This is how the Navy's last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

“If you’re not cheating you’re not trying.” — every fighter pilot ever including “Duke” Cunningham, U.S. Navy fighter ace


Lt. Randy “Duke” Cunningham woke up aboard the USS Constellation on the morning of May 10, 1972 with two MiG kills under his belt. He’d used Sidewinder heat seeking missiles to shoot down North Vietnamese opponents on January 19 and May 8 of that year. A recent increase in enemy sorties made Cunningham and the other carrier air wing fighter pilots sure they’d have more chances to bag bandits. Cunningham just needed three more kills to attain “ace” status. The aircraft carrier had plenty of time left on station, so he allowed himself to believe it could happen. He had no idea he’d earn the balance in one flight.

Cunningham and his radar intercept officer Lt. Willie Driscoll launched in a VF-96 F-4J — tactical callsign “Showtime 100” — from the Constellation as part of a strike package against the Hai Dong rail yards in North Vietnam. After dropping its bombs, Showtime 100 took up a combat air patrol position to cover other airplanes on bomb runs.

The American strike package was jumped by a group of MiG-17s. Cunningham downed one of them with a Sidewinder after the MiG pilot overshot him. He climbed up to 15,000 feet and looked down and saw eight MiGs tangled with Navy Phantoms. He rolled in on one that was threatening to shoot his squadron XO, transmitting, “If you don’t break now you are going to die,” after the XO didn’t respond to two previous calls to turn hard. Once his squadronmate complied and was clear, Cunningham loosed another Sidewinder and killed his fourth MiG.

On the way back to the carrier, Cunningham spotted another MiG, which — in spite of his low fuel state — he decided to engage. He wound up flying in front of the enemy airplane, which allowed the MiG to shoot at him with the nose cannon. Cunningham made a hard pull into the vertical, and the bullets missed. To his surprise the MiG followed him up, something MiGs tended not to do because the airplane’s climb performance lagged that of the Phantom.

What followed was one of the legendary dogfights of the jet era. Cunningham and his opponent mixed it up for several minutes, going from a high-speed vertical fight to a low-speed horizontal “rolling scissors” fight. The MiG had more maneuverability in the low-speed regime, and as the enemy pilot pulled his nose up for a shot, Cunningham — in spite of his low fuel state — selected full afterburner and put enough distance between his F-4 and the MiG to avoid getting shot by an ATOLL missile.

Driscoll was in the backseat strongly suggesting they keep heading east to the carrier, which would have been the prudent thing to do, but Cunningham didn’t want to wait any longer to be an ace. He turned back toward the MiG and another rolling scissors ensued. The advantage went back and forth, and finally the MiG — probably low on gas as well — made a move to exit the fight, which allowed Cunningham to make one last-ditch move to fire his last Sidewinder.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
(Painting by Philip West)

It worked. At first Cunningham thought the missile missed, but a few seconds later the MiG started to come apart. Cunningham was an ace, the first of the Vietnam War.

But his problems weren’t over. Before Showtime 100 got “feet wet” it was hit by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile. He managed to coax the crippled fighter far enough over the Gulf of Tonkin to avoid falling into enemy hands and winding up a POW. After successfully ejecting, both Driscoll and he were picked up by an Air Force SAR helicopter.

For his efforts on that day, Cunningham received the Navy Cross.

Cunningham left the Navy at the 20-year mark, retiring at the rank of commander after serving as a Top Gun instructor and the commander officer of VF-126, the aggressor squadron based at Miramar. He became the dean of the National School of Aviation and started his own marketing company, Top Gun Enterprises.

Cunningham became one of CNN’s go-to military experts in the late ’80s and early ’90s — especially on the eve of Desert Storm, and that visibility brought him to the attention of Republican power brokers around San Diego, Cunningham’s hometown. The Democratic incumbent of the 44th District, Jim Bates, was vulnerable in the upcoming election because of an ongoing sexual harassment scandal.

He wound up breezing to victory and took office in January of 1991. In short order he established himself as an outspoken conservative champion and in many cases just plain outspoken. He brought the same intemperate disposition that served him as a fighter pilot to the Washington arena, flipping off reporters and calling gay service members “homos” on the floor of the House while arguing with backers of a conservation amendment. That act played well with a majority of his constituents — he was reelected with ease six times — but it also earned him some enemies and the attention of the press.

In 1996 Cunningham criticized the Clinton Administration for being “soft on crime.”

“We must get tough on drug dealers,” he said, adding that “those who peddle destruction on our children must pay dearly.” He voted for the death penalty for major drug dealers. Four months later his son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 pounds of marijuana from Texas to Indiana. Todd Cunningham pleaded guilty to possession and conspiracy to sell marijuana. Representative Cunningham broke down in court and pleaded with the judge for leniency in his son’s case, which his critics found very hypocritical.

Then in June of 2005 the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a defense contractor named Mitchell Wade had purchased Cunningham’s house in Del Mar in 2003 for $1,675,000 and put it back on the market a month later. (Cunningham was a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee at the time.) Wade’s company, MZM Inc., started receiving tens of millions of dollars of defense and intelligence contracts.

The Union Tribune later reported that Cunningham was living rent-free aboard one of Wade’s yachts docked in a harbor in Washington DC and that he was throwing parties for young women aboard the yacht on a regular basis.

The FBI raided his home, Wade’s home, and the MZM corporate offices on July 1, 2005. A few months later, Cunningham pleaded guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud. Among the many bribes Cunningham admitted receiving were the house sale at an inflated price, the free use of the yacht, a used Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, Persian rugs, jewelry, and a $2,000 contribution for his daughter’s college graduation party.

Cunningham read the following statement at the press conference where he announced he was resigning from Congress:

When I announced several months ago that I would not seek re-election, I publicly declared my innocence because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So, I misled my family, staff, friends, colleagues, the public – even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is – I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my high office. I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, and most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. … In my life, I have known great joy and great sorrow. And now I know great shame. I learned in Vietnam that the true measure of a man is how he responds to adversity.

I cannot undo what I have done. But I can atone. I am now almost 65 years old and, as I enter the twilight of my life, I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends.

Cunningham wound up serving seven years in a minimum security satellite camp near Tucson, Arizona. He was released to a halfway house in New Orleans in February of 2013. He now lives in Arkansas and still receives his Navy retirement pay as well as a pension for 14-plus years as a Congressman. (Legislation introduced to prevent convicted lawmakers from receiving their pensions died in committee.)

The San Diego Union Tribune received the Pulitzer Prize for the reporting surrounding the takedown of Congressman Cunningham.

Articles

The Marine Corps’ love-hate relationship with the AV-8 Harrier

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Capt. Jonathan Lewenthal and Capt. Eric Scheibe, AV-8B Harrier pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 231, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over southern Helmand province, Afghanistan after conducting an aerial refuel Dec. 6, 2012. VMA-231 deployed to Afghanistan to provide close air support for counter-insurgency operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gregory Moore)


Dubbed the “widow-maker” in some aviation circles, the AV-8 Harrier is as dangerous to America’s enemies as it is to the pilots who commandeer it.

From its commissioning to as recent as 2013, there have been about 110 fighters involved in Class A mishaps — accidents causing death, permanent injury or at least $1 million in losses.

Related: This Marine pilot makes landing his Harrier fighter on a stool look easy

“Measured by its major accident rate per 100,000 flight hours, which is the military standard, the Harrier is the most dangerous plane in the U.S. military,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Alan C. Miller in the video below. “Overall the Marines have lost more than one-third of the entire Harrier fleet to accidents.”

The first Harrier model, the AV-8A had a Class A mishap rate of 31.77 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The Marines improved the rate to 11.44 per 100,000 hours with the introduction of the AV-8B in the mid-1980s, according to Miller.

By contrast, the Harrier has more than twice the accident rate of the F-16, more than three times the rate of the F/A-18, and about five times the rate of A-10.

Despite its astronomical accident rate, the fighter is beloved and remains in service more than 40 years since its introduction in 1971.

“One Marine general who flew the plane early on described it as an answer to a prayer,” Miller said.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
An AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft assigned to the air combat element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) performs a vertical landing on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer June 16, 2013. Boxer is conducting amphibious squadron and MEU integrated training.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes)

The Corps’ need for an aircraft with a vertical landing and short takeoff capability can be traced to the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines lost over 1,000 men during that fight and felt abandoned by the Navy to fend for themselves.

“Since then, the precept that the Marines in the air should protect the Marines on the ground has been an essential part of the Corps’ ethos,” Miller said.

This History Channel video shows how the Harrier supports the Marine Corps’ mission to fight anywhere, anytime regardless of the risks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFBV–62tA

Engineering Channel, YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Russian Revolution brought the father of the helicopter to America

Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky was designing bombers for the Russian Empire when World War I broke out. Nowadays, the company he founded in the United States makes the “choppers” that transport U.S. presidents. This is the story of how the “father of the helicopter” crossed the Atlantic and made it big — before designing the first aircraft to make regular flights across the major oceans.


 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This US Navy hero trolled the enemy in the most amazing way possible

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.


This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Hilarious.

(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.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Decatur then took the fight to the British in engagement after engagement.

(Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Commodore Decatur was off to negotiate peace only with ships he’d famously captured at sea from Britain.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

[Laughs in Navy]

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Articles

A brief history of US troops playing cards – and a magician’s trick honoring veterans

War can be hell…and war can be absolute boredom. There are few better ways to pass the time than by playing cards. Anyone who served in the military and made it past basic training probably ended up in a game of cards with their fellow troops.


This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Photo taken by an 82d Airborne paratrooper during WWII. (Portraits of War)

They’re easy to carry: small and lightweight, they fit into a rucksack, duffel bag, or Alice pack without having to sacrifice any piece of essential gear. Plus, they’re cheap. It just makes sense that the troops and playing cards would pair so well together.

The Bicycle Playing Card Company recounts the history of American troops and playing cards, though many other nations’ militaries also have a tradition of playing cards in their downtime. It just beats sitting around thinking about everything that could go wrong in a battle. As one Civil War soldier said, “Card playing seemed to be as popular a way of killing time as any.”

Wartime decks have been used to help soldiers in the field learn about their enemies and allies, to identify aircraft, and even teach a little about American history. Even in the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, American forces used playing cards to identify the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
These cards are probably well-known by now.

Also Read: This is how POWs got playing cards with secret escape maps for Christmas

Playing cards themselves can be traced back to 12th century China. Some scholars think they made their way to Europe through Italian traders. The cards (and maybe even the games) predate the United States. But Americans have their own love affair with cards, and the military is no different.

Early special decks were released depicting Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (John Quincy) Adams as the kings of the deck. By the time of the Civil War, playing cards were in every American camp, Union or Confederate.

Since troops in the Civil War spent a lot of time in camp and had easy access to decks, alcohol, and firearms, a cheater could make the game go very badly for himself. The war actually shaped the way playing cards are printed, so players could hold a tighter hand.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Another innovation of that era was the design on the backs of cards. Before then, most were made with plain backs, ones that were easy to mark and see through. The new back designs made short work of that problem.

In 1898, the Consolidated Playing Card Company created a cheap deck and poker chips for troops deploying to the Spanish-American War. For World War I, the U.S. Playing Card Company released special decks just for a few specialties of service in the Great War, namely Artillery, Navy, Air Corps, and Tank Corps. The German High Command in WWI considered the game so important to morale, they called the cards kartonnen wapens – cardboard weapons.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
German soldiers playing cards on the Western front in the summer of 1916. (Playing Card Museum)

Many playing card factories converted to war production during World War II, but that certainly didn’t mean no decks were printed. The aforementioned cards used to identify aircraft, known as “spotter cards,” were essential to the war effort.

During the Vietnam War, playing card companies sent deployed soldiers and Marines special decks comprised of just the ace of spades, believing the Viet Cong considered the symbol to be a deadly serious omen.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

As late as 2007, American forces were given decks meant to inform them about important cultural and historical relics in the countries to which they deployed.

Watch below as magician Justin Flom recounts the oft-told story of a Revolutionary War soldier and his deck of cards, which acts as his bible, calendar, and almanac. Be sure to watch til the end for a magician’s tribute to American troops overseas.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Marine stayed at his machine gun after taking a grenade to the face

On December 9, 1941, Al Schmid was in Philadelphia working as an apprentice steel burner. He was listening to the radio on Monday, December 8 when he learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the Marine Corps the very next day. 

Schmid trained to be a machine gunner in the 1st Marine Division and by August 1942, he was landing on Guadalcanal with his fellow Marines. It was the first major American land offensive of the Pacific War and the Japanese were now about to get their first taste of fighting United States Marines. 

Guadalcanal wasn’t just the first major land offensive, it was an important stepping stone, a stop off point for the coming invasion of Rabaul, and caught the Japanese completely by surprise. Private Schmid was manning an M1917 Browning heavy machine gun with two other Marines in his crew. 

Schmid’s foot was already infected but he refused to leave his gun crew behind. It was soon to be the least of his problems. By August 21, the capture of Guadalcanal was slowly progressing and Schmid and the 1st Marines were defending one of the island’s most important features: Henderson Field.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
An official photo of the ceremony held at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on February 18, 1943, in which Sergeant Albert Andrew Schmid received the Navy Cross. (Wikimedia Commons)

Henderson Field was an all-important airstrip on the island. From there, Marine Corps aircraft could create major problems for the Japanese forces on the ground and in the air. Aircraft battled over the field on a daily basis, but the Japanese had to fly eight hours just to get there. Control of the airfield was critical. 

The airfield was behind a perimeter set up by the 1st Marines. If the Japanese wanted to take it, they had to go through the 1st Marine Division first, so they sent an attack force of 800 of its best troops to dislodge the Marines and retake the field that night. At 0300, flares lit up the battlespace and their nonstop assault began.  

It wasn’t long before one of his gun crew members was killed in the fighting, so Private Schmid took over. Schmid kept the gun firing for more than four hours as the Japanese forces attempted to make a breakthrough beyond the Marines’ perimeter. Soon, his other gunner was wounded and Schmid also had to take over reloading the belt-fed weapon. 

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Japanese soldiers, killed while assaulting U.S. Marine Corps positions, lie dead in a coconut grove on Guadalcanal after the Battle of the Tenaru on 21 August 1942. Two U.S. Marine Corps M3 Stuart tanks of A Company, 1st Tank Battalion, participating in the battle in late afternoon are visible in the background. (Wikimedia Commons)

Schmid, the last of the unharmed gun crew, fired the weapon in short bursts to keep it from overheating and to prevent any jamming. Still the barrel of the gun began to glow red hot. As he fired, a Japanese soldier threw a grenade into Schmid’s nest. It went off, wounding him in the hand, arm and face. Schmid was not only wounded, he was blinded by the blast and could no longer see.

That didn’t stop the Marine from Philadelphia. His remaining crew member helped guide Schmid in manning and reloading his machine gun. The Japanese assault continued but Schmid kept firing. When the smoke from the battle cleared the next morning, some 200 enemy troops lay dead in front of Schmid’s machine gun. He and his fellow gunner killed a fourth of the attacking Japanese troops. Only one Japanese soldier walked away from the assault without wounds and the assault force commander committed suicide. 

Schmid, along with the gunner who survived the fighting, Cpl. Leroy Diamond, and his other crew member who was killed early in the fighting, Pfc. Johnny Rivers, were all awarded the Navy Cross for their heroic defense of the perimeter and for keeping the Japanese from threatening Henderson field that night.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

One woman wrote 25,000 letters for wounded soldiers who couldn’t

In 1917, the horrors of World War I were something entirely new to the world. “The War to End All Wars” inflicted horrible casualties and painful deaths in a way no one had ever seen before in the history of warfare. Mechanized vehicles, poison gas, trench-clearing shotguns, and even the constant mud and water that filled the trenches took its toll on the men who fought the war.

Many of those wounded and dying from the new weapons of war found themselves laying next to Red Cross volunteer May Bradford, who would write what for many of her patients, was the last words they would ever say to their loved ones.


This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Even those who survived were altered forever by the new weapons of war.

For those that were dying, Bradford recorded their last words. For those that were too injured to write, she informed their families of their loved one’s situation. For those who were simply illiterate, she was happy to take care of them too. She was part of the French No. 26 General Hospital, near Etaples, France during the war. She was there following her surgeon husband, Sir John Bradford.

She had been there for the entire war, watching the dying and wounded roll in and out of the clinics and field hospitals. She immediately took up the mantle of “hospital letter writer” for anyone who might want or need her services. Over the course of Britain’s time in the war, she wrote more than 25,000 letters, averaging 12 or more every day for four and a half years.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

Bradford later wrote a book of her experiences.

Rather than wear the traditional uniform of the scores of Red Cross volunteers at English aid stations around the world, Lady Bradford wore her usual clothes, which were usually an impeccably clean and neat dress, which made the men in her care feel less like they were in a hospital with a nurse and more like they were dictating a letter with an old friend.

In her relatively short time as a letter writer for the sick, injured, and mortally wounded, Bradford experienced firsthand the horrors of the First World War – and experienced the emotional rollercoaster of fighting that war secondhand.

Articles

This is why people yell ‘Geronimo’ when jumping from heights

Watch cliff divers, bungee jumpers, or even just kids fooling around and jumping into a lake. At some point, one or more of them will yell “Geronimo!” It’s a safe bet that at some point, we’ve all yelled this name.


This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
No one louder than Geronimo’s seven wives.

It seems like a pretty random thing to yell when jumping from a bridge, cliff, or plane, but it’s actually from the military tradition of paratroopers yelling it as they jumped from a perfectly good airplane.

But where did the paratroopers come up with it?

It dates all the way back to the origin of paratroopers. In 1940, the Army was still developing the strategy of dropping troops out of planes. On the eve of the first test jump, soldiers from from Fort Benning started a night of drinking with a viewing of a wild west movie beforehand. This was likely the 1939 film “Geronimo” starring Andy Devine and Chief Thundercloud.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman

After the movie, Pvt. Aubrey Eberhardt boasted that he wasn’t scared of the jump, despite being the tallest man in the unit. This caused his fellow soldiers to call him out on his bragging, saying he would forget his name at the door, as the troops were supposed to shout their name when they jumped.

Everyone in their jump group successfully jumped — all the soldiers remembered their names and shouted them as they made their jumps.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Hot Shots has the answer to everything.

The 6’8″ Eberhardt did them one better — when his turn at the door came, he shouted “Geronimo!”  — and a new military tradition was born.

Some of the top military brass weren’t in love with the new tradition, but others thought it evoked the bravery and daring of the Apache chief — the last holdout against American expansion to the West. They let the paratroopers keep the tradition.

Civilians just kinda took it from the paratroopers. And who could blame them, with that kind of pedigree?

Articles

Here is how a Civil War cannon tore infantry apart

When you think of artillery, you’re probably thinking of something like the M777-towed 155mm howitzer or the M109A6 Paladin self-propelled gun. But in the Civil War, artillery was very different.


Back then, a gun wasn’t described by how wide the round was, but how much the round weighed. According to a National Park Service release, one of the most common was the 12-pounder Napoleon, which got that name from firing a 12-pound solid shot. The typical range for the Napoleon was about 2,000 yards. Multiply that by about twenty to have a rough idea how far a M777 can shoot an Excalibur GPS-guided round.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
The M1857 12-pounder Napoleon, probably the most common artillery piece of the Civil War. (Wikimedia Commons)

Another round used was the shell, a hollowed-out solid shot that usually had about eight ounces of black powder inserted. This is pretty much what most artillery rounds are today. The typical Civil War shell had a range of about 1,500 yards — or just under a mile.

However, when enemy troops were approaching, the artillery had two options. The first was to use what was called “case” rounds. These were spherical rounds that held musket balls. In the case of the Napoleon, it held 78 balls. Think of it as a giant hand grenade that could reach out as far as a mile and “touch” enemy troops.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Artillery shot-canister for a 12-pounder cannon. The canister has a wood sabot, iron dividing plate, and thirty-seven cast-iron grape shot. The grapeshot all have mold-seam lines, and some have sprue projections. (Wikimedia Commons)

When the enemy troops got real close, there was one last round: the canister. In essence, this turned the cannon into a giant shotgun. It would have cast-iron shot packed with sawdust. When enemy troops got very close, they’d use two canister rounds, known as “double canister” (in the 1993 movie, “Gettysburg,” you can hear a Union officer order “double canister” during the depiction of Pickett’s Charge).

To see what a canister round did to enemy troops, watch this video:

popular

How American GIs brought Spam to the world

No, we’re not talking about automated, unsolicited emails trying to sell you fat-burning pills or hair-loss recovery foam. The original Spam is a brand of precooked canned meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation. Today, there are 15 varieties of Spam sold in 41 countries and trademarked in over 100. It has transcended social classes and become an integral part of culinary cultures worldwide. So how did this canned luncheon meat product become a worldwide phenomenon? It’s due in large part to American GIs and WWII.

Introduced by Hormel in 1937, Spam aimed to increase the sale of pork shoulder, an unpopular cut of meat. Its name is the result of a contest won by Ken Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel executive. Hormel claims that the true meaning of the Spam name “is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Food executives,” however it is commonly accepted that it’s an abbreviation of spiced ham.


This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
A World War II-era can of Spam (Photo by Hormel Foods Corporation)

 

During WWII, delivering fresh meat to frontline troops was an extremely difficult task. Spam offered the military a canned solution that didn’t require refrigeration and possessed an extremely long shelf life. As Spam became an integral part of the GI diet, troops gave the meat a variety of nicknames like “ham that didn’t pass its physical,” “meatloaf without basic training,” and “Special Army Meat.” The grease from the luncheon meat was used to lubricate weapons and waterproof boots, and the empty cans could be filled with rocks and strung from wire perimeters as intruder alarms. By the end of the war, the military had purchased over 150 million pounds of Spam. For reference, a can of Spam today weighs 12 ounces.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Sgt. Arnold Bourdreau eating canned corned beef in Italy in 1945 (National Archives photo)

 

Troops across all theaters of the war brought Spam with them as a convenient and preserved meat ration. As a result of the war and the following occupations, Spam was introduced to European and Asian countries where it was quickly assimilated into local diets.

In the UK, Spam’s popularity grew out of necessity as the result of rationing. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher remembered Spam as “a wartime delicacy”. The canned luncheon meat has been adopted into various British recipes like Spam Yorkshire Breakfast, Spamish Omelette, Spam Hash and Spam Fritters.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Spam Fritters with chips and peas (Photo from SpamBrand.com.au)

 

Spam was also included as a part of Allied aid to the post-war Soviet Union. Strict food rations made meat even more scarce there than in Britain. “Without Spam we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev declared in his memoir.

East Asian countries also adopted Spam as a result of rationing and the scarcity of meat. In Hong Kong, the canned meat was incorporated into local dishes like macaroni with fried egg, ramen and chicken soup. Spam was ingrained so deeply in Okinawan culture that it is used in traditional onigiri (rice balls or triangles usually wrapped in seaweed) and is used in the traditional dish chanpurū. In Korea, Spam’s popularity rose out of the Korean War. As fish became scarce, Spam was used as a replacement in kimbap (rice and vegetable seaweed rolls). The cans of luncheon meat were also used by U.S. troops to trade for goods, services and even information around their bases. Today, Korea is second only by the United States in Spam production and consumption.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Spam Classis Kimbap (Photo from Spam.com)

 

In Southeast Asia, Spam is most popular in the Philippines. Following WWII, Spam became a cultural symbol on the islands. It is most commonly eaten in Spamsilog, a twist on a traditional Filipino breakfast composed of rice (usually garlic fried rice), a sunny-side up egg, and a meat dish. Though Spam is commonly sliced and fried, it is also used in sandwiches, burgers and spaghetti. In the Philippines, Spam transcends social class and is extremely popular across all walks of life. There are at least 10 varieties of Spam sold in the Philippines that mimic the flavors of traditional meats. It’s estimated that 1.25 million kilos of Spam is sold annually in the Philippines. After Tropical Storm Ketsana in 2009, Hormel Foods donated over 30,000 pounds of Spam to the Philippine Red Cross.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Spamsilog is a breakfast dish that’s acceptable at any time of day (Photo from ThePeachKitchen.com)

 

In the United States, Spam is especially popular in Hawaii whose residents have the highest per capita consumption in the country. Spam is used most heavily in Spam musubi where a slice is placed on top of rice and wrapped in a band of nori seaweed. The Hawaiian market also features exclusive Spam variants like Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam. Spam is even served in local McDonald’s and Burger King chains. Every spring, Oahu hosts an annual Spam festival called Waikiki Spam Jam where local chefs and restaurants compete to make new spam-themed dishes which are then sold at the street fair.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
A selection of Spam variants at Waikiki Spam Jam (Photo by This Week Hawaii)

 

Although it is seen by some as a food of poverty or hard times due to its affordability and long shelf life, Spam’s popularity around the world is undeniable. Thanks in large part to the GIs that brought it with them, Spam was able to fill food gaps in countries ravaged by war and evolve into a dietary staple and cultural icon.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 wild artifacts at the Gettysburg Museum of History

Just getting to the Gettysburg Museum of History means walking through the scene of significant events in America’s past. The house that is now the museum sits on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the road on which Abraham Lincoln arrived to deliver the Gettysburg Address. When a team from Coffee or Die Magazine knocked on the door recently, Erik Dorr emerged from his home and invited us in. Instead of furniture, exhibits featuring pieces of American history were everywhere we looked.

Dorr, the curator of the Gettysburg Museum of History, transformed the interior of his home in 2009 with war relics. His collection includes items from the Civil War, as one might expect in a town so closely associated with the conflict, but also his impressive World War II collection and even modern artifacts like Saddam Hussein’s dinnerware.

Dorr’s family once lived on a farm in Ziegler’s Grove, which is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park managed by the National Park Service. Most of his Civil War collection is made up of items collected by family members through time.

“[My ancestors] found items on their farm such as bullets, artillery shells, belt buckles, and other accoutrements of war,” Dorr said. “And they would move those items off of their land more for farming reasons than for historical reasons. It’s not good to have lead, iron, and heavy metals in your soil if you’re a farmer. They had a box of Civil War relics in their barn that they found. And the local farmers sold those items to museums, but my family kept those items.”

Here are a few mind-blowing artifacts from Coffee or Die Magazine‘s inside look at Dorr’s collection.

Colt revolver from the Battle of Gettysburg

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Why a soldier left behind this Colt revolver after the Battle of Gettysburg is lost to history. Photo courtesy of Erik Dorr/Gettysburg Museum of History.

When troops left after Gettysburg, a soldier left behind a Colt revolver on the kitchen table of the Pfeffer Farm in Freedom Township.

Hitler’s pistol

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
One of four or five documented pistols once owned by Adolf Hitler. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

A gun that Dorr says is one of four or five documented pistols owned by Adolf Hitler, it was discovered by Russell Dysert, an American soldier from the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Division. Dysert was with the first American unit to reach Hitler’s Berghof residence in Obersalzberg in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, in 1945.

“That home was bombed by the Allies right before the Americans got there, so the whole west wing of the Berghof was destroyed. It was on fire, and a lot of the items were destroyed, but there was a huge air raid shelter underneath,” Dorr said“Before that air raid, a lot of items were taken down there for safekeeping. That pistol was found down in the tunnel and it has Hitler’s initials and a Nazi party eagle on the back inlaid in gold.”

“Rupert” the British paradummy

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
“Rupert” the Paradummy was discovered unused, but many like him “jumped” over Normandy during D-Day. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Operation Titanic was an elaborate deception plan that occurred during the D-Day invasion. It was broken into four stages: noisemakers, chaff to fool radar, paradummies, and real SAS commandos. The paradummies, or dummy paratroopers, were dropped from four Royal Air Force squadrons flying over four separate drop zones over Normandy.

“They were diversionary devices and were dropped in Normandy to try to fool the Germans into thinking there was a parachute jump going on somewhere else,” Dorr said. “They’re one-third the size of a real man and a real parachute. From the ground looking up you can’t tell because it’s the same perspective, it looks like real guys coming out.”

A single lot of two dozen of them were found in England in the 1980s, Dorr said, making them extremely rare.

Atomic bomb clock

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
A clock frozen at just after 9:15 a.m. of Aug. 6, 1945, when the American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

This clock was found following the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima caused by one of the two atomic bombs dropped during World War II. The clock is symbolic because the hands were stopped at the exact moment the bomb exploded.

“The face is so melted that you can no longer see the hands, but they are in there,” Dorr said. “I also obtained the watch worn by one of the guys in the Enola Gay who dropped the atomic bomb. On the anniversary of the atomic bomb drop in Hiroshima, I put them side by side and call it ‘The Tale of Two Clocks.’ One’s a wristwatch that was worn in that plane when the bomb was dropped, and the other one was on the ground and took the burn of the atomic bomb blast.”

Keys to the “Eagle’s Nest”

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
These keys were a souvenir for a 101st Airborne soldier. Photos courtesy of Erik Dorr/Gettysburg Museum of History.

The Band of Brothers HBO series depicted “Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division looting Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Dick Frame was a soldier from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne Division, when he was given the task of guarding a pair of metal doors. These doors were between the large tunnel cut into the middle of the mountain and the elevator that leads to the Eagle’s Nest.

“On the edge of that tunnel that goes in are two giant blast doors and they had big locks on them,” Dorr said. “Dick Frame was one of the guards and he decided to put the keys in his pocket. The keys are neat because they fold. They’re 8 or 9 inches long, and they have a hinge in the middle so you can put them in your pocket.”

Dick Frame came home with a symbolic war trophy, which was brought to 501st PIR reunions. The paratroopers in his platoon would tell the story of how they had taken the keys to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. The historian of the 101st Airborne Museum provided these keys that are now on display at the Gettysburg Museum.

Ghosts of the Ardennes

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Both American and German artifacts make up the Gettysburg Museum exhibit “The Ghosts of the Ardennes.” Photo by Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The Ghosts of the Ardennes is a unique exhibit on display in the hallway of the Gettysburg Museum of History. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division fought in a region known as the Bois Jacques outside Bastogne near the village of Foy in Belgium. After World War II, the founders of the 101st Airborne Museum in Belgium used a metal detector to find many artifacts in the Bois Jacques region.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dorr conducted tours to Europe and visited those relic hunters.

“I call it the ‘Ghosts of the Ardennes’ because it’s bits and pieces that were left behind there,” Dorr said. “If you’ve ever been to the Bois Jacques, it’s a spooky place. It’s real dark, the woods are thick, and you can still see the remains of the foxholes. […] You can really feel the spirit of what happened.”

Half of the exhibit is American artifacts, and the other half is German. There is an MG42 German machine gun, an American M1 Garand rifle, an American canteen with three bullets in it, a German mess kit with several bullet holes in it, and other remnants found on the battlefield.

Dorr sees a connection between the relics of Gettysburg and those found from WWII.

“We have so many similar items for the Battle of Gettysburg here,” Dorr said. “We have all the items my ancestors found on their farm, so I really appreciate stuff that came out of the ground, that came from historic, sacred spots on the battlefield. To me, those items really tell the story. They were there.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a tuba led to the National Guard training allies in Europe

In some ways, the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program — which pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide — started with a tuba.

“The Latvian military band needed a big tuba,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Conaway, the 22nd chief of the NGB and “father” of the SPP. “And we hauled a tuba over there.”


The trip with the tuba was part of the early planning stages for the program, which turns 25 in 2018.

“We delivered that tuba to the Latvian band and they were amazed to get it,” said Conaway. “That started the program with the first, initial visit.”

That first visit lead the way to a program that now has 74 partnerships with countries throughout the world. But it all started with three: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“We were received in grand fashion in all three places,” said Conaway, referring to that initial trip. Where it would go from there, he added, was then still unknown.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “But, we had the visit. That was the start.”

That first visit was the result of a simple directive from Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, then-supreme allied commander in Europe with NATO, and who would be appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993.

“He called me up and said “we’ve got to help these new emerging democracies [in the Baltics],'” said Conaway, adding that after additional planning with Pentagon officials, he formed a small team and they started working with the State Department. That led to meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as military officials in those countries.

“It looked like they wanted our help and we started talking about putting liaison officers from the National Guard on orders with them,” said Conaway. “Our role was to help make the transition [to democracy] as smooth as we could.”

The idea of liaison officers grew into tying specific Guard elements with specific countries.

“The [team] and I huddled and thought, “We’ve got tons of Lithuanians and Lithuanian-Americans living in Pennsylvania,'” Conaway said. “It fit. We’ll tie Lithuania to the Pennsylvania National Guard.”

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Sgt. 1st Class Harry R. Martinez, right, with the New Jersey Army National Guard, demonstrates how to load an ammunition drum on a M249 squad automatic weapon to Albanian Officer Candidate Endri Deda while training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
(U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

The idea grew from there.

“There were a lot of Latvian-Americans in Michigan, so we got with the adjutant general [of the Michigan National Guard] and tied them together with Latvia,” said Conaway. “There are Estonian-Americans in Baltimore, and so we tied [Estonia] together with the Maryland National Guard.”

Conaway added there was little precedent to follow while developing the program.

“We were doing this off the back of an envelope back then,” he said. “It was happening so fast.”

By the time Conaway retired in November 1993, the SPP had 13 partnerships, primarily with former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.

The following years saw new partnerships added from across the globe.

“It’s grown to 74 partnerships and that’s been an incremental growth of about two to three partnerships a year,” said Air Force Col. Donald McGuire, chief of the international affairs branch at the NGB.

As the program has expanded, the process for adding new partnerships has become more refined.

First, the country has to request to be a member of the program, said McGuire, adding that input from the State Department and the combatant command — the U.S. military command element overseeing specific geographic regions — goes along with that request.

“They collectively decide that this is a good country we want to nominate for selection into the program,” said McGuire, adding that from there staff work is done to determine the best course of action with pairing up elements for a partnership.

“It’s very analytical what the staff here does,” said McGuire. “They put a lot of hard work and brain cells against making sure they’re doing a good analysis to give the chief [of the NGB] the best recommendation they can.”

The long-term success of the program has come about, in part, from that intrinsic relationship with both the State Department and the combatant command, said McGuire. The SPP is nested with the command’s theater security cooperation plan and the State Department’s country study plan.

“It’s in tune with the combatant commanders, therefore, it’s in tune or synchronized with the National Defense Strategy,” McGuire said.

Building relationships, said McGuire, is one of the hallmarks of the program.

“This provides, perhaps, the most well-known and established international partnership capability the National Guard is involved with,” he said. “These are relationships that have grown over the course of time and continue to grow.”

Those relationships have not only seen partners in the program train together, but also work together in the wake of natural disasters and large-scale emergencies.

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard demonstrate how to properly apply camouflage concealment to the face at Babadag Training Area in eastern Romania

It’s also seen co-deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas.

“You wouldn’t have these countries and units deploying together, necessarily, if they didn’t already have this relationship.”

McGuire added that’s a significant element.

“That tells you a lot about the program,” he said. “These co-deployments are real-world operations, named contingencies that represent the next level of collaboration and coordination.”

Building collaboration and coordination is also key to building greater regional security, said Army Brig. Gen. Christopher F. Lawson, the NGB’s vice director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs.

“In order to promote greater peace and stability in the world long into the future, we will need a program like the SPP because it helps nations transition from security consumers to security providers,” he said.

For Conaway, the continued growth of the program is more than he imagined 25 years ago.

“It is beyond my wildest dreams and imagination that it would be this passionate and this popular and the good the National Guard has done,” he said. “Here we are, 25 years after it started and the National Guard is just as enthusiastic as ever.”

The pairing of the West Virginia National Guard with Qatar was announced in April 2018, and McGuire said additional partnerships are in the coordination phase.

“We have a few more partnerships in the queue,” he said, adding he sees continued growth of the program over the next 25 years and beyond.

“It really is the entry point to a lot of good things that happen,” McGuire said.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United Kingdom had special battalions for short soldiers in World War I

At the outbreak of the 20th century’s first global conflict, when you might think they’d take anyone who wanted to fight,  the British Army was actually turning able-bodied men away. 

On the surface, that’s nothing new. Armies all over the world turn men away all the time. The U.S. military will turn troops down for things like flat feet, scoliosis, or hemorrhoids (to name a few). 

But in 1914, the British were turning men down for lack of height, even if they were roaring to fight the German menace. 

There was one miner from Birkenhead, Cheshire who couldn’t make the minimum height of 5’3”, and was turned away from every recruiting station in which he tried to enlist. Frustrated, he challenged to fight anyone who said his height mattered – and took down six people before the police had to step in. 

But word got around to the local Member of Parliament, the ironically-named Alfred Bigland. Bigland reached out to Secretary of State for War Lord Herbert Kitchener about the plight of the vertically-challenged in his district.

Bigland believed that refusing these otherwise healthy and fit men service in the Army was a mistake and that the Kingdom should form a regiment to prove they were just as capable as taller men.

Kitchener and the War Office replied with the military equivalent of “sure, whatever,” agreeing to allow Bigland to raise a regiment of short people but opting not to fund it at all. 

The result was that the 15th Battalion, 1st Birkenhead, The Cheshire Regiment was formed, calling for men between 4’10” and 5’3” to enlist in the British Army. Men came from across Britain and Canada to finally get their chance to fight in France.

Originally, they were known as the Bantams, but when other height-capable units were raised, they became known as “Bantam battalions.” Though small in stature, they did not shy away from conflict – and when it came time to fight, they did not disappoint. 

This is how the Navy’s last ace went from heroic fighter pilot to criminal congressman
A British trench near the AlbertBapaume road at Ovillers-la-Boisselle, July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. The men are from A Company, 11th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.

Even if those fights were in the taverns of Glasgow with fellow British Empire troops, scuffles which earned them the backhandedly complimentary nickname “Devil Dwarfs.” 

In battle against the Germans, however, the Bantams earned a reputation for bravery and ferocity that had Entente soldiers talking about them wherever they were found along the front. 

As the war ground on and the British were forced to be less choosy about who they decided to accept (and then who they had to conscript), the Bantam battalions faded away as a separate unit, replaced by a regular mix of tall and not-so-tall soldiers. 

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