This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

The officers of the USS Liberty were sunbathing on the decks of their ship on June 8, 1967, just outside of Egypt’s territorial waters. Not too far away, Egypt was in the middle of the Six Day War with the Israelis, who would occupy the Sinai Peninsula by the war’s end.


The peaceful day aboard the intelligence-gathering ship was destroyed when Israeli Mirage and Mystere jets tore through the air – and dropped ordnance that ripped through the Liberty’s hull.

 

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
McGonagle shows the damaged Liberty in June 1967 (U.S. Navy photo)

Commander William McGonagle was severely wounded as the Israelis fired rockets, dropped napalm on the bridge, and then strafed his ship. He still managed to call his crew to quarters and take command of the Liberty from the bridge. The ship was on fire, men were dead and wounded, and McGonagle himself was burned by napalm and losing blood.

The Liberty was not a warship but a lightly-armed, converted freighter — a holdover from World War II. Her mission was to collect signals intelligence and radio intercepts on the war between the Arabs and Israelis but not to get involved in the fighting or violate Egyptian sovereignty.

With his ship still in range of the U.S. 6th Fleet, Cmdr. McGonagle radioed the USS Saratoga, which sent 12 fighters to assist. Those fighters were recalled on orders from Washington. The Israeli fighters eventually let up and disappeared on their own. But that wasn’t the end of the attack. When they were gone, three Israeli torpedo boats opened up on the American ship and blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
The hole in USS Liberty’s hull from an Israeli torpedo. (U.S. Navy photo)

The armaments on the USS Liberty were totally outmatched. The ship was carrying only four .50-caliber machine guns, a far cry from the Egyptian ship Israelis claim shelled the coastline that morning. The Liberty was a sitting duck.

Of the ship’s 294 men, 34 were killed in the attack and 171 were wounded.

With his ship burning and flooded, McGonagle directed the maneuvering of his ship for 17 hours while critically wounded. He refused medical treatment until he was convinced more critically wounded members of his crew were treated. He didn’t give up command until the Liberty encountered a U.S. destroyer.

For his gallantry and determination, McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

Israel maintained that its attack on the Liberty was a mistake, that the planes were looking for an Egyptian ship, the El Quseir. Some find this troublesome, considering the El Quseir was a very different size than the Liberty and had a very different profile. Still, The IDF’s own inquiry says the Israeli Chief of Naval Operation did not know the Liberty was in the area. The captains of the torpedo boats maintained that closer identification was impossible because the Liberty was “enveloped in smoke.”

McGonagle’s official account of the incident corroborates the Israeli account, but the crew of the Liberty aren’t so certain. A 2002 BBC Documentary includes interviews with the Liberty’s crew, Israeli officials, and even Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time.

“I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation,” then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk said of the Liberty Incident “Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or some trigger-happy local commander. … I didn’t believe them then, and I don’t believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous.”

There are numerous conspiracy theory-related sites, some even run by Liberty crewmembers, that call into question some of the actions of the Israeli forces and of the orders from Washington. Some of these theories include:

• The Liberty was attacked to keep the U.S. from knowing about Israel’s upcoming attack on Syria.

• Trying to draw the U.S. into a greater anti-Arab war.

• Hiding Israeli war crimes (alleged massacres of Egyptian POWs).

• Israelis using unmarked aircraft.

• Torpedo boats machine gunning life rafts.

• Jamming radio signals meant that Israel knew the frequency the ships would be on– and thus knew they were American.

Official accounts (including from McGonagle) maintain that the Israeli torpedo ships halted mid-attack and offered assistance once the identity of Liberty was ascertained. The Americans politely declined.

Though Israel has apologized for the incident and paid reparations to the sailors’ families, many among the crew of the Liberty believe the U.S. still downplays the attack on their ship to kowtow to their longtime ally.

Articles

This insane cavalry charge inspired Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper”

“Forward, the Light Brigade! ‘Charge for the guns!’ he said: Into the valley of Death. Rode the six hundred.”

This was part of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem about how much of a cluster f*** the Battle of Balaclava truly ended up being. It is also the subject of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper.”


The song directly states, “And as I lay forgotten and alone. Without a tear I draw my parting groan,” as a tribute to unnamed troops who were killed that day. In the many years that have since passed, letters have been discovered of first hand testimony of the ill-fated battle.

From 1853-1856, French, British, and Ottoman forces fought against the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. Conflict began after the Russians occupied Ottoman territory in modern day Romania. Within this war, the most infamous battle was at Balaclava where “The Charge of the Light Brigade” took place.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
(Photo via Wikimedia)

Under the command of Maj. General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, the light cavalry brigade consisted of roughly 670 men. Lord Raglan, the Commander of the British forces, intended to prevent Russian troops from maintaining their guns on Ottoman positions.

 

Related: The story of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ makes your officers look pretty smart

There are many historical discrepancies on who ordered the actual charge, but the fact remains: the cavalrymen charged directly into enemy cannons, killing roughly a sixth of brigade and another sixth wounded, totaling 271 casualties.

It was later discovered that the Russians numbered 5,240 strong.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Officer of the 17th Lancers (Painting via Cranston Fine Arts)

An unknown officer of the 17th Lancers wrote in a recently discovered letter, “We all knew the thing was desperate before we started, and it was even worse than we thought. However there was no hesitation, down our fellows went at a gallop — through a fire in front and on both flanks, which emptied our saddles and knocked over our horses by scores. I do not think that one man flinched in the whole Brigade — though every one allows that so hot a fire was hardly ever seen.”

The loyalty of the British cavalry became well respected. The London Gazette wrote of the charge weeks after. While the commanders became despised, the troops were revered for their courage in the face of certain death.

Private Pearson of the 4th Light Dragoons wrote to his parents, “I shall never forget the 25th of October — shells, bullets, cannonballs, and swords kept flying around us. Dear Mother, every time I think of my poor comrades it makes my blood run cold, to think how we had to gallop over the poor wounded fellows lying on the field of battle, with anxious looks for assistance — what a sickening scene!”

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
(Photo by Roger Fenton via Wikimedia)

Roger Fenton is regarded as one of the first war photographers and was present at the charge. Fenton refused to photograph dead or wounded as to not upset Victorian Era sensibilities, but he did capture troops and many moments after.

This photo that J. Paul Getty Museum called “one of the most well-known images of war” shows the aftermath of cannonballs that littered the landscape. The photograph titled “Valley of the Shadow of Death” has been on exhibition with the over 300 other images of the Crimean War

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
(Photo by Roger Fenton via Library of Congress)

Today, the Light Brigade is remembered in the song “The Trooper.” Bruce Dickinson frequently on tour wears the British “red coat” smock as he waves a war-torn Union Jack. There has never been a more appropriate time to form a wall of death in the mosh pit.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
(Photo via Wikimedia)

Check out Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” here, in all its glory:

MIGHTY HISTORY

Virginia is in a fight with Minnesota over this piece of history

No matter how you feel about the Confederate States of America or the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, it’s undeniable that relics from the Civil War belong in a museum.

But which one?


This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

A face that screams “wanna fight about it?”

In 1863, a Pvt. Marshall Sherman from the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment captured a Confederate battle flag from the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa. His bravery that day earned him not only the keepsake of his heroics, but also the Medal of Honor.

“We just rushed in like wild beasts. Men swore and cursed and struggled and fought, grappled in hand-to-hand fight, threw stones, clubbed their muskets, kicked, yelled, and hurrahed,” said Minnesota soldier William Harmon, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The flag, no longer on public display, resides at the Minnesota Historical Center in St. Paul. And Virginia wants it back.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

“Come get it. Sincerely, the 1st Minnesota Infantry”

The 1st Minnesota wasn’t only at Gettysburg, though the unit took a beating there. They were also at First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Seven Pines, and First and Second Fredericksburg, just to name a few. It was at Gettysburg that the 1st was ordered to charge a Confederate position where they would be outnumbered by at least five to one to keep a faltering Union line together. They suffered 82 percent casualty rate but still helped hold off Pickett’s Charge the next day.

The Regiment has their own monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield today.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

And Minnesota has a war trophy.

For a century, Virginia has tried to get it back, through any means necessary. They tried asking nicely. The answer was no. They tried an act of Congress. Minnesota said no. Even after a Presidential order, Minnesota declined. In 1998, 2000, 2003, and in 2015, the answer remained the same. When Virginia demanded the piece of their heritage back, then-Governor Jesse Ventura replied that it was now Minnesota’s heritage.

Check out the story from Minnesota’s Historical Society.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 4 most poorly named military weapons

Some military vehicles are given names that accurately reflect what they do and how well they do it. Others, however, are not so fortunate — they’re given military monikers that simply don’t fit.

The following tools of war were either given names so lofty that it makes a mockery of their actual performance or a name so low-class that it’s a disgrace to the weapon.


This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

At Midway, the Devastator got devastated by Mitsubishi A6M “Zeke” fighters.

(U.S. Navy)

Douglas TBD Devastator

This plane’s name would have you thinking it’s something that can deliver a huge amount of firepower, sufficient enough to destroy whatever ship lays in its path. Unfortunately, this was far from the reality of the Douglas TBD Devastator.

At the Battle of Midway, a total of 41 Devastators attacked the Japanese carriers. Torpedo Squadron Eight, based on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8) and accounted for 15 of those Devastators — all of which were wiped out. In total, only six Devastators survived. ‘Devastated’ is a much more fitting title.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

The KC-97 Stratofreighter was really an aerial refueling tanker, as seen in action with these A-7 Corsairs.

(USAF)

Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter

This plane found quite a bit of success in its lifetime: 811 were built by the United States and it saw plenty of peacetime work. It was introduced in 1951 and stuck around until 1978 with the Air National Guard. So, what makes ‘Stratofreighter’ such a poor name choice?

This plane wasn’t a transport — it was a tanker. This plane refueled the bombers and fighters who took the fight to the enemy. Really, this plane should have been called the ‘Stratotanker’ (a name later used by the KC-135) because there’s no ‘freighter’ involved.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

The only things mauled by the MIM-46 Mauler were the reputations of those who thought it was a good idea.

(U.S. Army)

MIM-46 Mauler

This missile was intended, as the name implies, to maul enemy planes that approached on close-air support missions. Well, as it turns out, the only mauling the missile did was in theory. In reality, it suffered from all sorts of problems, ranging from failing launch canisters to malfunctioning guidance systems.

Ultimately, the Army instead turned to the MIM-72 Chaparral and Navy went with the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow. The MIM-46 was test fired in 1961 and, by 1965, the Mauler mauled no more.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

This was what the M247 Sergeant York was supposed to be. Reality was very different.

(U.S. Army)

M247 Sergeant York

Sergeant Alvin York was known for his marksmanship, earning the Medal of Honor for heroic acts performed during World War I. The M247 Sergeant York, conversely, was anything but a marksman. When it came time to test this vehicle, which was equipped with a pair of 40mm cannon and the radar of the F-16, it couldn’t even hit a hovering drone. The radar simply couldn’t track anything.

Surely, Sergeant York rolled in his grave over sharing a name with this lemon.

What weapons do you think have unfortunate names? Let us know in the comments!

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 wildest conspiracy theories about Osama Bin Laden’s death

In a daring, well-documented nighttime raid, 23 Navy SEALs landed in an al-Qaida compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They were there to kill or capture the world’s most wanted man. The entire operation lasted only 40 minutes and ended with the death of Osama bin Laden.

Or did it? That’s what the deep state, reptile aliens or any number of conspiracy theory boogeymen would want you to believe, sheeple. The truth is out there.


Imagine instead believing that the bin Laden raid wasn’t a result of years of research, intelligence work and training. Since there were no photos released to the public, some believe the government isn’t telling the whole truth about the “alleged” death of bin Laden in 2011.

The U.S. government’s reluctance to release the photos of his body and the immediate burial at sea didn’t help quash these theories, either.

You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find alternate theories about bin Laden’s death. And if this author is mysteriously killed in the coming weeks, you can be sure one of these is true. Definitely.

Osama bin Laden died in December 2001

Some say the world’s most wanted terrorist was suffering from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic mutation that affects the proteins keeping the body’s tissue together. bin Laden, according to former State Department official Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, looked like a textbook case of the disorder. His tall frame, long limbs and long face all displayed classic symptoms.

The disease affects one in about 5,000 people and can cause sudden death and there is no definitive DNA test for it. Instead, doctors begin with judging the outward appearance of a suspected “Marfanoid” person — someone thin and often lanky, sometimes with spidery fingers and curved spines. Pieczenik claimed CIA doctors had treated OBL for Marfan, and the al-Qaida leader died just months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Other claims say he died at the same time, but of renal failure, not Marfan Syndrome.

He didn’t die — he got a vacation.

Like all great conspiracy theories, this one is fact mixed with a healthy dose of fiction — but the facts make it just believable enough to catch on. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA flew Soviet-built weapons from Saudi Arabia to the Afghan Mujahideen during Operation Cyclone.

The conspiracy theory alleges that bin Laden became a CIA asset at this time. The CIA, partnering with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, worked to build the mythos surrounding Osama bin Laden, so that fanatical terrorists would come to Afghanistan. Funded through the heroin trade, tacitly permitted by Pakistan, the CIA created a means to fight Islamic fundamentalism in one place.

The raid that killed bin Laden the terrorist was allegedly a means to let bin Laden the CIA asset retire. This is a theory backed by the Iranian regime.

Pakistan Captured bin Laden in 2006

This one comes from legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh alleges that Pakistan’s ISI captured the terrorist in 2006 and used him as leverage to operate in Afghanistan. The ISI then sold bin Laden to the U.S., but forced them to stage the raid that killed him.

According to Hersh, when Navy SEALs arrived in Abbottabad, they were met by an ISI officer who casually walked them to bin Laden’s bedroom. The SEALs then riddled him with bullets, tore his body apart, and dispersed them throughout the Hindu Kush, just because.

Hersh’s sources for this story are both dubious and anonymous.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

Pictured: No Arabs. Definitely no Arabs here.

Bin Laden Didn’t Even Live In Abbottabad

In the London Telegraph, Abbottabad resident Bashir Qureshi dismissed the idea that bin Laden and his family lived in the area. Though the raid blew out the windows on his house, he still dismissed the idea, saying “Nobody believes it. We’ve never seen any Arabs around here, he was not here.”

The Pakistani press didn’t help. Newspapers in the country allege the raid was set up so U.S. forces would have an excuse to enter Pakistan. Former ISI officials seconded that idea in Western media, noting that someone was killed and removed by the U.S. forces during the raid, but it wasn’t bin Laden. The real bin Laden was already dead, they said, and the U.S. knew it … they just didn’t know where he died.

The U.S. Captured bin Laden Well Before 2011

Another theory promoted by the Iranian regime says that the U.S. captured and held bin Laden for years before finally killing him. Fearful that forcing the world’s most wanted terrorist to face trial in the U.S. could result in a hung jury or worse, an acquittal, the United States decided to execute him and stage his death as an elaborate raid.

This theory alleges that killing Osama bin Laden was a stunt by the Obama Administration in order to secure an election victory — even though the presidential election was more than a year away at the time.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

Science!

Bin Laden Was Literally Kept on Ice

In keeping with the “bin Laden was already dead, the United States just confirmed it” line of thinking, this theory states that the United States had either captured bin Laden after the raid on Tora Bora or that he died of renal failure well before 2011. The U.S. then allegedly froze his body in liquid nitrogen to wait for an expedient time to announce the “victory.”

The expedient times listed by proponents of this conspiracy include not clashing with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and knocking an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” off the air so President Obama could thumb his nose at Donald Trump.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

This is why West Point graduates have big shoes to fill

The United States Military Academy (also known as West Point, the Point, the Academy or the Long Gray Line) was founded in March 1802 by Thomas Jefferson. The university, located in West Point, New York, is one of the top educational institutions in the United States. Being selected to study at West Point is very difficult, with only 10 percent of applicants admitted each year.

The high standard of education offered has resulted in a number of very successful alumni. Although it is an institution that produced many brilliant military careers, the achievements of its graduates are not limited to the battlefield. Military, business, politics, sciences or downright groundbreaking achievements, over the years, the West point alumni have brought honor to the Academy in many fields. Some of them have even shaped the future of the United States and played an important role on the international stage. Whatever their field, the West Point graduates carry the motto of their school with them: Duty, Honor, Country.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin L.E. Bonneville

Class of 1815. Fearless explorer who ventured into the uncharted American West, mapping the Yellowstone, Green, Salmon, and Snake rivers, as well as the Great Salt Lake. The Bonneville Salt Flats, now used to establish speed records on land, is named after him.

Jefferson Davis

Class of 1828. Successful politician, member of Congress, Senator from Mississippi, Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857. He went on to become the President of the Confederate States of America.

Robert E. Lee

Class of 1829. General in Chief of the Confederate forces during the Civil War, he became the president of the Washington & Lee University after the war.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
This painting depicts Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant on the field during the Battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, May 5-7, 1864. (U.S. Army)

Ulysses S. Grant

Class of 1843. General in Chief of the Armies of the United States of America during the Civil War, he went on to become the President of the United States from 1869 to 1877.

John J. Pershing

Class of 1886. Nicknamed “Black Jack,” he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during WWI and became General of the Armies in 1919. His tactics were often criticized for their high cost of lives, but he achieved several important military victories.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
U.S. Army

Douglas MacArthur

Class of 1903. Supreme Commander of the Pacific from 1941 to 1945, Supreme Commander of the UN Forces in Korea from 1950 to 1951. He received a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Bataan.

George S. Patton, Jr

Class of 1909. Member of the U.S. Olympic team of 1912 (Pentathlon), he became a commander of the forces in the European Theater during WWII. Known for his bold tactics, he butted heads with his superiors a few times, but he achieved some great victories against the Nazis.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
U.S. Army

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Class of 1915. Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe from 1943 to the victory in 1945, reaching the 5-star general rank and organizing Operation Overlord. He went on to become President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.

Robert F. McDermott

Class of 1943. A fighter pilot during WWII, he achieved the rank of brigadier general before having a successful business career, where he became Chairman of USAA.

Fidel V. Ramos

Class of 1950. An international cadet, he became an officer in the Phillipino Army, then served in the Philippino government, before becoming President of the Republic of the Philippines from 1992 to 1998.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
NASA

Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin

Class of 1951. Astronaut from 1963 to 1972, he became the second man to ever walk on the Moon in July 1969.

Edward White II

Class of 1952. Astronaut from 1962 to 1967, he became the first American to do a spacewalk. He died tragically in 1967, during the Apollo spacecraft fire.

James V. Kimsey

Class of 1962. Served two tours in Vietnam as a Ranger. He co-founded and headed AOL as Chairman until 1995 and created the Kimsey Foundation upon retirement.

Marshall Larsen

Class of 1970. He became COO of the Goodrich Aerospace Corporation, CEO and chairman of Ithaco Space Systems, Inc, and chairman of the Aerospace Industries Association.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Wikimedia Commons

Robert Alan McDonald

Class of 1975. Politician and businessman, he became the eighth Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the United States and went on to become CEO of Proctor & Gamble.

Alex Gorsky

Class of 1982. After graduation, he became an Army Ranger, where he reached the rank of Captain. He successfully transitioned into a business career, where he became CEO of Johnson & Johnson.


Feature image: U.S. Army photo

MIGHTY HISTORY

How World War II pilots briefed missions is similar to today

Just before the climax of Top Gun — during which Iceman, Maverick, and their comrades have to provide cover for a rescue mission — there’s a moment where the hard-driven CAG (played by James Tolkan) lays out the situation. Despite some Hollywood liberties, the commander’s briefing is somewhat grounded in reality — but the real thing is much more complex.

When the Navy or Air Force sends planes to hit a target, it’s not as simple as just grabbing some bombs, loading ’em up, and going to blow up the target. No, executing a flawless, effective air strike takes planning.


You see, you’re not just planning a route and target for the strike planes. You’re actually putting together a package to deal with the enemy target and anything protecting it and, throughout the process, you need to make sure your assets remain safe. So, that means sending proper escorts, too. If you want to know what happens when strike planes go in without proper escorts… well, Torpedo Squadron 8 is what happens.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

An operations airman helps Indian Air Force pilots complete a mission brief prior to a scheduled sortie. Briefings make sure everyone is on the same page.

(USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Cassandra Whitman)

For instance, let’s say there’s a bridge you want gone. This hypothetical bridge is defended by a couple of ZSU-23 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and a battery of S-60 anti-aircraft guns. A battery of SA-11 Gadfly missiles are in the area as well. And, for good measure, let’s say there are MiG-29 Fulcrums patrolling in the area, too.

To take out said bridge, you might send four F-15E Strike Eagles equipped with GBU-24 laser-guided bombs. Next, you’ll want to handle the local air defenses. Sending a pair of F-16C Fighting Falcons armed with AGM-88 HARMs should counter the SA-11s and two more, armed with cluster bombs, can deal with the anti-aircraft guns. Add in an EA-18G Growler to jam the radars and a couple of F-22 Raptors to “redistribute” some MiG parts, should the patrol come near.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

Even crews of cargo planes brief their missions. No mission too small for a thorough briefing.

(USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Cody H. Ramirez)

But before they take to the skies, all the pilots need to know what their part in the mission is, what they will be facing, and who will deal with what. So, in an actual briefing, the crews in the package will (if they’re at the same base) meet up and go over the threats and the assignments.

During World War II, the process was very similar. The crews going out would assemble, be briefed on the threats, and have a plan to deal with each target and any escorts. Watch the video below to see one such briefing and get a glimpse into how American pilots planned their combat missions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WP-86Sz-3g

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 Holocaust survivors who served with distinction in the US military

The United Nations General Assembly has designated Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day honors the memories of the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of others whose lives were impacted during the Holocaust. International Holocaust Remembrance Day also provides educational programs to prevent future genocides.

Many who survived the atrocities of the Holocaust persevered despite the trauma they endured, and several even served with distinction in the US military. Here are three of their stories.

SIDNEY SHACHNOW, ARMY SPECIAL FORCES

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Sidney Shachnow, front row center, was posthumously honored in 2019 with the Bull Simons Award — given to those who embody “the true spirit, values, and skills of a Special Operations warrior.” Photo courtesy of arsof-history.org.

Sidney Shachnow compartmentalized the horrors he experienced while imprisoned in a Jewish ghetto during World War II. He authored a book in 2004 called Hope and Honor: A Memoir of a Soldier’s Courage and Survival. It was within these pages he broke his code of silence. “I found it painful and I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me,” he wrote in the preface.

Born Schaja Shachnowski in 1934 in Kaunas, Lithuania, Shachnow’s entire family and 40,000 of the Jewish population of Kaunas lived in a fenced-off ghetto called Concentration Camp No. 4, Kovno.

“There was no infrastructure, no water pipes, no sewage system, and no access to running water,” Shachnow wrote. “Not only the brutality of the Gestapo, but the threat of disease was an ever-present terror to the population.” He and his family lived in constant fear for three years before the Soviets reoccupied Lithuania.

He survived the Holocaust and went on to have a historic career in the US Army. “I have been involved or played a part in some of the most significant times in history from the beginning of Special Forces, the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive, to the fall of the Berlin Wall while living in the former home of the Treasurer of the Third Reich as Commander of US Forces,” he wrote. “The irony of circumstance has always been exceptional in my life, from being enemies with the Germans, friends with the Soviets as they rescued me and my family from Kovno, and later enemies of the Russians during the Cold War and protecting West Germany.”

When he became a US citizen in 1958, he changed his name to Sidney Shachnow. He went to Vietnam both as a Green Beret and as an infantry officer and was twice awarded the Silver Star for actions in combat, as well as two Purple Hearts. He later served as the commander of Detachment A, a covert Army Special Forces unit based in Berlin that conducted some of the most sensitive operations of the Cold War from 1956 to 1984. He retired from the US Army as a major general in 1994 with almost 40 years of active-duty military service. Shachnow died in 2018.

JACK TAYLOR, OSS MARITIME UNIT

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Lt. Jack Taylor, right, earned the Navy Cross through his service with the OSS Maritime Unit during World War II. Photo courtesy of The OSS Society.

Lt. Jack Taylor was a US Navy sailor recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II. He served with the OSS Maritime Unit — one of the several predecessors of Navy SEALs — and had 18 months of operational experience in the Balkans. In October 1944 he became the first Allied officer to drop into Austria. After a mission to infiltrate Vienna and set up a resistance network code-named Operation Dupont went sideways, Taylor was captured by the Gestapo.

He was held in a Vienna prison for four months. When the Russians neared Vienna, he was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp — a horrible place in Germany where people were sent to be exterminated. 

The US Army’s 11th Armored Division liberated the camp on May 3, 1945. Taylor later spoke about his experiences in front of a film crew from within the camp. One of the liberators asked how many ways people in the camp were executed, and Taylor answered honestly. “Five or six ways: by gas; by shooting; by beating, beating with clubs; by exposure, that is standing outside naked for 48 hours and having cold water thrown on them in the middle of winter; dogs; and pushing over a 100-foot cliff.”

Taylor’s path differed from the others on this list as he was already serving his country before he was imprisoned. He recovered 13 “death books” kept by prisoners who acted as camp secretaries at Mauthausen. These recorded the “official” deaths, but unbeknownst to their German captors, the records had a secret code to mark deaths by lethal injection and by the gas chamber. This evidence was later presented during the Nuremberg Trials and was called “some of the best war crimes evidence” produced.

In May 1946, Taylor was called as a star witness for the prosecution at the Mauthausen-Gusen Camp Trials held at the Dachau concentration camp. He was later awarded the Navy Cross for his service during World War II and suffered from severe post-traumatic stress in his life as a civilian.

TIBOR RUBIN, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT AND POW

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Tibor Rubin survived the Holocaust only to face more bigotry in the US Army while serving in the Korean War. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor four times and helped save 35 to 40 lives as a prisoner of war. Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Tibor Rubin was only 13 years old when he was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. “When we get into the camp the German commander said right away, ‘You Jews, none of you are going to get out alive,’” Rubin remembered. “It was a terrible life. Their aim was to kill you. Nothing to look forward, just when am I going to be next.”

His turn never came. The US Army liberated the camp. He was separated from his family but alive. Rubin later discovered his parents and sister were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. He vowed to one day become like one of the liberators who saved his life.

“I have a debt to pay,” he said. “So I made a promise. If Lord help me if I ever go to America, I’m gonna become a GI Joe.”

He became more than an average soldier. He joined the US Army and deployed to Korea in 1950. Alone on a hilltop at 4 a.m. Rubin single-handedly repelled a force of more than 100 enemy troops during a 24-hour gun battle. “I figured I was a goner,” Rubin later recalled. “But I ran from one foxhole to the next, throwing hand grenades so the North Koreans would think they were fighting more than one person. I couldn’t think straight — a situation, like that, you become hysterical trying to save your life.”

He was recommended for the Medal of Honor but was denied due to discrimination against his Jewish heritage by senior leadership. One of them, a sergeant, even sent Rubin on one-way suicide missions expecting him not to make it back alive — but he always did.

On the night before Halloween, Rubin’s position was overrun by Chinese forces and he became a prisoner of war. While in the camp he would sneak out at night and steal food from the guards. He made soup for the sick, acted as a doctor for his wounded friends, and was a therapist for those who had given up hope. 

From April 20 to May 3, 1953, the Chinese forces conducted a POW exchange of the sick and wounded. He was personally responsible for saving the lives of 35 to 40 soldiers who otherwise would have succumbed to their injuries. When Rubin returned to the US he devoted 20,000 hours to helping veterans in Long Beach, California. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded Rubin the Medal of Honor, which he’d been recommended for on four separate occasions.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here is why the Redcoats were coming to Lexington and Concord

Just about everyone knows about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. It was from this stage that “the shot heard `round the world” echoed out and it was here that Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride. But do you know why the British were coming to Lexington and Concord? The answer to that question may surprise you.


In 1775, tensions between British forces and the colonists in Massachusetts were on the rise. Disputes over taxation without representation and payment for tea destroyed in 1773’s Boston Tea Party had led colonists to begin stockpiling weapons. The British figured that by capturing some of the colonists’ leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock among them, they could put the potential insurgency down.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

The Minute Man, a statue by Daniel Chester French erected in 1875 in Concord, Massachusetts, depicts a common member of the militia.

(National Park Service photo)

The troops also had another set of orders, though: confiscate colonial arms and disarm the insurgents. Prior to Lexington and Concord, General Thomas Gage’s troops had carried out at least one similar operation, seizing over 250 half-barrels of gunpowder. That didn’t go over well with the colonists, who protested the seizure.

In quick response, colonists developed intelligence networks to warn of future raids. As a result, many disarming efforts were thwarted because arms and supplies were hidden ahead of time. However, in April, 1775, Gage discovered the location of a major supply depot for the colonists in Concord, Massachusetts. Gage ordered about 700 troops to raid this stash.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack

After a brief skirmish on Lexington Green, British troops arrived in Concord. There, things went badly for them.

(Amos Doolittle and Ralph Earl)

The rest, as you know, is history. After the Battle of Lexington, where a small detachment of colonial militiamen were brushed aside by the British, and a somewhat successful operation in Concord (some cannons were disabled), British troops exchanged fire with colonists at the North Bridge in Concord. That sparked a running battle, during which the militia used guerrilla tactics to inflict serious casualties on the British.

Afterwards, the British were bottled up in Boston by colonists. It was the start of a long war that, eventually, resulted in the United States of America becoming an independent nation. A war that was started by an attempt to disarm the American colonists.

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How these armies beat their foe with a prostitute, palm trees and plague bodies

Siege warfare is a military tactic in which an enemy army surrounds a castle or fortress and attempts to break in either by physical force or by starving the inhabitants into submission. In other words, it is a nasty ordeal for all involved and it often sports some diabolical tactics.


Here are three sieges from ancient history that show just how nasty things can get.

1. Battle of Jericho (late 17th or 16th centuries BCE)

The siege of Jericho is a well-known story. The Israelites marched around the walls seven times and on the seventh circuit they stopped, the Levites blew into their shofars and the next thing you know the walls came tumbling down, end of story. However, there is an alternative history that wrings more true.

The Israelite commander named Joshua used psychological terror and stealth to bring down the walls of Jericho. In other words, before Joshua mustered his forces on the days preceding the Jericho battle, he sent two men to scout out the area and the city of Jericho like any good commander would.

Once the men were in the city, they went straight to the inn. An inn is a perfect place for a pair of strangers seeking information. The men got lucky when a prostitute by name of Rahab approached them and gave them all the details about the city’s security. Afterward, both spies swore to Rahab that she and her family would be spared so long as she left a scarlet cord hanging from her window.

Once the spies returned with the goodies, Joshua assembled his forces and deployed to Jericho, where they would march around the city for seven days. There are two reasons for this. First was to terrorize the city’s inhabitants with this bizarre rounding of the city day after day.

Second, was to keep the guards along the wall occupied by watching the army. While this goes on, a number of men would break rank undetected and head to Rahab’s window and climb up the scarlet cord. This would go on for six days. After the seventh day came, the Israelite army stopped, the shofars sounded and the men shouted.

This was a signal for the uncertain amount of men staying in Rahab’s apartment to attack the city from the inside by taking the main gate and opening it for the Israelites to storm in. Once the Israelites were in, the slaughter begins.

Every man, woman, child — and even livestock — were put to the sword, except for Rahab and her family.

2. The Siege of Baghdad (1258)

In 1258, the massive Mongol army along with many foreign nations under the authority of Prince Hulegu, surrounded the city of Baghdad after conquering much of Iran and northern Iraq. Once the Mongols settled into camp, the destruction began.

 

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
That’ll teach you to negotiate with a Mongol. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The total size of Hulegu’s army was roughly between 100,000-150,000 men, probably closer 120,000 total.

On jan. 30, 1258, the Hulegu gave the order to commence the bombardment of the city walls. But there was a problem. The Mongol siege crews had no rocks. The siege train carrying the needed stones was three days journey away.

While the Mongols look for suitable projectiles to throw at the city walls, Hulegu ordered his Mongol archers to fire arrows over the walls with messages attached saying the city’s residents would be treated with kindness if they surrender.

While Hulegu sought to end this siege peacefully, Mongol engineers came up empty handed in the catapult rock search. However, not all was lost. Mongol engineers stripped foundation stones from the buildings in the suburbs and uprooted palm trees to use as hasty projectiles, battering the walls of Baghdad (James Chambers, The Devil’s Horsemen, 145).

The Caliph quickly sent ambassadors to negotiate peace but Hulegu would not hear the plea and detained them. Hulegu’s message was clear, surrender was not enough; it must be unconditional surrender.

While the Caliph continued to send envoys to Hulegu, the Mongols continued to bombard the walls — focusing on the Ajami tower, which was reduced to rubble by Feb. 1. The Mongols would finally break into the city the next day and seized a portion of the eastern wall. However, the battle was far from over and the negotiations continued for another four days. On the 6 February, the bombardment was over but the Mongols remained on the wall until the Caliph surrendered. Hulegu sent another message, this one to the armies of Baghdad. The message told them to lay down their arms and leave their posts.

Seeing the situation was unwinnable by use of arms, the Caliph’s advisors advised him to flee. But one man by the name of Ibn Alqami proposed that the best way to end this was for the Caliph to go before Hulegu. Hulegu’s terms to the Caliph were simple: turn over his daughter so that he could marry her and recognize Hulegu as the supreme authority.

If accepted, Hulegu would end the siege. The Caliph agreed and his forces marched out thinking they were going to retire to Syria. However, the forces were killed and later the Caliph and his sons were put to death. As for Baghdad, well, the hounds of hell were let loose.

The Armenian historian, Kirakos of Gandzak, wrote about the destruction stating:

Hulegu then ordered the troops guarding the walls to descend and kill the inhabitants of the city, great and small. (The Mongols) organized as though harvesting a field and cut down countless, numberless multitudes of men, women, and children. For forty days they did not stop. Then they grew weary and stopped killing. Their hands grew tired; they took others for sale. They destroyed mercilessly.

However, Hulegu’s wife, the senior Khantun (lady), named Doquz Khatun was a Christian. She spared the Christians of Baghdad, Nestorians and other denominations and beseeched her husband not to kill them. And he spared them with their goods and property.

Hulegu ordered all his soldiers to take the goods and property of the city. They all loaded up with gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, and costly garments, for it was an extremely rich city, unequalled on earth.

Hulegu himself took his share the caliph’s treasures—three thousand camel loads; and there was no counting the horses, mules and asses.

So how many people died? That answer is disputed. But it has been suggested that as many as 2 million may have been killed in the Mongol destruction. However, this does not take into account the many more that were slaughtered throughout the Near East during Hulegu’s military expedition.

3. “Bring out your Dead!” The Siege of Kaffa (1346)

While this is a not ranking list, the Siege of Kaffa probably wins hands down for the suckiest siege. The reason is that Kaffa is ground zero for the worst plague to date to ever fall upon mankind. However, I understand the plague started elsewhere, but for Europe, Kaffa is the main source. So how did it happen?

 

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Throwing plague-infected corpses over the walls of Kaffa might have been the opening salvo in a regional pandemic. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1346, Mongols besieged the Genoese city of Kaffa located on the Black Sea. Before this siege, the Mongols and Genoese made an agreement in 1266 that the city would serve as a trading center between Europe and the Far East. However, the city would be taken over by the Mongols later on only to be given back. This seesaw agreement tradeoff would go on for some time.

The final straw came in 1343 when Christian locals and Muslims in the enclave of Tana inflamed. In turn, the Christians fled to Kaffa to escape the wrath of Khan Janibeg. Janibeg sent his army after them and found them hiding in the city. So what better option than to besiege the city.

In 1344, the Genoese were successful in breaking the siege by killing 15,000 of the Khan’s men and destroying their siege engines. The Khan would come back and try again in 1346, but as the Mongol besieged the city, a mysterious illness began to circulate the encampment. The Mongols, seeing their men fall ill and die, decided to use the bodies as a weapon. According to the notary Gabriel de Mussis:

The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults (trebuchets) and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside. What seemed like mountains of dead were thrown into the city, and the Christians could not hide or flee or escape from them, although they dumped as many of the bodies as they could in the sea. And soon the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover, one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.

Eventually, the city would surrender in 1349. But the damage had been done, and some of the Genoese took to their ships heading back for the ports in Italy. Unfortunately, some on board of those ships were infected with the bubonic plague. Gabriel de Mussis mentions this, stating:

…As it happened, among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others went to Venice and to other Christian areas. When the sailors reached these places and mixed with the people there, it was as if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, every place was poisoned by the contagious pestilence, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly.

Overall, the Siege of Kaffa could be the deadliest siege ever. The outcome of the siege and the bubonic plague affected much of the world, particularly Europe, since Asia was already contaminated.

While it is possible that had the siege at Kaffa not taken place, the plague may not have infected Europe, or it may have come much later. But given that the siege did happen, it may have unwittingly resulted in the deaths of 50 million people out of a population of 80 million in Europe from 1346-1353.

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These 4 WWII planes were armed with literal tank cannons

The idea of using planes to destroy tanks is not a new one. Although the concept has been perfected with modern aircraft like the popular A-10 Warthog, tank-killing planes flew not long after the invention of both vehicles. In WWII, tank and plane technology advanced rapidly. As tanks became more survivable with thicker armor, planes began carrying heavier and heavier ordnance to kill them. Eventually, armies decided that the best way to kill a tank and other ground targets with a plane was with a tank cannon. Here are four of those planes. Note that planes armed with flak guns like the German BK 3,7 3.7cm gun are not included.

1. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk XVIII — QF 6-pounder (57mm)

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
A Mosquito Mk XVIII armed with a 57mm cannon under its nose. Note the centerline blister used to accommodate the cannon’s autoloader (Imperial War Museum)

The DH Mosquito was one of the most capable planes of WWII. Famously made mostly of wood, the Mosquito was used as a fighter, bomber, pathfinder, and reconnaissance aircraft. It was said that the only problem with the Mosquito is that the RAF never had enough of them. The Mk XVIII fighter-bomber variant was armed with an autoloading quickfire 57mm anti-tank gun, the same gun used on the Churchill and Crusader tanks. It was designed to attack U-boats and other German ships. Despite the Air Ministry’s doubts over arming the Mosquito with a tank gun, the variant proved to be very effective. On March 10, 1944, Mk XVIIIs from 248 Squadron engaged a German convoy of one U-boat and four destroyers protected by 10 Ju 88 Schnellbombers. Though the U-boat was only damaged, three Ju 88s were shot down. Pilot Tony Phillips shot down one Ju 88 with four 57mm shells, one of which tore off the German’s engine. The Mk XVIII went on to sink at least a dozen German U-boats and surface ships. It was so successful that the British toyed with the idea of mounting a 96mm QF 32-pounder to a Mosquito.

2. Junkers Ju 88 P-1 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Check out the size of that gun (Bundesarchiv)

Like the Mosquito, the Ju 88 was an extremely versatile WWII aircraft. It was used as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and even a flying bomb at the end of the war. In 1942, Germany began experimenting with the idea of mounting the deadly 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Ju 88. Testing was successful and resulted in 40 Ju 88 P-1 variants armed with modified PaK 40s. However, the aircraft proved to be slow and vulnerable on the battlefield because of the gun’s weight. The concept was further developed with the P-2 and P-3 variants. These used the lighter BK 3,7 3.7cm autocannons developed from the 3.7cm Flak 18. Along with the 50mm autocannon-equipped P-4 variant, the higher velocity of the small-caliber guns proved deadly against Soviet armor on the Eastern Front.

3. Henschel Hs 129 B-3 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
The BK 7,5 looks even bigger on the smaller Hs 129 compared to the Ju 88 (Bundesarchiv)

Following the successful integration of the BK 7,5 on the Ju 88, the gun was further modified and mounted on the Hs 129. As a dedicated ground-attack aircraft, the Hs 129 was a more appropriate choice to carry the gun. It was also equipped with a new hydraulic-dampening system and an aerodynamic muzzle brake. Attacking from above, it was theoretically capable of destroying any tank in the world at the time. Still, the 7.5cm’s heavy weight made the plane difficult to fly. Although only 25 units were delivered to frontline squadrons before production was halted, the aircraft proved highly effective against Soviet armor.

4. North American B-25G/H/PBJ-1H Mitchell — T13E1 75mm cannon

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
The B-25H was armed with four .50 cals in the nose, two on its left cheek, two on its right cheek, and a nose-mounted 75mm tank cannon (U.S. Air Force)

Like the British, the U.S. needed a heavy-hitting aircraft for anti-ship operations. The answer came in the form of a tank cannon on a bomber. Like an early AC-130, the B-25 Mitchell of Doolittle Raid fame was experimentally fitted with the 75mm M4 cannon. Modified from the M3 cannon found on the M4 Sherman tank, it was the largest weapon carried on an American bomber at the time. Modified from a B-25C, the experimental XB-25G proved the flying tank gun concept and led to the development of the B-25G and later H variants. The lighter T13E1 75mm cannon was adapted from the M4 and was loaded by the plane’s navigator. After being signaled that the gun was loaded, the pilot could fire it with a button on his control wheel. An average of four rounds could be fired on a strafing run. The Marine Corps also adopted the 75mm B-25 as the PBJ-1, standing for Patrol (P) Bomber (B) built by North American Aviation (J), not “peanut butter and jelly.” One of the most heavily armed aircraft in the world, it could attack targets with eight forward-firing .50- caliber machine guns, eight 5″ rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs and its 75mm tank cannon.


Feature image: U.S. Air Force

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This is why cancer isn’t the toughest fight John McCain has faced

The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.


However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.

His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.

McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).

Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
YouTube: We Are The Mighty

The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.

It’s not his first go-round with “the big C,” either. McCain fought a battle with malignant melanoma in 2000.

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
McCain in Vietnam (Library of Congress photo)

As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

These days, action movie actor Steven Seagal is best friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and trains Serbia’s Special Forces police in hand-to-hand combat. But when his movie career was at its peak, the tough guy image might have been just a front.

There’s no doubt that Seagal has the skills to back up his action movie street cred – at least, the martial arts parts of his persona. He is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and spent his early adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan before making it big on the silver screen. 

Though the actor is known for good career decisions in the martial arts world, he’s not really known for making good career decisions in Hollywood. 

One of Seagal’s biggest producers, Julius R. Nasso, helped create a string of action film hits in the early 1990s that kept Seagal’s star shining bright. After Seagal’s 1992 film “Under Siege,” which takes place aboard the famed USS Missouri, Seagal was the go-to action movie actor. But it was his relationship with Nasso that would slowly bring down his career.

Nasso produced six of the aikido expert’s most popular films, including “Marked for Death,” “Fire Down Below,” and the sequel to “Under Siege,” “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.” But soon the relationship soured and Nasso claimed that Seagal broke a $60 million deal for four more films. What happened next is something out of one of Seagal’s action films.

The producer was connected to one of New York’s five mafia families, and called on a Gambino family associate to help straighten out the action movie star. Seagal had no idea the mob was out for justice until mobsters forced him into a car in Brooklyn in 2001. 

The actor claimed that wiseguys took him to a well-known mob restaurant and threatened him. Seagal didn’t break any arms or throw people through windows, as one might expect from his movies. Instead, he handed over at least $700,000.  

During an investigation into mob activities on New York’s waterfront involving Peter Gotti, brother to mafia boss John Gotti and by then the boss of the Gambino family, investigators were able to corroborate Seagal’s claims. On federal wiretaps, the FBI heard mob enforcers joking about shaking down Seagal and making references to his movies. 

Nasso denied the claims that he was a Gambino family associate, telling reporters that all he wanted was the $500,000 that Seagal owed him after reneging on the contract deal. 

This sailor earned the Medal of Honor for saving his crew from an Israeli attack
An old chart of the Gambino family hierarchy from the 1990s. (Image courtesy of Gunnar Sigurður Zoega Guðmundsson, Flickr)

But the FBI reports and wiretaps say otherwise. The mafiosi involved with Seagal’s kidnapping were some of the Gambino family’s most notorious capos and street soldiers, including Richard Bondi, Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, and Primo Cassarino. 

The actor knew he was on deadly ground when Cassarino and Ciccone accompanied Nasso on a visit to the actor’s Los Angeles home. The actor eventually paid Nasso and the mafiosi and the money was never traced to whomever actually received it. 

Rather than hunt down and kill the Gambino capos and underboss in revenge for the shakedown – something one of his action movie characters would certainly do – Seagal went to authorities, who used the FBI wiretaps to force a guilty plea from Nasso.

In 2003, the former action movie producer was sentenced on extortion and conspiracy charges. He spent a year in prison and was forced to pay a $75,000 fine. Seagal went on to make a series of direct-to-video action movies, averaging about two per year since 2003, along with training foreign special operators and becoming a Russian citizen.

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