The good ol' days when you could rock a beard in the US military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

Unless you are a member of special ops, most U.S. military members these days are not allowed to rock a beard. Which is a damn shame, because it wasn’t always this way.


After shaving every day of their time in, some veterans make growing a beard their first order of business once they get out of the military. But there were times — we’ll refer to them as “the good ol’ days” — when you could grow a beard. In fact, it was often encouraged.

For about the first 66 years of its existence, the Navy didn’t really have much of a standardized grooming standard. Many sailors during the Revolution opted for clean shaves, until sideburns became a thing around 1812. The Navy finally implemented grooming standards in 1841 that mandated “hair and beards had to be cut short,” according to the US Naval Institute.

In the early years of the Army, beards were expressly forbidden and soldiers were required to shave at least three days per week, according to this article at Defense Media Network. This of course dramatically changed during the Civil War, when everyone from Pvt. Joe Schmoe to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was seen rocking face armor.

 

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
I’ll try and shave when I’m not too busy beating the hell out of the Confederacy.

The Navy slightly modified its rules in 1852 to ban officers from wearing mustaches and imperials — a larger ‘stache featuring whiskers styled upward over a man’s cheeks — but it was later relaxed to allow “neatly trimmed” beards. Much like the Army during the Civil War, there was some pretty interesting interpretations of “neatly trimmed.”

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
I trimmed this very neatly, I swear.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
My beard is certainly neat, and I trimmed it two years ago.

Many sailors of the late 19th and 20th century followed the prevailing fashions of the day, dropping their beards for the mustache and goatee, according to Navy History. Some continued to wear beards, which was generally allowed as long as they were trimmed.

There were some notable exceptions: Sailors operating in colder climates could have full face jackets, and those on submarines didn’t have to shave more as a necessity, since fresh water was usually scarce.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Sailors on the USS Pensacola give their best Popeye impressions, 1944. (Photo Credit: USNI)

 

For soldiers on the ground, the death of the beard came along with the need for gas masks. The first World War saw the widespread use of chemical weapons, and gas masks needed to maintain a proper seal against the skin to be effective. Having whiskers didn’t exactly inspire confidence when chlorine gas was involved.

“They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks,” Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, told the BBC. “Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield.” The clean-shaven soldier eventually became the norm for the World Wars and beyond.

Although some didn’t really get the memo, like one unit of soldiers stationed in the Phillipines in 1941 which actually held a beard-growing contest. They are all winners, in our eyes.

Still, the reasoning against soldiers having beards has often boiled down to maintaining a uniform appearance and keeping a good seal on a gas mask, and it continues to this day.

In 1970, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came in and basically said to hell with grooming and uniform regs in attempt to raise morale. Zumwalt — a wearer of his own sweet set of sideburns — issued one of his famous “Z-grams” in Nov. 1970, which directed the Navy to “adapt to changing fashions” of the day, which meant beards, mustaches, and sideburns, my man.

Beards were a staple of the Navy for quite a time, although even Zumwalt figured out his changes to the regs were a bit too permissive, USNI notes:

It did not take long before Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.

Besides the surface fleet, Navy SEALs operating in Vietnam were allowed to rock beards, and the “Vietnamese regarded beards as a reflection of wisdom gained with age,” wrote Maury Docton at Quora.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

 

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the beard (even on submarines) became a thing of the past under Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James D. Watkins, who outlawed them in Dec. 1984. Beardos were outraged at the time: “‘It’s rotten,” Petty Officer Richard New told The New York Times. “I don’t think they can tell you everything to do.”

It turns out they can, and the order still remains in effect today. Across all the military services, beards are no longer allowed and even mustaches need to be trimmed within the corners of the mouth — a look so terrible even Hitler would say “what in the hell?”

The only men lucky enough to be allowed beards now are special operations units such as Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs (as long as they are in Afghanistan at least).

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 4 brothers were heroes of the American Revolution

There were thousands of families that sent sons, fathers, brothers, and—when the families allowed it—daughters and sisters. But one family with five sons sent four of them to war as officers in the Revolution, and they fought at some of America’s crucial battles, eventually earning special honors from Gen. George Washington at Yorktown.


The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

Col. Richard Butler, the eldest brother, later served as a general and died fighting Native Americans after the Revolutionary War.

(John Trumbull)

The Butler Family was born to Thomas Butler and his wife Eleanor. Thomas was a gunsmith and a patron of the church as well as an immigrant to America. He moved with his family from County Wicklow, Ireland, to the American Colonies in 1748 and settled in Pennsylvania. The older brothers, William and Richard, emigrated with their parents while Thomas Jr., Percival, and Edward were born in the colonies.

Obviously, this was a fateful time to set up life in the colonies. And, soon enough, the four elder brothers were serving in the Continental Army. Richard was recommended for commission as a major in 1776, and he received it. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and sent to Morgan’s Riflemen, The 11th Virginia Regiment. He received credit for the constant state of readiness in that unit.

More positions and commands followed. He survived Simcoe’s Rangers’ raids near Williamsburg and then was a part of the American victory at Saratoga. He then led troops in the assault on the British positions at Yorktown and, when British Gen. Charles Cornwallis was forced to surrender, Washington selected Richard to plant the first American flag on the former British fortifications. Baron von Steuben ultimately took the honor for himself, though.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

The Battle of Monmouth, where three of the Butler brothers fought.

(Emanuel Leutze)

Richard’s younger brother William was commissioned as a captain in 1776 and promoted to major during October of that year. He fought in Canada and, after promotion to lieutenant colonel, at Monmouth. He then fought defensive actions against Native American tribes and took part in the successful Sullivan-Clinton Expedition to break the Iroquois Confederacy and its British allies in 1779.

The third brother, Thomas, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in early 1776 and promoted to captain later that year. His bravery at the Battle of Brandywine allowed him to rally retreating Colonials and stop a British thrust, earning him accolades from Washington. Later, he fought at Monmouth and was cited for defending a draw against severe attack, allowing his older brother Richard to escape as the British forces were tied up.

(Fun fact about Thomas: He was court-martialed in 1803 for multiple charges but defeated all of them except for “wearing his hair.” Basically, he wore a Federalist wig and refused to take it off for the Army.)

The youngest brother to fight in the war was Percival, who was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1777 at the age of 18. He fought at Monmouth with two of his brothers after a winter at Valley Forge.

All of this led to the Butlers being specially praised by senior leaders. Washington gave a toast during a victory banquet, “To the Butlers and their five sons!” And Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, said, “When I wanted a thing done well, I had a Butler do it.”

Thomas, the men’s father, fought in the Revolutionary War as well and the youngest brother, Edward, fought for the U.S. and died in combat in 1791.

Articles

This is how the Germans beat the British in one of the biggest naval battles of WWI

The First World War was the peak of the age of the battleship as dreadnoughts from Germany and the United Kingdom, including the actual HMS Dreadnought that all similar ships are named for, faced each other across the North Sea and the world’s greatest empires duked it out on land.


In the 1916 Battle of Jutland, the German and English fleets fought in what was — when measured by the tonnage of the ships involved — the largest naval battle in history. Approximately 100,000 sailors and 250 ships took part.

And, though the British fleet was larger and enjoyed training and technological advantages, the Germans achieved a clear tactical victory.

In May 1916, the British and German fleets were each looking for a major triumph over the other. An ongoing British blockade of Germany was damaging, but neither side had clear control of the North Sea.

The Germans devised an ambush a few hundred miles off the coast of Denmark, but the British intercepted the plans.

So a massive British fleet with 151 ships, including 28 battleships and nine battlecruisers, set forth on May 30 with knowledge of the German positions and intent. The next afternoon, the scouting parties from each force sighted each other and began a running gun battle.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The battle cruiser scouting parties clash at the opening of the Battle of Jutland. (Screenshot: Vimeo/NIck)

Five German battlecruisers fired on six British ships and the two raced in parallel lines while maintaining fire on one another. But the British had made two big mistakes.

First, they waited to fire even though they had a range advantage. Second, they allowed the Germans to set the conditions of the fight.

The German scouting party sank two of the British cruisers while drawing the British scouts towards the main German fleet with another 94 ships. The British ships realized their error just in time, turning back north while suffering fierce fire from German pursuers.

The British had already lost thousands of sailors and two large ships, but they were about to hold the advantage. The British cruisers fleeing north failed to properly communicate with the main fleet, but they were still drawing the German ships towards the larger British concentration.

And while the British main fleet commander wasn’t given the needed intelligence to properly prepare, he was able to swing his ships into a single line that he curved into an ambush position that the Germans sailed right into. The British semi-circle saturated the German fleet with fire.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The SMS Seydlitz limps home after the Battle of Jutland. (Photo: Naval Historical Center)

The Germans broke contact and circled back around, but the British were again able to position themselves “crossing the T,” where a line of British ships presented their broadsides with their main guns towards the front of a German line which could only present a few guns in response.

And the British were positioned to prevent a German escape while they also enjoyed a visibility advantage thanks to the sun behind the German ships.

But the desperate Germans had already inflicted heavy damage, causing fires and leaks that would sink more ships throughout the evening. And the German commander managed to turn the fleet about and escape west.

But the Germans needed to get east and south. One attempt to break east failed under heavy British fire, so the Germans launched a massive torpedo barrage that forced the British to turn away and allowed the Germans to escape. None of the torpedoes hit, though.

Still, Germany held the advantage at night, as the darkness would limit Britain’s range advantage and allow German torpedo ships to draw close.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The HMS Queen Mary sinks during the Battle of Jutland. (Photo: Public Domain)

Throughout the night, Germany tried to fight its way home, frequently winning small clashes and eventually punching through to head home.

The Germans had inflicted losses of over 6,000 sailors and 14 ships in less than 24 hours of fighting, while suffering 2,551 sailors and 11 ships lost. Germany claimed its tactical victory, but the strategic situation was dire.

Many more German ships had been heavily damaged and would need weeks for repairs while plenty of British ships remained to enforce the blockade. Germany was forced to turn to submarine warfare to break down British supply lines across the Atlantic.

But even that strategy would fail when America entered the war with new technologies and equipment for hunting submarines.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last Union combat veteran of the Civil War lived to see the Cold War

In 1949, six men gathered in Indianapolis for the last meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. At its peak, it boasted 400,000 members with thousands of posts nationwide. By 1949, however, only 16 remained. And only six were able to make the trek to Indianapolis. One of those was 108-year-old James Hard, a veteran of the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.

In the next four years, all but one of those would have died, and with them, the firsthand memory of Civil War combat.


The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

The battle standard of James Hard’s Civil War infantry unit.

The only one of the six to outlive Hard would be Albert Woolson, the last known member of the Union Army and the last undisputed surviving member on any side of the Civil War. But Woolson never saw action as a member of a heavy artillery unit from Minnesota. Hard was the last surviving Union combat veteran of the Civil War.

Between 1900 and into World War II, the surviving number of American Civil War veterans began to dwindle at an exponential rate, much like what the U.S. is seeing with its World War II veterans today. The Grand Army of the Republic held marches, and a yearly meeting called the Encampment to celebrate those veterans who served and to make sure they held on to their hard-won rights.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

A 1912 Grand Army of the Republic parade marching through downtown Los Angeles.

James Hard was born in Rochester, New York around 1843. He lied about his age in 1861 to be able to join the Union Army. He joined the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Irish Rifles, in May 1861 and his service record verified his claim.

His unit was stationed around Washington, DC until Gen. Irvin McDowell used the 37th as a reserve unit in the battle of First Bull Run. McDowell had never led troops in combat and was soundly beaten. Its biggest loss came at Chancellorsville in 1863 when it lost more than 200 men to night fighting and a surprise attack during a flawed, unorganized retreat. A young James Hard was present for all of it.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

The last of America’s Union Army, gathered in an Indianapolis ballroom in 1949.

By the time the First World War came around GAR membership was still very strong, its encampment still bringing in numbers just shy of a half a million or so. By the time the United States entered World War II, however, the Civil War veterans time had passed, and with their memory went so many of their numbers. In 1942, just over 500 Civil War veterans were on the rolls of the Grand Army of the Republic.

At the outset of the Cold War and the Atomic Age, only 16 remained. They were too frail to walk in any parades and had to be accompanied to Indianapolis by their Veterans Administration nurses. They drove through the parade route in vehicles, machines that were a very new invention to them.

Articles

Watch this bird strike take out a jet…from the pilot’s POV

What does a bird strike look like from the perspective of a fighter pilot? We actually have that — thanks to cockpit video that was released about a decade ago.


Bird strikes do a lot of damage. Even legends like the B-52 can be brought down by seagulls.

Now, when this video first appeared, it was believed to have been from the cockpit of a F-16. According to FlightGlobal.com, though, the actual plane was a CT-155 Hawk assigned to NATO Flying Training Canada.

 

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
A Canadian CT-155 Hawk performing a flyby at the Alliance Air Show 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. The video below is from a similar plane. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For a single-engine fighter like the CT-155, this bird strike prove to be very fatal. As heard in the video, the two pilots on board tried to get the engine to re-start. When that fails, there’s only one option left for the pilots: GTFO.

That’s exactly what these pilots did, leaving the stricken Hawk to its fate.

The pilots who ejected, RAF Flight Lieutenant Edward Morris and Captain John Hutt of what was then the Canadian Defense Forces Air Command (now the Royal Canadian Air Force), were both recovered alive and well. It was a close call. You can see that close call from their perspective below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Pando Commandos’ were more intense than you’d think

For the 2017 Army-Navy Game, the Army’s jerseys celebrated the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), the predecessor to the current 10th Mountain Division. Even with the spotlight on one of the most versatile units of WWII, many people don’t understand the bad-assery of the “Pando Commandos.”


After witnessing ski-mounted Finnish soldiers successfully take on and destroy two Soviet tank divisions, founder of the National Ski Patrol, Charles Minot “Minnie” Dole saw for the need ski troops in the U.S. Army. After much convincing of the Department of Defense, the 10th Light Division (Alpine) was formed from the combinations of the 85th, 86th, and 87th Infantry Regiments assembled, 9,200ft above sea level, at Camp Hale in Pando, Colorado on July 13, 1943.

The goal here was to train a rugged, mountain soldier, acclimated to the harsh mountain tops of the Alps and the frigid north of Scandinavia. Soldiers needed to be trained in both skiing and ice climbing. The 10th Light Division (Alpine) was soon ready to fight and was re-designated as the as the 10th Mountain Division, complete with unique tab and official unit patch.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Because apparently you can’t use a cartoon panda holding a rifle on skis as your official heraldry. (Image via KnowYourMeme)

Meanwhile, the Germans had just set up defenses across the Alps, making travel from the south nearly impossible — a perfect task for the Pando Commandos.

The Germans at Riva Ridge on Mount Belvedere assumed that the near 1,500-ft vertical cliff would be impossible to scale and scarcely manned the position. The 10th Mountain, under the cover of night, blizzard, and complete silence, made the climb and assaulted the Germans as they slept. It was a complete success. The surprise attack grabbed the attention of Germans, who tried to make seven counterattacks to reclaim the peak. None were successful.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
At the time, skiing was mostly a college thing. As a result, their division had more degrees and were smarter than anyone else — a fact most 10th Mountain guys would happily tell you today. (Image via Boston Globe)

Today, the legacy continues on as the 10th Mountain still trains in the icy hell known as Fort Drum. The high-altitude training is perfectly suited for the mountains of Afghanistan.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Liane Schmersahl)

popular

How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
HMS Dreadnought underway (US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This command post flew 24 hours a day for 29 years

We’ve all seen the movie where a well-funded group of terrorists makes a threat against the U.S. government then all hell breaks loose until one man or woman steps up and saves the day by defeating the bad guys. These films often make our defensive capabilities appear powerless versus these fictional villains.

Although these storylines are entertaining, our government’s ability to protect us goes well beyond some smart computer hacker, especially in the event of a nuclear war.

The nuclear war strategy of the U.S. relies upon its capacity to communicate with and control its nuclear forces under the most hazardous of conditions. For close to 30 years, this vital defense plan was laid in the hands of 11 different converted EC-135Cs code-named “Looking Glass.”


 

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

 

 

Operation Looking Glass was introduced by the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command on Feb. 3, 1961. It was prepared to take over all operational control of nuclear forces if the ground-based command centers were destroyed or rendered unusable.

If that devastating nuclear event occurred, the general officer serving as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) aboard the “Looking Glass” would be required by law to assume the authority of the National Command Authority and directly command execution during a nuclear attack.

 

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

To avoid any potential enemy threat from jamming the unique aircraft’s signal, the specialized planes came equipped with high-frequency antennas located on the wings. Along with the AEAO, a crew consisting of approximately 15-20 airmen would man their solitary post for several hours a day.

Since its maiden flight in 1961, there has always been a “Looking Glass” plane flying somewhere above the United States in case of an emergency, 24-hours a day.

On June 1, 1992, Operation Looking Glass was grounded from service and replaced.

Check out the video below to witness just how special this flying beast was to national security.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Fort Bragg live theater program reduced suicide rates

At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, something rare and particular began in the 1970s. When — citing the growth of accidental deaths — command decided to take a different type of approach at protecting their soldiers. With song and dance. With a new type of theater show, one that incorporated actual combat soldiers performing song and dance numbers — intertwined with real, somber video recounts of soldier death. It was a merger of a real message and quality entertainment.

Known as the Soldier Safety Show, this military-meets-Broadway program took place during the 70s, 80s and 90s as part of a new approach to get young soldiers to take safety measures seriously.

Former Fort Bragg Commander, retired four-star General Carl Stiner, said that the Soldier Safety Show was born out of growing death toll rates.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
US Army General Carl W. Stiner (Public Domain)

“We realized we were having more casualties of all off-duty activities, mainly motorcycles, than from thousands of parachute jumps and heavy equipment drops. We just needed to do something about it,” he said in a 2015 interview with NPR’s This American Life.

Steiner added that between suicide and reckless drinking, Fort Bragg was losing 10 soldiers to every one soldier that died in a training-related event. 

Briefs were scheduled, but soldiers slept through them, and other measures were taken but saw little results.

Enter the Soldier Safety Show, which not only engaged young soldiers, but dropped the accidental death rate by one-third. 

It worked by employing a combination theater and screen projections of “gut-wrenching” testimonials from soldiers who had lost friends due to accidents and careless mistakes. Then it ended with soldiers standing to take a safety pledge. (This also created the opportunity for a standing ovation at the end of every show.) Viewers and performers alike called the juxtaposition of mournful renditions and live musical theater absurd and unexpected, but somehow, effective. 

The Soldier Safety Show was mandatory for all stationed at Bragg. To meet this demand, performing soldiers held 3-4 shows a day around the Christmas holiday, when deaths typically peaked.

On-stage meets the military: Operation Shock and Awe

Those who worked with the program credited most of its success to the director, Lee Yopp. They said Yopp was a unique, boisterous personality with much gusto. Having become a director by accident when working as a football coach and he broke his leg, Yopp found he excelled at directing and took higher, bigger directing jobs. He ended up bankrupting a large theater — and himself — by overspending and creating a flop. However, he was offered the gig to manage the Fort Bragg Playhouse by an old Army buddy.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Leon R “Lee” Yopp in front of the Fort Bragg Playhouse (Image courtesy of Bobby Moody, Facebook)

The running joke was the DoD was the one financial baker who could afford his visions. Yopp incorporated waterfalls, a roller skating rink, parachute rigs, cannons and machine guns (that actually fired); he planted real grass on the stage to bring in horses. And — perhaps his biggest move of all — he brought in explosive experts from Special Forces who helped them rig up loud booms in the stage floor, complete with flash pods. 

But Yopp did more than that — he knew how to reach soldiers in a way that mattered. He got big, exciting performances out of his actors … including those who’d never been on stage before. When one of the soldiers’ teenage son got in a car wreck, Yopp took the crew on a field trip and filmed them in the hospital. That was the start of a new act where a young actor talked about driving too fast and losing control, spliced with the real-life footage. They paired it with the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, and it was an instant hit.

Viewers and performers alike say Yopp’s unique way of making the simple overtly complicated helped bring the message together. It got attention and it struck a chord, especially with a young crowd. 

Former Fort Bragg soldier Derek Brown, a paratrooper in the 1990s, performed in the Soldier Safety Show after he volunteered with his unit. Brown said he initially thought it was a joke when briefed about an audition for musical theater. (He fell into the category of performers who had never sang or danced before.) It was mandatory for his unit to send a representative, and he was the only volunteer. 

Brown called the show a blend of “…the honor and discipline movements with the bravado and panache of Broadway musicals.” And with Yopp’s direction, his encouragement to be big and loud at all times, the show was able to get results.

A production of Treasure Island performed by Fort Bragg Playhouse, circa 1983

“He had no room at all for shyness on stage. He made it a point of saying, ‘If you were going to fail, please fail loudly, please fail loudly and sing it as though your life depended on it.’”

During Yopp’s tenure as managing director of the Fort Bragg Playhouse from 1974-1993, they earned more than 35 awards, including a 1980 sweep of the U.S. Army Forces Command music and theater competition, with 15 titles, and best music and theater program among worldwide Army installations in 1981.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of the Civil War’s only double-barrel cannon

It always struck me as odd when I read history books as a kid: cannons are pretty much giant shotguns — why didn’t they ever make double-barreled cannon pieces? Well, I wasn’t the only genius with the idea.


A Southerner from Athens, Ga. named Pvt. John Gilleland forged one in 1862. Gilleland’s idea was to connect the two three-inch barrels by firing chain shot connected by two six-pound balls. When fired, the designer’s idea was for the balls to be shot at different angles to allow the ten-foot chain to fully extend.

If you’re not sure what chain shot does to walking bags of meat (soldiers), the guys at MythBusters demonstrated this on a pig carcass – warning: it doesn’t end well for the pig carcass.

So imagine a ten-foot nunchuck weighing in at roughly 50 pounds flying into a massed formation of people at more than a thousand feet per second. That was Pvt. Gilleland’s great idea. Except it didn’t go quite as he would have liked.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
This ends well for no one.

His tests showed erratic and often dangerous results. Though the gun was designed for both barrels to be fired simultaneously, they often didn’t, meaning an intense veering in an unintended direction. When they did fire, the chain would sometimes break apart, with two end of chain led by a ball, each veering three degrees away from each other at more than a thousand feet per second.

Gilleland still declared it a success and sent it to be tested with the Confederate Army. The Confederates found the cannon “not usable due to unpredictable rates of powder burn and barrel friction which led to unpredictable performance.”

No kidding.

So the Confederate government sent the cannon back to Gilleland in Athens. The weapons was still used in combat in just one battle. As Union raiders approached Athens on July 27, 1863, the double-barrel cannon was used as a signal gun to rouse the population to arms.

Some 9,000 Union cavalry approached Athens as part of General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.” Athens would be put to the torch, but not if the Georgia Home Guard Artillery could repel them.

At Barber’s Creek, just south of Athens, the cavalry hopped across the Confederate earthwork defenses. But before they could break the home guard completely, the city’s cannon and howitzers stole the initiative and fired a volley into the oncoming traffic. The yankees broke off the attack and Athens was spared.

Today the cannon is parked on Hancock and College Avenues in Athens.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Pointed North, of course.

popular

The first US casualty of the Gulf War was a downed pilot

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher was flying his F/A-18 Hornet 100 miles west of Baghdad on Jan. 17, 1991. It was just minutes into the first night of Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led coalition’s offensive to expel the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. Speicher’s plane was shot down that night – but by what?

He was the first American combat casualty in the war.


The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

Speicher was listed as missing in action, presumed taken prisoner by the Iraqi Army, after being briefly listed as killed. The Pentagon didn’t actually know. The military didn’t even really know how Speicher’s Hornet had been taken down. The Navy’s initial conclusion was that Speicher was taken down by a land-based surface-to-air missile and maintained that throughout the next decade. But other American pilots operating in the area that night reported the presence of an Iraqi MiG-25.

That Foxbat’s pilot was Lt. Zuhair Dawoud, who managed to evade a large formation of attacking American planes, singling out Speicher’s Hornet and firing a R-40D missile that exploded directly beneath Speicher’s cockpit. With the plane shredded, Speicher bailed out as Dawoud turned to find another target. Speicher did not survive long.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines patrol the Haditha Triad in Iraq’s Anbar Province. It was the 3/3 Marines who found Speicher’s remains.

 

The pilots in the air that night knew Speicher was taken down by the MiG-25 Foxbat. His aircraft crashed 48 miles south of Qadessiya, where the wreckage remained. According to “War Is Boring,” the Hornet’s digital recorder was recovered from Iraq in 1995 and confirmed the missile hit. The CIA would not confirm Speicher’s death until 2001, and even then his body had still not been recovered.

Even after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military was not able to determine Speicher’s fate. Eventually, they found that he was never captured by the Iraqis but rather was buried by Bedouins who found his body after the shootdown. Marines occupying Anbar Province in 2008 found his remains and sent them back to the U.S. They were positively identified by his jawbone.

Articles

Here is how aerial gunners were trained to fight their way past the Luftwaffe

The United States Army Air Force’s daylight bombing campaign in Europe involved thousands of bombers, and tens of thousands of crewmen. While there were pilots, crew chiefs, radiomen, bombardiers, and navigators on planes like the B-17, about 40 percent of the crew were aerial gunners.


The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
A U.S. Army Air Forces Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress flying through flak over a target. A hit by flak lead to the capture of Brigadier General Arthur Vanaman, placing ULTRA at risk. (USAF photo)

What did it take to get these specialists ready? In some ways, it didn’t take long – maybe a few weeks. But these gunners had to learn a lot. Maintenance of their machine guns was vitally important. But they also had to learn to hit a moving target – because the Nazi fighters trying to shoot the bombers down were not going to make things easy for them.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Messerschmidt Bf 109. (Photo: Kogo CC BY-SA 2.0)

So, what did it take to teach gunners how to hit a moving target? Well, for starters, there were lessons on maintenance for both a .30-caliber machine gun (mostly used early in the war) and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun, and how fix them when they jammed. Then, they had to learn how bullets traveled downrange, and how to adjust for the drop of the bullets from the guns.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
A look at the ball turret of a B-17 Flying Fortress, carrying a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

When that was done, the trainees were started on full-auto BB guns at an indoor range. Once that was mastered, they then did a lot of skeet shooting with 12-gauge shotguns.

Yep, a popular shooting sport was used to train the folks whose job involved keeping Nazi fighters from shooting down a bomber with ten airmen on board.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

The training went on to include live-fire of the machine guns, as well as how the turrets used on planes like the B-17 and B-24 worked. Aircraft recognition — including knowing an enemy fighter’s wingspan — was also very important.

Following that, they took to the air, and learned how to fire the guns while wearing the gear they’d need on board a bomber – including a life vest, parachute, and the helmet.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
B-17 gunners wearing bulky sheep-shearling flying clothing to protect against the deadly cold at the altitudes typically flown in Europe.— At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop below -60 degrees Fahrenheit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

As you can imagine, this included a lot of learning and skills to master. You can see an introductory video for aerial gunners made during World War II below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

Do Not Sell My Personal Information