How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

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.

 

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
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.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
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.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
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

Historic Iwo Jima footage shows individual Marines amid the larger battle

When most Americans think of the World War II battle for Iwo Jima – if they think of it at all, 75 years later – they think of one image: Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, the island’s highest point.


That moment, captured in black and white by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and as a color film by Marine Sergeant William Genaust, is powerful, embodying the spirit of the Marine Corps.

But these pictures are far from the only images of the bloodiest fight in the Marines’ history. A larger library of film, and the men captured on them, is similarly emotionally affecting. It can even bring Americans alive today closer to a war that ended in the middle of the last century.

Take for instance, just one scene: Two Marines kneel with a dog before a grave marker. It is in the final frames of a film documenting the dedication of one of the three cemeteries on the island. Those two Marines are among hundreds present to remember the more than 6,000 Americans killed on the island in over a month of fighting. The sequence is intentionally framed by the cinematographer, who was clearly looking for the right image to end the roll of film in his camera.

I came across this film clip in my work as a curator of a collection of motion picture films shot by Marine Corps photographers from World War II through the 1970s. In a partnership between the History Division of the Marine Corps and the University of South Carolina, where I work, we are digitizing these films, seeking to provide direct public access to the video and expand historical understanding of the Marine Corps’ role in society.

Over the past two years of scanning, I have come to realize that our work also enables a more powerful relationship with the past by fostering individual connections with videos, something that the digitizing of the large quantity of footage makes possible.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

The campaign within the battle

Iwo Jima, an island in the western Pacific less than 1,000 miles south of Tokyo, was considered a key potential stepping stone toward an invasion of Japan itself.

During the battle to take the island from the Japanese, more than 70,000 Marines and attached Army and Navy personnel set foot on Iwo Jima. That included combat soldiers, but also medical corpsmen, chaplains, service and supply soldiers and others. More than 6,800 Americans were killed on the island and on ships and landing craft aiding in the attack; more than 19,200 were wounded.

More than 50 Marine combat cameramen operated across the eight square miles of Iwo Jima during the battle, which stretched from Feb. 19 to March 26, 1945. Many shot still images, but at least 26 shot motion pictures. Three of these Marine cinematographers were killed in action.

Even before the battle began, Marine Corps leaders knew they wanted a comprehensive visual account of the battle. Beyond a historical record, combat photography from Iwo Jima would assist in planning and training for the invasion of the Japanese main islands. Some Marine cameramen were assigned to the front lines of individual units, and others to specific activities, like engineering and medical operations.

Most of the cameramen on Iwo Jima used 100-foot film reels that could capture about two and a half minutes of film. Sgt. Genaust, who shot the color sequence atop Suribachi, shot at least 25 reels – just over an hour of film – before he was killed, roughly halfway through the campaign.

Other cameramen who survived the entire battle produced significantly more. Sgt. Francis Cockrell was assigned to document the work of the 5th Division’s medical activities. Shooting at least 89 reels, he probably produced almost four hours of film.

Sgt. Louis L. Louft fought with the 13th Marines, an artillery regiment; his more than 100 film reels likely resulted in more than four hours of content. Landing on the beach with engineers of the 4th Division on Feb. 25, 1945, Pfc. Angelo S. Abramo compiled over three hours of material in the month of fighting he witnessed.

Even taking a conservative average of an hour of film from each of the 26 combat cameramen, that suggests there was at least 24 hours of unique film from the battle. Many surviving elements of this record are now part of the film library of the Marine Corps History Division, which we’re working with. The remainder are cataloged by the National Archives and Records Administration.

While military historians visiting the History Division in the past have used this large library, the bulk of its films have not been readily available to the public, something that mass digitization is finally making possible.

For many decades, the visual records made by Marines have been seen by the public only piecemeal, often with selected portions used as mere stock footage in films, documentaries and news programs, chosen because a shot has action, not because of the historical context of the imagery.

Even when they are used responsibly by documentary filmmakers, the editing and selection of scenes imposes the filmmaker’s interpretation on the images. As a historian and archivist, though, I believe it is important for people to directly engage with historical sources of all types, including the films from Iwo Jima.

The ‘highest and purest’ form

After the battle, the Americans buried their dead in temporary cemeteries, awaiting transportation back to the U.S. The film segment just before the graveside scene shows a service honoring the Americans of all backgrounds who had bled and died together.

At that service, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, the Marines’ first-ever Jewish chaplain, gave a eulogy that has become one of the Marine Corps’ most treasured texts. Noting the diversity of the dead, Gittelsohn said, “Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor … together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color.”

Gittelsohn called their collective sacrifice “the highest and purest democracy.”

Connecting to the present

After the dedication ceremonies, Marines walked the 5th Division cemetery, looking for familiar names. The photographers were there, and one recorded the footage of the two Marines – names not known – and the dog, at a grave with only the number 322 as a visible marking.

The image stood out. The two Marines looking directly at the camera seemed to reach across the decades to compel a response. Researchers at the History Division identified the Marine beneath marker 322 as Pfc. Ernest Langbeen from Chicago. It felt appropriate and important to add his name to the online description for that film, so I did.

I then located members of the Langbeen family, and told them that this part of their family’s history existed in the History Division’s collections and was now preserved and available online after more than seven decades.

Speaking with the family, I learned more about the Marine in grave 322. One of the two Marines in the picture may well be his best friend from before the war, a friend who joined the Corps with him. They asked to serve together and were assigned to the same unit, the 13th Regiment.

Now, family members who never knew this Marine have a new connection to their history and the country’s history. More connections will come for others. The digital archive we’re building will make it easier for researchers and the public at large to explore the military and personal history in each frame of every film.

The visual library of more than 80 online videos from Iwo Jima carries in it countless Pfc. Langbeens, ordinary Americans whose lives were disrupted by a global war. Each film holds traces of lives cut short or otherwise irrevocably altered.

The films are a reminder that, 75 years after World War II, all Americans remain tied to Iwo Jima, as well as battlegrounds across the world like Monte Cassino, Peleliu, Bataan and Colleville-sur-mer. Americans may find their relatives in this footage, or they may not. But what they will find is evidence of the sacrifices made by those fighting on their behalf, sacrifices that connect each and every American to the battle of Iwo Jima.

This article originally appeared on Real Clear Defense. Follow @RCDefense on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the craziest good idea to prevent nuclear war

The question that kept many a Cold Warrior awake at night was usually one of how to keep anyone in the chain of missile launch command from starting a nuclear war without considering the consequences, if they weren’t 100 percent sure of a Soviet first strike, or worse, just firing nukes off on a whim? But someone wondered – what if someone had to die to be able to launch the U.S. arsenal?


How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Do we get to choose who? Because I have some ideas.

Like the old urban legend of Special Forces operators being forced to murder a dog, or their dog, or whatever animal the urban legend mentioned, imagine how the thought process of launching a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union might have changed if one of the key holders had to die for the United States to be able to launch its missiles. This was the thought experiment posed by Harvard law professor Roger Fisher. Fisher wanted to consider the idea of surgically implanting the launch codes in a human body.

Right now, the President is followed around by a military officer who holds the “football,” a suitcase that contains all the codes needed to fire off a nuclear weapon – or all the nuclear weapons. But what if the President of the United States had to kill the man who held the football to be able to extract the codes? Would it be so easy to launch?

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Imagine how pissed Reagan would have been to find out the code was “00000000.”

Fisher’s rationale was that a President being briefed by Pentagon officials would have to talk through what was about to happen in a very matter-of-fact, unemotional way. He would be repeating lines of codes, ordering unspeakable horror in the blandest way possible. Fisher thought the President should have to make an emotional stand in order to fully execute and understand what he was about to do – to ensure that it was absolutely necessary, he should kill the first casualty himself.

The codes would be in a capsule near the heart of the volunteer holding the football, and now the football included a large, sharp knife for the President to use. This way, there would be no chance the volunteer would survive the interaction with the President, and the President would see the results of what he was about to do. In Fisher’s words, “Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Green Beret spent his life fighting communists in three different armies

As the Red Army pressed into Finland, their progress was continuously slowed. Their soldiers were being harassed by Finnish infiltrators before they could reach the frontline. Even the Soviet commando teams dispatched to hunt the evasive Finns were being cut down. The havoc that these raiders created led the Soviets to place a bounty on the unit’s leader – 3,000,000 Finnish Marks for the head of Lauri Allan Törni.

Born in Finland on May 28, 1919, Törni started his career of service early, serving in the Civil Guard (a volunteer militia) as a teenager. In 1938, he entered military service and joined the 4th Independent Jäger Infantry Battalion, a unit that specialized in sabotage, guerilla warfare, and long-range reconnaissance. When the Soviet Union carried out a surprise attack on Finland the next year and started the Winter War, Törni’s battalion was quickly brought to the frontline.


How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Törni after graduating cadet school in 1940 (Finnish public domain)

At Lake Lagoda, a body of water previously shared by Finland and the USSR, the Soviets attacked the Finns with superior numbers of infantry and armor. During their defense, the Finnish troops lost contact with their headquarters. Without hesitation or orders, Törni stealthily skied through the Soviet lines to re-establish communications. Upon his return to the Finnish lines, he took command of a Swedish-speaking unit of demoralized troops. Though he didn’t speak their language, Törni organized the troops with a series of gestures, shouts, and punches. For his bravery during this engagement, Törni was promoted to 2nd Lt. However, despite some Finnish victories and high Soviet casualties, the Winter War soon ended with a Soviet victory and Finland was forced to concede 11% of its territory.

In the months following the Winter War, Nazi Germany became a strong Finnish ally, and in June 1941, Törni went to Austria for seven weeks to train with the Waffen SS. During this training, Törni wore an SS uniform and swore an oath of loyalty to the Nazi party, both of which would haunt him for the rest of his life. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union with Operation Barbarossa, Finland made a push to retake the land they had lost to the Soviets in what became known as the Continuation War.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)

At the onset of the Continuation War, Törni was given command of a Finnish armored unit, employing captured Soviet tanks and armored cars. On March 23, 1942, Törni was skiing behind enemy lines to capture Soviet prisoners when he skied over a friendly mine. He recovered from his injuries, immediately went AWOL from the hospital and returned to the front. Törni’s unit was tasked with hunting Soviet commandos that had infiltrated Finnish lines, and eventually infiltrated Soviet lines themselves to attack headquarters and communication sites. Impressed with his ruthlessness and efficiency on the battlefield, Törni’s commanders allowed him to create a hand-picked, deep-strike infantry unit that became known as Detachment Törni.

Törni and his raiders conducted sabotage and ambush missions deep behind Soviet lines. Operating separately from the rest of the Finnish Army, Detachment Törni equipped themselves with Soviet weapons which both confused their enemy and made ammunition plentiful for the raiders. Their engagements often led to close-range, hand-to-hand combat in which they brutalized Soviet troops. Their reputation on the battlefield spread and resulted in the Soviet bounty on Törni’s head. For his leadership and bravery, Törni was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, Finland’s highest military honor, on July 9, 1944.

Despite Törni’s efforts and other Finnish victories, the sheer size of the Red Army could not be matched and the Continuation War ended in a Soviet victory in September 1944. Finland was forced to concede more territory, pay reparations, and demobilize most of their military, including Detachment Törni. Unhappy with this result, Törni joined the Finnish Resistance and went to Germany for training in 1945.

Törni went to Germany with the intention to return to Finland, train resistance fighters and free Finland from the Soviet Union. In order to conceal his involvement with the Nazis, Törni assumed the alias Lauri Lane. During his training, the Red Army had taken over all of Germany’s eastern ports. With no way to return to Finland, Törni joined a German Army unit and was given command as a captain. Though he spoke poor German, Törni used the same ruthless tactics he employed against the Soviets in Finland and gained a reputation for bravery, quickly earning the respect and loyalty of his soldiers.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Törni (center) as Finnish Army Lieutenant (Finnish public domain)

By March 1945, the German Army was all but defeated. To avoid capture or death at the hands of the Soviets, Törni and his men made their way to the Western Front where they surrendered to British troops. Imprisoned in a POW camp in Lübeck, Germany, Törni feared that the British would turn him over to the Soviets or discover his past connection to the SS and try him for war crimes. To avoid either fate, Törni escaped the camp and made his way back to Finland. While trying to locate his family, Törni was caught and imprisoned by the Finnish State Police. He escaped, but was imprisoned again in April 1946. Törni was tried for treason, having joined the German Army after Finland signed a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

During his time in prison, Törni made several escape attempts. Though all of them failed, he was released in December 1948 after Finnish President Juho Paasikivi granted him a pardon. Törni made his way to Sweden where he became engaged to a Swedish Finn named Marja Kops. Hoping to establish a career before settling down, Törni adopted a Swedish alias and sailed to Caracas, Venezuela as a crewman aboard a cargo ship. From Caracas, Törni joined the crew of a Swedish cargo ship bound for the United States in 1950.

While off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, Törni jumped overboard and swam to shore. He made his way up the east coast to New York City where he found work in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park “Finntown” as a carpenter and cleaner. In 1953, he was granted a residence permit and joined the U.S. Army in 1954 under the Lodge-Philbin Act which allowed the recruiting of foreign nationals into the armed forces.

Upon enlisting, Törni changed his name to Larry Thorne. He befriended a group of Finnish-American officers who, along with his impressive skill set and combat experience, helped him join the elite U.S. Army Special Forces. As a Green Beret, Thorne taught skiing, survival, mountaineering, and guerilla tactics. After attending OCS in 1957, he was commissioned as a 1st Lt. and was eventually promoted to Captain in 1960. In 1962, while assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group in West Germany, Thorne served as second-in-command of a high risk mission in the Iranian Zagros Mountains. The team searched for, located, and destroyed Top Secret material aboard a crashed U.S. plane. Thorne’s performance during the mission earned him a positive reputation in the Special Force community.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Thorne’s official Army photo (U.S. Army photo)

In November 1963, Thorne deployed to Vietnam with Special Forces Detachment A-734 as an adviser to ARVN forces. During an attack on their camp at Tịnh Biên, Viet Cong forces managed to breach the outer perimeter and nearly overran the U.S. and South Vietnamese troops stationed there. All members of the Special Forces detachment were wounded during the attack, including Thorne who was awarded two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star for valor. The character Captain Steve “Sven” Kornie in Robin Moore’s book, The Green Berets, is based on Thorne and his courageous actions at Tinh Biên.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

A U.S. Army H-34 Choctaw similar to the one that carried Thorne on his final mission. (U.S. Army photo)

Thorne volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam and was put in command of a MACV-SOG unit. On October 18, 1965, Thorne led a clandestine mission to locate Viet Cong turnaround points on the Ho Chi Minh trail and destroy them with airstrikes as part of Operation Shining Brass. The mission was the first of its kind and the team was composed of Republic of Vietnam and U.S. forces. During the mission, the U.S. Air Force O-1 Bird Dog observation plane and the Republic of Vietnam Air Force H-34 Choctaw helicopter carrying Thorne went missing and rescue teams were unable to locate either crash site. After his disappearance, Thorne was presumed dead, posthumously promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was not until 1999 that Thorne’s remains were found by a Finnish and Joint POW/MIA Accounting Team. It was concluded that Thorne’s Choctaw had crashed into the side of a mountain while flying nap-of-the-earth. His remains were repatriated and formally identified in 2003. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on June 26, 2003 with full honors along with the remains of the RVNAF casualties from the crash. Thorne is the only former member of the SS to be interred at Arlington.

Though he was engaged at one point, Thorne spent most of his life committed to fighting communist forces. He left behind no wife and no children. His ex-fiancée would go on to marry another man. Instead, Thorne’s legacy is one of a warrior who ruled the battlefield. He was a scourge on the Soviets in Europe and a deadly threat to Viet Cong in Vietnam. His service and commitment to both his home country of Finland and adopted country of the United States stand as models for anyone willing to take up the profession of arms.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The 13 scariest dictators in history

Power struggles and war have existed since the dawn of humanity. Even today, we struggle with international relations and division within our own country. On numerous occasions, however, twisted political leaders have risen to power. Dictators like Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler crossed far beyond the boundary of war and genocide, initiating unspeakable atrocities. While we hope history never repeats itself, it’s important that we don’t forget our past either – even the ugliest parts. These dictators were among the evilest despots in world history. Which do you think is the most terrifying?


1. Qin Shi Huang

Reign: 247-210 B.C.

Qin Shi Huang was, you guessed it, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. The grade school taunt, “first is the worst” comes to mind because he was an absolutely brutal ruler. If scholars disagreed with him, he sentenced them to death. Any books that criticized his views were burned.

He also was responsible for the first version of the great wall, which was a small version of the one we know today, and for the construction of a massive mausoleum including an army of life-sized terra-cotta soldiers. Many conscripts died during the wall’s construction, but wall duty was the better option; those who worked on the mausoleum were automatically killed after their job was complete to keep the tomb on the down-low. In addition to all the casually ordered death, he opted to castrate prisoners of war and force them into slavery.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

(Wikimedia Commons)

2. Julius Caesar

Reign: A.D. 37-41

Julius Caesar, also known as Caligula, wasn’t always despised. At the beginning of his rule, he freed wrongfully imprisoned citizens and nixed excessively high sales tax, but as time went on, his health suffered. Historians believe he may have suffered from several small strokes and possibly depression, and his personality changed drastically. He killed his rivals and forced their parents to watch, among other malicious acts. His political actions were increasingly bold. He was eventually overthrown by a group of 60 senators…and in this case, overthrown means murdered. He was stabbed 23 times, ending his pivotal role in Roman society.

3. Attila the Hun

Reign: AD 434-453

The Hunnic Empire was located near present-day Hungary, and it was home to the infamous Attila the Hun. He liked to invade other empires. A lot. He successfully led invasions of the Byzantine empire, devastated the Balkans, and attempted many failed, yet extremely destructive, raids on the Western Roman Empire, Roman Gaul, and Italy. While he didn’t ultimately win, his aggressive tactics and eagerness to fight made him a formidable opponent. He died shortly after razing much of Italy to the ground, and likely would have continued to plunder his way across the continent had he remained alive. Surprisingly, he died off the battlefield from unspecified internal bleeding on the night of his marriage (one of several).

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

(Wikimedia Commons)

4. Genghis Khan

Reign: 1206-1227

Genghis Khan was born to be tough. His father, chief of his tribe, was killed when Khan was only nine by poisoning, and the fatherless boy was raised in poverty. He was raised by his mother who taught him the importance of strong political alliances, and while he was captured by his father’s former allies for some time, he escaped and began to unite the Mongol tribes on his own. He proceeded to conquer much of China and Central Asia, and his methods were heartless. He killed civilians en masse more than once, including a massacre of the aristocrats of the Khwarezm Empire. He had so many wives and concubines that up to eight percent of men living in the region of the former Mongolian empire are genetic descendants of Khan.

5. Timur

Reign: 1370-1405

There were honestly too many empires to remember them all, but Timur was responsible for founding the Timurid Empire. He led ruthless military raids throughout much of western Asia, covering the area of modern-day Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. His military conquests weren’t the scary part, though. As a leader, he was heartless. To end a rebellion after he successfully invaded the city of Delhi, he ordered a bloody massacre. When it was over, he mounted thousands of heads up on minarets. He also had a tower built out of live men, glued together with bricks and mortar.

6. Vlad III

Reign: 1448; 1456-1462; 1476

Vlad III was known as Vlad the Impaler for a reason. According to his reputation, when he first became ruler of Wallachia he invited his rivals to a formal dinner. When they arrived, he stabbed and impaled them all. Needless to say, he wasn’t the best host. Impaling became his favorite means of execution. While he did attempt to stabilize the tumultuous nation, he did so by bloody and lawless methods. He was also known as Vlad Dracula, based on his family name. You can see where this is going. Because of his lust for blood, the legend of the vampire Count Dracula was born. Thanks, Vlad.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

(Wikimedia Commons)

7. Queen Mary I (aka Bloody Mary)

Reign: 1553-1558

Religious wars and persecution were always a thing, but Queen Mary I took it to the next level. She was the only child of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and a devout Catholic. When Mary I became Queen of England, she wanted to share her beliefs with all of England. By share, I mean mandate. She married Philip II of Spain, who was also Catholic, and began a campaign of murdering hundreds of Protestants. Hanging sounds almost gentle compared to her methods; she had them all burned at the stake.

8. Vladimir Lenin

Reign: 1917-1924

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, always had rebellious political views. He was outspoken about his communist views and pushed for socialism to replace capitalism. In 1917 after the Russian Tsar was overthrown and a provisional government was put in place, Lenin saw his chance. That October, he led a revolution of his own and took power. He redistributed land throughout the country and withdrew from WWI, but it all went downhill from there. His approach to his opponents was merciless, killing thousands in concentration camps and disregarding the famine and poverty his people endured.

According to the BBC, “During this period of revolution, war and famine, Lenin demonstrated a chilling disregard for the sufferings of his fellow countrymen and mercilessly crushed any opposition.”

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

(Wikimedia Commons)

9. Joseph Stalin

Reign: 1922-1953

Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin, wasn’t any less aggressive. Stalin was a highly significant figure during the early-mid 20th century, but his methods have been condemned for obvious reasons. First, his Five-Year plans contributed to wide-spread famine. Then, he began “The Great Purge”, to rid Russia of the so-called enemies of the working class. Over a million people were imprisoned, with over 700,000 executed. He was also responsible for mass repressions, deportations, and ethnic cleansing. Some people today, especially in Russia, still believe that some of his political views have merit.

10. Benito Mussolini

Reign: 1922-1943

Benito Mussolini, like many members of this list, didn’t grow up in the most peaceful environment. He had always been an outspoken political activist, but when he was wounded in WWI, he gathered other disillusioned war vets into violent groups known as the Blackshirts. This was the beginning of fascism, an extreme-right totalitarian party. He began dismantling Italy’s democratic government piece by piece until he had complete power.

By 1936, he had become an ally of Hitler, bringing anti-Semitism to Italy. Despite surviving many assassination attempts, he was eventually caught and executed alongside his mistress and hung upside down from the roof of a gas station in Milan.

11. Adolf Hitler

Reign: 1933-1945

The infamous Adolf Hitler wormed his way into power as the chancellor of Germany in 1933. and then as Führer just a year later. He was largely responsible for WWII after he invaded Poland in 1939, and was the primary instigator of the Holocaust. Within two years, Hitler’s Third Reich empire included most European countries. He proceeded to order the systematic destruction of any people who did not match his vision of an “ideal master race”, throwing Jews, Slavs, and anyone else he considered socially undesirable into concentration camps.

There, his followers conducted mass genocide on his orders, killing over 19 million. That’s not including the millions of soldiers and civilians who died in WWII. He’s likely responsible for the greatest amount of human loss and destruction orchestrated by a single man in all of history.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

(Wikimedia Commons)

12. Mao Zedong

Reign: 1949-1976

Mao Zedong was an influential communist leader of China who ruled with an iron fist. He was known for his political intellect and strategies and he made some positive changes, like modernizing China and improving education, health care, and women’s rights. Unfortunately, his regime was also totalitarian and repressive. He ordered the destruction of many religious and cultural artifacts, took control of all industry and agriculture, and snuffed out any opposition like a candle. His harsh policies encouraged forced labor and led to the death of over 40 million people through starvation and mass executions.

13. Idi Amin

Reign: 1971-1979

General Idi Amin overthrew Uganda’s government in a military coup, instating himself as the new “president.” Almost overnight, he became known for his cruelty. Known as the “Butcher of Uganda,” his rule was exceptionally immoral and murderous. During his eight years in power, he massively mismanaged the economy, persecuted multiple ethnic groups, drove Uganda’s Asian population out of the country, and killed with reckless abandon. Somewhere between 100,000-500,000 people were killed by his command.


MIGHTY HISTORY

That time two legendary heroes went to the South Pole

I’m sure that after going on incredible journeys to far-out places, like Mount Everest or the Moon, that everyday life would seem a little… meh. Which is probably why, in 1985, the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, and the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, agreed to go to the North Pole.


The idea for the ultimate guys’ trip was the brainchild of professional explorer, Mike Dunn, who wanted to enlist the greatest explorers of the time to go to the North Pole. Dunn was known to be outgoing, so no one thought twice about him calling up famous astronauts and mountaineers saying, “wanna go to the North Pole?”

The adventurous group also included Steve Fossett, the first man to fly a balloon around the world, and Patrick Morrow, the first person to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. Sir Edmund’s son, Peter Hillary, who himself forged a new route to the South Pole among other feats, was there, too.

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Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay after their first summit of Mount Everest.

The explorers ran into few issues as they puddle-hopped their way up north with the help of Canadian bush pilots, and, on April 6, 1985, they touched down at the North Pole. Safely sitting at True North, they popped a bottle of champagne — which immediately froze, but that did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits. In particular, Edmund Hillary, who had just become the first person to stand at both poles (he went to the South Pole in 1958) as well as the summit of Everest.

Related: This is what it takes to walk on the moon

The trek south, was a different story, however. White-out blizzard conditions and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stranded the group for three days in a Quonset hut on Ellesmere Island (approximately 700 miles from the pole). Luckily, this was a group that definitely had great stories to tell around a fire.

Peter Hillary said it was ”thrilling” and ”incredible” to hear the stories, but the most exciting stuff came from Armstrong, who was famously shy and intensely private. He didn’t open up easily to his new friends, but the two weeks out in the wilderness had forged a bond, and he soon took part in philosophical discussions about the nature of exploration and shared mind-blowing stories about his time in space.

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Neil Armstrong in his natural habitat.

Patrick Morrow later recalled that Armstrong read aloud the account of Salomon Andree of his attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897:

Is it not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea, to be the first to have floated here in a hydrogen-filled balloon? How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors? Shall we be thought mad, or will our example be followed? I cannot deny but that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death, having known what we have done is not the whole, perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man within the ranks, forgotten by the coming generations? Is this ambition?

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Sir Edmund Hillary (second from left) with Neil Armstrong (far right) at the North Pole (Image via The Sydney Morning Herald)

Morrow said that the quote was an “eerie coda” for this adventure, but what better way to cap off what was the ultimate man’s-man getaway?

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Kilted Killer’ forced a surrender while outnumbered 23,000 to one

Tommy Macpherson was known to his enemies as the “Kilted Killer.” The Scotsman fought with the British 11 Commando during World War II, roaming the countryside with French Resistance fighters and causing so much havoc and damage that the Nazis put a 300,000 Franc bounty on his head.

No one ever collected.


Especially not any Nazis.

Imperial War Museum

For a guy with a huge bounty on his head, you’d have never known it to look at Macpherson. He dressed in the same tartan kilt he would have worn back home in Edinburgh as he did killing Nazis in Operation Jedburgh. But just getting to Europe for the operation was a slog of its own. Macpherson was captured during a raid on Erwin Rommel’s headquarters near Tobruk in 1941. He spent years making no fewer than seven escape attempts from POW camps across Italy, Germany, and occupied Poland. He was finally successful in 1943, escaping to England via Sweden. He immediately rejoined his commando unit, just in time for Operation Jedburgh.

The Jedburgh operators were going to parachute into occupied Europe and embark on a stream of sabotage and guerrilla attacks against the Nazi occupiers. Macpherson, knowing he would have to use the full force of his personality to take command of the resistance fighters, the Maquis, he chose to wear a full highland battle dress, including his Cameron tartan kilt. It worked.

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Hell yeah it did.

(Imperial War Museum)

Macpherson and his squad immediately began cutting a path of destruction across The Netherlands, destroying bridges and killing or capturing any German troops and officers who came through that path. It was said that Macpherson and company managed to successfully conduct some kind of operation every day he was deployed in Western Europe. But his crowning achievement came in France in the days following the D-Day invasions, stopping the Das Reich Panzer Division in its tracks.

Coming from the Eastern Front, this SS Panzer division was particularly brutal. When Macpherson saw them for the first time, he saw at least 15,000 men and 200 tanks and other armored vehicles that he had to knock out of the war before they pushed the Allies back into the sea.

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Russland, Appell der SS-Division “Das Reich”

(German War Archives)

Using plastic explosives, grenades dangling from trees, and one anti-tank mine, the British commando, and his Maquis unit managed to slow the Panzers down to a crawl. They chopped down trees at night, used hit and run attacks with their sten guns, and placed booby traps everywhere, anything they could to keep the Panzers away from the Allied landing for as long as possible. The effort worked, and it took the SS two weeks to cover what should have taken three days.

His biggest achievement came without firing a shot, however. He had to keep another Panzer division, some 23,000 men strong, from taking a vital bridge in the Loire Valley. He somehow managed a parlay with the opposing commander, meeting the command deep inside German-held territory. He told the Germans he could call on the RAF to destroy his entire column – which he couldn’t do.

“My job was to convince the general that I had a brigade, tanks and artillery waiting on the other side of the river,” Macpherson later said. “In truth, the only thing I could whistle up was Dixie, but he had no way of knowing that.”

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Macpherson was just 23 years old negotiating the surrender of a Panzer division.

The German looked at the young man in full highland battle dress and offered his surrender on the condition they could carry sidearms until they were met by the U.S. 83rd Infantry. Macpherson agreed, almost singlehandedly knocking an entire tank division out of the war, securing the Loire Bridgehead. He survived the war and continued his service in the British military. He died in 2014.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Israeli pilots saw the Six-Day War

Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.


On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.

You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.

During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on airfields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.

 

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An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.

The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.

You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.

The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.


Feature image: Screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why everything about history’s most infamous assassination was dumb

The dark and mysterious Black Hand gives weapons and aid to a small group of revolutionaries. One of these men — with two shots — kills two people to set off the powder keg that forever changed the world. This is history-book speak about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. To be fair, the gravity of the aftermath is immense. However, everything from the preparation, the target, the assassin, the attempts, the killing, and the initial response of Austria-Hungary was very stupid.


The Preparation

Captain Dragutin Dimitrijevic, also known as Apis (after a sacred bull worshiped in Ancient Egypt), led the secret military society known as the Black Hand. Years prior, the group had organized the May Coup in Serbia in an attempt to unify the ethnic Serbian territories free from the other Balkan states.  Within years, they had become the most feared terrorist organization in the region.

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Apis of the Black Hand. (Photo via Wikimedia)

Apis greenlit the operation to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He gave the mission to a smaller group within the organization, Young Bosnia. He did this without the sanction of the full Executive Committee and then left for Sarajevo to meet all the conspirators.

When they arrived, they sat around for about a month. This was because they couldn’t get the weapons, explosives, suicide pills, or funds. They scraped together six grenades and four FN Model 1910 pistols. They would use what little ammunition they had to practice with…in the middle of a city park.

The Target

The first target was Oskar Poiorek, the governor of Bosnia. They scrapped this because of the lack of weapons. (Spoiler alert: Poiorek would ride in the same car as Ferdinand that fateful day and would make it out unharmed.) So they turned their attention to Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

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The Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo moments before their assassination. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

He was not popular as a political leader. He was extremely prejudice against Hungarians, viewed Slavs as “less than human,” and called Serbs “pigs.” Yet, he felt that autonomy for the Czechs in Bohemia and the southern Slavic peoples in Croatia and Bosnia would strengthen the empire.

He had goals of turning the Bipartite state of Austria-Hungary into a tripartite state to include the union of the Slavic peoples. Franz Ferdinand was also absolutely against any confrontation with Russia and helped maintain peace between the two nations.

The Assassins

Coordinated by Danilo Ilic, the group Young Bosnia consisted of ten members who thought they were ready. None of them had formal training and they all had faulty gear — if they even had gear. The leader constantly bickered with Apis of the Black Hand.

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Group Photo of Young Bosnia. Most would die by execution or in prison. But not the guy in the top right. That is Ivo Andric. He would later win a Nobel Prize for Literature. (Photo via LSE Blog)

Young Bosnia largely consisted of young men with diseases who weren’t afraid to die. They were all ready and willing to die during their missions, or even  take cyanide pills to prevent capture and execution. Too bad the pills were expired…

The Attempts

On Sunday, June 28th 1914, the Archduke and his wife died by an assassin’s bullet. But the events that lead up to Princip pulling the trigger were ridiculous.

First, Ferdinand’s car overheated. He said, “Our journey starts with an extremely promising omen. Here our car burns and down there they will throw bombs at us.” Which they did.

Assassins lined the bridges the Archduke was sure to cross. The first attempt on the his life was by Nedeljko Cabrinovic. He threw a grenade at the vehicle as it toured the city for their wedding anniversary. The grenade had a ten second delay, causing it to roll off the hood and explode under another car wounding bystanders, but not the royal couple.

Cabrinovic took one of the cyanide pills and jumped into the river below to ensure his death. The pill expired the month before and only got him sick. Also, the river was only about 4 inches deep.

He was immediately detained by police.

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Arrest of Nedeljko Cabrinovic (Photo via Smithsonian)

 

Franz Ferdinand was to leave Sarajevo but changed that plan in order to visit the people wounded by the first attempt. General Potiorek urged that if they were to go, they should take a different route to arrive safely. No one told the driver, so they went down the same route that the assassins were still on.

Gavrilo Princip, who left his post to grab a sandwich, noticed the vehicle with the Archduke of Austria and the Duchess of Hohenberg.

And it stopped.

Five feet away from where Princip was eating.

He pulled out his pistol and took two shots. One hitting Franz Ferdinand in the jugular. The second shot, intended for General Potiorek, hit Sophie in the abdomen. They both died shortly after.

The Fallout

Princip attempted suicide, but he, too, had an expired cyanide pill. He then tried to shoot himself, but police wrestled the pistol from him before he could do it.

Both Princip and Cabrinovic refused to speak, but Ilic, the leader, cracked. Ilic told authorities everything about the operation and gave up everyone else involved. Both men active in the assassination were too young to die by execution according to Habsberg law. Instead, they did from tuberculosis while in prison.

They feared Princip’s bones would become relics of Slavic nationalists, so they buried him in an unmarked grave. A Czech soldier assigned to his burial gave the location away, and the remains were then placed beneath a Sarajevo chapel “to commemorate for eternity our Serb Heroes” in Sarajevo.

 

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An actor reenacting the assassination in front of Princip’s statue in Sarajevo unveiled on the 100th anniversary. So as you can tell, not making him a martyr totally worked… (Photo via Baltimore Sun)

The nation honored the one man who called for peace with Russia by launching a chain of events that started the first World War.

To learn more about the assassination and World War I, check out the series “The Great War,” which details week by week the events of the first World War as it occurred one hundred years later.

(YouTube, The Great War)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the most decorated woman in military history

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


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

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

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

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

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force jet landed itself after the pilot ejected

In early 1970, Air Force Maj. Gary Foust took off in his Convair F-106 Delta Dart — nicknamed “Cornfield Bomber” — for a flight exercise with two fellow pilots, Majs. Jim Lowe, and Tom Curtis.


Flying north of Boston, Foust was at about 40,000 feet with Curtis, serving as his opponent positioned at a lower altitude ready to engage.

Related: These are the jets that the last man to walk the moon flew

After the pair met, they maneuvered into a vertical scissor, followed by other aerial dogfight maneuvers when things took a turn for the worse as Foust found himself in a left-hand turn flat spin.

For several moments, Foust remained in the deadly spin as he attempted to recover using his training and emergency procedures but was unsuccessful in pulling out of the dive. Lowe instructed his wingman to eject which he did 8,000 feet above the ground.

After the ejection, the Delta Dart nose dived recovering itself from the flat spin and landed a few miles away in a wheat field next to a small town named Big Sandy. The jet skidded a few hundred yards in 6 inches of snow while in idle until running out of fuel as Foust parachuted to the ground safely.

With no major structural damage, the aircraft was transported to McClellan Air Force Base to receive repairs and returned to service. Nine years after the incident, Foust was reassigned to pilot the “Cornfield Bomber” once again.

The Convair F-106 Delta Dart now calls the United States Air Force National Museum home.

Also Read: Air Force announces first 30 enlisted drone pilots

Check out the video from Armed Forces Update to see the amazing story unfold.

(Armed Forces Update, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating beginning of the term ‘grunt’

Major H.G. Duncan of the United States Marine Corps once defined a grunt as, “a term of affection used to denote that filthy, sweaty, dirt-encrusted, footsore, camouflage-painted, tired, sleepy, beautiful little son of a b*tch who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years.”


While this is true, we often think of the term as being synonymous with infantryman — you know, the guy who kicks in the doors and blows things up — but the fact of the matter is that terms like this and ‘POG’ have relatively unknown origins. If you were to ask a service member about these terms, the response is typically a definition, not a history lesson.

 

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
This is a grunt. He’s tired of your whining. (image via Reddit)

Related: The fascinating beginning of the term ‘POG’

Some say the term started in Vietnam when POGs needed their own term to describe the dirty, smelly infantrymen who made fun of the troops who sat in air-conditioned buildings all day instead of getting stuck in the jungle. Legend has it that the first POG to use the term was making a reference to the same term as used in the early 1900s to describe those who performed the less desirable jobs, which were typically physically demanding but not mentally stimulating. In this story, the first grunt to hear the term was unfamiliar with its history and instead took it as a compliment.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
Let’s be real, grunts do the things you’d rather lie about doing when you go home.

But, much like the term ‘POG,’ ‘grunt’ can also be thought of as an acronym. This origin story takes us back to the second World War when infantry united sustained extremely high casualty rates, forcing troops from rear-echelon units (often referred to as rear-echelon motherf*ckers or REMF) forward they were quickly trained, often in-theatre, to be foot soldiers. These troops were categorized as “General Replacement Unit, Not Trained,” or GRUNT.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm
Some of these REMFs hadn’t even shot an M1 rifle before. (Image via Pinterest)

Also read: 6 ways for a POG to be accepted by grunts

Whichever piece of history you find to be more believable, the fact remains that infantry soldiers and Marines really do a lot of grunt work. These days, you might find infantrymen who have spent just as much time with a mop or broom than with their own rifles. Being just as accustomed to the smell of Pine-Sol as spent brass.

No matter the case, infantrymen tend to see their nickname as a compliment — unlike those uptight POGs.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the WWI ‘Harlem Hell Fighters’

It’s African-American History Month and a fitting time to recall the black soldiers of the New York National Guard’s 15th Infantry Regiment, who never got a parade when they left for World War I in 1917.

There were New York City parades for the Guardsmen of the 27th Division and the 42nd Division and the draftee soldiers of the 77th Division.


But when the commander of the 15th Infantry asked to march with the 42nd — nicknamed the Rainbow Division — he was reportedly told that “black is not a color of the rainbow” as part of the no.

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Children wait to cheer the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment as they parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home. More than 2,000 Soldiers took part in the parade up Fifth Avenue. The Soldiers marched seven miles from downtown Manhattan to Harlem.

(National Archives)

But on Feb. 17, 1919, when those 2,900 soldiers came home as the “Harlem Hell Fighters” of the 369th Infantry Regiment, New York City residents, both white and black, packed the streets as they paraded up Fifth Avenue.

“Fifth Avenue Cheers Negro Veterans,” said the headline in the New York Times.

“Men of 369th back from fields of valor acclaimed by thousands. Fine show of discipline. Harlem mad with joy over the return of its own. ‘Black Death hailed as conquering hero'” headlines announced, descending the newspaper column, in the style of the day.

“Hayward leads heroic 369th in triumphal march,” the New York Sun wrote.

“Throngs pay tribute to the Heroic 15th,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.

“Theirs is the finest of records,” the New York Tribune wrote in its coverage of the parade. “The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Under fire for 191 days they never lost a prisoner or a foot of ground.”

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Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

For that day, the soldiers the French had nicknamed “Men of Bronze” were finally heroes in their hometown.

In the early 20th Century, black Americans could not join the New York National Guard. While there were African-American regiments in the Army there were none in the New York National Guard.

In 1916, New York Gov. Charles S. Whitman authorized the creation of the 15th New York Infantry to be manned by African-Americans — with white officers — and headquartered in Harlem where 50,000 of the 60,000 black residents of Manhattan lived in 1910.

When the New York National Guard went to war in 1917, so did the 15th New York. But when the unit showed up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to train, the soldiers met discrimination at every turn.

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New York City residents cram the sidewalks, roofs, and fire escape to see the Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

To get his men out of South Carolina, Col. William Hayward, the commander, pushed for his unit to go to France as soon as possible. So in December 1917, well before most American soldiers, the men from Harlem arrived in France.

At first they served unloading supply ships.

But the French Army needed soldiers and the U.S. Army was ambivalent about black troops. So the 15th New York, now renamed the 369th Infantry, was sent to fight under French command, solving a problem for both armies.

In March 1918, the 369th was in combat. And while the American commander, Gen. John J. Pershing, restricted press reports on soldiers and units under his command, the French Army did not.

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Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

When Pvt. Henry Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts won the French Croix de Guerre for fighting off a German patrol it was big news in the United States. A country hungry for war news and American heroes discovered the 369th.

The 369th was in combat for 191 days; never losing a position, never losing a man as a prisoner, and only failing once to gain an objective. Their unit band, led by famed bandleader James Europe, became famous across France for playing jazz music.

When the 369th arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on Feb. 10, 1919, the New York City Mayor’s Committee of Welcome to the Homecoming Troops began planning the party.

On Monday, Feb. 17, the soldiers traveled by ferry from Long Island and landed at East 34th Street.

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Sgt. Henry Johnson waves to well-wishers during the 369th Infantry Regiment march up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

They marched up Fifth Avenue and passed a reviewing stand that included Gov. Al Smith and Mayor John Hylan at Sixtieth Street. The official parade route would cover more than seven miles from 23rd Street to 145th Street and Lennox Avenue in Harlem.

“The negro soldiers were astonished at the hundreds of thousands who turned out to see them and New Yorkers, in their turn, were mightily impressed by the magnificent appearance of these fighting men,” the New York times reported.

“Swinging up the avenue, keeping a step spring with the swagger of men proud of themselves and their organization, their rows of bayonets glancing in the sun, dull-painted steel basins on their heads, they made a spectacle that might justify pity for the Germans and explain why the boches gave them the title of the “Blutdurstig schwartze manner” or “Bloodthirsty Black men,” the Times reporter wrote.

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Wounded Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment are driven up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

Lt. James Reese Europe marched with his band, the New York Tribune noted, while Sgt. Henry Johnson, who had killed four Germans and chased away 24 others, rode in a car because he had a “silver plate in his foot as a relic of that memorable occasion.”

“He stood up in the car and clutched a great bouquet of lilies an admirer had handed him,” the Tribune wrote about Johnson. “Waving this offering in one hand and his overseas hat in the other, the ebony hero’s way up Fifth Avenue was a veritable triumph.”

“Shouts of ‘Oh you Henry Johnson’ and ‘Oh you Black Death,’ resounded every few feet for seven long miles followed by condolences for the Kaiser’s men,” the New York Times reported.

Along the route of the march soldiers were tossed candy and cigarettes and flowers, the newspapers noted. Millionaire Henry Frick stood on the steps of his Fifth Avenue mansion and waved an American flag and cheered as the men marched past.

When the 369th turned off Fifth Avenue onto Lennox Avenue for the march into Harlem the welcome grew even louder, the New York Sun reported.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment parade up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

“There were roars of welcome that made all the music of the day shrink into itself,” the Sun reporter wrote. And although the 369th Band had 100 musicians nobody could hear the music above the crowd noise, the reporter added.

People crammed themselves onto the sidewalk and into the windows of the buildings along the route to see their soldiers come home.

“Thousands and thousands of rattlesnakes, the emblem of the 369th, each snake coiled, ready to strike, appeared everywhere, in buttonholes, in shop windows and on banners carried by the crowd,” the New York Times reported.

“By the time the men reached 135th Street they were decorated with flowers like brides, husky black doughboys plunking along with bouquets under their arms and grins on their faces that one could see to read by,” the Sun reported.

At 145th Street the parade came to its end and families went looking for their soldiers.

“The fathers and mothers and wives and sweethearts of the men would no longer be denied and they swooped through police lines like water through a sieve,” the Sun wrote.

“The soldiers were too well trained to break ranks but when a mother spied her son and threw her arms around his neck with joy at getting him back again, he just hugged her off her feet,” the paper wrote.

How the Marines ripped through the Iraqis in Operation Desert Storm

The color guard of the 369th Infantry Regiment parades up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Feb. 17, 1919, during a parade held to welcome the New York National Guard unit home.

(National Archives)

With the parade over, the men were guided into subway cars and headed to the Park Avenue Amory, home of the 71st Regiment, for a chicken dinner and more socializing. The regimental band, which had begun playing at 6 a.m. and performed all day, finally got a break during the dinner and the men lay down to rest.

The New York Times noted that the band boasted five kettle drums presented to the unit by the French Army “as a mark of esteem.” They also had a drum captured from a German unit that had been “driven back so rapidly that they lost interest in bulky impedimentia.”

The New York Times estimated that 10,000 people waited outside the armory and “all the spaces about the Armory were packed with negro women and girls.” The soldiers inside ate quickly and came back out to find their families.

“I saw the allied parade in Paris and thought that was about the biggest thing that had ever happened, but this had it stopped,” Lt. James Reese Europe, the band’s commander, told the New York Sun reporter as the party ran down.

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