The advent of nuclear weapons on the battlefield left the Army very worried. It’s understandable; a bomb that could take out an entire city was rightly seen as a game-changer.
Over the years, the Army has shifted its divisional formations, from the “square” formation in World War I (two brigades each with two regiments) to a “triangle” formation (three regiments). But everything changed when the United States Army designed nukes for use on the battlefield, as they presumed the Soviets were going to eventually develop their own.
The solution was a new, pentomic divisional organization. Instead of regiments and battalions, each infantry and airborne division would have five battlegroups, each with five companies of infantry, a mortar battery, and a headquarters unit. Furthermore, each division had two battalions of artillery. Looking at it mathematically, the “triangular” infantry division had three regiments, each with three battalions that had three infantry companies, making for a total of 27 infantry companies. The pentomic structure had 25 infantry companies.
The first unit to adopt this structure was the 101st Airborne Division. As Time Magazine reported in 1957, the Army planned to re-organize 19 infantry and airborne divisions along the pentomic structure.
However, the Army soon found some problems with this structure. The first was that there was a long gap between command tours. The companies were commanded by captains, but you had to be a full colonel to get a “battlegroup.” Keeping the same person in charge for so long means command skills will get rusty. It also caused consternation among those concerned with tradition. The “battlegroup” concept placed the storied histories of regiments at risk.
Ultimately, the pentomic structure failed to take hold as growing arsenals made a nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact unlikely. The Army ended up going back to a triangular structure that used brigades instead of regiments — just in time for the Vietnam War. In the 2000s, the Army shifted to modular brigade combat teams and put four to a division, before dropping that number to three per division in the 2010s.
Famous Maj. Gen. George A. Custer is probably best known for his exploits after the Civil War, but he graduated from West Point in June 1861, arriving in the regular Army just in time to lead cavalrymen in the First Battle of Bull Run that July. Yeah, Custer rode into combat the month after he graduated college.
Cadet George A. Custer at West Point in 1859.
The First Battle of Bull Run, or the First Battle of Manassas as it was known in the South, focused on the railroad intersection at Manassas. The railroads that intersected there were key to Washington’s ability to send troops and supplies south into Virginia in case of an invasion of the South. Both sides knew this and wanted to control the junction.
The South stationed an army there, but those men largely fell back when 30,000 Union troops assembled nearby in June 1861. Just weeks later, the field commander of the Union Army, Gen. Irvin McDowell, proposed using his 30,000 men to further drive back the Confederate defenders and then advance on Richmond. His goal was to capture the Virginia capital, recently selected as the second capital of the Confederacy.
While the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had fallen back when the Union troops showed up, they were obviously not willing to leave the capital undefended. They had to fight the Union at Manassas Junction.
Custer arrived in Washington D.C. on July 20, 1861, the day before the battle broke out. He had been held on West Point’s campus for disciplinary reasons right after he had graduated from the school as the 34th ranked student in a class of 34. Because of his late start after this detainment, he barely reached D.C. in time for the battle.
He reported to the Adjutant-General’s office and was told that he had been assigned as an officer in the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. (This was an auspicious assignment. Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee had commanded the unit until January 1861.)
But after giving Custer his orders, the adjutant offered to introduce Custer to Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott. At the time, Scott was the Commanding General of the United States Army. Custer gave his assent, and Scott asked Custer if he would rather spend the following weeks training recruits or if he desired “something more active?”
A Union artillery battery is overran at the First Battle of Bull Run.
Custer said he wanted more active work, and Scott ordered him to procure a horse and report back by 7 p.m. to carry dispatches to McDowell, the field commander. Custer did so, introduced himself to the general and his staff, and then reported to his regiment.
Because of West Point’s detaining him, Scott had managed to ingratiate himself with the Army’s top commander and its top field commander mere hours before its first engagement, a fight he would now ride in. It was a pretty great start for a bottom-of-his-class West Pointer.
But when the actual battle touched off, Custer was present and in the saddle, but did not see serious action. The Union commanders had seven cavalry troops on the field, but largely used them attached to infantry brigades where they would, at most, protect the infantry’s flanks or do a little reconnaissance.
Custer, on the right, as a captain after he captured one of his West Point classmates.
(Library of Congress)
Still, he made himself present and provided warnings to commanders, leading to a citation in reports from the battle and impressing George C. McClellan. The battle went badly for the Union, and McDowell was removed from command. That might seem like a problem for the cavalry officer who had just impressed McDowell, but McDowell was replaced by McClellan.
As McClellan re-organized and re-trained the Union military, he kept an eye on Custer who was quickly impressing others, largely through brash actions. During the Peninsula Campaign, he saw a debate about whether it was safe to ford a river and ended the argument by riding into the middle of it and reporting that, yeah, he wasn’t dead. It was probably fine.
Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.
Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.
One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.
As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.
Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.
While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.
It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.
The idea of wearing two watches today seems like an unnecessary bit of showing off. In fact, with the prominence of smartphones and smartwatches, the idea of wearing a traditional time-keeping device on your wrist sounds entirely antiquated. For General “Stormin’ Norman” Scharzkopf, however, the 1991 Gulf War necessitated the wearing of two wristwatches.
“I always wore two watches during the [Gulf] war. The one on my left arm was set on Saudi Arabian time and the Seiko on my right arm was set on Eastern Standard Time. That way I could quickly glance at my watches and instantly know the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C. Sincerely, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, General, U.S. Army, Retired.” General Schwarzkopf penned these words in a letter to the Antiquorum auction house in the late 1990s when he donated one of his personal wristwatches to a charity auction.
Listed as “Seiko ‘Desert Storm, Diver’s watch,’ No. 469576 Stainless steel, centre second, water-resistant to 150m. gentleman’s quartz wristwatch with day and date, rubber strap and stainless steel buckle”, the donated watch was most likely a Seiko Quartz reference 7549-700F. While the watch is commonly believed to be the venerable Seiko SKX009 made famous by Robert Redford in All is Lost, the detail of the quartz movement rules out the SKX and its iconic automatic movement.
General Schwarzkopf’s second wristwatch is a bit more of a mystery. Though his letter to the auction house described the watch on his right wrist as a Seiko, the General is pictured wearing both watches on opposite wrists at different times. This makes it unclear if the Seiko in the letter refers to the dive watch sold at auction or this mystery second watch.
At first glance, the two-tone gold and stainless steel construction gives the impression of a Rolex Datejust which was extremely popular during that time. However, upon closer inspection, the bracelet appears to be a 3-piece link design like the Rolex President rather than the 5-piece design of the Datejust’s Jubilee bracelet. The links are also too small to be a Rolex Oyster bracelet. However, the Rolex President has only ever been made in solid gold or platinum. Being that the General’s watch sports a two-tone bracelet and case, this rules out the Rolex President. Instead, it’s more likely that the watch in question is another Seiko like the model 3E23-0A60. Although it’s billed as a ladies watch, the Seiko fits the bill of having a two-tone gold and stainless steel construction and a matching President-style bracelet.
While it’s not terribly popular across society as a whole, the act of wearing a wristwatch on both wrists has become a practice known as “Schwarzkopfing” by the internet watch community. That said, even amongst watch enthusiasts, the “Schwarzkopf” is not a common sight.
It is also worth noting that Fidel Castro employed a similar practice. The Cuban dictator famously wore two Rolexes on the same wrist. Like with General Schwarzkopf, the practice is attributed to Castro’s need to track multiple time zones. However, one of Castro’s watches was a Rolex GMT-Master which is famous for being able to track up to three time zones. Perhaps the dictator needed to keep track of the time in Cuba, Nicaragua, Moscow and Angola. It’s also worth noting that, at the time, Rolex was a utilitarian brand that made reliable tool watches rather than the luxury status symbol that it is today.
In a way, General Schwarzkopf’s practice of wearing two watches has returned to the military. Front line troops will often wear a G-Shock watch on one wrist to keep time and a Garmin GPS watch on the other to track their grid. Very few service members will reach the rank of four-star General, but if you ever want to imitate one, pull a Schwarzkopf and throw on two watches. Just be sure to put them on different wrists. No one wants to imitate Castro.
Among the first Americans to enter Afghanistan in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks were members of the Central Intelligence Agency’s shadowy Special Activities Division, along with elite special operations personnel from the US military’s various branches.
Tragically, it would be one of the CIA’s Special Operations Group – the armed paramilitary branch of the SAD – who would be the first to lay down his life in the War on Terror, becoming the first American casualty in Afghanistan.
In November 2001, Johnny “Mike” Spann, an SOG operative, found himself at Qala-i-Jangi, a century-old fortress positioned near Mazar-i-Sharif, where hundreds of Taliban fighters were held prisoner by Afghan Northern Alliance militia, having been captured during the Siege of Kunduz that same month.
Spann was a graduate of Auburn University and a former Marine, having served six years as an artillery officer before being recruited to the CIA in 1999. He later went on to join the SAD’s SOG soon afterwards, delving deeper into the world of black operations.
The CIA tasked Spann and another officer – an Uzbek language specialist – with interrogating the captives to glean intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda activity. The prisoners, as one might expect, were extremely uncooperative, and were additionally very poorly screened by their Afghan captors.
In a matter of minutes, the situation devolved into chaos.
A number of the prisoners rebelled against their captors, pulling out hidden hand grenades and detonating them in suicide attacks. Prisoners crowded around Spann during his questioning session began lunging at the SOG officer.
Spann and a fellow CIA operative immediately brought their guns to bear – the former pulling a pistol, and the latter grabbing an AK-47 from a Northern Alliance guard. In the blink of an eye, Spann was mobbed from all sides and disappeared under a mass of Taliban fighters, while his colleague attempted to make his way to his fallen comrade.
Reports estimate that Spann put down anywhere between three to seven enemy fighters with his pistol, before succumbing to the onslaught. The remaining CIA officer systematically dropped more Taliban fighters who had, by now, killed a number of Northern Alliance troops and took possession of their weapons, before running over to warn Red Cross and other civilian workers in the area to escape.
After contacting US diplomatic services in Uzbekistan, a quick reaction force consisting of American and British special forces hailing from Task Force Dagger was assembled and deployed to the area. The QRF established contact with the sole remaining CIA agent, while digging in for a long fight.
American fighter aircraft were directed to drop smart bombs on the fortress, while a pair of AC-130 Spectre gunships, operating under the cover of night, arrived on station, pounding the resistance into submission with concentrated fire.
After a two-day siege, the fort was retaken and most of rebels had escaped to the fort’s main dungeon.
The prisoners holed up in the dungeon finally surrendered after it was flooded with cold dirty irrigation water from nearby fields. Spann’s body was recovered with care in the aftermath of the battle, having found to be booby trapped by Taliban fighters. Of the 300-500 Taliban prisoners taken captive at the fortress, only 86 were recaptured alive.
Spann’s remains were repatriated to the US , and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was posthumously awarded the Intelligence Star – equivalent to a Silver Star – and the Exceptional Service Medallion.
Today, a memorial still stands today at Qala-i-Jangi, commemorating Spann – the first American casualty in Afghanistan post-9/11.
When people think about the military, rigid discipline and hierarchy come to mind. One imagines a hard-nosed drill instructor barking orders at new recruits or a soldier saluting every time an officer is on deck. From a civilian point of view, it might feel difficult or even unfair. Discipline is very important for any army to function properly. It ensures the smooth transmission of orders and the swift implementation of these decisions.
However, sometimes, soldiers choose not to follow orders. In the heat of the actions, their evaluation of the situation is very different from that of their superior, and they decide to act according to their conscience rather than their orders. Thanks to their risky choice, some of these soldiers became heroes. They save lives, cities or the entire world. Here are the stories of 5 heroes who said no.
The Korean War claimed countless lives, including that of 34,000 Americans. On April 24, 1951, the U.S. Army received orders to retreat to the south, but a company of Rangers was trapped, unable to move from their position. Then-Lt. David Teich volunteered to stay behind and organize a daring extraction. His captain replied: “We’ve got orders to move out. Screw them. Let them fight their own battle.” But despite the threat of 300,000 Chinese soldiers fast approaching, Lt. Teich felt a “moral obligation” to try and help his fellow soldiers.
Ignoring the orders, he led four tanks northward. Army Ranger E.C. Rivera, the soldier who crawled up a napalm-fried hill to radio in about his company’s predicament, described these tanks as “the most beautiful sight of [his] life.” So many men boarded the tanks that the guns were no longer visible. Thanks to Lieutenant Teich’s disobedience, 65 lives were saved on that day. He continued his career to become a major, and survivors still call and write to him in thanks for his heroic actions.
On the evening of September 8, 2009, a joint American-Afghan mission to meet the elders of the village of Ganjgal was awry when the 40 men were ambushed by 150 heavily armed Taliban. Upon hearing the news on the radio, Cpl Dakota Meyer and his friend SSgt Juan Rodrigez-Chavez requested permission to go in to help their fellow soldiers, but they were denied four times. Eventually, they decided to ignore the orders. With Rodrigez-Chavez behind the wheel of a Humvee and Meyer manning the turret, they charged into the line of fire.
Over the course of six hours, they made five trips into the village, despite taking heavy fire. Alternating between shooting a defensive barrage of .50 ammo at the Taliban and loading the wounded into the humvee with one hand while firing his M4 with the other, Cpl Meyer, alongside the driver Rodrigez-Chavez, managed to save 36 out of the 40 men who were ambushed. Unfortunately, on their fifth trip, they discovered the bodies of four Marines who had already died in a ferocious last stand. They still managed to bring the bodies back so they could be properly honored. Cpl Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor and the chance to down a cold one with President Obama for his heroic actions.
Due to his religious beliefs, Desmond Doss was a conscientious objector. He refused to bear arms or to kill an enemy. Despite these beliefs, he joined the U.S. Army in 1942, where he became a medic, and he was sent to the Pacific Theater with his platoon. In April 1945, in Okinawa, while attempting to occupy an escarpment known as Hacksaw Ridge, his battalion was taking artillery fire and 75 men were wounded in the attack. Corporal Doss refused to take cover alongside his fellow soldiers and went on to rescue all 75 of the wounded.
Crawling under heavy fire, he moved them one by one to a safe area where they could receive medical attention. In the following 22 days, he rescued many more men, exposing himself to danger without a second thought and placing their lives before his. He was eventually wounded by a grenade and by a sniper bullet. He always refused to carry any sort of weapon to defend himself. His actions earned him a well-deserved Medal of Honor after the war.
After the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Allies began to retake France from the Germans, bit by bit. Seeing the Allies approaching Paris, Hitler gave the general in command, Dietrich von Choltitz, the order to destroy all religious and historic monuments in Paris, leaving the French capital in ruins, if it ever was to fall to the Allies. According to the legend, the Fuhrer called von Choltitz, yelling “Is Paris burning?” The general had different ideas and refused to carry out the destructive order. According to him, “If for this first time I disobeyed, it was because I knew Hitler was crazy.” On the August 25, 1944, he surrendered the intact city to the Allies.
In 1983, the tensions between the USA and the USSR were high and the Cold War was colder than ever. The two powers were in possession of nuclear arsenals that could cause unimaginable damage all around the world if launched. They were only used as a dissuasion device, but the threat was on everybody’s mind. On the September 16, 1983, LtCol Stanislav Petrov was in charge of monitoring Oko, the USSR’s nuclear attack early-warning system. When one of the satellites announced that the USA had launched five ballistic missiles. Such an attack warranted immediate retaliation.
However, Petrov had “a funny feeling in [his] gut.” He reported the detection to his superiors, according to protocol, but as a false alarm. Had he reported it as an attack, the retaliation would have started a nuclear war. Such an event would have led to destruction on a planet-wide scale. By trusting his instinct rather than a faulty system or any anti-American feelings, Stanislav Petrov probably saved the world.
Featured photo: Sgt. (then Cpl.) Dakota Meyer while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Ganjgal Village, Kunar province, Afghanistan. Meyer received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, from President Barack Obama making him the first living Marine recipient since the Vietnam War. Meyer was assigned to Embedded Training Team 2-8 advising the Afghan National Army in the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan. \
Young at the controls of an NYA Sikorsky S-55 (NASM)
Perry Henry Young Jr. was born on March 12, 1919, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In 1929, the family moved to Oberlin, Ohio where his parents hoped that Young and his siblings would receive better education. Young graduated in the top quarter of Oberlin High School’s 1937 class. Following high school, he attended Oberlin College, the country’s oldest coeducational liberal arts college, with the intent of becoming a doctor.
However, in the summer between high school and college, Young went for a ride in an airplane and developed a love for flying. During his freshman year, Young worked part-time to fund his pursuit of a private pilot’s license. Earning $9/week, Young bought flight lessons at the airport for $5.25/20 minutes. With just three hours and 20 minutes of instruction, he made his first solo flight. On August 14, 1939, Young earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 20.
Young developed such a love of flying that he dropped out of Oberlin College to attend the Coffey School of Aeronautics in Chicago to earn his commercial pilot’s license. Founded in 1938, Coffey was America’s first flight school to be African American owned and operated. It was also one of the only schools in the country guaranteed to accept African American students. Despite earning his commercial pilot’s license, Young was unable to find work as a pilot due to racial discrimination.
With a second world war looming, Congress passed the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 which created the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Under the CPTP, African-Americans were required to be included in civilian pilot training, Additionally, Public Law 18 provided for an expansion of the Army Air Corps and the creation of an African-American military flying unit. However, the Army maintained the belief that blacks could not learn to fly as well as whites, and allowed African Americans to train and fly only in segregated units under the command of white officers.
Young (right) with colleagues at Tuskegee (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)
Young was able to find work as one of the 40 African American flight instructors at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. “Very few of us knew anything about flying—few blacks did—and we thought our instructors were going to be white,” then-cadet Lee Archer recalled. “When I saw men like Perry Young, I was surprised and proud. They were like minor gods to me.” Despite his position as an instructor, Young was actually younger than most of the men that he instructed.
Young wanted more than to just teach though; he wanted to serve and fight overseas. However, instructors were too valuable to risk in combat and were barred from joining deploying units. Shakeh Young remembered of her husband, “He didn’t want to be an instructor who trained cadets. He wanted to be a cadet. He wanted to fly.” Of the 992 pilots trained at Tuskegee, Young instructed 150, including George “Spanky” Roberts who would become the first commander of the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron.
After the war, a surplus of military transport planes and a booming economy allowed many ex-military pilots to find jobs in civilian aviation. Despite his extensive experience, Young was unable to find employment as a pilot. He later told a reporter, “I had come up with a different-colored skin, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.”
(Left to right) Young’s mother, Edith, Willa Brown, one of the first female African American pilots, and Young at Chicago’s Harlem Airport, June 1941 (NASM)
Yearning to return to the skies, Young moved to the Caribbean where he and two friends set up a small airline named Port-au-Prince Flying Service. However, the airline went bust after just two years. Young remained in Haiti and found work flying for the Société Haïtienne-Américaine de Dévelopment Agricole until 1953 when he secured a position as an executive pilot for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority. In 1954, he was sent to Connecticut to qualify as a helicopter pilot. Afterwards, Young flew for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority for one more year. He would go on to work as an aircraft mechanic for Seaboard World Airlines in Canada and as a pilot for KLM in the Virgin Islands. By December 1956, he had accumulated 13,000 flight hours, 200 of which were in helicopters.
Young with the Beech Bonanza that he flew for the Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)
Founded in 1949 as a mail and cargo carrier, New York Airways became the first scheduled helicopter airline to carry passengers in the United States. Young had previously applied to NYA, but was rejected because he did not meet their 500 hour helicopter flight time minimum. However, as NYA expanded their routes and upgraded their fleet of single-pilot Sikorsky S-55s to S-58s, which required copilots, the airline needed to hire more pilots. The growing company was also looking to earn some good publicity so, on December 17, 1956, they tracked Young to the Virgin Islands and hired him.
After weeks of intense training, Young made his first official flight as a copilot on February 5, 1957. With this flight, he became the first African American pilot of a regularly scheduled commercial airline in the United States. The New York Mirror was aboard the historic flight and reported:
With Perry Young as the co-pilot, the 12-passenger helicopter rose three feet from the ground, hovered gently for a moment, then, pointing its snub-nose down, soared straight up from LaGuardia Airport. In nine easy “bumpless” minutes we were at Idlewild… Perry Young is unique because he is the first Negro pilot hired by any scheduled airline in America.
Young had broken through a major color barrier in aviation. His achievement made him the face of African American aviation. He even posed for cigarette and razor advertisements in Ebony magazine.
One of the magazine advertisements featuring Young (Viceroy)
Not everyone was pleased with Young’s hiring though. Initially, two white pilots refused to take him as a copilot. NYA was too short-staffed to indulge in their prejudices, and Young was given command of an aircraft within months of his hiring. He went on to fly for NYA for 23 years until the airline filed for bankruptcy in 1979.
Young with an NYA Sikorsky S-58 (NASM/Courtesy Linda Young-Ribeiro)
At 60 years old, Young wasn’t ready to retire just yet though. He returned to the skies as the chief pilot of the Island Helicopter Corporation, flying sightseeing tours from Long Island. Young flew until he was grounded by the FAA’s mandatory age restrictions in March 1986 at the age of 67.
Young retired with his wife to Pine Bush, New York. Ever the aviator, he spent much of his time at the Orange County Airport talking with other pilots and going up for flights with them. His friends and family remember him as always doing something. He died on November 8, 1998.
Young lived for the sensation of flight. His passion for aviation took him beyond both the pull of gravity and the barriers of racial discrimination. Through his achievements, Young opened the door for other black pilots and inspired the next generation of colored aviators to follow their dreams into the skies.
The question over whether or not Confederate soldiers were U.S. veterans is largely a symbolic one today. Only one Civil War pension is still being paid (that pensioner was a veteran of both sides of the conflict), and by the time Confederates received real benefits, they were all dead by the following year. No specific legislation exists that identifies Confederate veterans as having equal status to all other American veterans.
However, provisions exist that could add up to that protected status. Under the law, that is.
President Lincoln considered Confederate citizens and soldiers “Americans in rebellion,” and not citizen of a foreign country. His view dominated in the days following the end of the war. Lincoln even began the Reconstruction process early with the 1863 Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, which pardoned the average Joe Confederate troop still fighting for the South.
President Johnson continued the amnesty policy in 1868, granting a full pardon to most former Confederates, including men who fought the Union directly. They all regained their citizenship and voting rights, but were not granted veterans status by the federal government, which means they did not receive the same benefits promised to those who fought for the Union.
As the 19th century turned to the 20th, Americans began to care for Confederate graves the way they cared for Union ones. But this was not because any Federal act told them to, it was just the spirit of reconciliation in a nation fresh from a victory over Spain. Eventually it was codified into law.
U.S. Code 38 does require the government, when requested, to put up a headstone for soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies of the Civil War, which was confirmed again in 1958 under Public Law 85. That same law also extends veterans’ pensions “to widows of veterans who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.”
The closest Confederates come to U.S. veteran status is in a 2001 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling about whether or not the Confederate flag was able to be flown over a national cemetery, administered by the VA. The court upheld the VA’s treatment of the rebel graves as equally honored, and that it was not obligated to fly any flag except the American flag over the cemetery.
The CSA flag was not considered a legitimate symbol of the United States and the Confederates buried there were honored as citizens, not as veterans.
So when added up, a Confederate’s benefits amounted to much of what was received by a Union veteran, but they’ll never be called American veterans. The closest they ever came was “American citizens” …”who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.”
On Sunday morning, Nov. 4, 1979, 3,000 university students, many armed, stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. Two weeks prior, President Jimmy Carter had allowed former Iranian head of state Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to enter the US for cancer treatment. The radical protesters took more than 90 hostages, including 63 Americans, planning a nonviolent three-day revolt using the hostages as leverage to demand the Shah’s return for trial. But what unfolded was a 444-day saga that became known as the Iranian hostage crisis. Only two days after the US Embassy was seized, the US military was tasked with the rescue efforts code-named Operation Eagle Claw.
Staff Sgt. Mike Vining, 29, was participating in winter warfare training in Breckenridge, Colorado, when his squadron was alerted to immediately return to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Vining had been a plank owner or founding member of the Army’s then-brand-new counterterrorism team established by Army Special Forces legend Col. Charles Beckwith, based on the British SAS. The unit collected the best the Army had to offer, and Beckwith valued those with combat experience or unique skill sets. Vining had both, previously serving as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) specialist in Vietnam for a 12-month tour, where his composite team was responsible for the destruction of the largest enemy weapons cache in the war.
Operation Rice Bowl
When Vining and other members of B Squadron returned to their unit’s compound, they were briefed on the situation and put into isolation to begin planning. The planning stages were dubbed Operation Rice Bowl. The name was picked to suggest, in the event their mission brought scrutiny, that something was going on in Southeast Asia away from the Middle East.
“We were really fearful of any satellites picking up any indication of what we were trying to do,” Vining told Coffee or Die Magazine in a recent interview. “The Russian satellites and so forth. We were worried that the Russians would alert the Iranians.”
The assault teams moved to Camp Peary in Virginia, home to “The Farm,” where CIA operations officers are trained to perform covert missions. The site was transformed to create a mock replica of the US Embassy in Tehran. The CIA even built a 3D model similar to the one used in preparation for the Son Tay Raid in Vietnam, where one could take the roof off and see the interior within.
“When you do military operations and stuff like that you create what’s called a sand table,” Vining said. “The Rangers do that in Ranger School. You draw in the sand what the objective looks like, points that you need to know about. And so it’s just like a sand table, but very elaborate, very sophisticated. It was a great model.”
In Iran, the 27-acre US Embassy compound housed 50 hostages guarded by some 500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, while three additional hostages were kept in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs building 16 blocks away. Throughout the crisis, several hostages were released early, and a secret operation dubbed Canadian Caper helped others escape to a safe house and use Canadian passports to leave the country. This operation was later chronicled in the Hollywood movie Argo.
The planned assault on the embassy was the easy part. It was getting there that was the challenge and that would spiral out of control for the ill-equipped joint-military operation.
The elaborate plan
Beckwith initially proposed a parachute infiltration, but that was quickly scrapped once predictions estimated the ground rescue force would likely suffer a 7% casualty rate right at the start. Instead, planners came up with a helicopter raid, and the training resumed at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona.
The Navy’s helicopter pilots lacked tactical expertise. They were not used to flying at nap-of-the-Earth altitude under night vision goggles, nor were they equipped to transition from desert flying to urban flying. The Marine Corps pilots had no prior experience working with the Navy pilots. Moreover, both the Navy and Marine models of the Sikorsky H-53 helicopters were old and worn out, with frequent mechanical problems. In the end, Marine aircrews were selected to fly Navy helicopters, the first of several decisions to pair up mismatched equipment and personnel that would haunt the mission.
Weeks before the pilots or assaulters were set to launch on the operation, Beckwith enlisted Maj. John Carney, an Air Force Combat Controller (CCT), to install a hidden airstrip with lights that were only visible under night vision goggles. The site was called Desert One, about 200 miles from Tehran, and would be the operation’s initial rally point and refueling site. Next came a small advanced force that would infiltrate Tehran and secure a warehouse containing five Ford trucks and two Mazda vans. The vehicles had facade compartments that would conceal the assaulters as they went through Iranian checkpoints to reach the embassy.
“We had with us people that spoke Farsi really well,” Vining said, adding some of the members included former Iranian generals. “They were going to be our drivers on the vehicles.”
The plan was elaborate. Eight US Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters would fly from the USS Nimitz in the Arabian sea to Desert One. There they would meet the assault force, which would reach Desert One on Air Force C-130s. The helicopters would refuel, and the assaulters would then board the helicopters to fly to a site 50 miles outside of Tehran, called Desert Two. During daylight hours, Vining and the assaulters would stay in a warehouse, while the helicopters hid at Desert Two. The raid would come on the second night.
The escape was even more audacious: The assault teams would move the hostages to a nearby soccer stadium, where helicopters would fly in to pick them up. Meanwhile, a Ranger element would secure a nearby air base. The helicopters would ferry the raiders and the hostages to the air base, where Air Force C-141s would arrive to fly the whole force home.
If anything went wrong, the teams had contingencies to escape.
“We had maps and everybody was carrying money,” he said. “I had $10,000. I had $5,000 in American money and I had $5,000 in Iranian money to help drive our way out. We had stuff to jump-start vehicles if we had to steal a vehicle and get out of Tehran. Then our E&E (Escape and Evasion) plan, we’d head up into the mountains and work our way across the mountains towards Turkey, hopefully running into some Iranians that were friendly, and would help us.”
The plan, however, never made it past Desert One.
Operation Eagle Claw
On April 20, 1980, the complex plan was set into motion. The rescue ground force was flown to Germany, then to Egypt, before the flight to Desert One.
“But as soon as we landed, we see headlights come in, and there was a bus coming down the road,” Vining said. “So Beckwith hollered, ‘Stop that bus!’ So one of the Rangers fired a 40 mm round at the front of the bus. And the bus came to a stop and we boarded the bus.”
Two more vehicles came down the road, a fuel truck and a pickup, who the raiders believed were likely gas smugglers. A Ranger fired a rocket at the fuel truck and it caught fire. “That tanker blew up because it had been sitting there on fire and lit up the sky with a giant fireball,” he said. “It was like, we are really announcing here we are.”
That was only the beginning.
The helicopters were late. Among the eight Sea Stallion helicopters scheduled to land at Desert One, only six arrived, one of which was immediately declared out of service for mechanical issues. Five was the bare minimum the plan allowed to continue the rescue mission.
Vining and his assault team sat inside the EC-130 that had brought them to Desert One. They would board the Sea Stallions after the helicopters took on the fuel that the EC-130 had brought for them. In the center of the EC-130, the large communications pod normally on board the aircraft had been swapped with a bladder of 5,000 gallons of fuel.
On the improvised airstrip, the Air Force CCTs told two of the waiting helicopters to move away from the sandblast of the EC-130’s propellers. One of the helicopters couldn’t taxi on the ground because it had suffered a hard landing and flattened its tires.
“He had to actually lift up off the ground to reposition,” said Vining. “He lifted up, kicked up some sand, [the pilot] got vertigo, and he turned and he twisted. Next thing I know you feel this movement of our aircraft and then the rotors of the helicopter actually cutting into the top of the fuselage.”
The left front cockpit door blew in and behind it was nothing but fire and flames. As the Sea Stallion crashed into the EC-130, its fuel tanks exploded. “The people that witnessed this from the outside said our two aircraft completely disappeared,” he said, “disappeared into a fireball. They thought that both aircraft were at that instant gone.”
Eight Americans died in the initial fireball. Inside the doomed plane, next to a gas tank, Vining thought for sure he was going to as well.
“I really didn’t believe I could make it from my position to that door,” Vining recalled. “I thought I was going to die that day. I was surprised when I actually made it to the door and jumped out. I came out and did a somersault, landed on some hot metal, came to my feet, and just ran.”
As Vining sprinted to safety, he started to hear grenades and small-arms ammunition cook off in the fireball. Then came six Redeye missiles shooting out into the air and into the desert. In the chaos, all of the other helicopter aircrews left their helicopters and ran to fixed-wing planes.
There would be no rescue mission. The task force piled onto the remaining helicopters and planes and returned to a US base in Oman.
“Contrary to what you ever heard, there was no head count taken at Desert One,” he said. “We didn’t know who we had or who we didn’t have until we got to Oman. Then we figured out that we lost eight people, three Marines and five Air Force crewmen that were in the front of the cockpit.”
Operation Eagle Claw was later cast as the “Desert One Debacle.” The Iranians split up the hostages so that they were no longer all in one spot. Still, a second hostage rescue mission was planned, but it never came to fruition. In June 1980, the Iranians released an American hostage with multiple sclerosis. The rest of the hostages were released in January 1981.
Although Eagle Claw wasn’t a success, its failure kick-started the buildup of US special operations forces and capabilities. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the Joint Special Operations Command, and the rest of the US special operations forces can all trace their beginnings to Desert One.
Marooned. Left on a sandbar or other island in the middle of nowhere with just a little food, water, and a loaded pistol to end your suffering. In the world of pirates, it was a punishment for breaking the pirates’ code – and was usually fatal. But the real-life Robinson Crusoe survived his marooning and lived to tell the tale of life on an island in the middle of nowhere, completely alone.
Not a Wilson in sight.
Alexander Selkirk was a Scottish sailor with William Dampier’s second expedition to circumnavigate the globe while privateering; legally pirating Spanish ships. Selkirik was aboard a 16-gun ship named Cinque Ports, a ship that was rather unseaworthy. When Selkirk repeatedly complained to Dampier and the captain of the Cinque Ports, the men decided to maroon him on an island off the coast of Chile.
Selkirk didn’t die there, however. While the Cinque Ports later sunk with almost a total loss of her crew, Selkirk survived and was rescued by English privateer Woodes Rogers… four years later. All that for wanting to make repairs to the ship – a ship he was right about needing repairs. The crew that did survive the ships founding off of Colombia were captured by the Spanish and imprisoned.
Which, historically, does not end well.
The islander spent much of his time at first at the shoreline, scanning for ships and eating seafood. But eventually, the sounds of mating sea lions drove him further inland. Despite suffering from crippling loneliness, he managed to domesticate the island’s wild goats and cultivate the local vegetation. He was eventually attacked by the island’s wild rat population, but simply domesticated feral cats to stave off the attackers. He even built two huts from the trees that grew pepper plants.
He soon began to hunt by hand and spear, as his gunpowder was in limited supply anyway. He also began to make new clothes from the skins of his goats. The only ships that stopped on his island were Spanish. Not only did he not get a rescue, he had to hide lest the men torture and imprison him. But eventually, he was rescued by British seamen.
Which, historically, does not end well.
The British sailors were astonished at the life Selkirk made for himself. He had survived an accidental fall from a cliff, learned to hunt and clean the wild animals of the island, and was the picture of physical fitness. Selkirk was even able to address the ships’ illnesses and clear its sailors of scurvy. Selkirk was able to maintain his sanity because the captain of the Cinque Points left him a bible to read and entertain himself. By the time the English came for him, he was still of sound mind, able to command a prize ship and even returned to privateering against the Spanish.
Selkirk was even one of Daniel Defoe’s inspirations for the title character of Robinson Crusoe. The story of the marooned sailor just goes to show no matter how tough things might seem, a little perseverance might see you through. Alexander Selkirk became a national hero while the people who marooned him died tragically, despite his warnings.
Airships like zeppelins and blimps lost their appeal somewhere between World Wars I and II. It might have had something to do with the Hindenburg going down in a massive, fiery wreck in front of the whole world. By the time World War II came about, airships were a thing of the past for every military except the United States, which is a shame because you did not want to f*ck with an airship.
They seem like goofy floating targets just begging to be shot down but getting to them was a lot harder than anyone might think. More than that, they were really effective at locating enemy submarines and then blowing them into oblivion. Of the 89,000 ships protected by airships during WWII, only one was ever lost.
And only one airship was ever lost, and it happened off the coast of Florida in July 1943.
Blimp-Submarine combat seems like it would be adorable.
The missions of blimp crew was an easy one, use the massive range of sight the blimp had over the ocean waters, locate enemy submarines, then call in for fighters and bombers to come finish the subs off. They had some weapons, a few depth charges, and a .50-cal machine gun, but not something to take on a submarine head-to-head. But K-74 did just that.
A 252-foot airship, K-74 was performing its usual mission in the Florida Straits when it spotted German U-boat 134 on radar. The airship came down from the cover of the clouds to find the boat on the surface of the water. Seeing that the U-boat was headed for a merchant convoy, Lt. Nelson Grills decided he couldn’t just wait for backup and had to act fast. As the ship moved to intercept the boat, the sub’s conning tower exploded with 20-mm rounds.
U-134 under attack from the RAF earlier in 1943. The sub survived the meeting.
K-74 was able to drop two charges on the sub as it flew overhead, but the charges did nothing to silence the 20mm guns. The blimp returned fire, but the submarine had hit one of the airship’s engines, and she was losing altitude fast. Then it caught fire. The next thing he knew, the crew had begun to abandon ship – all because he couldn’t follow protocol. But the ship didn’t explode in a Hindenburg-like burst of flame. It gently fell to the surface of the water, and the crew climbed aboard the deflated ship.
Gills helped his crewmen escape, but as they climbed the balloon part of the ship, Grills got separated when he stayed behind to destroy the ship’s classified documents and top-secret cargo.
The ship’s commander was found when another K-ship spotted him in the water below just a few hours after his ship went down. His crew was in the water all night and was found by a seaplane the next day. Most of them survived, except for one. The crew was being circled by sharks as planes flew overhead and surface ships moved in for a rescue. The USS Dahlgren had come on scene to pick them up, and even though the Dahlgren’s crew managed to keep some sharks away with small arms, one of the K-74 crewmen was pulled under by a shark and disappeared.
All was not lost, however. K-74 damaged the enemy submarine in the action. The U-boat was forced to limp home heavily damaged. Eventually, it was found at sea by the British Royal Air Force, who swiftly finished it off near the Cies Islands.
As a wise man once said, “They say that the best weapon is the one that you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree! I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.”
Adhering closely to this mantra, the M65 was indeed only fired once and then simply used as a deterrent in the early days of the Cold War. Why was this weapon so special? Well, it helps that it fired 280mm nuclear tipped artillery with blast power approximately that of Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima.
Designed by engineer Robert M. Schwartz in 1949, the shells, in addition to being larger than anything the US military had ever produced before, had to have a case some 4000 times stronger than that of the aforementioned bomb dropped on Hiroshima in order for the nuke to survive the extreme forces it would be subjected to when the weapon was fired. While you might think designing such an round would be insanely difficult, if not wholly impossible, Schwartz reportedly had a working rough design ready in just 15 days. The resulting W9 was essentially an 850 pound, 11 by 55 inch shell with a gun type nuclear tip capable of producing a 15 kiloton blast.
Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.
Of course, there was also the problem of the U.S. not then having a cannon capable of firing these W9 shells. Schwartz solved this too, drawing inspiration for the ultimate design of the M65 from German WW2-era railway cannons like the Krupp K5. He also designed the M65 such that it could be transported via roads, hugely increasing the weapon’s utility over railway cannons.
That said, to say the M65 was cumbersome is a massive understatement. Weighing around 83 tons tons, it was rather difficult to move, requiring two trucks packing 375 horsepower engines, one truck on each end of the cannon, with the drivers needing to be in constant communication as they drove. The top speed on this setup was a breakneck 35 mph, if the road was straight and reasonably flat.
Its mobility was also limited by the length of the vehicle- about 80 feet- with one soldier, Jim Michalko, recalling that after getting the cannon stuck in a narrow street during transport in Germany, they ended up having to destroy several buildings in order to make necessary turns.
Despite these issues, a well-trained crew of around 5 people could have the cannon ready to fire in around 15 minutes, with the weapon capable of hitting any target within roughly 20 miles with pinpoint accuracy. It likewise only took around 15 minutes to get the cannon back on the road, ready to nuke another target.
As alluded to earlier, the M65 is known to have only been fired once, as part of Operation Upshot–Knothole, a series of nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Nevada National Security Site in 1953.
In the one and only time a nuclear bomb has been shot from a cannon, during the Grable test at Frenchman Flat, the nuke flew 10 kilometres (roughly 7 miles) through the air, where it exploded about 500 feet above the ground.
The resulting explosion incinerated everything within about a mile of desert, excepting of course a lead lined fridge that was thrown free, and released a shockwave of searing hot air that tore apart lightly armoured vehicles positioned at set distances from the target area- all while several thousand soldiers, hundreds of military officials, several members of congress and then Secretary of Defence, Charles Wilson, looked on in awe from a mere 10 miles away.
Footage of this test was quickly circulated by the military as a show of force to the Soviets, and twenty M65 cannons were ordered to be created, all of which were shipped to Europe and South Korea where they spent around a decade being moved to various classified locations.
However, with the combined advent of tactical nuclear missiles and smaller nuclear shells that could fit in more widely used 155mm and 203mm cannons, the M65, which debuted with a bang in 1953, quietly went the way of Dodo by 1963.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Countries go to war for a lot of reasons these days. Turkey invaded Syria to keep the Kurds from declaring it to be their homeland. The United States and The United Kingdom almost went to war over a pig. Some 2,000 people died in the fighting between two Italian states because someone stole a bucket. While those are all dumb, there are some good reasons to fight a war, and that’s what the “Just War” philosophers have been working on forever.
Over the years, a number of principles have been boiled down from the world of philosophy addressing the subject, as everyone from Saint Thomas Aquinas to NPR have produced their thoughts on the ethics of killing in uniforms. See if your favorite war fits the criteria!
Get in losers, we’re gonna go liberate Kuwait.
It has to be a last resort.
The only way to justify the use of force is to exhaust all other options. If the enemy could be talked down from doing whatever it is they’re doing instead of fighting them to stop them by force, the war can’t be justifiable. In Desert Storm, for example, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein a time limit to remove his forces from Kuwait before bringing down the thunder, that just didn’t persuade Hussein.
It must be declared by a legitimate authority.
Some countries have very specific rules about this. A war cannot be declared by just anyone. What may be egregious to one person or group may not apply equally to the country as a whole, and the rest of the world needs to recognize the need and the legitimacy of the actions taken as well as the authority of those who send their people to war.
A just war is fought to right a wrong.
If someone attacks you out of the blue, you are completely within your right to defend yourself by any means necessary. If a country is seeking to redress a wrong committed against it, then war is justifiable. When the Japanese Empire attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was sufficient enough to send the United States to war.
You have to have a shot at winning it.
Even if one country sucker-punches another or has good intentions in its decision to go to war, it’s not a justified war if that country cannot win it. If fighting a war is a hopeless cause, and the country is just going to send men to their deaths for no end, it cannot be morally justified.
It’s also kind of dickish to do that to your population.
The goal of the war should be to restore peace.
If you’re going to war, the postwar peace you seek has to be better than the peace your country is currently experiencing. Of course, Germany thought going to war in World War II was a just cause. The Treaty of Versailles was really unkind to them. Does it mean they were allowed to kill off the population of Eastern Europe for living space? Absolutely not.
You should only be as violent as you have to be to right the wrongs.
Remember, if you’re going to start a just war, you’re fighting to right a wrong, to redress a grievance. If you start the wholesale slaughter of enemy troops, that’s not a just war by any means. The violence and force used by one country against another have to be equal.
Only kill the combatants.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that an invading force shouldn’t murder enemy civilians, but looking at history – especially recent history – it looks like that’s what it’s come to. A legitimate warrior only kills those on the enemy’s forces who are lawful combatants.