards to wrecks. According to admiraltylawguide.com, in 2000, the Navy won a ruling in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal preventing Doug Champlin from salvaging a TBD Devastator that had survived both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why General William T. Sherman’s battle flag was never used in combat

Battle flags were a big thing during the American Civil War. Perhaps the most famous (and now most notorious) is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Often mistaken for the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the crossed stars and bars flag was flown for Robert E. Lee’s Army – and grew more popular than the actual Confederate flag.

The Union had its own battle flags as well. In fact every general, it seems, had their own battle flag, with some more popular than others. The Army of the Potomac’s battle flag was a swallow-tailed flag featuring a golden eagle and wreath on a magenta background. 

Custer had one. Sheridan had one. So did Burnside, Breckinridge and Cumming. Even the most famous Civil War general (or notorious, depending one which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on) had one. Except William Tecumseh Sherman’s flag never saw any fighting. In fact he created his flag as a symbol of peace.

To quickly recap, the Civil War career of Gen. Sherman, he had a nervous breakdown early on in the war. After being relieved of military command of Kentucky, he went home to Ohio to recover. He returned to duty that same year and was eventually placed under the command of his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant.  

This proved to be the entire South’s undoing. Not just the Confederate Army and not just the Confederate States or America: for the entire South, Sherman’s return to duty was the beginning of the end. As Sherman saw successes  on the battlefields of the south, he rose in rank. When Grant took command of the Union Army, he promoted Sherman to his old job.

battle flag
General Sherman’s 23rd Corps’ battle flag, created out of shredded confederate flags (Reddit)

It was this renewed Gen. Sherman who said such famous lines like: 

  • “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
  • “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
  • “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.”
  • “I am satisfied, and have been all the time, that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.”
  • “I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.”
  • and finally: “I will make Georgia howl.”

Sherman was basically the last guy anyone would want invading their country at the almost 100,000 angry Union troops, but that’s exactly what Georgia got. He proceeded to burn down large areas of the rebel state.

Sherman’s flag wasn’t created in the Civil War, though. He commissioned it in 1880, 15 years after the war’s end when he was General of the U.S. Army. His original flags was made of blue silk and was full of symbolism meant to represent the unity between states.

It featured a flying golden eagle with a white head in the center of the flag, it’s head turned toward the olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace between states. Above the eagle were 13 stars, representing the original 13 colonies, along with a shield covered by 13 stripes. It was a look back at the days when the country had unity of purpose. 

General Sherman died in 1891, and his flag was placed in the care of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, folded in an envelope and warning the museum that it was in pretty rough shape. It stayed in the envelope until 2013, waiting for the right expert to restore it. 

This is the Smithsonian Institution, so of course they eventually found the right person for the job. Visit their website to see just how badly deteriorated it was and to see how the restoration effort preserved this part of American history.

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