North Korea's ‘Supreme Leader' Actually Died Twice - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Kim Il-Sung, the founder and patriarch of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – known to many as North Korea – went by a lot of names, including General Secretary of the Korean Workers Party, President, Premier and Supreme Leader.

And those are just the titles he earned while he was alive. In death, Kim Il-Sung is still the leader of North Korea, as the country’s constitution was amended to proclaim him the Eternal President and de jure head of state. Forever.


Before Kim earned his “Eternal” presidency in 1994, however, he was the victim of a celebrity death hoax that got way out of hand. To this day, no one knows why.

It all began at the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the 38th Parallel that has separated the two Koreas since 1953. For years, the two sides blasted propaganda at one another over large loudspeakers.

The North talked about the superiority of North Korean Communism and about Kim Il-Sung in particular. The South blasted information about the superiority of democracy and capitalism. It was an ongoing exchange every day for years.

One day in 1986, it all stopped. The North Koreans started playing music, with no words. The South Koreans were puzzled by this until the speakers began to speak: Kim Il-Sung was dead and Kim Jong-Il. The North Korean flag was lowered to half mast.

When anything major happens in the North (like a Kim dying), the South goes bonkers. !986 was no different. They never know who might take power, what their politics might be and if another Korean War is about to happen. Naturally, the South Koreans went on high alert, waiting for the outcome of the death of North Korea’s first Communist leader (and the only one since the end of World War II).

Rumors poured out of intelligence agencies, with none of the intel vetted or confirmed. Kim Il-Sung had been shot and killed. He was killed in a coup by his generals. North Korean officials around the world were being recalled as the offending officers were escaping to China. Vietnamese officials were told the elder Kim was dead as the North was rising up against Kim Jong-Il.

For almost two days, rumors around the world flared and died as everyone speculated what might happen next. Then, according to NK News, Kim Il-Sung showed up, alive and well. He met a Mongolian delegation at Pyongyang airport, as if the whole world hadn’t been talking about how he was shot and killed in a coup.

Neither Kim nor any state media agency has ever discussed the issue or reported the motivation behind the event. The only thing they know is Kim Il-Sung didn’t die from a gunshot wound in 1986, instead dying from a heart attack in1994.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Did the Chinese Army get screwed by shoddy Chinese military vehicles?

On Aug. 10, 2020, a video surfaced on the internet of Indian Army troops using various tools to smash Chinese military vehicles made by state-owned manufacturer Dongfeng Motor Corporation.

The video was released on the internet at the height of tensions between China and India in the Ladakh region in June 2020.

A Chinese internet user alleged the vehicles produced by Dongfeng, which are one of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s version of humvees, are practically useless for military purposes. Dongfeng is the PLA’s largest vehicle supplier.

In the Galwan Valley, the site of skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops that led to the deaths of 63 soldiers between both armies, the rumors say the Dongfeng vehicles failed to protect the lives of Chinese soldiers. 

To South Asia’s World Is One News, the representatives from the Chinese military say the reports are “rubbish” and that they forced the video leaker to apologize. According to a story on an official Chinese military website, the allegation all stem from a WeChat post from user Zhou Liying. He was arrested and reportedly confessed his whistleblowing “crime.” 

Zhou’s handwritten letter of apology was published on the same website while India’s news media called the Dongfeng “fragile.”

Did sub-standard vehicles take the lives of Chinese soldiers at Galwan?

A Chinese netizen was made to apologize for claiming that sub-standard vehicles led to the death of Chinese soldiers during the clash with Indian border troops. According to the PLA – the netizen was arrested for spreading rumours. But this story triggered a wave of fresh claims on Chinese internet.Palki S Upadhyay tells you more.Read: https://bit.ly/2DTVjFO

Posted by WION on Monday, August 10, 2020

The rumors of the vehicles’ low quality persisted on the Chinese internet, along with stories about corruption in the corporation and investigations into wrongdoing from the government in Beijing. Another rumor says a Dongfeng official was arrested for “violating Party discipline.”

A Hong Kong newspaper backed the claim, saying that low quality steel could have been used to build the vehicles. The owner of that newspaper was soon arrested under the new state security law implemented by the Chinese government. That law says “crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.

WIO News’ Palki Sharma says the Dongfeng vehicle represents everything that is wrong with China and the Chinese government.

“First, this military vehicle is a copy of the Hummer,” the journalist says. “The second reason is Dongfeng has faced corruption charges before… in 2015 a Dongfeng executive was under investigation for what? For severe violation of discipline.”

Chinese military vehicle

Aside from the internet allegations and newspaper reports, there is no proof of the vehicles’ inferior quality. In the leaked video featuring the destruction of a Dongfeng vehicle, however, Indian soldiers are seen cracking the windshields using only a helmet.

The video reportedly caused widespread uproar in China. The Chinese government won’t acknowledge the authenticity of the video or if it was related to the border skirmishes, though India says it’s unrelated. 

Dongfeng’s Chinese military vehicles are used by Chinese border troops in the Ladakh region and were used in the Jun. 15, 2020 clashes that saw Chinese and Indian troops fight each other with makeshift clubs.

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy used to have nuclear-powered cruisers

While nuclear-powered carriers and submarines are all the rage in the U.S. Navy today, the sea-going service used to have a much wider nuclear portfolio with nuclear-powered destroyers and cruisers that could sail around the world with no need to refuel, protecting carrier and projecting American power ashore with missiles and guns.


North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The USS Long Beach fires a Terrier missile in 1961.

(U.S. Navy)

The first nuclear surface combatant in the world wasn’t a carrier, it was the USS Long Beach, a cruiser launched in 1959. That ship was followed by eight other nuclear cruisers, Truxtun, California, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Arkansas was the last nuclear-powered cruiser launched, coming to sea in 1980.

During the same period, a nuclear-powered destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, took to the seas as well. Due to changes in ship nomenclature over the period, it was a frigate when designed, a destroyer when launched, but would be classified as a cruiser by the time the ship retired.

The head of the Navy’s nuclear program for decades was Adm. Hyman G. Rickover who had a vision for an entirely nuclear-powered carrier battle group. This would maximize the benefits of nuclear vessels and create a lethal American presence in the ocean that could run forever with just an occasional shipment of food, spare parts, and replacement personnel.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The Navy launched Operation Sea Orbit where nuclear-powered ships sailed together in 1964. This is the USS Enterprise, a carrier; the USS Long Beach, a cruiser; and the USS Bainbridge, classified at the time as a destroyer.

(U.S. Navy)

The big advantage of nuclear vessels, which required many more highly trained personnel as well as a lot of hull space for the reactor, was that they could sail forever at their top speed. The speed thing was a big advantage. They weren’t necessarily faster than their conventionally fueled counterparts, but gas and diesel ships had to time their sprints for maximum effect since going fast churned through fuel.

That meant conventional vessels couldn’t sail too fast for submarines to catch them, couldn’t sprint from one side of the ocean to the other during contingency operations, and relied on tankers to remain on station for extended periods of time.

Nuclear vessels got around all these problems, but their great speed and endurance only really helped them if they weren’t accompanied by conventional ships. After all, the cruisers and destroyer can’t sprint across the ocean if that means they are outrunning the rest of the fleet in dangerous waters.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The Navy detonates an explosive charge off the starboard side of the USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered cruiser, during sea trials.

(U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Toon)

That’s why Rickover wanted a full nuclear battle group. It could move as a single unit and enjoy its numerous advantages without being slowed down by other ships.

And the ships were quite lethal when they arrived. Nuclear carriers at the time were similar to those today, sailing at a decent clip of about 39 mph (33.6 knots) while carrying interceptor aircraft and bombers.

The 10 nuclear cruisers (counting the Bainbridge as a cruiser), were guided-missile cruisers. Four ships were Virginia-Class ships focused on air defense but also featuring weapons needed to attack enemy submarines and ships as well as to bombard enemy shores.

The other most common nuclear cruiser was the California Class with three ships. The California Class was focused on offensive weaponry, capable of taking the fight to enemy ships with Harpoon missiles, subs with anti-submarine rockets and torpedoes, and enemy shores with missiles and guns. But, it could defend itself and its fleet with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Ticonderoga-class cruisers like the USS Hue City, front, and Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers like the USS Oscar Austin, rear, replaced the nuclear cruisers.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kristopher Wilson)

But the nuclear fleet had one crippling problem: expense. Rickover knew that to ensure that the larger Navy and America would continue to embrace nuclear power at sea, the ships had to be extremely dependable and secure. To do this, ships needed good shielding and a highly capable, highly trained crew.

Nuclear cruisers had about 600 sailors in each crew, while the Ticonderoga-class that took to the sea in 1983 required 350. And the Ticonderoga crew could be more quickly and cheaply trained since those sailors didn’t need to go through nuclear training.

Also, the reactors took up a lot of space within the hull, requiring larger ships than conventional ones with the same battle capabilities. So, when budget constraints came up in the 1990s, the nuclear fleet was sent to mothballs except for the carriers.

And even at that stage, the nuclear cruisers cost more than their counterparts. Conventional cruisers can be sold to allied navies, commercial interests, or sent to common scrap yards after their service. Nuclear cruisers require expensive decommissioning and specially trained personnel to deal with the reactors and irradiated steel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Apollo 13 astronauts couldn’t just put their suits on to stay warm

Contrary to popular belief, space isn’t actually “cold” per se, at least not in the way often depicted in movies. Space is just mostly empty and all that nothing doesn’t have a temperature. For example, if you were in space without a space suit, the two ways you’d lose heat are just via evaporation of moisture on your skin, in your mouth, etc, and then much slower via radiating heat away, which would take a really long time. In fact, if you were in direct sunlight at around the Earth’s orbit distance from the Sun (1 AU), you’d find yourself overheating pretty quickly, likely with severe sunburns within a few minutes.

This all brings us to the topic of today — if space isn’t cold, why did the astronauts on Apollo 13 get so cold in their ship? And when things did get chilly, why didn’t they just put on their space suits to warm up?


To begin with, somewhat counterintuitively, the reason their ship got so cold so fast is precisely because it’s troublesome to get rid of heat on a space craft. With all the equipment on aboard the ship generating heat, as well as extra heat absorbed when the ship is in direct sunlight, this would normally see the astronauts baking inside the craft. To get around the problem, the ships were specifically designed to radiate heat away very quickly to compensate. Just in case this cooling happened too quickly, for instance when not in direct sunlight helping to heat things up, the ship was also equipped with heaters to keep the astronauts comfortable.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Apollo 13 launches from Kennedy Space Center.

Thus, during the Apollo 13 mission when all the equipment was off and they couldn’t spare power to run the heaters, they were left with a ship designed to radiate heat away relatively quickly, even when in sunlight, but nothing but their own bodies and sunlight generating heat. The net effect was that it got really cold inside the command module and LM.

This brings up the logical follow up question — when it got cold, why didn’t they just use their space suits to keep warm?

In search of a definitive answer, we discovered a variety of speculative explanations online, many of which get surprisingly technical and ultra specific, despite that nobody was using a definitive source and were simply speculating. Further, nowhere in any Apollo 13 transcripts we read does the idea of the astronauts in question donning their space suits to keep warm ever have appeared to have been suggested or brought up, despite the cold.

Unsatisfied with going with speculative explanations, we eventually resorted to mailing a letter to Fred Haise to get a more definitive answer, with, unfortunately no response.

Unwilling to give up, we continued to dig and finally managed to track down a May of 1970 LIFE magazine article in which all three astronauts gave their account of what happened during the Apollo 13 mission. A fascinating read, most notable to the topic at hand in that article is the following from Jim Lovell concerning the cold, which finally gave us the definitive answer we were looking for:

Eventually it dawned on me that somehow we all had to get some sleep, and we tried to work out a watch system. We weren’t very successful. Besides the inside of the Odyssey kept getting colder and colder. It eventually got down pretty close to freezing point, and it was just impossible to sleep in there. Fred and I even put on our heavy lunar boots. Jack didn’t have any, so he put on extra long johns. When you were moving around the cold wasn’t so bad, but when you were sitting still it was unbearable. So the three of us spent more and more of our time together in Aquarius, which was designed to be flown by two men — standing up, at that. There wasn’t really sleeping space for two men there, let alone three, so we just huddled in there, trying to keep warm and doze off by turns. We didn’t get any sleep in the true sense of the word. We considered putting on our heavy space suits, but the suits were so builky that they would compromise our maneuverability in an emergency situation, and when you put on the suit you were bound to perspire a lot. Soon you would be all wet and cold too, an invitation to pneumonia.

It’s also noteworthy here that in a separate interview, NASA engineer and man in charge of the spacecraft warning system during Apollo 13, Jerry Woodfill, stated that nobody on the ground was terribly concerned about the astronauts being cold or getting hypothermia. With what they were wearing and the temperature inside the spacecraft, they were cold, but not critically so, and everyone had much bigger problems to deal with.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Astronaut Fred W. Haise Jr., Apollo 13 lunar module pilot, participates in lunar surface simulation training at the Manned Spacecraft Center.

(NASA)

You see, as you might have already gleaned from the previous passage by Lovell, it turns out the otherwise phenomenal Apollo 13 film took some liberties and it was not, in fact, ever cold enough to do something like tap frozen hot dogs against the wall. In fact, according to that same LIFE magazine article, Jack Swigert stated, “Aquarius was a nice, warm 50 degrees.” He further went on to state that “It was 38 degrees in [the Odyssey] before reentry.” To translate for the rest of the world, that means it was about 10 degrees Celsius in Aquarius and about 3.8 degrees Celsius in the Odyssey. Cold, particularly in the Odyssey, but with what they were wearing, not unbearably so for two of the three crew members, especially when spending as much time as possible in the Aquarius.

As for the third, Fred Haise did have a lot of trouble with the cold, likely due to a fever owing to his urinary tract infection. He stated in his own account in that LIFE magazine interview:

I’ve been a lot colder before but I’ve never been so cold for so long… The last 12 hours before renentry were particularly bone chilling. During this period, I had to go up into the command module. It took me four hours back in the LM before I stopped shivering… Because of the cold, during the last two nights I slept in the tunnel between the two vehicles with my head in the LM and with the string of my sleeping bag wound around the latch handle of the LM hatch so that I wouldn’t float around.

Bonus Fact:

  • Speaking of space suits and Hollywood myths, in movies you’ll often see humans exposed to the near vacuum of space doing things like suddenly exploding, instantly freezing in the supposedly extreme “cold” of space, etc. But, in fact, so long as you don’t try to hold your breath, which would result in your lungs rupturing and thus pretty well guaranteed that the incident will be fatal, what will actually happen is you’ll remain conscious for about 10-15 seconds. After that, you’ll be fine as long as you’re placed back in a pressurized environment within about 90 seconds. It’s even possible that some might be able to survive as much as 3 minutes, as chimpanzees are capable of this in such an environment without lasting detrimental effect. For significantly more detail on all this and how we know these numbers, check out our video How Long Can You Survive in Space Without a Space Suit?

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the most decorated woman in military history

When Milunka Savić’s brother got the notice that he was to be drafted to serve in the Second Balkan War against Bulgaria, Milunka instead cut her hair and went to serve in his place. It was the first act of bravery and defiance that would come to define her life and her service. By the end of three wars – in all of which she served with distinction – she would be the most decorated female combatant in military history.


North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The history of women serving in combat is relatively new. Before the mid-20th Century (depending on which army), women were relegated to non-combat roles and medical fields. There are many examples of women who served in combat, however, they just had to hide their true gender, lest they be drummed out of the service. No matter how skilled or valuable, once discovered, they were invariably let go. Not so for Milunka Savić.

Once mobilized, Savić deployed to the front lines an amazing ten times before she was wounded fighting the Bulgarians. It was on her tenth trip to the front that she was wounded in a sensitive area, her chest. Once the medical men got to her, they discovered her secret, and she was sent before her commander. This man wanted to send a very competent soldier to the nursing corps, but Milunka Savić stood at attention for a full hour while he tried to wait her out. Luckily for Serbia, he relented and sent her back to the war.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

After returning to duty, she managed to capture 23 Bulgarian prisoners while earning a promotion to Corporal. By the time World War I rolled around Milunka Savić was still in the Serbian Army. The one-woman wrecking crew fought the Great War from the very beginning in 1914, quickly earning a Karađorđe Star with Swords, which was the highest military honor the Kingdom of Serbia could bestow upon its troops at the time – and Savić earned two of them. This wasn’t the only honor she would earn.

During World War I, she managed to rack up two French Légions d’Honneur, Russian Cross of St. George, British medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael, Serbian Miloš Obilić medal. She was also the only female recipient of the French Croix de Guerre. When World War II rolled around, she was no longer in the military, but she chose to keep fighting in her own way. She ran an infirmary for partisans fighting the Nazi occupation.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

After the end of World War II, Savić settled down in Belgrade where she lived the rest of her life with three adopted children. She lived on a small government pension but she never stopped watching the door – just in case some Bulgarian tried to come back for revenge.

MIGHTY HISTORY

40 years later, a documentary tells the story of Desert One: Delta Force’s ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw

Forty years ago, a two-day, American rescue mission launched on April 24 to free the hostages held by Iran in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For John Limbert, who was held hostage for more than a year during his role as a diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, it feels like yesterday.


Last fall, the documentary “Desert One” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, telling the story of Operation Eagle Claw, the secret mission to free the hostages.
North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

“For better or worse, the film does bring back memories,” Limbert told We Are The Mighty.

“Memories fade, you don’t remember all the details and particularly when you’re in the middle of it, but that was one of the powers of the film.”

Desert One is a 107-minute documentary directed by Barbara Kopple. The film gives viewers an intimate look into the military response led by then-President Jimmy Carter to rescue 52 hostages that were being detained in Tehran, Iran in the U.S. Embassy and Foreign Ministry buildings. Ultimately, the mission was aborted due to unoperational helicopters, with zero hostages rescued, eight servicemen dead and several others severely wounded. The crisis received near 24-hour news coverage and is widely considered a component of Carter’s eventual landslide loss to Ronald Reagan.

Through interviews with hostages, Delta Force soldiers, military personnel and President Carter, as well as animation done by an Iranian artist intimately familiar with the topography of the country, Kopple’s film chronicles the mission from every aspect, taking care to tell the story through people who lived it, a detail that was paramount for the two-time Academy Award winner.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

“You can’t tell a story unless you have a lot of different angles of people coming at it from different places,” Kopple said. “They’re all feeling something. Whether it’s the special operators, or the hostages, or the people in Carter’s administration – there are so many different elements to it, which is also why it drew us in. We didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Why should we tell everything about the Americans’ experience and not tell everyone about the Iranian’s experience? We’ve got to know these things exist to communicate. That’s so important. It’s a tough thing to do, but a very important thing to do.”

The ill-fated Operation marked the emergence of special operations in the American military. In 1986, Congress passed the Nunn-Cohen Amendment, citing this tragedy as part of their justification. The amendment mandated the President create a unified combatant command for Special Operations, and permitted the command to have control over its own resources.

“The film captures the best of our military colleagues,” Limbert explained. “This wasn’t a suicide mission, but that’s what it was. They didn’t have to go, but they did it. I have nothing but admiration for them. It was me and my colleagues that they were trying to rescue. They were willing to do this for people they didn’t know. It’s absolutely amazing. That’s the strength of the film. That willingness to self sacrifice so beautifully.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Desert One

Added Kopple, “What I felt is that these guys were all willing to give up their lives for the rescue. That was incredible that they wanted to get the American hostages out and they were a team. Even if one of them doubted it, they thought … well my buddies are going. They all had each other’s back — that thing inside of them not to leave anybody behind. That was their duty and that was their job.”

For Kopple, the hardest part of the filmmaking process was tracking down President Carter to speak on camera for his role in the mission and how it impacted his presidential legacy.

“I tried for three months [to get access] and there’s a guy named Phil who works for his administration who would never call me back,” she said. “So I started to have a relationship with his voicemail. I would tell them all about filming and every few days, I would call and beg him, ‘Please let us film President Carter.’ Three months had gone by and Phil called, and he introduced himself and I said, ‘I know, I’d know your voice anywhere.'”

Kopple was eventually granted just 20 minutes of access to the former president for the making of the film.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

“He gave us 19 minutes and 47 seconds and we used a lot of it in Desert One,” Kopple said.

Desert One is expected to be released in movie theaters in late 2020 or early 2021, with an eventual television debut on the HISTORY channel.

“When you’re [making a film], you don’t think – where will this show?” Kopple said. “Hopefully the film presents an opportunity for Iranian and American audiences to find healing and reconcile with this very complicated history, not to stereotype people, [and] to really see who people are as individuals.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This British tank crew survived 3 days trapped in No Man’s Land

On July 31, 1917, the British guns in the Ypres salient roared to life, marking the opening of the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle would rage back and forth for over two months. Through the chaos, one amazing story emerged: A tank crew refused to give up or be captured and held out, on their own, stranded in No Man’s Land, for three days.


The reason was the unrelenting mud that created an incredibly difficult terrain for the crew.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
A Mark IV tank stuck in the mud during WWI.

Their story begins with 2nd Lt. Don Richardson, who was working in his family grocery business in Nottingham when the war broke out in 1914. He joined his local regiment, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment – also known as the Sherwood Foresters – and shipped off the next year.

As Britain began incorporating tanks into its war plans, Richardson was promoted to captain and given command of a tank section. He named his own tank “Fray Bentos” after the canned meat sold in his family store.

The Fray Bentos was a British Mark IV tank. While these early incarnations of armored vehicles were slow moving behemoths capable of about four miles per hour at top speed, they were heavily armored and packed with weaponry.

The tank mounted two Ordnance QF 6-pounder guns, three Lewis guns, and had a crew of eight, each armed with their own personal weapons. On Aug. 22, 1917, the men in the Fray Bentos set off in support of an attack by the British 61st Division in the vicinity of St. Julien. Captain Richardson decided to walk alongside the tank during the advance.

After three weeks of near constant shelling and a heavy rainfall, the area literally became a muddy quagmire.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
While World War I remained a figurative one.

As the attack progressed, the tank took out a German machine gun position before encountering a fusillade of machine gun fire as it approached the objective. Richardson was hit in the leg and dove inside the tank.

The driver, Lt. George Hill, was then blown off his seat by a wound to the neck just as the tank got into what Sgt. Robert Missen said was “a very deep soft place” that they “went in sideways.” Richardson tried to regain control but he was too late and the Fray Bentos slid into a ditch. The Mark IV tank was prepared for such an instance however, and carried unditching beams on the roof to extract itself from these situations.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
A Mark IV’s unditching gear, circa 1917.

Missen and Lance Cpl. Braedy exited the tank to retrieve the unditching equipment but the Germans spotted them and unleashed a maelstrom of fire. Missen later recalled “I heard bullets hitting the tank and saw some Boche about 30 yards off firing at me, I got in again.”

Braedy wasn’t so lucky. In his attempt to attach the unditching gear, he was gunned down. His body sank into the relentless mud and was never found. The remaining men in the tank returned fire with their rifles and Lewis guns. They even managed to get some shots off from their cannons despite their awkward position.

Soon, the infantry attack stalled out ahead of the tank and British soldiers began falling back to their trenches. This left the men of the Fray Bentos completely alone and isolated in No Man’s Land. As Germans approached the tank using an old trench under the tank’s Lewis gun, the crew easily picked them off with their rifles through an opening in the cab.

Germans then tried to swarm over the tank and drop grenades inside to flush out or kill the occupants. The British tankers engaged them in close combat. One German soldier managed to get a grenade inside but one of the men retrieved it and threw it out before it exploded.

It wasn’t long before most of the crew had been wounded.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
A Tank Museum engraving of the story of the Fray Bentos.

Their ordeal was far from over. For the next three days and two nights, they fought off the Germans. They even had to contend with British snipers targeting them, unsure if they were Germans trying to steal the tank.

As time wore on, the men drained the radiator and drank the filthy water in order to survive. Richardson decided it was time for them to make their escape. Missen would go first to alert the infantry to their impending return in the hopes of them not being killed by friendly fire. The rest of the crew dismantled the cannons, gathered their maps and weapons, and, despite painful wounds, prepared to crawl through the treacherous mud back to friendly lines.

Under the cover of darkness on the night of Aug. 24, more than 60 hours after they first embarked on their mission, the men exited the tank one-by-one and made their way back to British trenches. Once they encountered men from the 9th Battalion, the Black Watch, they handed over their machine guns and made their way towards the aid station.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
The wounded men from Passchendaele.

Richardson was mentioned in dispatches and would later receive the Military Cross for his actions. He would return to action in a new tank, Fray Bentos II, and serve until the end of the war. Lieutenant Hill was also awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the fighting. Missen and one of the gunners, William Morrey, were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part in the action. The other surviving gunners, Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd, and James Binley, were all awarded the Military Medal.

The men of the Fray Bentos were the most decorated tank crew of the First World War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Our highest honor: Top medals from countries around the world

From simple stars to elaborate medallions, here are 12 of the world’s ultimate civilian awards in all of their splendor.


North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Kazakhstan’s Order of the Golden Eagle

The medal shimmers with gold, diamonds, and rubies.

The award has been given to more than a dozen foreigners, but only two Kazakh citizens have received it: Nursultan Nazarbaev and Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev, the only two presidents of Kazakhstan.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Order of the Star of Romania

The medal comes with the unusual reward of a free burial site and a military salute when the recipient dies.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Hero of Ukraine

In 2017, Belarusian Mikhail Zhyzneuski posthumously became the first foreigner awarded the title. Zhyzneuski was shot dead in 2014 during the Euromaidan protests. Many countries’ medals come with miniature versions of the honor (seen here on the right) that can be pinned to clothing.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The United States’ Presidential Medal of Freedom

The medal rewards Americans, and occasionally non-Americans, for “exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Hero of the Russian Federation

This award is usually bestowed for “heroic feats of valor.” Two recent recipients were the Ural Airlines pilots who in 2019 guided their seagull-stricken passenger aircraft into a cornfield. There were no fatalities or serious injuries among the 233 people aboard.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun

The handmade medal represents a dawn sun made from a polished garnet stone surrounded by a star made of gold and enamel which is suspended from the leaf of a Paulownia tree.

Order of New Zealand

The number of ordinary awardees is limited to 20 living people. After a holder of the medal dies, the badge must be handed in and it is then “passed to another appointee to the order.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

The United Kingdom’s George Cross

Among the hundreds of recipients of this award “for acts of the greatest heroism,” perhaps the most unusual is the island of Malta, which was awarded the cross in 1942 for “heroism and devotion” during the Nazi/Italian siege of the British colony in World War II. The cross was later incorporated into the top left corner of independent Malta’s flag.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Order of Pakistan

This award is usually announced each year on August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day. The latest recipient of the award was St. Lucian cricketer Darren Sammy for his “invaluable contribution to Pakistani cricket.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Bulgaria’s Stara Planina

The spiky medal was previously reserved for foreign dignitaries but is now also awarded to Bulgarians who have given “outstanding services” to their country.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Jewel of India

The platinum-rimmed medal is in the shape of a leaf from the Bodhi tree — the same type Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under. The Hindi script says “Bharat Ratna” (Jewel of India). A maximum of three people receive the award each year.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Albania’s Honor of the Nation

This medal is awarded by Albania’s president to Albanians or foreign nationals “as a token of gratitude and recognition for those who by their acts and good name contribute to honoring the Albanian nation.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 old school problems today’s troops don’t have to worry about

For decades, our troops have faced awful weather, separation from their families, and a diet consisting of the same daily rations, and yet they still complete their vital missions.

In our eyes, that’s badass!

However, as time moves forward, so, too, does technology. Because of that, many modern troops don’t face the same problems as those that came before them. It’s important to always remember and respect just how tough our brothers and sisters-in-arms had it way back in the day.


To all past, present, and future veterans out there, WATM salutes you for your outstanding service. Be thankful that you don’t have to worry about these problems that once plagued the old-timers.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Two trusty SAPI plates.

Getting shot by a small-caliber round

We understand that getting shot sounds like a huge deal — because it is. However, allied troops on the modern battlefield wear a particular type of body armor, called “SAPI plates.” The inserts are made from a ceramic material and are worn over vital organs. These plates protect from small-arms fire and they’re a massive step up compared to what troops wore in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, troops wore only the uniforms issued to them as protection. Taking a round to the upper torso was, almost without exception, a profound injury that left long-term effects.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Lance Cpl. Eric W. Hayes makes a phone call to his mother from the phone center at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

(Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark E. Bradley)

Not hearing from your family back home

Back in the day, the art of letter-writing was a troop’s only avenue of communication with family and friends back home. Those letters could take weeks to be delivered.

Today, we still have a mail service up and running, but we also have this thing called “the internet” — ever hear of it? — that can keep deployed troops in the loop. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines today also have access to phones through the USO and, sometimes, satellite phones to connect them with home in a matter of seconds.

Frequent weapon jams during a firefight

Those of us who’ve fired a weapon or two in our lives may have experienced a jam at some point. Even those of us who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely experience weapons malfunctions while sending rounds downrange because modern weapons are so well-manufactured and well-maintained.

It hasn’t always been this way. Ask any Vietnam veteran and they’ll tell you that their weapons would jam “just by looking at them.” We can’t imagine anything worse than losing your primary weapon when fighting the enemy on their home turf.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

Staff Sgt. Bryan Robbins calls in for mortars during a live-fire exercise.

(Photo by Cpl. Jonathan Wright)

Communication issues between troops

Today, calling a service member from another platoon or company is as easy as picking up the comms gear headset and requesting someone’s call sign.

Although troops have had verbal communication systems in place for decades, they weren’t nearly as mobile or readily available as they are today. Back then, the radioman was in charge of carrying the proper equipment and usually stuck closely to their superior to make sure they maintained quick access. If that unit’s radio was down, replacing it wasn’t as easy as going to Radio Shack and buying another.

Today, many key members of the infantry platoon carry vital gear, making communication easy as f*ck. If a radio goes down, you can have it replaced in a few hours.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Red Wings through the eyes of the Night Stalkers

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice

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.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Man of honor: The US Navy’s 1st African American master diver & amputee diver Carl Brashear

The US Air Force lost a nuclear bomb off the coast of Palomares, Spain. It was on Jan. 17, 1966, when a K-135 refueling aircraft collided midair with a B-52G long-range bomber carrying a payload of four 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs. Three parachutes deployed and the nuclear devices were located on land, while a fourth plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea. The Air Force asked for the Navy’s help to retrieve it.

The salvage ship USS Hoist and her crew responded. “We searched for the bomb close to the shoreline for about two and a half months, and all we were getting was pings on beer cans, coral heads, and other contacts,” recalled Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, the US Navy’s first African American Navy diver

Each time their sonar technology picked up a contact, the Navy sent divers to check it out. A fisherman who had witnessed the bomb entering the water told officials how close they were, and even used his fingers as a means of measurement. They were that close.

“So one day Admiral Guest said we would try it,” Brashear said in an interview in 1998. “So they made a replica of the bomb on the tender and then dropped it to see how it would show up on the screen, same dimension, same length, same diameter. Then we went out 6 miles, and the first pass, there the bomb was, 6 miles in 2,600 feet of water.”

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
Navy salvors recover the lost hydrogen bomb on April 7, 1966, two weeks after Navy diver Carl Brashear was injured during the salvage operation. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

The Alvin submersible was made for this type of operation. It managed to attach grapnels to the parachute shrouds connected to the bomb before it ran out of batteries and was forced to surface. Using the Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) developed to salvage torpedoes, Brashear began to hoist the bomb up from the deep. As Brashear was bringing it up, a lifting cable snapped and the boat broke loose. Brashear scrambled to manhandle another sailor out of the way as the boat yanked on the pipe that had the mooring line tied to it.

“That pipe came loose, flew across the deck, and it struck my leg below the knee,” he said. “They said I was way up in the air just turning flips. I landed about two foot inside of that freeboard. They said if I’d been two foot farther over, I’d have gone over the side. I jumped up and started to run and fell over. That’s when I knew how bad my leg was.”

At that time, Brashear had 18 years of service in the US Navy, joining in 1948 and becoming the first African American Navy diver in 1954. He was now in the fight for his life. Corpsmen aboard the Hoist secured two tourniquets around his leg, but by the time he got to a hospital he had no pulse or heartbeat due to blood loss. The medical staff administered 18 pints of blood, restarted his heart, and brought him back from the dead.

He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in saving another sailor’s life at the risk of his own personal injury. His doctors told him it would take three years before he could walk again. The infection was so bad he agreed to have his leg amputated below the knee to fast-track his grueling rehabilitation.

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
Brashear trains with his prosthetic leg to climb diving ladders, loaded with weights to simulate the heavy MK V diving rig. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

Brashear was outfitted with his own prosthetic leg in December 1966, but amid the inequalities African Americans faced in the military, his prosthetic was painted to match white skin. That was not out of the norm for his personal experiences, as for his entire career he was subject to discrimination, harassment, threats, and ill treatment by his fellow service members. Despite it all, he persevered to become a pioneer in the diving industry. 

“It took more willpower than I ever thought I had, to accept the fact that I had lost a leg,” he later said. “Once I accepted that, I knew I would win the fight to become a master diver.”

The native of Kentucky who was raised attending segregated schools refused to submit to the medical survey board’s attempts to retire him, as they believed he was unfit for duty. Chief Warrant Officer Clair Axtell Jr., his old friend from salvage school, granted Brashear the opportunity to train at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Even on the weekends he practiced diving in a MK V deep-sea rig, a shallow-water diving suit, and scuba gear. 

“It is not a sin to get knocked down,” he would often say. “It’s a sin to stay down.” 

North Korea’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Actually Died Twice
To achieve his dream of becoming a US Navy Master Diver, Carl Brashear had to prove his diving aptitude post-amputation. Photo taken either at the Norfolk diving school or the Deep Sea Diving School in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

He led daily calisthenics and suffered greatly, but he did not give up. Sometimes after he returned from a run, the end of his prosthetic would have a puddle of blood at the bottom. It was evidence he pushed his body beyond his limits. 

“In that year, if I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up,” he said. “I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy. Then I’d get up the next morning and run.”

Against all odds, Carl Brashear qualified as the first Black Master Diver and first amputee Navy diver in US military history. He didn’t make a mistake during his evaluation. The next nine years Brashear lived out his dream as a Master Diver working on the submarine USS Hunley and on the salvage ship USS Recovery. 

He struggled with alcohol before achieving sobriety and retired from the Navy in 1979 with 31 years of military service. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. immortalized his remarkable story in the 2000 movie Men of Honor. Brashear passed away in 2006 at the age of 75. He has since received further tributes, including a 700-foot cargo ship commissioned in 2008 called the USNS Carl Brashear. The Carl Brashear Foundation exists to share his achievements with as many people as possible.