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).

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What would happen if modern Marines conducted the Iwo Jima landings

The invasion of Iwo Jima was one of the most costly battles in the Pacific in World War II, largely because the aerial bombings and naval artillery bombardments that preceded the invasion failed to do serious damage to the 22,000 Japanese troops or their network of 1,500 bunkers and reinforced rooms carved into the island.


The Marines were forced to fight bitterly for nearly every yard of the island, and Japanese defenders emerged from hidden caves and bunkers at night to kidnap, torture, and kill American invaders.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Two flags were raised over Mount Suribachi during the fight to take Iwo Jima. The raising of the second flag became one of the most iconic photos of the war and Marine Corps history. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

Modern Marines would enjoy two big advantages that their predecessors lacked — night vision devices, including thermal and infrared technologies and bunker-busting weapons like thermobaric warheads. Other modern advances like counter-fire radar would play a role as well.

When the invasions first hit the beaches in 1945, the Japanese defenders refused to heavily contest the landings. Instead, they huddled in their miles of tunnels and waited for the Marines to come to them across minefields or to group up where mortars and artillery could kill many Americans in one hit.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Harriers, Hornets, and potentially even F-35 Lighting IIs could fly missions over Iwo Jima, annihilating Japanese mortar and artillery positions pinpointed by counter-fire radar. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gregory Moore)

In those first hours, the counter-fire radar would shine. Japanese mortar positions and artillery were well protected and hidden. The counter-fire radar would be able to nearly pinpoint those weapons’ locations and the fire direction center would feed those locations to Marine Corps aviation assets.

Harriers and Hornets launching from amphibious assault ships could then hit these positions with guided bombs. Destroying the weapons would require accurate hits, but that’s sort of the point of precision weapons. And, if the Marine pilots brought along their F-35Bs, they could potentially carry the high velocity penetrating weapon, a bunker buster small enough to be carried on a smaller jet.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The SMAW-NE explosive warhead fills the target area with reactive metals and then ignites the cloud, creating a massive explosion. (GIF: YouTube/Discovery)

Meanwhile, the infantry Marines would find themselves with more options than their World War II counterparts. While the flamethrower — which was so important at Iwo Jima — is now a thing of the past, thermobaric rounds for the SMAW and other missiles would make up the difference.

The SMAW-Novel Explosive warhead is fired through an opening or thin wall of a a cave, building, or bunker and disperses a metal cloud that is then ignited, causing a large explosion that overpressurizes the area, killing or severely wounding everyone inside.

And other missiles like the TOW and Javelin are no slouches against bunkers.

With the Marines capable of destroying bunkers anytime the Japanese compromise their camouflage by firing from them, the defenders would fall back to their other major tactic on Iwo Jima, creeping out under cover of night to hit the Americans.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The Marines can see at night now. Your move, Imperial Japanese defenders in this imaginary battle. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Ashley Calingo)

But this would go even worse for them. While night vision was in its infancy in 1945, modern systems can amplify ambient light (what’s typically happening in green-tinted night devices), detect infrared energy (black and white night vision), or provide a detailed thermal map (blue, green, orange, yellow, and red vision). Any of these night optics would be able to see Japanese troops.

Aviation assets with infrared and light-amplifying devices could watch any defenders crawling from their bunkers and either hit them or report their locations to infantry and artillery units. The infantrymen could strongpoint their camps with vehicle and tripod mounted machine guns and missile systems with night optics.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
When your artillery spotter is wearing night optics, there’s really no reason to stop firing when the sun goes down. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Juan Bustos)

Between the two, the Marines would enjoy a massive advantage in night fighting. Even if the defenders had their own systems, the 2017 Marines would be in a better position than their 1945 counterparts since in 1945 the Japanese were able to own the night. In 2017, they would be evenly matched at worst.

With the shift in power with modern technology, the Marines might even take Iwo Jima while inflicting greater casualties than they suffered. As it was, the Iwo Jima invasion was the only major engagement in World War II where they didn’t inflict more casualties than they suffered.

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7 important military firsts from Operation Just Cause

Operation Just Cause was a quick, decisive mission to remove Manuel Noriega from power in 1989. The operation was opened by the largest airborne operation since World War II and is often cited as an example of using overwhelming force to achieve mission objectives.


The operation also saw many firsts for the U.S. military.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment during the invasion of Panama, Dec. 1989. (U.S. Army)

1. First deployment of the entire 75th Ranger Regiment

While Rangers are one of the oldest units in the US military, the unit in its modern incarnation did not come into being until 1986. Just three short years later the entire 75th Ranger Regiment would spearhead the assault into Panama with parachute landings at Rio Hato Airfield and Torrijos/Tocumen International Airport.

The next time the entire regiment would be deployed to one operation was the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
They dropped ten of these from C-5s. Only two were damaged. (Photo: Department of Defense)

2. First (and only) airborne deployment of the M551 Sheridan tank

The M551 Sheridan armored reconnaissance/airborne assault vehicle had been in the military’s inventory since 1967 and had served in combat in Vietnam. However, by the mid-1980’s it had been phased out of all units, without replacement, with the exception of the 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armored Regiment (Airborne), a part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

When the 82nd jumped into Panama as part of Operation Just Cause, they brought tanks.

This was the first, and only, time that tanks and their crews were delivered by parachute in combat. With little else in the way of armored units, these tanks provided a much needed punch to the assault forces. Less than ten years later, though, the 82nd also divested itself of the M551 without a planned replacement.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Two F-117A Nighthawks dropped bombs during Operation Just Cause. (Photo: Department of Defense)

3. First mission for the F-117

Having just been revealed publicly the year prior, six F-117A’s flew from the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada — though only two would actively participate. Those two aircraft dropped 2,000 laser-guided bombs on the Rio Hato airport prior to the parachute insertion of the Rangers in order to stun and confuse the Panamanian soldiers stationed there.

After a successful debut in Panama, F-117’s would next see action in Operation Desert Storm where they flew through strong Iraqi air defenses to take out targets in Baghdad without a single loss.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The Apache racked up 240 hours of combat during Just Cause, most of them at during night missions. (Photo: U.S. Army)

4. First combat deployment of the AH-64 Apache

The AH-64 Apache, another weapons system that would see extensive service in the First Gulf War, also made its combat debut in Panama. In its first missions, the Apache proved a capable Close Air Support platform and, though not tank-busting, provided precision fires against fortified targets.

Its superb night-fighting capabilities ensured it had a long career ahead with the U.S. Army. After the warm-up in Panama the Apache would also see extensive service in Iraq in 1991, where it wreaked havoc on Iraqi armored formations. An improved Apache, the AH-64D Apache Longbow, continues to serve in the Army and has seen extensive use in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
A U.S. Army HMMWV in Saladin Province, Iraq in March 2006. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

5. First combat deployment of the HMMWV

The venerable “Humvee” is as ubiquitous to the modern military as its predecessor the Jeep. The HMMWV had come into service earlier in the decade to replace a multitude of different service, cargo, and combat vehicles. In its debut in Panama, it quickly showed that it could outperform all of them.

The Humvee received praise for its durability and reliability from ground commanders in Panama. The Humvee has served troops all over the world for over 30 years, seeing extensive action in both Afghanistan and Iraq, before finally succumbing to the operational needs of the battlefield.

It will begin to be replaced in active service starting in 2018.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
After Just Cause, LAVs continued to serve in the Gulf War, Iraq War, and the War in Afghanistan. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

6. First combat deployment of the LAV-25

Operation Just Cause also saw the combat debut of a Marine Corps weapons system, the LAV-25. In its first combat use the LAV-25 showed its versatility as it covered Marine advances, conducted breaching operations, and quickly transported Marines from objective to objective across the battlefield.

The LAV-25 received praise from the Marines who employed it and it has gone on to serve the Marines for nearly 30 more years.

7. First unified combatant command operation after the Goldwater-Nichols Act

While this sounds rather boring (yawn) compared to the rest of this list, it is actually very important. The Goldwater-Nichols Act had changed the chain of command and the interoperability of the branches of the armed forces. Like the rest of this list, Panama was a testbed for this new organizational structure.

The success of the operation proved that Congress had gotten it right. The new streamlined chain of command, which goes from the President to the Defense Secretary right to the Combatant Commanders, greatly increased speed of decision-making and the ability of the different branches to coordinate for an operation. This has been the model used throughout our current conflicts to ensure that each service is properly coordinated for joint operations.

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These were some of the ballsiest pilots of WWII, and their planes didn’t even have engines

In World War II, airborne units were really in their infancy. The Germans pioneered their use in combat, and the United States built perhaps the largest airborne force in the world, with five airborne divisions.


But these divisions had a problem. There weren’t many planes to transport them for large-scale airborne ops. Today, most transports used in airborne operations have rear ramps for loading cargo (like, jeeps and artillery). Back then, they didn’t.

The C-47 Skytrain was based on the DC-3 airliner. The C-46 Commado was also based on an airliner.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
A C-47 takes off, towing a Waco CG-4 glider during Operation Market Garden. (Imperial War Museum photo)

Yeah, paratroops could be dropped, but they could be scattered (thus creating the rule of the LGOPs). How would they drop the heavier equipment, and keep the crews together? The answer came with the development of gliders. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union pioneered the use of them, but the U.S. and Great Britain built lots of them.

According to the National World War II Glider Pilots Association’s web site, the United States built over 13,000 CG-4A Waco gliders. Each of these gliders could carry 15 troops, or a Jeep and four paratroopers, a trailer, up to 5,000 pounds of supplies, an anti-tank gun plus operators, or a 75mm artillery piece and its crew.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Troops with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment load some heavy firepower onto a CG-4 glider. (US Army photo)

The U.S. also used British Horsa gliders to carry even larger groups of troops (up to 30 in a glider) or bigger amounts of supplies. Over 300 of these gliders were used on D-Day, one of those instances where the arsenal of democracy had to borrow a plane made by an ally.

About 6,500 glider pilots were trained during World War II, taking part in eight missions from Sicily to Luzon. In the 1950s, advancements in transport aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, led to the glider units being deactivated in 1952. But the gliders helped deliver firepower, troops, and supplies during World War II – when that ability was needed.

The video below shows how gliders were used during the Normandy invasion.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet was nominated for the Nobel Prize 84 times, but never won

Personally nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was one of the most influential physicists of all time, both because of his own accomplishments in the field and the many dozens of his students who turned into superstars in the world of science (including having four doctoral students go on to win the Nobel Prize, along with three of his other postgraduate students also taking home the award- the most eventual Nobel laureates all taught by one person).


Born on December 5, 1868 in Königsberg, East Prussia, Sommerfeld began his career as a student of mathematics and the physical sciences at Albertina (aka University of Königsberg) in his hometown, where he received a Ph.D. on October 24, 1891.

After a year of compulsive military service ended in 1893, unlike so many academics of his era, Sommerfeld continued to serve as a volunteer for the next eight years on the side. Physically impressive, with a Prussian bearing and wearing a fencing scar on his magnificently mustachioed face, while in the service, Sommerfeld was famously described as managing “to give the impression of a colonel of the hussars,” rather than a book-worm academic.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld was nominated for the Nobel Prize a record 84 times. (Image Wikicommons)

As for that scar, in his first year of study, the near “compulsory drinking bouts and fencing duels” not only resulted in said scar, but also hindered his studies significantly, which he later came to regret as wasted time.

Apparently making up for lost efforts in his youth, Sommerfeld left Königsberg for the University of Göttingen and after two years as an assistant to more experienced mathematics professors, he earned his Privatdozent (authorization to teach at the university level) in 1895. Rapidly moving up the ranks, he was appointed to chair the mathematics department at the Bergakademie in Clausthal-Zellerfeld in 1897. The following year, he became editor of the famous Enzyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften, a post he held through 1926.

Sommerfeld moved on to become Chair of Applied Mechanics at the Königliche Technische Hochschule Aachen, and it was in Aachen that he produced his theory of hydrodynamics. Also at Aachen, Sommerfeld mentored Peter Debye, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936 for “his contributions to the study of molecular structure.”

In 1906, Sommerfeld accepted the position as director of the new Theoretical Physics Institute at the University of Munich, where he mentored Werner Heisenberg in hydrodynamics theory; Heisenberg later won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics.”

While in Munich, Sommerfeld also mentored Wolfgang Pauli on his thesis on quantum theory, and Pauli also went on to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1945, for his discovery of the eponymous Pauli exclusion principle (which stated that two or more identical fermions can not be in the same quantum state within a quantum system at the same time).

If all that wasn’t enough, he also mentored Hans Bethe while at the University of Munich; Bethe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis (i.e., when chemical elements in stars change due to nuclear fusion).

While his own direct contributions to advancing the world of physics were prodigious, including his pioneering work in quantum theory, it was arguably for his teaching ability that Sommerfeld was most revered in his lifetime, with Albert Einstein once remarking, “What I especially admire about you is that you have, as it were, pounded out of the soil such a large number of young talents.”

Mathematician Morris Kline further stated of Sommerfeld that he “was at the forefront of the work in electromagnetic theory, relativity and quantum theory and he was the great systematizer and teacher who inspired many of the most creative physicists in the first thirty years of this century.”

Famed Jewish mathematician, physicist, and Nobel Prize winner Max Born (who was forced to flee Germany in 1933) went on about Sommerfeld’s talent for cultivating young minds who so often went on to great scientific achievements of their own:

Theoretical physics is a subject which attracts youngsters with a philosophical mind who speculate about the highest principles without sufficient foundations. It was just this type of beginner that he knew how to handle, leading them step by step to a realisation of their lack of actual knowledge and providing them with the skill necessary for fertile research. … He had the rare ability to have time to spare for his pupils, in spite of his duties and scientific work. … In this friendly and informal way of teaching a great part was played by invitations to join a skiing party on the ‘Sudelfeld’ two hours by rail from Munich. There he and his mechanic … were joint owners of a ski hut. In the evenings, when the simple meal was cooked, the dishes were washed, the weather and snow properly discussed, the talk invariably turned to mathematical physics, and this was the occasion for the receptive students to learn the master’s inner thoughts.

Going on about the man himself, Born stated,

Arnold Sommerfeld was one of the most distinguished representatives of the transition period between classical and modern theoretical physics. The work of his youth was still firmly anchored in the conceptions of the nineteenth century; but when in the first decennium of the century the flood of new discoveries, experimental and theoretical, broke the dams of tradition, he became a leader of the new movement, and in combining the two ways of thinking he exerted a powerful influence on the younger generation. This combination of a classical mind, to whom clarity of conception and mathematical rigour are essential, with the adventurous spirit of a pioneer, are the roots of his scientific success, while his exceptional gift of communicating his ideas by spoken and written word made him a great teacher.

Adding to his list of achievements, Sommerfeld eventually became chair of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft in 1918, a position previously held by Albert Einstein.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Arnold Sommerfeld at Stuttgart on the occasion of a physicists congress, 1935. (Photo via wiki user GFHund)

With the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, however, Sommerfeld was forced to watch many of his esteemed colleagues have to flee the country. As the aforementioned Morris Kline notes,

Sommerfeld’s life was saddened toward the end of his career by events in Germany. Anti-Semitism, always present in that country, became virulent in the Hitler period and Sommerfeld was obliged to witness the emigration of famous colleagues, including Einstein. All he could do was use the friendships he had built up during a one-year stay in the United States and a one-year round-the-world trip to help place the refugees. The loss of so many of its best men in this way together with World War II, destroyed the scientific strength of Germany, and Sommerfeld felt obliged to continue teaching until 1947, long after the usual retirement age of 65.

On that note, Sommerfeld had intended to retire much earlier, in 1936, putting forth one of his prized pupils, the aforementioned Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg, as his hoped successor. However, as Heisenberg, like Sommerfeld, was considered by the Nazi party to be a Jewish sympathizer, ultimately the decidedly unaccomplished anti-Semite Wilhem Muller, with a lot of help from the Reich Education Ministry, was very controversial appointed to replace Sommerfeld as Professor of Theoretical Physics, despite Muller not even being a theoretical physicist. (Unsurprisingly, Muller was dismissed from the position in 1945 as a part of the denazification process that followed WWII.)

As for Sommerfeld’s once patriotic views, he wrote to Einstein shortly after Hitler took power,

I can assure you that the misuse of the word ‘national’ by our rulers has thoroughly broken me of the habit of national feelings that was so pronounced in my case. I would now be willing to see Germany disappear as a power and merge into a pacified Europe.

In any event, as for his own Nobel Prize aspirations, as alluded to, Sommerfeld’s contributions to theoretical physics were many and included groundbreaking work in quantum theory (including co-discovering the Sommerfeld-Wilson quantization rules in 1915), electromagnetism and hydrodynamics, and significantly advanced knowledge of X-ray wave theory, among other things.

Among his many awards were the Max-Planck Medal, the Lorentz Medal and the Oersted Medal, and he was also a member of the Royal Society, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Indian Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

However, although he was nominated an astounding and record setting 84 times (the only other person close is Otto Stern, who was nominated 82 times before finally winning in 1943), Sommerfeld never won a Nobel Prize. His nominations for Physics were made in 1917, 1918, 1919 (twice), 1920, 1922 (four times), 1923 (twice), 1924, 1925 (six times), 1926 (three times), 1927 (three times), 1928 (three times), 1929 (nine times), 1930 (four times), 1931 (twice), 1932 (five times), 1933 (eight times), 1934 (six times), 1935, 1936 (twice), 1937 (eight times), 1940, 1948, 1949 (three times), 1950 (three times) and 1951 (four times).

Sommerfeld died on April 26, 1951 at the age of 82 as a result of a traffic accident that occurred while taking his grandchildren for a walk. At the time, he was quite hard of hearing and did not hear shouted warnings before he stepped in front of a moving truck. The distinguished scientist died two months later as a result of the injuries sustained in that incident.

Originally published on Today I Found Out in November 2017.

MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Törni in an SS uniform (Finnish public domain)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MIGHTY HISTORY

That one time Eisenhower lost a B-17 bomber in a bet

The liberation of Sfax, Tunisia on April 10, 1943 was a joyous occasion for nearly everyone involved. The Allies gained an important Mediterranean port, the Tunisians in the city were liberated, and British Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery won a B-17 bomber from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.


That last one may need some explanation.

Rommel retreats to the Mareth line

 

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Montgomery had been fighting German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel for months in North Africa. Though the campaign was slowly succeeding, Rommel and his Italian allies were inflicting heavy casualties on the British. Britain wanted to increase forces in North Africa to keep Rommel off-balance. Meanwhile, the other Allied nations wanted to capture North Africa so they could begin invading Italy from the south.

So in late Oct. 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot. British tanks and other forces moved under cover of massive artillery barrages through minefields against dug-in German positions. By November 2, Rommel was in a rapid withdrawal east, sacrificing troops by the hundreds to try and keep his lines of retreat open.

This put the German units in disarray when Operation Torch was launched on Nov. 8. More than 73,000 troops landed along the north coast of Africa in a deliberate attempt to squeeze the Axis east. It worked, but Germany and Italy still held Tunisia and conducted their own surge, landing nearly 250,000 troops in and around the ports at Mareth and Sfax. They would settle into a defense along the Mareth Line.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Photo: German Federal Archives

The bet is made

The battles in North Africa raged back and forth as German reinforcements tried to hold the line. The Allied forces were slowly gaining ground, with Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and Montgomery both attempting to be the first to capture key cities, but Eisenhower wanted them to move faster.

Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Bedell Smith, was visiting Montgomery at his headquarters in the spring of 1943. Exact accounts of the conversation vary, but Montgomery asked about getting a B-17 for his personal use. Smith told Montgomery that if Montgomery captured Sfax by April 15, Eisenhower would give him whatever he wanted.

Smith reportedly meant it as a joke wager, but the notorious gambler Montgomery was serious.

Sfax falls and Montgomery gets his B-17

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Photo: US Air Force

On April 10 — five days ahead of the deadline — Montgomery captured Sfax and immediately asked for payment. Eisenhower honored the bet and sent Montgomery a B-17 bomber and crew even though the bombers were needed for the war effort.

The event caused a strain between Eisenhower and Montgomery as well as between Eisenhower and Patton. Patton was incensed that a British general had a personal B-17 while he was struggling for rides or moving in convoys. Eisenhower was angry that Montgomery would actually accept a B-17 when they were needed to actually bomb targets.

Eisenhower mentioned it to Montgomery’s boss, Sir Alan Brooke, who berated Montgomery for crass stupidity. The plane was written off after a crash-landing a month later and never replaced.

Articles

Aerial footage of the Abraham Lincoln super carrier drifting

Considered one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Navy’s arsenal, the USS Abraham Lincoln is the fifth ship built in the Nimitz-class of aircraft carriers.


Originally costing nearly three billion dollars in the mid-’80s, the carrier was christened and launched by Newport News Shipbuilding under the command of Capt. J. J. Dantone.

Do you remember when former President George W. Bush gave a speech congratulating America for completing the mission in Iraq back in 2003? That took place aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (and is probably a moment the former POTUS would probably like to take back for obvious reasons but let’s stay on track here).

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The mission hasn’t been accomplished, at least not yet.

In May of 2017, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was redelivered back to the Navy after undergoing nearly a four-year mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul.

Approximately 2.5 million hours of labor were committed to the overhaul and restoration of this legendary aircraft carrier.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) busting an epic U-turn in the Atlantic Ocean. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The vessel’s upgrades include various repairs and replacements of ventilation, electrical, propellers, rudders, and combat and aviation support systems.

With the innovated modification to the rudders and propellers, the USS Abraham Lincoln can now tactfully turn around with minimal support.

Check out Ultimate Military Channel‘s video below to watch this impressive aircraft carrier drift for yourself.

(YouTube, Ultimate Military Channel)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How US troops responded to liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp

On April 28, 1945, just 25 days after the United States Army discovered Hitler’s terrible secret, the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp. The 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, came upon a similar camp.

This camp was near the Bavarian city of Dachau, and and human feces. 

Unlike at Ohrdruf, the American GIs were going to make sure some of the surviving Nazi SS camp guards paid a price for what they did there. 

When the Americans first arrived, the SS guards were still firing at them in short bursts. The 45th was soon joined by the 42 Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Henning Linden. The Nazi garrison was substantial but no match for both Infantry Divisions. Most of the prison complex’s SS garrison and leadership had already fled. 

A Swiss representative of the International Red Cross was called in to negotiate the camp’s surrender. 

dachau
Prisoners of Dachau cheering on American soldiers.

On April 29th, SS Lieutenant Heinrich Wicker surrendered to Gen. Linden and the Americans began to secure the main camp. Once inside, the U.S. troops were horrified and enraged by the scene. There were hundreds of corpses strewn throughout the prison complex, along with rooms full of stacked, emaciated bodies. 

They took 100 SS guards prisoner amid a growing typhus infection among the camps inmate population, which numbered as many as 32,000. But not all of the SS soldiers had surrendered. Those who were still fighting were manning the guard towers. Sparks left some of the Nazi POWs under the watchful eyes of a machine gun team and began to make his way toward the fighting. 

Almost as soon as he’d begun to walk away, he heard a young private shout that the SS guards were trying to get away, before an eruption of machine gun fire split the silence. Returning to the scene, he found a dozen or more SS prisoners gunned down by the team. Elsewhere in the camp, U.S. troops were looking the other way when former inmates began to assault the camp guards.

Some SS troops attempted to get away, but were chased down by the former prisoners and severely beaten or killed. 

In all, Sparks estimates that around 30-50 SS camp guards were either killed by American troops or allowed to be killed by former Dachau inmates. The rumor about Americans killing all the SS guard was later spread, but Sparks disagrees with the rumor. 

“The regimental records of the 157th Field Artillery Regiment for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau,” he wrote.

An Army investigation of the incident alleged 21 deaths were perpetrated by U.S. troops, with another 25 attributed to the former prisoners. General George S. Patton, as military governor of Bavaria, received the report and the charges of Sparks being complicit in the reprisal but tore up the charges.

For his part, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had personally witnessed the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp liberation along with Patton, simply cabled Washington that the camp had been taken by Americans and that 300 SS guards were “neutralized.” 

Sparks noted that the “good citizens” of the nearby city of Dachau were forced to assist with burying the remains of the murdered prisoners. The 45th Infantry Division was soon on its way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and was fighting in the streets the next day.

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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.

 

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

 

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.

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

See the intense Navy deck logs from the Pearl Harbor attack

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan’s Imperial Navy infamously attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. For the men and women working on Navy ships that morning, their normal peacetime duties were suddenly and violently interrupted with the outbreak of war.


The officers on watch helped lead the immediate defense and rescue efforts, and they also maintained the deck logs that detailed what happened in the hours immediately preceding the attack and throughout the day.

While few of the logs from that day maintained by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration have been scanned into digital copies, the White House released a few on its Facebook page to mark the 75th anniversary of the attacks.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Maryland received little damage during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the hull of the capsized USS Oklahoma and the burning USS West Virginia are visible in this photo with it. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The USS Maryland survived the attacks and went on to fight at the Battles of Midway, Tarawa, Saipan, Leyte Gulf, and others. The ship was decommissioned in 1947 with seven battle stars. At Pearl Harbor, the ship engaged Japanese planes and a suspected submarine

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The deck log of the USS Maryland detailed the ship’s quick defense during the attack, getting her guns firing within minutes of the first Japanese planes flying overhead. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Solace was a hospital ship which quickly began taking on wounded. It went on to serve throughout the Pacific and survived the war.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Solace at anchor. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The deck log of the USS Solace, a hospital ship, which rapidly began taking on wounded from other vessels. (Photo: National Archives Administration)

The USS Vestal, a repair ship, took multiple bomb hits and was forced to beach itself. Fires onboard the ship created such thick fumes that crewmembers were evacuated to the Solace. The ship survived the battle and served in the Pacific during the war, repairing such famous ships as the USS Enterprise and USS South Dakota after major battles.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Vestal was beached after suffering multiple bomb hits at Pearl Harbor. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Vestal’s log details the progression of the fight as vessel after vessel took heavy damage on Battleship Row.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The deck logs of the USS Vestal detail the damage done to nearby battleships. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Dale was a Farragut-class destroyer that was heavily engaged throughout World War II, earning 12 battle stars before the surrender of Japan.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Dale sails through the water on Apr. 28, 1938. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

At Pearl Harbor, it’s officers took detailed notes on the reports coming into the ship and show the chaos of the day. The ships were warned of probable mines, parachute troops, submarine attacks, and other dangers — many of which were false — as the military tried to get a handle on the situation.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Dale’s log at Pearl Harbor detailed the reports of attacks by paratroopers, submersibles, and other Japanese elements. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

The USS Conyngham was a destroyer that screened ships from air attack for most of the war. It fought at Midway, the Santa Cruz islands, Guadalcanal, and others. The ship received 14 battle stars in World War II.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Conyngham served with distinction throughout World War II, earning 14 battle stars before the war ended. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

At Pearl Harbor, the Conyngham had just taken on a resupply of ice cream when the attack began. Alongside other destroyers, it set up a screen to shoot down Japanese planes attempting further attacks.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The USS Conyngham was enjoying an ice cream delivery just before the attack started. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

(h/t US National Archives and Angry Staff Officer)

Articles

Revenge and duty to country motivated this Vietnam War Marine

By the late 1960s, more than a half a million Americans were serving in Vietnam. Among them was revenge-seeking Marine, Lt. Dan Gannon.


Serving on the front lines was never the plan for this college grad, but after learning his brother had been shot in the arm during a combat operation, Gannon was ready to get in the fight.

“I got to go over and get those suckers for shooting my brother,” Dan humorously states.

Wanting to serve his country honorably, Gannon deployed with the Marines somewhere north of Danang where he would spend over 300 grueling days fighting in the humid jungle.

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Dan takes a brief moment for a photo op while serving in the Vietnam jungle. (Source: Iowa Public Television/YouTube/Screenshot)

In order to stay razor-sharp on the battlefield, Gannon chose to defer his RR leave to the end of his tour of duty.

“You don’t stop to think I want to be patriotic right now,” Gannon mentions during an interview. “You have a job to do and I want to do it the best way I can.”

Ganon’s Marines were commonly spread out thin and up to distances of a quarter of a mile. Throughout his dangerous deployment and multiple firefights, Gannon hardly acquired a single scrap — until one fateful day.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
Proud Marine and Vietnam Veteran, Dan Gannon. (Source: Iowa Public Television/YouTube/Screenshot)

Also Read: Beware the American booby trap rigger in Vietnam

While taking contact, Gannon felt a sting in his arm and had to be told by one of his Marines that he’d been hit. He looked and saw blood streaming down his arm. The wound had to be quickly cleaned by the squad’s Corpsman as the enemy would frequently dip their bullets in feces before they were used.

Soon after, Gannon collapsed when his wound became infected and was evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment.

“I felt bad that I had to leave my Marines. I was that committed,” Gannon says.

Gannon was recommended for the purple heart but decline the accommodation.

Check out Iowa Public Television‘s video how Dan Gannon wanted to get into the sh*t and do his part.

(Iowa Public Television, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why you can’t climb the arm of the Statue of Liberty anymore

More than 100 years ago, European powers were in the middle of World War I and looking everywhere for potential enemies and allies. In 1916, even President Wilson believed it would soon be inevitable for the U.S. to enter the war on the side of England and the Triple Entente. Then, an explosion on July 30, 1916 shattered windows in Times Square, shook the Brooklyn Bridge, and could be heard as far away as Maryland.

But the effect that would have lasting impression was the shrapnel that peppered the nearby Statue of Liberty.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
New York Harbor in 1916.
(National Board of Health)

German saboteurs moved to hit a munitions plant in New York City’s Black Tom Island (an artificial island near Liberty Island) that was already making weapons and ammunition bound for Britain and France. They did it in the early morning hours on the poorly lit, poorly defended ammunition depot.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
View of the debris of the Lehigh Valley pier wrecked by an explosion of munitions on Black Tom Island, New Jersey. Five dead and $25,000,000 worth ($500,000,000 in 2018) of property destroyed.
(National Archives)

It was part of a two-year German campaign of sabotage in the United States and shook far away America to its core. The outrage over the previous year’s sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the loss of 120 Americans aboard that ship already began to turn American public opinion against Germany.

The Great War had finally come home in a big way.

This was not the first explosion or “accident” that occurred in munitions plants or on ships bound for Europe. German agents operating out of New York and its port facilities hired German sailors and Irish dock workers to plant bombs and incendiary devices on ships and in plants working on war materials. The number of accidents aboard those ships skyrocketed. But the Black Tom incident was different.

Two million tons of explosives were set off in a single instant. Five people died and it’s fortunate more people weren’t killed, considering the size of the blast. The buildings on the landfill island were smashed and flattened.

The good ol’ days when you could rock a beard in the US military
The aftermath of the Black Tom explosion.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps photo)

The shrapnel that exploded in every direction damaged the Statue of Liberty and didn’t just scar her lovely face, it popped the rivets that connect the arm that bears the torch of freedom, forcing the the arm to be forever closed to tourists. For a little while, even the years following the end of World War I, Black Tom was all America could talk about.

That is, until a new Germany rose from the ashes of the Kaiser’s Empire.

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