Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee: The US Navy’s First Living Female Navy Cross Recipient

The average US citizen may hear the names of US Navy aircraft carriers, battleships, and destroyers, and not realize the significance behind those namesakes. For the US Navy sailors who work and live aboard these ships, the names serve as their identity in homage to the war heroes, pioneers, and traditions of the past.  

The names of Navy destroyers are of deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. On Nov. 13, 1944, the Navy named a warship after a woman for the first time in the Navy’s existence. The USS Higbee commissioned and was converted into a radar picket destroyer. The “Leaping Lenah,” as she was referred to by her crew, “screened carriers as their planes launched heavy air attacks against the Japanese mainland” and helped support occupying forces in the clearing of minefields during World War II. She also earned seven battle stars in the Korean War and was the first warship to be bombed in the Vietnam War. 

When the Leaping Lenah was decommissioned in 1979, she held the record for the highest score for naval gunfire support of any warship in the US Navy. It was a remarkable achievement and the ultimate tribute to Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee — the first living female recipient of the Navy Cross. 

Higbee was born in Canada in 1874 and trained as a nurse at the New York Postgraduate Hospital in 1899. She developed her knowledge of medicine at Fordham Hospital and held her own private practice as a surgical nurse until she entered the newly established US Navy Nursing Corps (NNC) in 1908. Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” — the first group of female nurses to serve in the NNC.

Lena H. Sutcliffe Higbee was an original member of the “Sacred Twenty” and the first living woman to be awarded the Navy Cross. Three other nurses were awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. Photo courtesy of the US Navy Institute.

“Nurses were assigned to duty at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.,” said Beatrice Bowman, one of the Sacred Twenty nurses who later became the third superintendent of the NNC in 1922. “There were no quarters for them but they were given an allowance for quarters and subsistence. They rented a house and ran their own mess. These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

The Sacred Twenty spearheaded the efforts to prove women had a role in the medical field as much as their male counterparts. They held no rank and were not immediately viewed as assets; however, their reputation would soon change. In 1911, after the first NNC superintendent resigned — as the nurses were often exposed to institutionalized discrimination — Chief Nurse Higbee assumed command as superintendent. She was responsible for overseeing 86 nurses across the US, Guam, and the Philippines. She lobbied for equal pay and for healthcare for military dependents.

Higbee served on several executive healthcare committees, including the National Committee of the Red Cross Nursing Service, and between 1915 and 1917 helped increase nursing recruiting numbers for World War I.

“For two years prior to our actual entering into this conflict, warnings had been sounded and such tentative preparations as were possible had been made by those who were wise to the significance of war signs,” Higbee said.

During her tenure of 14 years of service, Higbee helped expand the NNC from 160 nurses to 1,386 nurses. She was later instrumental in assigning nurses aboard Navy transport ships, and during World War I these nurses served transport duty. Another one of her initiatives was to build a force of hospital corpsmen that assisted in “nursing training methods” as well as to “develop in the hearts and minds of these ‘pupil nurses’ the principles of conscience care of the sick.”

A graphic representation of the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) that is scheduled to be commissioned in 2024. Photo courtesy of the Navy History and Heritage Command.

After being exposed to the horrors from World War I, the complexities of battlefield wounds, and shell shock, Superintendent Higbee managed the development of Vassar Training Camp, the finishing school where nurses gained operational experience before arriving at their first assignments.

The following year, in 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic rocked the world — and as Higbee and her nursing corps did best, they adapted to the evolving demands of medicine. Their focus shifted from the war wounds to an invisible disease. A total of 431 US Navy personnel had lost their lives during World War I, and 819 more were wounded. The humanitarian crisis between 1918 and 1919, in contrast, saw 5,027 sailors die as a result of the pandemic.

“‘The most needed woman’ is the war nurse,’” wrote The Sun newspaper on June 9, 1918. “In reality the war nurse is a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill. […] She goes prepared to share the risks and fortune of war, ready to make any sacrifice.”

Higbee and her team worked early mornings and late nights to diagnose patients and aid in their recovery. In 1920, Higbee became the first living recipient of the Navy Cross for “distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.” 

Three other nurses, Marie Louise Hidell, Lillian M. Murphy, and Edna E. Place, were awarded the Navy Cross medal posthumously.

Higbee passed away in 1941, and a year later the Navy granted nurses “relative rank.” In 1944, the Navy finally approved nurses for “full military rank” with equal pay.

Although the USS Higbee was decommissioned in 1979, in 2016 then-Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, announced plans to commission the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, scheduled for 2024 — an honor the trailblazing nurse certainly deserves.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Israel’s plan to go to war with Iran in 2011

For Israel, a simple threat was all the provocation necessary to prepare for war — even if that meant a first strike. After all, Israel did it to great success in the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Times were a lot more tense at this point for Iranian-Israeli relations (if you can picture that). The President of Iran, at the time, was the fiercely anti-Israel Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously associated with the idea of Israel “being wiped off the map” and later described the Holocaust as a “myth.”

Israel doesn’t take kindly to this kind of talk.

Also, Ahmadinejad has the world’s most punchable face.

According to old Israeli spymaster Tamir Pardo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defence Forces to be ready to launch an attack on Iran with as little as 15 days’ notice. Pardo knew there were only two reasons to give such an order: to actually attack or to make someone take notice that your forces are mobilizing.

“So, if the prime minister tells you to start the countdown, you understand he’s not playing games,” Pardo told Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan.


The attack would have featured a large air force component, as evidenced by the fact that IDF fighter bombers engaged in a massive air exercise shortly after the anticipated order failed to come in. The Israelis would also have used its Jericho missile systems, a “bunker buster” that can be fired from Israel and hit targets throughout the Islamic Republic.

(IDF)

In the end, the Israelis didn’t go through with the attack because Mossad wasn’t 100 percent certain the attack would be legal – or that Netanyahu had the authority to take Israel to war without the approval of Israel’s security cabinet. This wasn’t the first time Netanyahu tried to take Israel on the offensive against Iran under his tenure. The previous head of Mossad and IDF Chief of Staff were also given the same order by Netanyahu.

They also pushed back against pressure from the Prime Minister, convinced he was trying to ignore Israeli law.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in history: the polio vaccine was invented

The thought of summer brings on thoughts of sunshine, being outside and ice cream parlor trips for most people. But 67 years ago, summer was a time of fear for parents all over the world. Long before the novel coronavirus, there was a debilitating and deadly epidemic that would sweep through towns without warning. It was polio.


The original name for the virus was poliomyelitis, which was shortened to polio. History has demonstrated that polio actually may have existed long before it caused widespread fear in the 20th century. There are Egyptian carvings from 1400 B.C. which showcase a younger man with a leg deformity not unlike what you would see with someone who had polio.

This 1988 photograph showed Dr. Jonas Salk (left), who introduced the first polio vaccine in 1955, and Dr. Frederick A. Murphy (right), former Director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, together during Dr. Salk’s visit to the Centers for Disease Control that year.

Public Health Image Library

The first documented polio outbreak in the United States occurred in 1894. It would be discovered that it was highly contagious in 1905. During the 1900s, this virus would become an epidemic.

The virus itself would spread through nasal or oral secretions and by contact with contaminated feces. As it continued multiplying within the body’s cells it may have only led to mild, virus like symptoms. But if it was the paralytic polio? Paralysis and even death could result because of the inability for the lungs to move for breathing. The iron lung, a negative pressure ventilator, would be invented around 1929, saving the lives of many. But it wasn’t enough to stop the virus from spreading.

It would begin to be known as infantile paralysis as it mostly affected children. Every summer, a child with a fever would leave parents gripped in fear that it was polio. A quarter of children would be left with mild disabilities and another quarter with severe and permanent disabilities. Thousands died.

The Alabama National Guard prepares to fly polio vaccine from Birmingham to Haleyvilled during the epidemic of 1963.

Public Health Image Library

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Stalk announced on a national radio show that he had successfully tested a vaccine to prevent polio. It was the first “killed virus” vaccine attempt. The year prior had been a terrible year for Americans, with 58,000 new cases reported. His announcement was one that brought incredible joy to the world. It would take two more years before it was proven completely safe and a national inoculation campaign would begin.

It should be noted that Stalk never attempted to patent the vaccine, which was proven to have saved countless human lives. He was once asked on live television who owned the patent and his reply is one quoted often: “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent; could you patent the sun?”

A liquid version of the vaccine would be created later on, which would greatly impact the distribution of the vaccine to more people. Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1994 thanks to the incredible efforts of Stalk and those who followed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

11 surprising words coined by US Presidents

For as long as the United States has existed, Americans have played close attention to what the president says.

So it’s no surprise that presidents have had a huge impact on the English language itself.

Presidents are responsible for introducing millions of Americans to words that we now consider ordinary. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is responsible for bringing the word “pedicure” over from France, while Abraham Lincoln gifted us with “sugarcoat.”

Meanwhile, the ubiquitous word “OK” has a lengthy history closely intertwined with our eighth president, Martin Van Buren.

Read on to discover the presidential origins of 11 common words we use today.

1. Iffy — Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt began using the word “iffy” early in his presidency, and by virtually all accounts, he was the first known person to have used it.

That’s according to Paul Dickson, the author of “Words from the White House,” which tracked the influence US presidents have had on the English language.

Defined as “having many uncertain or unknown qualities or conditions,” iffy was apparently a go-to word for Roosevelt when dismissing hypothetical questions from the press, like when he’d say, “that’s an iffy question.”

2. Mulligan — Dwight Eisenhower

Before Dwight Eisenhower came around, the word “mulligan” was rarely heard outside the golf course.

But according to Dickson, Eisenhower — an avid golfer —introduced the word to the masses in 1947 when he requested a mulligan in a round of golf that was being covered by reporters.

A mulligan is an extra stroke awarded after a bad shot, and it wouldn’t be the last time Eisenhower was awarded one. In 1963, the former president was granted a mulligan as he was dedicating a golf course at the Air Force Academy, after his ceremonial first drive went straight up into the air.

3. Founding fathers — Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding is usually ranked among the worst American presidents, but he succeeded in popularizing a phrase that has become a staple of our political discourse.

The most famous instance came in 1918 when Harding, then an Ohio senator, said in a speech that “It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.”

Before Harding, America’s pioneers were typically known as the “framers.” But Harding’s punchy alliteration soon became the standard for decades to come.

4. Pedicure — Thomas Jefferson

Perhaps no president has contributed more words to the English language than Thomas Jefferson.

One of his most widely-used contributions is the word “pedicure,” which he picked upduring his years living in Paris. The earliest use of the word in English dates back to 1784, according to Merriam-Webster.

5. Sugarcoat — Abraham Lincoln

Not only did Abraham Lincoln pioneer the use of “sugarcoat” in the sense of making something bad seem more attractive or pleasant, but he stirred up a minor controversy with the word, too.

In 1861, four months after he was inaugurated, Lincoln wrote a letter to Congress as Southern states were threatening to secede from the Union.

“With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than 30 years, until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the government,” Lincoln wrote, according to Dickson.

John Defrees, in charge of government printing, was so incensed by Lincoln’s folksy verbiage that he admonished the president, telling him, “you have used an undignified expression in the message.”

But Lincoln insisted on using the word “sugarcoat,” and he got the last laugh: “That word expresses precisely my idea, and I am not going to change it,” he responded. “The time will never come in this country when the people won’t know exactly what ‘sugar-coated’ means.”


6. Administration — George Washington

George Washington set the standard for all US presidents to come, and one major impact he had was establishing the language of the presidency.

Although the word “administration” has been around since the 14th century, it was Washington who first used the word to refer to a leader’s time in office. According to History.com, Washington’s first use of the word came in his 1796 farewell address when he said, “In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.”

7. Normalcy — Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding makes another appearance on this list for popularizing the word “normalcy,” the state of being normal.

Harding dropped the word in his famous “Return to Normalcy” speech, delivered as a candidate in the 1920 election in the wake of World War I.

Critics immediately pounced on the senator for using the word instead of the more popular “normality.” The Daily Chronicle of London even wrote that “Mr. Harding is accustomed to take desperate ventures in the coinage of new word,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Kory Stamper.

What the critics didn’t know is that “normalcy” was a perfectly valid English word dating back to 1857, less than a decade after the debut of “normality,” according to linguist Ben Zimmer. But ever since 1920, the word has been indelibly linked to Harding.

8. Belittle — Thomas Jefferson

We can thank America’s third president for introducing us to the word “belittle,” meaning to make someone or something seem unimportant.

The earliest use of the word researchers have found was a 1781 writing of Jefferson’s in which he said of his home state Virginia, “The Count de Buffon believes that nature belittles her productions on this side of the Atlantic.”

Americans picked up on Jefferson’s coinage in the coming years, and Noah Webstereventually included it in his first dictionary in 1806.

9. OK — Martin Van Buren

The word “OK” has a rich history, and eighth president Martin Van Buren played a major role in its lasting popularity.

There are a few explanations as to how “OK” came about, but the most popular one pegs it to an 1839 edition of the Boston Morning Post. That OK stood for “oll korrect,” as in, “all correct” — apparently, it was a popular fad among educated elites to deliberately misspell things. Other jokey abbreviations of the era included NC for “nuff ced” and KG for “know go.”

By the end of the year, OK was slowly making its way into the American vernacular, when Van Buren incorporated it into his 1840 election campaign. A native of Kinderhook, New York, Van Buren’s nickname was Old Kinderhook, and as History.com explained, “OK” became a rallying cry among his supporters.

That election gave OK all the exposure it needed, and the word was cemented into our speech ever since.

10. Bloviate — Warren G. Harding

Somehow, one of America’s least-heralded presidents managed to popularize yet another word that is commonly used today: “bloviate.”

To bloviate is to speak pompously and long-windedly, something Harding readily acknowledged he did frequently. The president once described bloviation as “the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing.”

While bloviate sounds like it could come from Latin, it’s actually just a clever coinage playing on the “blow” in words like “blowhard.” And although Harding didn’t coin it himself, he likely picked it up as a boy growing up in Ohio, where the word was most frequently used in the late 1800s.

Just like in the case of “normalcy,” Harding came under plenty of fire from language purists when he made use of “bloviate,” but most people wouldn’t bat an eye at it today.

11. Fake news — Donald Trump

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Fake news has been around as long as the news itself. But ever since Donald Trump took office, the term has experienced a shift in meaning.

While fake news traditionally refers to disinformation or falsehoods presented as real news, Trump’s repeated use of the term has given way to a new definition: “actual news that is claimed to be untrue.”

Trump’s reimagining of fake news became so widespread in his first year as president that the American Dialect Society declared it the Word of the Year in 2017.

“When President Trump latched on to ‘fake news’ early in 2017, he often used it as a rhetorical bludgeon to disparage any news report that he happened to disagree with,” Ben Zimmer, chair of the group’s New Words Committee, said at the time.

“That obscured the earlier use of ‘fake news’ for misinformation or disinformation spread online, as was seen on social media during the 2016 presidential campaign,” he said. “Trump’s version of ‘fake news’ became a catchphrase among the president’s supporters, seeking to expose biases in mainstream media.”

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

Articles

If you watch any Pearl Harbor movie on Dec. 7 it should be this one

When it comes to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — two films stand out.


There is the 1970 classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” which featured some of the biggest directors from American and Japanese cinema.

And then there is the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, and which had major stars like Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Jon Voight.

So, which film was better?

Tora! Tora! Tora!

Pros: This film really delved into the history of the attack, including many of the factors as they were known back then. The strategic context of Japan’s decision to launch the attack is covered here.

Within the very real limits of special effects technology, you experience the attack. The cast plays the roles well — remarkable given the lack of big-name stars. They also catch the American arrogance at the time – underestimating Japan while at the same time knowing they were going to hit us somewhere.

Using American and Japanese talent also brought much more realism to this film, bringing a very good balance. The footage was so good, it was re-used in a number of other World War II epics, and for a flashback in a Magnum, P.I. episode!

Cons: The special effects are pretty cheesy in some cases. You also catch historical anachronisms – like the presence of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14). Also, this film is 46 years old – in some ways, scholarship and history has overtaken it.

Pearl Harbor

Pros: The special effects make the experience of the attack far more intense. You also have some very good talent on screen, including three who won various Academy Awards. There were other future stars as well, including Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “The Kingdom,” “Elektra”).

Cons: Where do we start? How about the contrived storylines, particularly with Ben Affleck’s character? Maybe the unrealistic stuff as well, like the implausible selection of the characters played by Affleck and Hartnett to take part in the Doolittle Raid?

Not to mention the still-obvious errors (many of the “ships” hit in the film were Spruance-class destroyers in reserve). Not to mention the distracting romantic triangle. The biggest con is that we had a chance to capitalize on 30 years of new scholarship on World War II, and we got melodrama instead.

Which of these films comes out better? Believe it or not, the classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” despite its age, holds up much better.

Articles

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

When Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, the Marines were one of the first units to respond. By Feb. 23, 1991, I Marine Expeditionary Force was controlling two reinforced Marine Divisions poised to strike Iraqi forces in Kuwait.


Facing the Marines were two massive minefields and some ten Iraqi divisions.

In the lead up to the invasion, the Marines worked furiously to find gaps in the minefield that they could strike through. They also frequently clashed with Iraqi forces when conducting artillery raids and during the pre-emptive Battle of Khafji.

Marines from Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion, drive their M-60A1 main battle tank over a sand berm on Hill 231 while rehearsing their role as part of Task Force Breach Alpha during Operation Desert Storm. (Dept. of Defense photo)

That battle convinced the Marines that maybe the task ahead was not as formidable as they might have assumed. The Marines realized the Iraqis lacked aggression and coordination, and if hit hard they would back down.

But before that could happen they still had to find a way through the minefields. The commanders of the two Marine divisions had their own ideas of how that would happen.

The 1st Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt, was divided into four task forces – Ripper, Papa Bear, Taro, and Grizzly. Two task forces would clear lanes through the minefields before allowing the other two to pass through to spearhead the attack.

The 2nd Marine Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. William Keys, had a different plan. Keys ordered the Division to breach the minefields before storming across Kuwait to meet the Iraqis.

An Iraqi T-55 main battle tank burns after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm. (Creative Commons photo)

Before the ground war even started, the Marines of Task Forces Taro and Grizzly were infiltrating into Kuwait and through the minefield in order to take up blocking positions when the invasions started.

Then, on Feb. 24, 1991 at 0430 local time, the invasion officially began. The 1st Marine Division’s two task forces, Ripper and Papa Bear, began their assaults through the gaps provided by Taro and Grizzly.

On their flank, the 2nd Marine Division, augmented by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s 1st Brigade, began breaching operations at the minefield. Mine-clearing line charges and plow-equipped tanks blasted a path through the mines.

As the Marines cleared the minefields, they prepared to engage Iraqi forces. However, instead of an immediate fight, they were confronted with waves of surrendering Iraqi soldiers.

Unable to handle the large numbers of POWs, and with objectives to meet, they simply pointed the Iraqis towards the rear and drove on.

On the first day, the Marines only encountered light resistance and captured all of their objectives.

Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The wells were set on fire by Iraqi forces before they were ousted from the region by coalition force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David McLeod)

However, the next day, Feb. 25, the Iraqis launched counterattacks in force against the Marine positions.

Using the burning Burqan oil fields as concealment, the Iraqis were able to infiltrate very close to the Marines before launching their attacks.

The sudden appearance of an Iraqi brigade to the Marine’s flank caused quite a stir. The 1st Tank Battalion of TF Papa Bear bore the brunt of the Iraqi advance. The Marine commander reported, “T-62s everywhere, scattering like cockroaches from the Burqan oil field.”

As the Marine’s M60 Patton tanks engaged the Iraqis, daring Marine aviators came in low under the smoke to blast Iraqi tanks with Hellfire missiles. In three and a half hours of hard fighting, the Marines drove off the Iraqis while destroying 75 armored vehicles.

On TF Papa Bear’s other flank, another Iraqi force was massing to attack the 1st Marine Division’s forward command post. A platoon of infantry and another of LAV-25s commanded by Cpt. Eddie Ray were all that guarded the CP.

When artillery rounds began raining down around the Marines Ray raced forward to assess the situation. What he found was a numerically superior Iraqi force of tanks and armored personnel carriers approaching their position.

Ray’s small force immediately began engaging the Iraqi’s as they made a move for the CP. Seeing the attack developing, Brig. Gen. Draude, the assistant division commander, quipped, “If I die today, my wife is going to kill me.”

Another officer quickly called for reinforcements from TF Ripper and I MEF headquarters. He was told everyone was in a fight and there was no available air support.

M1 Abrams during Desert Storm. (Photo: US Department of Defense)

He responded by simply holding the radio headset in the air for a few seconds before vehemently stating, “We are in a REAL fight at division forward!”

I MEF sent two Cobra gunships to support the beleaguered Marines. With the gunships on station, Ray made a bold move — he counterattacked. Despite overwhelming odds, Ray’s small force hammered the Iraqis and drove them from the vicinity, destroying 50 vehicles and capturing 250 prisoners.

Ray was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions.

In the 2nd Marine Division’s sector, the Iraqis were fighting just as tenaciously. B Company, 4th Tank Battalion — a reserve unit and the only Marines armed with the new M1 Abrams — awoke on the morning of Feb. 25 to see a massive Iraqi armored column moving in front of their position.

In what became known as the Reveille Engagement, the men of B Company, despite being outnumbered 3-to-1, maneuvered on line and engaged the Iraqis. In just 90 seconds, the Marine tankers wiped out the entire Iraqi force of 35 tanks and APCs.

After defeating the Iraqi counterattacks, the Marines continued their drive north the next day. They took the vital Al Jaber airfield and made it to the outskirts of Kuwait City and the international airport.

While the 2nd Marine Division cut off the Iraqi’s retreat, the 1st Marine Division attacked and secured the airport with support from two battleships firing from the gulf.

The 100-hour ground war cost the Marines five killed and 48 wounded. In that time they fought over 100 miles through occupied territory, crushed seven Iraqi divisions, destroyed over 1,600 tanks and armored vehicles, and took over 22,000 prisoners.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ways your first year in the military mirrors freshman year

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.


This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.

Related: 8 reasons being in the military is like being in a sorority

7. You’re beyond lost

When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.

Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!

Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.

Pictured: The inside of a first-year service member’s mind (Photo from The Odyssey Online).

6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home

The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.

This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.

Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.

5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority

No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.

Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”

4. Dorm rooms

The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…

Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.

The look you make when you thought you got your own dorm room. Should’ve joined the Air Force. ( Photo from YouTube | Jon Richie)

3. The “freshman 15”

Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.

This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”

Trust me, it’s not that hard to get out of shape (Photo from Gawker).

2. Underage drinking

Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.

There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!

Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.

A little early for a drink, Timmy (Photo from The Telegraph)

Also Read: 6 reasons being E-4(ish) mafia is the best

1. Growing up

Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.

It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.

You’ll get there, hopefully, one day (Photo from Minnesota National Guard).

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force SLAM jet was designed to kill at Mach 5

Russia is getting a lot of attention lately for things like hypersonic missiles and nuclear doomsday weapons but all that is just old hat to the Pentagon. The United States has been working with doomsday weapons for years; we just never went around bragging about it.

Or blowing up our own nuclear reactors.


The Cold War was a pretty good time for America, especially where defense is concerned. Even though we may have thought of ourselves as trailing the Soviets with ridiculous things like “missile gaps,” the truth was we were often further ahead than we thought. Hell, we were going to nuke the moon as a warning but decided the PR would be better if we landed on it instead. If the Russians wanted to impress us, they could have taken a photo next to our flag up there.

When it came to weapons, the U.S. had no equal. We built horrifying, terrifying, and downright unbelievable devices that were an excellent show of force at best and – at worst – absolutely batsh*t crazy. Project Pluto was one of the latter.

Simply put, Pluto was a cruise missile that flew at a low altitude with a nuclear payload. Sound pretty Cold War-level simple, right? The devil is in the details. The actual acronym for the weapon was SLAM – supersonic low altitude missile. This meant a giant missile that flew around below radar, around treetop height, faster than the speed of sound, so it could penetrate enemy territory without anyone seeing it or being prepared for what came next.

Which was about 16 hydrogen bombs dropping on Russian cities. But that’s not all!

The SLAM Jet’s ramjet engine.

The weapon isn’t unique because of the number of weapons it carried. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the weapons that would eventually make SLAM jets obsolete, carried multiple warheads that could be targeted at multiple cities. No, the unique part of the SLAM jet weapon is what it is. The missile is designed around a single, nuclear-powered jet engine which is sent aloft by rocket boosters but soon becomes indefinitely sustainable via the power of the nuclear jet engine’s intake.

So, the weapon could drop its payload and then keep flying forever, creating sonic booms above the treetops, murdering anyone on the ground. The fact that the engine is just an unshielded nuclear reactor meant its exhaust would spew radioactive material all over any area unlucky enough to have it pass by overhead.

Luckily for everyone on the planet, this project was dumped with the invention of ICBM technology. So the United States and the Soviet Union could kill each other more directly, rather than leave a path of destruction as it went to destroy another country en masse.

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This is how American pilots used drop tanks as bombs during WWII

If you pay attention, you might sometimes see long, cigar-shaped pods firmly attached to the undersides of classic fighter and attack aircraft, sometimes with unit markings on them.

Known as “drop tanks,” these simple devices extend the range of the aircraft they’re hooked up to by carrying extra usable fuel. Back during World War II, however, attack pilots found a secondary use for drop tanks as improvised bombs, used to bombard enemy ground positions.


Drop tanks became popular in the late 1930s as a means for fighters to carry more fuel for longer escort and patrol missions. Easily installed and removed, they were a quick solution for the burgeoning Luftwaffe’s fighter and dive bomber fleets, which would prove to be instrumental in the opening months of WWII.

By the onset of WWII, air forces with both the Axis and Allies were experimenting with the use of drop tanks in regular combat operations. In the European theater, British and German pilots stuck to using their drop tanks as range-extenders. American fighter pilots changed the game.

 

A P-47 Thunderbolt with a drop tank
A P-47 Thunderbolt with a drop tank.

(US Air Force)

Though it wasn’t common practice, P-47 Thunderbolt pilots were noted for their creativity in combat, switching their fuel feed selector to their internal tanks while making a low pass over an enemy position. With relative precision, they would jettison their drop tanks, still filled with a decent amount of fuel, before climbing away.

After releasing their tanks, pilots would swoop back around and line up again with their target. If they timed it right and aimed well, a long burst from their cannons would ignite the fuel left inside the tanks, blowing them up like firebombs.

This didn’t always work, however, especially as paper tanks became popular during the war as a method of conserving metal. So, by the end of the war, American crews in both the European and Pacific theaters had to refine their drop-tank technique.

Instead of pilots peppering the tanks with shells from their cannons, they’d simply fill up the tanks with a volatile mixture of fuel and other ingredients to form rudimentary napalm bombs, which would detonate upon impact.

 

USAF F-51D Mustang with drop tanks
USAF F-51D Mustangs dropping tanks repurposed as napalm bombs during the Korean War

(US Air Force)

By the time the Korean War started, the newly-formed US Air Force had cemented the practice of filling drop tanks with napalm and using them as makeshift bombs for low-level close air support missions. According to Robert Neer in his book, Napalm: An American Biography, British statesman Winston Churchill notably decried the practice of using napalm during the Korean conflict, calling it cruel and noting the increased likelihood of collateral damage and casualties during napalm strikes.

In the Vietnam War, the use of napalm expanded greatly, though factories now began building bombs specifically designed to carry napalm internally. Today, the US military has virtually ceased using napalm as a weapon. Here’s what life is like for US Army Tankers, today. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Rangers stole a bulldozer for an assault vehicle

In 1983, Rangers were on the point of the spear during a mission to protect American citizens in Grenada in 1983, attacking a key airfield that was being expanded by Cuban engineers. When the Rangers began to fight the engineers, the Rangers hotwired bulldozers and then used them as assault vehicles.


The fighting was part of Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada after a coup threatened the lives and security of U.S. citizens in the country who were there to study medicine. Reagan ordered 2,000 troops to the island, and U.S. Army Rangers were sent to seize the airfield at Point Salines.

But the mission quickly ran into problems. A lack of aircraft forced some Rangers to stay at the airfield, unable to take part in the assault and cutting the combat power of those who would make the jump. Then, plans for the assault changed in the air.

See, while Rangers and paratroopers often want to conduct combat jumps, earning uniform swag and bragging rights for life, the safer and tactically superior option to airborne operations is “air-land” operations. In air-land, the commander cancels the jump and the planes land instead. Paratroopers or Rangers, without their chutes, rush off the back. That way, they’re already concentrated for the fight and don’t have to struggle out of their gear.

Three U.S. Army Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters prepare to touch down next to the Point Salines airport runway during “Operation Urgent Fury” on Oct. 25, 1983.

(U.S. Army Spc. Douglas Ide)

As the Rangers were flying to their target on Oct. 24, intel said that the runways were clear of debris, and that air-land was an option. The commander ordered the Rangers out of their parachutes. Then, only 20 minutes from the target, they learned that enemy defenses were ready to go, so the Rangers were rushed back into their chutes and then had to jump without being able to have Army jumpmasters or parachute riggers inspect their harnesses.

When the Rangers reached their target, they jumped in waves at only 500 feet above the ground. That low jump allowed them to fly under the worst of the enemy defenses, but meant they would fall for only 17 seconds and have no chance to pull a reserve chute if anything went wrong in the air. Luckily, the jump went well, and the Rangers went right into combat mode.

In addition to the expected Grenadian troops, though, the Rangers ran into 500 Cuban engineers who were there to help the Grenadians expand the airfield. The Cuban engineers put up an impressive base of fire against the Rangers. They would later learn that Fidel Castro had sent advisors to the country the day before to plan and improve the defenses ahead of the American invasion.

An M561 Gama Goat truck loaded with supplies prepares to pull away from a C-141B Starlifter aircraft parked on the flight line at Point Salines Airport during Operation Urgent Fury after the airfield was captured by Rangers.

(Spc. Douglas Ide)

Now, the 1st and 2nd battalions, 75th Ranger Regiment, were on the ground and fighting. It’s not really a question whether or not they could’ve defeated the engineers and other defenders. But the Rangers don’t risk casualties when they don’t have to.

They had spotted several abandoned bulldozers on the airstrip, and some of them knew how to hotwire the simple machines, so they did so. Ranger fire teams advanced using the bulldozers for cover, firing on the defenders as they found them.

Over 100 Cuban soldiers and 150 other defenders surrendered to the Rangers, and the entire airfield was taken in just one day. An evening counterattack against the Rangers failed. Point Salines belonged to the U.S. forces.

But the airfield seizure didn’t come without cost. Five Rangers were killed in the assault, and another six were wounded. Additional troops, including Rangers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were lost assaulting a nearby prison where political prisoners were being held.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US and North Korea teamed up to fight Somali pirates

The list of Americans who receive favorable coverage in North Korea’s state media is a very, very short one. President Trump made waves with KCNA’s review of his performance at the 2018 Singapore Summit. But more than a decade before that, the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS James E. Williams received even higher praise.

In 2007, a North Korean cargo ship name Dai Hong Dan was attacked by Somali pirates 70 miles northeast of Mogadishu. The pirates disguised themselves a guard force and overtook the crew to take control of the ship. They set a ransom demand of $15,000. The penalty for non-payment was killing the sailors — that would not happen.

The crew was stashed away in the engine room and in steerage as the pirates gave their demands. The crew managed to send an SOS to the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Organization. The IMB sent the report to the James E. Williams, which dispatched a helicopter to check on reports of the ship’s hijacking. Meanwhile, the crew used the emergency steerage engine and a lifeboat compass to point the ship out to sea.


Boarding team members from guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams board North Korean cargo vessel Dai Hong Dan to provide medical assistance.
(U.S. Navy)

As the helicopter approached and ordered the pirates to surrender, the crew fought back against their captors, overpowering them after 20 hours of fighting. The Dai Hong Dan’s crew stormed the bridge as U.S. Navy sailors boarded the ship to help the wounded. One of the pirates was killed and six North Korean sailors were wounded in the struggle. Doctors aboard the James E. Williams treated the injured North Koreans.

The Dai Hong Dan was carrying sugar from India to Mogadishu, a cargo which it had already dropped off. The pirates turned out to be the same dock workers responsible for the ship’s safe passage in and out of the port facilities of Mogadishu. The captured pirates were held aboard the North Korean ship, presumably to face justice in the DPRK.

The forecast calls for a 100 percent chance of death.
(KCNA)

North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, gave the United States rare praise in its coverage of the incident, saying:

“We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen. This case serves as a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. We will continue to render international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the future, too.”
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How the luckiest sailor on earth survived being sucked into a jet engine

During Desert Storm, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was on high alert. Petty Officers JD Bridges and Michael McDonald were prepping an A-6 Intruder fighter jet before takeoff. It was business as usual.


Mere seconds before the jet will sped down the runway, an accident that forever changed flight operations procedures occurred.

Bridges was completing checks to ensure the fighter was connected to the deck’s catapult for launch when he got too close to the high-powered engine and the turbine intake sucked him up in a split-second.

Actual flight deck surveillance footage of the accident. (Image via Giphy)

At full throttle, the Intruder’s engine generates 9,300 pounds of thrust — twice as strong as the most powerful tornado on record.

After Bridges got sucked in, the engine’s force violently pulled off his float coat, goggles, and the helmet from his head. Investigators believe that because his helmet was shredded by the sharp spinning blades, it partially jammed the engine.

The way the engine was designed, it ceased its own power and shut down immediately.

Miraculously, Bridges’ shoulder wedged against the nose cone as the engine slowed and he managed to remove himself out from the powerful intake space — escaping certain death. The aircraft’s pilot was ready to take off when he heard the disruption and powered down right away.

Also Read: This is why landing on an aircraft carrier never gets easy

Within moments, Bridges was carried to safety, suffering from a broken collarbone, superficial cuts from a few pieces of shrapnel, and a blown ear drum.  The Navy now uses this historic video as a training tool of what not to do while on the flight deck.

Bridges at a news conference a day after the accident. (Lithdad, YouTube)
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NORAD prepares to track Santa

We all know Santa’s making a list, checking it twice… probably with some help from the NSA. Meanwhile, North American Aerospace Defense Command is also making a list and checking it twice to ensure their considerable assets are ready to help ensure that Santa accomplishes his mission safely.


An F-35 and F-16 fly side by side. These are some of the assets NORAD has available to ensure that Santa can carry out his Christmas Eve mission safely. (US Air Force photo by Jim Hazeltine)

This long-running tradition started by accident during the height of the Cold War. But it’s stuck around, even in the post-9/11 era. According to a 2008 Air Force release, the accident occurred in 1955, when NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense command, or CONAD, got a call from a kid. A newspaper had misprinted a phone number to allow kids to track jolly old St. Nick. Instead of the local Sears store, they got the operations hotline for CONAD.

Col. Harry Shoup, the operations officer at NORAD on Dec. 24, 1955, answered a child’s wrong-number call and began the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa.(Courtesy photo from USAF.mil)

Colonel Harry Shoup was the director of operations on that Christmas Eve. Tracking Santa had not been something he’d prepared for or had been briefed to do. But when each kid called, he provided them Santa’s position, saving Christmas for the kids by assuring them that Santa was safe and on the job. The next year, CONAD did it again, and did so the year after that. When NORAD took over for CONAD in 1958, they assumed that Christmas Eve duty – and tradition – as well. In 2015, a DOD release noted that over 1500 volunteers helped carry out the mission.

Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) personnel conduct training in preparation for Santa tracking operations at their headquarters in Rome, N.Y. on Dec. 11, 2016. Pictured from front to back, are: Sgt. Thomas Vance of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a member of EADS Canadian Detachment; and Master Sgt. Michelle Gagnon, Master Sgt. Lena Kryczkowski (standing) and Master Sgt. Shane Reid, all members of the New York Air National Guard’s 224th Air Defense Squadron. (DOD photo)

The official web site, www.NORADSanta.org, includes videos, games, music, and a gift shop. There is also a Facebook page for that in this era of social media. And yes, there are apps for tracking Santa on Windows phones, Android phones, and iPhones. NORAD says that starting at 2:01 AM Eastern Standard Time on Dec. 24, they will have video of Santa making preparations for his mission. At 6 AM EST that day, live phone operators will be available at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com. And check out this video of the history of how NORAD got started.