Quick! Name the inventor who has had the most impact on the military. Are you thinking of John M. Browning who invented all sorts of weapons including the M2 .50-caliber machine gun? Maybe Oliver Winchester, Benjamin Tyler Henry, or Horace Smith, the creators of Smith & Wesson?
Well, all of those guys owe their weapon success, in part, to the inventiveness of one man that’s largely forgotten by history.
Walter Hunt and his impressive forehead created a lot of important inventions, including an early repeating rifle that would help propel the arms industry forward.
One of these inventions was an early repeating rifle that would lead to the Henry Repeating Rifle, a weapon that was decisive in some Civil War battles. He was also the man behind the safety pin, an attachment for icebreaker ships, and an improved fountain pen, in addition to lots of other things that our audience doesn’t care about.
Hunt’s design for repeating rifles was patented in 1849 as the “Volitional Repeater.” His design incorporated earlier patents he filed, like a specific ammunition cartridge, and breakthroughs made by others to create a rifle capable of firing approximately 12 rounds in quick succession without reloading.
So, basically, it was a rifle with cartridge ammunition that fed from a magazine into the breech for firing. Make the magazine removable and add a gas-operated piston and pistol grip and you have the basic idea of the M16.
But, like the early M16s, Hunt’s design had reliability issues, and he didn’t have the money or the inclination to go through a series of prototypes and redesigns. So, he sold the patent and design to investor George Arrowsmith who got the weapon into production and asked three men to improve the design. Benjamin Tyler Henry, Horace Smith, and Daniel B. Wesson made improvements on the design to create the Henry Repeating Rifle.
The Henry Repeating Rifle and similar designs were unpopular with many generals but mid-level officers who embraced them saw the potential early. One of the first wide-spread deployments of repeating rifles came in 1863 when Union Col. John T. Wilder got a loan from his own bank to outfit his entire mounted infantry brigade with the Spencer Repeating Rifle, similar in design to the Henry.
The plan was to ride to the battle on horses, then dismount and put the new repeating rifles into effect. Wilder’s brigade was sent to secure Hoover’s Gap in Tennessee ahead of a Union attack on Manchester. The Confederates anticipated the maneuver and were working to reinforce the gap before the Union could arrive in force on June 24, 1863.
The Northerners were able to scatter the Confederates deep into the gap and made it six miles ahead of their planned limit of advance. The infantrymen were so far forward, that the corps commander repeatedly ordered them to withdraw because he was sure they would be overwhelmed.
But with their repeating rifles, the single Union infantry brigade and its one artillery battery held its ground against a counterattack by four Confederate infantry brigades and four artillery batteries.
Later battles, like the 1864 Battle of Franklin, saw similar results as Union soldiers carrying repeating rifles were able to vastly out fire their Southern opponents. At Franklin, the defending Union troops carrying 16-shot Henry Repeating Rifles could average 10 rounds per minute against the two or three of Confederate attackers. The Union suffered less than 200 soldiers killed while it inflicted over 1,700 losses on the enemy.
And the man who helped lead the repeating rifle revolution, Walter Hunt? Well, he had died four years earlier. He had achieved economic security, at least, before he died, but he never achieved the fame or fortune of the other men who contributed to the changing face of warfare.
But hey, at least he also didn’t have to see the Civil War.
Ferdinand “Fred” Waldo Demara Jr. wanted to be somebody — so he decided to be everybody. The man who could be called ‘The Great Impostor’ was at times an assistant warden at a prison in Texas, a dean of philosophy at a college in Pennsylvania, a zoology graduate, a lawyer, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a doctor, among other professions during his 23-year career as a professional confidence man.
The Massachusetts native who ran away from home at the age of 16 had initially joined a monastery to become a monk. “Now don’t worry,” Father Desmarais of the Trappist monks told his parents. “He has joined the most demanding religious order in the world and he’ll be home in several weeks.” When he returned home, he enlisted in the US Army on an impulse after enjoying food and drinks at the Union Oyster House in Boston. It wasn’t long before he went AWOL. His patterns were often spontaneous. He later enlisted in the US Navy and went AWOL again, even going as far as leaving behind a suicide note at the Navy docks in Norfolk, Virginia.
He had a world-class ability to assume fake identities and convince unsuspecting job interviewers that he was authentic. He bounced around the country and entered new career fields he certainly didn’t have the qualifications for.
His most preposterous and famous impersonation came in March 1951 when he took a bus to St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada. The “greatest impostor” assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr, an acquaintance he’d met a year prior while he pretended to be an American lawyer named Dr. Cecil B. Hamann. He had convinced Cyr to provide him the documentation of his qualifications in order to help him get an American medical license. Naturally, he disappeared and took this precious information to steal his identity and commission as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).
His first assignment was at an RCN hospital in the navy port of Halifax. He was to take sick calls despite having no knowledge of medicine. As any great con man would do, he presented his job as a problem to be addressed by one of his superiors.
“I’ve been asked by some people to work up a rule of thumb guide for the people in lumber camps,” Demara told biographer Robert Crichton about the ruse he employed for The Great Impostor, a book about his life. “Most of them don’t have doctors handy and they’re pretty isolated. Could we get together a little guide that would pretty well cover most serious situations?”
“How does that look?” the superior who took on the challenge asked him.
“Gosh, doctor,” Demara told him, “I think it’s great. You really know your medicine and how to get it across to the layman. This is great.”
His wit and intuitive ability to outsource opinions from other doctors to strengthen his cover didn’t always work. When he was reassigned to the HMCS Magnificent, an aircraft carrier in the Halifax Bay, the commanding medical officer saw right through his scheme. He wrote in a report that Cyr “lacked training in medicine and surgery, especially in diagnosis.”
His most serious undertaking was as the medical officer of the Canadian destroyer named Cayuga. He was responsible for the care of 211 enlisted sailors and eight officers. Whenever a medical problem arose, he would disappear and scour through page after page of medical books using his alleged photographic memory to learn the procedures. He performed a successful dental surgery on Commander Plomer, the Cayuga’s captain, extracting a number of sore teeth despite not having the slightest idea as to how much anesthetic to administer. The following morning, Plomer thanked Cyr for “the nicest job of tooth pulling I’d ever had.”
While they patrolled the Korean coast near the 38th parallel, a small Korean junk filled with as many as 19 wounded troops made contact with the Cayuga.
“Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well, some of them,” recalled Peter Godwin Chance, who served aboard the Cayuga. “They were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.”
The “doctor” also performed more critical duties including the removal of a bullet during chest surgery. Most didn’t think anything was awry. His colleagues even put Dr. Cyr in for a commendation. After a public relations specialist was contacted, all of the major outlets including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Reuters learned about the citation proposal. When the real Dr. Cyr read about his medical achievements abroad, he contacted the authorities and they issued a report that there was an impostor.
“Well, we said, those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue,” Chance said.
When the RCN learned Demara was a fraud and his true incompetence was revealed, he was kicked out of the Canadian military. The mystery man’s past aliases were also disclosed, and his exploits were later immortalized in the 1961 film The Great Impostor starring actor Tony Curtis. In 1979, at an RCN reunion held in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the famed “doctor” made an appearance and was welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the greatest impostor the world had ever seen died in 1982 at 60 years old.
When the Korean War erupted on June 25, 1950 — 68 years ago in June 2018 — Master Sgt. Thomas B. Hutton soon found himself serving there with the Eighth U.S. Army as a first sergeant in an automotive maintenance unit, duty that gave him a rare chance to see the land and people of Korea up close as the country went about its daily life amid the privations and perils of war.
Hutton was an avid photographer and during 1952, he turned his 35 mm lens to preserving what he saw, snapping hundreds of photos — in color — that afford a rare look and feel of the country at that time.
The photos show ordinary people — country folk and city dwellers — going about their daily tasks — washing clothes in a river, bustling past a railroad station, making their way down a country road, standing in a rice field and watching a passing train haul tanks to some distant railhead.
Hutton died in 1988 and hundreds of his slides ended up in the Texas home of one of his daughters. As it happened, her son was Army Col. Brandon D. Newton, who until June 2018, served two years as commander of U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I. He’d digitized his grandfather’s Korean War photos, kept them on his smartphone, and one day in 2017 showed them to a Korean Army sergeant major who sat next to him at an informal dinner.
(U.S. Army photo)
The sergeant major was amazed. Color photos of the Korean War were rare enough, but these truly captured Korea’s history. They showed what the country looked like. What the people looked like. And they even included rare shots of some of the earliest members of two organizations that are part of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance to this day: the Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs — South Korean Soldiers who serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Soldiers in U.S. Army units in Korea.
When the sergeant major asked Newton if he’d be willing to donate the photos to the Korean Army, Newton immediately said yes and soon gave the slides — 239 images — to the Korean Army.
The Korean Army was thrilled and got right to work on trying to pin down where the photos were taken and just what they showed. To get it right, they enlisted the aid of professors, museum curators and other experts.
Then on June 5, 2018 Newton, his wife and son were the guests of the Korean Army’s Personnel Command in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, for an exhibition of some of Hutton’s photos and a ceremony marking the donation.
(U.S. Army photo)
The photos will be preserved in the Korean army’s official archives and copies would be distributed to museums and other institutions, the Korean army said during the ceremony.
During brief remarks at the ceremony, Newton said of the photos:
“First, they provide a very accurate and important history of what Korea was like in 1952, not just for the American Army, the Eighth Army, but also for the ROK army, Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs. Second — most importantly — they demonstrate the strength of the alliance and an alliance that’s been in place for 68 years. And it helps us understand that our alliance is not just about the relationship between the militaries but also between our people, between the people of the United States of America and the people of the Republic of Korea. It’s a relationship that not only is about our service today but it’s about spanning generations from grandfathers and fathers and sons.”
U-505 is a German Type IXC submarine that was built and served during WWII. On June 4, 1944, she was captured by U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 in the Atlantic off the coast of the Western Sahara. She was towed to the U.S. Naval Operating Base in Bermuda where she was studied extensively. At the end of the war, U-505 went on a war bond tour of the east coast. After the war, the Navy had no use for a German submarine and planned to sink her as a practice target.
At the time, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry was looking for a display submarine and heard about U-505. In 1954, the Navy agreed to donate the submarine to the museum. However, there was still the matter of getting the warship to the museum. Chicago residents managed to raise $250,000, just under $2.5 million in 2021 adjusted for inflation, to cover the transportation and installation costs.
U-505 was towed from the Portsmouth Navy Yard to the Great Lakes and made a stop in Detroit in July 1954. The final leg of the 3,000-mile journey, and the most challenging, was still to come. U-505 had to moved up the beach from Lake Michigan and across Lake Shore Drive to reach the museum just 900 feet away.
One of the busiest streets in America, Lake Shore Drive carried Chicago’s lifeblood of commerce and traffic. The city agreed to shut the street down for 12 hours from 7PM on September 2nd to 7AM the next day. The company contracted to take on this enormous task was the LaPlant-Adair Company.
Based in Indianapolis, the LaPlant-Adair Company specialized in moving the immovable. From entire homes to a 250,000 gallon Ford plant water tower (still full of water), the company had the moving experience to take on U-505.
At 7PM sharp on September 2, 1954, Chicago police shut Lake Shore Drive. Simultaneously, U-505 crept off the Lake Michigan beach. A series of screw jacks, hand-turned by men, lifted the 920-ton U-boat just four feet, level with the street. The LaPlant-Adair Company’s president, Kenneth Adair, was there to personally supervise the move. He was joined by 10,000 spectators who came to see the submarine cross the street.
A system of tracks and rollers were continuously built, dismantled, and rebuilt to move U-505 just a few feet of the 300-foot-wide street at a time. Despite the herculean effort on display, the enormous crowd dwindled as the night dragged on. By the time U-505 made it safely across Lake Shore Drive just before 4AM, only 500 spectators remained. Still, the LaPlant-Adair Company accomplished their goal with time to spare.
Thanks to the LaPlant-Adair Company’s efficiency, U-505 proudly sits on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry today. Although the Navy stripped her interior, the museum has restored her exterior extremely close to original condition. She stands as a testament to the Germans who crewed her, the Americans who captured her, and the movers who helped her cross the road.
The sun was fading behind Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains the evening of June 27, 2005, as a team of four U.S. Navy SEALs walked up the ramp and into the back of U.S. Army Captain Matt Brady’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter on Bagram Air Base.
Tasked with inserting the SEAL special reconnaissance (SR) team deep into enemy territory in unforgiving terrain, Brady knew the SEALs — Lieutenant Michael Murphy, Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Axelson — had a difficult mission ahead. Marines in the area knew it was an extremely dangerous place filled with Taliban fighters.
Brady had no way of knowing at the time, but it would be the last time anyone at Bagram would ever see three of those four Americans alive.
The Afghanistan mountains and forest from the valley where soldiers searched for the remains of the three SEALs who were killed in action. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
The Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) is known for having some of the most skilled aviators in the world, who fly the most elite special operators into some of the most austere environments on earth using the most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military inventory. They are famous for the roles they played in both the Battle of Mogadishu and the mission to kill Usama Bin Laden but are revered throughout the special operations community for acts of valor that often never see the light of day due to the classified nature of their work.
As a pilot in the 160th, Brady was the air mission commander for the operation. He and some of his fellow “Night Stalkers” felt the SEALs’ plan was too risky.
The mission was to capture or kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban commander. The three-phase plan called for inserting a four-man SR team the first night, then inserting the second element of SEALs the following night to establish an isolation zone around Shah. Finally, 150 U.S. Marines would come in to establish blocking positions for the SEALs’ assault on Shah’s compound.
The Night Stalkers’ job was to insert the SEALs on a ridgeline where the terrain left few options for landing zones. The commandos would have to descend from a rope — fast-rope — while the helos hovered high above the trees. That meant if the SEALs got into trouble, extraction would potentially require the use of a hoist to pull the SEALs out, which was a time-consuming and dangerous option.
As he approached the insertion site, Brady could see lights dotting the mountains below through his night-vision goggles.
An MH-47 Chinook with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and a KC-130J Super Hercules with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 conduct aerial refueling during Exercise Yuma Horizon 19. Photo by Lance Cpl. Seth Rosenberg, courtesy of DVIDS.
“This was a desolate part of the Hindu Kush, and at night, you wouldn’t really expect to see much,” Brady told Coffee or Die. “Not really sure who they were, but there was more activity than I expected.”
As the pilots climbed the last 1,000 feet of elevation, the AC-130 crew providing overwatch on their destination radioed to say they had to leave their position due to a mechanical issue. Brady knew that surveillance aircraft going off station without backup was supposed to result in aborting the mission.
He asked the AC-130 crew for one final report on the four potential landing zones the Night Stalkers had identified for the mission.
“We’ve got two military-aged males, possibly armed, on the northernmost LZ,” the crew reported. “Primary and secondary zones appear to be clear of potential threats.”
Believing the gunship could make it back on station in time for the insertion, Brady made the call to continue the mission.
From left, SGT Carlos Pacheco (3/160 medic, former 3/75), SFC Marcus V. Muralles (Legend – 3/160 medic), MAJ Sam Sauer (3/160 flight surgeon), SFC L.E. Shroades (medic R/160), SGT Dan Bell (E Co/160) during during the timeframe of Operation Red Wings. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
Approaching the insertion point, the pilots flared the Chinook and came into a hover. As the lead aircraft descended, it became clear the LZ was on a steep slope of the mountain, making descent difficult due to the front rotors approaching the mountainside faster than the rear of the aircraft.
“Hold your right and left; hold your front and rear,” came the internal radio traffic from the flight engineer to Brady.
There were 100-foot-tall trees on all sides of the Chinook, and they were so close the pilots had no room to sway as they descended.
“When you hear all four directions, everyone gets pretty tense,” Brady said. “It means you can’t drift any direction without crashing.”
The pilots descended to the point where the Chinook’s front rotor was just a few feet away from the mountainside with tall trees all around the aircraft. The flight crew kicked out the ropes, and the SEALs fast-roped down.
When the crew chief tried to pull the rope up, they found it was entangled below. After several tense moments of struggling to bring in the rope, they decided to cut it loose. The odds of enemy fighters hearing the echo of the dual-rotor helicopter increased every second it remained in a hover. The SEALs did their best to hide the rope and keep their presence on the ridgeline hidden from enemy fighters.
It wasn’t an ideal insertion, but the Night Stalkers had accomplished their mission. They ascended and flew back to Jalalabad to link up with another group of SEALs and standby as a quick reaction force (QRF) in case the SR team was compromised.
At Jalalabad, Brady was approached by SEAL Commander Erik Kristensen in the command operations center. Kristensen confronted him about the decision to cut the rope at the LZ and asked if the Night Stalkers would go back and retrieve it.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 1-228th Aviation Regiment conducting hoist operations. Photo by Spc. Steven K. Young, courtesy of DVIDS.
“We would have to drop a man down with a hoist in that hole of an LZ,” Brady explained. “Hoisting a man at that altitude on that kind of terrain at night is a dangerous operation. Once on the ground, they’d have to pick up the rope, hook it to themselves, and get hoisted back up. Hovering for that long over the same spot would burn the LZ and likely alert the enemy to the SR team’s presence.”
Kristensen agreed with Brady’s evaluation, and after the SR team radioed that they would be laying down for the day in their hide site, Brady and Kristensen called it a night.
Walking toward the flight line, the SEAL commander quipped, “What made you want to fly such ugly helicopters?”
“They’re not much to look at, but they get the job done,” Brady fired back. “Kind of like SEALs.”
They shared a laugh as they loaded up for the flight back to Bagram.
At the Bagram operations center, Major Stephen Reich approached Brady urgently, asking why he didn’t follow abort criteria and fly back with the SR team after the AC-130 had to leave the airspace.
Brady said he estimated the AC-130 would only be off station briefly and that the crew had reported no hostile activity on the LZ. He told Reich pushing the mission back would allow Shah to continue his terrorist activities, likely leading to the death of locals and U.S. military in the area.
“Good,” Brady recalled Reich saying. “I’m glad you’re a thinking air mission commander and not simply one that takes a black-and-white view of the situation.”
With that, they retired to their rooms to rest for phase two of the operation the following night.
Some of the Night Stalkers hanging out in the B huts they slept in, enjoying much needed down time. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the Night Stalkers slept, the SR team was discovered by a numerically superior force of enemy fighters. They engaged in a fierce firefight, and at some point the task force lost contact with them.
Brady’s maintenance officer woke him and said the SR team was in trouble and the Night Stalkers had orders to spin up and pull the team out.
“That’s not possible,” Brady replied, confused at how quickly the SEALs had become compromised. “They’ve got their own quick reaction force. We’re completely separate commands. It doesn’t make sense.”
But he knew and lived by the Night Stalkers’ promise to every customer: “If we put you in, we’ll stop at nothing to get you out — even if it’s technically someone else’s job.”
Brady rushed to the operations center where Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Eicher was telling the task force commander that they should wait until dark before sending the QRF because going in during daylight would subject them to more danger. The 160th had only lost helicopters during daylight missions at that point — they’re called Night Stalkers for a reason.
The commander explained that the ground force commander had already rejected that plan and didn’t want to wait any longer.
Brady ran over to where his platoon sergeant, Sergeant First Class Mike Russell, was sleeping and updated him on what had unfolded.
“Are you serious?” Russell replied.
Russell went to work right away getting the crews together to prep the aircraft for the mission.
Three of the 160th’s MH-47D Chinooks on the flight line in Bagram, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Back in the operations center, leaders were busy trying to figure out the SEALs’ last known location and calculating how many soldiers each helicopter could fly with. They finalized plans and sent the Night Stalkers on their way.
As Brady approached the Chinook he’d be flying, he noticed the tail number: 1-4-6. The bird’s call sign was Turbine 33. Kristensen and his SEALs were waiting on the ramp, standing in a circle.
“Our plan of action is for you to get us to the high ground as close to the troops in contact as you can, and we’re going to fight our way downhill,” Brady recalled Kristensen saying.
Since the SEALs weren’t sure where exactly the compromised team was located, Kristensen believed inserting at a position of tactical advantage was the best option.
“Drop us on the high ground, and we’ll make our way to our swim buddies,” Kristensen told Brady.
Navy SEALs operating in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From left to right, sonar technician (surface) Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, California; Senior Chief information systems technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, New Hampshire; quartermaster Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Florida; hospital corpsman Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; machinists mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nevada; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, New York With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wing. Photo courtesy of DVIDS.
As Brady climbed into Turbine 33 and started strapping in, Reich tapped his shoulder and asked what the plan was. Reich, who had been designated mission commander for phase two of the operation, felt the QRF was his responsibility.
“We argued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was actually about 30 seconds,” Brady recalled.
But Reich cut the debate short. “I don’t really care, Matt,” he told Brady, “just get your stuff and get off the airplane. This is my mission.”
Brady said he pleaded with Reich to at least let him come with and act as an extra gun and set of eyes.
“Nope, I want you to take my spot as the operations officer and monitor from here,” Reich replied.
Disappointed, Brady followed the order and got off the aircraft. As he watched the two Chinooks taxiing onto the runway, he locked eyes with Russell, his platoon sergeant.
“He had a look of competence and professionalism — like he was ready to live out the Night Stalker creed,” Brady said.
He walked back to the operations center to monitor the situation and provide support from Bagram.
Matt Rogie, left, and Matt Brady having jovial conversation in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The two Chinooks — Turbine 33 and Turbine 34 — were packed with 16 SEALs each, plus the Night Stalker pilots and crewman. Flying toward Jalalabad en route to the last known position of the SEALs, they received word from Bagram on the number of men they could have on board each aircraft and still fly at the extreme elevation. They would have to offload eight SEALs from each helicopter before continuing.
“A lot of guys really wanted to stay on the mission,” recalled Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tim Graham, one of the pilots on Turbine 34.
The plan was for the SEALs to fast-rope onto the ridgeline above the original LZ. The Night Stalkers would then circle back and pick up the remaining SEALs who offloaded at Jalalabad.
During the flight, the Night Stalkers passed two Apache gunships whose pilots asked if they wanted to slow down so they could provide surveillance and support for the operation. Not wanting to burn valuable time waiting on approval from the task force commander for the audible, the Night Stalkers continued on without the Apaches.
Tim Graham standing by in Bagram. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
Arriving at the insertion point on the ridgeline, Turbine 33 descended into a hover. Graham watched from Turbine 34 as Turbine 33’s ramp lowered and the crewman walked onto it to observe the landing zone below. Graham’s aircraft pulled off to the right to circle around and insert their payload of SEALs after Turbine 33 moved off to allow their entrance.
That’s when Staff Sergeant Steven Smith, the flight engineer in the rear of Turbine 34, saw a smoke trail emerge from the tree line directly toward Turbine 33. The projectile flew through the open ramp of the Chinook and exploded inside. Turbine 33’s nose dipped down, and the aircraft slid to the left, appearing to almost recover. Then the helo’s blades started hitting each other, and the aircraft rolled to the right before inverting as it descended to the mountainous terrain below.
Smith and the others in Turbine 34 watched helplessly as the Chinook full of their fellow aviators — their friends — crashed into the mountain and erupted in a ball of flames.
“Al and Kip were on the ramp when the RPG impacted,” Smith, who witnessed the horrific event, recalled. “They rode it all the way in that way.”
Soldiers sit on the rear deck of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while flying over southern Afghanistan Oct. 19, 2010. Photo by Cpl. Robert Thaler, courtesy of DVIDS.
Graham and his co-pilot whipped their Chinook around to look for survivors. As they were turning around, Graham saw five Black hawks performing a star-cluster evasion. Turbine 34 started taking heavy gunfire from unseen fighters below. They broke off and flew out of reach of the enemy fire.
Graham reported the situation back to Bagram. Receiving the transmission, Brady couldn’t believe it. He would have been on that bird were it not for the last minute change. He asked Graham to repeat, unable to register what he had just heard.
One of Brady’s soldiers in the operations center was asking him a question, but Brady was momentarily frozen with shock. Then the realization hit: He was now in charge.
Brady told his operations NCO to give him a minute to gather more information to get the next plan of action in place. He walked out of the operations center and found Eicher.
“Chris, Turbine 33 has just been shot down,” he told Eicher, who earned the nickname “Iceman” for his always cool demeanor.
Eicher looked at Brady and said, “Nah, they probably put down for maintenance.”
Brady persisted with the details. He and Eicher hurried back to the operations center.
The two Apaches had arrived on station, drawing heavy gunfire, but nonetheless giving Turbine 34’s crew back in the operations center a good look at the crash site.
“It didn’t look like there was any way anybody could have survived,” Graham said. “You hope they could. It just didn’t look good.”
The crash site of Turbine 33. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
They ascended back into orbit and remained there for an hour until the task force commander ordered them back to Jalalabad. Not wanting to leave their brothers, the SEAL team commander hatched a plan with the Night Stalkers to insert higher up on the ridgeline and fight their way down to the crash site so Turbine 34 could fly back to Jalalabad, pick up as many SEALs as he could, and fly back to reinforce the eight SEALs. The task force commander denied the request and ordered Turbine 34 back to Jalalabad. Frustrated and angry, Graham followed the order.
Smith said everyone on the Chinook was angry. One of the SEALs even drew his pistol and attempted unsuccessfully to force the Chinook to land so they could try to save their friends.
Graham made a stop at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) just outside of Jalalabad. After landing, Graham saw the same five Black Hawks that had peeled off earlier parked on the runway. He didn’t think much of it at the time, but many years later he found out a new platoon leader came into their company within the 160th and was responsible for those Black Hawks.
Each of the five Black Hawks was loaded with Marines and had flown out thinking they were the QRF for the SR team. When Turbine 33 was shot down, they received orders to fly back along with Turbine 34 and the Apache gunships until the next phase of the mission was developed.
Flight line view of U.S. Army UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Photo by Mark C. Olsen, courtesy of DVIDS.
After refueling, he continued on to Jalalabad and off-loaded.
“When I met him there on the ground in Jalalabad, Graham was fairly shaken to say the least,” Brady recalled.
The task force commander debriefed the men and then focused on planning their next steps.
Smith said he saw a line of armored vehicles full of troops.
“I could see a lot of vehicles with troops armed to the damn teeth,” Smith recalled. “They rolled out with a convoy and with some vengeance, and they fought their way up that mountainside, all the way up to the crash site.”
The remaining Night Stalkers prepared for a rescue operation. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and other Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) personnel loaded onto five Chinooks. All the men were anxious, angry, and ready to retrieve their brothers in arms.
The Chinooks took off toward the mountains once again, but as they climbed in elevation, severe weather rolled in. Thunder boomed as lightning struck all around them.
“So the enemy is one factor, but the terrain and weather are now a huge factor, and they’re starting to overtake the enemy in terms of danger to the force,” Brady said.
He said visibility got so bad that he couldn’t see the heat glow of the engines from the Chinook in front of him. The order was given to again abort the mission and return to base. It was a gut-wrenching decision for everyone on the mission, as they knew the original SEALs on the SR team were fighting for their lives and one of their own aircraft and crew was burning on the side of a mountain.
Back at Jalalabad, the commanders decided they had no choice but to wait for better weather and try again the next night.
Troops searching for the KIA and survivors. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
As the storm raged, the members of the task force — haunted with thoughts of their brothers on the mountain — tried to sleep.
As the next night approached, the task force went to work, planning another insertion onto the deadly ridgeline. The Night Stalkers again loaded their Chinooks with Rangers and SEALs and took off toward the mountains.
Arriving on site, the task force members fast-roped in. The extreme height of the trees made the full length of rope — approximately 90 feet — necessary. Many of the men suffered scorched hands from gripping the rope through gloves for such a long descent.
Once on the ground, they started their search for casualties, potential survivors, and sensitive equipment.
As the Night Stalkers flew back to Bagram, the JSOC ground force that had convoyed to the crash radioed to the task force that they had secured the site. There were no survivors.
The JSOC troops, along with their newly arrived reinforcements, went to work recovering those killed in action as well as sensitive equipment that could not fall into enemy hands. They then used explosives to clear out a large enough area for Chinooks to land when they came back.
Explosives were used to chop down trees due to width of the trees being too big for chainsaws. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Rogie arrived in Bagram just before the Night Stalkers came back after dropping off the recovery force. Assigned to replace Eicher as senior flight lead, he was trying to learn as much as he could before hopping into an aircraft and joining the mission.
Rogie met Eicher on the flight line when he landed after returning from the mission.
“I’m glad you’re here because I am spent,” Eicher told him.
The Night Stalkers flew back to their newly forged landing zone the following night. The weather was turning bad again as they offloaded Marines to assist with security.
“I could see the grass being blown by the rotor wash and all the remains bags being lined up in a row — 16 of them,” Rogie recalled. “There was still some smoldering from the crash site, and I could see the glow from the heat through my night vision.”
Some of the fallen members of Turbine 33 prior to being flown out. Photo courtesy of Steven Smith.
One by one, the Rangers and SEALs loaded the fallen onto the Chinooks and headed back to Bagram with their brothers. The flight back was pure silence. The loss weighed heavy on the men.
As the Night Stalkers approached Bagram they could see what looked like everyone on base standing outside, showing their respect for the fallen.
“When we landed, we just saw a row of Night Stalkers and Rangers and SEALs for as far as I could see, lined up and ready to help transport the remains off and take them to the mortuary affairs section,” Brady recalled.
When the ramp lowered, the Night Stalkers on the Chinooks stood tall and proud for their fallen brethren as task force members boarded and began solemnly moving each remains bag to the mortuary affairs building.
“All of us were pretty broken up at that point,” Rogie said.
Pastors from the task force lead the caskets onto the C-17. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The C-17 sat on the runway with the ramp down, waiting to receive the 16 interment cases containing the fallen warriors. Brady stood next to a SEAL commander — both had to take command of their respective units when Reich and Kristensen were killed on Turbine 33. Their war-weary faces were chiseled stone as they watched the task force solemnly load 16 flag-draped internment cases into the C-17.
Brady said it seemed like the whole base turned out to give the fallen a proper sendoff. As the cases were being loaded, a SEAL ran up to the new SEAL commander and placed a written note in his hand. The note said that Marcus Luttrell was alive at a nearby village. The SEAL commander broke down and cried at the desperately needed positive news.
The fallen Night Stalkers of the 160th SOAR included:
Staff Sergeant Shamus O. Goare
Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature
Sergeant Kip A. Jacoby
Sergeant First Class Marcus V. Muralles
Major Stephen C. Reich
Sergeant First Class Michael L. Russell
Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenbach
Master Sergeant James W. Ponder III
Soldiers and Sailors from the Task Force saying their final goodbyes. Photo courtesy of Daniel Bell.
The members of the task force said their final goodbyes. The C-17 closed its ramp and taxied down the runway and took flight. The fallen warriors were now on their way home.
The lone C-17 aircraft lumbered through the sky after departing Germany, a necessary stop on the way back to the United States. The back of the aircraft contained the flag-draped coffins of 16 great Americans: the fallen Night Stalkers and SEALs from Turbine 33.
Children of varying ages ran around the coffins, playing and yelling, not yet old enough to understand the sacrifices these warriors made. A Taliban high-value target (HVT) sat tucked into the corner away from them all, guarded by other soldiers.
Three war-weary escorts — one of them a SEAL and the other two Night Stalkers Daniel Bell and Chris Eicher — sat off to the sides, grimly staring off into space. They were exhausted and angry with the mistake the U.S. Air Force had made when they allowed Space-A seating to be filled on this leg of the flight home.
The men of the task force saying their final goodbyes to the fallen before they are flown home to their final resting place. Photo courtesy of Matt Rogie.
The rescue operation, known as Operation Red Wings II, continued for weeks. Almost every variety of special operations troops in the U.S. military inventory participated in a coordinated effort through some of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and austere terrain during the search for their brothers — both alive and fallen.
Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from the initial four-man SEAL reconnaissance element.
For the Night Stalkers of the famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the war on terror continued.
A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.
So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.
But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.
They would get insanely lucky.
The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.
In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.
We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.
The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.
All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.
Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.
Napoleon at Jena. The Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu. Washington’s withdrawal from Long Island. What makes a military operation so perfectly complete that you can almost hear Shang Tsung himself say “Flawless Victory” in the back of your mind? A few criteria for the title of “successful” come to mind.
For one, it can’t be an overwhelming win between two countries, one being vastly superior to the other. Sure, the United States completely crushed Grenada but who gives a sh*t? So the odds need to be close to evenly matched. Secondly, a pyrrhic victory isn’t exactly what anyone would call a “success.” Yes, the British won at Bunker Hill, but they lost half of their men doing it. Also, if luck was critical to the outcome, that’s not planning. The British at Dunkirk planned only to get a tenth of those men off the beaches. Finally, there needs to be some kind of military necessity, so Putin’s “Little Green Men” don’t count.
The Six-Day War: Israel vs. Everybody.
Okay, so maybe not everyone, just its aggressive Arab neighbors. In 1967, Israel was still very much the underdog in the Middle East. But living in a tough neighborhood means you need to grow a thicker skin and maybe learn how to fight dirty. Few events have gone into the creation of modern-day Israel as we know it like the Six-Day War. In the days before the war, as tensions mounted, Israel warned Egypt not to close off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships. Egypt did it anyway. So Israel launched a massive air campaign, destroying the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. When Jordan and Syria entered the war, they got their asses handed to them by an IDF with unchallenged air supremacy.
As the name suggests, the war lasted all of six days, with Israel taking the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
Operation August Storm: USSR vs. Imperial Japan
Sure it took almost the entirety of World War II to get Japan and Russia, virtual neighbors, to start fighting each other, but once they did, Stalin came through like the most clutch of clutch players. After curb-stomping the Nazi war machine, the Red Army was ready to get some vengeance for the Russo-Japanese War that embarrassed them so much before World War I. In order to bring a quick end to the Pacific War, the U.S. needed to ensure the Japanese forces outside of the home islands surrendered with the rest of Japan – and there were some 800,000 Japanese troops on the Chinese mainland, just waiting to kill Allied forces. What to do?
How about sending 1.5 million joint force Red Army troops fresh from wiping the floor with the Wehrmacht to encircle them along with 28,000 artillery pieces, 5,000 tanks, and 3,700 aircraft? That’s what happened on Aug. 9, 1945, when the Soviets split the Japanese Army in two and dismantled it over a period of days. By Aug. 22, the deed was done, and World War II was over.
The Iliad: Horsing Around
I know I’m going way back into antiquity with this one, but it must have been great if people are still warning each other about Greeks bearing gifts. The level of deception, planning, and discipline it must have taken an ancient army to pull this off is incredible. After constructing the infamous Trojan Horse, the Greeks had to move their ships out of the horizon to make the Trojans believe they’d actually fled from their invasion. Then the Greeks inside the horse had to remain completely silent and cool for as long as it took for the Trojans to pull them into the city and for night to fall. The rest of the Greek Army had to land all over again, regroup, and be completely silent as thousands of them approached a sleeping city.
Desert Storm: Iraq vs. Everybody
How Iraq came to invade tiny Kuwait is pretty easy to figure out. A miscommunication between Saddam Hussein and U.S. ambassador April Glaspie left the Iraqi dictator believing the United States gave him the go-ahead to invade his neighbor. Boy was he wrong. In a logistical miracle that would make Eisenhower proud, in just a few weeks, the United States and its coalition partners somehow moved all the manpower and materiel necessary to defend Saudi Arabia while liberating Kuwait and trouncing the Iraqi Army while taking minimal losses.
Like the biblical story of the flood, the U.S. flooded Iraq with smart bombs for 40 days and 40 nights. After taking a pounding that might as well have been branded by Brazzers, the Iraqi Army withdrew in a ground war that lasted about 100 hours.
Operation Overlord: D-Day
Everyone knew that an invasion of Western Europe was coming, especially the Nazis. But Hitler’s problem was how to prepare for it. What’s so amazing about the planning for Overlord wasn’t just the sheer logistical mastery required – Ike had to think of everything from bullets to food, along with the temporary harbors to move that equipment onto the beach, not to mention planning for a supply line when he didn’t know how long it would be from one day to the next. What is so marvelous about D-Day is all the preparation and planning that also went into fooling the Nazis about where the invasion would hit.
Operation Quicksilver, the plan to build the Ghost Army of inflatable tanks and other gear, all commanded by legendary General George S. Patton. The plan to deceive the Nazis using a corpse thrown from an airplane with “secret plans” on his person, called Operation Mincemeat. It all came together so that on June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious landing to date, along with the largest airborne operation to date could combine with resistance movements and secret intelligence operations to free Europe from the evil grasp of an insane dictator and save an entire race of people.
In 1992, Jim Valvano – a former basketball player, coach of the 1983 champion North Carolina State men’s basketball team, and broadcasting personality – was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread to his spine.
Up until this point, the charismatic Queens, N.Y.-native was best known for his celebration after defeating the Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game. You can see “Jimmy V” running onto the court about 9 seconds into the video below:
“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.”
It was just a decade later that his life was tragically cut short. But before he went, even knowing the end could be near, he was able to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. It was a speech that echoed for years to come and remains one of the most memorable.
Those are words appropriate for fighting cancer, being the underdog in the country’s biggest basketball tournament, or even fighting alongside your brothers and sisters in arms, far from your family and loved ones.
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day… Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
But about a week or so before, Jimmy V gave a speech commemorating the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship to the team, current players, and Wolfpack fans. That speech was one for the ages. It will keep you shouting the mantra of, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” during any rough time in your life.
Jim Valvano died from the cancer he was determined to fight just a month or so after his legendary ESPY Awards speech. His name and spirit live on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is the combined base of the Army’s Fort Lewis and the Air Force’s McChord Air Force Base. Both sections of the base are just south of Tacoma, Washington on the far west side of the state. IIn fact, JBLM’s strategic location provides quick access to the nearby deep-water ports in Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia. Of course, this allows for quick-deployment of equipment and personnel. Additionally, McChord Field and Sea-Tac Airport can deploy units, giving the base the ability to engage in both combat and humanitarian airlift.
A Tale of Two Bases
After the Great Depression left Tacoma Field in shambles, it was donated to the US War Department. There, the US government built McChord Field, officially opening in June 1940.
McChord Field was an active and productive base during World War II. B-17, B-24, and B-29 Superfortress crews trained here. Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) frequently stopped at McChord Field as well to ferry crews to the bomber unit or an east coast gathering base.
Meanwhile, Fort Lewis Army Base was already next door and had been for a while. It was established in 1917 as Camp Lewis when around 60,000 men immediately moved in to train for World War I. When the war ended, Fort Lewis didn’t see much action again until World War II. Interestingly, it served as an internment program for prisoners of war from 1942-1943.
McChord Field leaves the nest
The two installations of Fort Lewis and McChord Field, both operating as one base at the time, were very busy places throughout the second World War. Then, in 1947, the National Security Act established the US Air Force and the two officially separated. Naturally, that’s when McChord Field became McChord Air Force Base.
As separate entities, the size and military significance of both Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base grew throughout the Cold War and other global conflicts. McChord had three important duties: air defense, humanitarian support, and transport and airlift.
Vigorous training and troop deployment continued at Fort Lewis. In the 1970s, the base started developing the Volunteer Army. Then in the 1980s, Fort Lewis took over I Corps, providing administrative oversight of the Army across all units in the Asia-Pacific region. It also began training Rapid-Response Units and developed the country’s first Striker Combat Teams. It sounds like between the two bases, they sure had their work cut out for them.
In the end, they were meant to be together
In 2010, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merged into JBLM in response to recommendations by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The idea was to get the services and management of the two neighboring bases streamlined for better efficiency. JBLM was among the first joint bases across the nation. Today, it is the only one led by the Army. More than 7,200 active-duty troops and civilians support this joint base.
“Measured by its major accident rate per 100,000 flight hours, which is the military standard, the Harrier is the most dangerous plane in the U.S. military,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Alan C. Miller in the video below. “Overall the Marines have lost more than one-third of the entire Harrier fleet to accidents.”
The first Harrier model, the AV-8A had a Class A mishap rate of 31.77 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The Marines improved the rate to 11.44 per 100,000 hours with the introduction of the AV-8B in the mid-1980s, according to Miller.
By contrast, the Harrier has more than twice the accident rate of the F-16, more than three times the rate of the F/A-18, and about five times the rate of A-10.
Despite its astronomical accident rate, the fighter is beloved and remains in service more than 40 years since its introduction in 1971.
“One Marine general who flew the plane early on described it as an answer to a prayer,” Miller said.
The Corps’ need for an aircraft with a vertical landing and short takeoff capability can be traced to the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines lost over 1,000 men during that fight and felt abandoned by the Navy to fend for themselves.
“Since then, the precept that the Marines in the air should protect the Marines on the ground has been an essential part of the Corps’ ethos,” Miller said.
This History Channel video shows how the Harrier supports the Marine Corps’ mission to fight anywhere, anytime regardless of the risks:
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) held a commemoration ceremony for the 100th anniversary of the first combat firing of the naval railway gun, Sept. 6, 2018.
The ceremony took place at Admiral Willard Park at the Washington Navy Yard where on display is a naval railway gun still mounted on a railway carriage.
Master Chief Yeoman Nathaniel Colding, senior enlisted leader at NHHC, was the master of ceremonies for the event and shared the history of the naval railway gun with the guests in attendance.
Upon entering World War I in April 1917, the Navy was already developing long-range artillery primarily to counter the German army’s heavy guns capable of bombarding the English Channel ports used by the Allies.
The Navy’s initial idea was to employ several 14-inch 50-caliber Mark IV naval rifles, with a complete train of equipment for each gun, on railway mountings behind British lines in France. However, changing military conditions prevented British authorities from stating definitively at which port these batteries were to be debarked.
The Navy ultimately offered the guns to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, who readily accepted them.
“In the summer of 1918, five U.S. naval railway guns made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean for use in France during the First World War,” said Colding. “Although they were assigned to the First Army’s Railway Artillery Reserve, the guns operated as independent units under the command of Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett. In early September 1918, Battery Number 2 went into action with a bombardment of a German-occupied railroad hub more than 20 miles away.”
Retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox, director of NHHC, was the guest speaker for the commemoration ceremony and spoke about why this event is important for us to remember today.
British 12-inch howitzers on top-carriage traversing mounts.
“The U.S. Navy was able to provide a quick solution using guns that were normally intended for battleships,” said Cox. “The key point of the U.S. Navy’s participation in the war was that although we only lost about 430 Sailors during the entire course of the war, we were able to get two million U.S. Army troops to France a lot faster than the Germans ever thought was possible. The Navy did this without any losses to U-boats, ending a war that at that point was the bloodiest in human history.”
While the naval railway guns were in operation, the crew had no support from the Army should the Germans unit advance on them and they were expected to “fight alone.” They did not have to face that fate, however; the Germans were in retreat throughout their period of service.
“The increased use and effectiveness of aircraft, particularly bombers, with their greater flexibility and mobility, meant that the naval railway battery would not be a mainstay in future wars,” said Conrad. “Nonetheless, its development and deployment highlights the U.S. Navy’s ability to think innovatively and create and deploy new and effective programs quickly. That skill is transferable and is a hallmark of the U.S. Navy in the twentieth century.”
Although the naval railway guns operated well behind the front lines and were not subject to the constant bombardment received by more forward positions, the U.S. naval railway batteries were hardly immune from enemy fire. Many of the units took counter-fire from German artillery. German observation planes flew above their positions during the day, and bomber aircraft were active at night. The units lost only one Sailor to enemy fire and other battery personnel were wounded.
French 370 mm railway howitzer of World War I.
According to Dennis Conrad, Ph.D., a historian at NHHC, 530 officers and men made up the Naval Railway Guns command. The unit was subdivided into six groups, one for each battery and these groups were further subdivided into crews: a train crew, a construction crew and a gun crew.
The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis, and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.
Spies sacrifice a normal life to provide their country with actionable intelligence. Their patriotism comes at the cost of risking life and limb, imprisonment, and public damnation. Often, they have to think outside the box to accomplish the mission at all costs. The skills earned through the crucible of training combined with a mastery of language and culture make them an exceptional force on (and off) the battlefield.
Intelligence officers aren’t usually recognized (for obvious reasons) for their work in clandestine operations, but their technique, brilliance, and sex appeal has captured the imagination of the masses for generations. When the Government demands secrecy and surgical destruction, they send the best of the best.
Listed below, in no particular order, are five times that spies broke the mold to make the impossible possible.
Frank Gleason used dinner rolls to transport explosives
Frank Gleason was an officer in the Army’s Engineer Corps during World War II that commanded the most devastatingly brilliant sabotage missions against the Japanese occupation of China. Leveraging small unit leadership and training from Camp X, he lead attacks on bridges, rail lines, and communication systems.
He later served as a supply officer at Cam Ranh Bay in the South China Sea, sending supplies to troops in Vietnam. Gleason was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, America’s highest civilian award, on March 21, 2018.
Virginia Hall smuggled documents inside her fake leg
Virginia Hall had a hunting accident early on in life that left her with an amputated leg. It was her prosthetic limb (which she named “Cuthbert”) that ended her career aspirations of becoming a diplomat. During World War II, she joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and spent 15 months supporting the French Underground.
She also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) by relaying information of German activity and disrupting their logistics whenever possible. She smuggled documents in her prosthetic leg and evaded detection with forged French documents. The Germans called her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”
Major William Martin was a corpse
Glyndwr Michael wasn’t a spy, and nor was Major William Martin, but the deception here was a monumental success of intelligence operations. Glyndwr Michael was a homeless man who died from eating rat poison. His corpse, however, was destined for greater things. The body was drafted and promoted into the Royal Marines. British Intelligence created a backstory for the corpse, complete with a picture of a fiancee, two love letters, a diamond ring with receipt, a furious letter from his disapproving father, and a notice of overdraft from the bank. The body was dressed according to its rank and sent to float off the coast of Spain, attached to a briefcase that contained a (phony) letter, outlining allied war plans. The Germans discovered these plans, adjusted their strategy accordingly, and, in turn, left a key landing spot without important defenses.
The story of love-struck, ID-losing, overdrafting Royal Marine who was marrying a girl his father didn’t approve of was convincing enough to the Germans. You know, as a veteran, I feel personally attacked by the fact that they believed this without question…
Louis-Pierre Dillais disguised himself as a hippie
Operation Satanic (originally Operation Satanique) was an attack on the Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985, ship was owned and operated by GreenPeace and docked in Port Auckland, New Zealand. The crew was on a mission to protest a planned nuclear test in Moruroa by the French.
Louis-Pierre Dillais and Jean-Luc Kister joined the protesters under the ruse that they shared their ideologies. When they believed the crew had disembarked, they attached explosives to the hull of the ship. However, some of the crew returned earlier than anticipated, and the detonation that sunk the ship also killed a crew member.
Gorbachev ordered the KGB to lie about AIDS
In the 1980s, the former Soviet Union created a disinformation campaign to convince the world that the United States created the AIDS/HIV virus in Fort Detrick, Maryland, to kill off African-Americans and the LGBT community. The Soviets made their move, and with frightening efficiency, the world believed that the U.S. would do such a thing without evidence. Eventually, we forced the Soviet Union to its knees in 1991, but they fought dirty the whole way down.
When you think of a crusader, you may think of the Christian warriors who tried to ‘free’ the Holy Land (but are now mostly known for their bad behavior). Or, you could conjure up images of a World War II tank used by the British. But there was one crusader, in particular, that packed four guns and could go very fast. We’re talking about the Vought F-8 Crusader, once called “The Last Gunfighter.”
In the wake of the Korean War, the United States Navy was trying to stabilize its carrier air wings. The shift from propeller-driven planes to jets was well underway and the Navy had to jettison a few duds as it tried to make that shift. The F6U Pirate, for example, just didn’t have the oomph in the engine and the F7U Cutlass was too dangerous… for its pilots.
Still, the Navy was looking for a fighter. Vought, despite the failures of the Pirate and the Cutlass, managed to win this contract. This time, however, the company came up with a classic in what was called the F8U Crusader at the time. The plane established a reputation for speed — Korean War MiG-killer John Glenn, a future astronaut, took a reconnaissance variant across the country in record time in 1957.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, the centerpiece of the Crusader’s combat capabilities was a suite of four Mk 12 20mm cannon backed up by four AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The Crusader served with the Navy and Marine Corps in Vietnam, scoring 18 kills for three air-to-air losses. While the fighter retired soon after the Vietnam War ended, the photo-reconnaissance version stuck around with the Navy Reserve until 1987.
Two countries received the F-8 Crusader on the export market. France operated the F-8E(FN), equipped with R.530 and R.550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles instead of the American Sidewinder. Those served until December 1999. The Philippines flew the F-8H model, operating it until 1991.
Learn more about this four-gun Crusader in the video below: