National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

National WWI Museum examines global impact, today’s legacy

Where does a museum collection begin? How do curators tell humanity’s most complicated stories? For more than 100 years, the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri has asked and answered these questions about the Great War and its enduring impact.

From the first shots fired in 1914 to the last attempts at peace in 1919, the museum showcases firsthand accounts from the battlefield and the home front. At the museum, the conflict comes alive with more than 300,000 artifacts, objects and documents — one of the world’s largest collections.


Today’s legacy

“The cataclysm that was World War I was the defining moment of the 20th century,” Senior Curator Doran Cart said.

Yet to many Americans, this conflict is a muddled, confusing clash of powers overshadowed by World War II.

For Cart, WWI remains important because it is the start to so many of the important challenges of our modern era. From the conflicts and civil wars in the Middle East, to the present challenges of Russia and Ukraine, to immigration issues and rising isolationist tendencies around the globe the links can be traced to WWI.

“You cannot talk about today’s problems without finding the connections,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Innovation on and off the battlefield

The lasting ramifications of this conflict continue today as does the innovation discovered in medical and military fields.

Cart shared how medical practices, including advanced techniques in the treatment of head trauma were first developed during this conflict. For the first time, antiseptics were developed to clean wounds, soldiers were taught about hygiene and blood banks were used. In France, vehicles became mobile X-ray units, surgeons were drafted in closer to the frontline and hospital trains evacuated casualties.

“So many of these lessons learned are relevant in war zones today,” Cart said.

In terms of the mechanics of war, this conflict brought about the use of airplanes and tanks in conflict, machine guns and chemical war. All items that are relevant to later conflicts in the 20th century and today.

100 years of collecting

The museum’s latest exhibits, “100 Years of Collecting” and “100 Years of Collecting Art” showcase an exhaustive number of objects and documents that have never been displayed. Highlights including a formal court frock coat and vest worn by Imperial Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s personal household staff and aides, 100+ year-old soldier-issued hardtack (hard bread) and a sign from 1942 indicating the memorial would be closed due to potential threats of WWII-related sabotage.

Another item of interest is the lectern used by President Calvin Coolidge at the Nov. 11, 1926 dedication of what eventually became the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Coolidge spoke before 150,000 people — the largest crowd a U.S. president had ever addressed.

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

More stories equal more understanding

The museum has recently acquired a unique and beautifully made Russian woman’s coat.

“Her insignia indicate that she was a machine gun unit commander and the coat is amazing in that it has survived over 100 years with all the turmoil and later history of Russia,” Cart said.

“Women’s history in WWI has been one of the long-overlooked aspects of the war and this piece helps greatly in writing another chapter in history. It also contributes to our future planning needs of acquisitions for the museum in three specific areas: women of all nations involved in the war, minorities and indigenous peoples.”

Photo courtesy of Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial

Global conflict

“The founders of our museum knew the importance of the global story,” Cart said noting that nearly 20 countries/empires across the world are represented in the exhibition.

Items from the around the globe have been collected, including from the Austro-Hungarian empire, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Romania, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. Countries that were neutral during the conflict — Mexico, Spain and Sweden — are also represented as they supplied items that were used at some point during the conflict.

Visiting the museum

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum has modified their policies to adapt to social distancing and health and safety protocols. The museum is offering limited access timed tickets and recommending social distancing and mask-wearing practices during visits.

“We tell people to maintain the distance of a 1917 Harley Davidson motorcycle, which we happen to have on display, and is nearly six feet in length,” Cart said.

Can’t make it to Kansas City? The museum has made a variety of online resources available for teachers, students and the general public.

Both exhibitions run until March 7, 2021 and are included with general admission to the museum and memorial. More information can be found at https://www.theworldwar.org.

This article originally appeared on Military Families Magazine. Follow @MilFamiliesMag on Twitter.


Articles

‘6 Days’ tells the story of a daring SAS raid to rescue hostages in London

It was one of the most audacious special operations raids ever launched. Nearly 30 hostages were being held for close to a week in the heart of Britain’s capital city — the target of an assault by a Middle Eastern separatist group who stormed the Iranian embassy.


And in broad daylight, after six days of fruitless negotiations in April and May of 1980, one of the world’s most skilled counter-terrorist units assaulted the target in front of news cameras who broadcast the daring operation live around the globe.

In the end, only one of the hostages was killed and two wounded and the nearly three dozen commandos from the British Special Air Service cemented their place as some of the most fearsome and capable operators the world had ever seen.

That dramatic story will be retold this summer in the movie “6 Days.” Directed by Toa Fraser and starring Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish and Mark Strong, the movie recounts the drama of the Iran embassy takeover and the rescue mission, dubbed “Operation Nimrod,” from the perspective of the SAS team, a BBC reporter and the police negotiator trying to get the terrorists to surrender their prisoners.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story is that the SAS assault took place in broad daylight in front of dozens of TV cameras — exposing for the first time the secretive world of Britain’s most elite warriors and making them instant heroes in the eyes of their countrymen.

“6 Days” is scheduled to open in the England in August. No U.S. release date has been set so far.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What happened to the German mercenaries who fought against the American Revolution

Everyone knows about the famous crossing of the Delaware, where General Washington surprised the Hessians in the darkness of late Christmas Day. But who were the infamous Hessians that Washington and his men killed and wounded by the score? And what happened to the ones who didn’t get killed by the Continental Army? As it turns out, Hessian mercenaries liked freedom as much as any other colonial immigrant, because many just stuck around.


Which was fine after the war, but during the war they were very unwelcome – because looting people’s homes is a real turn off.

Not the first time Americans would have to put Germans in their place. And not the last.

The Hessians were not technically mercenaries but contract armies fighting for Britain from the German states of Hesse- Cassel and Hesse-Hanau. Though German troops contracted under British control came from other principalities, they were referred to as “Hessians” as a whole by the colonists. Britain used Hessian troops to control large populations, especially in Ireland and the American Colonies. The use of these troops was one of the reasons the Americans would declare their independence from the crown. Though more than capable fighters, the British used them as guards and garrison troops, which is how they found themselves when Washington surprised them that Christmas night.

When Hessians were captured, especially after the Battle of Trenton, they would be paraded through the streets. The colonists’ anger toward their mother country using “foreign mercenaries” to subdue them was infuriating and increased military enlistments for the Continental Army. They would then be used as a source of labor while they were prisoners of war, often working on farms. The Continental Congress also offered each Hessian who would defect to the American cause 50 acres of land for their effort.

What Hessians see when they aren’t defecting.

Many German troops ended up in Lancaster, Penn. working alongside the Pennsylvania Dutch, who, by nature, treated the Germans very well. In all, German POWs had such a great experience in American farms and fields that they would sometimes join the Continental Army. Some 30,000 men came from German states to fight against the American Revolution. While more than 7,500 of them died in the fighting, the rest did not and when it came time to go home, many didn’t want to go.

So they stayed.

Only an estimated 17,300 of the original 30,000 Hessian soldiers opted to return to their principalities in the German states. The rest decided to make their way in the new United States or head to Canada to try out a new life up there. Life in the armies of German princes was not always so good and the troops were not always well-paid for their efforts. Starting a new life in a country where their future was their own to make was a natural step for many of the well-trained, hardworking Germans.

They could finally celebrate Christmas without worrying about Americans surprising them in their sleep.

Articles

This was the most destructive nuclear weapon ever conceived

The Cold War saw both sides of the Iron Curtain come up with new ways to inflict a nuclear apocalypse on one another — always in the hope that these methods would serve more so as a deterrent than a call to war.


Among the myriad bombs and missiles designed in the United States to counter the surging Soviet missile program was the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile, arguably the most destructive missile system ever conceived in the history of modern warfare.

Designed by Vought in the late 1950s, SLAM was theorized as a viable alternative to nuclear-tipped missiles and bombers, which were slow enough (at the time) to be intercepted and shot down by Soviet air defense systems. Created as part of Project Pluto, which was established to develop new engines for cruise missiles, SLAM quickly became the most advanced weapons project the US military had ever undertaken.

A Project Pluto prototype nuclear ramjet engine in a test cradle (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Pluto’s real mission was to create nuclear engines for missiles, giving them a nearly unlimited range and the ability to reach any target around the world after being deployed from American launch sites. When equipped with a Pluto-originated engine, a SLAM could literally fly 113,000 miles without stopping — that’s more than four times around the equator with enough gas in the tank left for more flying.

It would carry dozens of small hydrogen bombs in canisters inside its fuselage, and would also be given a terrain contour matching (TERCOM) radar, allowing it to fly close to the earth in order to avoid enemy radar detection.

SLAM would be launched using rocket boosters, pushing the sleek missile up to its cruising altitude so that it could activate its ramjet engine. Once the boosters fell away, the nuclear ramjet would power up, allowing it to loiter indefinitely at high speeds while waiting for the order to attack.

And when that order came, all hell would break loose.

A mockup of the SLAM missile (Photo Vought)

Once the attack order was transmitted to a SLAM, it would descend down to less than 300 ft over land, flying at supersonic speeds while wreaking havoc with its sonic shockwaves, destroying anything that wasn’t hardened or sheltered along the way.

Its nuclear engine would spew out deadly toxic waste, fatally irradiating anybody and anything near its flight path.

Along the way, SLAM could attack between 14 to 26 targets, releasing one thermonuclear warhead for each objective from compartments on top of the missile while it accelerated away to find its next target. And when SLAM exhausted its nuclear payload, it would become a weapon on its own, flying into the ground and catastrophically melting down its own reactor, further irradiating the area around it.

By the mid-1960s, the project was scrapped. The advent of improved intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could be launched from land bases or submarines, rendered developing the SLAM moot. Once launched, ICBMs were virtually unstoppable, while a SLAM could still hypothetically be shot down.

SLAM was canceled in favor of ICBMs like this Titan II (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

That, and the SLAM was considered just too destructive. In addition to effecting a nuclear annihilation upon all of Eastern Europe and a hefty chunk of communist-controlled Asia, the missile would also release toxic waste into the atmosphere, potentially contaminating the area above the United States and its allies.

The missile couldn’t even be tested, since it was simply too dangerous. What if the nuclear engine failed in-flight, or the guidance system washed out and it flew over allied territory? Thousands upon thousands would be given a lethal dose of radiation as a result.

Rising costs were the final nail in SLAM’s coffin, ending it and Project Pluto for good in the summer of 1964. Apparently, there really is a thing as too deadly when it comes to weapons of war!

For a narrated visualization of this missile’s concept, check out the below video, created by Convair during the competition bid to build what would eventually become SLAM:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_SCuPId8KA
MIGHTY HISTORY

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

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

Why?


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

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

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

HMS Dreadnought underway

(US Navy)

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

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

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

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

After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

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

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

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

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

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

The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.

(US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

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

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

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

Articles

The proud World War II history of Navy ship DD-214

The Army has a saying, “Ain’t no use in looking down, ain’t no discharge on the ground.” But for some old sailors, looking down would have revealed a DD-214, just not the kind of DD-214 that are discharge papers.


(Meme via Sh-t my LPO says)

That’s because the USS Tracy — a destroyer and minesweeper — was commissioned as the DD-214, the Navy’s 208th destroyer (DD-200 through DD-205 were canceled).

The Tracy was laid down in 1919 and commissioned in 1920 before serving on cruises around the world prior to World War II. It was at Pearl Harbor undergoing a massive overhaul when the Japanese attacked in 1941.

The USS Tracy in Bordeaux, France, sometime prior to 1936. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Tracy’s gun batteries, boilers, ammunition, and most of her crew had been removed during the overhaul but that didn’t stop the skeleton crew on the ship from taking action that December morning.

The duty watch kept a log of all their actions, including dispatching fire and damage control crews to other ships and setting up machine guns with borrowed ammunition to fire on Japanese planes attacking the nearby USS Cummings and USS Pennsylvania. The Tracy suffered one man killed and two lost during the battle.

The crew of the Tracy got it back in fighting shape quickly and the ship took part in minelaying activities in March 1942. A few months later, the Tracy joined Task Force 62 for the assault on Guadalcanal.

The USS Tracy sometime before 1936. (Photo: Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum)

As part of the fighting around Guadalcanal, Tracy led the minelaying mission that doomed the Japanese destroyer Makigumo just a year after it was launched.

The Tracy then supported the American-Australian offensive at Bougainville Island before heading back north to take part in the Okinawa invasion, rescuing survivors of a ship hit by a suicide boat attack.

The war ended a short time later and Tracy emerged from the conflict nearly unscathed with seven battle stars.

While it’s great to imagine an entire generation of sailors that had to serve on the DD-214 while dreaming of their DD-214 papers, no old seamen were that unlucky. The DD-214 discharge form wasn’t introduced until 1950, four years after the Tracy was decommissioned and sold for scrap.

The primary source of USS Tracy history for this article comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command article on the ship.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The incredible true story of how the heir to Walmart served in MACV-SOG in Vietnam

The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?

John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.


Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.

Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.

“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.

The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.

During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.

Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.

John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.

(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)

It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.

Walton was also a strong proponent of education and school vouchers, helping establish the Children’s Scholarship Fund with the goal of sending low-income children to private schools. The Walton family as a whole has donated an estimated 0 million, largely due to John’s advocacy. The William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership recognized his contributions in 2001.

John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.

Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.

Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

No, NASA didn’t waste millions making the space pen

Look, this whole article is basically a rant written because we’re getting tired of seeing comments about this every time we talk about NASA and/or Roscosmos. Somewhere in the comments on those articles, on our videos, or really anywhere across the internet as a whole, you’ll see someone sharing that same stupid story of NASA investing millions in space pens while Russia sensibly used pencils instead.

Nearly all of that story is complete and utter nonsense.


NASA astronaut and former Air Force test pilot Col. Gordon Fullerton, wearing communications kit assembly mini headset, watches a free-floating pen during checklist procedures on the aft-deck of Space Shuttle Columbia during the third shuttle mission, STS-3, in 1982.

(NASA)

A few quick things: First, neither NASA nor Roscosmos spent a single dime developing the space pen. NASA and Roscosmos both gave their spacefarers pencils and both of them hated to do so because floating graphite flakes can cause fires in sensitive electronics in zero gravity.

NASA, to cut down on the chance of a fire destroying their multi-million dollar spacecraft and killing their priceless astronauts, invested in insanely expensive mechanical pencils. The pencils were 8.89 each, or a grand total of ,382.26 for 34.

Man, imagine having to go to the supply sergeant for a box of those every time the major loses a few.

Astronaut Walter Cunningham writes with a space pen during the Apollo 7 mission in 1968.

(NASA)

Taxpayers, predictably, freaked out. They felt like pencils shouldn’t cost over 0 — fair enough.

So, NASA went back to cheaper pencils, but remained worried about their spacecraft and astronauts. Russia, in a similar vein, was worried about their cosmonauts.

Then, the Fischer Pen Company came to them with an offer to sell “anti-gravity” pens that could write upside down, under water, and in any temperature that humans could survive. It was the uber pen.

A photo of an Apollo astronaut taking notes in space.

(Project Apollo Archive)

NASA paid a grand total of .39 per pen for 400 of them — a total of 6. Russia also bought the pen for the same price per unit (Well, Scientific American thought the cost was .39 each. A NASA historian citing old media reports pegged the number at per — still, not millions in either case).

Thus concludes NASA’s total sunk costs for the first delivery of pens. They paid in development or research costs. None.

Now, the Fischer Pen Company did spend a lot of money developing the pens — about id=”listicle-2608414142″ million, but they’re a private company counting on future sales to make up for the development costs.

And that was a sound bet. After all, lots of industries and the military need pens that can write in any situation. Miners, loggers, divers, soldiers, and a ton of other people in other professions need to be able to write in wet environments. So, Fischer would earn their research money back regardless.

So, please, when you want to make fun of the military or the government for wasting money, point to something else. The multi-million dollar space pen is and has always been bupkis.

Maybe point to the anti-aircraft weapon that attacked toilets or the slew of awesome weapons the military investigated but was unable to bring to fruition.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How sailors navigated before GPS

Humanity is fated to explore, colonize, and come up with new ways to assert dominance over the forces of nature. The timeline of recorded history is marked by inventions that have propelled us forward to achieve the impossible and expand our collective intelligence. The early explorers navigated the violence of the open ocean by using the stability of the heavenly bodies to guide them.

Before sailors could brave the blank spots on the map, they had to know where home was and how to find their place in the world. By charting the stars, keeping precise time, and using their honed senses, humanity was given the tools needed to explore ever outward.


(HISTORY’s ‘Vikings’)

The Vikings used known points

The vikings sailed far enough from shore to lose sight of landmasses in a time before there was a proven method of navigation. They passed down knowledge of stars, coasts, currents, navigational landmarks, and wildlife to create mental maps.

They would make notes of unique mountain formations and follow currents favored by pods of whales for feeding. They also used a plumb bob, an instrument used to determine water depth by tying a weight to a rope and plopping it into the ocean. Viking sailors navigated by using their senses: listening to the calls of seabirds, allowing them to estimate which region they were in. They’d verify their guess by tasting the water to gauge the amount of fresh water flowing into the sea.

Flóki Vilgerðarson, who appeared in HISTORY’s Vikings, was a real person who used caged ravens when traveling. When he thought land was near, he would release a raven. If it circled the boat, there was no land. If it flew away, the ship followed it towards land. This technique was adopted by other vikings who followed in the footsteps of this pioneer.

Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland using these techniques and raided western Europe with impunity, without fear of sea.

Let me sing you the song of my people…

(Maui Guide)

The Polynesians used songs

The Polynesians used songs to navigate the seas, an art passed down from master to apprentice over generations. They maintained guilds on each island that would identify sources of food and directed sailors towards them in times of famine and traded this knowledge for other resources. To identify where they were, they made close observations of sea signs, just as the vikings did, and recorded extremely detailed directions in the form of song lyrics.

The guilds also safeguarded the secrets of constructing outrigger canoes capable of making long voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

With this, I will make my own empire! With blackjack — and freedom!

(ResearchGate)

The British invented the chronometer to identify latitude

Celestial navigation was turned into a science by the British. In 1714, the British government declared a prize of £20,000 be award to whomever could solve the problem of finding a ship’s current longitude position while out on the open ocean. John Harrison was clockmaker who believed the answer was in accurate timekeeping. He proved that one could find their latitude by calculating the position of the sun, moon, stars, or other celestial bodies in relations to the current time to find where you are on the globe.

Making a correct calculation required a timepiece that would not lose its accuracy due to storms, temperature changes, or manufacturing limitations. If one didn’t know the exact time, the almanacs and journals that outlined the location of celestial bodies were, basically, useless.

Harrison made the H4, a chronometer the size of a watch, and it was able to accurately keep GMS time in any clime and place, regardless of conditions. On its maiden voyage to Jamaica, it was only off by five seconds by the journey’s end.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan are the same

It’s no secret that America is pretty good at getting themselves involved in wars throughout the world. Historically, we haven’t been the best at coming up with an exit strategy for some of those conflicts, though.


The Vietnam War is considered one of the most politically charged military campaigns in our nation’s history as young men were drafted into service to fight against the spread of communism.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. embarked on an offensive to break up a network comprised of men that take the worship of the religion of Islam into extremism.

Related: This is what it was like fighting alongside Afghan troops

Although these campaigns took place in separate decades against very different adversaries, the similarities from the perspective of the ground forces are impeccable. History repeats itself. Here are four ways in which these two conflicts are the same.

4. For the most part, we didn’t trust our allies

In both wars, American forces were teamed up with local troops to help combat their common enemy. Many Vietnam and Afghanistan War vets have noted that their “friendly” counterparts often appeared distant and were known to have even protected the enemy at times.

A PF soldier patrol with a Marine unit during the Vietnam War.

3. We fought against an unmarked enemy

Many of the fighters the U.S. went up against in both campaigns were able to disappear as fast as they appeared. This ghostly advantage wasn’t the result of some magical vanishing act, but rather an ability to blend back into the local population — right out in the open.

Since most of the “disappearing act” fighters are from small guerilla militias or surrounding clans, they never wore any distinguishable uniforms, adding to their advantage.

Are these guys Taliban or friendly members of a local militia?

2. The enemy could live below ground

The Viet Cong commonly used their well-engineered tunnels while the Taliban make use of caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.

These livable structures can house enemy combatants for extend periods of time and conceal deadly weapons.

Two U.S. Marines search a Viet Cong tunnel. (Image from Flickr)

Also Read: Here was the major problem with the South Vietnamese army

1. Our maps became outdated quickly

When enemy structures are mainly constructed from local vegetation and mud, they can be broken down just as fast as they’re built.

This characteristic makes them incredibly difficult to keep them documented. Map records and mission planning changed constantly.

An occupied mud home in Afghanistan.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 battles brought to you by booze

Alcohol is, like, super awesome. All the cool kids are drinking (unless you’re underage, then none of the cool kids are drinking it, you delinquent), it can lower peoples’ inhibitions, and it’s actually super easy to make and distribute.

So, it’s probably no surprise that the military likes alcohol or that many warriors throughout time have loved the sauce. Here are four times that drinking (or even the rumor of drinking, in one case) helped lead to a battle:


The Schloss Itter Castle was the site of one of history’s strangest battles, in which American and German troops teamed up to protect political prisoners from other German troops.

(Steve J. Morgan, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Waffen SS soldiers got drunk to attack a Nazi-American super team defending POWs

It’s been dubbed World War II’s “strangest battle,” that time German and American soldiers teamed up to defend political prisoners from an attacking SS battalion at Castle Itter. If you haven’t heard about it, this article from Paul Szoldra is worth a read.

What he doesn’t mention is that the Waffen SS soldiers attacking the castle in an attempt to kill the political prisoners had to stockpile some courage first, and they decided to steal the castle’s booze, drink it up, and finally kill the prisoners. Unfortunately for them, they took too long, giving the American and Wehrmacht defenders time to team up and occupy the castle. The attack failed, the prisoners survived, and 100 SS members were captured.

Washington inspecting the captured colors after the Battle of Trenton.

(Library of Congress)

Rumored Hessian partying paved the way for Washington’s post-Christmas victory

Gen. George Washington’s Christmas Day victory over the Hessians is an example of tactical surprise and mobility. It was a daring raid against a superior force that resulted in a strategic coup for the Colonialists, finally convincing France to formally enter the war on the side of independence.

And it never would’ve happened if Washington’s staff officers hadn’t known that Hessians liked to get drunk on Christmas and that they would (hopefully) still be buzzed or hungover the following morning. Surprisingly though, none of the Hessians captured were found to be drunk after the battle. Alcohol gave Washington’s men the courage to get the job done, but it turns out the chance for victory was inside them all along.

Viking ships attack and besiege Paris in 845.

Nearly all Viking raids were preceded by drunken debates

When Vikings needed to make major decisions, like about whether to launch new raids or engage in a new war, they did it in a stereotypically Norse way: By getting drunk and debating the decision with no emotional walls between them. Then, they sobered up to finish the debate.

But, once they decided to do battle, they were much more likely to be sober. The Vikings were professional warriors who left the village for the sole purpose of raiding, and they took their work seriously. So, the decision to do battle was aided by alcohol, but the actual fighting succeeded thanks to discipline.

Celts fought the British at the Battle of Culloden, probably mostly sober. But the Celts, historically, liked to imbibe before a fight.

The Celts would get plastered before battles on beer or imported Roman wines

Celts loved their alcohol, and anyone with the money went for jar after jar of red wine from Italy. For warriors heading into battle the next day, the drinking was a way to mentally prepare, to bond, and to get one last night of partying on the books in case you didn’t make it through.

Of course, most Celtic warriors weren’t financial elites, so they were much more likely to be berserking their way through battle drunk on beer and mead than on imported wines.

Want more cases of alcohol playing a role in war? Check out 7 times drunks decided the course of battle.

Articles

This is how the Roman Empire structured its military

The Roman Empire had one of the best militaries of ancient times. It steamrolled over the Carthaginians, Greeks, Egyptians, Gauls, more than held their own against many other forces for centuries.


So, how did the world’s most powerful government organize its deadly legions? Well, it started with a group of eight men known as a contubernium – which was a little smaller than a typical infantry squad (usually nine personnel). Ten contuberniums, plus the command staff, formed a century of 85 men.

Some of the specialist roles that were usually filled by auxiliaries. (Youtube Screenshot)

Six centuries – about 540 men – made up a cohort. This unit was roughly the size of a present-day infantry battalion. Ten cohorts, plus attachments including a force of cavalry, made a legion of about 6,000 men, roughly the size of a brigade.

The legions were the largest force in the Roman military. Only citizens could serve in the legions but the Roman military also had cohorts of auxiliaries which allowed non-citzens to serve in the Roman army.

These auxiliaries were usually slingers, archers, and additional cavalry. Many Roman citizens, who had to provide their own equipment, served as infantry.

After 25 years of service in the Roman army, legionnaires and auxiliaries could look forward to a generous retirement. Those who weren’t citizens gained Roman citizenship and all that meant, plus a plot of land and a generous retirement bonus.

ISO Design, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

Five Air Force officers volunteered to be nuked and survived

Unless there is a lead-lined refrigerator lying around, we’re guessing none of you reading this would be too keen on standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. But it turns out this is exactly what six men chose to do with their afternoon in July of 1957 — five of them even volunteered, with the sixth not told what he’d be ordered to do that day until he showed up to work… So who were these men, why were they there, and what happened after?

As the Cold War began heating up and the U.S. and Soviets were each attempting to set a record for money spent stock piling thousands of weapons not intended to be used, the general public were getting a little nervous about both the testing of said weapons and what would happen if one of the two super powers decided to take things to the next level, particularly as rockets and missiles tipped with nukes started to become a thing. Despite assertions that there was nothing inherently dangerous about a rocket with a nuclear warhead detonating directly above you, the citizens of the United States weren’t buying it.


Putting their money where their mouths were, Colonel Arthur Oldfield of the Continental Air Defense Command decided to prove the assertion, ordering to have just this sort of thing filmed happening. This particular test, named John, was a part of the five month long Operation Plumbbob series of nuclear tests.

(National Nuclear Security Administration)

Besides the men involved with John, these tests also included over 18,000 other members of the military being put in relatively close proximity to nuclear blasts, with the point being to determine how troops would react in battle with nukes detonating nearby. The tests also included over a thousand pigs being used to study the biological effects of the detonations when the subjects were much closer to the blasts than officials were comfortable putting humans. (Squeal piggy!!!)

The five men who volunteered to insert themselves into John were Colonel Sidney Bruce, Lt. Colonel Frank P. Ball, Major Norman “Bodie” Bodinger, Major John Hughes, and Colonel Donald Lutrell. The sixth individual was a cameraman named Akira “George” Yoshitake — simultaneously the only one who did not volunteer for the gig and the only one who had a job to do during the blast. His job, of course, was to capture the entire event for a nice little propaganda film to demonstrate that these nuclear tipped rockets were perfectly safe to use in air combat scenarios above populated regions.

And so it was that on July 19, 1957, the five exceptionally brave men and one cameraman, no doubt re-evaluating his career choices and decision making paradigm, found themselves standing around 70 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the crow flies, or about 100 miles by road, in the Yucca Flats in the Area 10 Test Site. Next to them was a sign that read “Ground Zero. Population 5”, casually disregarding the key contributions of Yoshitake, which has been a theme for the few hundred filmmakers who were so critical to these nuclear tests and data gathering, yet have been largely ignored by history.

Genie Missile Test

www.youtube.com

Soon enough an F-28 jet flew overhead, shooting a Genie rocket equipped with a 1.5 kiloton W25 nuclear warhead. This was actually the first test of a live nuclear tipped Genie rocket, but, thankfully for the men, the unguided rocket did not malfunction and instead flew straight for about two and a half miles at a height of around Flight Level 180 (about 18,000 feet or about 5.5 km). It then detonated almost directly above them.

Said Major Bodey as it happened, “We felt a heat pulse. A very bright light. A fireball it is red. The sky looks black about it. It is boiling above us. It is rapidly losing its color…”

Then a massive blast sound could be heard, at which point Bodey stated, “There is the ground wave! It is over folks, It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! It is a huge fireball. … Wasn’t that a perfect, perfect shot.”

Seemingly remembering the whole thing was to be a propaganda film showing it was just good family fun to stand under a nuclear blast, Colonel Bruce then stated, “My only regrets right now are that everyone couldn’t have been out here at ground zero with us.” Shortly thereafter he no doubt thanked the Academy and noted he felt humbled to be there.

You might at this point be thinking that while the blast itself didn’t do them any harm, other than maybe a stubborn case of tinnitus — the little talked about silent killer associated with nuclear blasts — surely these men must have been exposed to copious amounts of ionizing radiation. But this turns out not to have been the case. It was later determined they were exposed to negligible amounts of such radiation. In fact, less than the pilot of the F-89 jet and significantly less than the pilots ordered to fly through the region of atmosphere the blast occurred at a mere ten minutes later.

A formation of three F-89Ds.

(US Air Force photo)

The blast occurring reasonably high in the atmosphere also ensured that no ground materials were sucked up, thus no large cloud of radioactive particles was present. And as for the radioactive materials from the bomb and any dust already in the atmosphere nearby, these would have spread out quite widely before coming down.

Ironically, however, while the whole thing was meant to show the safety of such nuclear rockets detonating high over head, radioactive particles from these tests frequently settled on nearby towns, even as far away as Utah. As you might expect from this, the U.S. government has paid a pretty penny, to the tune of around a billion dollars to date, to the inhabitants of these regions who later had health problems possibly related to being exposed to high amounts of ionizing radiation during the tests.

All this said, it is noted that every one of these six brave men did later in life get cancer at one point or another. However, it’s not thought this test in particularly probably contributed much to that. All of them were involved in a number of nuclear tests, many of which saw them exposed to far more ionizing radiation, with the cumulative effect of it all probably also not helping matters.

In the end, Major Hughes lived to the age of 71, dying of cancer in 1990. Lt. Col. Ball lived until 2003, dying at the ripe old age of 83 of cancer. Colonel Bruce actually made it to 86, dying in 2005 of, you guessed it, cancer. Major Bodinger also died of cancer, we believe in February of 1997, though it’s not clear here as his grave is not listed in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs grave site locator. But we found a grave in Oklahoma for someone that appears to match up with what we know about Bodie. Next up, Colonel Lutrell at one point got colon cancer, though it isn’t clear whether this is what he died of. Whatever the case, he seems to have shuffled off this mortal coil in 2014 at the age of 91. As for the cameraman George Yoshitake, while he did have to battle stomach cancer to do it, he lived to 84, dying in 2013 of a stroke.

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

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as: