Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa's catacombs - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Deep below the Ukrainian port city of Odesa lies one of the largest underground labyrinths in the world. The Odesa catacombs date back to the early 1800s when limestone was mined for the city’s grand buildings. Through the years, the vast subterranean maze has served as a Cold War bunker, a World War II refuge for Soviet fighters, and a hideout for smugglers. Today, local explorers are still mapping the vast tunnel system and discovering new insights into the past.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the real Iraq War battle behind ‘The Long Road Home’

In April 2004, a convoy from the US Army’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division was on a routine escort mission. The Baghdad neighborhood they were operating in – Sadr City – would become notorious among American and Coalition forces for at least the next four years. What happened to 1st Cav that day came to be known as “Black Sunday,” a battle then- Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey called “the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.”


 

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Soldiers from B Co., 3/15 Infantry hand out hard candy to kids in Sadr City, Iraq, Feb. 28, 2003. An ominous stencil of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr looms in the background.

The mission started like any other escort mission. Soldiers in a convoy escorted sewage trucks, known as “honey wagons,” to locations inside the Sadr City area of the Iraqi capital. Though times were tough for the Iraqi people, lawlessness was on the rise throughout Baghdad. Still, everything was for the most part peaceful…until Palm Sunday 2004.

The neighborhood now known as Sadr City housed three and a half million people in five square miles – roughly half of the city’s entire population. Built by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, it was full of mostly Shia muslims who were persecuted under Saddam’s rule. As a result, this densely populated area – smaller in size than most American cities, but with a population higher than Houston or Chicago – was deeply impoverished.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
A U.S. Army soldier assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 12th Calvary Regiment, armed with a 5.56mm Colt M4 carbine, provides security during a patrol near Forward Operating Base Camp Eagle, Sadr City, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The area came under control of the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who took the citizens’ distrust of the occupying Americans and turned in into full-fledged anger. His militant followers formed the formidable Mahdi Army, which attracted fighters from other countries as well as Iraqis. By the time the U.S. was ready to take down al-Sadr, he had grown too powerful. When American shut down his newspaper for inciting violence, Sadr City residents were outraged.

They protested peacefully in the streets at first, but that outrage soon boiled over.

American troops raided al-Sadr’s house and arrested one of his senior aides on the order of Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.  That same day, unbeknownst to the Coalition, al-Sadr’s militia captured Iraqi Police stations across the city.

April 4, 2004 was the day 2-5 Cav was escorting honey wagons as they worked in Sadr City. They had just deployed to Camp War Eagle, on the edge of Sadr City, allegedly the “safest place in Iraq.” They were ambushed by the Mahdi Army as they made their way out of the city. Unable to move all their men out of the area, 19 soldiers holed up in a civilian house, awaiting rescue amid hundreds of enemy fighters.

They had only been in country for a few days.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Relief columns were mounted by 1st Cavalry but those were unable to use the heavy guns on their Bradley M-2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicles due to the rules of engagement. The rescuers were themselves ambushed by the forces hidden in Iraqi Police stations and, unable to bring firepower to bear, were pushed back.

Eventually, the superior firepower was authorized against the Mahdi Army’s superior numbers. 1st Cav’s use of the Bradleys’ main turret was complimented by a force of 1st Armored Division M-1A2 Abrams tanks.

Eight soldiers were lost in the initial ambush and rescue of those trapped and surrounded in Sadr City that April Day. The fight to rescue the platoon from 2-5 Cav is dramatized in National Geographic Channel’s miniseries The Long Road Home, which begins Nov. 7, 2017.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
U.S. troops patrol the deserted streets of the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City at sunset, Apr. 4, 2004. (Wathiq Khuzaie)

But the fighting for Sadr City didn’t end in April 2004. The fighting in the Baghdad neighborhood would rage on in the streets between American forces and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army for another four years. It ended with a ceasefire agreement that allowed Iraqi government troops to enter the area.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why troops in Vietnam could write on their helmets

One of the enduring images of the Vietnam War is one of the Army or Marine Corps’ infantry troops, sitting out in the jungle or around a rice paddy, wearing a helmet covered in graffiti. Maybe it’s ticking off the number of days he’s been in country. Maybe it’s announcing to the world that the wearer is a bad motherf*cker. Or it could be simply the troop’s blood type and drug allergies.


Truth be told, troops in Vietnam didn’t “get away” with writing on their issued helmets, and neither do the troops who do it today.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Some things never change.

As one might imagine, it would be considered counter to good order and discipline to write on one’s helmet cover. The helmet is, after all, a uniform item, usually owned by the government. To deface it would be defacing government property while at the same time violating the rules of wearing your uniform properly. But none of this ever prevented the troops from doing it.

Some troops in Vietnam only ever wore their helmets when doing perimeter duty or moving materiel from one area to another and didn’t really have the downtime with their helmets to make any sort of writing on it. For those who did write on their helmet covers, they’ll tell you there were more important things happening than worrying about what was written on their helmets.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
What are they gonna do, send them to Vietnam as punishment?

Of course, the difference between troops back then and troops today is that yesteryear’s combat troops could be draftees, which means they’re not the professional army the United States uses as the backbone of its military power. Even so, those who wrote on their helmets were not allowed to wear the helmet with its cover on while in the rear. The MPs would make sure of that. In any case, soldiers were required to wear a cap while in the rear, and the helmet would go back on only when they went back into the sh*t, where no one cared what they wrote anyway.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Vietnam veterans say the graffiti depended on which outfit you were moving with, and was usually okay as long as it didn’t defeat the purpose of camouflage in combat. Others say that as long as the graffiti didn’t disparage the Army, the United States, or the chain of command, it didn’t matter what you wrote or how you wrote it.

If a new NCO or lieutenant was coming into Vietnam for the first time and all he cared about was helmet covers, his troops would call him “dinky dao” anyway.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Armistice Day became Veterans Day

Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.


Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
And then…u00a0the sequel.

Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.

But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.

In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.

In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Literally.

As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.

Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.

In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”

The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.

Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.

States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the history for each branch’s battle cry

It’s a general call to action. The formation snaps to attention and the unit shouts out their branch’s battle cry. It gets used as a general stand-in for regular words and the listener can often pick up context clues to infer what the word replaces. Soldiers can respond to most things with a simple “hooah” and their leader can assume they’re saying either “yes,” “no,” “I don’t really want to, but whatever,” or “screw you,” all from a single, guttural grunt.

Though each branch’s battle cry sounds similar, they different meanings and vastly different origins. Because there are no official records of the exact moment a word was first uttered, many of these have multiple origins. What follows are the most agreed upon.


Before we dive in, you’ll probably notice that the Air Force doesn’t really have one. Some civilian sites say that airmen use the Army’s “Hooah” and most vets will joke that it’s actually something silly like, “hip-hip-hooray!” To be honest, for all intents and purposes, the Air Force doesn’t really need one. Besides, they’ve always been the ones to side-step military tradition in favor of modelling themselves after the civilian workforce.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

And now it’s the name of an energy bar…

​(Photo by Beatrice Murch)

“Hooah” — U.S. Army

There are many conflicting accounts of the origins of “Hooah.” Some say that it originates from the Second Seminole War in 1841 when the peace agreement was made between the 2nd Dragoons and the Seminole Chief. The chief, who spoke little English, offered them a toast and said “Hough” — which was misinterpreted to mean “How d’ye do.”

The term also has roots in the jump just before D-Day when General Cota, the 29th Division’s commander, asked a 2nd Bat. Ranger where their commanding officer was. In response, the confused ranger shouted, “Who? Us?” The general could only hear “Hooah” through all the loud wind buzzing past them. Cota thought it was some cool Ranger saying and it kind of stuck.

But the most accepted origin is that it’s simply the acronym for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

The term was solidified when the late, great Gunny Ermey used it and it became a pop culture staple of the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

“Oorah” — U.S. Marine Corps

Again, people offer all kinds of origin stories for the word, “oorah.” Some say it’s a butchering of the 16th century German word for “hurry.” Other say it’s an adaptation of the Turkish word for “kill.” Others say it comes from WWII, when injured Marines were treated in northern Australia. There, they’d spend a lot of time around the locals as they healed. That part of Australia used, “Ohh, rah.” as slang for “goodbye.”

However, according to Marine Corps lore, it is credited to Former Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John Massaro who imitated a submarine’s dive siren of “Aarugha.” He later became a drill instructor and used it with his recruits who then passed it on to the rest of the Corps.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Even today, it’s only really Naval officers who unabashedly use it.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lenny LaCrosse)

“Hooyah” — U.S. Navy

The Navy’s “hooyah” is the onomatopoeia for a siren going off. It’s that loud, obnoxious “gaHooyuh” that sailors would hear before manning battle stations.

As much as conventional sailors have tried to hijack the saying in the 90s, it actually belonged to the SEALs, Navy EOD, and deep-sea divers at first — but mostly the SEALs. This still leads to some awkwardness from regular sailors who aren’t sure if they’re allowed to shout it or not.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

“Hoorah” really is filled more symbolism befitting the seabees’ and corpsmen’s role to the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Owen Kimbrel)

“Hoorah” — U.S. Navy Corpsman, Master-at-Arms, Seabees (and, occasionally, Marines)

Despite how most soldiers, airmen, and the occasional Marine think, “Hoorah” is more of a green-side Navy thing and not exactly a Marine thing — note the distinctive lack of an “H,” as found in the standard Marines’ version.

It’s a mix of the Marine’s “Oorah” and the sailor’s “Hooyah” all rolled into one. It’s a fitting battle cry seeing as how Seabees and Corpsman spend most of their time working side-by-side with Marines, but are still sailors. Some say it’s an acronym for “heard, understood, recognized, and acknowledged,” but this could also be a backronym, modeled after the Army’s version.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time egg nog almost brought down West Point

In the early years of the U.S. Military Academy’s history, the “Father of West Point,” Col. Sylvanus Thayer, was trying to whip the future officers of the U.S. military into shape. He began by outlawing alcohol on the academy grounds. The cadets were also not permitted to leave the academy.


His fundamental changes were having the desired effect — until Christmas 1826, that is. That’s when the plebes got into an egg nog-fueled riot.

Egg nog was pretty different back in 1826. Today, it’s more of a sweet, dessert drink and the addition of rum or brandy isn’t as popular as it once was. Back then, nog — like life — was a lot more intense.

George Washington’s personal recipe called for rum, sherry, brandy, and whiskey.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Kind like this, but also slam a bottle of Jack at the same time.

Before the alcohol ban, an egg nog night was part of West Point’s Christmas tradition, and the cadets weren’t about to let the tradition die because of one guy’s teetotaling. So, a young cadet named Jefferson Davis and a group of others decided to sneak some booze into the eggnog party.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Yes, that Jefferson Davis.

They snuck in a few gallons of whiskey under Thayer’s nose (with the help, of course, an enlisted man). On Christmas Day, officers of the day Capt. Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Lt. William A. Thorton tried to monitor the cadets, but they could only do so much. They were woken in the middle of the night by a drunken party in the barracks. They dispersed it, but the revelers sought revenge.

Partying cadets raged on a different floor and the officers moved to break that one up. Thorton was knocked to the floor with a piece of wood while another took a shot at Hitchcock with a pistol. He called a runner to get the Commandant, but that request was misinterpreted as a summons for artillery troops stationed on the grounds.

The cadets reinforced the windows and entrances to the barracks to prevent the artillerymen from gaining entry. The interiors and windows of the building were smashed and damaged. They literally drummed up the cadets from their beds to prepare for bombardment.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Kind like this, but with eggnog, guns, and a whole lotta anger.

Artillery never came, but William Worth, the Commandant of Cadets, did. He was able to quell the 260-strong uprising before it escalated further. Hitchcock and Thorton suffered only minor bruising, despite the drunken cadets’ calls for their heads.

Of the 260 drunken cadets, 19 were expelled. When they built new barracks on the West Point grounds, they were designed so that cadets would have to leave the building to access other floors.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Holocaust survivor recounts his daring escape from Auschwitz

Most of those who escaped the infamous extermination camp at Auschwitz did so while they were out on a work detail.


But escaping from inside the camp’s barbed wire was something altogether more difficult.

The countryside around Auschwitz was fervently pro-Polish and anti-Nazi. The local population was willing to do whatever it took to aid an escapee.

So the underground partisan movement in the local area and the camp resistance formed a partnership to help people escape.

Auschwitz was part of a series of labor and extermination camps created by the Nazis in occupied Poland. Its first prisoners arrived in May 1940. In June, a Polish boy scout named Kazimierz Piechowski would be imprisoned in Auschwitz I.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Piechowski’s Auschwitz prisoner photo.

 

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian’s Homa Khaleeli, Piechowski talked about his duties moving the corpses of executed prisoners. He got the work detail because he learned German as a boy scout.

“The death wall was between blocks 10 and 11. They would line prisoners up and shoot them in the back of the head,” he told Khaleeli. “Sometimes it was 20 a day, sometimes it was 100, sometimes it was more. Men, women and children.”

Only 19 when the Nazis occupied his hometown, Piechowski saw his young friends rounded up by German soldiers because of their scouting background. During a run for the Hungarian border he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

The concentration camp was so new, Piechowski was among those who helped build it.

 

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
The main gate at Auschwitz.

“Wake up, you buggers!” Piechowski screamed in German. “Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The guard did.

The men drove to the town of Wadowice. All went their separate ways. Piechowski joined the nationalist partisan resistance movement and spent the rest of the war fighting Nazis.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
A Steyr 220, the model of car the prisoners drove right out of the Auschwitz front gate.

 

In all, 196 prisoners made an escape from Auschwitz, out of 928 attempts. An estimated 1.1 million Jews, homosexuals, Slavs, Gypsies, and Polish political prisoners were killed in the Auschwitz camp complex.

Kazimierz Piechowski survived the war, spent seven years in a Soviet gulag for joining the Polish Home Army.

He toured to recount stories of his time in a Nazi death camp until his passing in 2017 at the age of 98.

“I am a scout, so I have to do my duty – and be cheerful and merry. And I will be a scout to the end of my life,” he told The Guardian.

Read the full interview at The Guardian’s site.

Articles

The reason Japanese battleships dwarfed American ships during WWII

In World War II, the battleship Yamato dwarfed nearly all others, and many Japanese ships were larger than their American counterparts. But how was Japan, a relatively small country with limited natural resources, able to construct larger ships than America?


First, Japan started early with the knowledge that it wanted a naval force capable of widespread offensive warfare. But it also benefitted from specializing. Since the Imperial Navy wanted to dominate the Pacific, they didn’t need to make their ships capable of transiting the Panama Canal like America did.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Of course, making the world’s greatest battleships came with plenty of engineering challenges.

The designers of the Yamato had to figure out how to keep a floating platform steady when it fired 18-inch guns, each of which fired a shell roughly the same weight as a car. How can such a large ship be made to sail smoothly through the water quickly?

In this video from PBS, interviewers speak with historians and experts, including a Japanese engineer who served during World War II. Watch it below to see how Japanese designers ensured the ship would be battle ready:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jog1NsR_cDo
In the end, the Yamato was never able to live up to its glorious design. It took some small part in battles in the Pacific but frequently found itself in the wrong spot on the battlefield to bring its weapons to bear.

One of its few claims to fame was inflicting damage on a small number of U.S. ships in the Battle off Samar.

In April 1945, the Japanese Navy decided to beach the Yamato on Okinawa and use it as a fortress and gun platform for as long as possible before U.S. ships and planes destroyed it.

But it was sent to Okinawa with no air cover and little protection. American planes easily sank it long before it reached the beach.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A look at one of the most inspiring speeches in history

Throughout World War II, Winston Churchill gave a number of speeches that galvanized the British public in the face of extreme hardship and convinced them to keep fighting that good fight against Adolf and his cronies.

Perhaps the most famous speech Churchill ever gave was the one he spent the longest time agonising over — “This was their finest hour,” where he stated in part,


What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

The speech was delivered just a month after Churchill became Prime Minister and at a time when the UK was reeling from the news that France had fallen (effectively leaving the British Empire to fight the Nazi war machine alone, until Hitler turned on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Yanks joined in about six months after that). The speech had to somehow rally the entire country during what Churchill would eventually come to call “The Darkest Hour.” This is a goal the speech is generally accepted as having accomplished and then some, with Churchill’s words deeply resonating with the British public. In particular, Churchill’s sentiments about the British Isles standing strong in the face of what appeared to be impossible odds.

THEIR FINEST HOUR speech by Winston Churchill [BEST SOUND]

www.youtube.com

The speech, which lasted around 36 minutes, was first given in private to Parliament on June 18, 1940, and later to the British public via radio and it’s noted that Churchill was making revisions to it until quite literally the last possible moment. For example, when the Churchill Archives Centre dug up the very same copy of the speech Churchill used when he addressed Parliament, they found that it was covered in random annotations, some of which appear to have been made leading right up to just before he gave the speech.

Impressively, some of these literal last minutes additions ended up being amongst the most memorable lines from it. For example, the line “All shall be restored” which was noted as inspiring many a Britain to do their bit for the greater good of Europe, was a line Churchill scribbled in the margins of the speech when he sat on a bench in the House of Commons waiting to be called to speak.

It’s also noted that Churchill simply winged it at some points, making up some of the lines in the speech on the fly. This was something that was facilitated by Churchill’s insistence on printing the speech in blank verse format, which some experts believe allowed Churchill to read and visualise the speech as a piece of poetry, allowing him to better improvise and more comfortably find a natural rhythm when speaking.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Winston Churchill

Of course, no matter how good something is, even in the days before internet comments there’s always someone to criticize and, despite “This was their finest hour” being considered one of the finest oratory performances ever given, Churchill’s own secretary, Sir Jock Colville, was wildly unimpressed. Among other things, he noted in his diary that the speech was too long and that Churchill sounded tired when he read it. Given that the speech is often ranked alongside things like the Gettysburg Address, Sir Colville’s opinion evidently wasn’t one shared by many others, however.

Finally, because we kind of have to mention this, when Churchill delivered the speech to the British public via radio, he reportedly did so while smoking a comically large cigar which he kept burning in his mouth for virtually the entire time he was speaking…

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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Articles

Abraham Lincoln is the only U.S. President to hold a patent

The President of the United States is quite a title to hold. Great Americans have held the office since George Washington founded the nation. To stand out in this lineage of leaders is no small task. For all the history that Abraham Lincoln made as president, incredibly, he stands out as the only one to hold a patent.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Lincoln and his friend pilot a flatboat down the Mississippi to New Orleans

Lincoln grew up on the American frontier. He learned flatboat river navigation on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as a teenager. At the age of 19, he made a flatboat journey all the way down to New Orleans.

A few years later, Lincoln made a second trip down to New Orleans. However, before Lincoln reached the Illinois River, the boat became stuck on a milldam at New Salem. Stranded on the Sangamon River, the boat started to take on water. Lincoln acquired an auger from New Salem and hurriedly returned to the boat. He unloaded part of the cargo to the right of the boat and proceeded to drill a hole in the bow. After enough water ran out, he plugged the hole and was able to free the boat and continue to New Orleans.

After completing the voyage to New Orleans, Lincoln returned to the small prairie town of New Salem. Interestingly, it was there that he met his first love and fiancé, Ann Rutledge. Lincoln also began his political career in New Salem.

In 1848, Lincoln served in the House of Representatives. On his way back to Illinois, the boat he was on beached on a sandbar. The captain ordered all hands to collect planks, barrels, and boxes, and force them under the sides of the boat. The items buoyed the vessel and eventually freed it from the sandbar. Along with his experience on the Sangamon, this event inspired Lincoln to invent something to help stranded boats.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Lincoln’s patent drawings (Public Domain)

Lincoln had a mechanically curious mind. While traveling the circuit as a lawyer, he would often find farm machines and tools to examine. He was fascinated with the intricacies and interactions of machinery. Combining this mechanical interest with his riverboat experiences, Lincoln set to work inventing a device to free beached vessels.

Lincoln called his invention “An Improved Method of Buoying Vessels Over Shoals.” His idea involved waterproof fabric bladders that could be inflated to, well, buoy stuck vessels over shoals. Accordion-shaped air chambers on the side of the boat would inflate the bladders when necessary. He built a scale model of a ship equipped with his invention to validate its design. However, it was never fitted to an actual ship.

On May 22, 1849, Congressman Abraham Lincoln became the holder of U.S. Patent No. 6,469. He remains the only U.S. President to be a patentee.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
The Smithsonian replica of Lincoln’s patent model. The Smithsonian uses this model for display to preserve to fragile original. (Smithsonian Institute)

Feature image: Lincoln circa 1846 (Library of Congress)

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These are the only father-son pairs to receive Medals of Honor

At only two times in American history have father-son pairs both earned Medals of Honor. One pair was based in the Civil War and then World War II combat, and the other pair in the Spanish-American War and World War I combat. All four would make their last names famous for generations to come.


Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Arthur MacArthur earned his fame rushing the Confederate defenses on Missionary Ridge. (Images: Public domain; Graphic: WATM)

 

Arthur MacArthur receives the medal for actions in 1863

First Lt. Arthur MacArthur was only 18 and an adjutant in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry when the regiment was arrayed against stiff defenses on Missionary Ridge in Tennessee near the border with Georgia. The Confederates had used this position to harass and attack Union forces for some time, and it was the last great barrier to the invasion of Georgia.

But the Confederate forces had a line of rifle pits at the base of ridge and trenches and other defenses at the top. The Union attack was ordered against the ridge, and confused orders led to a successful melee in the pits, but then a sporadic and faltering attack up toward the trenches.

It was during this attack up that MacArthur saw the Regimental color bearer go down, and he leaped forward to get the colors back up so the men would continue attacking. He was wounded twice while rushing the colors up the hill, but he still planted the flag and then fought to defend it, effectively leading an attack that took the ridge as well as the land 2.5 miles past it in a single day. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, promoted to major, and later took command of the regiment.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Gen. Douglas MacArthur returns to the Philippines in World War II. (Public domain)

 

Douglas MacArthur defends the Philippines until all is lost

Arthur would retire as a lieutenant general, but one of his sons would eclipse him in valor awards and rank. Douglas MacArthur was already a full general, and the recipient of seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses when Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941.

It was quickly apparent that Japan would have the upper hand, but Douglas was at least as tenacious as his father. He had his men establish defensive line after defensive line, conducting a controlled withdrawal that soaked the ground in blood for every inch they gave up. Eventually, he was forced to pull back to the Bataan Peninsula, allowing his men to defend themselves in more mountainous terrain, but also cutting off further escape and giving up the cities.

This whole time, Gen. MacArthur was often at the front, often under enemy fire. But his calmness under fierce attacks helped his men keep their cool in their desperate defense. It was only after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced to order the general off of the islands on February 22, 1942, to prevent his capture that Douglas withdrew. And he did so with a promise to return. He would receive the Medal of Honor in April for his tenacity, but his men would suffer a death march.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Col. Theodore Roosevelt as the commander of the Rough Riders. (Public domain)

 

Teddy Roosevelt leads the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt campaigned hard for war with Spain, and when the U.S. declared that war in April 1898, he wasn’t about to leave the fighting to everyone else. But, he knew the war might be short and that he was not yet ready to command a regiment. So he agitated for the creation of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, but he used his connections to be the second-ranking officer, not the commander.

He got his wish and was brought into the Volunteer Army as a lieutenant colonel and sent to Cuba, but only 8 of the 12 companies were able to get space on the ships, and none of their horses were brought over. Still, they performed well and, on July 1, 1898, were sent against the defenses on San Juan Hill at Santiago de Cuba. By this point, Roosevelt had been promoted to commander.

The attack plan said they must move slow, but the unit was coming under heavy fire, and Roosevelt felt the battle would be lost to attrition before it could take the heights. So he rushed his men forward in a series of bursts despite the fierce defense, and they succeeded. He posthumously received the Medal of Honor for these actions in 2001.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
At left, Maj. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., he would later serve in World War II as a brigadier general and earn the Medal of Honor. (Library of Congress)

 

His son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would never attain the presidency like his father did, but he would fight in World Wars I and II. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars in World War I, and then came back into service in World War II as an almost 60-year-old man. But still, he earned another two Silver Stars in combat in North Africa near one of his own sons (who also earned a Silver Star, there).

In the preparations for D-Day, he pushed repeatedly for permission to go ashore with the first wave, but his division commander kept denying it on the basis of the brigadier’s rank and age. So, Roosevelt, Jr., wrote to his distant cousin, then-President Franklin Roosevelt. Before the reply came back, the division commander finally relented and gave Roosevelt, Jr., permission, certain he would never see him again.

The 4th Infantry Division, like nearly everyone else that day, landed out of position, but they were lucky to have their deputy commanding general there to take charge. Roosevelt, Jr., personally led infantry waves into position under fire multiple times while walking with a cane. His re-making of the division landing plan was credited with keeping Omaha Beach open, and the commanding general gave his compliments when he landed with a later wave.

Roosevelt Jr. was nominated for promotion to major general, the Medal of Honor, and command of the 90th Infantry Division, but he died of a heart attack just hours before Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called to give him the news. The medal was awarded posthumously.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the “Hercules of the American Revolution”

Peter Francisco was born into a wealthy family in June, 1760, on an island in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. When Francisco was just 5 years old, he was abducted by pirates. The future patriot was ripped from his home and carted off to a nearby ship. Approximately six weeks later, a dock worker saw a boat maneuver up the James River in Virginia. There, the pirates dropped off the young Francisco and left as quickly as they’d arrived.

Nobody’s entirely sure why the abductors snatched him up only to later drop him off without seeking payment, but historians have their theories. Some say that Francisco’s father orchestrated the kidnapping in order to spare Peter from the wrath of his family’s political enemies.

Whatever the case, locals took the abandoned Francisco to a nearby orphanage soon after he arrived. There, he was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston. He took the young boy back to his plantation to learn English. Due to his dark, Mediterranean complexion, however, Francisco lived near the slaves and never received a proper education.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs

Francisco spent many of his early years working on Judge Winston’s plantation, learning how to be a blacksmith. Winston invited Francisco to join him at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were all in attendance. After several days of intense debate between loyalists and patriots, Patrick Henry delivered his famous quote,

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

As the teenage Francisco watched through a window, he chose liberty.


Nearly a year and a half later, Francisco finally convinced Winston to allow him to join the Continental Army. At just 16 years old, Francisco was officially a member of the 10th Virginia Regiment and stood six feet, six inches tall and weighed 260 pounds — truly a giant of his era.

Soon after, Francisco fought in several famous battles, including Brandywine and Valley Forge. During the Battle of Stony Point, George Washington recruited 20 elite troops to be first in line to assault the British fort. Francisco was selected as one of those men.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
The Continental Army defeated British troops at Stony Point with a well-planned nighttime attack.

Francisco was tasked with scaling a 300-foot wall and reaching the fort’s flagstaff. Of the 20 who led the charge, 17 were either killed or wounded — a large slash across the abdomen put Francisco among them. Despite his injury, he killed his adversaries and reached his destination. He lay, wounded, at the base of the flag as the British surrendered. From then on, Francisco was known as the “Hercules of the American Revolution.”

During the Battle of Camden, Francisco noticed a 1,100-pound cannon in a field next to some dead horses. According to legend, he managed to lift the canon and take it, saving it from falling to British hands. For this courageous act, the U.S. Postal Service design a stamp in Francisco’s honor.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Stamps were expensive even in 1975…

As Francisco continued to fight the war, he continuously remarked on the tiny size of the swords with which they fought. Eventually, Washington gave Francisco a six-foot broadsword — not unlike the sword famously used by William Wallace in his own battles against the English.

By the time Francisco was done serving, he had been wounded six times, but never stopped fighting. He was later elected by the Senate to work as the sergeant-at-arms.

Later, Francisco died from appendicitis. He was 71-years-old.

Articles

The US military cleaned up victims of modern history’s largest mass suicide

In November 1978, 909 members of a fanatical cult died — killing themselves and their children using a cyanide and Valium-laced grape drink — to make a political statement: they would die on their own terms in a “revolutionary suicide.” It would be the largest single loss of civilian life until the September 11th terror attacks.


The People’s Temple, as the cult was called, was founded by Jim Jones, a former monkey salesman and self-ordained minister in 1950s Indianapolis. He later moved the church to California. There, the size of the cult grew to around 20,000.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Yep, this guy was their savior.

With that growth, Jones became a public figure and fled to the South American country of Guyana to escape the negative press surrounding the People’s Temple. Jones faced accusations of financial fraud and child abuse and sought to escape what he thought was the persecution from U.S. intelligence agencies.

More than 1,000 members went with him.

Jones and his cult founded Jonestown, an agricultural cooperative on 4,000 acres of poor soil and limited access to fresh water. Temple members worked long days and were punished for disobeying Jones’ orders. They were allowed limited contact with friends and family. Jones even confiscated their passports.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Houses in Jonestown.

Toward the end of the Jonestown experiment, Jones became inceasingly paranoid as his mental state broke down. Congressman Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to investigate allegations that his contituents’ loved ones were actually hostages there. People’s Temple members asked to return home with the Congressman, who took them back to his plane.

That’s when tragedy struck.

After arriving at the airstrip that took Congressman Ryan to the People’s Temple collective, Jones’ armed thugs gunned down the contingent, along with members of the press and some of the defectors. At the same time, Jones was distributing the poisoned punch (which was actually Flavor-Aid, not Kool-Aid, as the saying goes) to the cult members.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
An aerial view of the bodies of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. U.S. Army personnel from Fort Bragg, North Carolina (NC), are placing the remains into body bags. (Photo by:  Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Nov. 20, 1978.)

There is evidence that those who didn’t want to imbibe were forced to drink the punch. Jones himself was found dead with a bullet in his head, among the other 900+ bodies.

Within hours of learning about Congressman Ryan’s death, the U.S. State Department received assistance from the 437th Military Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina. Charleston C-141 Starlifters led what would be “the most unusual airlift operation since the Berlin Airlift.”

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
Col. Bruce M. Durvine, vice commander of the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing, and members of the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron carry boxes of plastic body bags to an HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter for use in the evacuation of bodies from Jonestown. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Jonestown, Nov. 20, 1978.)

Air Force Combat Controllers were the first American forces on the ground, securing the airstrip area, providing security, and operating the airspace. The Starlifters had to be staged more than 150 miles away from the dirt airstrip where Ryan’s body was found because they were too large for the field.

The military Aeromedical Evacuation Team repatriated eight wounded survivors from the area. It wasn’t until November 20th that Guyanan Defense Forces could reach the Jonestown Compound. The small contingent was overwhelmed by what they found there and asked the Americans to take over.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
A U.S. Air Force HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopter from the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron stands by to assist in the removal of the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)

According to San Diego State University’s exhaustive study of the Jonestown cult and its aftermath, Army Medic Jeff Brailey was one of the first Americans to enter the compound. He described carrying the poison’s antidote among a sea of bodies, “something he’d never forget.” Army Graves Registration Units tried to identify all the bodies, as they would bodies of soldiers killed in combat.

Jonestown victims’ bodies were to be airlifted to Dover Air Force Base, but first they had to be moved by three HH-53 Jolly Green Giant helicopters to the Starlifter staging area. There were so many bodies, the Air Force ran out of remains transfer cases.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
U.S. Army UH-1 Iroquois helicopters are loaded aboard a C-141 Starlifter aircraft for transport back to their home base in the Canal Zone. The helicopters were used during humanitarian relief efforts following the Jonestown tragedy. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Jose L. Sanchez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)

“Stacked like cordwood,” the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition. It took 30 helicopter sorties carrying 30 bodies each to get the remains to the Starlifters for transport. Each C-141 could handle 81 remains cases — as long as they were stacked on pallets.

The stench of death in the helicopters was so bad, they were deemed medically unsafe. Task Force personnel who handled the bodies burned their clothing on the runway at the end of the mission.

Bunkers, bones, and booze: The eerie mysteries of Odesa’s catacombs
U.S. military personnel place a body bag containing the remains of the victims of the Jonestown tragedy in a coffin for transport to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Pedro J. Gonzalez, Georgetown, Nov. 20, 1978.)

Jeff Brailey, the Army medic who entered Jonestown, wrote a book about his experience, “The Ghosts of November.”

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