Weighing in at approximately 120 pounds, Allen said in an interview he had to carry a grocery list of munitions like Claymore mines, trip flares, hand fragmentation grenades and at least 2,000 rounds of M60 ammo, just to name a few.
With all that gear strapped to his back, Mike humorously said, “you didn’t want to run short in case you hit the sh-t.”
Like most grunts, Mike had to live in the hot and muggy jungles and wore his first set of clothes for roughly 80 days, with only four 0r five changes to last during the deployment.
Allen earned an Air Medal for surviving at least 25 operational flights into unsecured landing zones.
“You were scared but you couldn’t feel scared because it would overtake you,” Mike said. “You know they’re watching you, and you try to keep your distance.”
Check out Wisconsin Public Television‘s video below to watch Mike Allen’s patriotic story of what life was like for the “little kid” of Vietnam.
(Wisconsin Public Television, YouTube)Fun Fact: According to the National Archives, 27 million American men were eligible for service and only 2.2 million were drafted between 1964 and 1973. That is all.
A nuclear thermal propulsion system meant to operate in low Earth orbit may sound like the stuff of the future, but the future will come much sooner than most of us expect.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (better known by its acronym, DARPA) just announced three companies will be designing America’s most futuristic engine – and it’s expected to be operational by 2025.
This engine is not known by its acronym, DRACO, which stands for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations. DARPA says the three big contractors designing over the next four years will be General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.
DRACO is not only advanced because the propulsion system will be the first of its kind, it’s also advanced because electric and chemical systems don’t give current technology anything close to the kind of maneuverability we’ve come to expect from space vehicles that don’t actually exist, like X-Wing fighters and Federation Runabouts.
Designers aren’t exactly thinking that the new system will give any space vehicle the kind of handling current air fighters enjoy, but it’s fun to think about what the future may hold. Military planners are hoping for any kind of advanced agility in orbit, something that offers the best of the chemical and electric propulsion currently used by orbiting vehicles.
Current chemical systems are only half as efficient as the nuclear thermal system will be. Chemical systems create water as a waste product
“The performer teams have demonstrated capabilities to develop and deploy advanced reactor, propulsion, and spacecraft systems,” Maj. Nathan Greiner, the project’s Air Force program manager, said in a statement. “The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space.”
The first phase is (appropriately) the foundational phase of the design plan. General Atomics will develop the system’s reactor and propulsion mechanics. The other two companies will build off of that design and each create a concept for a spacecraft.
This won’t be the first time The United States has conceived the idea of a nuclear-powered engine in space. In 1961, NASA built nuclear reactors for use in rocket engines with its Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA).
Then-Director for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center conceived the idea of manned missions to Mars using spacecraft powered by three NERVA engines each, eight years before man landed on the moon. The proposed mission was supposed to embark in 1981 and land on Mars by 1982. Instead it was scrapped in 1972.
DARPA’s nuclear thermal rocket system will use fission to heat liquid hydrogen and fire that heated element in its gaseous from the rear of the rocket. As it expands through a nozzle, it will create thrust in space.
If you’re worried about the possibility of an exploding rocket filled with radioactive elements spewing those elements all over the Earth, you’re not alone. But scientists assure us that nuclear thermal rockets will use low-enriched uranium, which would not be usable as a weapon if that happens.
They also assure us that the uranium used in the propulsion system won’t be radioactive until the rocket is well clear of Earth’s atmosphere.
Right now, DRACO rockets are being considered for transit between the Earth and its moon, but it would significantly cut down on travel times inside the solar system, potentially reaching Mars in as little as three months.
It almost seems like something out of a James Bond movie — heavily armed submarines suddenly disappearing without a trace while underway.
But sadly, in 1968, the truth would turn out be far worse than fiction when four countries reeled after the successive losses of four submarines. 318 sailors from Israel, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States were tragically committed to their eternal rest in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
While some details have surfaced over the years, the causes behind the losses of each of these four submarines remain unclear to this day, posing a mystery for historians, researchers, and naval engineers alike.
The Dakar, an Israeli vessel, was the first of the four submarines to go missing that fateful year. Originally produced for the British Royal Navy in 1943 during the Second World War, Dakar was a diesel-electric submarine sold to Israel in the mid-1960s after being put through a considerable refurbishment which streamlined the sub’s hull and superstructure, upgraded the engines, and diminished the sub’s noise while underwater.
After spending most of 1967 undergoing a refit and sea trials after being sold to the Israeli navy, Dakar set sail on its trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Israel in mid-January of the following year, where she would be formally welcomed into active service with a large ceremony. Expected back by Feb. 2, Dakar never arrived.
Transmissions from the sub ceased after Jan. 24. Immediately, all nearby naval vessels from a number of countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Turkey, and Greece, began a sweeping search-and-rescue mission to find the Dakar. Despite finding one of the sub’s emergency buoys in 1969, Dakar remained hidden in the murky depths of the Mediterranean, lost with all hands.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Dakar was be found, laying on the seabed near Crete and Cyprus. Parts of the submarine were raised to the surface, including its conning tower and a few smaller artifacts. To this day, a number of theories on the loss of Dakar exist, though none of them appear to be the definitive answer behind why the submarine went down.
Minerve, another diesel-electric submarine, was the second loss of 1968, going down just two days after Dakar in January. Typically staffed with a crew of 50 sailors, the Minerve was a smaller patrol sub, though retooled to conduct experiments on behalf of the French Navy. Able to carry missiles, it could stay submerged for 30 days before resurfacing to recharge its batteries and resupply.
On Jan. 27, Minerve was roughly 30 miles from base when its crew made contact with a French Navy aircraft to confirm their arrival time of less than an hour. After that transmission, the Minerve went silent. Now with their submarine overdue and unresponsive, the French Navy kicked into high gear, launching a large search-and-rescue operation including an aircraft carrier and smaller research submersibles.
To this day, the Minervehas never been found, even though it was lost a relatively short distance from its homeport. The sub’s entire crew of 52 sailors perished with their ship.
Built for the Soviet’s Pacific Fleet as a ballistic missile submarine, K-129 had been active for over 7 years by the time it was lost in early March of 1968. With sharp and sleek lines, the K-129 looked more like a shark than it did a traditional submarine. Armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and missiles, it was far more dangerous than the average diesel-electric submarine in service at the time.
While on a combat patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the submarine went unresponsive, having failed to check in on assigned dates. The Soviet Navy began a frantic search for their lost sub, worried that it was lost with all hands. After sweeping the area where K-129 was supposed to conduct its patrol for weeks, the search was called off and the sub was declared lost with its 98-man crew.
That, however, wasn’t the end of the K-129’s story. The U.S. Navy, with its SOSUS intelligence system, was able to triangulate the location of the missing sub, having detected an underwater “bang” on March 8.
After the K-129’s loss, the Central Intelligence Agency saw a major opportunity in finding the wreck and extracting code books and encryption gear from the sub’s bridge. It would give them a huge advantage in snooping on Soviet military and espionage activities. Code-naming the operation “Project Azorian,” the CIA used a gargantuan ship called the Glomar Explorer, outfitted with a big mechanical claw to grip and collect the submarine.
Project Azorian proved to be something of a mixed bag of results. While attempting to raise the K-129 from the seabed, the large grappling claw holding the stricken submarine malfunctioned and the vessel cracked in two. The forward half of the submarine was lifted into the Glomar Explorer, but the aft fell back into the ocean, taking with it the control room and all-important code books and cryptographic gear.
Nevertheless, the bodies of six of the sub’s lost crew were recovered and buried by the CIA at sea with full military honors. The CIA has still kept silent on what else they recovered from the front section of K-129. The sub’s missiles remain in the ocean.
Commissioned in 1960, the Scorpion was a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine designed to prowl around near Soviet patrol sectors, waiting to hunt down and destroy enemy surface and subsurface warships. In early 1968, Scorpiondeparted for the Mediterranean from Norfolk, Virginia after undergoing a hasty 9-month refit.
In May, the Scorpion and its crew found themselves at Rota, Spain, where they provided a noise cover for a departing Navy ballistic missile submarine by making high-speed, “loud” dashes as the larger missile sub slipped away. This was to keep nearby Soviet subs and spy ships from monitoring and recording the Navy’s newest nuclear deterrent’s noise signature for further reference.
Less than a week later, Scorpion went missing. Overdue by nearly a week for its return to Norfolk, its homeport, the Navy began searching for its submarine. Five months later, the remains of the attack submarine were found on the ocean floor near the Azores. It had been lost with all hands.
A number of differing theories exist on the destruction of the Scorpion, with some claiming that the sub was deliberately torpedoed by the Soviet Union in retaliation for supposed American involvement in the loss of K-129. The last received transmission from the submarine seems to lend a margin of credibility to these claims — the sub’s captain reported contact with Soviet vessels and declared his intention to reconnoiter the area.
Others say that the unusually fast refit that Scorpion underwent in 1967 left considerable room for technical error, thanks to Navy contractors cutting corners to get the sub back out to sea. As a result, mechanical failure was to blame. Further groups of researchers and historians believe that the submarine could have gone down due to a malfunctioning torpedo exploding aboard the vessel.
Even to this day, the majority of Scorpion’s last patrol is still classified, and the Navy’s official position on the loss is “inconclusive.”
While taking enemy contact, a Chinese mortar struck a Marine bunker near where replacement Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was engaging opposing forces. From this position, he heard the screams of his wounded comrades coming from inside the newly-damaged area.
Naimo, who joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army, dashed over to aid his brothers, exposing himself to enemy fire.
As mortars continued to destroy the surrounding area, Naimo spotted two severely wounded Marines and scooped up one of them up, protecting him with his own body. Soon after, Naimo dropped off the first injured Marine at the aid station and headed right back for the second man as waves of incoming enemy fire blanketed their position.
After returning to the aid station with the second wounded Marine, Naimo informed the corpsmen that he was going to head back to the bunker and continue to fight.
Upon his arrival at the unmanned bunker, he was lucky to discover the Marines before him had stockpiled it with machine guns, ammo, and extra grenades. As the next wave of Chinese attacks throttled, Naimo fired the arsenal of weapons into the enemy — who closed within 15 yards of his position.
Hours later, Marine Lt. Walter Sharpe came across Naimo’s bunker, where he found 36 dead soldiers from the 65th Army Group of Mongolian laid out. Sharpe decided to recommend Naimo for the Navy Cross but sadly was killed in action two days later. He never filed the proper paperwork to get Naimo his Navy Cross.
More than six decades after his heroic efforts, then-Lt. Bruce F. Meyers (who was injured in that same battle) filed the necessary paperwork to award Cpl. Salvatore Naimo the well-deserved Navy Cross.
In 1940, William P. Bonelli, 19, had no desire to join the military. The nation was not yet at war, but Bonelli, who followed the war news in Europe and Asia, said he knew deep inside that war was coming, and probably soon.
Rather than wait for the war to start and get a draft notice, Bonelli decided to enlist in the Army to select a job he thought he’d like: aviation.
Although he wanted to be a fighter pilot, Bonelli said that instead, the Army Air Corps made him an aviation mechanic.
William P. Bonelli visits airmen at the Pentagon, Dec. 18, 2019.
(Photo by Wayne Clark, Air Force)
After basic training, he was assigned to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, where he arrived by boat in September 1940.
On Dec. 6, 1941, Bonelli and a buddy went to a recreational camping area on the west side of Oahu. That evening, he recalled seeing a black vehicle parked on the beach with four Japanese men inside. The vehicle had two long whip antennas mounted to the rear bumper. Bonelli said he thought it odd at the time. Later, he added, he felt certain that they were there to guide enemy planes to targets.
An undated photo of William P. Bonelli in Hawaii with his girlfriend.
(Courtesy of William P. Bonelli)
Early Sunday morning, Dec. 7, Bonelli and his buddy drove back to the base. After passing Wheeler Army Airfield, which is next to Honolulu, they saw three small, single-engine aircraft flying very low.
“I had never seen these aircraft before, so I said, jokingly to my friend, ‘Those aren’t our aircraft. I wonder whose they are? You know, we might be at war,'” he remembered.
A few minutes later as they were approaching Hickam, the bombing started. Since they were on an elevation, Bonelli said, they could see the planes bombing the military bases as well as Ford Island, where Navy ships were in flames, exploding and sinking.
Bonelli and his buddy went to the supply room at Hickam to get rifles and ammunition.
“I got in line,” he said. “The line was slow-moving because the supply sergeant wanted rank, name and serial number. All the time, we were being strafed with concentrated bursts.
“Several men were hit but there were no fatalities,” he continued. The sergeant dispensed with signing and said, ‘Come and get ’em.'”
An undated photo of William P. Bonelli in Hawaii.
(Courtesy of William P. Bonelli)
By 8:30 a.m., Bonelli had acquired a rifle, two belts of bullets and a handgun with several clips. He distinctly remembered firing at four Japanese Zero aircraft with his rifle and pistol, but there was no indication of a hit.
Bodies were everywhere, and a bulldozer was digging a trench close to the base hospital for the burial of body parts, he said.
All of the hangars with aircraft inside were bombed, while the empty ones weren’t, he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the Japanese pilots had radio contact from the ground,” he added.
In 1942, Bonelli’s squadron was relocated to Nadi, Fiji. There, he worked on B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers as a qualified engineer, crew chief and gunner.
In 1943, Bonelli resubmitted his papers for flight school and was accepted, traveling back to the United States for training in Hobbs, New Mexico.
He got orders to Foggia, Italy, in 1944 and became a squadron lead pilot in the 77rd Bomb Squadron, 463rd Bomb Group. They flew the B-17s.
Bonelli led his squadron in 30 sorties over Austria, Italy, Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia until April 1945, just before the war ended.
An undated photo of William P. Bonelli in Italy.
(Courtesy of William P. Bonelli)
The second sortie over Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, on Oct. 23, 1944, was the one he recalled as being the worst, with much of the cockpit blown apart and the rest of the aircraft shot up badly.
For the next few days, Bonelli said, he felt shaken. The Germans on the ground were very proficient with the 88 mm anti-aircraft weapons, and they could easily pick off the U.S. bombers flying at 30,000 feet, he said.
Normally, the squadrons would fly in a straight line for the bombing runs. Bonelli said he devised a strategy to deviate about 400 feet from the straight-line trajectory on the next sortie, Nov. 4 over Regensburg, Germany.
The tactic worked, he said, and the squadron sustained lighter damage. So he used that tactic on subsequent missions, and he said many lives of his squadron were undoubtedly saved because of it.
An undated photo of William P. Bonelli in Italy with his flight crew. Back row, left to right: Army Staff Sgt. Harry Murray, later killed in action; Army Staff Sgt. Freeman Quinn; Army Staff Sgt. James Oakley; Army Staff Sgt. Karl Main; Army Tech. Sgt. John Raney; and, Army Tech. Sgt. Howard Morreau. Front row, left to right: Army 1st Lt. Charles Cranford, navigator; 1st Lt. Steve Conway, co-pilot; Capt. Fred Anderson, bombardier; and Bonelli, the pilot.
(Courtesy of William P. Bonelli)
When the war ended, Bonelli had a change of heart and decided to stay in the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force in 1947. He said he developed a love for flying and aviation mechanic work. He stayed in and retired after having served 20 years.
He also realized his dream to become a fighter pilot, flying the F-84F Thunderstreak, a fighter-bomber, which, he said, was capable of carrying a small nuclear weapon.
After retiring, Bonelli got a career with the Federal Aviation Administration, working in a variety of aviation specialties.
Looking back over his military and civilian careers, he said he was blessed with doing jobs he loves, although there were, of course, some moments of anxiety when bullets were flying.
He offered that a stint or career in the military can be a rewarding experience for ambitious young people.
“Fore!” is what a golfer typically yells to warn other golfers in the area of an incoming slice. In the midst of World War II there were no drives, chips, or putts at the Congressional Country Club located in Bethesda, Maryland, about 12 miles from Washington. Instead, the 400-acre golf course was leased by the US government for the training of commandos, saboteurs, and spies from the then-secret Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the CIA.
The driving range was transformed into a firing range. The sandy bunkers were used for grenade practice. The water hazards or nearby creeks tested the trainees’ aptitude for imaginative innovation. They would be tasked with building a stone bridge to safely cross, then instructed on the best ways to destroy it with plastic explosives. The greens were ideal targets for mortar practice, the fairways on the 17th and 18th holes simulated minefields, and the wooded areas between holes had commandos sneaking through them on nighttime exercises. On more than one occasion, the milkman was a target for a snatch-and-grab raid.
“It was malice in wonderland,” recalled OSS veteran Alex MacDonald. “It was the 10 Commandments in reverse: lie and steal, kill, maim, spy.”
The soldiers and civilians recruited into the OSS trained in groups of 200 to 400 between 1943 and 1945, and more than 2,500 OSS recruits would go through the program at the Congressional Country Club. The officers lived in the clubhouse, the ballroom became a classroom, and the dining room served as the mess hall. They were taught tactics, espionage, demolitions, sabotage, parachuting, and weapons handling. Some of the residents came to the Congressional only to complete a three-day crash course before being posted on an overseas assignment. This was the case for Betty McIntosh, who later ran black propaganda operations in China during the war.
“It was serious work, but I had fun,” McIntosh remembered. “We fired guns. We burrowed into sand traps for cover. I learned to throw grenades on one of the fairways.”
Following World War II, the Congressional returned to its traditional self, swapping out the rifles and bullets for golf clubs and golf balls. Beginning in 2005, the OSS Society hosted OSS veterans and their families at their old training ground. While they reminisced and shared stories about their wartime service, OSS Society president Charles Pinck was quick to remind them not to blow anything up.
“Back then, it would have been hard just finding the greens,” said Al Johnson, an OSS veteran who served in North Africa, France, and China. “And we left some divots that no golfer could have gotten out of in less than three shots.”
A merchant vessel burns after being torpedoed by the U-71 off Cape Hatteras, NC in March 1942.
Imagine the following scenario: A bloody war rages overseas as a fanatical, totalitarian ideology conquers entire countries. The U.S. government announces it will send military forces abroad to stem the tide of the aggression. Despite increasingly dire news headlines, however, life in America proceeds uneventfully.
After all, America is thousands of miles from the battlefields and surely far beyond the enemy’s immediate reach.
That sense of security abruptly ends only weeks later when the enemy suddenly launches a fearsome assault against the U.S. homeland itself. Thousands die as American cities witness explosions and raging infernos. Worse yet, the U.S. military seems powerless to stop the assault.
If that story sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. It isn’t the plot of Call of Duty– the scenario described above actually happened during World War II. December 1941 saw the U.S. finally join the war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Many Americans understandably assumed that geography insulated them from any direct threat.
However, while U.S. leaders in Washington debated how to deploy their forces overseas, Adolf Hitler made the first move. In January 1942, Hitler’s forces began a massive naval offensive against the U.S. east coast.
The German navy, or Kriegsmarine, lacked a formidable surface fleet. What the Kriegsmarine did possess, however, was a technologically and tactically sophisticated submarine force: the infamous unterseeboots, or “U-boats.”
The U-boats had proven deadly in World War I, to include a limited number of attacks near the U.S. east coast, but the scale of the U-boat offensive against America in 1942 was without precedent. Only weeks after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, war had come to the American homeland.
Rendition of the U-995
(oil painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau)
Cargo ships and even U.S. Navy warships began going down in flames. Many vessels were torpedoed within sight of coastal cities. Coastal residents saw the ships burning off the Jersey Shore and the Outer Banks. Debris and bodies washed ashore for months as the U-boats struck from New England to Texas.
U-boat commanders returning to port in occupied Europe reported that U.S. waters offered more targets than the U-boats had the means to attack. The easy hunting lead German crews to dub 1942 die glückliche zeit: “the happy time.”
(Alamy Stock Photos)
Compounding the fear and destruction was America’s apparent inability to stop it. A combination of factors limited the U.S. military’s ability to stop the U-boats. These included a shortage of warships suited to anti-submarine operations, a lack of convoy procedures, and a reluctance to implement nighttime blackouts of coastal cities to deny U-boat commanders the benefit of ship silhouettes to target.
While U.S. leaders debated how to stem the onslaught, the Kriegsmarine dispatched more waves of U-boats to North America. Hundreds of ships were sunk, and thousands died as desperately needed war material was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.
The U-123, one of the German subs that prowled the American coast in 1942.
(German Federal Archives)
Fortunately, 1942 would prove to be the apex of Hitler’s U-boat assault against America. The Allies began implementing convoys, and more American air and naval assets were allocated to anti-submarine duties.
These changes eventually led the Kriegsmarine to shift its priorities away from American coasts towards the mid-Atlantic. U-boats would continue to strike in American waters until the end of the war, but the scope and effectiveness of their operations steadily decreased. U-boat losses mounted too as the hunters eventually became the prey.
The U-boat fleet, considered one of the most prestigious assignments for a German serviceman, ultimately suffered the German military’s highest casualties: 3 out of 4 U-boat crewmen did not survive the war.
The crew of the U-550 abandons ship after being crippled by a U.S. Coast Guard attack off Massachusetts in April 1944.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
U.S. waters today are littered with the wrecks of U-boats and their victims. Many of these wrecks have become popular sites amongst scuba divers. This chapter of World War II, however, has mostly disappeared from American public memory.
This is to our discredit, as the memory of Hitler’s naval assault against America bears several important lessons for a post-9/11 world. These lessons include the naiveté of assuming that large oceans can be counted on to deter foreign aggression and a sobering reminder of what a small but motivated and capable force can inflict on a much larger power.
The thousands of men lost during this forgotten campaign is a testament to the human cost of global conflict and its ramifications for national security in the 21st century.
Jeremy A. asks: How did flipping the bird come to mean fu?
While some common gestures, such as the high five, have pretty well known and surprisingly modern origins, it turns out one of the most popular of all has been around for well over two thousand years, including having various similar connotations as it has today.
Unsurprisingly once you stop and think about versions of the expression’s meaning, extending the middle finger simply represents the phallus, with it perhaps natural enough that our forebears chose their longest finger to symbolically represent man’s favorite digit. (Although, there are some cultures that instead chose the thumb, seemingly preferring to have their girth, rather than length, represented here…) It’s also been speculated that perhaps people noticed that the curled fingers (or balled fist in the case of the thumb) made for a good representation of the testicles.
Either way, given the symbolism here, it’s no surprise that the expression has more or less always seemed to have meant something akin to “F*k You” in some form or other, sometimes literally.
For example, in Ancient Greece, beyond being a general insult, in some cases there seems to be a specific implication from the insult that the person the gesture was directed at liked to take it up the bum. In the case of men, despite male on male lovin’ being widely accepted in the culture at the time, there were still potentially negative connotations with regards to one’s manliness when functioning as the bottom in such a rendezvous, particularly the bottom for someone with lower social standing.
Moving on to an early specific example we have Aristphanes’ 423 BC The Clouds. In it, a character known as Strepsiades, tired of Socrates’ pontificating, decides to flip off the famed philosopher.
Socrates: Well, to begin with, they’ll make you elegant in company— and you’ll recognize the different rhythms, the enoplian and the dactylic, which is like a digit. Strepsiades: Like a digit! By god, that’s something I do know! Socrates: Then tell me. Strepsiades: When I was a lad a digit meant this! [Strepsiades sticks his middle finger straight up under Socrates’ nose]
For whatever it’s worth, in the third century AD Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, we also have this reference of a supposed incidence that occurred in the 4th century BC, concerning famed orator Demosthenes and philosopher Diogenes.
[Diogenes] once found Demosthenes the orator lunching at an inn, and, when he retired within, Diogenes said, “All the more you will be inside the tavern.” When some strangers expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, [Diogenes] stretched out his middle finger and said, “There goes the demagogue of Athens.”
(No doubt water was needed to put out the fire created by that wicked burn.)
Moving on to the first century AD, Caligula seems to have enjoyed making powerful people kiss his ring while he extended his middle finger at them. On a no doubt completely unrelated note, the chief organizer of his assassination, and first to stab him, was one Cassius Chaerea who Caligula liked to do this very thing with, as noted by Suetonius:
Gaius used to taunt him, a man already well on in years, with voluptuousness and effeminacy by every form of insult. When he asked for the watchword Gaius would give him “Priapus” or “Venus,” and when Chaerea had occasion to thank him for anything, he would hold out his hand to kiss, forming and moving it in an obscene fashion.
Speaking of the implications of this insulting gesture, it seems to have fallen out of favor during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christianity, or at least records of it diminish. This may mean people actually stopped popularly flipping the bird or may just mean its uncouth nature saw it something not generally written about. That said, we do know thanks to the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville that at least as late as the 6th century people were still extending the finger as an insult, in this reference particularly directed at someone who had done something considered “shameful”.
Moving on to more modern times, the gesture was popularly resurrected in documented history starting around the early 19th century, with early photographic evidence later popping up in the latter half of the 1800s. Most famously, we have a photograph of the gesture flashed by present day Twitter sensation and former 19th century baseball iron man Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn. Radbourn was a pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters in 1886 when the team, along with the New York Giants, posed for a group photo. In the photo, Old Hoss can be seen giving the bird to the cameraman. (We’ll have more on Charley “Hoss” and his possible connection to a different expression in a bit.)
Boston Beaneaters and New York Giants, Major League Baseball Opening Day 1886. Charles Radbourn giving the finger to cameraman (back row, far left).
At this point you might be wondering why we call extending the middle finger today — “flipping the bird” or “giving the bird”. The connection is speculated to derive from the centuries old practice of more or less making bird sounds, particularly owl and geese calls, as an equivalent to booing when an audience is dissatisfied by something. This, in turn, gave rise to the popular 19th century expression to “goose” someone and then a little later led to the expression “give the big bird”, as noted in William Earnest Henley’s late 19th century work, Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present:
Big Bird: To get or give the big bird — To be hissed on the stage…. When an actor or actress gets the big bird, it may be from two causes; either it is a compliment for successful portrayal of villainy, in which case the Gods simply express their abhorrence of the character and not of the actor; or, the hissing may be directed against the actor, personally for some reason or other. The Big Bird is the goose.
By the mid-20th century, this seems to have extended to “giving the bird” not just referring to insulting sounds, but to describe extending the middle finger as well. One of the earliest examples of this can be found in the 1942 animated film A Tale of Two Kitties. In it, the pair of cats attempt to capture Tweety bird. At a certain point, one of the cats implores the other “Give me the bird!” The other cat then turns to the viewers and exclaims “If the Hays Office would only let me, I’d give him the bird alright.”
Going back to Charley “Hoss” Roadbourn, he is widely speculated to be the inspiration for the expression “Charley Horse”, indicating a random muscle cramp in the leg. The expression popped up in baseball shortly after his historic 1884 season in which he posted a 1.38 ERA with 441 strikeouts in 678 and 2/3 innings, winning 59 games by modern rules (or 60 by the scorers of the day) despite the fact that his team only played 112 games that year. If you’re wondering how he managed to pitch in so many games, this was as a result of a fight between he and the team’s other best pitcher, Charlie Sweeney, that saw Sweeney leave and Old Hoss offer to start every game for the remainder of the season. He nearly did this, starting 40 of the remaining 43 games that year and winning 36 of them. However, at a certain point he reportedly became so sore he couldn’t even raise his arm above his head without significant warmup that required starting by soft tossing from just a few feet and slowly working back as his arm loosened up. It is speculated that his prolific pitching around this time, and presumably frequent cramps from over use of his muscles, may have inspired the expression. For whatever it’s worth, a 1907 issue of the Washington Post indicates that Old Hoss actually once had a severe leg cramp in a game, which directly gave rise to the expression. Whatever the case, one of the earliest known instances of the expression “Charley Horse” occurred in an 1887 edition of The Fort Wayne Gazette where it notes, “Whatever ails a player this year they call it a ‘Charley horse’…”
American seamen captured by the North Koreans in the famous “Pueblo crisis” once used the North Korean’s ignorance of the meaning of extending the middle finger to good use in propaganda photos taken by their captors. When asked, the captured men simply stated that it was a good luck gesture, so were allowed to continue using it in the photographs… at first. When the North Koreans discovered what it actually meant, the seamen were beaten.
As we alluded to in the body of this piece, there are several places on Earth where a thumbs up has a similar meaning to extending the middle finger. Why we bring this up specifically is that when American troops first started being stationed in Iraq, some reported being greeted by civilians offering a thumbs up, with the soldiers (and many in the media) interpreting it as most Westerners would — all the while not realizing the people were more or less flipping them off.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The trenches of World War I were a vicious place, but it was the No Man’s Land between opposing trenches that became killing fields. Attackers from either side had to cross hundreds of meters of machinegun-swept territory under artillery assault to initiate an offensive against the other.
Invented by Benjamin Holt in 1904, the machine used tracked wheels to cross soft sand, mud, and other obstacles on the farm. Swinton figured that the tractor could be put to better use attacking German machine gun and artillery positions with armor plating and its own mounted artillery.
There was a row of wheelchairs and walkers for these men as they gathered to dedicate the Chosin Few Battle Monument in the new Medal of Honor Theater in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Yet, when the flag trooped in, they struggled out of their chairs and steadied themselves on their walkers in respect to the flag. Not one remained seated.
‘The Toughest Terrain’
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke of that dedication in his remarks. Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford knows the story of the battle, as all Marines do. The 1st Marine Division, two battalions of the Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment and British Royal Marines from 41 (Independent) Commando were attacking north, chasing a defeated North Korean Army up to the Yalu River, when an estimated 120,000 Chinese Communist troops attacked and surrounded the force around the Chosin Reservoir.
It was a battle “fought over the toughest terrain and under the harshest weather conditions imaginable,” Dunford said, and Marines since that time have been living up to the example the Chosin Few set in 1950.
“It is no exaggeration to say that I am a United States Marine because of the Marines who served at Chosin,” Dunford said. “In all sincerity, any success I have had as a Marine has been as a result of attempting to follow in their very large footsteps.”
One set of footprints belonged to Joseph F. Dunford, Sr. who celebrated his 20th birthday while carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle with the Baker Bandits of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in the ridges over the reservoir Nov. 27, 1950.
“He spent the night in close combat as three regiments of the Chinese 79th Division attempted to annihilate the 5th and 7th Marines,” the general said.
Growing up, Dunford’s father never discussed how he spent his 20th birthday. “He never spoke of the horrors of close combat or the frostbite that he and many Marines suffered on their march to the sea,” he said. “I was in the Marine Corps for seven years before we had a serious conversation about his experiences in the Korean War.”
The Legacy of Chosin
Still, even as a youngster, the general knew what pride his father felt in being a Marine and a member of the Chosin Few and vowed to join the force. “I am still trying to get over the bar that he set many, many years ago,” Dunford said.
So, his father was his reason for joining the Marine Corps, but it was another Chosin veteran that was responsible for him making the Corps a career.
Dunford served as the aide to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen Olmstead on Okinawa, Japan, in the early 1980s. Olmstead was a private first class rifleman at Chosin in G Company 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “I would say that to a young lieutenant, there was something very different about General Olmstead — his character, his sense of calm, a father’s concern for his Marines, a focus on assuring they were well-trained, well-led, and ready for combat. He knew what they might have to experience.”
Olmstead’s example was a powerful one for young Lieutenant Dunford, and he started to think about making the Marine Corps a career. “I wanted to serve long enough to be a leader with the competence, compassion, and influence of General Olmstead,” he said.
The Chosin Few have this effect on the Marine Corps as a whole, Dunford said. Their real legacy is an example of valor, self-sacrifice, and camaraderie that units hand down as part of their DNA, he said.
The battle was a costly one, with U.S. forces suffering more than 12,000 casualties — including more than 3,000 killed in action. The nation awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 64 Navy Crosses, and 14 Distinguished Service Crosses to Marines and soldiers for heroism in that battle. 41 Commando received the same Presidential Unit Citation as the Marines of the 1st Marine Division.
Young Marines all learn about the battle, from recruits in boot camp to those striving to be officers at Quantico.
Homecoming for a naval vessel is a huge deal. After months at sea, the ship’s crew don their sharpest uniforms and stand on deck to catch a glimpse of their loved ones before they dock and are finally reunited. Homecomings were an even bigger deal in the days before email, phones, and video calls were more common aboard ships. Imagine, then, the frustration felt by sailors and family members alike when a ship ran aground right before it docked. That was the situation for the crew and family of the USS Enterprise in 1983.
Launched in 1960, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), was America’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. A technological marvel for the time, she served with distinction during the Vietnam War and survived a catastrophic fire in 1969 that killed 27 sailors and injured 314 more. In 1982, Enterprise made her 10th WESTPAC deployment. The ship sailed an eight-month tour before returning to San Francisco in April, 1983.
The carrier sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn. Enterprise was steered into port by a civilian pilot, but was turned back over to the hands of a Navy pilot before she ran aground. At about 9:30 a.m., the 90,000-ton ship missed the edge of a 400-yard wide, 40-foot deep ship channel while maneuvering through the morning overcast and wind. Enterprise was stuck on a sandbar just 1,000 yards from her berthing.
4,500 sailors and 3,000 family members could now just see each other, but were still far from being reunited. “It was a real drag, being so close and yet so far,” recalled Capt. Jack McAuley, “We couldn’t do anything but sit around and grin and bear it.” The ship’s skipper, Capt. Robert J. Kelly, sprung the crew into action to dislodge the carrier. In an effort to shift the ship’s center of balance, the crew assembled on the port side of the flight deck. Nine military and civilian tug boats joined the effort to free Enterprise. After nearly six hours of rocking, and with the help of the tide, Enterprise made it off the sandbar at 3:12 p.m.
After another 90 minutes of maneuvering, Enterprise was finally docked and her crew was released ashore. Frustration turned to relief as sailors and family members embraced each other after months of separation. Sadly, many crewmen missed their flights out of San Francisco as a result of the ordeal. Ironically, there was one individual on board who was a crewmember of a different Enterprise.
Actor George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, flew out on a Navy helicopter to join the crew of the Enterprise at 7 a.m. that morning and welcome them home. “Our vessel is the Starship Enterprise and this is the USS Enterprise,” he later said, “We’ve got a new drink—Enterprise on the Rocks.” Jokes aside, while Enterprise suffered no obvious damage, she underwent a thorough stress check to ensure her seaworthiness before her next deployment.
Capt. Kelly took full responsibility for the incident. “I am the captain and I was in control. I am totally responsible for what happened,” he said during a news conference. “Naturally, it’s embarrassing.” Although collisions and groundings are usually career-enders for Navy ship captains, Capt. Kelly, who had been selected for promotion to commodore, was eventually promoted all the way to four-star admiral and served as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet from 1991 to 1994.
Eight months at sea, running aground in sight of loved ones, rocking the ship off of a sandbar, and all while George Takei was on board. The 1982-1983 WESTPAC tour was a truly unforgettable experience for the crew of the USS Enterprise.
In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.
Operation Safe Haven was well under way. Allies were on the hunt to locate the enormous amount of looted wealth the Germans viciously seized and stored and put it into the hands of humanitarian groups who would, hopefully, send the wealth to its rightful owners. U.S. troops were trained to search for assets in the form of paper money, coins, and gold bullion.
On April, 6, 1945, MPs from the 3rd Army’s 90th Infantry Division were on a foot patrol in the town of Merkers, Germany when they discovered a useful clue. They spotted two women walking down the street and soon found out that the ladies were French DPs, or “displaced persons.”
These DPs were taken from their French home and transported to Germany to do forced labor. They informed the MPs about a salt mine that hid a surplus of gold — and that the Germans would frequently bring in truckloads of precious metals. The MPs quickly relayed this information to higher command.
Soon after, Generals Eisenhower and Patton traveled to the mine and discovered years’ worth of stolen Nazi gold.
U.S. troops found roughly 7,000 sacks of gold bullion neatly piled in the underground area, measuring approximately 75-feet deep and 150-feet wide.
Additionally, the mine contained 98 million French Francs. However, that enormous sum of cash wasn’t the most shocking thing found down there. Allied troops found luggage containing gold fillings extracted from those forced into the concentration camps.
It’s believed that the gold fillings were to be used in the dental care of several SS officers.