How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Wars are expensive. There’s just no way of getting around that fact. Men, weapons and supplies cost money and countries need a means of paying for them all. To do that, the United States has tried all kinds of ways to raise funds, from the use of War Bonds to forcing draft dodgers to pay an exorbitant fee. 

Even before the turn of the 20th century, the federal government found its ways of filling the war chests with enough gold to fight and win. While today’s perpetual wars are most often paid for in deficit spending, the government of old had to get creative. So it picked up the telephone. 

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the American federal government did not have an income tax. Times were simpler then and the federal government didn’t have the need for so much income or spending. Times definitely have changed and you can see that every April 15th. Those days are long gone and the income tax is here to stay. 

Instead, the United States relied on tariffs from international commerce to fund much of the federal budget. But that didn’t help in times of war, when extraordinary spending measures were required to fund military operations. 

So when Spain declared war on the United States and Congress turned around and did the same to Spain, it decided to levy a three percent tax on telephone service. At the time, it was believed to be a patriotic war tax for a luxury that few Americans had access to. Telephones in the days before the turn of the 20th century were expensive and rare. Many Americans wrote it off as a kind of luxury tax.

For a quick recap, this is what the Spanish-American War was all about. And it’s indirectly responsible for income tax. Thanks for that.

But as anyone who was ever owed money by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service knows, once the government has your money, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. That tax that started in 1898 largely remained in place until 2006. 

That’s not to say that Boomers, Generation-Xers and Millennials have been paying for the Spanish-American War for much of their lives. The tax used to fund that war was rescinded in 1902. The Spanish-American War was not the last war the United States had to pay for. 

In 1914, war in Europe was looming and global trade was disrupted in the outbreak of World War I. The war cut deep into the profits of American companies, hurt tariff revenues, and forced the federal government to once again levy the tax on the telephone. When the United States actually entered World War I, the tax only increased. 

The wartime economic boom soon led to a post-war bust that again hurt businesses and revenue collections, so the World War I telephone excise tax didn’t go away until 1924. But the economy was a bust just five years later and in 1932, the telephone tax returned. By 1954, the tax was raised to 10 percent for local and long-distance calling. 

By the 1960s, more Americans had telephone service, so the excise tax dipped back to three percent in 1966. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began to ramp up, so did the excise tax levied to pay for it. It was pretty much there to stay, but the only question was how much the telephone tax charged American telephone users. 

Eventually, the anti-war movement caught on to the fact that simply using the telephone was funding American military adventures abroad, and it was thus labeled the “war tax.” It hovered between 1-3%, but even in 2000, President Bill Clinton would veto a measure to cut it. 

Even though the tax wasn’t levied on anything but landline phone usage, if there was one thing the left and right could agree on, it was the phone tax had to go – it can’t be a luxury tax if everyone needs a phone. Conservative and liberal groups alike criticized the IRS for the tax, and after a 2006 lawsuit, the phone tax/war tax/luxury tax was finally gone. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Challenge coins mean different things to different troops. Senior enlisted and officers tend to place them on a desk to gloat to peers and the more junior troops slam them on the bar to see who’s buying the next round. How you earn the coin also ranges widely, from “pleasure to meet you, have a coin” to “you made a great cup of coffee, have a coin” to even “you did something worthy of an award, but nah — have a coin.”


Throughout history, warriors have carried coins, going as far back as the ancient Greeks and, eventually, the Romans. Coins carried by warriors were seen as the payment for the ferryman, Charon, to be exchanged for passage into the afterlife. They served as a memento mori, which roughly translates from Latin to mean, “remember that you will die.” This is also the root of the English word ‘memento.’ Even back in the Civil War, troops from both armies carried coins with them as a cheap reminder of being back home.

 

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

 

The legend of the challenge coins, as we know them, started with WWI pilots. A young and rich lieutenant felt the need to flaunt his wealth to his new peers, so he spent his own money to buy solid bronze medallions of his unit insignia for his peers. Another pilot accepted it as a nice gift and wore it in a small leather pouch around his neck. Shortly after, he would be shot down behind enemy lines. He was captured by Germans, who stripped him over everything, but overlooked his medallion.

Related: These are some of the best military challenge coins

He escaped in civilian attire, crossed no man’s land undetected, and stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French didn’t understand English nor his American accent and thought he was a German saboteur. The Germans took every bit of personal identification from the American pilot, so the only proof he had to show the French to not shoot him was the bronze unit medallion his rich peer gave him.

One French captor recognized the insignia and delayed his execution until they could confirm if he was American or not. Instead of a bullet to the head, the French gave him a bottle of wine and sent him on his way. When the pilot returned and told everyone of what happened, carrying those medallions became immediately important among all pilots. This also started the joke punishment of having to buy the next round if you’re not carrying your coin.

 

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
So, if you’re wondering, nearly every tradition the military dates back to WWI. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Another lower enlisted tradition began in post-WWII Germany as assigned U.S. troops would carry West German money with them. The exchange rate was so bad that the One Pfennig coin was hardly worth a fraction of a penny and had nearly zero value to American troops. So, only the poorest of the poor would bother saving them — until troops gathered to drink. If someone would shout, “Pfennig check!” everyone would empty their pockets to see who was poor (if you had the near-worthless coin) and who wasn’t (if you were above keeping them). If you were “rich” enough to not need to carry a worthless coin, you were rich enough to buy your brother-in-arms a drink. This soon shifted to include challenge coins, which also had no monetary value.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Macron will bring a ‘Devil Dog’ Marines tribute to the White House

French President Emmanuel Macron said April 22, 2018, that he is bringing a living tribute to “Devil Dog” Marines who fell in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood to the White House as a symbol of the two nations’ enduring ties.

The oak sapling from the battle site will be presented to President Donald Trump in hopes that it will be planted in the White House garden, Macron said in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program from the Elysee Palace in Paris.


Macron arrives in the U.S. April 23, 2018, on a three-day visit that is expected to focus on the way forward in Syria following the April 13, 2018 missile strikes, and on France’s concern that Trump may pull the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to halt Iran’s nuclear programs.

“Retreat? Hell, we just got here”

The battle of Bois de Belleau, or Belleau Wood, about 60 miles north of Paris near the Marne River in the Champagne region, has entered Marine Corps lore. It’s best known among Marines as the place where they were first called “Devil Dogs” for their fierce defense in June 1918, that blunted the German spring offensive.

A dispatch from the German front lines to higher headquarters described the Americans blocking their way and mounting counter-offensives as fighting like “Teufel Hunden,” or “Hounds of Hell.”

At one point, French forces moving to the rear to regroup urged the Marines to join them. The response from a Marine, attributed to either Capt. Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, or Maj. Frederic Wise, was, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood (1918).
(Illustration by Georges Scott)

Once they consolidated their positions, the Marines would attack six times through mustard gas and withering machine-gun fire before the Germans were driven from the wood. An estimated 2,000 Marines were killed.

An official German report later described the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen.”

Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, marveled at the tenacity of the “Devil Dogs” of Belleau Wood in a quote that has also become part of the Marine legend.

“The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” Pershing said.

He added that, “the battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy” to that time.

The oak sapling Macron will give to Trump was taken from a site near the so-called “Devil Dog Fountain,” where U.S. troops gathered after the battle of Belleau Wood. The fountain’s spout is in the shape of the head of a bull mastiff.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
(Photo by G.Garitan)

The gift of the sapling is not the first time Macron has sought to firm up relations with a world leader by playing to their affections for the armed forces and military pageantry.

During a state visit to China early 2018, Macron gave Chinese President Xi Jinping a horse from the elite French Republican Guard. Macron had remembered that Xi was impressed with his official escort of 104 horsemen during a visit to Paris in 2014.

July 2017, in Paris, Trump was similarly impressed by the military formations and fly-bys at the annual Bastille Day Parade. The parade in France was believed to have been a factor in Trump’s decision to order a military parade in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day 2018.

Trumps, Macrons to dine at Mount Vernon

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
President Donald Trump with President Emmanuel Macron.

On April 23, 2018, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will join Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a private dinner at the historic Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate of George Washington. Macron will also address Congress and attend an official state dinner at the White House.

Although they have had differences on climate change, tariffs, and Syria, Macron said he was committed to working with Trump and he sidestepped the possible repercussions from the long-running special counsel investigation swirling around the White House.

“I never wonder [about] that,” Macron said of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. “I mean, I work with him. I work with him because both of us are very much at the service of our country on both sides,” Macron said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Here, in this office, I’m not the one to judge and in certain way, to explain to your people what should be your president,” Macron said. “I’m here to deal with the president of the United States. And people of the United States elected Donald Trump.”

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Americans left to fight in foreign wars

In the past few years, dozens of veteran and civilian Americans left the comfort and safety of their homes to tackle what they saw as an unspeakable evil growing from the Middle East — the Islamic State. A new television documentary series from History followed those Americans as they fought with Kurdish fighters in Syria. The show pulls no punches in showing what combat looks like on the front lines of the fight against the world’s most ruthless terrorists.

You can catch Hunting ISIS every Tuesday at 11pm on History but read on and learn about how and why Americans fought the good fight long before their country was ready.”I heard the stories, I knew that ISIS was evil,” says PJ, a Marine Corps vet who served in Iraq. “But you can never understand the brutality that they’re capable of until you see it with your own eyes… Most people in America aren’t able or willing to come over here,” he says. “And for them, I will carry what weight I can.”


The group that came to be dubbed ISIS by Americans came to global recognition in 2014 while capitalizing on power vacuums in Iraq and Syria. The group managed to capture large swaths of both countries. In Iraq, ISIS captured most of Fallujah, took the provincial capital of Mosul, and even approached the outskirts of Baghdad.

 

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
The ISIS terror state at the height of power in 2014.

(UnderstandingWar.org)

In Syria, ISIS occupied most of the country’s eastern half, basing out of the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa. At the height of its power in 2014, the would-be terrorist state controlled the lives of some 10 million people. What was most horrifying about life under ISIS control was not only the restrictions on personal freedoms for those 10 million people, but the punishments for breaking ISIS law, executions of political prisoners and POWs, and the genocides committed against “apostate” ethnic groups, especially Yazidis.

Horrified by the ongoing violence, many American veterans of the war in Iraq were inspired by the dogged resistance of the Kurdish Peshmerga as they fought to push back the dark tide of ISIS’ brand of Islamic extremism. The Peshmerga has long been the most effective fighting force in the region and a natural U.S. ally against ISIS.

Long before that alliance was solidified, and long before other regional powers, like Iran and Russia, decided to intervene in the two countries, some American veterans decided to travel to Iraq and join that fight alongside the region’s only remaining stand against terrorist domination. For them, they would be fighting the good fight and doing the right thing against the wishes of the U.S. government and military. They fight unpaid and unsanctioned. Worst of all, they face jail time if they’re caught by Americans — execution if they’re caught by the enemy.

“This battlefield called out to me personally, being that I have blood, sweat, and tears on that sand,” says PJ. “How many of my brothers lost their lives fighting those scumbags in Iraq? And now here they are from Raqqa to Mosul… we can stop this if we stand together.”

But the Islamic State isn’t the only evil Americans fought before their country was ready.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Members of the Lafayette Escadrille pose in front of their Nieuport fighters at the airfield in Verdun, France circa 1917.

1. World War I – Lafayette Escadrille

Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French general who was instrumental in the success of the American Revolution, the Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of American airmen who volunteered to fight for the French against Germany in the first world war in 1916 – almost a full year before the United States entered the war on the side of the Entente.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
American volunteers Merian C. Cooper and Cedric Fauntleroy, fighting in the Polish Air Force. The Soviets placed a large bounty on Cooper’s head.

 

2. Kosciuszko Squadron – Polish-Soviet War

For three years, Poland fought Soviet Russia for control of parts of Eastern Poland and Ukraine. American volunteers, wary of the spread of Communism to the West, volunteered for the Polish Air Forces against the Soviets with notable successes — the Soviets put half-million ruble bounty on one aviator’s head. One Polish general said of the Americans,

“The American pilots, though exhausted, fight tenaciously. During the last offensive, their commander attacked enemy formations from the rear, raining machine-gun bullets down on their heads. Without the American pilots’ help, we would long ago have been done for.”

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Tom Mooney Company from the Lincoln Battalion. Jarama, Spain circa 1937.

 

3. Lincoln Battalion – Spanish Civil War

Fascism was the true enemy in Spain, where those loyal to the democratic Second Spanish Republic fought Francisco Franco’s nationalism for three years before their defeat in 1939. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were among the countries who officially supported the Nationalists, while the Soviet Union supported the left-leaning Republicans. Meanwhile, Britain and the U.S. officially stayed out of the fighting.

Many, many volunteers poured in from all over the world to fight for the Republican army in the International Brigades. For the Americans, they joined what was known as the Abraham Lincoln brigades, an amalgamation of English-speaking British and American volunteers.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
American pilots of No 71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron rush to their Hawker Hurricanes at Kirton-in-Lindsey, March 1941.

 

4. Eagle Squadrons – The Battle of Britain

The early days of World War II were dark days for the British. The threat of Nazi invasion loomed large over the whole of the island. We know today that they were relatively safe across the English Channel, but they hardly thought so back then. But after the seeds of our “special relationship” with the United Kingdom were sown in World War I, many Americans eschewed American neutrality to join the RAF in giving Jerry a black eye.

Those men would join the RAF’s three Eagle Squadrons. The first was formed in September 1940 and fought with the British until their units were transferred to the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1942.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

5. The Flying Tigers – WWII China

A truly joint operation, the Flying Tigers were formed from a bold group of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps airmen and placed under the command of a retired American general attached to the Chinese Air Force. Three squadrons of 90 aircraft trained in Burma well before the U.S. entry to World War II. So, when their first combat mission came calling just 12 days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, they were more than ready.

When the U.S. came to take them back, they were made part of the U.S. Army’s 14th Air Force – the 23rd Fighter Group. The 23rd still flies planes with shark teeth nose art on their A-10 fleet, an homage to the P-40 Warhawks flown by the Flying Tigers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Hirohito was tormented by Japanese conduct in World War II

When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.


A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Hirohito toward the end of his life.

After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.

One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.

Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.

It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.

Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.

(U.S. Army photo)

“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.

“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”

Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.

After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jim Webb killed a guy who threw a grenade at him

A few years back in the first Democratic Primary debate of 2015, former Senator Jim Webb, a Marine who served in Vietnam, was asked about the enemies he made in his political career of whom he’s most proud. Webb alluded to a Vietnamese solider who threw a grenade at him. Webb doesn’t say it explicitly, but that guy is probably dead.


Webb wasn’t kidding. He was awarded the Navy Cross for that action. His citation is up on the Military Times’ Hall of Valor.

“The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant James H. Webb, Jr. (MCSN: 0-106180), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”

The former senator from Virginia is a understandably a longtime supporter of the military-veteran community. He attempted to run for President in 2016, but unfortunately didn’t get much traction. Even so, he leaves an impressive legacy behind; He was the chief architect of what would become known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

NOW: This US Army general was rescued from Vietnam as a young boy

OR: 17 Wild facts about the Vietnam War

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a truck driver helped solve one of WWII’s most enduring mysteries

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The United States Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine.


Still, despite the Navy’s effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

German submarine U-853 and crew.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Goodreau and Ferrara, along with their crewmates Ryan King, Danny Allan, Bob Foster, Nate Garrett, Josh Cummings, and Mark Bowers, are featured in “The Hunt for Eagle 56,” a Smithsonian Channel documentary series set to air at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

Goodreau works as a meat truck driver in Massachusetts. But diving has been his passion since the age of 18, after his employer hosted a number of scuba excursions.

“I was hooked from the first dive,” Goodreau said. “It was really cool. I found out early shipwrecks are what I’m meant to do. I really believe that that’s what I was put here to do, to find shipwrecks.”

Ferrara said he was first sucked into the world of diving by watching famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau on television, as a kid.

Sunken Navy warship found off Maine coast

www.youtube.com

Goodreau described becoming interested in pursuing “deeper and darker” dives as time went on; or, as Ferrara puts it, “crazier and stupider” underwater adventures. They became immersed in the world of technical diving, which National Association of Underwater Instructors defines as “a form of scuba diving that exceeds the typical recreational limits imposed on depth and immersion time (bottom time).”

King, Allan, and Goodreau first teamed up to find the Eagle 56 in 2014. The rest of the crew came together in the subsequent years. The Eagle 56 was an obvious choice for the for the Nomad team.

“I’m a shipwreck nerd, always have been,” Goodreau said. “The Eagle 56 was always the shipwreck to find. That was the great ghost of New England. A lot of people looked for it. Nobody could find it.”

But the Eagle 56 was never going to be an easy find. Goodreau described the ocean floor north of Cape Cod as a labyrinth of rocky mountains and canyons. The Eagle 56 was a “fairly small” boat. And, though the crew didn’t know this at the time, it was lodged in a trench.

“It’s kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can’t just look down and see it,” Goodreau said. “Visibility’s 10 feet. It’s pitch black.”

Even worse, the crew’s expensive magnetometer ended up being somewhat of a bust, thanks to the undersea terrain.

“It turns out that the rocks off of Maine aren’t only big, they’re full of iron,” Goodreau said.

Again and again, the crew would finish out a summer diving season empty-handed. They spent the winters intensively reading up on the sinking, trying to pinpoint the ship’s coordinates. That research had an unintended side effect.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars


A plaque on the grounds of the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, describes the loss of USS Eagle-56.

“You kind of get to know these guys,” Goodreau said, of the Eagle 56 crew members.

Ferrara added that, as a Marine veteran, he feels an affinity for the crew members who died in the attack. He said that most of the men on board were quite young.

“They were lost for 73 years,” he said.

But the team stuck with the search and, ultimately, found the wreck in June 2018. Goodreau and Ferrara say that, as a result, they’ve gotten to know plenty of relatives of the lost crew members.

The Nomad team members were even invited to the July 2019 Purple Heart ceremony for Seaman 1st Class James Cunningham, who died in the Eagle 56 sinking. Cunningham was 21-years-old at the time of the sinking. Goodreau and Ferrara say that Cunningham came from a family of Tennessee sharecroppers, and that he enlisted in the Navy when he was 18. Cunningham sent them his Navy paychecks so that they could buy a house, a property which the family still owns today.

Sadly, one group that the Nomad team will never be able to share their discovery with are the 13 survivors of sinking. They have all died.

“Some of the survivors were engineers,” Goodreau said. “Some went to their graves feeling that people blamed them for the explosion.”

The Nomad diving team will now search for the torpedo that took down the Eagle 56. And, in the meantime, they will remain cautious when diving in the area where the ship sank.

“You don’t want to disturb them,” Ferrara said. “You want to be very respectful, when you’re there.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s short-lived compressed air cannons wrecked the Spanish in Cuba

In June 1898, Spanish soldiers on duty in Santiago, Cuba were shocked and surprised when the city began exploding around them. No one heard the crack of offshore cannons, but sure enough, there was an American ship out in the water, firing at the town.

In the dark and without warning, the high-explosive shot from the ship was a psychological victory for the Americans. Spanish soldiers in Cuba would have to be on high alert, as the United States could strike without warning. 

The ship offshore of Santiago that night was the USS Vesuvius. The stealthy rounds it was able to fire at the city came not from a cannon filed with gunpowder and somehow silenced, but rather it was fired by compressed air. 

When we think of a compressed air gun these days, many of us probably think of airsoft players running around the woods somewhere. But at the end of the 19th century, compressed air cannons were a major technological innovation for naval warfare. 

Most often known as Dynamite Cannons, the compressed air guns of the Vesuvius and other ships usd multiple tanks of compressed air to fire high explosive rounds. The technological advancement was a necessity due to the new high-explosive rounds used by the Navy and elsewhere.  

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Photograph of U.S.S. Vesuvius, barrels of dynamite guns. (LOC Photo, Public Domain)

Early high explosive rounds were notoriously unstable. Though they could be carried aboard ships, firing one of these rounds using a traditional gunpowder charge would cause the shell to explode right as it left the muzzle of the gun. It needed a more gradual acceleration to keep the shell from exploding right away. Enter compressed air. 

The compressed air not only had the advantage of not killing the gun crews and tearing a hole in the ship, it allowed for ships like Vesuvius to slip into enemy water undetected and get off a few rounds without the enemy knowing it just fired its deck guns. Another advantage was, like the Spanish soldiers in Santiago experienced, the sheer terror of being shelled from the sea without any advance warning. 

On top of all that, the shells were lightweight and the compression could be reloaded aboard the ship at sea. They did have drawbacks, however. The compressed air that allowed the guns to fire off rounds without sound or the explosive death of the men who fired them meant that it had a lower muzzle velocity. As a result, the guns had to fire at a high angle which decreased their accuracy. 

The Americans were also able to use field artillery with the same technology. These field guns were also used on Santiago, this time by land-based forces. Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his volunteers fielded a Sims-Dudley Dynamite Gun when capturing the city, but the future president was unimpressed, despite the improved accuracy of the field model.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Sims-Dudley 4 Inch Dynamite Gun on Field Mount (Wikipedia)

Other models of Dynamite Gun could be placed on shore batteries, use steam to refill the pneumatic firing charges, or affixed to submarines. Like their seaborne cousins, the land-based models had drawbacks of their own. Some of the steam-driven cannons required 200 tons of equipment to use, fire and reload. 

Improvements in the development of high explosives and high explosive rounds led to the quick demise of the Dynamite Guns and their use in land or sea combat. When the Army and Navy could go back to more traditional gunpowder charges, they did so almost immediately and compressed air guns became a footnote in history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The unknown stories of 6 women serving at Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, there were less than 1,000 women in the Army Nurse Corps. Eighty two of those women were stationed at Pearl Harbor. What was supposed to be an easy assignment turned into the surprise attack that arose a sleeping giant into World War II… and the role and number of women had just begun on that fateful day in December.

  1. Betty McIntosh

One woman who unexpectedly found herself on the front lines of war was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A week after the bombing, Betty McIntosh wrote her account of the attack of Pearl Harbor. But, because of its graphic nature, it went unpublished for 71 years. The article was directed at Hawaiian women and McIntosh solely wanted to share what she had seen on December 7. The days following the attack changed everything about their lives and she hoped her words would help them prepare for what lay ahead. But it wasn’t to be.

In her article, she talked of the fear that gripped her and diving for cover hoping to survive, and then being assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital. She talked of death. The fear in the faces, and the blood. She said the doctors continued to work calmly in the chaos. She then called for the women of Hawaii to step up and help.

Alongside those doctors, she mentioned there were nurses aiding in the trauma of the makeshift emergency rooms. The stories of these women are sometimes forgotten. But they should be remembered as they were the catalyst that inspired women to serve.

  1. Annie Fox
How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

1st Lt Annie Fox, a 47-year-old woman and 23 year veteran of the Army was the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart (changed to a Bronze Star in 1944 as the requirement for sustaining injuries changed). Fox was the head nurse of the Station Hospital. In addition, she administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted with dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressing and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency. 

Four other women were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L Swenson. Each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”

  1. Helena Clearwater

Captain Helena Clearwater spoke of her Pearl Harbor experience in a newspaper clipping. In her recollection, she talked about being on duty when the first bomb dropped. She heard the noise but didn’t realize what was happening until she saw the planes flying low with the golden sun. She then knew they were under attack and soon enough the dead and injured started to arrive at the hospital. They worked through the night without relief. Hawaii immediately became “a total blackout from sunset to sundown.” And it was a good thing, because at 9:30 PM the Japanese planes flew over Honolulu again.

  1. Ann Danyo Willgrube
How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

Ann Danyo Willgrube joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1940 and was so excited to have landed a dream assignment at Pearl Harbor, arriving in October of 1941. She was awoken at 7:55 am when she thought a boiler had exploded. She looked out her porthole in her room and saw smoke pouring out of the USS Arizona. The next minute the chief nurse burst into the room and told her to get dressed and report to the quarter deck for duty; they were under attack from Japan.

The nurses worked round the clock to care for the wounded patients, mostly burn victims. They were too busy to worry about the war going around them. The roar of the guns, the shaking ship, they had too much to do to stop and pay attention. She said, “We were so thankful the Japanese did not realize how they crippled us, because they could have taken over the island had they known the truth.” 

  1. Harriet Moore
How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
Photo: Pearl Harbor Warbirds

2nd Lieutenant Harriet Moore stayed out late Saturday night dancing and was woken by her supervisor just after 7:55 am. He told her that the base was under attack. She thought he was kidding. But after quickly getting dressed and running outside, she could see the smoke from Pearl Harbor. A Japanese pilot flew by and waved. They were so thankful he wasn’t going to bomb the hospital. The first few patients she saw were all burn victims and quickly died after they arrived. She continued to work and do what she could to save as many lives as she could.

  1. Marguerite Oberson

Her friend and roommate, Marguerite Oberson was engaged to a pilot. Sometime during the day, she was informed his plane had been shot down and he was killed. Moore recalled her friend being clearly shaken by the news, but continued to work to help the patients as they continued to arrive.

These are a few of the stories of the women of Pearl Harbor. Their courage and commitment changed how women were viewed and their role in war. Before Pearl Harbor, there was great pushback for women to serve in the military. But four days after the attack, the Bureau of Budget stopped objecting to the expansion of the female military division and began plans to create a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps picked up speed. In the end, over 350,00 women served in uniform in World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II secret code breaker finds life’s purpose in a drawer

It was 1945, and the world was at war. Charles Hessemer was just 17 years old when he took a drive to Detroit, Michigan with a friend to enlist in the United States Navy. Hessemer’s older brother had already joined and was in Europe fighting. Hessemer gave a wry grin when he admitted that there may have been some fibbing in regard to his age. But he felt called to go. Hessemer had watched so many men that he knew die during that war. He wanted his chance to fight for his country — and those who lost their lives.


Hessemer could never have imagined that joining the Navy would change the course of his entire life. “You are born to do a particular thing and you will do it whether you want to, I firmly believe this. We are guided in what we do,” he shared.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Hessemer dreamed of getting stationed on an aircraft carrier. Everyone he went to boot camp with was being sent to San Diego, which meant action. He had visions of being on a dive bomber and sailing the high seas. As he watched his friends leaving, he was told to go down to the personnel office. Upon arrival, he was told that he had passed a second, more abstract test that all recruits were given. The test didn’t have any wrong answers, but his responses were deeply creative due to his way of thinking. It was those answers that would earmark him for “special” duty, something only five other graduating recruits were chosen for.

But the officer couldn’t tell him what it would be.

Hessemer decided to take it, feeling the pull towards something unique. Although he thought he would ship out soon after accepting the special assignment, he would end up waiting another five weeks. He found out later it was due to his last name – of German descent – which caused in-depth investigations.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

For many years, Adolf Hitler’s number two man was Rudolf Hess. Hess would go on to edit Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, and become deputy leader of the Nazi party. Due to the closeness of Hessemer’s last name, the Navy wasn’t taking any chances.

The investigations would span all the way back to his time in grade school, but would finally come back with an approval. The six men selected for the special assignment were then put on a train and took a three day trip to Washington, D.C., still unaware of what they would be doing.

Hessemer and the others arrived in D.C. and reported to the temporary building the Navy was using as the brand-new Navy Department was being built. He shared the story of continually running into a heavily braided admiral in the hallways of that building. The second time Hessemer almost knocked him over, he remembers the admiral saying: “Young man, you and I seem to be having a problem.”

That man was Fleet Admiral Charles W. Nimitz, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. From the moment he assumed command after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he brought the fight to the enemy and would eventually sign the Instrument of Surrender from Japan. As Hessemer walked away from him, his head was spinning.

Eventually the new building was ready. Hessemer remembers how heavily secured it was, as he had to show his identification three times before he made it into the office where he was assigned to work. The six men were brought to a room and told to pick a desk. He remembers looking around and seeing one by the window, so he chose that one. As he searched the drawers, he found the book that would change his life, “How to Draw the Figure.” Hessemer finally found out what his special assignment was at that desk. He was a secret code breaker.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Hessemer spent three years as a part of the communications annex, breaking codes, and he was sworn to secrecy for life. During this time, he read that book he found front to back and enrolled in art night classes. “That book was just waiting for me. I know it,” said Hessemer.

He began to win awards for his paintings. Hessemer eventually left D.C. after two years to work onboard the famous aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Randolph, anchored in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

He left the Navy in 1948 with an honorable discharge and was accepted into the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1950. Although passionate about painting, he felt like something was missing. By accident, he tried painting figures with a palette knife – something no one at the time was doing. From the moment he began, he knew he found what he was meant to do for the rest of his life. His favorite thing to say is that, “An artist’s life is a climb up an endless stairway which he must never stop climbing.”

Hessemer would go on to work as an art director for several successful art ad agencies while painting at night and on the weekends. He spent 10 years truly perfecting his palette knife work before he knew in his heart it was beyond good. It was breathtaking.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

“Everything has its reason, it just comes to you and you say that’s it – and you do it,” he said. He believes every mistake you make is only a serious mistake if it makes you quit. When Hessemer was asked what he would tell today’s veterans as they leave the service, he implored them to find their passionate purpose and give it everything they have.

These days, Hessemer is retired from ad agency work and spends his days and nights painting alongside his furry rescue dog, Charlie. Hessemer is 92 years old and still living his purpose, every day.

Visit his website to see his incredible palette knife paintings.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
MIGHTY HISTORY

Former Delta Force members jump in honor of Normandy Paratroopers

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

How I always got stuck right next to Barticus in every cramped-quarters situation I’ll never know… but I always did! Barticus was the biggest pipe-hitter in my squadron, therefore took up the most room and always left me squashed. But for the value of the man as a hard-fighting warrior, well… I just resigned to remaining squashed.

And squashed I was on an MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft climbing passed 20,000 feet toward… well, it really didn’t matter much past 18,000 feet because we all had to go to breathing pure oxygen though a supply mask. It was night and the stress was piled on. Oh, how I hated jumping, on oxygen, from that height, at night… and oh, how Barticus knew that.


As my stress mounted I began to tolerate less the cramped conditions and the mass of Barticus pressing against me. I started to squirm and fidget more and more. Finally Barticus called to me his baritone voice muffled by the mask:

“George!”

“Yeah, what man?”

“Have I ever told you, that I find you very attractive?”

That’s all it took and I was laughing out loud and coughing into my mask, but I was also chilled out and doing much better. A really good friend knows how to push your buttons sure, but they also know how to hit your funny bone and calm you down.

Barticus made his way into an opportunity of a lifetime recently to jump near the town Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France on the 6th of June in honor of the men who jumped there 75 years ago. There but for the grace of God go I — oh, how I wish I could make that jump too; such an honor!

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

(Barticus W. Ricardo [left] and the author Geo kit up for an assault in South America)

I asked Barticus to please get me a photo of the famous Sainte-Mère-Église paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele’s effigy that the people of the town hung at the base of the bell tower of the church where he “landed”. John’s parachute snagged an outcrop of the church’s architecture and left John hanging for many hours with an injured foot until some German soldiers hiding inside the bell tower cut him loose.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

(Two aspects of Private Steele’s effigy where it hangs still today from the base of the bell tower)

Traditionally, U.S. military organizations have taken veterans back to Sainte-Mère-Église for another jump back onto the Drop Zone (DZ) that they landed on so many years ago. These days it is highly unlikely that there are still veterans of the campaign who are in conducive physical condition to foot that bill.

Our young generations of fighting men, active duty and retired like Barticus and his crew, will continue to make that jump every year on the day of the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, as long as there is still ground in Normandy to land on.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

(The church at Sainte-Mère-Église feature an effigy of paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele who descended into the town and became suspended when his parachute snagged an outcropping of the church structure.)


MIGHTY HISTORY

Reflections of an African-American female in the Army

In basic training Annette Tucker Osborne was told ‘you are not different.’ It’s a code she’s lived by, on and off the base, ever since.

I will never forget the moment when I was told I wouldn’t do much in my life.

I was in high school in the Bronx, where I grew up, and one of my grades had dipped to a C. I was called into a counselor’s office. She was on the phone with my parents.

“With these grades,” I remember her saying, “she’ll only be a secretary.”

Before that moment, I had wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to do something good and help people. Maybe it was the color of my skin, maybe it was the expectations of women back then. Whatever it was, after that moment, I knew that I would have to fight harder to get what I wanted.


I went to nursing school right after high school. And though I had never considered a career in the armed forces, serving people has always been a part of what I do — it’s part of the job, being a nurse. You care for people. You do no harm.

So when, at 30 years old, I was recruited to be a nurse for the Army, I didn’t think much of it. It was another opportunity to serve. The recruiter came to the hospital I was working at and, along with my friend, we were sworn in — right in front of our patients.

From there, we were sent off to basic training at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, we were all told the same thing: You are not different. As a woman, it was actually refreshing to hear, because it was the opposite of degrading. If a man had to run this long, so did you. If a man had to do this work, so did you. We were equals in that camp.

But that’s not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist in the military, despite how diverse it is.

In 2012, when I was deployed to Kuwait, I was brought into a base camp as chief nurse to help oversee soldier health. When I met the officer — a white man from Alabama — he looked at me, then looked down at my résumé. He couldn’t put the two together. He seemed unable to equate a black woman with the well-polished and extremely qualified person on paper.

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars
After retiring from the military, Annette Tucker Osborne became the Brooklyn, New York, chapter president of the National Association of Black Military Women.

“Sir,” I told him. “What you see on that résumé is me. I’ve worked hard for what’s on my résumé.”

After working together for quite a long time, he eventually came to trust me. After all, he kind of needed to, if he wanted to know what was going on medically with our soldiers.

And then, out in the desert, there were some young service members who don’t want to salute you. I’d stop a few every now and then, asking if they could see my rank as an Army colonel.

After I retired from the service, I was approached by the National Association of Black Military Women, a national organization dedicated to providing support and visibility for women just like me.

As the president of the Brooklyn chapter, which has only been around for a year, I’ve already seen tremendous success in our effort to get the word out to other women that they are not alone. There is a place for them in the military, as well as afterward. We aim to make the point to young women of color, just like it was made to me back in basic, that you are not different. You are just as strong. Continue to persevere and know your goals.

Take it from me: No one can tell you what you can and can’t be in your future.

This article originally appeared on NationSwell. Follow @NationSwellon Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why do Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo so much harder than Mexicans?

It’s a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of Mexican Independence day. The May 5th celebration is actually the marking of a win by a small faction of the Mexican Army over the French during the French-Mexican war.


How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

A Cinco de Mayo celebration in Washington, D.C.

In reality, Americans actually do have a cause to celebrate and commemorate the Texan-born Mexican general, his ragtag battalion of enlisted volunteer troops and their unlikely defeat over the French Army at the battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862. Despite being outnumbered 3-1, the Mexicans obliterated the French, forcing a retreat after the French sustained over 500 casualties, compared to the Mexican’s mere 100 deaths in the battle.

What many people might not know was that the French were planning a lot more than just a one-off takeover of the small Mexican city of Puebla. Along with this mounted offensive, Napoleon and his Army were planning to exchange their superior and advanced artillery with the American Confederate Army in exchange for southern cotton; a commodity that was growing quite sparse across the pond in Europe.

Had the French won the battle of Puebla and made that deal with the Confederates, our Civil War most-certainly would have turned out quite differently. At the time France was known to have some of the most technologically advanced and deadly firepower in the world. And if they had supplied their weapons to the Confederates, the Union Army’s fight would have become exponentially more difficult, causing more deaths and perhaps even resulting in a Union defeat; an outcome that would have changed the course of US history.

So be sure to have a celebratory margarita this Cinco de Mayo and when someone asks you why we Americans tend to celebrate this holiday in more numbers and with more gusto than our neighbors to the south, just smile and pour one out for the warriors that won the Battle of Puebla and saved us from a significantly bloodier and potentially-disastrous end to the American Civil War.

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