How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Do you want to stake your claim on something, make it truly yours, and let all of human history know that you’re a badass? Want to set out as an explorer despite the fact that the world has been pretty much figured out by this point? Ever feel like just sticking a flag in the ground and claiming it for yourself? Well, get ready to go island exploring!

Using plenty of technical loopholes in statutes created over one hundred and fifty years ago, you can actually lay claim to your very own island and do whatever you feel like on it.

There are many technicalities involved and several things to consider, but it’s still very much possible.


How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Most of those purple areas in the Pacific, except, obviously, Hawaii, Guam, and the American Samoas, are Guano Islands that gave America much more control in the Pacific.

(NOAA)

The very first thing to have ready is the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This states that America will do everything in its power to defend an American’s claim on an island if there’s guano on it. Guano, as you probably know, is bird or bat poop. Back in the 1850s, guano was an excellent source of phosphates and could be used for fertilizer or sold at a high price. The act doesn’t stipulate how much guano was needed to be considered “claimable,” so that’s open for your interpretation.

If it’s enough to reinvigorate the global guano market, awesome. If it’s literally just the product of the parrot you brought on your adventures because you thought it’d make you more like a pirate, that’s fine, too. The act was never repealed and, since it was enacted, America has prospered greatly from the islands it’s allowed to be claimed.

In the past, America has laid claim to 58 islands. Fifty of these bird-poop-filled islands have been used as bargaining chips with smaller nations nearby. America gave the seemingly worthless and uninhabited Kanton Island to the nation of Kiribati in exchange for the ability to build military bases there. The eight remaining islands that America has claimed in the middle of seemingly nowhere were made part of the unincorporated territories of the United States, which has greatly increased America’s exclusive economic zone in the oceans.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Which leaves you searching all of that light blue. Good luck.

Exclusive economic zones are also a key factor. Whatever tiny claim you stake adds 200 nautical miles of America, meaning no other country can drill for oil or fish in those waters. In today’s marketplace, America will definitely back up your claims.

But this also means that whichever island you lay claim to cannot fall within another nation’s economic zone. So, if you find a tiny rock off the coast of Japan, you’re out of luck. That island still belongs to Japan, regardless of how much bird poop is on it.

What you need to instead is to look in International Waters, the areas of water far enough away from other nations’ claims. This limits your search area, excluding basically anywhere in the Mediterranean and most of the Caribbean, but you’re not entirely out of luck: Much of the South Pacific and South Atlantic remains open season.

You must also consider current and past claims. Islands that have been claimed before are highly contested and would be, likely, a waste of time. This means most of the current Terra Nullius, or “nobody’s land,” is likely so far off-course that nobody has a reason to visit.

You do, however, still have complete right to explore the Antarctic. Since you’re backing is the United States and the United States put a stipulation in the Antarctic Treaty to allow it to lay any claim in the future, you can search uninterrupted by other nations. This also gives you the ability to use penguins as your source of guano.

You could also search in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Since there is much volcanic activity going on there, new islands are sure to form — just waiting for you to arrive with an American flag. Here’s what that would sort of look like.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Enjoy your new island, you modern-day explorer, you!

(Photo by Pedro Flores)

Once you’ve found your very own terra nullius island and you’ve ensured birds have pooped on it, it’s yours. You personally own a private island not beholden to any nation. That means you have you don’t have to go through the headache of paying millions to name your island. It’s your island, you can do with it and name it whatever you want. The only stipulation is that the name can’t already be taken.

You’re screwed if your surname is of English heritage because they kind of had a monopoly on island claiming for a few hundred years, but if you’ve got your own unique Eastern-European last name, like me, name it after yourself. There’s also no rule against naming it something awesome, like “Buttf*ck-Nowhere Island.” So, you do you.

Once you’ve got it. Head on over to the U.S. Department of the Interior and let them know that you’ve got a new piece to add to America and your stake of land is forever made an American territory that can never be taken away. Because it’d suck through all that trouble just to end up losing your claim after you pass away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

The story behind what came to be known as the Wham Paymaster robbery began on the morning of May 11, 1889, when a U.S. Army paymaster called Major Joseph Washington Wham was charged with transporting a lockbox containing the salaries of several hundred soldiers across the Arizona desert from Fort Grant to Fort Thomas located some 50 miles away. All in all the lockbox contained $28,345.10 in gold and silver coins worth the equivalent of about $784,000 today.

Tasked with protecting the contents of the lockbox, Paymaster Wham’s convoy included 9 Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th Infantry and two privates of the 10th Cavalry. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning for anyone unfamiliar with the term “Buffalo Soldiers” that all of the soldiers protecting Wham and his convoy were black.


This is important as a few hours after setting off the convoy was attacked by as many as 20 bandits who shot at the convoy while screaming racial slurs at the soldiers guarding it. More particularly, it’s thought that one of the ways those who robbed the convoy justified it from a moral standpoint was simply that it was no real crime in their minds to take money from black soldiers. (More on this in a bit.)

Whatever the case, during the ensuing 30 minute firefight, 8 of the soldiers guarding the convoy were shot, two of them multiple times. Of note are the actions of one Sergeant Benjamin Brown who shrugged off a bullet wound to the gut to stand out in the open firing at the bandits with his trusty revolver.

After being shot twice more (once through each arm), a fellow soldier braved the bullets to carry Brown to safety. Unwilling to halt his one-man assault, Brown continued firing on the bandits while being carried away.

Another Buffalo Soldier, Corporal Isaiah Mayes, similarly ignored the hailstorm of bullets, two of which hit him in the legs, to quite literally at times crawl to get help two miles away at a nearby ranch.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
Major Joseph W. Wham

Unfortunately, with nearly everyone in the convoy seriously injured, they were forced to retreat away from the wagons, at which point heavy gun fire kept them pinned down while some of the bandits ran in, used an axe to open the lockbox, and stole the contents.

While the bandits succeeded in their goal, Paymaster Wham was astounded by the bravery of the soldiers (all of whom miraculously survived despite many being shot as noted). In fact, according to one of the witnesses to the event, Harriet Holladay, Sergeant Brown “had a bullet hole clean through his middle but he acted as if it didn’t bother him at all.”

Because of their uncanny bravery and dedication to protecting government property with their own lives, Wham immediately recommend 9 of the Buffalo soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Both Brown and Mayes were subsequently awarded that medal, while 8 other soldiers Wham singled out for their bravery were instead awarded certificates of merit.

As for the money, nobody is exactly sure what happened to it because nobody was ever convicted of the crime in question, despite that many among the robbers were recognized during the gunfight as they brazenly did not wear masks. It’s speculated that they didn’t bother with masks because they felt morally justified in the robbery and were all upstanding, church-going members of a nearby town, Pima, with the robbery seemingly organized by the mayor himself, Gilbert Webb.

Webb had come on hard times and was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he was a major employer in the town, and the town itself had come on hard times, he seems to have gotten the bright idea to simply take the money from the U.S. government to solve his and the town’s problems.

As to why he and others in the extremely religious town thought this was a perfectly moral thing to do, well, the town was largely made up of Mormons who felt very strongly (and not really unjustified in this case) that the U.S. government had been oppressing them for years, and so taking money from Uncle Sam was no real crime.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
Isaiah Mays

On top of this, the individuals guarding the money were all black outside of Wham, as were many of the soldiers that were to be the recipients of the money once it was delivered. Thus in their view, to quote a contemporary article written on subject during the aftermath about the general sentiment of some in the town, “The n**ger soldiers would just waste the money on liquor, gambling, and whores, so why not take it and use it to the benefit of a community that really needed some cash…”

And so it was that when seven suspected members of the robbers were tried for the robbery, community members were seemingly stepping over themselves to give them an alibi (with 165 witnesses testifying in all).

On top of that, the original judge, William H. Barnes, had to be removed from the case when it was discovered he was not only a friend of one of the accused, but also was actively intimidating witnesses for the prosecution. This all ultimately resulted in U.S. President Benjamin Harrison himself stepping in and appointing a new judge, Richard E. Sloan.

In the end, despite many of those called in defense of the robbers completely contradicting themselves, eye witness testimony identifying a few of the men, and that some of them, including Mayor Gilbert Webb, were found in possession of stolen gold coins, all were ultimately acquitted for the crime. Deputy William Breakenridge summed up the reason- “the Government had a good case against them, but they had too many friends willing to swear to an alibi, and there were too many on the jury who thought it no harm to rob the Government.”

It should be noted, however, that several of the accused, including Mayor Webb, would later in their lives be convicted of other theft-related crimes, including Webb having to flee town when he was indicted for stealing $160 ($4400 today) from the Pima school district. (We should also probably mention that Webb actually left his former home in Utah to settle in Pima because he was under charges for grand larceny…)

In the years that have passed since the famed robbery, numerous legends have arisen about where exactly the money ended up, including several that posit that the money is still buried somewhere out there in the Arizona desert. However, given none of those who committed the robbery were convicted and it would seem much of the money was used by Mayor Webb to pay off debts around town, as well as forgive the debts of some of the men who helped him in the robbery, this seems extremely unlikely.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did the Soviets leave dead cosmonauts in orbit?

Although today we tend to look back at the Space Race with the Soviet Union as a competition we were destined to win, it was actually the Soviets that secured many of the early victories. American officials at the time weren’t only worried about Soviet prestige winning out; they had very real concerns about Soviet space dominance providing them the ultimate high ground in the next global conflict.


Those concerns weren’t unique to Americans. The Soviet Union also saw space operations as the next logical step for their own military enterprises. In keeping with the differences in political ideologies between the U.S. and Soviet Union, the Soviets went about their space pursuits in a very different way than we did back here in the States.

While each new NASA effort was widely publicized (and even scrutinized) by the public, the Soviets made it a point to never announce a space mission until days after it was completed. This allowed them to maintain tight control over the flow of information, intentionally omitting stories about their failures, and releasing only information pertaining to their successes.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Soviet photos released on different dates clearly show that they’ve been altered.

Roscosmos

Of course, secrets are tough to keep, even behind the Iron Curtain. By the 1970s, it was revealed that the Soviet Union had doctored published photos from their early space program to completely remove certain individuals from the historical record. Long before the days of Photoshop, Soviet airbrush artists had painstakingly painted these men out of countless photographs, but when the public demanded an explanation, they received a variety of unconvincing stories. In the minds of many, it seemed like a cover-up was clearly at afoot.

It wasn’t long before these doctored images were linked to the controversial story of Italian brothers Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia. Back in the 1950s, the brothers began scavenging radio equipment they set up in an old bunker, and by 1960 they claimed to be recording radio signals broadcast from various Soviet launches. More pressingly, they claimed to be recording manned missions that were failing.

According to the brothers, they recorded a manned spacecraft flying off course and into the endless expanse of space in May of 1960, and then a faint SOS signal from yet another lost spacecraft in November of the same year. Then, in February of 1961, they said they recorded audio of a Cosmonaut suffocating to death in a failed craft, before also (they claim) tracking another craft as it successfully orbited Earth three times in April. Three days after the brothers claimed to record that successful test, the Soviet’s announced that they had successfully launched Yuri Gagarin into space, the first human ever to escape Earth’s gravitational veil.

Lost female cosmonaut cleaned version

youtu.be

The brothers claimed a number of other recorded Soviet failures from there, with at least five more reports of Soviet spacecraft being lost in deep space or burning up on reentry after Gagarin’s success. In one famous recording they released, a woman can be heard asking for help in Russian, making for either an interesting forgery or a deeply disturbing bit of history.

However, despite the airbrushed photos and troubling Judica-Cordiglia recordings, there remains very little concrete evidence to substantiate the claim that the Soviets left their earliest space pioneers up there to die. There have indeed been deaths associated with the Soviet space program, even Gagarin’s own best friend died in an orbital mission that many claim he knew was unsafe. According to one version of events, he opted to take the flight to spare his friend, the hero Gagarin, from having to take it himself. That death, however, was not removed from the historical record, nor was anyone airbrushed out of photos.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

This image of Yuri Gagarin was changed twice, first to remove a Cosmonaut, and then apparently to remove indications that the military was involved in his historic launch.

Instead, it seems, many of these “Lost Cosmonauts” were airbrushed from photos and removed from the records because they had run into health problems or gotten into trouble. The Soviets were extremely particular about who they would tout as national heroes, and any behavior or ailment that wasn’t in keeping with their image of Soviet strength and pride were removed from the program — and the historical record. Investigators have even tracked some of these men down and confirmed that they were still alive.

However, not every airbrushed cosmonaut has been found, and for some, that’s enough to warrant giving those chilling radio recordings a second listen. With so many Soviet records lost in the 1990s and a long-standing culture of secrecy, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get the full story about the earliest Soviet space efforts, but the truth is, it seems unlikely that there are any “heroes of the Soviet Union” stranded in orbit or beyond.

But in the minds of many, unlikely leaves just enough room to believe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This future President and First Lady fought with US troops in China

When you think of badass U.S. Presidents, you likely aren’t thinking of Herbert Hoover. In fact, he’s probably very low on your list of presidential badassery, right there with James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Chester A. Arthur.


But what if you saw him and his wife fighting with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry, his wife brandishing a .38 Smith Wesson, to fight Chinese rebels trying to murder tons of foreigners?

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
Better start packing heat if you want to be top FLOTUS, Melania. Lou Henry Hoover don’t play.

Before he became President of the United States, Hoover was the general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation. He and his wife lived in China around the turn of the 20th Century and was generally well-regarded by the Chinese for his progressive views regarding their treatment.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

But the Boxer Rebellion soon broke out in 1900, a semi-spiritual effort to rid China of foreigners, often by ridding their heads of their bodies. It spread from sporadic acts of violence against Western influence to a full-on peasant uprising. That’s when the Chinese Empress Dowager Tsu’u Hzi declared war on all foreign nations at the same time.

Good call, lady.

The powers allied against China included France, Germany, the British Empire, the United States, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Japan, who mobilized a multi-national force (called the Eight-Nation Alliance) to protect foreign interests and recuse the besieged foreign legations and citizens around the country.

The Hoovers were in Tianjin, and they were ready for the Boxers.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
I told you, Lou Henry Hoover does not f*ck around.

For a month, Hoover and his wife – along with the rest of the city – resisted the siege of Tianjin. Future First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover, defended herself with a Smith Wesson .38 caliber pistol while traveling from the battlefield to the hospital.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

Initially, the Hoovers enlisted the 800 other Westerners and Chinese Christians (also a target of the Boxers) to maintain a defense of the west end of Tianjin. They reinforced the area with bags of grain and sugar while arming U.S. Marines and sailors who happened to be there.

Hoover was known to have rescued Chinese children caught in the crossfire during the street-to-street fighting. Both Hoovers did duty manning the barricades. It’s not known if the Hoovers — devout pacifist Quakers — actually killed anyone, but they did keep the Boxers from doing it.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
Scenes like this don’t happen when there are Hoovers around.

The beginning of the end came as the multinational relief column — including the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment, to this day known as the “Manchus” — arrived in Tianjin. Hoover himself led U.S. Marines, along with columns of British, French, and Japanese troops around the city. His knowledge of the area and its terrain was critical to their success there.

Later, biographer David Bruner recalled Mrs. Hoover’s account of her time in his book, Herber Hoover: A Public LifeShe said she “had a splendid time during the Boxer Rebellion and would not have missed it for anything.”

Tianjin was the bloodiest battle of the entire Boxer Rebellion.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Warriors In Their Own Words: The sniper that scored 16 headshots in 30 seconds… at night

Charles “Chuck” Mawhinney was one of the most lethal snipers of the Vietnam War with 103 confirmed kills. In a particularly daring engagement, Mawhinney stopped a Viet Cong assault by hitting 16 headshots in 30 seconds at night in bad weather.

So, what does it take to be a precise, lethal sniper? Hear from the man himself as he describes his experience in the jungles of Vietnam.


“Chuck was extremely aggressive,” retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Limpic, Mawhinney’s squad leader, later told LA Times. “He could run a half-mile, stand straight up, and shoot offhand and drop somebody at 700 yards.”

Mawhinney was operating out of a base near Da Nang in what the U.S. military called, “Arizona Territory.” A large North Vietnamese Army force was spotted moving its way south towards the U.S. base, but a monsoon shut down air support. So, Mawhinney volunteered to cover a river crossing where the force was expected to march.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
A US Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam.
(US Marine Corps archives)

Mawhinney left his sniper rifle at the base and moved forward with an M14 semiautomatic rifle and a Starlight scope, an early night-vision device.

The sniper and his spotter positioned themselves overlooking the shallowest river crossing. A few hours later, the NVA appeared.

A single scout approached the river first, but Mawhinney waited. When the rest of the NVA began to cross the river, Mawhinney kept waiting. It wasn’t until the men were deep into the river that Mawhinney began firing.

He engaged the enemy at ranges from 25 to 75 meters, nailing one man after the other through the head. As he describes it,

“They started across the river and as soon as the first one started up the bank on our side, I went to work. I got 16 rounds off that night as fast as I could fire the weapon, every one of them were headshots. They were dead center… …They never did cross the river that night.”

The two Marines then hastily fell back as the NVA tried to hit them with small arms and machine gun fire.

“To this day,” Mawhinney continues, “I’ve always wondered what their company commander’s report was of what happened to them… “

To hear more war stories from the men and women who were there, check out Warriors In Their Own Words.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time U.S. F-15s stumbled into an Iraqi trap and won

It became clear just hours into Operation Desert Storm that the U.S. was leaps and bounds ahead of the Iraqi Air Force — the first aerial clashes resulted in the U.S. downing three enemy aircraft while suffering no losses. But U.S. pilots knew that Iraq had significant air defenses and fighter aircraft that had to be taken seriously.

And that’s what made it so scary for the Air Force and Marine Corps F-15 pilots who realized that they’d stumbled into a sophisticated trap on the second day of the assault.


How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

The F-15 is a stunning fighter that claims over 100 aerial kills with zero losses to enemy fire.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman John Hughel)

Marine Corps Capt. Charles Magill was leading a flight of eight F-15s protecting a larger strike package headed into the contested airspace to destroy threats on the ground. The eight F-15s in the lead got a call from the E-3 Sentry aircraft on the mission.

Two MiG-29 Fulcrums were near the target area.

Magill decided to take three other F-15s with him to destroy the threat, leaving four behind to protect the main strike package.

www.youtube.com

Four-against-two odds, especially when the team of four has F-15s versus enemy MiGs, is a good setup — but the F-15s had been tricked. As they pursued the MiGs, the ground suddenly erupted with surface-to-air missiles, all locked on U.S. jets and racing to their targets.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

MiG-29 were useful and capable fighters, even if they lacked all the capability of American F-15s.

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Ammons)

The American pilots were forced to jettison their external fuel tanks and take evasive actions. They deployed flares, put the planes through gut-wrenching turns, and, ultimately, avoided every missile fired against them. This left them in suddenly-safe skies once again — except for the two MiGs that had lured them. The Americans still smelled blood and decided to continue the pursuit.

As they drew close, the MiGs took a sudden turn towards the Air Force and Marine pilots, making the Americans think that the MiGs were prepared for a knockdown fight.

But, it turned out, the Iraqis had spotted a lone Navy F-14 Tomcat and were maneuvering to attack it, allowing the F-15 pilots to pursue the MiGs in turn. Magill took his shot immediately after Air Force Capt. Rhory Draeger. Magill, worried that his first missile had malfunctioned, took a third shot.

Draeger’s first missile flew true and shredded the Iraqi jet, while both of Magill’s missiles also made contact. The first missile tore the right wing from the Iraqi jet and the second missile flew into the resulting fireball and exploded. The strike package was safe once again to attack Iraqi ground targets and Operation Desert Storm continued unabated.

MIGHTY HISTORY

It took this Green Beret 48 years to get the Medal of Honor he deserved

In 1966, the U.S. Army’s Sgt. 1st Class Bennie Adkins fought the North Vietnamese Army for almost four days, using whatever was at his disposal: mortars, machine guns, small arms, and hand grenades. He killed as many as 175 enemy troops and was wounded 18 times. Over the course of the battle all of the men of his unit were either killed or wounded.


For his gallantry and bravery, the Army presented him with … the Distinguished Service Cross.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

The Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second highest military honor, is no small award, but after all was said and done, after all the participants were interviewed and the communications during the fighting were scrutinized, Adkins actions that day in Vietnam called for the highest honor the U.S. can bestow on its armed forces. Why he did not receive the Medal of Honor back then is unclear.

After a lot of lobbying by Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers and then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the award was upgraded in 2014. Adkins, having achieved the rank of Army Command Sergeant Major, was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony.

Here’s an excerpt from Adkins’ Medal of Honor citation:

When Adkins’ camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours of March 9, 1966, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars.

Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary.

When Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue.

When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies.

During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966, enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong.

Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker, and fought their way out of the camp.

While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

During the ceremony, Adkins, who used a cane for mobility, stood at attention, unassisted, as the president put the Medal of Honor around his collar. He saluted the crowd and then walked off stage. “This Medal of Honor belongs to the other 16 Special Forces soldiers with me,” he said.

Adkins passed away in April 2020 following complications with COVID-19.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fake amphibious assault saved hundreds of lives in Desert Storm

Deep into night on Feb. 23, 1991, the U.S. military and its coalition partners launched the long-anticipated invasion of Iraq with a three-pronged attack that crippled Iraqi command and control, isolated and devastated enemy units, and resulted in one of the fastest land wars in military history as the U.S. secured victory in 100 hours.


But the three-pronged attack consisted of two real prongs — an infantry assault as well as the famous “left hook” of tanks cutting through the Kuwaiti and Iraqi deserts — and one ruse attack. The ruse was an amphibious assault of Marines hitting the beaches of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and pushing west towards Baghdad.

 

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
The USS Wisconsin fires a Tomahawk cruise missile during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

If the ruse was successful, the Iraqi units would continue to look east, orienting defenses and their attentions towards a fake amphibious assault as light infantrymen and paratroopers secured positions to their rear and one of history’s greatest armored thrusts smacked them right in the capital.

The Navy called on two of its greatest weapons to ensure that the Iraqis looked east, the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri, massive battleships taken out of retirement in the early 1980s by Ronald Reagan.

The two Iowa-class battleships bristled with guns and had already seen heavy fighting in the mine-laden waters off the coast of Iraq and Kuwait. They took part in the initial Tomahawk cruise missile attacks that January. They also provided naval artillery support to American and coalition troops on the ground by hurling shells of up to 2,700 pounds against Iraqi artillery and bunkers.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
The USS Missouri fires during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dillon)

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. commanders kept everyone’s eyes on the big ships, calling in shots from the battleships throughout the fighting and getting the effects of those 16-inch guns onto the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times.

The NYT even reported on the likelihood that America would invade by sea, saying in the second paragraph of an article on February 4:

Powerful guns aboard the battleship Missouri lobbed 2,700-pound shells against Iraqi command bunkers near the Kuwaiti coastline, military command officials said, describing the shore bombardment as a further indication that an American-led amphibious assault on occupied Kuwait might be drawing near.

On Feb. 23, the battleships cleared their throats once again. A targeting drone from the Wisconsin was flying over the coast as the shells ripped into Iraqi positions once again, softening up the coast and sowing panic into the defenders.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
The Pioneer drone is moved on the USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm. The small aerial vehicle was used to observe naval artillery and its effects during the war. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate John Kristoffersen)

The bombardment was so effective that, when the drone flew back over the target, Iraqi troops attempted to surrender to it by waving small white flags.

But the U.S. wasn’t done.

Just a few hours later, the ground offensive began. The British Special Air Service was the first military unit to cross into Iraqi territory, but multiple troops poured over the border by the thousands throughout the morning.

Throughout the day on Feb. 24, coalition forces hit ground target after ground target and American tanks began tanking out bunkers in the armored thrust that would stun the world.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
USS Wisconsin fires her main battery during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

But America still wanted Iraqi commanders too scared to pull their forces back from the coast to counter the growing threat of armor and infantry. And so the battleships were called up once again.

On Feb. 25, the Missouri once again fired into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. And this time, the Marine Corps sent in 10 helicopters to simulate a landing force. The Iraqis launched anti-ship missiles at the Missouri, but a British ship shot down the only one that actually threatened the battleship. Coalition planes quickly found the launch site and destroyed the missiles based there.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
Abrams tanks and a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle move out during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy D. W. Holmes II)

The Iraqis near the coast stayed put even as coalition armor was slamming into their best units. On Feb. 26, then-Cpt. H.R. McMaster fought the famous Battle of 73 Easting that saw one armored cavalry troop of Abrams and Bradleys wipe out 44 enemy tanks and armored vehicles with no losses.

A ceasefire was declared on Feb. 28, halting the fighting until Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted the terms of the peace deal. The coalition forces lost 300 troops in the fighting, much fewer than they would have lost if the Iraqi forces had been able to concentrate on the real threat.

The Iraqi forces lost an estimated 8,000-10,000 killed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

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An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last troop killed in WWII died after the war ended

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a brutal attack on Pearl Harbor, killing over 2,300 American military personnel and catapulting the U.S. into World War II. After nearly four years of fierce fighting, Japan agreed to the terms of surrender as laid out in the Potsdam Declaration. On August 14th, 1945, this decision was broadcast across Japan.

A few weeks later, thousands of brave men gathered on the USS Missouri to witness a historic event as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, accompanied by Adms. Chester Nimitz and William Halsey, met with the Japanese delegation. Officials signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945, finally putting a stop to the war and securing victory for the Allies.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
A still photo as the Japanese officially surrender.

Tragically, between the announcement of the surrender and the signing of the document, despite an active ceasefire, one last American life was lost.


During the war, Sgt. Anthony J. Marchione served as an aerial photographer with the 20th Combat Reconnaissance Squadron. On August 18, 1945, Marchione was on a mission to gather evidence that the Japanese were indeed complying with the ceasefire when the B-32 he was aboard took enemy fire.

Japanese machine guns ripped into the side of the B-32’s metal skin, creating a shower of shrapnel inside the cabin. Marchione noticed one of the crew members was gravely wounded and he rushed over. As the brave photographer helped his brother-in-arms, another barrage of enemy gunfire rained down on the American bomber.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws
An American B-32.

The second round of incoming fire struck Marchione. He bled to death aboard his plane in the skies over Tokyo that Saturday afternoon. Sgt. Marchione’s tragic, untimely death has the dubious distinction of being the very last of World War II.

The aerial photographer was about a month away from celebrating his 20th birthday.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The childish origins of the word ‘infantry’

In the days of antiquity, being in the cavalry was a privilege specifically reserved for those who ranked higher in the social order than the common people. Those who were too young, too inexperienced, or too poor to have a horse, usually ended up in a type of combat unit specifically named for them: the infantry.


From the early days of warfare on up through the Middle Ages and beyond, war was a socially stratified activity, just like anything else. The leaders of a country needed able-bodied men to fight the wars, and they needed those men to already have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. The problem is that most of those men definitely did not have the skills and experience necessary to fight wars. If a country didn’t have a standing professional army and used mostly the rabble picked from its towns and cities, chances are good, it was filled with infantry.

The word “infantry” is just as its root word suggests. Derived from the latin word infans, the word literally means infancy. Later versions of the word became common usage in French, Old Italian, and Spanish, meaning “foot soldiers too low in rank to be cavalry.

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The last thing you see when you’re too poor to own a horse and no one thought to bring pointy sticks.

As if walking to the war and being the first to die from the other side’s cavalry charges wasn’t bad enough, your own cavalry referred to you as babies or children. Another possible Latin origin of the phrase would also describe infantry just as well. The word infantia means “unable to speak” or perhaps more colloquially, “not able to have an opinion.” The latter word might describe any infantry throughout history. As a conscript, you were forced into the service of a lord for his lands and allies, not given a choice in the matter.

In the modern terminology for infantry, this is probably just as true, except you volunteered to not have an opinion. At least now, you get healthcare and not cholera.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Gettysburg death toll was so high that bodies were still being found in 1996

By the time the guns fell silent of the fields of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, more than 40,000 men lay dead, dying or wounded.

A turning point of the civil war, the battle was also among the conflict’s bloodiest.

Of the 94,000 Union troops who fought in the three day conflict, 23,000 became casualties, with 3,100 killed.

The Confederates were outnumbered — with 71,000 fighting in the battle, and a greater proportion wounded and killed.

28,000 Southerners were casualties in the battle — 39% of its total fighting force that day— with of them 3,900 killed.


Here’s a description of the horrific scene that greeted the parties sent out to bury the dead at nightfall, by a New Jersey soldier.


“Some with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of the last moments.
“Here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts the human form, they lay.”
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The burial parties put the bodies in shallow graves or trenches near where they fell — sometimes Union and Confederate soldiers together. Others, found by their comrades, were given proper burials in marked graves.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin visited the battlefield soon after, and was appalled by the devastation and the stench of death.

“Heavy rains had washed away the earth from many of the shallow graves. Grotesquely blackened hands, arms and legs protruded from the earth like “the devil’s own planting… a harvest of death” while the stench of death hung heavy in the air,” writes John Heiser of the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Curtin went on to fund the creation of a special cemetery for the civil war dead, and also to recover and rebury the remains on the battlefield.

This grisly job was entrusted to a series of teams, led by local merchant Samuel Weaver.

He described how poles with hooks were used to search the clothing on exhumed corpses for identification — how the color and fabric of uniforms was used to distinguish Confederate from Unionist corpse.

How Americans can claim their very own island using fun, outdated laws

1st Massachusetts Monument.

Initially, Confederate bodies were left were they lay in the ad-hoc graves, and only Union soldier exhumed to be reburied in the new National Military Park Cemetery, then called the Soldiers National Cemetery.

It was at the consecration of the cemetery on November 19 that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, where he praised the sacrifice of the soldiers.

He called on Americans to pledge “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

About a decade later, Weaver’s son helped Confederate families exhume the remains of the 3,000 Confederate dead, who were reburied in Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston.

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Gettysburg National Military Park.

So many bodies were buried in the fields of Gettysburg that not all were found, and remains were still being discovered almost a century and a half later.

In 1996, a tourist found human remains in territory called Railroad Cut, about a mile outside town. It was the first time more or less complete human remains had been found on the battlefield since 1939, reported the Baltimore Sun at the time.

The remains were examined by the Smithsonian, and found to belong to a man about 5 foot 8 or 9 tall, in his early 20s, who had been shot in the back of the head.

In 1997 the remains were given a military burial in Gettysburg National Military Park Cemetery alongside partial remains of other other soldiers found over the years.

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

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