This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

Though his service in the military preceded the formation of the Navy SEALs by nearly twenty years, Navy Lt. j.g. Jack Taylor is thought to be the first U.S. commando to operate in the sea, air, and land. His exploits in World War II included boat operations off the coast of Greece, land operations in Central Albania, and a parachute drop into Austria. He also experienced life in the Mauthausen, Austria extermination camp and was a victim of war crimes there.


An orthodontist becomes a commando

Taylor was an orthodontist in Hollywood, Calif. when the U.S. joined World War II. He joined the Navy, originally expecting to teach boat handling skills to U.S. and Allied service members. But he certified on the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit — a SCUBA device adopted by the Office of Strategic Services in 1942 — and was ordered to serve in the OSS.

He was then assigned to the first Underwater Swimmer Group, but was redirected to become the Chief of the Office of Strategic Services Maritime Unit.

Service in the Middle East

In the Maritime Unit, Taylor personally commanded fourteen missions into the enemy-occupied Greek and Balkan coasts. He and his team delivered spies, weapons, explosives, and other supplies to friendly forces from Sep. 1943 to March, 1944.

For three months during this period, he commanded a team on land in Central Albania, reporting important information like enemy troop movements and the locations of enemy fortifications, supply dumps, and artillery positions. The team was nearly caught by enemy search parties at least three times, but Taylor and his men slipped the net each time. He was nominated for an Army Distinguished Service Cross by Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan for this service, but received the Navy Cross instead.

Parachuting into Austria

As Allied forces made their way through Europe in 1944, they were assisted by partisan groups in countries occupied by German forces. Allied planners realized they had no contact with partisan groups in Austria, and Taylor was chosen to lead a four-man team into Austria to find allies and collect intelligence ahead of the advance north from Italy.

Taylor parachuted into Austria with three Austrian corporals liberated from a POW camp. It was on this troubled jump that Taylor satisfied the “air” requirement of a sea, air, land commando and became the first U.S. service member to conduct commando missions in all three domains.

Unfortunately, the “Dupont Mission” ran into trouble early when the pilots were unable to drop the team’s radios and other equipment. Taylor was injured while the team retrieved what equipment did make it to the ground and one of the Austrians became very ill in the first days.

Despite the setbacks, the team began collecting intelligence and seeking out Austrians friendly to the Allied cause. They photographed German defensive measures, ascertained the loyalties of individual cities and groups, and formed a network of supporters that could be counted on to aid the Allies. Since they had no radio with which to send the intelligence out, the team had to organize a plan to escape past German lines to American forces in Italy.

Capture and internment at an execution camp

The night before their attempt to escape to Italy, Taylor and the rest of the team were captured and sent to a Vienna prison on Dec. 1, 1944. There, the jailers attempted to make Taylor confess to being a civilian though he was captured while wearing his officer’s insignia. After four months of austere conditions and mistreatment, Taylor was transferred with other prisoners to Mauthausen.

Taylor was warned by another prisoner with experience at Mauthausen and other camps that Mauthausen was one of the worst. The prisoners arrived at the camp by ferry on April 1, 1945. Though it was a violation of the Geneva Convention and his rights as a prisoner of war, Taylor was dressed and treated as a political prisoner. He was also beaten and witnessed the executions of fellow prisoners.

Scheduled execution and eventual liberation

Taylor was twice scheduled for execution. The first time, he was rescued when a friendly worker in the camp’s political office saw his papers in a stack of prisoners to be executed. The worker removed Taylor’s papers and burned them.

The Nazi guards eventually realized Taylor was supposed to have been executed and again ordered his death. Only a few days before the sentence was to be carried out, the 11th Armored Division liberated the camp. A few hours after the camp was liberated, an American film crew documenting the camps arrived at Mauthausen and recorded Taylor’s description of life in the camp.

Taylor would go on to testify at the Nuremberg Trials and other court proceedings against Nazi perpetrators of war crimes. His testimony is credited as being the most damning for the camp personnel at Mauthausen, leading to the convictions of all 61 defendants.

Taylor’s full report on the Dupont Mission, his capture, and his time in captivity can be found in an archive maintained by Pica Community College.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Drones vs. Delta: Who do you think won the first round?

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

It was 1994 when my Delta Troop and I were training in the desert in preparation to deploy to the Mid-Eastern theater where there was much misbehaving going on. We spent a particular day primarily calling in anti-armor attacks from MH-60 Blackhawk (Hawkers) helicopters toting the venerable and extraordinarily deadly Hellfire missile.

We rotated ourselves onto a hilltop as Forward Observers choosing targets and directing the helo strikes. We used a Vietnam-era LASER designator called the MULE. The MULE “painted” the target with a LASER that the helo-mounted Hellfire could track all the way to the target.


This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

ANPAQ-3 Modular Universal Laser Equipment (MULE)

Some men laughed at the MULE, but theirs was a shallow laugh as none of us could find fault with the noble seeker, and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I intentionally picked armor targets as far away as possible, some 8,000 meters and beyond, to challenge the Hellfire capabilities. The challenge was always accepted, and the missiles never missed.

In addition to calling in fire from aircraft, we also launched Hellfires from our six-wheel drive Austrian-made assault vehicles using an improvised launch pedestal welded by our mechanics. Success was enjoyed as well with that highly mobile platform.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

Vehicle-mounted Hellfire launch; we often joked that we got sleepy waiting for the Hellfire to reach its distant targets

Toward late afternoon our troop leadership introduced us to an Air Force lieutenant colonel who heard there was a group of Delta men training nearby and just had to come show off his latest Research and Development endeavor — a remote control pilotless aircraft. None of us really cared about him, or his drone but rank still had its privileges so ok…

He stood proudly amongst us and beamed as he bragged on his miniature airplane. He held his Ground Control Unit in his hands explaining that his drone was at the moment several kilometers to our southwest and that it had a ,000 instrument payload that included a pilot’s Situational Awareness (SA) camera focused ahead of the aircraft.

It was a gasoline-powered, propeller-driven drone with a wingspan of about 12′. Just as interest waned, he brought the drone in tight and had it scream a few feet over our heads. That was actually pretty cool, and questions started coming out for the colonel: how fast, how high, what duration, how many pounds payload… all measure of questions about the drone’s capabilities.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

This tragic friendly fire incident destroyed this Abrams tank with a Hellfire

“Sir, what’s the learning curve like on piloting that craft?” came my question.

“I’ll tell you what,” the colonel began as he stepped toward me. “I’ll let you see for yourself; give her a spin!” and he reached the ground control unit with its long whip antenna toward me. I immediately recoiled, not wanting to fool with all this expensive enigma.

“Fly it, a$hole!” the brothers started in on me.

“Yeah, get you some-o-that, chicken $hit!”

“Fly the damn plane, jacka$!”

And so it went, with the colonel thrusting the unit in my hands. All flight controls were there; all health inputs for the drone were displayed: speed, altitude, heading, fuel level, and others that I didn’t recognize. In the center of the unit was a screen displaying the done’s SA camera video feed.

It was very basic. All that was readily recognizable was black for the ground, and white for the sky. The black was toward the bottom of the screen with the majority of the screen white. There was a crosshair that cut across the screen representing an artificial horizon. I had seen similar instruments in the cockpit of an airplane, but as for flying these drones, I was fresh out of any experience whatsoever!

The true horizon on the screen was, of course, the line where the black (ground) met with the white (sky). The true horizon then should be under the aircraft’s artificial horizon for safe, unobstructed flight. To keep level flight like the colonel told me, all I had to do was keep the two horizon lines parallel… and not breathe.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

A representative artificial horizon from an aircraft cockpit. Here, brown represents ground and blue represents sky; where the two meet is the true horizon. The yellow horizontal line represents the aircraft’s artificial horizon as it appears with the aircraft parked on the ground.

“Just keep that baby flat and stable; just hold with what you got,” directed the colonel who then stepped back, turned and addressed the men in regard to how any plain-ol’ idiot could fly the thing, just not in those exact words. He really was proud of and loved his job so.

As he babbled to the boys, I imagined somehow that the amount of black seemed to be expanding into the white somewhat… and then I was sure that the black was indeed encroaching more on the white, headed up toward that artificial horizon line… “Hey, Sir…”

“Just keep her flat and stable,” the colonel yawned as he yapped to the yokels. Now the black rose up above the drone’s artificial horizon on the screen. It was time to hit the ejection lever!

“Sir I think you better see this!” I insisted as I stepped up and thrust the control unit in his face.

“Juuuust keep’r flaaaaa… DOH!!”

With that, the colonel snatched the unit from my hands and yanked back on the joystick with Ren and Stimpy bulging eyes. When the colonel had passed off the controls to me, there was flat terrain below. Unfortunately, while he was delivering his dissertation, the drone approached a hill mass that was taller than the drone was high. The video screen blipped out.

“OH MY GOD YOU’VE… YOU’VE… FLOWN IT INTO A MOUNTAIN!”

You see, that right there… that is why I did NOT want any part of the colonel’s toy. That thing was not such a piece of cake to operate as the man would have us believe. Let’s face it, all I was doing was standing with a box in my hand — I was not operating it at all!

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

A typical modern control unit for a drone; note the SA video feed screen and joy sticks

I was fire-spittin’ mad thinking about that ,000.00 waste. The boys were howling like banshees now which salted the wound. I knew as well as the next man you can’t bleed in the presence of sharks. Visions of myself in the squadron cartoon book filled my head. This event had certainly been most fitting fodder… ah, but as it is with photography, so it is with being the cartoonist: the photographer never has to be in the pictures.

The colonel could see I was mad as hell as he quickly called out:

“Ok, ok… it was absolutely not his fault, not his fault at all… he was just doing exactly what I told him to. It was entirely my fault!” That was true and gracious of him, but I was mad. I was mad at him, at myself, at that stupid airplane… and especially at that Goddamned mountain!

It was two days later my troop leader pulled up in a jeep and approached me carrying… a stick? He reached it out toward me and said:

“Hey, that drone colonel made it out to the crash site and wanted you to have this.”

I held in my hand a two-bladed wooden propeller about 18-inches long. I’m pretty sure that Colonel meant no dig or sarcasm by the gesture, but now I was mad at the world again, and didn’t like his little gift, not one little bit. I walked up to a trash dumpster near our tents. With a swoop of my arm, I cracked that propeller in two on the corner of the dumpster and flung the halves inside.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

So twenty-six years ago we scoffed at the colonel’s drone. What was it good for? What was the application? He was some boyish dude out playing with his toy. Little did we know at the time what an impact that research would have on the world, eh? Today the likes of drones are all but taking over in their application in our everyday lives.

Just yesterday my 13-year-old son and I went out to a nearby field to fly a remote Radio Controlled (RC) hobby airplane. After many successful laps my son reached the control my way and asked:

“Want to give it a try, Dad?”

…to which I replied to my now confused son:

“NO, DAMNIT… NO, NO, NO!!!”

MIGHTY HISTORY

Most stressful hand receipt ever: The ‘Little Boy’ nuke

Remember that first time you had to sign for more than $10,000 in gear? Or, hell, even that first real clothing hand receipt when you saw that the military was handing you what they saw as a couple thousand dollars worth of uniforms and equipment, and they could hold you accountable for every stitch of it?

Now imagine signing a hand receipt for a nuclear bomb, the only one of its type in existence in the world at the time.


This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

The Little Boy bomb is prepped on Tinian island for insertion into the Enola Gay’s bomb bay.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

America had learned in 1939 of German efforts to weaponize the power of nuclear energy from just years before. Experiments in 1935 and 1938 had proven that uranium, when bombarded with neutrons, underwent the process of fission. Scientists had argued about whether a sustained nuclear reaction could be created and, if so, if it could be used for the industry or war.

It may sound odd today, but there was plenty of reason to suspect that nuclear fission was useless for military designs. No one had yet proven that fission could be sustained. But the Roosevelt Administration, understanding the existential threat that fascism and the Third Reich posed to the rest of the world, decided it couldn’t wait and see if German efforts came to fruition.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Advisory Committee on uranium and quickly funded research into nuclear chain reactions.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

The USS Shaw explodes in Pearl Harbor during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

The group would go through two name changes and multiple reorganizations as the scientific research progressed. While America was bombed at Pearl Harbor and entered the war, America’s scientists kept churning away at the problem of how to enrich uranium and create “the bomb.”

But in that same month, Germany shelved its own plans to create a nuclear bomb, opting instead to dedicate its best scientists and most of its research funds into rocket and jet research. Germany had been at the forefront of research, but would now essentially cease progress.

America, unaware that none of its rivals were still developing the bomb, pressed ahead, dedicating vast resources to gathering, enriching, and testing uranium and plutonium. This would eventually result in material dedicated to one uranium device and a number of plutonium ones.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

The Trinity explosion was the first human-controlled nuclear explosion in history.

(U.S. Department of Energy)

The first nuclear explosion took place on July 16, 1945, in the deserts of New Mexico. The Trinity test used a plutonium implosion to trigger the blast. The Trinity “Gadget” was tested because America was having better luck gathering and preparing plutonium for use, but wasn’t sure the design would actually work.

It did, releasing as much energy as 21,000 tons of TNT from only 14 pounds of plutonium.

But at the same time, the nuclear elements of the Little Boy device were already headed across the Pacific on the USS Indianapolis. Of course, this being the military, there was a form for shipping dangerous materials, and the form specifically tells users to avoid remarks that would make the document classified.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

An Army form shows the transfer of materials for components of the Little Boy bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This resulted in a “Receipt of Material” form describing “Projectile unit containing…kilograms of enriched tuballey at an average concentration of ….” Hopefully, if the form ever had fallen into Japanese hands, they would’ve been smart enough to suspect something was amiss when famous physicist and member of the Secretary of War’s staff Dr. Norman F. Ramsey was signing over a single bomb to Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell.

Not the way most bombs units are transferred to the Pacific, we’d wager.

The materials were transported to Tinian Island where they were used to assemble the “Little Boy” bomb which, at the time, was the only uranium bomb that had ever existed. Capt. William Parsons, the Enola Gay’s weaponeer and commander, signed for the bomb and was in charge of verifying that it was returned to the base or expended in combat.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

An atomic cloud rises over Hiroshima after the Little Boy bomb was dropped.

(509th Operations Group)

On Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped the bomb at approximately 8:15 on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Parsons, seemingly consulting his watch while it was still set to time on Tinian Island, wrote: “I certify that the above material was expended to the city of Hiroshima, Japan at 0915 6 Aug.”

It’s one of the most mundane ways possible of annotating the destruction of a city, but it satisfied the requirements of the form. Over the ensuing years, Farrell got notable members of the mission and the Manhattan project to sign the form, creating the most-stacked piece of nuclear memorabilia likely in existence.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This rifle was Eugene Stoner’s replacement for the M16

The M4/M16 family of rifles has been in service with the U.S. military and many of its allies since 1964. Since then, many programs have attempted to replace the rifle, the most recent being the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program. However, the past few decades have seen a number of militaries and agencies adopt rifles that use elements of a later rifle from the mind of Eugene Stoner.

While working for the ArmaLite/Fairchild Aircraft Company, Stoner designed a battle rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO to replace the U.S. military’s M1 Garand service rifle. However, Stoner’s AR-10 tested poorly during the Springfield Armory trials and was passed on by the U.S. Although the AR-10 was purchased by other countries like West Germany, Italy, and Sudan, Stoner and ArmaLite pursued a U.S. government contract.

When the Army requested a rifle with a smaller caliber to replace the M14, Stoner got to work. He scaled down the AR-10 to make the AR-15 and chambered it in .223 Remington per the Army’s request. The new rifle allowed soldiers to carry three times the ammunition compared to the M14 and was tested to be three times as reliable. However, Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor vetoed Eugene Stoner’s design to retain the M14.

In 1959, finding little success with their AR-10 and AR-15 and facing financial difficulties, ArmaLite sold the weapon design rights to Colt. With a few redesigns to make the rifles more user-friendly and easier to mass produce, Colt managed to sell their new Colt ArmaLite AR-15 Model 01 to the U.S. military in 1960. The new rifle, first adopted by the Air Force and Army Special Forces before it became standard issue, was designated Rifle, Caliber 5.56 mm, M16 and the rest is history.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL
An ArmaLite AR-15 with a pre-Colt charging handle under the carrying handle (Springfield Armory National Historic Site Archives)

ArmaLite lost out on the profits of Stoner’s AR-15 design. Moreover, they had sold off his direct-impingement operating system. This forced the company to use the more conventional short-stroke gas piston operating system in the 7.62x51mm chambered AR-16. The rifle, Stoner’s last design for ArmaLite, was made of stamped sheet metal and targeted smaller countries that didn’t have the industrial capacity to produce the more elaborate forged aluminum AR-10 or AR-15.

Following Eugene Stoner’s departure in 1961, ArmaLite assigned chief designer Arthur Miller to continue Stoner’s work on the AR-16. Miller redesigned the rifle for the .223 Remington cartridge and created the AR-18. With its gas piston system, the AR-18 was more reliable than the direct-impingement AR-15. The new rifle was accurate up to 500 yards and its simple construction made it cheap to manufacture. However, this came at the cost of a rough appearance compared to the sleek lines of the AR-15 and the rifle garnered few sales. Small numbers were sold to the militaries and police of countries like Botswana, Haiti, and Malaysia. A civilian version, the AR-180, was produced but also found little success.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL
The AR-18 became a favorite of the IRA (Public Domain)

Although the AR-16 and AR-18 did not have the commercial success of the AR-10 and AR-15, their designs did inspire many rifles which were used concurrently with the M4/M16. The British SA80, Singaporean SAR-80, Belgian FN F2000, Japanese Howa Type 89, and German H&K G36 were all inspired to some degree by the dual captured recoil spring of the AR-16 and AR-18.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL
The G36 recoil assembly is very similar to the AR-18 (Bundeswehr)

The new SIG MCX from Sig Sauer is a 21st century weapon system that is also heavily inspired by the AR-18. Thanks to the AR-18-style recoil system, the MCX is extremely modular and can be configured to suit a wide range of mission requirements. For this reason, it is currently used by special police units in Germany and the UK as well as military special forces like the Danish Frogman Corps and USSOCOM.

Although Stoner’s AR-16 design and its AR-18 derivative were not nearly as successful as his previous AR-10 and AR-15 designs, they influenced many service rifles throughout the 20th century and continue to influence firearm design today.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL
The SIG MCX takes the best of the AR-15 and AR-18 designs (CTSFO)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of Thomas Norris, a forgotten Navy SEAL

On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops. 

Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire. 

The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.

Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.

Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.

The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue. 

The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air. 

Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year. 

Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.

Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.

In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Ranger fought in Mogadishu before becoming a country music star

On October 3, 1993, Task Force Ranger conducted a raid in the Black Sea neighborhood of Mogadishu, Somalia to capture high-ranking lieutenants of the Aidid militia. The task force was an all-star special operations team composed of elements from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st SFOD-D, 160th SOAR, Navy SEALs from DEVGRU, and PJs and CCTs from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.


As Nightstalker MH-6 Little Birds inserted Delta Operators on the target building, Rangers fast-roped down from MH-60 Blackhawks to the building’s four corners to secure a perimeter. During the insertion, Pfc. Todd Blackburn missed the rope and fell to the street below. Undeterred, the rest of the Rangers fast-roped out of the Blackhawks to establish security. The last Ranger out of the Blackhawk in front of Blackburn’s was team leader Sgt. Keni Thomas. As he reached for the rope, Thomas turned to the Blackhawk’s crew chief who yelled to him, “NO FEAR!”

“SCREW YOU!” Thomas responded as he dropped into the gunfire below. In his mind, it was easy for someone to say “no fear” if they’re the ones that get to fly away from the bullets. But Thomas was a Ranger, one of America’s elite, highly trained warriors. He led his team and maintained the perimeter around the target building from the Somali militia who were shooting at them, but mostly missing by his account.

Thirty-five minutes later, the target individuals were secure, loaded up on the trucks, and everyone was ready to return to base. With everything looking good, Thomas’ thoughts drifted as he thought about how he was now a bona fide combat veteran and could qualify for a VA loan. It was then that CW3 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley’s Blackhawk was shot down. What was supposed to be a quick mission on a day off had turned into a battle against an entire city; after all, an American Soldier will never leave a fallen comrade.

Super 61 went down about five blocks from the target building. As the Rangers stepped off to secure the crash site, Thomas’ squad leader was shot in the neck. As the medics treated the squad leader’s neck wound, the platoon sergeant came up to Thomas and told him, “You’re in charge now.”

“What do you mean I’m in charge sarn’t?” Thomas asked, not wanting the increased responsibility.

“Hey, hey, sarn’t Thomas,” Sgt. Watson snapped his fingers to focus Thomas’ attention. “You’re in charge.” It was then that Thomas’ NCO training kicked in and he rogered up. Taking his squad leaders’ radio, he reassigned positions in his own team and took lead of the squad. The Rangers continued to make their way to the crash site as they took fire from unseen enemies.

Suddenly, one of the Rangers spotted a hostile Somali. “He’s in the tree sarn’t! He’s in the tree!” Pfc. Floyd, Thomas’ SAW gunner, yelled out frantically.

“Well if you see him, why don’t you shoot him?” Sgt. Watson responded self-evidently. It dawned on Floyd that he had, in fact, joined the Army and was allowed to shoot at people who shot at him. But rather than firing in 3 to 5 second bursts, Floyd proceeded to let out a constant stream of cyclic fire until Thomas hit him and told him to stop.

With the barrel of his machine gun glowing from the heat, Floyd stood up, lifted his goggles, and asked naively, “Did I get him?”

As the tree fell over, cut down by Floyd’s gunfire, Thomas said sarcastically, “Floyd, I don’t know if you got him, but you got the whole tree.”

Thomas and his squad continued to fight their way to the crash site and defended it until the bodies of the crew were recovered the next day. Incredibly and in spite of their casualties, their chalk was the only one to return with everyone alive that day. Thomas credits this accomplishment to the skill of their medic and the leadership of Sgt. Watson.

After Somalia, Thomas went on to serve in the Ranger recon teams. He ended his military career in 1997 as a Staff Sergeant, having earned the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, the Special Operations Diver badge, British and Belgian jump wings, and a Bronze Star for Valor with a “V” device.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

Thomas served in the Army with distinction (Photo from KeniThomas.com)

Upon leaving active duty, Thomas worked as a youth counselor and eventually became a motivational speaker, drawing on his experiences in the Ranger Regiment. He also served as a consultant on We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down where he was portrayed by actor Tac Fitzgerald. However, it was Thomas’ passion for music that he focused on most after the army.

Thomas formed the country music band Cornbread and began his music career by performing in and around Columbus, Georgia. By the late 90’s, the band started to make a name for itself, playing shows on college campuses like Auburn University. In the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, Thomas and Cornbread perform a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama as the movie’s featured song. To date, the band has released three albums as Cornbread and four under Keni Thomas’ name. Thomas has also performed several times at the prestigious Grand Ole Opry, with his most recent performance in May 2014.

Though he’s broken into the country music world, Thomas has not forgotten his military roots. He has performed overseas on USO tours during which he takes the extra time to connect with each servicemember that he meets and exchange stories. His favorite venues are the remote outposts where he performs for groups as small as a platoon. He also donates some of his proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships and financial aid to the children of wounded or deceased operators.

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

Thomas performing in Kuwait on a USO tour in 2006 (U.S. Navy photo)

From the streets of Mogadishu to the music halls of Nashville, Thomas has lived up to both the Soldier’s Creed and the Ranger Creed in never leaving a fallen comrade. He continues to tell the stories of his fallen brothers in his music and his motivational talks. Rangers like Thomas lead the way…all the way!

MIGHTY HISTORY

U-2 spy plane took its first flight 64 years ago, but it was an accident

On Aug. 1, 1955, a prototype of the U-2 spy plane sprinted down a runway at Groom Lake in Nevada, and its massive wings quickly lifted it into the sky.

That wasn’t exactly how it was supposed to go. It was meant to be a high-speed taxi test, but the prototype’s highly efficient wings pulled it into the air unexpectedly. The plane’s first official flight happened three days later.

Lockheed Martin footage captured the moment the venerable Dragon Lady started its 64-year career.


U-2 First Flight

www.youtube.com

The U-2 was developed in secrecy by Lockheed in the early 1950s to meet the US government’s need to surveil the Soviet Union and other areas from a height enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft systems couldn’t reach.

Renowned engineer Kelly Johnson led the project at Lockheed’s advanced development lab, Skunk Works.

“Johnson’s take was all right, I need to get as high as I can to overfly enemy defenses, and how do I do that? Well I put big wings on there; big wings means higher. I cut weight; cutting weight means higher, and then let me just strap a big engine on there, and that’s it,” U-2 pilot Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.

One thing Johnson ditched was wing-mounted landing gear. On takeoff, temporary wheels called “pogos” fall away from the wings.

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Master Sgt. Justin Pierce, 9th Maintenance Squadron superintendent, preforms preflight checks on a U-2 at Beale Air Force Base in California, April 16, 2018.

(US Air Force/Senior Airman Tristan D. Viglianco)

“So [Johnson] basically took a glider with parts and pieces from other Lockheed aircraft and strapped an engine to it and delivered it before the anticipated delivery date and under budget,” Nauman said.

The plane Johnson and Lockheed produced was well suited for flight — as the Groom Lake test showed, it didn’t take much to get it off the ground.

“The pilot was out there taxing around, and [during] a high-speed taxi — we’re talking about 30ish miles an hour — the plane actually lifted off on its own, completely unexpected,” Nauman said.

“And they thought, ‘OK, hang on, let’s go back and make sure we’re approaching this test phase the right way.’ And they found the thing just wants to get off the ground.”

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A U-2 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS America.

(US Navy)

Same name, new-ish plane

Throughout its career, the U-2 has been reengineered and redesigned.

The plane that took off at Groom Lake was a U-2A. The next version was the U-2C, which had a new engine; a U-2C on display at the National Air and Space Museum flew the first operational mission over the Soviet Union on July 4, 1956.

The U-2G and U-2H, outfitted for carrier operations, came in the early 1960s. The U-2R, which was 40% larger than the original and had wing pods to carry more sensors and fuel, arrived in 1967.

The last U-2R arrived in 1989, and most of the planes in use now were built in the mid-1980s.

Since 1994 the US has spent id=”listicle-2639718396″.7 billion to modernize the U-2’s airframe and sensors. After the GE F118-101 engine was added in the late 1990s, all U-2s were re-designated as U-2S, the current variant.

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US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greets his ground support crew before a U-2 mission, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2010.

(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

The Air Force now has about 30 single-seat U-2 for missions and four of the two-seat TU-2 trainers. Those planes have a variety of pilot-friendly features, but one aspect remains a challenge.

“It’s extremely difficult to land,” Nauman said.

“You could YouTube videos of bad U-2 landings all day and see interview sorties that look a little bit sketchy,” he said, referring to a part of the pilot-interview process where candidates have to fly the U-2, adding that the landings were done safely.

Despite its grace in flight, getting to earth is an ungainly process that takes a team effort.

Another qualified U-2 pilot in a high-performance chase car — Mustangs, Camaros, Pontiacs, and even a Tesla — meets the aircraft as it lands.

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A U-2 pilot drives a chase car behind U-2 during a low-flight touch and go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, March 15, 2019.

(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)

“As the airplane’s coming in over the runway, this vehicle’s chasing behind it with a radio, and [the driver is] actually talking the pilot down a little bit, just to help him out … ‘Hey, raise your left wing, raise your right wing, you’re about 10 feet, you’re about 8 feet, you’re about 2 feet, hold it there at 2 feet,'” U-2 pilot Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, said at the same event.

As the plane “approaches a stall and it’s able to land, you have that experienced set of eyes in the car watching the airplane, because all [the pilot] can see is right off the front,” Patterson said.

The absence of wing landing gear means that once it’s slows enough, the plane leans to one side and a wingtip comes to rest on the ground.

“The lifespan of the U-2, the airframe, [is beyond] 2040 to 2050 … because we spend so little time in a high-stress regime,” Patterson added. “Once it gets to altitude it’s smooth and quiet and it’s very, very nice on the airplane. The only tough part is the landing.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Could you legally shoot someone on a ‘wanted’ poster?

Labyrinth900 asks: Were “Wanted Dead or Alive” bounties a real thing? In other words, if you found someone that is wanted dead, could you legally shoot and kill them and collect a bounty, and not be charged for murder?

A classic Hollywood trope is the idea of a poster with the photo of a given criminal along with very large print text that would say something like “Wanted — Dead or Alive”. But did these actually ever exist and could you actually kill someone legally when such a poster was issued by the authorities?

To answer the first question — yes, there are many known instances of such “Dead or Alive” posters being put up by the state and other entities, but that doesn’t actually tell the whole story. Just because a poster stated something like “Dead or Alive” it did not grant any individual the right to kill the person without legal consequences. For example, consider the infamous murder of Jesse James at the hands of his outlaw buddies Charley and Robert Ford.


Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden negotiated with various rail companies to offer a ,000 (1,000 today) reward each for the capture of Jesse James or his brother Frank. The subsequent posters noted “Wanted Dead or Alive Jesse or Frank James.” Ultimately the Ford brothers arranged with the governor in secret to bring their buddy Jesse in.

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Deal struck, on the morning of April 3, 1882, the brothers had breakfast with James. After eating, the trio walked into the living room. When James turned his back on the brothers, reportedly to clean a dusty photo, Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head.

Unfortunately for Charley and Robert, when they went to collect the reward, they instead found themselves promptly arrested for murder and soon after were sentenced to hang. You see, James was unarmed at the time of his death, and just as importantly was not in any way resisting arrest or attempting to flee. He seemingly didn’t even know the Ford brothers were there to arrest him that day.

To get away with killing such a person you were attempting to collect a bounty on the person needed to be resisting in some way, particularly in a way that threatened your own life. Thus, you could only kill them if it was self defense, which wouldn’t have been any different than if someone attacked you outside of any bounty scenario, with one caveat. For quite some time in U.S. history it was legal to use deadly force against a fleeing felon, even if your own life wasn’t immediately threatened. The logic behind this was seemingly that chasing down a fleeing person could be dangerous in unforeseen ways. It also incentivized criminals to not try to flee in the first place upon discovery.

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Jesse and Frank James in 1872.

Granted, if no one was around to witness, whose to say the dangerous criminal you killed didn’t actively threaten your life in an imminent way to cause you to defend yourself? And given that bringing such a criminal in across long distances used to be an extremely dangerous affair in many cases, anecdotally it seems like it wasn’t uncommon to simply rid the world of the alleged criminal first and then lie about what happened after. A body is so much safer to transport and people were quick to believe a dangerous criminal would fight tooth and nail to escape because, after all, in many cases they probably did if they knew being brought in was going to likely result in a hanging. They really had nothing to lose.

On that note, Teddy Roosevelt was once thanked by boat thief Michael Finnigan for not killing him in this sort of scenario, despite the extreme risk to Roosevelt at the time. In a nutshell a couple guys stole a boat from Roosevelt in the dead of winter. Rather than let it go, Roosevelt dropped everything and built a new boat, tracked them down and captured the thieves. The whole affair ended up being a few hundred mile trek, which had to be partially on foot because ice made the river unnavigable at a certain point. Near the end, Roosevelt had to stay awake 40 hours straight to guard the prisoners as they walked and rested. You see, he was escorting them alone at that point and it was so bitterly cold that he worried the criminals would get frost bite if he bound them in any way, so he didn’t.

In the end, Roosevelt didn’t even press charges against one of the men, noting he didn’t “have enough sense to do anything good or bad.” As for the aforementioned Finnigan, while he did find himself behind bars, he thanked Roosevelt for not killing him as most lawmen would have done in the same set of circumstances. You can learn much more about this fascinating saga on one of our favorite series of our BrainFood Show podcast titled The Bull Moose. Though perhaps a better title for that series would have been: In Which Teddy Roosevelt Makes Men Everywhere Feel a Little Less Manly.

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Theodore Roosevelt as the Badlands hunter in 1885.

(Photographed by George Grantham Baine)

In any event, going back to the Ford brothers, they did end up getting off as the governor went ahead and pardoned them, something that was met with mixed reaction by the general public. The speed at which the trial and pardon happened had some accusing the governor of actually knowing before hand that James would be killed and that the pardon had likewise all been pre-planned. Although this seems to strain credibility because if Robert Ford had known it would be illegal to kill James in the way he did, he could have killed him in the exact same way and just made up a story that James had tried to attack him or flee. No one would have been the wiser in that case and there would have been no need to trust the governor to grant a pardon.

Whatever the case, going back to the Wanted Dead or Alive posters, there are a few more caveats to consider as well. First, while depictions in movies and games often show clear photographs, in reality many historical examples were simple sketches, and often even got the descriptions of the person wrong.

Further, in the vast majority of cases, it was lawmen themselves who would take it upon themselves to go hunt down the criminal and collect the reward, not someone in the general public. Naturally, while finding criminals was sort of their job anyway, criminals that had bounties on their heads tended to get much higher priority and a lot more effort. A caveat to that was that it was occasionally the case that a member of the general public would be deputized specifically to go capture someone.

This brings us around to who pays. In most cases, as you might have guessed from our former mentioned instance of Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden getting railroad companies to put up the reward money, this usually wasn’t actually the state itself, but rather private companies or individuals who had particular interest in seeing someone brought to justice and wanted to incentivize law enforcement to actually do something about it.

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Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden.

It was also these private entities that were more likely to have something like “Dead or Alive” put in the poster if they were involved. The legality of killing the person wasn’t really relevant here — only what the stipulations were for getting the reward. And if the company or person just wanted the alleged criminal out of the way, regardless of how it happened, they might state that they were happy to pay even if the person was killed. This would incentivize more people to try to capture the person as the risk would be less than if it was required that the person be brought in alive no matter what.

If the wanted poster and reward were coming from the state alone, it was far more likely that the poster would say something more benign, and more likely that a bounty would only be paid if the person was brought in alive and in some cases even requiring the person be convicted. Again, all of this had more to do with the stipulations surrounding how one could get paid, rather than the legality of anything suggested in the poster.

It should also be noted that if a private citizen aided a lawmen in tracking down or bringing in alleged criminals, from accounts we reviewed it would seem not uncommon at all for the lawmen to go ahead and make sure they themselves got the lion’s share of the reward, in a few instances even when the lawmen did little but recover the body after the private citizen had done their part. For example, in the aforementioned case of the Ford brothers who killed Jesse James, for all their trouble, they ended up only getting a small percentage of the bounty, with the rest going to Marshal Henry H. Craig and Sheriff James Timberlake.

But to sum up — yes Wanted Dead or Alive posters were indeed a thing, though this did not technically allow people to legally kill someone if they found them, as is often portrayed in movies. Doing so flagrantly might just see the killer wind up on their own Wanted poster.

Bonus Facts:

  • For quite a bit of England’s history, bail was not in the form of money, but rather in the form of a person who would stand trial and potentially be sentenced in your place if you skipped town. As you might imagine from this, bounties on those who’d skipped town were most definitely a thing going back at least as far as the 13th century in England as those who had pledged themselves as bail, but had the person skip town, were highly incentivized to get the person back. Using money, rather than a person, as bail finally changed in the 17th century thanks to the Habeas Corpus Act. While you’ll often read that these 13th century instances were the first known instances of bounty hunters, this isn’t correct at all. It seems more likely that this has been going on since as long as civilized humans have been humaning. As for one example drastically predating 13th century England, at some unknown point in the history of Pompeii (definitely preceding 79AD for obvious reasons), someone wrote on a wall: “A copper pot went missing from my shop. Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 bronze coins. 20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief.” Moving over to China in the 3rd century BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang is known to have used bounties for various purposes.
  • If you’re wondering if Wanted Dead or Alive posters are still a thing, not really. While Wanted posters are still around, and the FBI, for example, currently uses over 5,000 digital billboards at various times for this purpose, the Dead or Alive variety went the way of the Dodo around the early 20th century. That said, we did find one instance occurring in 2018. In this case, in California an unnamed homeowner who was robbed put up Wanted Dead or Alive posters with the image of the person who had robbed him. As you might imagine, local law enforcement did not take kindly to this, though the person in question refused to stop posting the Dead or Alive bounty, citing freedom of speech. The police did not do anything about it, and they eventually captured the theif. However, they did note that had something happened to the thief as a result of the posters, there very likely would have been legal ramifications for the homeowner.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

When you picture the Continental Army — as commanded by General George Washington — you see scrappy colonials in ragtag uniforms, made as much of buckskin as breaches, lining up to trade musket volleys with orderly squadrons of Redcoats. You picture young, frostbitten officers fending off ice blocks in the Delaware River.


You picture this:

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And this:

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

What you probably don’t picture is this:

This incredible World War II hero was the first Navy SEAL

You don’t really picture Minutemen grunts grovelling in groundhog holes or Washington commanding from behind a berm. But, at the climactic battle of the War of Independence, that’s exactly how it went down.

The engagement that ended the Revolutionary War —- the 1781 Siege of Yorktown — hinged on the disciplined execution of an early version of trench warfare. It’s a surprising historical tidbit.

We tend to associate trench warfare with World War I and the terrible mechanisms of death dealing shunted into that conflict by the Industrial Revolution. But as early as the Renaissance, siege tactics for breaching fortifications with artillery were designed around the clever engineering of trenches to great martial, as well as psychological, effect.

Before gunpowder and artillery, besieging a fortress was an arduous proposition. If you were really in a hurry, you’d bust out the siege towers and battering rams, doing your best to dodge hailstorms of rocks, arrows and boiling oil.

If that seemed unsavory, and you were happier killing time than your own soldiers, you’d simply blockade the fort and starve out its defenders. No muss, no fuss, but slow.

The explodey stuff changed all that. Cannons (once the diabolical death mongers had managed to dial them up to 11) made mincemeat of castle walls the world over: witness the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The defensive architects responded with burlier walls, but given enough time, nothing made of stone could keep out a cannon ball. Trenches became essential for buying your bombardiers time to operate.

At Yorktown, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and 7,000 Redcoats were dug in behind a series of redoubts and batteries, waiting for reinforcement. Washington, joined (and thoroughly out-monikered) by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, had Cornwallis surrounded by land and sea.

Showing the tactical facility that made him America’s only six-star general, Washington initiated an artillery-enabled siege protocol by digging a first parallel, or bombardment trench, just out of range of British musket fire. From that position, he was able to blast the relentless crap out of the British encampment.

Under this continuous fusillade, American engineers dug a zigzagging trench forward to within 150 yards of the British earthworks fortifications and then dug a second parallel. From this position, their artillery would make rubble of the two redoubts that stood between Washington and victory.

But even before they began their next barrage, the psychological impact of the American advance impelled British soldiers to begin deserting in large numbers. Washington’s disciplined encroachment through his trench system bore with it the air of inevitability.

Also read: This may be one of the most important Revolutionary War generals you never heard of

By Oct. 15, 1781, both redoubts had been captured and Yorktown was in check. Cornwallis capitulated on Oct. 19, effectively ending hostilities and signalling the beginning of autonomous nationhood for the United States. And all because of Washington’s willingness to get his hands dirty.

From groundhog marauder to Founding Father, the man was put on this Earth to shake it.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why Iran’s Special Forces still wear US green berets

When looking at Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade, you might notice a few striking similarities — the yellow enlisted chevrons seem a lot like the the yellow chevrons on old Army greens, for example. Before the Iranian Revolution, their unit insignia looked a lot like the De Oppresso Liber crest that signifies the United States Army Special Forces.

The distinctive green beret worn by the Iranians may not be the same shade of green worn by today’s U.S. Army Special Forces, but Iranian special operators wear green for a reason — they were trained by Americans.


In the 1960s, the United States sent four operational detachments of Army Special Forces operators to Iran to train the Shah’s Imperial military forces. The Mobile Training Teams spent two years as Military Assistance Advisory Group Iran. Before they could even get to Iran, the soldiers had to pass the Special Forces Officer course at Fort Bragg, then learn Farsi at the Monterey, Calif. Defense Language Institute. Only then would they be shipped to Iran to train Iranian Special Forces.

It’s been a long time since the 65th was a part of the Imperial Iranian Special Forces. Now called 65th NOHED Brigade (which is just a Farsi acronym for “airborne special forces”), the unit’s mission is very similar to the ones the U.S. Special Forces trained them for in the 1960s. They perform hostage rescue, psychological operations, irregular warfare, and train for counter-terrorism missions both in and outside of the Islamic Republic.

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Inside the Iranian military, the unit is known as the “powerful ghosts.” The nickname stems from a mission given to the 65th in the mid-1990s. They were tasked to take buildings around Tehran from the regular military – and were able to do it in under two hours.

Since their initial standup with U.S. Special Forces, Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Force Brigade survived the 1979 Iranian Revolution, then they survived the brutal Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and now advise the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as they fight for the Iran-dominated Assad regime in Syria against a fractured rebellion.

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NOHED members operating a machine gun in highlands of Kordestan during Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.

The legacy of the harsh but thorough training with American Green Berets continues in Iran. The current training includes endurance and survival in desert, jungle, and mountain warfare, among other schools, like parachute and freefall training, just like their erstwhile American allies taught so long ago.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why it’s illegal to use weather modification in warfare

Despite how ridiculous some rules and laws may seem, they only have to exist because someone actually did something so ridiculous. That’s why it’s still legal to rain death from above, just as long as that death isn’t actual rain. In this case, the United States is the perpetrator, seeding the clouds in Vietnam to keep the North Vietnamese from infiltrating the South.


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“This weather is crazy, as if it’s happening to us on purpose!”

The idea is actually a pretty great one. Instead of bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail into submission, they would simply render it unusable. With Operation Popeye, the United States Air Force seeded the clouds over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in an effort to make the Vietnamese monsoon season last longer, keep the trail muddy and treacherous, and prevent the North from moving men and material into South Vietnam.

From Thailand, the United States used C-130 and F-4C aircraft armed with lead iodide and silver iodide to spread into clouds above the trail. The chemicals condensed the water in those clouds, forming precipitation in the form of rain. They wanted to stop up the dirt roads used by enemy trucks and men, cause landslides, wash out river crossings, and keep the roads impassable.

The 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron contributed to the 2,602 cloud seeding missions flown during Popeye.

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That’s a lot of rain.

“I never even imagined that’s what that group was doing,” recalls Brian Heckman, a former Air Force pilot, “until we got over there and showed up for the briefing and then they told us what the project was all about. We just went around looking for clouds to seed.”

And so Popeye continued with gusto, even though Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird had no knowledge of the program and even testified to the “fact” that there were no such programs in Vietnam before Congress. The public didn’t find out about the program until the release of The Pentagon Papers, published by the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. That’s how the Environmental Modification Convention came to pass in 1977.

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Chemtrails were still totally legal.

Its full name was actually the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, restricting “widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury.” It basically says that any manipulation of weather (aka “environmental modification”) as a means of destruction in wartime is strictly prohibited.

The United States was an early signatory to this agreement.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How to rise to power in a dictatorship without getting killed

The problem with being a rising star in a dictatorship where the only rules are the whims of one individual is that you tend to attract a lot of attention. This, of course, could put a target on your back. If you outlive the dictator, the purges, and the possible wars, however, it could be you occupying the big chair when the dust settles. Nowhere is this more clear than in the life of Nikita Khrushchev.


Before rising to the top of the Soviet Union’s oligarchy, Khrushchev started his Communist career as a political commissar during the Russian Civil War, was then sent to Ukraine to carry out Stalin’s purges, and somehow survived World War II’s Eastern Front, where Communist Commissars were specifically targeted by the Third Reich. After the war, he spent much of his time very close to Stalin…and survived.

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He even told the USSR that Stalin was stupid and his policies sucked. Not in those words, but that was the gist.

Khrushchev implemented many of Stalin’s policies without question, and did as he was told throughout his ascendancy. He also didn’t make any move against his boss while he was alive. Instead, Khrushchev waited until after the death of Stalin to denounce the “Man of Steel,” along with his domestic policies, his personality cult, and probably his mustache. But while Stalin was alive, Khrushchev was the best salesman for global Communism Stalin could have had.

During his time as the leader of the Soviet Union, he met with everyone who would have him, including famed anti-Communist Richard Nixon. He even managed to avoid a nuclear war with the U.S. President Kennedy. He didn’t need the bravado the Red Army wanted him to show during the Cuban Missile Crisis – Khrushchev already showed his by surviving every deadly situation thrown at Russia.

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If you can survive Stalingrad, you can survive anything.

Khrushchev survived Stalin because he’d proved his mettle many times over. Khrushchev was the epitome of the Soviet worker class. He was from a poor family of peasants, he went on strike against the Tsarist government as a metal worker in World War I, and he chose the right brand of Communism when the time came. When given a choice between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, he chose the group who prioritized winning over everything else. He was so loyal to Communist ideals that he refused to allow his wife a religious funeral after she died. That’s dedication.

He immediately joined every Communist government program and school he could, using connections to get into everything, like a good oligarch. When it came time for Stalin to purge, Khrushchev was in a trusted position. To maintain that trust, Khrushchev was willing to send his closest friends and coworkers to the gulag and the executioner.

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In case you were wondering, he killed a lot of people. Like, a lot.

So to survive the dictator’s whimsy, you have to prove you aren’t out to topple the dictator. The best way to do that is help kill the dictator’s enemies… before someone else accuses you of being the dictator’s enemy. The second best way is not to make waves. When Khrushchev appealed to Stalin to help fight the famine in Ukraine, Stalin thought Khrushchev was getting weak and sent him an overseer from Moscow. Khrushchev promptly became “ill” and all but disappeared for two years.

Not annoying Stalin about starving people probably saved his life and career. In Stalin’s last days, Khrushchev was called to be near Stalin and in the dictator’s inner circle. Here, the future Soviet leader survived many long nights of drinking and dancing at Stalin’s command, coining the saying: “When Stalin says dance, a wise man dances.”

Krushchev learned to take a nap in the afternoon so he wouldn’t fall asleep in front of his boss.

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These guys killed several hundred thousand people, maybe more. That’s not even counting the famines.

After Stalin died, his inner circle vied for power and fought amongst one another publicly. Not Khrushchev – he was demoted and accepted his situation. He soon found the others had fought themselves out of a job while “humble” Khrushchev was elevated to the title of First Secretary of the Communist Party. By not overstepping his bounds as his rivals did, Khrushchev became the least objectionable choice. It didn’t hurt that he was generally very good at whatever his job was.

He was so good even after he was ousted from power, Khrushchev managed to avoid being murdered by enemies like most powerful people in dictatorships so often are. He retired to a dacha in the countryside and died of a heart attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

George Washington was nearly impossible to kill

History would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6’2″ and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.


It’s not just that the man was fearless in battle (even though he really was). Washington suffered from a number of otherwise debilitating, painful ailments and diseases throughout his life that would have taken a lesser man down — but not the man who founded the most powerful country ever to grace the Earth.

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“Let them take cover in the woods! We’ll fight the indians in straight lines, in tight formations. That’ll show them who’s boss.” It didn’t show them who’s boss.

 

He should have died at the Battle of the Monongahela

Near what we today call Pittsburgh,a British force under General Edward Braddock was soundly defeated by a force of French Canadians and Indians during the French and Indian War. Braddock died of wounds sustained in the fighting, but Washington survived despite having two horses shot out from under him. When all was said and done, he also found four musket-ball holes in his coat.

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“C’mon guys… let’s make this quick. Suuuuuper quick.”

 

He had dysentery the whole time

During much of the French and Indian War, Washington reported bouts of dysentery, an infection that causes (among other things) persistent diarrhea. He suffered from this while dodging bullets at the Monongahela River. The discomfort from it actually made him sit taller on his horse.

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“This is way easier when you don’t have dysentery!”

 

He trotted 30 yards from enemy lines

During the 1777 Battle of Princeton, Washington rode on his horse as bullets fired from British rifles 30 yards away whizzed around him. When troops worried about their leader getting shot, he simply said, “parade with me my fine fellows, we will have them soon!”

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America would get two more epic swings at German troops.

 

Trenton was cold as hell.

Crossing the Delaware was actually much more dangerous than the stories would have you believe. Giant chunks of ice were in the dark water that night and each threatened to overturn the longboats. Washington set out with three boats to make the crossing, and only his made it. Falling into the water likely meant a slow, freezing death for any Continental, even if they managed to get out of it.

Two Continental soldiers who survived the crossing stopped to rest by the side of the road and were frozen by morning.

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Paintings: the Presidential Snapchat filter.

 

He had six of the most lethal diseases of his time.

Normally, if you’re reading about someone in the 1700s contracting tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, or diphtheria, it’s because that’s how they died. Not only did Washington survive all of these conditions, he knew how to inoculate his army against smallpox, claiming the British tried using as an early form of biological warfare. It was the first mass military inoculation in history — and it worked.

In the end, Washington was felled by what modern doctors think was a case of epiglottitis, an acute bacterial inflammation of the little flap at the base of the tongue that covers the trachea.

Like the Rebel Alliance finding an exhaust port in the Death Star plans, life found a way to take down one of history’s greatest. It took 67 years and a whole lot of trial and error.

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