Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

Charles Norman Shay was just a young private in the 1st Infantry Division when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. He was in the first wave, landing some time around 6:30 while the German defenses were still untouched, firing artillery and machine guns into the open holds of boats as American troops attempted to land.


Charles Shay – Returning to the Beaches of Normandy 74 Years Later
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Shay was relatively lucky, landing in chest-deep water and finding small obstacles to take cover behind as he made his way to the sands. Still, that meant he had to move forward with minimal cover as German rounds and shells rained down. On the most hotly contested beaches of Normandy, entire companies were cut down before firing a shot.

Shay and the other medics on the beaches had the option of sticking to cover or trying to survive in the water, floating with just their nostrils exposed to minimize the chance that German machine guns found them.

Shay, instead, started transiting into and out of the water, grabbing wounded and drowning men and pulling them to shore where he and others could render aid. This was an extremely hazardous move. While unarmed medics rendering aid are technically protected by the Geneva Convention, another medic on the beach organized a similar effort and many of the soldiers who helped him were gunned down for their efforts.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Charles Norman Shay, a Penobscot tribal elder and World War II veteran, sits in the audience prior to a ceremony in his honor at the Charles Shay Memorial, Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, June 5. Shay earned a Silver Star for heroic actions as a combat medic during the initial wave of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944. He served with the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. (Sgt. Michael C. Roach, 19th Public Affairs Detachment)

The young medic would later receive America’s Silver Star and France’s Légion d’Honneur for his valor in Europe in World War II.

Today, Shay is a 90-something year old tribal elder of the Penobscot Tribe in Maine. There’s a memorial park on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach named for him that honors the sacrifices of American Indians who landed at Normandy.

The Allies landed 156,000 troops on D-Day across five beachheads. It was the fulfillment of a promise to the Soviet Union to open a new front against Germany as Soviet forces fought on the opposite side of Europe. Less than a year after D-Day, as the armies landed at Normandy crunched onward toward Berlin, Hitler killed himself in a bunker and German leaders sued for peace, ending the war in Europe.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This future Medal of Honor recipient started a spy ring while held in a Hanoi prison

Two sonic booms told the American prisoners in Vietnam’s infamous Hoa Lo prison – the Hanoi Hilton – their escape plan was a ‘go.’


On May 2 and 4, 1972, two SR-71 Blackbirds overflew Hanoi, North Vietnam at noon. The first plane broke the sound barrier, causing an ear-splitting sonic boom over the city. Fifteen seconds later, the other Blackbird did the same thing.

 

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
The SR-71 Blackbird in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Prisoners at Hoa Lo developed a code-tapping language to communicate with each other. Capt. James Stockdale, who was the senior ranking officer at the prison, taught many incoming POWs this code. It kept the men sane and their spirits up.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

Communicating with Washington was trickier. Three months into his captivity, Stockdale was allowed to write to his wife, Sybil. Two months later, he was allowed to write again. When she received the letters, she found them confusing. Nicknames and references to their mutual friends were wrong.

Sybil gave the letters to Naval Intelligence in San Diego who figured out he was using doublespeak – deliberately misleading language –to let his superiors know he was not being treated well in North Vietnam. With her cooperation, the CIA and Office of Naval Intelligence decided to use her correspondence back to her husband as a way to communicate with the prisoners.

Her first letter included a Polaroid of her with a secret message sandwiched between the sheets of photographic paper. It explained the process of using invisible ink to send messages to the CIA. He listed the other POWs with him and detailed the abuses inflicted on American prisoners there.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Stockdale climbing out of an F-8 before his capture (Photo by Stockdale Center)

The new communication policy allowed the prisoners and the CIA to trade a wealth of information, so much so that the prisoners were actually able to assemble a small shortwave radio, which was eventually discovered during an inspection).

In 1969, two prisoners, Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Edwin Atterberry, escaped from the prison at Cu Loc but were recaptured the next day. Massive reprisals from their captors followed, and thus the prisoners’ leadership determined the retribution was too much and escape attempts should only be made with a “high likelihood of success and assurance of outside assistance.” That’s when they came up with the Red River plan.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Stockdale in captivity (DoD photo)

Members of the escaping POW group sent their plan to the U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird approved the plan in January 1972. By May, everything was in place. The sonic booms were a go.

Despite a few setbacks, members of SEAL Team One and Underwater Demolition Team Eleven used SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDV – mini-submarines) and HH-3A helicopters to patrol the coastline throughout May and June looking for escaped POWs. They never found any.

As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale forbid any escape attempts. He judged the plan too risky and the threat of reprisals too harsh. (Prisoners were often killed during these reprisals). The would-be escapees were frustrated by the policy, but they obeyed.

Article III of the Code of Conduct for prisoners does say American POWs should make every effort to escape captivity. Article IV, however, prohibits any action that would cause harm to other captured personnel. So Thunderhead was terminated.

The POWs would communicate with Washington throughout the war. Eventually, another radio was smuggled in, which gave POWs a direct line from the camp to the U.S. Seventh Fleet commanders aboard ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
American POWs held in Vietnam being returned to U.S. military control at Gia Lam airfield, Hanoi. In foreground facing camera is USAF Capt. Robert Parsels. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In January 1973, 591 POWs were repatriated back to the United States. For his leadership among the prisoners and work to galvanize the resistance to their captors, Stockdale received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Marines were once saved by candy from the sky

Over the course of 17 days, Marines fighting at North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War put out a call for “Tootsie Rolls,” their code for 60mm mortar rounds. When supplies were finally airdropped to them on the ground, they opened the crates to find… candy. Thousands of actual Tootsie Rolls.


 

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

The Marines were surrounded and outnumbered by Chinese and North Korean troops as much as 10-to-1. Temperatures fell as low as 30 to 40 degrees below zero; Jeep batteries cracked, weapons wouldn’t cycle, and foul weather inhibited resupply missions. You might imagine how pissed off the Marines were to find candy where their mortar rounds should have been… and you’d be wrong.

Since the bitter cold also froze the Marines’ C-rations, Tootsie Rolls became an easy source of calories. The small chocolates were also easy to warm up and reform, so the Marines would use them to plug bullet holes in Jeeps, barrels, and other materials. The candies would quickly freeze solid again, and the materiel was ready for use.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

The Tootsie Rolls absolutely reinvigorated the 1st Marine Division. Marines are known for their ability to “make do” and the Tootsie Roll airdrop was no exception. Chairman Mao ordered the complete annihilation of the Marines at Chosin, but like Popeye the Sailor and his spinach, United States Marines fueled by small candies wiped the frozen Siberian tundra with 120,000 Chinese Communists.

To this day, when the Chosin Few have reunions, the Tootsie Roll Company sends boxes to them, wherever they are.  See the full story below.

NOW: “Anyone trying to kill me, I’m going to kill them”

OR: 39 Awesome photos of life in the Marine Corps infantry

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch award-winning actor Bryan Cranston narrate the D-Day landings

“The only way they could capture the beach was to blast the Germans out of each pillbox… and that’s what they did,” wrote Jay Kay, a U.S. Navy ensign who piloted a landing craft filled with American troops during the D-Day invasions of June 6, 1944. Ensign Kay survived the war and would move to Florida to become a dentist in the postwar years, leading an ordinary life for a man who did an extraordinary thing.


Kay was just one of thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops who did their job assaulting Hitler’s vaunted Fortress Europe and then wrote home about it. Now, thanks to AARP and the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, we have a chance to watch the memories of Kay and others come alive with the help of award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.

AARP has taken original 35mm film footage of D-Day, from preparation to landing and beyond, and digitized it to full-quality 4K footage. This captivating imagery was then skillfully edited and narrated by the Emmy-award winning actor, whose credits include the acclaimed shows Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, as well as the Broadway hit Network and many, many film credits.

In three vignettes created by AARP, Cranston reads the words written by American troops, officer and enlisted alike, who supported the landings at Normandy that day. From the sea, he reads the words of Ens. Jay Kay, who piloted landing craft. From the air, the words come from Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, who was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Unit Citation after the war. On the ground, the words are from PFC. Dominick “Dom” Bart, part of the first wave of Operation Overlord.

The three videos recount the feelings shared by the men who jumped into occupied France, who drove other men onto the beaches through mine-filled waters, and the men who risked everything on those beaches to free the millions of Europeans who lived and died under the Nazi jackboot.

At times, they are equally hopeful and heartbreaking, a recollection of a rollercoaster of horrors and anticipation felt by those who fight wars. They are filled with the memories of young men who are encountering war and death, often for the first time, in a trial by fire that took them through one of history’s most extraordinary events, a battle that signaled the beginning of the end for one of the world’s most sinister monsters.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This how the Army introduced the plastic explosive in the 1960s

Today, plastic explosives are a given. But 50 years ago, they were the latest in demolition technology. One of the most notable, of course, is C4.


Officially, it is called the M118 demolition charge, and was called Flex-X back then. Prior to the introduction of Flex-X, explosives had to be secured to what the engineers wanted to blow up.

C4, though, was more like Play-Doh or used chewing gum in that it could be stuck to whatever needs to go away.

 

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Composition C-4 demolition charges await use as explosive ordnance disposal technicians conduct demolition operations supervisor training. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger)

The explosive had some other advantages as well. It could be used underwater, which means that divers could plant it on a pier without having to surface and risk being seen.

The explosive was also very insensitive. The video below shows troops dropping a weight on the Flex-X to no effect. It wouldn’t even go off when shot by multiple rounds from a M14 service rifle or when tossed into a campfire.

It also took much less time to set up – almost 60 percent less – when compared to earlier explosives, thanks to that Play-Doh/chewing gum consistency. That would save the lives of the engineers, who would spend less time away from cover.

Cold weather had little effect on the explosive’s ability to stick to whatever needed to be blown up. Other explosives needed to be taped or otherwise secured to the target.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the M118 came in a box of 20 charges, each of which had four eight-ounce sheets of C4. A sales sheet from one manufacturer notes that the M118 is intended for breaching, ordnance disposal, demolition, and cutting metal.

The explosive replaced stocks of TNT, dynamite, and PETN in U.S. military stockpiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the real Forrest Gump was far more impressive

It’s a touching scene that even the most stoic of us will get choked up over. The titular character runs into enemy fire to save his brothers-in-arms. Without hesitation, he carries each wounded soldier to safety — all while being severely wounded.


That fantastic scene earned Forrest Gump‘s place in cinematic history. What makes this and the rest of Forrest Gump’s Army scenes so great is that they were entirely based off the career of Sgt. First Class Sammy L. Davis, to include the Medal of Honor ceremony.

Unlike Gump, Davis was an artilleryman. His fateful night began around 2AM when the enemy engaged Davis’ unit with a 30-minute barrage of mortar fire. The moment he got the all clear, he showed them what his 105mm Howitzer could do. He fired the first beehive shot and the enemy returned fire with a recoil-less rifle that hit eight inches from his head.

After recovering from an insanely close call, he grabbed his M-16 and fired on the advancing enemy. When he fired all but three rounds, he then turned back to his Howitzer to get off that beehive. The weapon had taken a heavy beating and much of the powder was scattered. But he loaded what he could find. Under normal circumstances, seven bags of powder is fine. Davis loaded nearly 21. It almost destroyed the cannon but also devastated the enemy.

The Howitzer blew up and rolled over Davis and nearly 30 fragments of the beehive were in his back. Davis, just like Gump would in the film, took the shrapnel in the buttocks. His body and his cannon were in terrible condition.

That’s when he noticed some American G.I.s on the other side of the river.

He had been shot in the leg and was partially deafened, his ribs were broken and his spine fractured, and there was still plenty of beehive in his back — yet he grabbed his Army-issued air mattress and swam to his brothers without even a second’s thought.

Surrounded by enemies, he had to sneak around with nothing but an air mattress until he found the soldier waving at him. There, he found three wounded men in a foxhole — two were ambulatory but one was shot in the head and somehow still holding on. Davis grabbed the soldier with the head wound and placed him on the mattress and the four of them headed back across to safety.

Much of the film touches on Sammy L. Davis’ life, which he openly embraces. Every military scene is based off Davis, including the scene where President Lyndon B. Johnson bestows the Medal of Honor upon Forrest Gump. That was literally Sammy Davis under Tom Hank’s CGI face. Granted, Davis is a much more eloquent speaker.

For more about Sgt. First Class Sammy L. Davis, please watch the American Legion video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of Cuba’s national heroes is an American Civil War veteran

As a young boy, Henry Reeve served in the Union Army as a drummer during the American Civil War. By the time of his death in 1876, he was 26 years old and fought in more than 400 battles over seven years – against the Spanish.


In 1868, Cuban landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes led an uprising against Spanish rule over Cuba. From his estate on the Eastern part of the island, Céspedes freed his slaves and raised an army. He led a resistance against the Spanish Empire that would last ten years and cost Céspedes his life. But the uprising attracted its fair share of foreign volunteers, one of those was a New Yorker named Henry Reeve.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
The first independence war did not go well for the disorganized but idealistic Cuban rebels.

Reeve’s Civil War service left him a virulent abolitionist and the Spanish in Cuba were the most determined abusers of slaves left in the Western Hemisphere. When he heard about the anti-slavery, anti-Spanish uprising, he immediately left for Cuba. He arrived in 1869 but was quickly captured by the Spanish Army, who tried to execute Reeve and his group of volunteers. Reeve escaped and went on to be an integral part of an otherwise-failed uprising that came to be known as Cuba’s First War of Independence.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Cuba’s first independence war was very different from later attempts.

His units routinely outmatched the Spanish, often overcoming superior Spanish numbers with the boldness and dedication that an American combat veteran brings to any fight. By the time he jumped over an enemy artillery battery to end a battle, he earned a promotion to Brigadier General and was wounded more than 10 times. Reeve soon became known as “Enrique El Americano” and “El Inglesito” — the Little Englishman — and was placed among legendary Cuban freedom fighters Máximo Gómez and Ignacio Agramonte.

Reeve also participated in daring raids, most famously to rescue Cuban freedom fighter and Major General Julio Sanguilly from the Spanish. That battle pitted 36 Cuban riders against more than 120 Spanish troops. Reeve also led exploration columns into the jungle wilderness of Cuba and led vanguards of the rebel army’s 2nd division.

Like Cuba’s version of Baron Wilhelm Von Steuben, Reeve wore his U.S. Army uniform the entire time.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Henry Reeve, depicted wearing his Civil War-era U.S. Army uniform.

In 1876, Reeve and his staff were ambushed by the Spanish during their fateful invasion of the Western half of the island. He was unable to escape and, rather than being captured and tortured, he took his own life. It would take more than 20 years before Cuba saw independence from Spain, and even then, it required the help of the United States to unhook Spain from its cash cow.

In honor of the American, Cuba created an international corps of doctors to deploy to disaster areas and areas affected by disease, the Henry Reeve International Brigade. The award-winning team of doctors carries out public health missions in areas like Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Peru. It was the largest contingent deployed to fight Ebola in the deadly 2013-2014 outbreak in West Africa.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
The Henry Reeve Brigade gets down to business in Africa.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Leaked documents reportedly show the CIA secretly bought an encryption company and used it to spy on clients — while turning a profit

In leaked documents, newly published by The Washington Post and ZDF, the CIA describes how it pulled off “the intelligence coup of the century:” for decades, a company that sold encryption devices to more than 120 countries was secretly owned and operated by the CIA itself.


The company, Crypto AG, was acquired by the CIA at the height of the Cold War. Through a classified partnership with West Germany’s spy agency, the CIA designed Crypto AG’s encryption devices in a way that let the agency easily decrypt and read all messages sent by the company’s clients.

Some details of Crypto AG’s coordination with US intelligence agencies had been previously reported — a 1995 investigation by The Baltimore Sun revealed that the National Security Agency reached an agreement with Crypto AG executives to secretly rig encryption devices. However, the newly-published CIA report unveils the full extent of the US’ operation of Crypto AG.

For decades, Crypto AG was the leading provider of encryption services. It boasted hundreds of clients ranging from the Vatican to Iran, generating millions of dollars in profits. The CIA maintained control over the company until at least 2008, when the agency’s confidential report obtained by The Post was drafted.

Crypto AG was liquidated in 2018, and its assets were purchased by two other companies: CyOne Security and Crypto International. Both have denied any current connection to the CIA, and Crypto International chairman Andreas Linde told The Post that he “feels betrayed” by the revelation.

“Crypto International and Crypto AG are two completely separate companies without any relationship,” a spokesperson for Crypto International said in a statement to Business Insider. “Crypto International is a Swedish owned company that in 2018 acquired the brand name and other assets from Crypto AG … We have no connections to the CIA or the BND and we never had.”

A representative for CyOne Security did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.

In a statement to Business Insider, CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett declined to confirm or deny the report, saying the agency is “aware of press reporting about an alleged U.S. government program and do not have any guidance.”

Crypto AG began selling encryption devices in 1940, marketing a mechanical device that was powered by a crank. The CIA reportedly purchased the company with a handshake deal in 1951, which was renewed with a secretive “licensing agreement” in 1960.

In the decades that followed, the CIA oversaw technical advances in Crypto AG’s devices, shifting to electronic devices. The company reportedly contracted with Siemens and Motorola to modernize its gadgets.

The CIA’s surveillance continued through the 1990s and 2000s, even as Crypto AG’s revenue began to dwindle. It was ultimately dissolved in 2018 and sold for between million and million, according to anonymous current and former officials quoted by The Post.

Read the full report by The Washington Post and ZDF here.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt volunteered for World War I service but was turned down

There’s no physical activity that America’s 26th President would turn a blind eye to, especially when it came to the defense of the United States. No matter how old he was, Roosevelt was game for any challenge. 

Even if that meant years in the trenches of World War I Europe, Roosevelt wanted to be there, serving his country with his fellow Americans. 

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, then 40-year-old Roosevelt was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but resigned the office when he received an offer to join Leonard Wood’s 1st Volunteer Cavalry and head to Cuba to fight. 

Even as an older man, he distinguished himself during the war in Cuba. After Wood was promoted, Col. Roosevelt took command of the unit. His most famous action came at San Juan Hill, where he led his Rough Riders up the hill against dramatic odds, taking the formidable position from its Spanish defenders. 

The action propelled him to the governor’s mansion in New York and eventually to the Vice-President’s office. When President William McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt took the White House. He was 42 years old when he took office but that didn’t stop his love for physical vigor. He was still the youngest person to ever take the office.

Roosevelt practiced all forms of physical activity, even as President of the United States. From Boxing to Judo, to Hunting, Horseback Riding, and Running, he was there for it all. He even challenged the U.S. military’s physical fitness standards, which is the reason the military has such standards today. 

teddy roosevelt
What a boss.

After finishing McKinley’s term, he was elected to a term of his own before his successor, William Howard Taft took office in 1909. Roosevelt took a safari to Africa. 

Although he failed in an attempt to return to politics in 1912, he was still a larger-than-life figure in American politics. His legacy as president has stood the test of time, as TR is consistently ranked in the top five presidents of all time, even today.

But to Roosevelt, the biggest disappointment of his life was yet to come. World War I broke out during President Woodrow Wilson’s second term, and there were many German provocations that led to American involvement in the war. A telegram from the German foreign ministry to Mexico revealed a ploy to bring Mexico into the war against the U.S. outraged many American. 

It was unrestricted submarine warfare from the Germans, and the sinking of the British liner Lusitania that killed 128 Americans, only increased the outrage. The U.S. broke diplomatic ties with the German Empire. 

Then, a few days later, an unrepentant Germany sunk the American liner Housatonic because it was carrying food to the British Isles. The United States declared war on Germany soon after. 

Roosevelt, then 58 years old, disliked Wilson personally but supported the war. He volunteered his services in raising troops to go fight the Germans on the Western Front. In March 1917, Roosevelt received authorization from Congress to do just that. The Congressional resolution authorized the former president to raise four divisions, just like he’d raised the 1st Volunteer Cavalry to fight the Spanish in Cuba. 

But President Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief, intervened. He declined to send Roosevelt’s volunteers. Instead, he sent the American Expeditionary Force under Gen. John J. Pershing. It was one of Roosevelt’s biggest disappointments. Then, in 1918, his son Quentin was shot down while flying against the German Air Force. Roosevelt never recovered from the loss. The 26th President died in his sleep in January 1919. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Buran: How the Soviets stole the Space Shuttle

Although America’s space shuttle was not the budget-friendly platform it was intended to be, the program was so successful that the Soviet Union decided to build their own. Unbeknownst to most, they actually did, and it even flew in space.

On April 12, 1981, NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia roared to life for the first time. As the shuttle’s three powerful main engines ignited, they burned a swimming pool’s worth of fuel every 25 seconds, thrusting the 4.4 million pound shuttle into the sky with an astonishing 37 million horsepower. In just eight and a half minutes, the shuttle would expend all of the fuel in its massive orange fuel tank and burn through its two solid-fuel rocket thrusters.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
(NASA)

If you were to start an 80’s sitcom just as the Columbia launched that day, the space shuttle would go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour before the first commercial break.

The success of Columbia’s first mission was an exciting time for the United States, but on the other side of the globe, it left Moscow in a sour mood. The Soviets had been watching America’s space shuttle program mature, thanks to America’s more media-friendly approach to space travel. In fact, by Columbia’s first launch, the Soviets had already begun development on their own space shuttle–one that bore a striking resemblance to NASA’s new crown jewel.

Using the Cold War as rocket fuel

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Richard Nixon meets Leonid Brezhnev June 19, 1973 during the Soviet Leader’s visit to the U.S. (Wikimedia Commons)

The American space shuttle program had roots that reached all the way back to the Apollo era, but the concept itself wasn’t presented to the public until 1972. Two years later, as NASA’s efforts were beginning to take shape, a secret meeting was held in the Kremlin between the head of the Soviet Union’s Military-Industrial Commission, Vladimir Smirnov, and the Soviet leader at the time, Leonid Brezhnev.

While the Americans had always done a good job of dressing their space efforts up as nothing more than the pursuit of science and national pride, the military applications of such a vehicle were clear. America’s space shuttle would allow for the launch of bigger, more complex spy satellites, allow crews to fly into orbit to conduct maintenance or repairs, and, most importantly, allow for the vessel itself to be re-used–theoretically driving down the price of orbital operations. Among the Soviets, there was also the fear that this new spacecraft could be used as some sort of orbital bomber.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise under construction in 1976 (NASA)

“Such a vehicle is like an aircraft. It is capable, through a side maneuver, of changing its orbit in such a way that it would find itself at the right moment right over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo,” Smirnov explained in the meeting.

Just as defense officials in the United States may have over-estimated (or intentionally inflated) the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s various military and technological programs, Smirnov and his supporters knew that it was in their best interest to really sell the idea that the American shuttle posed a serious threat to Soviet interests.

“They began to use the shuttle to frighten Leonid Illyich Brezhnev and they explained to him that damned shuttle could zoom down on Moscow at any minute, bomb it to smithereens and fly away,” a Russian journalist wrote in 1991, just before the Soviet Union fell.

“Brezhnev understood, yes, of course, an alternative weapon is necessary.”

The Cold War was ripe with this sort of military one-upmanship, both as a means to gain a military advantage, and as a public means of validating each nation’s respective economic models. Every American success the Soviets couldn’t match was seen as a defacto argument in favor of capitalism by leaders in Moscow.

In effect, admitting that they couldn’t build their own shuttle would mean acknowledging that the Soviet system was falling short of the scientific, engineering, and material capabilities of America’s government model. This ideological conflict was the very bedrock of the Cold War, and just ten years before the Soviet Union would collapse under the weight of its own failure, things were already beginning to look bleak. The Soviet Union needed a win, and Smirnov was able to convince Brezhnev that a Soviet space shuttle could be just that.

The Soviet’s secret Space Shuttle program begins

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Soviet Buran space shuttle (WikiMedia Commons)

By early 1976, the Communist Party’s Central Committee and the Soviet Council of Ministers gave their approval to move forward with plans to develop a new shuttle. Heading up the secret effort was Col. General Alexander Maksimov, a military official tasked with managing the Soviet’s existing military space programs. Two scientists, V. P. Glushko and Gleb Lozino-Lozinskiy, were also tasked with leading the effort, but among those involved, there was no doubt that the new shuttle program, dubbed “Buran,” would be a distinctly military endeavor.

“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, developer of the Energia booster program. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”

Initially, the Soviets considered restarting a previous space-plane program called “Spiral.” Development had ended on the small space-plane concept more than a decade prior, however, and Soviet officials noted that the intended use of “Spiral” wouldn’t offer anything close to the capability offered by America’s forthcoming shuttles.

Stealing the Space Shuttle

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
(NASA)

With the Americans making steady progress on their own space shuttle program by the late 1970s, the Soviet leadership recognized how far behind they were. If they were going to keep pace with NASA, they would need to find a way to expedite the design process without backtracking to their canceled Spiral program. While the decision to scrap Spiral was made based on its limited capability, many within the Soviet Union were frustrated by the seemingly schizophrenic approach to developing orbital platforms.

“The Spiral was a very good project but it was another mistake for our government. They said Americans didn’t have a space shuttle [back then] and we shouldn’t either and it was destroyed. Then, after you made your space shuttle, immediately they demanded a space shuttle. … It was very crazy of our government.”

-Georgi Grechko, Soviet Cosmonaut

Despite the frustrations of those involved and the Soviet Union’s impending collapse, at the time, the Soviet space program remained among the best in the world. Its scientist and engineers had racked up victory after victory in the first rounds of the Cold War’s space race, putting the first satellite, animal, and man into orbit before the Americans. NASA may have thrown a knockout punch with the moon landing in 1969, but the Soviets were far from down for the count. If America could design a space shuttle, it was entirely plausible that the Soviets could too. The only question was: Could they do it fast enough to keep pace with NASA?

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
NASA Shuttle and Buran shuttle compared

Without help, the answer seemed to be a resounding no, but the Soviets were no strangers to reverse engineering American technology. For instance, in the late 1950s, the Soviets got their hands on one of America’s highly capable air-to-air missiles, the AIM-9 Sidewinder, through a deal brokered with China (and one pilot’s incredibly good luck). The Soviets were able to glean a great deal of information about missile technology from the single missile they acquired and rapidly put Soviet variants of the missile into production. A space shuttle, however, would certainly be a lot tougher to steal… but as it turned out, they wouldn’t have to.

America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA, was a civilian agency that was clearly delineated from America’s military. While this separation may have been more about aesthetics than function (nearly every space effort had military implications), NASA did not treat its shuttle program like it was the development of a weapon system at all. As a result, documentation and even plans for the shuttle were all considered unclassified–and readily available to the public. In fact, much of the material the Soviet Union needed was hosted on commercial databases, making the effort to gather these documents one of the first (if not the first) case of digital espionage.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
(WikiMedia Commons)

“Documents acquired dealt with airframe designs (including the computer programs on design analysis), materials, flight computer systems, and propulsion systems. This information allowed Soviet military industries to save years of scientific research and testing time as well as millions of rubles as they developed their own very similar space shuttle vehicle.”

-The 1985 CIA analysis on “Soviet Acquisition of Militarily Significant Western Technology”

Reaching orbit

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
(Wikimedia Commons)

With all the technical information they needed, construction on the Buran began in 1980, and within just four years, the Soviets were able to unveil their strikingly familiar-looking space shuttle. Despite the clear aesthetic resemblance, however, the Buran did depart from the American design in a number of important ways.

First and foremost, rather than housing the shuttle’s main engines within the spacecraft itself, the Soviets chose to simply attach their shuttle to their super-heavy lift Energia rocket. It was also designed and built to operate autonomously, making it capable of completing orbital missions without a crew on board. Perhaps the most significant departures from the American shuttle were the four jet engines mounted on the rear of the aircraft that would offer the vehicle powered flight. However, despite there being images of these jet engines on the Buran, they were not present as the spacecraft prepared for its first orbital flight.

On November 15, 1988, seven and a half years after the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, the Buran launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soviet space shuttle did not have a crew on board, which may have been seen as an appropriate precaution. Less than 20 years earlier, three cosmonauts died after their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized in space. Four years prior to that, cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed in the first-ever launch of the Soyuz spacecraft. While crew safety was likely a consideration, by 1988, the Soviet Union was already amid political turmoil. Killing another crew in a space launch would not have helped the situation.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Soviet Buran space shuttle (Wikimedia Commons)

The Buran first reached low earth orbit on the back of its massive Energia rocket. From there, it boosted itself into a slightly higher orbit before circling the planet twice and beginning reentry. Without its jet engines, the Soviet space shuttle would have to glide back to its runway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome just like the American shuttle. Unlike the American shuttle, however, the Buran had no pilot on board to manage the descent.

In a resounding success for the ship’s autonomous systems, the Buran touched down shortly after reentry, making what some called a “flawless” runway landing. In fact, upon closer inspection, the Buran’s heat shielding seemed to have faired even better than America’s first shuttle launch. With new data to work with, the Soviets began preparing for another launch that would never come.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Remains of a Buran spacecraft being towed to Zhukovsky Airfield (Wikimedia Commons)

Three years after the Buran’s first and only successful flight, the government of the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, any hope of ever putting the Soviet space shuttle Buran back into orbit.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A panoramic look at how US troops prepared for World War I

In a section of the National Archives dedicated to historic panoramic photos, there’s an odd selection of wide images that show the troops and trainees who would soon deploy to France as America joined World War I. (Panoramics are obviously wide photos, so you may need to turn your device sideways and/or zoom in to see all the detail in the photos.)


Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs – Panoramic Views of Army Units, Camps, and Related Industrial Sites)

Our first entry shows soldiers of the 331st Machine Gun Battalion performing exercises at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. Army physical training was overhauled with the publication of the new U.S. Army Manual of Physical Training in 1914 which emphasized four pillars: general health and bodily vigor; muscular strength and endurance; self-reliance; and smartness, activity, and precision.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the Adjutant General`s Office)

This photo shows engineers of the 109th Engineers in June 1918 as they trained at Gila Forest Camp, New Mexico. It’s unlikely the men made it to France in time for the fighting, but training like this allowed U.S. forces to overcome the trench works and other defenses of Germany as they pushed east and liberated France.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs – Panoramic Views of Army Units, Camps, and Related Industrial Sites)

Company H of the 347th Infantry pose in Camp Dix, New Jersey, in January 1919. During the war, men like this rotated into position on the lines or, during major offensives, were sent against German defenders en masse, hitting machine-gun nests with grenades and bodies to ensure victory. After the war, they were sent into Germany as an army of occupation to ensure the terms of the armistice and the peace treaty were followed.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General)

“White trucks” at Fort Riley. The trucks in the photo were made by the White Sewing Machine Company, later renamed the White Motor Corps. The Army had asked the manufacturer to design a motorized ambulance in 1902, just two years after the company had produced its first car. By World War I, their trucks were well-respected, and they did so well in the war that France awarded the trucks the Croix de Guerre.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel)

Sailors go through boat exercise at the Naval Training Station, Hampton Roads, Virginia, in September 1918. The naval war was largely over by the time America joined the fray, but sailors still fought against German U-boats and protected the convoys that kept troops ashore supplied and fed.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs)

At Camp Meigs, Washington D.C., quartermasters trained on how to keep the men full of food and weighed down with valuable ammunition. This was more challenging than it might sound. Allied advances in the closing months of the war were frequently slowed down by artillery and logistic support getting choked up for hours on the heavily damaged roads behind the infantry, forcing the infantry to slow or stop until support could reach them.

Quartermasters and other troops who could get the trucks through could save lives.

Articles

That time the CIA shot down a bomber with an AK-47

If North Vietnamese bombers were coming to strike a remote CIA radar station and helicopter landing zone filled with Air Force volunteers, there are certain weapon platforms that would be expected to respond. Maybe some fighters or some air defenders on the ground.


But probably no one would expect a couple of CIA operatives in a helicopter to chase down the bombers and shoot one down using an AK-47.

So, guess what happened on Jan. 12, 1968?

The North Vietnamese sent four AN-2 Colt biplanes to bomb Site 85, a radar station in the mountains of Laos used partially as a staging base for rescue and special operations helicopters. The station’s primary role was to guide bombers headed into missions against Hanoi, Vietnam.

On Jan. 12, Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter owned by “Air America,” a CIA front company, to Site 85. When he and his crewman arrived at the site, he saw two of the biplanes circling the station as the other two conducted bombing runs.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/CC BY-SA 3.0

Moore began chasing one of the bombers that was actively taking part in the attack. His crewman, Glenn Woods, grabbed an AK-47 and began firing it at the cockpit of the fleeing bomber.

All four of the bombers bugged out, and Moore and Woods kept chasing and firing on the bombers.

After about 20 minutes of chase, the first bomber crashed just inside of the North Vietnam border and a second one crashed into a ridge just a few minutes later. The other two bombers escaped without incident. A CIA ground team later searched the wrecks and found bullet holes in both.

The two Americans were credited with the only plane kill by a helicopter in the war. An artist named Keith Woodcock later painted the scene in “Lima Site 85.”

The remote radar station operated for another two months before a ground assault by North Vietnamese commandos was able to force its way to the summit. The site was overrun in the greatest single ground loss of U.S. airmen in the war.

popular

7 surprising facts about Bob Hope

Bob Hope, legendary comedian and star of radio, stage, and screen — not to mention a man who once played third billing to Siamese twins and trained seals — had a really, really soft spot for U.S. troops, especially those who deployed to combat zones. It’s an amazing thing, especially considering that he was British.


For more than 50 years, the “One-Man Morale Machine” spent time away from his family and his comfortable Hollywood life to visit American troops during peacetime and at war. He performed on Navy ships and Army bases, often close enough to hear the sounds of combat. To him, that didn’t matter.

 

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Bob Hope and his USO troupe arrived in Sicily three days after Gen. Patton and the Seventh Army took the key town of Messina.

“Imagine those guys thanking me,” he once said. “Look what they’re doing for me. And for you.”

Today, Bob Hope’s legacy lives on in the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, whose mission it is to support any organization that seeks to bring hope to anyone. For veterans, the foundation supports the EasterSeals of Southern California through the EasterSeals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which helps veterans gain meaningful employment after their service to our nation ends.

No joke: It’s not a handout for veterans, it’s a real hand up. Check it out: it may be just what you or a loved one needs. In the meantime, learn a little bit about the legend himself.

1. Bob Hope was British

Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 in Well Hall, Eltham, County of London, England. In 1908, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, passing through Ellis Island on the way.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

2. He has a lot of medals. A whole lot.

Among them are the Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Air Force Order of the Sword, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, and Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

There are more honors. A lot more, including Admiralty in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. It’s a thing.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
Bob Hope receives the Congressional Gold Medal from President Kennedy.
(Library of Congress)

 

3. He was a Harlem Globetrotter.

Along with Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, and a few others, he was named an honorary member of the team.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

4. He did the “Russian Reversal” joke 30 years before Yakov Smirnoff

You knew he was a visionary. So did Yakov Smirnoff, who pretty much made his whole career on the, “In Soviet Russia, TV watches YOU” series of jokes. This is now known as a “Russian Reversal” and was first used by Hope at the 30th Academy Awards in 1958.

5. You can thank Bob Hope for ‘The Brady Bunch’

A struggling biology student in Southern California got a part-time gig writing jokes for Hope to earn extra money. Sherwood Schwartz would later go on to create Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Schwartz described his rise in Hollywood as an accident his whole life.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach

 

6. He spent 48 Christmases with American troops overseas.

From 1941-1990, Hope spent most of his Christmases with U.S. troops rather than at his home in Toluca Lake, California. His daughter Linda described Christmas at the Hope house:

Dad was gone. Holidays for the Hope kids took on a new meaning.
“I remember saying, ‘Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas,” Linda said. But she is quick to add that Mom would put it in proper perspective for her.
“She said, ‘No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas. Remember the boys and girls whose fathers may never come back.'”

7. Bob Hope played golf with Tiger Woods.

When Tiger was two years old, he squared off against Hope on The Mike Douglas Show in a putting contest in 1978. Actor Jimmy Stewart was looking on.

Medic remembers what it was like to land on Omaha Beach
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