In the early morning of Feb. 5, 1973, a USAF EC-47 was shot down over Laos. The plane, callsign Baron 52, had a crew of eight airmen aboard. Only four sets of remains were recovered from the wreckage. The other four were never found.
The EC-47 was a converted Douglas C-47 cargo aircraft, first built during World War II. It carried specialized electronics and flew top secret missions. The nature of its mission has led many to believe the four missing crew members were actually captured and taken back to the Soviet Union. They were never recovered.
Just a week before the downing of Baron 52, the United States agreed to end its involvement in the Vietnam War during the Paris Peace Accords. The plane was carrying electronic warfare equipment on a mission to monitor the Ho Chi Minh Trail for North Vietnamese tanks.
It was shot down in Salavan Province, Laos that morning, with the fuselage upside down and its wings completely stripped away. Air Force search and rescue arrived on the scene within an hour, finding the bodies of pilot Capt. George R. Spitz, copilot 2nd Lt. Severo J. Primm III and navigator Capt. Arthur R. Bollinger still in their seats in the cockpit.
The remains of the third pilot, 1st Lt. Robert E. Bernhardt, was in the rear of the plane but outside of it, near the jump door. The door, the top secret radio equipment, the four members of the rear crew and their parachutes were removed and never found.
The Air Force listed all eight of the crew as killed in action, but some Missing in Action/Prison of War advocacy groups question that assessment, considering four of them are still unaccounted for. Still the four were declared “accounted for” and were part of a mass memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Lynn O’Shea, one of the advocates, said her research shows that the four missing men may have been captured after bailing out of the plane and taken to the Soviet Union. The information they had on the sensitive equipment in the plane would have been extremely valuable to the USSR at the time. Sadly, O’Shea died in 2015.
In the years following the end of the war in Vietnam, researchers discovered that American intelligence had intercepted NVA radio traffic describing the capture of four airmen who were transported to the USSR.
For months, the United States heard radio traffic about airmen who were shot down the same day as Baron 52 and a Laotian intelligence asset reported seeing four prisoners held captive by the NVA. The incident and its aftermath remained classified.
The families of radiomen SSgt. Todd M. Melton, Sgt. Joseph A. Matejov, Sgt. Peter R. Cressman, and systems repair technician Sgt. Dale Brandenburg still believe their loved ones survived the crash and ended up captives in the Soviet Union. Many hope the airmen are still alive. They believe that the Nixon Administration didn’t pursue the missing airmen because the Laos flight was illegal under the terms of the Paris Peace Accords.
In November 1992, the government of Laos allowed a team of Americans to survey the crash site. That team turned up a number of bone fragments and a dog tag belonging to one of the missing airmen, but the results of the bone fragments were not conclusive. The United States maintains their status as “accounted for.”
Most of us will never know for sure, but there must be something about absolute power that drives a person absolutely insane. For some reason, the dictators that capture and hold power for decades start exhibiting strange behaviors that definitely weren’t apparent when they were just a simple goat herder (Moammar Qaddafi), weatherman (Joseph Stalin) or doctor (François Duvalier).
Those obsessions might have been present while they were nobodies, but they definitely got the chance to bloom once they started living life with a cheat code for unlimited money and power inside their own country. Here are a few of the most bizarre obsessions:
1. Kim Jong-Il – Food
While it may surprise no one that a North Korean is obsessed with food, most of them are obsessed with finding food. Former dictator and dad to current dictator Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il, had no problems finding it, but he was very particular about it.
Legends say he had a team of female servants who would go through each individual grain of rice destined for his plate to ensure they were all exactly the same size. He also demanded that rice be cooked on a fire made from wood from sacred Mount Paektu – 420 miles from Pyongyang.
When he wanted a taste of international cuisine, he had it flown in… brick by brick. To make the perfect pizza, he flew in a pizzeria from Italy. To make beer, he moved a brewery from Germany. It’s a good thing he wasn’t into wings, because the Pyongyang Hooters would be incredibly depressing.
2. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier – Black Dogs
The former doctor and Haitian dictator was a longtime diabetic who suffered a heart attack and went into a coma after an insulin overdose. He recovered, but as he convalesced, he left power with an ally, Clement Barbot. Of course, he soon began to accuse Barbot of trying to steal that power and overthrow Papa Doc. It wasn’t true, but Barbot then actually tried it by kidnapping Papa Doc’s family.
The coup failed and a nationwide manhunt soon began for Barbot. When he couldn’t be found, Papa Doc somehow got it in his head that Barbot had transformed himself into a black dog. So the dictator, despite being an educated doctor, had all the black dogs in Haiti put to death.
3. Fidel Castro – Ice Cream
Even before he seized power in Cuba, Papa Fidel was known to be obsessed with ice cream. Supporters sent him ice cream cake for his birthday while he was fighting in the jungles. He celebrated seizing power in Havana with a nice milkshake and once ate 18 scoops of ice cream for lunch.
There’s no insane, over-the-top story about his obsession. He did create one of the world’s best ice cream parlors, Coppelia, for the Cuban people, which the government still subsidizes. The closest the CIA ever got to assassinating the Cuban dictator was poisoning one of his milkshakes.
4. Joseph Stalin – Nude Drawings
We aren’t saying Stalin was making nude drawings or forcing people to draw in the nude. His obsession was much more specific. He really liked making rude comments on drawings of nude men. It didn’t matter if it was a classical painting or a doodle on a cocktail napkin, he was going to write something on it.
The comments sometimes had nothing to do with the drawings. On one nude male figure, the Soviet dictator wrote, “Ginger bastard Radek, if he had not pissed against the wind, if he had not been angry, he would still be alive.”
Radek was a former Trotsky supporter who disappeared into Stalin gulags. At least the world knows what happened to him.
5. Adolph Hitler – Western Novels
The Fuhrer was obsessed with the writings of German author Karl May. He was more specifically obsessed with the author’s novels set in the Old American West, featuring a fictional Apache war chief named Winnetou and a German called Old Shatterhand. He even mentions May in “Mein Kampf.”
As World War II dragged on, Hitler still forced his generals, troops and the German people to read the Old West works of Karl May, despite widespread shortages in everything needed to actually make books. He even demanded his generals read it for inspiration in fighting the Red Army.
6. Moammar Qaddafi – Condoleezza Rice
The Libyan dictator had an obsession with Condi that she described as “weird and a bit creepy.” Of course, she knew about his obsession with her: he made a video about her called “Black Flower in the White House,” complete with an original score by a Libyan composer. Luckily, she wrote in her memoir, the video was not raunchy.
When anti-Qaddafi rebels captured his compound, they found a homemade scrapbook of her in his personal quarters, one that was filled with photos and press clippings. They, of course, showed the world immediately to let the public humiliation of Qaddafi begin.
What was supposed to be a tough but short battle where the Marines would quickly win became some of the bloodiest 76 hours in American history as obstacles on the approach and determined Japanese defenders made the Marines bleed for every bit of sand.
The idea behind capturing Betio Island in the Tarawa Atoll was that it would serve as the opening blow in a new front across the Japanese and give the Navy and Marine Corps a corridor through the Central Pacific to Japan.
During the hell that was World War II, the U.S. conducted 72 straight days of vicious bombing raids on the island of Iwo Jima to gain access. America did everything within their power to weaken Japanese forces before sending ground troops in to secure the rest of island for allied use.
Although U.S. forces bombed the crap out of the island, one aspect of their strategy may have been overlooked in a big way.
Soon after the Marines moved further inland, the Japanese defenses came alive and launched a full counterattack. Ground troops fought hard, day after day.
However, the intense allied bombings caused significant superficial damage to the island, littering the surface with debris. This clutter helped to naturally conceal the Japanese pillboxes — small, concrete guard posts with small slits for weapon fire — making it extremely difficult for ground troops to locate and destroy them before it was too late.
Despite this clear disadvantage to the Marines, their fighting spirit proved superior as the grunts managed to secure the island of Iwo Jima.
But as YouTuber “Bloke on the Range” shows in the video below, it’s actually very unlikely that the enemy would gain any real advantage from the M1 Garand’s sound.
And many veterans of World War II interviewed after the wars said they actually preferred to have the sound as a useful reminder to reload.
To get a grip on the controversy, imagine being a young G.I. in combat in World War II. You’re moving up on a suspected Japanese position with a fully loaded M1 Garand. You catch a bit of movement and realize the small mounds on the ground in front of you are actually enemy helmets poking up from a trench.
You drop into a good firing position and start throwing rounds down range. With seven shots, you kill one and wound another. Your eighth shot reinforces the man’s headache, but it also causes the ping, telling the attentive third Japanese soldier that you’re completely out of ammo.
The theory states that that’s when the third soldier jumps up and kills you. But there are a couple issues with the theory.
First, in the chaos of combat, it would be uncommon for an enemy to hear the clip ejecting over the sound of the fight. Second, soldiers typically fight as a group, so the G.I. in the hypothetical should actually have five to nine other soldiers with him, and it’s unlikely that more than one or two of them would be out of ammo at the same time.
Third, as the Bloke demonstrates, it doesn’t take long for the shooter to reload, putting them back in the fight and ready to kill any enemy soldiers running to take advantage of the ammo gap.
ArmamentResearch.com found a 1952 Technical Memorandum where researchers asked veterans who carried the rifle what they thought of the ping. Out of 315 responders, 85 thought that the ping was helpful to the enemy, but a whopping 187 thought it was more useful to the shooter by acting as a useful signal to reload.
An article by a Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles D. Petrie after he reportedly spoke to German veterans of D-Day who found the idea of attacking after a ping laughable. They reported that, in most engagements, they couldn’t hear the ping at all, and the rest of the time they were too aware of the rest of the American squad to try to take advantage of it.
It’s not a historical secret that Stephen Decatur had balls of steel. Not literally, of course, but given his fighting record, I can see how you might think that’s possible. There’s a reason America still names houses, schools, streets, and ships after the seaborne legend.
All that and he had a sense of humor too.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
The man who would become arguably the most legendary sailor ever to sail in the United States Navy was the youngest man ever to reach the rank of Captain. He was a stunning military leader and may have personally led the rise in prestige of the U.S. Navy’s ships and sailors in the eyes of its European counterparts. He cut his teeth as a young officer in the Quasi-War with France, where he helped take down 25 enemy ships in a matter of months.
In the First Barbary War, Decatur led a shore party who raided Tripoli’s harbor to burn the captured USS Philadelphia and deny her to the enemy. The raid was successful, and Decatur and crew returned to their ship without losing a single man. The famous British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
By the time the War of 1812 came around, Capt. Decatur was in command of the USS United States, the ship on which President Adams commissioned him a lieutenant and started his career.
Decatur then took the fight to the British in engagement after engagement.
But upon taking command of a squadron led by the USS President during the war, Decatur suffered some bad luck. After taking numerous British prizes, including the HMS Macedonian and HMS Guerriere, the President under Decatur’s command ran aground in foul weather during a confrontation with the British West Indies Squadron. Decatur was defeated aboard President and was captured and paroled to New York City until the end of the war. By then, his name was as feared on the high seas as Lord Nelson’s was for England. Maybe that’s why President Madison sent Decatur to Gibraltar to negotiate with the Barbary Pirates to end the Second Barbary War.
Decatur was sent to “conquer the enemy into peace” as chief negotiator and enforce that peace with a squadron of American ships. The ships he chose were the perfect troll to an enemy already fearful of his name. Decatur chose to depart from New York in command of the USS Guerriere, Macedonian, Constellation, Ontario, Flambeau, Spark, Spitfire, and Torch.
The American War of Independence, as the British like to call it, was the the rebels’ war to lose.
With the superior military and economy of Britain, many expected the rebellion in the colonies to be over quickly. So, how did the world’s greatest superpower of the time fail to subdue an insurrection in the small colonies of America?
The truth is there are numerous reasons, but at least four of those happen to be costly mistakes on the part of the British.
1. The Battle of Bunker Hill
The British had a knack for defeating the Americans at such a high cost that they themselves often had to retreat after the battle.
This began very early in the war with the Battle of Bunker Hill. The British charged the American redoubts on Breed’s Hill repeatedly and although they eventually drove the Americans back, they lost so many experienced officers and men that General Clinton remarked, “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
Due to the British military system, those loses were difficult to replace.
The British attack was a blunder for several reasons.
As the British advanced across open ground they were mowed down by American sharpshooters. Their return volleys were ineffectual because of the American defenses. Once the British successfully stormed the redoubt on their third attempt, the Americans simply retreated, as they lacked bayonets with which to fight the redcoats.
Worst of all for the British, they could have simply cut off the neck of the peninsula and left the Americans with nowhere to run.
2. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia
Gen. Howe’s capture of Philadelphia was rife with tactical and strategic blunders that likely spelled the beginning of the end of Britain’s hopes of quelling the American Revolution.
Howe’s first major blunder was wanting to take Philadelphia in the first place. Typical Continental strategy of the day said to drive the enemy from the field and take his capital, at which point he will capitulate. However, after taking several American cities and defeating the Americans in multiple battles, this outcome had failed to materialize.
Yet, Howe, the commander-in-chief of British forces in America, failed to realize this and strove to capture Philadelphia.
This action might not have gone down as such an incredible blunder if it hadn’t been for another issue — it left Gen. Burgoyne’s troops without support in the Hudson River Valley.
As most American high school students know, American forces under Gen. Horatio Gates were able to surround and capture the British force at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory brought the much needed support of France and ended British hopes of conquering New England.
Howe would successfully capture Philadelphia but the Continental Congress escaped into the Pennsylvania countryside. In order to secure New York, Howe would have to abandon Philadelphia the next year.
3. The Battle of Cowpens
The Battle of Cowpens was a major turning point towards the end of the war, and another costly blunder for the British.
British forces, led by the young, brash, Col. Banastre Tarleton, were seeking to advance into North Carolina after successfully subduing much of Georgia and South Carolina.
Tarleton’s arrogance and overconfidence were playing right into a trap that the American commander, Daniel Morgan, had set for him. Morgan planned to use his militia as bait, to lure Tarleton into a false sense of victory and then hit him hard with his Continental Regulars.
Tarleton helped Morgan’s cause by driving his force relentlessly in pursuit of the Americans. His men had nearly run out of food and had been roused at two in the morning to continue their pursuit of Morgan. They arrived at the battlefield weak and exhausted.
Once engaged, Morgan’s ruse worked like a charm. The British force suffered over 100 men killed, 200 men wounded, and 500 men and two cannons captured. Combined with a defeat at King’s Mountain prior to the battle, the British position in the South was becoming more precarious.
4. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse
Exasperated by the losses at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, Lord Cornwallis sallied forth against Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s numerically superior force.
Determined to pin down Greene and decisively defeat his army in the south, Cornwallis sought battle at Guilford Courthouse where Greene’s army was camped. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, Cornwallis’ troops engaged.
The battle was the largest of the southern theatre and despite his numerical advantage, Greene was unable to defeat Cornwallis’ veteran troops. After over two hours of intense combat, Greene withdrew his army from the field.
Though Cornwallis had defeated Greene, his victory was pyrrhic, and failed to decisively destroy the Patriot army. Cornwallis had lost nearly a quarter of his force killed or wounded in the battle. Losses that were increasingly difficult to absorb for the British army.
Cornwallis’ fateful decision forced him to withdraw to Yorktown to await reinforcements. At Yorktown, Cornwallis’ tactical blunders would cost the British the war. First, he failed to breakout when he had the chance, then he gave up his outer defenses, hastening his defeat.
With no reinforcements and under siege, Cornwallis surrendered his force to Gen. Washington, effectively ending hostilities in the American Revolution.
Seventy-five years ago, on July 17, 1943, one Army Air Corps pilot dared another to fly his plane into the eye of a hurricane, and a new method of predicting storms and getting adrenaline highs was born.
Army Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph P. Duckworth flew an T-6 trainer aircraft into the eye of a hurricane headed to the Texas coast on a dare just to prove it could be done.
“The only embarrassing episode would have been engine failure, which, with the strong ground winds, would probably have prevented a landing, and certainly would have made descent via parachute highly inconvenient.”
But the dare proved fruitful, and Duckworth went back up with a weather officer. Studying the hurricane allowed the meteorologists to not only better predict that storm, but to start building a better understanding of how hurricanes form and move.
Air Force 1st Lt. Tina Young examines data gathered while flying into the eye of Hurricane Ophelia on Sept. 14. Young is an aerial reconnaissance weather officer with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Eaton)
This preceded a massive expansion of the Army’s weather reconnaissance squadrons, with new squadrons being stood up throughout the late 1940s and the ’50s with names like “Hurricane Hunters” and “Typhoon Chasers.” The introduction of satellites eventually made many of the formations unnecessary, leading to them being inactivated or re-missioned, but one unit remains in service.
The British monarchy has a long tradition of military service, but there has only been one woman from the British royal family to ever serve in the Armed Forces. That’s right, Queen Elizabeth II served in WWII.
When WWII ravaged Europe, nearly everyone stood up to defend their homeland. Men, women, farmers, and businessmen did their duty alike. This includes then-Princess Elizabeth. Like her father, who served in WWI, she enlisted on her 18th birthday despite being in the line of succession for the throne and her father’s reluctance.
Princess Elizabeth enrolled in the Women’s Auxilary Territorial Service (ATS), similar to the American Women’s Army Corps, where many women actively served in highly valuable support roles. Responsibilities of the ATS included serving as radio operators, anti-aircraft gunners and spotlight operators, and, her occupation, as mechanics and drivers.
It wasn’t a lavish position, but despite the grit and grime, she didn’t symbolically change a single tire and call herself a mechanic. She took her duties very seriously and she was spectacular. She took great pride in her work and loved every moment of it. Collier’s Magazinewrote at the time that “one of her major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains on her hands, and display these signs of labor to her friends.”
She learned to drive every vehicle she worked on, which includes the Tilly light truck and ambulances. On VE Day, The Princess Elizabeth slipped away with her sister to cheer with the crowds. The war was finally over and no one recognized the Princesses as they walked through the crowds incognito.
Less than a decade later, she would be crowned the Queen of England. Her independent spirit has endured to this day, as she isn’t a fan of being chauffeured around when she can drive herself.
To watch some archival footage of Her Most Excellent and Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith in her younger, WWII days, watch the video below:
On Aug. 1, 1955, a prototype of the U-2 spy plane sprinted down a runway at Groom Lake in Nevada, and its massive wings quickly lifted it into the sky.
That wasn’t exactly how it was supposed to go. It was meant to be a high-speed taxi test, but the prototype’s highly efficient wings pulled it into the air unexpectedly. The plane’s first official flight happened three days later.
Lockheed Martin footage captured the moment the venerable Dragon Lady started its 64-year career.
The U-2 was developed in secrecy by Lockheed in the early 1950s to meet the US government’s need to surveil the Soviet Union and other areas from a height enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft systems couldn’t reach.
Renowned engineer Kelly Johnson led the project at Lockheed’s advanced development lab, Skunk Works.
“Johnson’s take was all right, I need to get as high as I can to overfly enemy defenses, and how do I do that? Well I put big wings on there; big wings means higher. I cut weight; cutting weight means higher, and then let me just strap a big engine on there, and that’s it,” U-2 pilot Maj. Matt “Top” Nauman said at an Air Force event in New York City in May 2019.
One thing Johnson ditched was wing-mounted landing gear. On takeoff, temporary wheels called “pogos” fall away from the wings.
Master Sgt. Justin Pierce, 9th Maintenance Squadron superintendent, preforms preflight checks on a U-2 at Beale Air Force Base in California, April 16, 2018.
(US Air Force/Senior Airman Tristan D. Viglianco)
“So [Johnson] basically took a glider with parts and pieces from other Lockheed aircraft and strapped an engine to it and delivered it before the anticipated delivery date and under budget,” Nauman said.
The plane Johnson and Lockheed produced was well suited for flight — as the Groom Lake test showed, it didn’t take much to get it off the ground.
“The pilot was out there taxing around, and [during] a high-speed taxi — we’re talking about 30ish miles an hour — the plane actually lifted off on its own, completely unexpected,” Nauman said.
“And they thought, ‘OK, hang on, let’s go back and make sure we’re approaching this test phase the right way.’ And they found the thing just wants to get off the ground.”
A U-2 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS America.
Same name, new-ish plane
Throughout its career, the U-2 has been reengineered and redesigned.
The plane that took off at Groom Lake was a U-2A. The next version was the U-2C, which had a new engine; a U-2C on display at the National Air and Space Museum flew the first operational mission over the Soviet Union on July 4, 1956.
The U-2G and U-2H, outfitted for carrier operations, came in the early 1960s. The U-2R, which was 40% larger than the original and had wing pods to carry more sensors and fuel, arrived in 1967.
The last U-2R arrived in 1989, and most of the planes in use now were built in the mid-1980s.
Since 1994 the US has spent id=”listicle-2639718396″.7 billion to modernize the U-2’s airframe and sensors. After the GE F118-101 engine was added in the late 1990s, all U-2s were re-designated as U-2S, the current variant.
US Air Force Maj. Sean Gallagher greets his ground support crew before a U-2 mission, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Nov. 24, 2010.
(US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)
The Air Force now has about 30 single-seat U-2 for missions and four of the two-seat TU-2 trainers. Those planes have a variety of pilot-friendly features, but one aspect remains a challenge.
“It’s extremely difficult to land,” Nauman said.
“You could YouTube videos of bad U-2 landings all day and see interview sorties that look a little bit sketchy,” he said, referring to a part of the pilot-interview process where candidates have to fly the U-2, adding that the landings were done safely.
Despite its grace in flight, getting to earth is an ungainly process that takes a team effort.
Another qualified U-2 pilot in a high-performance chase car — Mustangs, Camaros, Pontiacs, and even a Tesla — meets the aircraft as it lands.
A U-2 pilot drives a chase car behind U-2 during a low-flight touch and go at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, March 15, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Gracie I. Lee)
“As the airplane’s coming in over the runway, this vehicle’s chasing behind it with a radio, and [the driver is] actually talking the pilot down a little bit, just to help him out … ‘Hey, raise your left wing, raise your right wing, you’re about 10 feet, you’re about 8 feet, you’re about 2 feet, hold it there at 2 feet,'” U-2 pilot Maj. Travis “Lefty” Patterson, said at the same event.
As the plane “approaches a stall and it’s able to land, you have that experienced set of eyes in the car watching the airplane, because all [the pilot] can see is right off the front,” Patterson said.
The absence of wing landing gear means that once it’s slows enough, the plane leans to one side and a wingtip comes to rest on the ground.
“The lifespan of the U-2, the airframe, [is beyond] 2040 to 2050 … because we spend so little time in a high-stress regime,” Patterson added. “Once it gets to altitude it’s smooth and quiet and it’s very, very nice on the airplane. The only tough part is the landing.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The United States isn’t big on bipartisanship in Congress these days, but if any single event testifies to what America can do when we unite, it would have to be Project Sapphire – the secret removal of nuclear material from the former Soviet Union.
Long before the USSR fell at the end of 1991, it was clear to many in the U.S. that the “Evil Empire” was on its way out. The Cold War ending was a good thing, but it opened up a host of all new problems. For Congress, that problem was the potential for weapons-grade uranium ending up in the hands of Pakistan or North Korea, who didn’t yet have nuclear weapons. Even worse, it could end up in the hands of terrorists.
Terrorists hadn’t yet committed some of the most egregious terror attacks against American assets in recent memory, such as the Khobar Towers attack, the World Trade Center Bombing or the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility for the 1983 Beirut barracks attack that killed 299 Americans and the U.S. now had a large presence in Saudi Arabia.
There was 24 nuclear bombs’ worth of weapons-grade uranium sitting in the Kazakh SSR – modern-day Kazakhstan. The Soviet government was powerless to secure it and Iran and Iraq were motivated to secure it on the black market.
That’s how Project Sapphire, a clandestine mission to secure and repackage 90% enriched, weapons-grade uranium in Kazakhstan for shipment to the United States. With state and non-state actors around the world looking to build nuclear weapons, the material had to be secured, packed, and shipped in total secrecy.
Seeing the writing on the wall for the USSR, Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar created the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program in 1986. The idea was to dismantle Soviet weapons and secure the fissile materials used to build them – the weapons-grade uranium.
They also wrote and introduced the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, which provided money for former Soviet states like Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan to decommission old Soviet weapons and ship them to Russia for destruction. Nunn and Lugar wanted to keep track of that material because they believed Russia could not.
By 1994, the Soviet Union was long gone and Kazakhstan was an independent country. Its relations with Russia were still vital to its economy and its interests, though. It did not want to risk its relationship with its benefactor but still wanted to rid itself of its excess nuclear material.
Its biggest concern came from a former Soviet submarine plant in the country that had been abandoned. The fissile material was sitting in the remote facility and the workers hadn’t been paid in months.
On Oct. 14, 1994, a 31-person team slipped unnoticed into Kazakhstan and secured the submarine production facility with the help of a few of the workers. For nearly a month, the team worked 12-hour shifts six days a week to remove and repack the highly enriched uranium. When they finally finished in late November, it took two Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft to move all the material from the former USSR to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Upon their return, the mission was not only declassified, it was celebrated when announced to the press by the Clinton Administration and members of Congress who were instrumental in creating the means for its success.
When American political parties are united, there’s nothing we can’t do, even if that means smuggling nuclear material out of a foreign country.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
“Well, they sure favor their Earth tone clothing over here; every color is … dark, dingy, and just… gray. It’s like this whole city is trapped inside a gray balloon,” my brother observed and commented. “What the hell is with all the dark clothing, seriously?” he puzzled. “I mean is there some kind of extra import tariff on $hit that is red, yellow, or orange — the longer wavelength colors — always with the shorter waves, Moriarity; ALWAYS WITH THE SHORTER WAVES!”
Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina in former Yugoslavia. The boys and I came here shortly after a United Nations (UN)-induced cease-fire. The tide of homicide, genocide, fratricide, and suicide along the countryside… had all just become so, so, so over the top for the world theater’s pallet.
The suffering on the ground was hellish but what the real world didn’t know and we only learned on the ground was that we were here because of a doll. Yep, that’s right journalists were placing dolls in the scenes of carnage which when seen by coffee-talkers around the world sparked global outrage — time to send in some troops!
“They’re ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and then gunning both down right there in the streets… and I think that’s just wrong, you know?” bleat the crestfallen Gladys Pumpernick of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Oh, but what of the children??”
And so it went; that’s how me and the boys ended up in a C-130 Herc out of Germany, junked-up with body armor and helmets. Ground fire was an indeed thing in and around the Sarajevo airport. No slow shallow glide to the flight line; that would lend undue exposure of the aircraft to ground fire. Ours was a fast approach with a sudden steep dive and flare onto the tarmac.
Air Force likes to tell you that a dive gives you a chance. The Army tells you to throw on body armor. Despite both schools of wisdom, you’re still stuck in a metal tube with absolutely nothing you can do. We looked and felt stupid in our armor, with nothing protecting us from bullets coming up through the floor of the aircraft.
“In Nam the Air Cavalry sat on their steel pots!” recalled a brother, and we all quickly removed our armored vests and helmets. We lay our vests on our red nylon seats, the K-Pot helmets on the vests, then sat on top of the combo, grinning back and forth at each other the grin you grin when you have saved your testicles for yet another day.
Once on the ground, were attached to the in-country commanding general’s group of the UN-titled Implementation Force (IFOR). All soldiers from all nations wore the IFOR badge on their uniforms. Our badges, being with the command element read “ComIFOR” the Command of IFOR, a title that lent prestige in countless areas as well as free parking spots.
We wore only functionally rugged civilian clothes and carried a concealed M-1911 pistol on our person. Parking along a curb on our first day we were immediately approached by a fireplug of a hateful U.S. Military Police person. She huffed and she puffed and sought to blow us down:
“You can’t park there!”
Our team lead, D-man, neatly closed the driver’s door of our SUV as he replied: “Yes we can.”
“No you can’t — IFOR!” huffed the MP as she jammed an indicating index finger into the IFOR badge on her chest.
D-Man tapped his badge on his chest: “Yes we can — ComIFOR.”
The MP’s eyes flashed a “been-got” flash, and she stewed momentarily. “Well, don’t take all damned day!” was all she had.
“Yeah, we’ll be sure and not take all damned day, sweetheart,” was how D-Man dismissed our host.
I can tell you that it was dark in Sarajevo at night, so dark. My first night there I counted from up high a grand total of five lights coming from some sources in the city, not even bright ones. Two of them were traffic lights… just two traffic lights on main street in the entire city. It was dark in Sarajevo at night, yeah.
Night in a shopping district of modern-day Sarajevo
The country’s infrastructure was simply destroyed from the years of bombing and shelling. There was no dependable electric grid, fuel or transportation was rare. People were forced to spend long days well into night, mostly on foot just trying to take care of their basic needs.
And at night our headlights revealed the ghost people as they moved through the streets. Clad mostly in black; light black and dark black. A splash of gray to compliment the dark something-or-other, an ensemble pulled together with a black pleather jacket.
And the women, dark on dark with pallid skin, long raven hair, black lipstick, and dark eyeshadow… looking like a hoard of listless Morticia Addams’ sulking their way to somewhere. They shuffled as singletons or couples arm in pleather arm. Goth was just the untimely trend for the young there. It just made for an even more macabre ambiance in the city at night.
The original Morticia Addams
Back at our little compound, I had a chance to meet one of the ghost people face to face: Rado, short for Radovan, had been a newspaper editor before the war in just his early 20s. He was since rounded up by Serbian troops and held for many months in a barn with the other men of his neighborhood and tortured beyond logical description, to the brink of a ghost person.
Subject to his calamity he became as simple as a little child in both thought and action. He did odd jobs around the American Embassy for food and pennies. He smoked like a meat house and wore the same unlaundered pullover sweater the entire three months I was there.
The team and I really came to question the ghost people: why were they walking in the street at night in dark clothes, in the middle of the street even?! It’s like they’re begging to be killed… they’re stoned freaking crazy — all of them! Yes, it sure seemed that way to me too. I have to reckon that after all they have been through these last years nothing really lights their fuses.
What can I tell you? These souls have been treading in Lucifer’s backyard for over four years now, the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Day after day of pacts with the devil to stay alive, scratching and screaming to stay living, promising all and everything to the Creator for just one more day above ground… do we honestly expect them to worry over their dark wardrobe while they stroll the street shoulders of their peace-time home??
An American Colonel gave Rado his used New Balance running shoes the day he signed out; he just walked up and stuffed them in Rado’s chest and walked away. Rado stood stunned, gradually sinking to the ground crying and hugging his now most prized possession, his (used) American shoes. “Even and they are my number!” he cried out in fractured English, meaning they were just his size, “Even and they are my same number!”
Driving on patrol or even on the base was always a challenge for us with the Ghost people lurking in the shadows. “I swear to God “Sarajevo” is the Bosnian word for ghost people! They need to move out of the freakin’ way!!” =HONK — HONK — HOOOOOONK= “I’m going to run one of these sons-of-bitches over and it’s not going to be my fault!” Tough talk, but we would continue to always yield to the ghost people, our rage notwithstanding.
Rado got hit by an IFOR HMMWV (hummer) and died on Alipašina Ulica (street). It was night, and the street was dark. Rado was dark and too simple, the driver American and so irate, irate with the ghost people of Sarajevo.
I didn’t see the accident, but I raced there when I heard the news, as it was very close by. Rado lay still where he died, wearing his same rancid pullover sweater, and now the Colonel’s used running shoes, his same number, Rado’s, the simple child… Rado, the ghost of Sarajevo.
Radovan Bozhić served his sentence in Hades. He was finished with his sentence, and now it was time for him to live; it was someone else’s turn to stagger the green mile to death for a fair spell.
Somewhere, somehow, some clerk made an errant entry in the wrong row, the wrong column of a divine dispatch log, and mistakenly put Rado wrongfully back on the mortal path… my, but I did hate it so.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
The Ft. Bragg Commanding General’s office agreed to allow us to use an unoccupied barracks for an assault scenario. Something Delta was in constant search of was new floor plans for Close Quarter Battle (CQB) training. The drive for constant realistic training revealed there was diminished value in repetitions in the same structure where everyone was familiar with the internal layout.
Our Operations Cell geniuses had a decent penchant for finding structures that were either brand new and uninhabited, or marked for destruction and again uninhabited. In the case of our barracks structure, it was marked for demolition… but the general would allow no undue damage to the structure, as it had to be in good condition for it to be… uh… torn down.
This all makes sterling sense if you happen to be a general grade officer.The rest of us just need to get in step and stay in our lanes!
Delta doesn’t shoot blanks; all combat training is done with live ammunition. We used special metal structures behind targets to catch the bullets. Faith abounded that there would be no”thrown rounds,” rounds that went wild and missed targets, rendering holes in walls and such.
The breach point — the planned entrance — had its door removed from its hinges and replaced with a throwaway door that we could fire an explosive charge on. Flash-bang grenades (bangers) do not spread shrapnel so they can be used in close proximity to the user, though they are still deadly, and are understood to cause fires in some cases.
Yes, explosive breaching is prone to start fires.
Outside the building several buckets of water were on standby in case of a small fire ignition. These were just routine precautions taken by our target preparation crews. Windows all had a letter “X” in duct tape from corners to corners to help contain the glass in the event that a banger shattered the window as they were so often known to do.
Anti-shatter treatment with duct tape.
Our A-2 troop was the first in on the target. They scrambled from their assault helicopters, blew open the breach point door, and scrambled in shooting and banging room-to-room as they moved. Shouts of: “CLEAR”,”ALL CLEAR”, “CLEAR HERE” echoed from the rooms, then:
“HEY… THERE’S A FIRE IN HERE… NORTH HALLWAY… IT’S SPREADING — GRAB A FIRE BUCKET!”
An assault team member close to the south exit dashed out after a fire bucket as other members stomped and slapped at the fire. He rushed back in with the fire bucket cocked back in his arms ready to douse:
“MOVE! I GOT IT, I GOT IT!”
He snapped his arms forward and let the contents fly as the men darted to the sides. The blaze exploded into an inferno that would have made Dante Alighieri exclaim: “Woah!” The order to “abandon ship” was called out by the troop commander as the men bailed out through every nearest exit. The entire wood structure was very soon totally consumed by fire and burned to a pile of ash that wasn’t itself even very impressive.
Use of explosives on an assault objective can lead to fires.
An investigation very quickly revealed that the engineers building out the target floor plan had used a bucket of gasoline to fill and refill the quick-saws they had been using to cut plywood used in the building. That same bucket unfortunately found its way painfully close to the fire buckets. The assaulter, at no fault of his own, grabbed the bucket and doused the otherwise manageable fire with petrol, causing it to run wild.
The gas-powered quick or concrete saw
“Sir… do you realize what this means??”
“Yes, Sergeant… the General is going to be a very very unhappy man.”
“No, no, no… screw the General… Hand is going to blister us with a derisive cartoon!!”
“My… my God, Sergeant… I hadn’t thought of that. You clean up here and I’ll go break the news to the men; they’ll need some time alone to process this.”
And the men were afraid of what awaited them when they returned to the squadron break room, but it was senseless to delay it any longer. In they strolled, the 20 of them… their assault clothes tattered and torn, their faces long and grim, their spirits craving the Lethean peace of the night.
There pinned to the wall was a completed product immortalizing the A-2 troop’s simple brew-ha-ha for all eternity. They stood and stared stupefied and still:
“There; it is done, men… and yet we’re all still alive. Nothing left to do but wait until the next jackass edges us off the front page. May God have mercy on us all!”
The event is depicted in the cartoon with the gross exaggeration of an entire Shell Corporation tanker truck on the scene rather than just a single bucket of benzine. Cartoons often wildly exaggerate to lend to the humor of the event. Nonetheless it was inevitable that some folks in the unit did query men of the A-2 troop: “Did you guys really spray gasoline on the fire with a Shell Tanker?”