Chaplains do a lot for the troops they serve during war, whether it’s bringing comfort to a badly wounded soldier in their last moments or helping guide a troop through rough, emotional times. A chaplain may be of just about any religion, but no matter which he’s chosen, he’s there for all troops.
There was one instance where four chaplains proved exactly that. In the early morning hours of Feb. 3, 1943, John P. Washington (Roman Catholic), Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), George L. Fox (Methodist), and Clarke V. Poling (Reformed Church of America) would go down in history as “The Four Chaplains.”
These men came from a variety of backgrounds. According to ArmyHistory.org, Fox was already a hero of note – a Silver Star and Croix de Guerre recipient from his service as a medic during World War I. Washington had survived a BB gun accident that nearly blinded him and had cheated on a vision test to serve in the Army. Goode followed in his father’s footsteps to become a rabbi and had shown a talent for bridging religious divides. Poling’s father had been a prominent radio evangelist. Washington and Goode, coincidentally, had both been rejected by the Navy.
However, all four of these chaplains would soon meet their end at the hands of a German U-boat and, in doing so, would become known for their extreme bravery and poise.
When torpedoes from the German submarine U-233 hit USAT Dorchester, it triggered a calamity. The stricken transport developed a sharp thirty-degree list, rendering a number of lifeboats unusable. Over a third of the personnel on board were quickly killed and many of the survivors were panicked.
The four chaplains took control of the situation, passing out life jackets to the troops who needed them. At one point, a navy officer went looking for a pair of gloves when Goode stopped him, handing over his own gloves, claiming he had an extra pair. Another soldier began to panic about not having a life jacket and Fox was heard saying, “Here’s one, soldier.” A survivor witnessed Fox giving the panicking soldier his own life jacket. The official summary of the statements by survivors noted merely that the chaplains on board had a “calm attitude” throughout the Dorchester’s last moments.
All four chaplains perished in the sinking of the Dorchester. They received Distinguished Service Crosses and the Purple Hearts posthumously. Their heroism, though, will live on.
The video below is part of the 75th-anniversary tribute to these men:
Emptiness and gloom is pretty much the main theme at Pripyat, Ukraine, one of the largest ghost towns in the world.
Built as a small residential city for employees assigned to the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, it was suddenly abandoned en masse after Chernobyl’s Number 4 reactor experienced the worst nuclear meltdown in history in 1986, spreading deadly radiation across Ukraine and large chunks of Eastern Europe.
As a direct result of this accident, decrepit farmers fields and forest clearings are now home to some of the eeriest military hardware graveyards in the world, full of untouchable Soviet-era equipment.
In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, the power plant spewed uncontrollable amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, fatally irradiating hundreds, if not thousands, of the Pripyat’s citizens. Over the course of a few days, the entire town was told to pack lightly and leave right away by military personnel deployed to the area to help with the response to the effects of the meltdown.
Within a week, Pripyat, a once-thriving planned city was deserted — save for scores of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and heavy trucks brought in by the military to assist with the nuclear cleanup.
Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. State-of-the-art remote-controlled fire suppression units, radiation monitors, cherry-pickers and more, were also brought in to tackle the horrifying situation that lay before Chernobyl and its neighboring towns.
The debacle proved to be a global embarrassment for the Soviet Union, still in control over Ukraine, and something needed to be done to make it go away quickly before further details of the accident made their way into Western newspapers.
Cleanup and response crews were placed on rotating schedules to limit their exposure to radiation, though this proved in the long run to be poorly executed, leading to the deaths of many.
When removing helicopters and trucks from Pripyat and neighboring locales similarly affected by the meltdown, Geiger scans noted that every single truck brought into the disaster zone was severely radioactive. In effect, soldiers were operating inside cocoons of radioactivity, bombarding them with harmful cancer-causing radiation particles.
There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. Scores of tanks and trucks were left to rot in “mohyl’nyk” (Ukrainian burial grounds) after it was no longer feasible to safely operate them (the term “safely” being used very relatively and loosely here).
More equipment and military vehicles were brought in to assist with the post-meltdown cleanup, and more were similarly condemned and abandoned.
Helicopters, especially gargantuan Mil Mi-6 Hook transports, were listed among the worst cases of exposure, given that they were tasked with flying directly above the plant after the accident in order to release chemical solvents to eliminate fires burning beneath the plant’s blown-off roof. These helicopters were also abandoned at burial grounds, arranged among rows of dark green equipment.
Today, some of these armored trucks, tanks, helicopters, and even trains, still sit in the fields around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station near Pripyat, which has since been enveloped in a sarcophagus to prevent further radiation leakage. The largest of these fields is known as the Rassokha Equipment Cemetery.
The general area, known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, is mostly off-limits to the public, though occasional tour groups are permitted to briefly enter the Zone for a quick peek before being ushered out. Visiting the abandoned vehicle graveyards is prohibited, however.
The Ukrainian government has invested considerable amounts of time and money into securing the Chernobyl plant, still in a low state of operation, and with disposing of the vehicle mohyl’nyk, full of unsalvageable gear. Over the past decade, teams of specialists have entered these fields to dismantle large sections of the graveyards and bury them on the spot, ensuring that the radiation they emit is fully contained.
Even still, the burial of every single piece of hardware will take years, thanks to the sheer numbers used in the wake of the accident. The few remaining war machines left untouched serve as silent reminders of the worst nuclear disaster in history, never to be used again.
“When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. “Or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.” It was the Golden Age of the Gangster, when bank robbers were folk heroes, cheered on by citizens who were suffering under the weight of Prohibition and the Great Depression. But when the mail started getting robbed by these hoods, the Postmaster General asked President Harding to send in the Marines.
In October 1921, gangsters hit a mail truck in New York City, making off with .4 million in cash, securities, and jewelry – million dollars when adjusted for inflation. That wasn’t the only high-stakes robbery. Between April 1920 and April 1921 alone, thieves stole more than six million dollars in U.S. mail robberies – million when adjusted for inflation. So when the Postmaster asked the President for the Marines, the Commander-In-Chief was happy to oblige.
Harding instructed Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to meet with Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Lejeune to “detail as guards for the United States mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from the depredations by robbers and bandits.”
Marines guarding a Chicago mail train.
Marines from both coasts were activated and armed with trench guns, M1911 pistols, and the M1903 Springfield rifle to stand watch as high-value mail deliveries were moved between institutions, large cities, banks, and government offices. They rode mail trucks and trains, often seated with the driver and in with the valuable cargo. The Navy Secretary told his new detachment of 50-plus Marines and officers:
“To the Men of the Mail Guard, you must when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand and, if attacked, shoot and shoot to kill. If two Marines are covered by a robber, neither must put up his hands, but both must immediately go for their guns. One may die, but the other will get the robber, and the mail will get through. When our Corps goes in as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty. There can be no compromise.”
That was the spirit of the orders. The orders themselves were just as intense.
1. To prevent the theft or robbery of any United States mails entrusted to my protection.
2. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to handle the mails entrusted to my protection and to allow no unauthorized persons to handle such mails or to have access to such mails.
3. To inform myself as to the persons who are authorized to enter the compartment (railway coast, auto truck, wagon, mail room, etc.) where mails entrusted to my protection are placed, and to allow no unauthorized person to enter such compartment.
4. In connection with Special Order No. 3, to prevent unauthorized persons loitering in the vicinity of such compartment or taking any position from which they might enter such compartment by surprise or sudden movement.
5. To keep my rifle, shotgun, or pistol always in my hand (or hands) while on watch.
6. When necessary in order to carry out the foregoing orders, to make the most effective use of my weapons, shooting or otherwise killing or disabling any person engaged in the theft or robbery, or the attempted theft or robbery of the mails entrusted to my protection.
The FAQ section of the Mail Guards’ training manual tells you everything you need to know about how Marines would respond to this robbery problem, once the gangster tried to break in:
“Q. Suppose he [the robber] is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape? A. Shoot him.
Q. Suppose the thief was apparently unarmed but was running away? A. Call halt twice at the top of your voice, and if he does not halt, fire one warning shot; and if he does not obey this, shoot to hit him.
Q. Is it permissible to take off my pistol while on duty; for instance, when in a mail car riding between stations?
A. Never take off your pistol while on duty. Keep it loaded, locked, and cocked while on duty.
Q. Is there a general plan for meeting a robbery?
A. Yes; start shooting and meet developments as they arise thereafter.
Q. If I hear the command ‘Hands Up,’ am I justified in obeying this order? A. No; fall to the ground and start shooting.
Q. Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery? A. Only over a dead Marine.”
Marines in a mail car.
Robberies stopped entirely. For four months, the Marines guarded the U.S. Mail, and for four months, there were zero successful robberies. After a while, the Post Office was able to muster its own guard forces, and the Marines were withdrawn from mail duty. By 1926 robberies shot up again and the Marines were called back.
The second time the Marines were withdrawn, people stopped trying to rob the U.S. mail.
(Writer’s note: This article contains descriptions of real-world violence and there is a video embedded that shows attack helicopters firing on insurgents on the burning outpost. Obviously, viewer/reader discretion is advised.)
The attack on the U.S. forces near Wanat in Afghanistan centered on Kahler, a combat outpost in the area. COP Kahler was a strong position, but it faced a number of defensive weaknesses. First, it wasn’t the high ground in the valley. That’s a compromise military leaders sometimes have to make, but you really don’t want to have to defend a position where an enemy can fire on it from above.
Another problem was that civilian buildings came close to the outpost. This included a mosque that the attackers would misuse as a fortress to get an advantageous position against the defenders.
Finally, and probably most importantly, COP Kahler was not yet done. Engineers had been working for weeks to prepare for construction, but the actual building only began on July 9, four days before the attack would come. And a number of important defensive measures wouldn’t be complete for weeks or potentially months.
Some of the defensive positions on July 13 were still just concertina wire and guns, though some positions were protected by boulders, HESCOs, or hasty earthworks. The task force had planned for the possibility that an attack would come early, while the outpost was still vulnerable. But the intelligence estimates did not anticipate an attack by hundreds, and the assets at the base didn’t either.
But Chosen Company of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was holding and building Kahler, and they had prepared well for an attack with what they had.
The defenders’ TOW missile launcher was mounted on a HMMWV that could be driven around the site, but a platform was quickly built to give it better fields of view and fire. And there were two mortars, a 120mm and a 60mm, to provide additional muscle.
And the Americans had built observation posts in the territory around the outpost. These would allow American forces to inflict casualties from higher ground, but it would also deny the enemy a chance to occupy those three positions, meaning that was three fewer positions the insurgents could attack from.
And the engineers were busy from July 9 to 13, filling as many HESCOs and digging out as many fighting positions as they could. They were able to provide significant protection to the 120mm and many fighting positions before the attacks came. The 60mm mortar had a pit and a few sandbags, providing some protection. (Some of the defenses and fighting can be seen in this video.)
There were signs in the buildup to the attack that it was coming. Men in the nearby bazaar were seen watching the Americans and seemingly doing pace counts to figure out distances. The number of children in the village slowly dropped, and Afghan contractors refused to bid on some services for the base.
So when Capt. Matthew Myer saw five shepherds traveling together near the base he immediately prepared for a complex attack, using his TOW and mortars to hit the men shifting around the base. Five shepherds will rarely travel together because that many shepherds signals that there are either too many shepherds or too many goats in one area for normal grazing.
But before Myer could give the order to attack, two bursts of machine gun fire signaled the enemy forces, and then a rain of rockets came onto the U.S. warriors. The Battle of Wanat was on, and the enemy had seized the initiative.
That first volley came in the first hours of July 13, and it contained a very large amount of RPGs. While the Army history of the battle gives no official number to the rockets that hit the base, quotes from the men who fought in the battle described an absolute rain of rockets that left dozens and dozens of tail fins on the ground around the Americans. A radiotelephone operator later said that the “RPG fire was like machine gun fire.”
The insurgent forces had sneaked up close to the outpost and unleashed hell, and the volume of fire indicated that there had either been a major buildup of rockets at these positions or else runners were keeping the shooters well supplied. This rain of explosions took the TOW launcher out of the fight and suppressed a mortar and some machine guns and grenade launchers.
Myers and his men were suddenly struggling to achieve fire superiority. The mortar crew got at least four high-explosive rounds off despite the incoming fire, but were driven back from the weapon by the RPGs and machine gun fire. Rounds were flying in from buildings and trees near the outpost, and the fire was concentrated on the mortarmen.
But they weren’t the only ones in trouble. Another main objective of the enemy force was cutting one of the observation posts, OP Topside, off from the main force. While the OPs provided protection to the COP, they would also be vulnerable to enemy attack until the engineers were done clearing vegetation from the fields of fire.
A mortar crewman was injured by an RPG, and then another was hurt while dragging the first casualty to safety at the command post. The TOW launcher and HMMWV exploded, and it injured an Afghan soldier, knocked out some American communications equipment, and dropped two unexploded but unstable missiles back onto the defenders.
The artillery assets supporting the outpost sent death back at the attackers whenever they could, but they were firing 155mm howitzers at high angle. Danger close starts at just over 700 yards, and anything closer than 600 yards in rough terrain is simply too risky to fire. The automatic grenade launchers on the base had a similar problem.
The weapons that were available were fired at such a high rate that many of them began to overheat, and then the only .50-cal went down after an enemy round struck it in the feed tray cover.
But the worst of the fighting for the Americans took place at OP Topside. Only nine Americans were there at the start of the fighting, and the insurgent activity made reinforcing them a dangerous and tricky task, though the paratroopers would do so successfully multiple times.
The OP had its own artillery observer, but he was wounded in that first RPG volley. A paratrooper at Topside was killed in that same volley, and another died just moments later while attempting to throw a grenade. Another was wounded so badly that he could not fight.
The six men able to fight, including the forward observer, were forced to work through their own injuries and beat back the attack. Fortunately, the observer had sent a list of pre-planned targets back to the gun lines days before, and so artillery was able to send some assistance despite the fact that the observer could not conduct the calls for fire.
The defenders attempted to get the upper hand, but their own crew-served weapons went down from overheating or ammo shortages, and then one gunner was killed while firing his M4.
Finally, reinforcements from the main COP moved out. But the three-man team lost one soldier en route to a wound in the arm. Soon after they arrived, the enemy made it through the wire.
The attack was repulsed, but the two reinforcements were killed, and so was another soldier. A short time later, a sergeant moved forward to suppress fighters in a nearby building and was killed. Only one soldier was left in fighting shape with another three seriously wounded.
The defender managed to take out an enemy position with a light anti-tank weapon, giving most of the survivors just enough time to fall back to another position. But in their haste, they missed that the forward observer was severely wounded but still alive.
This artilleryman grabbed a grenade launcher and fired every round he had and threw every hand grenade he could reach. Just before he was forced to make a last stand at the OP, four men from the COP reinforced him, and Topside remained in American hands.
But a new attack, once again led by RPGs, strained this control. Every paratrooper on the OP was wounded, and one would die soon after. A platoon sergeant gathered a new force of seven paratroopers and two Marines and once again reinforced the OP, arriving shortly before the Apache attack helicopters.
Gun runs by the helicopters with their 30mm cannons finally drove the attackers back and allowed this larger force to protect the OP. Another platoon from Chosen Company arrived to help out their brothers-in-arms. This force brought multiple machine guns and two automatic grenade launchers with them on HMMWVs as well as multiple anti-tank rocket launchers.
The quick reaction force assaulted into the bazaar, driving the enemy from nearby buildings while suppressing other positions with the trucks. QRF fighters threw out smoke to mark insurgent positions and the Apaches eliminated them. Slowly, the volley of RPG fire lessened and, four hours after the attack began, the terrorist forces finally began to retreat.
Medical evacuation crews landed under fire to get the wounded out, in at least one case evacuating a casualty while an Apache made a gun run just 30 yards away. This limited American losses to the nine paratroopers already killed. A massive surge in U.S. and Afghan forces occurred July 13 with Afghan commandos coming in to clear the nearby village house-to-house and gain intelligence.
The biggest surprise for the Afghan commandos came when they searched the Afghan National Police station near the compound. A massive cache of weapons was there with most of them having been recently fired. But the evidence was that they had fired in support of the insurgents, not against them. The police chief and others were arrested.
Over the following days, American air assets pummeled insurgent positions, and future Chief of Staff of the Army Mark Milley set up operations in Wanat. An estimated 20-50 enemy fighters were killed in the fighting.
Despite the hard-won tactical success, senior leaders decided that holding Wanat was simply too costly and drained resources from more fruitful fights elsewhere. Chosen Company was pulled out.
Israeli Col. Giora Epstein, one of the world’s greatest fighter aces of the jet era, was leading a flight of four planes during the Yom Kippur War when his team spotted two Egyptian MiG-21s. Epstein pursued the pair and quickly shot down the trail plane.
But that’s when the Israelis got a surprise. The pair of MiG-21s were bait. While the four Israeli planes were pursuing the surviving MiG they could see, approximately 20 more MiG-21s suddenly hit them with an ambush.
What followed was one of the most lopsided victories in modern aerial combat. The four Israeli Neshers fought the approximately 21 MiGs, calling out to each other to help them avoid Egyptian MiGs or to chase down vulnerable enemies.
During the fight, Epstein’s partner shot down a MiG but got missile exhaust into his own engine, causing a stall. Epstein walked him through a restart and sent him home. Another Israeli pilot chased a MiG out of the battle area, and the third headed home due to a lack of fuel.
Epstein found himself alone with 11 enemy MiGs. What followed was minutes of insane aerial combat as Epstein’s main target pulled off a maneuver thought impossible in a MiG-21: a split S at approximately 3,000 feet. It’s a move that should have caused him to crash into the ground.
But the MiG succeeded, barely. It got so close to the ground that it created a cloud of dust against the desert ground, but then escaped the cloud and flew back toward the sky. Epstein managed to get a burst of machine gun fire out before the MiG could escape, destroying the Egyptian jet. Epstein was left in the fight with 10 MiG-21s out for vengeance for their lost comrades.
The MiGs flew in pairs against Epstein, firing bursts of machine gun fire and missiles at the Israeli ace. Epstein outmaneuvered them, killing two with 30mm cannon fire and forcing the rest to bug out.
The entire battle had taken 10 minutes. See how Epstein did it in the video below:
If there’s one generally accepted rule of warfare, it’s that you should never invade Russia during the winter. Hitler tried it and failed horribly, Napoleon tried before that and found equally terrible results, and the Swedes who fought in the Great Northern War would tell a similar story.
Supply lines running thin in the freezing cold and enveloping mud spells doom for anyone attacking into a Russian winter — or does it? For some reason, history tends to overlook the many times Russia has lost in the cold, despite their home-turf advantage.
1. The Japanese — Russo-Japanese War
Because the giant nation’s borders have changed throughout history, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly constitutes the “Russia” part of a “Russian winter.” Most historians would define it as invading west of the Steppes, but technically, the Japanese attacked Russia by taking Russian-controlled Korea and Manchuria.
Japan invaded and conquered the Korean peninsula in February 1904. Ironically, Tsar Nicholas II couldn’t get the supplies needed from the Western half of Russia due to intense winter weather — the same conditions that, supposedly, make Russia impregnable. As a result, the Japanese were able to fortify and held the territory until the end of WWII.
2. The Finns — Continuation War
As hard fought as the Winter War between Finland and the USSR was, the Finns managed to hold onto their independence by ceding 11% of their bordering lands to the Soviet Union. Later, Finland sought to regain these lands by making an enemy-of-my-enemy pact with Nazi Germany in 1941.
Finnish forces pushed through to Leningrad so “successfully” that it made Hitler confident he could do the same. Except, in this case, “success” meant that cannibalism wasn’t too widespread. Though trying, the Finns were able to hold onto territory until 1944, when Finland sided with their archenemy, Russia, to fight off Nazi Germany.
3. The Swedes — Ingrian War
Swedish invasions combined with ongoing Polish aggression (detailed below) in the early 17th century kicked off what has since been known in Russian history as “the Time of Trouble.” Sweden sought to capture the Russian throne, and they started by launching an offensive on Novgorod, which resulted in the successful installation of a Swedish monarch.
To find eventual peace, treaties were formed and broken and reformed and rebroken and finally reformed in favor of Sweden. Either way, the Swedish Kingdom pushed the Russians back to Kola and, in the process, kicked off what the Swedes call their “Age of Greatness.” Eventually, the Russians and Swedes formed an uneasy alliance because both of them were more focused on another common enemy: Poland.
4. The Poles — Livonian War
Not to be outdone by the Swedes, Poland also got involved with conflict in the Russians around the turn of the 17th century. Swedish and Polish armies invaded Russia from different fronts and would eventually fight each other. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth get most of the credit for invading Russia because they seized and held territory in the name of Roman Catholicism.
The Polish king, Stefan Bathory, lead a widely-successful, five-year campaign against Ivan IV (or, as history knows him, Ivan the Terrible). It would take years for Russian forces to reunify under the Romanov dynasty and defend the Kremlin.
5. The Central Powers — WWI
During WWI, the Germans managed to push the Eastern front all the way to Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and caused enough instability to forever change Russian history. Germany pressured Russia into the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, which made Russia give up control of Poland and the Baltic States after fighting through the long winter of 1917-1918, effectively putting an end to fighting on the Eastern Front.
This was also what would sway public support for the Communist Red Army. In a way, the Czardom of Russia was completely destroyed because they lost a war fought in a Russian winter.
6. The Mongols — The Golden Horde conquests
And, of course, the grandsons of Ghengis Khan very successfully curb-stomped the Kievan Rus’ at the height of the Mongol Empire. They cleared out Ryazan and Suzdal in December 1237 and eventually pushed their way into Kiev by December 1240. They were without supply lines (they were nomads — they didn’t rely on them) and were very much on Russian soil as winter set in. Their primary means of battle, the cavalry, were very susceptible to the rigors of winter, but still dominated.
Nearly every harsh element of harsh winters should have crippled the Mongol forces. Instead, the Mongols only stopped because they had little interest in holding territory.
Before George Jones made it big in country music with his 1959 hit, “White Lightning,” the Hank Williams-obsessed twentysomething was a United States Marine. Six years later, he was recording a song written by the Big Bopper and writing songs that would be sung by Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn.
Jones’ military career was just three years long. Stationed in San Jose, California, he managed to miss the entire Korean War, being discharged in 1953.
Through it all, the legendary singer-songwriter struggled with alcoholism like his daddy before him. Even after he was invited to sing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, he was already once divorced, singing at the worst honky tonks in Texas. Throughout the 1960s, Jones was known for showing up drunk to things, be it a show, a recording or a friend’s house in the middle of the night.
In 1967, Jones actually had to be forced into a detox facility to help curb his drinking habit. But nothing could actually stop him if he wanted a drink – and his ability to get a drink if he wanted one was as legendary as his songwriting.
One alcohol-related incident is remembered above all others, and is the subject of many stories, murals and no fewer than three recreations in modern country music videos.
His then-wife, Shirley Corley, claims she hid the keys to both cars one night while the couple was living outside of Beaumont, Texas. As far as he might go to get a drink, walking eight miles to get to the closest liquor store was a little too far. Jones, according to his autobiography, “I Live to Tell It All,” looked out the window and saw his salvation.
“There, gleaming in the glow, was that 10-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
Jones drove the eight miles to Beaumont, Texas, to get his drinks, aboard a riding lawn mower. It was a move he would reference over and over in years to come, including in his own music videos.
He wrestled with his drinking habit – and sometimes drug habits – for most of his career. He managed to clean up for most of the 1980s but finally kicked the booze after a 1999 car accident found he was drunk behind the wheel. According to Jones, it “put the fear of God” in him.
Jones died at age 81 in 2013. His funeral produced more musical tributes than a three-day summer country concert, all for the former Marine who embodied an entire generation of country music.
Charles-Étienne Gudin’s heart has always been with France. More specifically, it’s been in France since his death fighting the Russians with Napoleon in 1812. His body, unfortunately, was mostly lost to history. Gudin was just one of 380,000 members of Napoleon’s Grande Armée who never made it back to France.
Well, mostly, anyway. His remains were recently discovered in a park in Smolensk, Russia, a find that can finally close the door on the emperor’s disastrous march to Moscow and his hasty retreat.
Gudin served the French Army faithfully for decades, first under the reign of King Louis XVI, then under the revolutionary government of France. Somehow, Gudin’s noble life didn’t end with the guillotine and he continued his service when Napoleon finally ascended to power, unifying France – and the rest of Europe against France.
He first became a general while Napoleon was First Consul of France. By the time Napoleon finally became emperor, Gudin had already fought for France in the Wars of the First and Second Coalitions. By the time he fought against the Third and Fourth Coalitions, he was one of the emperor’s most trusted leaders.
His service earned him the title of Count of the French Empire, Governor of Fontainebleau, and a division command in the Grande Armée during Napoleon’s planned invasion of the Russian Empire. Russia was not complying with Napoleon’s Continental System, a blockade of Great Britain that was forced on European powers. Anyone not complying would have to face Napoleon in battle, which was not an appetizing idea to any world leader at the time.
When he learned that much of Britain’s exports were flowing into Spain, he launched an invasion of the country, which was already in the middle of a war of independence. In 1812, realizing Russia was not complying, he decided to create the world’s largest army and bring Tsar Alexander I to his knees.
It wouldn’t be the first time France had whipped the Russian Bear. He defeated the Tsar at Friedland in a pretty evenly matched battle. At Austerlitz, the outnumbered Napoleon inflicted a humiliating defeat against both the Russian Empire and the Austrian Empire, which completely reshaped the continent, ceded Italy and parts of Germany to France and effectively ended the Holy Roman Empire.
The thought of the most effective military leader the world had ever known massing an army of nearly half a million men and heading for Russia was not a good one for Alexander but the sheer size of the Grande Armée would be its own undoing. It was not able to feed itself and depended on foraging to sustain its men. When the Russians under Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov began its scorched-earth policy and subsequent retreat, refusing battle with Napoleon, the French Army began to dwindle away.
When the emperor arrived in Moscow, he found it on fire. As the army finally turned around and headed back for France, it was a shadow of its former self. Winter set in and decimated the retreating French, who were suffering from widespread disease and couldn’t even build campfires, let alone fight.
But Gudin never even made it that far. At the August 1812 Battle of Valutino, near Smolensk, Russia, French forces engaged a small Russian defensive position on the Stragan River. Gudin led the final assault on the position. It was a success and the French won the day, but Gudin was hit by a cannonball and lost a leg in the effort. Three days later, he died of gangrene. His heart was removed from his body and returned to France.
The rest of Gudin was found in a coffin in a park near Smolensk in 2019. Almost two years to the day later, Russia returned the general’s remains. In a ceremony held near a Moscow airport, a horse-drawn cart accompanied by men in 19th-century French military uniforms accompanied the remains as it was repatriated to France.
“Gudin represents a reconciliation between France and Russia, because Gudin was a Russian enemy in 1812. He came to attack Russia. Now, when Russia honours him and gives (the remains) to France, it’s the biggest symbol of reconciliation between our two countries,” Pierre Malinowski, president of the Foundation for the Development of Russian-French Historical Initiatives told reporters at the ceremony.
In the days following the end of World War II, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong described the United States as a “paper tiger,” borrowing a centuries old Chinese expression that means a “blustering but harmless” person. Chairman Mao actually used the term to describe a lot of things: the atomic bomb, Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, and German Chancellor Adolf Hitler.
No matter how old the term is or where it came from, there are many examples of “paper tigers” throughout military history. It aptly describes a force that appears powerful on paper but falls apart in practice. Here are a few of history’s biggest.
1. 1940s France
France never deserved its reputation as the cheese-eating surrender monkeys many people incorrectly believe, even today. In 1940, the French Army was one of the world’s largest. France had fought a number of wars with great successes over the course of history. In 1940, it fielded the largest, most numerous, and most powerful artillery in the world. It had more tanks, more and better equipment and a better air force than Nazi Germany. It even had a string of carefully constructed fortifications designed to keep Germany out.
Despite all that and the French mobilization and preparation for war, the Nazis delivered a stunning defeat on the French in just six weeks, forever wrecking their reputation as formidable opponents, whether deserved or not.
2. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
At the end of the 1980s the Iraqi Army had just ended a nearly ten-year war with Iran that completely transformed the Iraqis into a large force of battle-hardened veterans. Hussein fielded the world’s fourth-largest army, and overran neighboring Kuwait in just a few hours. With 900,000 men, more than 5,000 tanks and almost 4,000 artillery pieces, much of it some of the best Soviet-built equipment available.
Yet, when the United States and Coalition partners geared up for Operation Desert Storm, the result was a total rout. The Iraqis, who became veterans fighting Kurdish separatists and Iranian troops, were totally unprepared for the kind of mobile warfare the U.S. brought to bear. On top of that, the U.S. maintained complete air superiority, able to strike almost anywhere at any time. The large army Hussein fielded ended up surrendering en mass to Coalition troops. After 44 days of continuous bombing, the Iraqis were pushed out of Kuwait almost as fast as they had come in.
3. Egypt in the Six-Day War
By 1967, Israel was used to being the underdog in a rough neighborhood. It warned neighboring Egypt that closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships would spark a war, but Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, with 240,000 men under arms wasn’t hearing it. He moved his troops in position to guard against Israeli aggression and closed the Straits anyway. He was still caught by surprise when Israeli launched a massive preemptive strike against Egypt that destroyed much of its air force on the ground.
Even when Syria and Jordan joined the war on Egypt’s side, the inferiority of the Arab armies was apparent. The Israel Defense Forces enjoyed complete air superiority and inflicted a punishing defeat on all three countries. The Israelis not only soundly defeated Egypt in six days, but captured the entire Sinai Peninsula.
4. Argentina in the Falklands War
Although not massive in terms of the numbers fielded by other armies on the list, the 60,000-strong army used to invade the British-held Falkland Islands in 1982 should have been more than enough to repel the UK task force sent by London to retake them. Reinforced by relatively large numbers of anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missiles, and Argentina’s not unsubstantial air forces should have been enough to repel the unprepared and incredibly distant British response.
It only took three days for the UK to dispatch its forces. Even so, when it arrived, US naval intelligence deemed its success an “impossibility.” The British were outnumbered, outgunned, and should have been facing a disparity in air power – at least, on paper. Instead, the task force retook the islands within 74 days and the military junta that governed Argentina eventually fell as a result.
Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.
The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.
On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.
Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.
Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.
Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.
On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.
Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.
Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.
On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.
An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.
The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.
There were no survivors.
In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.
Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
In 1942, a Japanese fleet of almost 100 ships, led by the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, attempted an even more overwhelming attack that would have kicked the U.S. out of the Central Pacific and allowed the empire to threaten Washington and California. Instead, that fleet stumbled into one of the most unlikely ambushes and naval upsets in the history of warfare.
Thanks to quick and decisive action by key sailors in the fleet, the U.S. ripped victory from the jaws of almost-certain defeat.
The first big decision that saved Midway Atoll came as Pearl Harbor was still burning. Intelligence sailors like Cmdr. Edwin Layton had to figure out what Japan would do next.
Patrick Wilson as Cmdr. Edwin Layton in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Naval intelligence knew that Japan was readying another major attack. Layton was convinced it was aimed at Midway, but Washington believed it would hit New Guinea or Australia. Layton and his peers, disgraced by the failure to predict Pearl Harbor, nevertheless pushed hard to prove that the Japanese objective “AF” was Midway.
A clever ruse where they secretly told Midway to report a water purification breakdown, then listened for whether Japan reported the breakdown as having occurred at “AF” proved that Midway was the target and allowed the Navy to concentrate valuable resources.
Next, Layton’s new boss, Adm. Chester Nimitz, agreed with his intelligence officers and prepared a task force to take on Japan. But Japanese attacks and other priorities would make that a struggle. The daring Doolittle Raid in April against Tokyo proved that American airpower was capable of striking at the heart of Japan, but it tied up two aircraft carriers.
Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Then, America lost a carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea and suffered near-catastrophic damage to another, the USS Yorktown. With only two carriers ready to fight but the attack at Midway imminent, Nimitz made the gutsy decision to prepare an ambush anyway. He gave repair officers at Pearl Harbor just three days to repair the USS Yorktown even though they asked for 90.
Still, Nimitz would have only three carriers to Japan’s six at Midway, and his overall fleet would be outnumbered more than three to one.
If this under-strength U.S. fleet was spotted and destroyed, Japan would finish the victory begun at Pearl Harbor. Cities in Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast would be wide open to attack.
After a few small strikes on June 3, the Battle of Midway got properly underway in the early hours of June 4. The opening clash quickly proved how easily the base at Midway would have been steamrolled without the protection of the carriers. The 28 Marine and Navy fighters on the atoll were largely outdated and took heavy losses in the opening minutes. It quickly fell to the carrier-based fighters to beat back the Japanese attack.
But something crucial happened in this opening exchange: A PBY Catalina patrol plane spotted two of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. could go after the enemy ships while Japan still didn’t know where the U.S. fleet was. The decision to search this patch of ocean and report the sighting would change history.
American bombers and torpedo planes launched from 7 am to 9:08 and headed to the Japanese carriers in waves.
When Ensign George Gay Jr. took off that morning, it was his first time flying into combat and his first time taking off with a torpedo. But he followed his commander straight at the Japanese ships, even though no fighters were available to cover the torpedo attack.
The torpedo bombers arrived just before the dive bombers, yet the Japanese Zeros assigned to defense were able to get to Gay’s squadron. An estimated 32 Zero planes attacked the Douglas TBD Devastators, and all 15 planes of Gay’s squadron were shot down.
Gay survived his crash into the sea and was left bobbing in the middle of the Japanese fleet for hours. But the decision of the torpedo pilots to attack aggressively despite having no fighter cover and little experience drew away the squadron of Mitsubishi Zeroes guarding the Japanese carriers. This risky gambit would allow the dive bombers to be lethal.
One of the dive bomber pilots was Navy Lt. Dick Best. A faulty oxygen canister injured him before he ever saw an adversary, and then a co-pilot suffered a mechanical failure, but he kept his section of planes flying against the Japanese carriers.
Ed Skrein as Dick Best (left) and Mandy Moore as Anne Best in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Best was forced to decrease altitude and ended up at the lead of the dive bombers right as they reached the Japanese fleet. He took his section through a series of violent maneuvers before they released their bombs over the carrier Akagi at full speed. Two bombs destroyed planes taking off, and another did serious damage to the deck. One of the hits jammed the carrier’s rudder, forcing it into a constant turn that made it useless until it sank. Another two carriers were destroyed in that attack as Gay bobbed in the ocean.
The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu circles to avoid bombs while under attack by Army Air Force B-17 bombers from Midway Atoll on the morning of June 4, 1942. Soryu suffered from some near misses, but no direct hits during the attack.
(U.S. Air Force)
Best was injured, and mourning lost friends, but he took part in a later attack that afternoon and bombed the carrier Hiryu despite curtains of fire coming from the carrier and a nearby battleship. Hiryu was the fourth Japanese carrier lost in the battle, and it created a sea change in the war.
Japan was forced out of the Central Pacific, and America was on the warpath, all thanks to the decisions of U.S. sailors like Best, Gay, Nimitz, and Layton.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
When the 95th Infantry Division joined the struggle in Northern France, they could not possibly have imagined the enormous task they would soon face. They landed in France in September and first entered combat towards the end of October. Their first actions were in support of the larger attack on the fortress city of Metz.
The last force to conquer the city was commanded by Attila the Hun in 415 AD, more than 1,500 years before WWII.
While the city was always heavily defended, the French updated the fortifications prior to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. These fortifications included some fifteen forts that ringed the city.
After France’s capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War, the region of Alsace-Lorraine, which included Metz, was annexed by Germany.
Prior to the First World War, Germany enhanced the fortifications around Metz by adding an additional 28 forts and strongpoints in a second ring outside the first. When the French retook possession of the city after the war, they incorporated the new German defenses into the Maginot Line. This included upgrading many positions with rotating steel turrets housing artillery.
By October, when the 95th joined the fray, little progress had been made in cracking the cities defenses.
Beginning in early November, the division’s first order of business was to secure several bridgeheads in the area. This was done under the guns of the German forts and against stiff resistance on the ground. 1st Battalion 377th Infantry Regiment reported over 50% losses after successfully making a river crossing at Uckange.
At the same time the 2nd Battalion, 378th Infantry Regiment secured a bridge at Thionville.
With the Americans approaching the forts, the Germans launched numerous counterattacks to drive them from their bridgeheads. All along the line the Americans threw the Germans back with heavy casualties.
Now with their positions across the river were secured, it was time to go to work on the forts.
Under the command of Colonel Robert Bacon, the two battalions that made the river crossing joined the division reconnaissance troop and a tank company to form Task Force Bacon.
The task force tore down the east bank of the Moselle towards Metz, capturing five towns in the first day. The next day, an additional six towns were captured by the task force. A journalist traveling with the task force described the attitude of its commander:
“Col. Bacon was given a self-propelled 155, but he didn’t use it exactly as the books say it’s supposed to be used. His idea of correct range for the big gun was about 200 yards. Result was that a considerable number of buildings required remodeling later.”
That night the task force reached the outskirts of Metz.
While Task Force Bacon was giving the Germans hell, the rest of the division was driving down the west bank of the Moselle and reducing German forts. The division then executed an assault crossing of the river under heavy fire and also made their way into the outskirts of the city.
At this point, the outer ring of forts was broken and the men now faced the formidable inner ring.
On Nov. 18, ten days after joining the fight for Metz, a patrol from the 95th linked up with elements of the 5th Infantry Division attacking from the south. They now had Metz surrounded.
The two divisions then launched an all-out attack on the city. As the men of the 5th Infantry Division stormed the forts to the south, the 95th instead decided to use deception.
Col. Samuel Metcalfe of the 378th Infantry Regiment, tasked with leading the assault, wanted to do an end run around the line of forts to his front but he needed to keep the Germans distracted to do so. A small task force of infantry and support personnel was left in front of the forts and told to make as much noise as possible. The trick worked like a charm and within several hours the regiment rolled up six of the forts from the rear.
As the onslaught continued, American forces entered the fortress city of Metz. It was an achievement unmatched in over 1,000 years.
Still the fighting continued.
During the heavy fighting to take the city, the 95th Infantry Division had its first Medal of Honor recipient. Over the course of several days Sgt. Andrew Miller repeatedly led his squad in reducing German pillboxes and machine gun positions. Often single-handedly and at close range, Miller stormed the positions and captured German prisoners. At one point – outnumbered four-to-one – he convinced his would-be killers to instead surrender to him.
In a week of fighting in and around Metz, Miller was responsible for the destruction of at least five enemy machine gun emplacements, killing three German soldiers, and capturing 32. Unfortunately, Miller was killed in action a week after the capture of Metz while once again leading his men from the front.
During the valiant fighting, the war correspondents covering the battle took to calling the 95th Infantry Division “the bravest of the brave.”